News 2017

Above: One of the many abandoned engine houses on the east side of Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, with the trackbed of the Liskeard & Caradon Railway clearly visible in the foreground. This part of the moor a treasure trove for railway ramblers and industrial archaeologists: the engine houses run into double figures, and a high proportion of the trails all have their origin as railways or tramways. 26th October 2016. (Jeff Vinter)

December 2017. Carmarthen to Aberystwyth, Wales. After a preliminary assessment in 2015, the Welsh Assembly this year commissioned engineering firm Mott Macdonald (involved in the successful re-opening of the Borders Railway in Scotland) to carry out a £300K feasibility study into re-opening the disused Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway, with work commencing in September. The initial study found that 97% of the route remains undeveloped, and there is a general feeling that West Wales needs the line to be reinstated to increase economic activity, improve access to places of work and study, and provide tourists with an environmentally-friendly alternative to the car. Currently, re-opening is expected to cost between £500 and £750 million. Two issues that Mott Macdonald will have to address are the Ystwyth Trail, which uses the old trackbed between Aberystwyth and Tregaron, and the Gwili Railway, which runs trains over 4 miles of the old line at the south end – and has ambitions to double that mileage with extensions to Llanpumpsaint to the north and Carmarthen to the south. (Chris Parker and Richard Rees)

December 2017. Blaenau Ffestiniog to Bala, Gwynedd. The following report has been adapted from the Welsh Highland Railway’s unofficial ‘Isengard’ website:

The Blaenau Ffestiniog & Trawsfynydd Railway is thinking of a further phase in the redevelopment of the route towards Bala. A feasibility study has been commissioned and will begin at Trawsfynydd station yard and continue to a roadside terminus at the summit of the Cwm Prysor Pass where the A4212 road has taken over the trackbed. It is around 5½ miles long. However, track terminates at Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station siding and there is little ballast either. It is interesting that the feasibility study apparently does not cover the section between the Nuclear Power Station siding and Trawsfynydd station yard.

The land may have been sold off by BR but is largely clear except for a farm shed just south of the power station. Three or four small bridges may need replacing but the rest of the civil engineering is thought to be in good condition.

The line runs along a 2 mile ledge high above Cwm Prysor with incredible views and the curved Cwm Prysor viaduct near the summit will be the cream on the cake! A Transport & Works Order may be necessary to re-acquire land for the route. This is a longer term project after the initial section from Blaenau to Trawsfynydd is opened so the existing permissive footpath along most of it is likely to remain for quite a while yet.

Readers of the railway press will have come across ideas like this before, so will not be surprised that our correspondent advises, ‘Don’t hold your breath on this one’. (Chris Parker)

December 2017. Burlescombe to Westleigh Quarry, Devon. The ¾ mile branch line from Burlescombe, on the West of England main line, to the nearby monster quarry at Westleigh is owned by Aggregate Industries, who have created a permissive path along the old trackbed. For a short line, it is not lacking in engineering works, running along an embankment with no fewer than three underbridges, the principle of which is ‘Black Bridge’, a double-span girder structure by which the branch crossed the Grand Western Canal. The two ends of the route are at grid references ST 072169 (off the south end of Station Road, Burlescombe) and ST 066173, near the quarry entrance. (Mark Jones and Jeff Vinter)

December 2017. Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire. Disappointing news has arrived from Sustrans regarding its bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a grant to help restore the iconic Bennerley Viaduct; it has been unsuccessful. HLF said that their recent board meeting was a ‘highly competitive round of decision-making and that the current level of demand means they simply can’t support all the good heritage projects that apply to them’. On the plus side, Sustrans will discuss HLF’s feedback with a view to improving their application the second time around. (Bill Tomson)

December 2017. Coast to Coast Cycle Route, Cumbria/County Durham/Tyne & Wear. As part of its drive to improve the standard of the National Cycle Network, Sustrans has announced a £450,000 scheme (partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund) to restore 50 bridges and historic structures – including Beamish Tunnel – along the Coast to Coast cycle and walking route in West Cumbria and the North East. The 140 mile route attracts over 15,000 visitors per year, with 42 miles of it being based on old railways. The railway components include the old iron ore railway between Whitehaven to Rowrah (the purchase of which was financed by Railway Ramblers), the Workington to Broughton Moor and Siddick sections, and the Washington to Sunderland section of the former Stanhope & Tyne Railway. (Graeme Bickerdike and Keith Holliday)

November 2017. Swanage, Dorset. One of Dorset’s shortest railway walks (at about half a mile) is the former Swanage Pier Tramway, which was built under the terms of the Swanage Pier & Tramway Act of 8th August 1859 to convey Purbeck marble on to Swanage Pier for transshipment. However, this trade did not last very long, and the tramway ended up carrying coal, timber and fish (presumably inwards) until 1914. After that, a few sections of the route were used in the 1920s, but by the 1930s only a single wagon remained in use. Good photographs of the tramway are few and far between – which is hardly surprising given its early closure date – but our correspondent has recently scanned some pictures from a tatty scrapbook which a friend bought from a junk shop. It included the images here, here and here of the Swanage Pier Tramway, which are so sharp they look as if they were developed from glass plate negatives. The second photograph shows rudimentary rolling stock in the lower right hand corner, while close examination of the third one reveals a poster for a visit by the paddle steamer Lord Elgin, which was the first vessel to use the new Swanage Pier on 1st May 1896. For that reason, we think these excellent photographs must date from the late 1890s, and possibly even 1st May 1896; the opening of the pier and the visit by P.S. Lord Elgin would explain why a photographer was on hand to record the scene for posterity. (Alan Clarke)

November 2017. Coalport, Shropshire, and Petworth, West Sussex. Fancy owning an old railway station? If you have deep pockets, opportunities are now available at both Coalport (the Severn Valley station) and Petworth (on the former LBSCR Pulborough-Midhurst branch). Both have been developed to offer accommodation in restored railway carriages, those at Petworth being restored Pullman coaches, some of which were rescued from Marazion in Cornwall. The estate agents’ photographs provide a great opportunity to see the interior as well as the exterior of these fine old buildings. Our correspondent remarks: ‘Must say I am surprised they aren’t selling. Maybe people don’t want to take on the business side of it. Needs strong investment and commitment.’ (Tim Grose)

November 2017. Draycott to Rodney Stoke, Somerset. According to the map on the index page of the Strawberry Line Society’s website, this section of the former GWR line from Wells to Cheddar is now open as a multi-use trail, although a personal visit will be necessary to determine whether the old railway has been used, or quiet local lanes and drove roads (as shown on the 2005 plan for the route). The distance is only two-thirds of a mile, but is significant because of long-term plans to convert the whole of this line into a multi-use trail. For further details, see our report from October. (Jeff Vinter)

November 2017. Great Elm to Frome, Somerset. Regular readers of these pages will recognise ‘Great Elm to Frome’ as describing the missing section of Colliers Way (NCN24), which is needed to link Frome properly (by railway path) to Radstock, Midsomer Norton, Wellow, Midford and Bath. Local community group Frome’s Missing Links continues to work tirelessly to fill the gap, and recently announced completion of another discrete section of its intended route. Its 6th November newsletter reported: ‘Volunteers have now completed a project to reinforce a 130 metre section of footpath, which will be part of the future Missing Link route, creating a surface of compacted scalpings which will be suitable for cycling. Fencing has also been added along much of the path, which is near Coalash Lane. As part of this project, several volunteers were trained in the use of rollers – skills which will hopefully be useful on other sections of the path.’ We believe this section to be the public footpath which runs alongside the Frome-Whatley Quarry freight line between the A362 at grid reference ST 765498 and Coalash Lane at ST 769497. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: The southern portal of Tidenham Tunnel on the fomer Wye Valley line between Chepstow and Tintern, seen before vegetation obscured the view and high security pallisade fencing barred access. The track here remains in place, but will have to be removed if plans to create a cycle trail along the branch succeed – as now seems likely. For further details, see the story below. Summer 1993. (John Winder, used under the terms of this Creative Commons Licence)

October 2017. Chepstow to Tintern, Gwent (Monmouthshire). The rails still remain in situ between Chepstow and Tidenham on the former GWR Wye Valley line from Chepstow to Tintern. Over the years, there have been several proposals to create a multi-use trail on this old railway, the most recent one (from Monmouthshire County Council at the time of Sustrans’ Connect2 Project) having failed by just a single vote. Now, at last, things may be moving forward. On 31st October, an organisation called A-B Connecting Communities sent a newsletter to its supporters containing the following item: ‘We were overjoyed last Friday to hear that the grant of £9,000 [which] A-B Connecting Communities applied for from Chepstow Town Council has been awarded. Mike Lewis of the Green Man Backpackers in Chepstow Town Centre has this week also pledged £1,000 taking the total to £20,500 required to submit the revised Planning Applications to the Monmouthshire County Council and Forest of Dean County Council for the Wander Wye Route from the Severn Bridge to Tintern along the disused railway line.’ The newsletter continued to report that both Sustrans (actually Railway Paths) and Network Rail were ‘on board’ with the project, and that Justin Bryce – who operates the adjoining National Diving and Activity Centre in the former Dayhouse Quarry – has given an undertaking (not legally enforceable) to work with A-B and allow public access for walking and cycling. (Ivor Sutton)
Above: The photographer took this to be the former station house at Draycott, which was the station immediately south-east of Cheddar on the former line from Yatton to Cheddar, Wells, Shepton Mallet and Witham Friary. He must be correct, for the stonework and decorative features are pure Bristol & Exeter Railway, and can be seen on all the company’s surviving stations, such as Sandford & Banwell, Axbridge and Cheddar. The canopy over the entrance door is almost identical to that on the lamp room at Sandford & Banwell. An extension to the Strawberry Line multi-use trail may pass here in the future: for further details, see the story below. 25th April 1995. (Ben Brooksbank used under the terms of this Creative Commons licence)

October 2017. Cheddar to Wells and Shepton Mallet, Somerset. John Grimshaw is perhaps best known for having founded Sustrans back in the 1970s. His new path-building charity is called ‘Greenways and Cycleroutes Ltd’ and, as we have reported before, it specialises in delivering routes which previously have proved ‘intractable’. Given that, it is with considerable pleasure that we can report this charity’s involvement with an extension to the existing Strawberry Line, which runs from Yatton to Cheddar. This passage from its recent first report to supporters summarises the current position: ‘We have worked with the Strawberry Line extension group to plan a route from Cheddar to Wells and on to Shepton Mallet [via the old railway]. Members of the local group are now continuing negotiating with landowners, in preparation for the submitting of planning applications.’ It will be good to see this route materialise after all these years; this was the trail which, just a couple of years ago, prompted Tessa Munt (then MP for Wells) to raise questions in the House of Commons about Somerset County Council’s lack of progress in delivering it. (Jeff Vinter)

October 2017. Appleby to Warcop, Cumbria. Highways England plans to build a new road between Appleby and Warcop (where the rails are still in place and leased to the Eden Valley Railway), and wants to use the parallel disused railway to accommodate a new multi-use trail along the same corridor. Currently, we do not know when this is likely to happen. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: The view towards Rugby along the former LNWR Rugby to Leamington Spa line from near Draycote Water. As can be seen from the width of the formation, this used to be a double track railway; it is not normally this clear, but Butterfly Conservation Warwickshire had cut back the vegetation to create a habit suitable for butterflies. Only a few short sections of this long cross-country route have been converted into a trail, but imminent development alongside the trackbed in Rugby means that all that may now change; for further details, see the story below. 15th February 2016. (Jeff Vinter)

October 2017. Rugby to Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. There are proposals at the Rugby end of this former LNWR cross-country branch line for a large-scale development on land adjoining the old railway. Sustrans’ Network Development Manager believes that Section 106 funding will become available from this, thereby creating a realistic possibility that, finally, a path might be constructed along the old trackbed within the next 5-10 years. Under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended), local authorities can seek contributions from developers towards the cost of improvements to ‘community and social infrastructure’, which become necessary because of new development. (Jeff Vinter)

October 2017. Betteshanger Colliery Junction to Betteshanger Colliery, Kent. The mineral line to Betteshanger Colliery can be walked between grid references TR 360544 and TR 337531, a distance of 1¾ miles, on unfenced ‘white roads’ through Betteshanger Community Park, formerly Fowlmead Country Park. Betteshanger was the last working colliery in Kent, finally closing in 1989 after the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. In spring 2018, a new Kent Mining Museum will open at Betteshanger, funded in part by a grant of £1.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund; the museum is being established because the Kent coalfield was the only one in the UK without its own regional museum. Adjoining the old railway at its east end, the modern community park includes a smooth 3½ kilometre cycle circuit, which British Cycling (the UK’s national governing body for cycling) has described as among the best outdoor tarmac road cycle circuits in the UK. (Keith Holliday/Jeff Vinter)

October 2017. Bristol to Portishead, Somerset/Bristol. The public consultation for the Development Consent Order, a legal requirement for the next, critical step towards trains returning to Portishead, will run from 23rd October to 4th December. The consultation, which was already being publicised at the start of this month, will collect public opinion about the proposed line and train service, as currently planned; it will not deal with the location of the stations and service levels, which have already been agreed. We reported in February this year that the River Avon Trail runs parallel to the railway from Ashton Gate to opposite Sea Mills, thus providing future opportunities for ‘ride and stride’, i.e. ride on the train one way and walk back the other. (Matt Skidmore)

October 2017. Canfranc, France/Spain. Europe’s second largest railway station is not in a major city, as one would expect, but in the tiny Pyrenean village of Canfranc (population 500) on the Franco-Spanish border. Opened in 1928 as a through route from Spain to France (and much used during World War 2 by Jews and Allied soldiers to escape into Spain), the line closed in 1970 when a train derailed on the French side. In the years since closure, the weather and vandals have diminished the mighty station, but now the Aragon government wants to refurbish it as a hotel, build another one next door, and re-launch rail travel through the Pyrenees. The French regional government in Bordeaux has agreed to re-open the line on its side too. Already, there are two trains a day between Saragossa and Canfranc, and the massive wooden ticket halls at Canfranc station have been restored. In its heyday, Canfranc station was called the ‘Titanic of the Alps’, and could deserve that title again with five years if all goes to plan. Click the link here for the full story. (Mike Knight)

September 2017. Witney Junction to Fairford, Oxfordshire. Oxfordshire is not a county which contains many railway paths, but between 1987 and 1994 local resident Sue Chapman campaigned to have a quarter mile section of old trackbed west of Eynsham (grid references SP 430089 to SP 421089) designated as a public footpath – and succeeded. Unfortunately, West Oxfordshire District Council has recently informed the local parish council that there are plans to divert the footpath off the old railway to make way for offices and ‘manufacturing buildings’. Further details are available at, and we encourage those who read this story to contact local councillor Sue Osborne (see her link on the eynsham-pc website) with good reasons to object, so that the parish council can assemble a strong case against these plans. Time is of the essence, so please act quickly. (Tim Chant)

September 2017. Treherbert to Port Talbot, Mid Glamorgan/West Glamorgan. The Welsh government has provided funding of £90,000 to the Rhondda Tunnel Society to carry out a detailed survey of all faults in the tunnel, and the cost of rectifying them. This will include a survey of the material used to fill the cuttings at each end, in case it includes anything hazardous. For further details, see the Wales Online web page here, which includes a recent video from inside the tunnel. (Keith Holliday)

September 2017. Kelso to Sprouston, Borders. Member Chris John first reported how the Scottish Borders Council was re-using old railways for trails back in 2003. Years later, a correspondent has noticed that a 1½ mile section of the old NBR/NER line from Kelso to Tweedmouth is now marked on the local OS Explorer map as a cycle trail. Its starts south of Kelso just off the A698 (which itself occupies ¾ mile of the trackbed towards Roxburgh) at grid reference NT 736336 and continues to NT 754349 on the western edge of Sprouston, passing Sprouston Junction on the way – not a junction in the conventional sense, but an end-to-end connection where the two railway companies met. (Keith Holliday)

September 2017. Waterford to Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, Ireland. Further to earlier reports this year, a club member with family living on the ‘Emerald Isle’ has been out to explore this newly opened rail trail. ‘I’ve cycled it, and think it’s the most outstanding old line that I’ve visited. The variation of terrain is quite spectacular, i.e. coastal, countryside and riverside. It also passes over several long bridges and the high viaduct at Kilmacthomas, and additionally passes by the Waterford & Suir Valley preserved railway. (Lionel Pilbeam)

Above: This underbridge, which carried the Bilston Glen Colliery Railway over the A7 at grid reference NT 310689, was closed off last year prior to improvement works which will soon result in the railway path from Roslin (south of Edinburgh) to Gilmerton being extended to the new town of Shawfair; this is the view looking south west towards Gilmerton. For further details, see the story below. 20th October 2016. (Jeff Vinter)

August 2017. Gilmerton to Shawfair, Midlothian. On 19th August, the Midlothian Advertiser announced that work had finally started on converting the disused trackbed from Gilmerton to Shawfair (near Millerhill Junction, outside Edinburgh) into an extension of the 3 mile cycle trail which currently runs from Roslin to Loanhead and Gilmerton (Lasswade Road). The extension will add 1¾ miles to the existing route and is intended to give future residents of the new town of Shawfair a traffic-free and healthy alternative to using their cars. The current work will re-use virtually all of the former NBR’s Glencorse branch, also known as the Bilston Glen Colliery Railway. It has taken the best part of three years to get this project from drawing board to implementation. (Keith Holliday)

August 2017. Carmarthen to Llandeilo, Dyfed (Carmarthenshire). Further to our reports in April and January, the South Wales Argus has just reported a funding boost for the 16 mile long multi-use trail intended for the old railway between Carmarthen and Llandeilo. The Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 (funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government) has made a grant of £132,000 to the project, which will be spent on developing the route at Nantgaredig. The newly appointed project officer, Sam Palmer, said: ‘This is a fantastic project; as a keen cyclist myself, I can appreciate how wonderful it will be to cycle along the path through the stunning Tywi Valley countryside.’ Carmarthenshire CC has made no secret of its desire to make the county the ‘cycling capital of Wales’. (Tim Chant)

August 2017. Ballinamore to Corgar Lake, County Leitrim. Leitrim County Council has announced that it will convert 2.3 kilometres (1.5 miles) of the trackbed of the former 3 ft. gauge Cavan & Leitrim Railway into a greenway between Ballinamore and Corgar Lake. Work on creating the combined footpath and cycle trail is expected to start next month. (Jeff Vinter)

August 2017. Catesby Tunnel, Northamptonshire. Further to our report in February, the August 2017 edition of Railway Magazine confirmed that the 2,997 yard Catesby Tunnel now ‘looks set for a new life as high-tech road vehicle testing and motorsport facility’. Aero Research Partners plan to convert the ruler-straight tunnel into a ‘world class’ aerodynamics test centre, with automated turntables at each end and a science park on the former trackbed. RM observed that ‘Northamptonshire is home to several of the world’s best-known motorsport teams and is already a hotbed of road vehicle innovation and technology’. (Jeff Vinter)

August 2017. Radcliffe-on-Trent to Cotgrave Country Park, Nottinghamshire. The county of Nottinghamshire was a late starter with railway paths but has been catching up quickly, thanks partly to its re-use of colliery lines that closed within recent memory; the 2 mile trackbed from Radcliffe-on-Trent to Cotgrave Country Park is a case in point. The modern country park used to be Cotgrave Colliery, and the route of the railway that served it is already in use informally by walkers; the plan now is to install a proper surface on the trackbed, plus fencing and access ramps where necessary.  Nottinghamshire County Council says that the overall intention is to ‘encourage sustainable and healthy travel options, provide off-road links for both leisure and commuter use, and link the key commuter settlement of Cotgrave to the wider leisure and transport network’. (Graeme Bickerdike and Keith Holliday)

August 2017. Keswick to Threlkeld, Cumbria. In December 2015, Storm Desmond inflicted serious damage on this popular and scenic railway path in the Lake District, but now a diversion has been opened which will enable walkers to access Threlkeld until a 200 metre section of the old trackbed can be put back. The diversion is unsuitable for cyclists and wheelchair users, but at least it restores a link for one class of user. The Lake District National Park’s projects ranger, Scott Henderson, commented: ‘We all look forward to the entire pathway being fully reinstated and are working hard to achieve this. In the meantime, significant parts of one of our best-used routes can be enjoyed, but we would ask that people stay away from the cordoned-off areas.’ The work was funded by the Lake District National Park with work carried out by apprentices from the Eden Rivers Trust. (Tim Chant)

July 2017. Treherbert to Port Talbot, Mid Glamorgan/West Glamorgan. We reported in August 2016 that Rhondda Cynon Taf Council had granted a licence to the Rhondda Tunnel Society to develop a proposal to re-use the 3,443 yard long Rhondda Tunnel as a walking and cycling link between Treherbert and the Afan Valley that leads down to Port Talbot from Blaengwynfi. The RTS has now received a grant of £10,000 from the Welsh Assembly to carry out a ‘tapping survey’ of the tunnel; work commenced at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday 26th July, and was expected to take two weeks. (Keith Holliday)

July 2017. Giant’s Causeway to Bushmills, Co. Antrim, Ireland.  When our correspondent visited the Giant’s Causeway & Bushmills Railway with the Branch Line Society in 2016, he found a footpath parallel to the railway all the way. So, despite the comment in Vinter’s Railway Gazetteer that this former rail trail had been lost, it can still be walked, albeit as a lineside path – and, between Easter and the end of October, one might even be passed by a steam train on the GC&BR. (Stuart Hicks)

July 2017. Waterford to Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, Ireland. We have just learned that the easternmost 6½ miles of this newly-opened railway path, the Deise Greenway, run alongside the growing Waterford & Suir Valley Heritage Railway. The W&SVHR was established in 1997 and now runs from Kilmeadan to Gracedieu Junction on the west side of Waterford city. The motive power is all diesel at the moment, including a restored Simplex locomotive which was used in excavating the Channel Tunnel, but the railway plans to acquire a steam locomotive as well. Stations are to be opened at Mount Congreve Gardens, Woodstown Viking site, Waterford Institute of Technology (Carriganore Campus) and Bilberry, which will offer visitors the opportunity to ‘ride and stride’, i.e. take the train one way and walk the other. (Stuart Hicks)

July 2017. Levenshulme, Greater Manchester. The Fallowfield Loop Line from Chorlton-cum-Hardy to Fairfield is a 6 mile long railway path with Levenshulme South station (grid reference SJ 876938) roughly in the middle. In recent years, this old station has been a rather sorry sight, but a local group called ‘Destination South’ is seeking to restore it to its former glory and re-invent it as a ‘destination cycle café and bar’. Some community schemes can appear to be things of straw (and even more so some railway restoration proposals), but this one has some experienced professionals behind it who have produced a polished and convincing proposal. (Jeff Vinter)

July 2017. Kilbirnie to Kilwinning, Strathclyde (North Ayrshire). North Ayrshire Council, working with Sustrans, has proposed a cycle path between Kilbirnie, at the end of the Lochwinnoch Loop Line, and Kilwinning. The proposed route will utilise Garnock Viaduct, owned by Railway Paths Ltd., and the charity is in favour of the scheme. This is an interesting prospect: the Lochwinnoch Loop Line is already one of the longest railway paths in Scotland, and this extension would make it even longer. It looks as if the council has its eye on the former Glasgow & South Western Railway’s trackbeds between the two towns, but a section of operational passenger railway (including Dalry station) would need to be crossed if this is the case. Watch this space! (Howard Jones and Jeff Vinter, Railway Paths Ltd)

July 2017. Methley L&Y and Midland Junction to Cutsyke Junction, Leeds, West Yorkshire. This is another one of those railway path stories which has run and run, of a potential new trail with a large viaduct which has struggled to ‘gain traction’ in the current straitened financial climate. The good news is that, in June this year, a £125,000 project (funded by the Railway Heritage Trust) to improve the River Calder Viaduct at grid reference SE 404255 was successfully completed. The work involved replacing stonework to the string course, laying a tarmac surface to the deck, installing a drainage channel, and improving the parapet fencing. Wakefield Council now has a cycling and walking project in the pipeline which will see this structure, owned by Railway Paths Ltd, become part of a larger scheme. The background to this story will be found in our reports from March 2015 and October 2014. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: The newly opened Tregarth or Dinas Tunnel on the Bangor to Bethesda cycle route is seen through the preceding overbridge and cutting, with a a party of directors and staff from Railway Paths Ltd in attendance. For further details, see the story below. 13th July 2017. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: Near Tynlon on the ride back from Bethesda to Bangor, which is downhill all the way. The bridge is out of focus (although the cyclists are not) because this photograph was taken on the move. The Webmaster actually got the panning right –  it’s not easy when whizzing along on two wheels! 13th July 2017. (Jeff Vinter)

July 2017. Porth Penrhyn, Bangor, to Bethesda, Gwynedd. Further to our reports in July 2016 and March 2013, in May this year Gwynedd County Council opened both the 275 metre Tregarth Tunnel (signed as Dinas Tunnel) and the viaduct immediately to its south, which crosses the Llyn Ogwen. This completes a 5 mile long, multi-use railway path from Porth Penrhyn (near Bangor) to Bethesda, switching from Lord Penrhyn’s Railway to the LNWR Bethesda branch at the trail’s crossing of the A55 trunk road. (In case anyone is wondering, the trail is LPR to the north and LNWR to the south of the A55.) The main contributors ended up being the Heritage Railway Trust and Gwynedd County Council, who put in £300,000 and £150,000 respectively. Additionally, in order to facilitate the route, Railway Paths Ltd transferred seven railway structures from its portfolio to the council. It’s a great new trail and provides a steady but manageable climb from Porth Penrhyn to Bethesda, followed by 5 glorious miles back the other way when one hardly has to pedal at all. (Jeff Vinter)

July 2017. Rothwell to nr. Lofthouse, West Yorkshire. A permissive cycle trail now exists on part of the former East & West Yorkshire Union Railway’s line from Stourton Junction to Lofthouse & Outwood. It runs between grid references SE 348289 and SE 326262, a distance of just under 2½ miles. There is a short diversion on local residential roads around the school currently known as Rothwell Church of England Primary Academy. (What will it be called after the next Education Minister has taken post?!) The route cannot be extended any further than its current end point on the B6135 because the massive junction of the M1 and M62 motorways obstructs the old line. This route is conveniently close to a fairly new trail from nearby Methley, which we reported in February 2012. (Keith Holliday)

July 2017. Muir of Ord to Tore (Highland). This is the eastern section of the Highland Railway’s former branch line from Muir of Ord to Fortrose. This route is now advertised as a footpath in local tourist literature, although not currently shown on OS mapsnot even the subscription-based online versions. The total distance is 4½ miles. Our correspondent walked the trackbed for ca. 4 miles from the end of the path at grid reference NH 600519, near Tore, to the old railway’s intersection at NH 544505 with the B9169 near Muir of Ord. However, the local tourist map shows the footpath continuing west of here for another ½ mile to a point west of Hawthorn Road in Muir of Ord at NH 533505. Access to the path at Tore is by a farm access road off the A832 just east of the Tore roundabout with the A9. East of the B9169, the route starts as a minor road, but soon changes to a permissive footpath. The trackbed is easily walkable throughout except for one underbridge that is blocked by foliage, but there is a stile adjacent to walk round this. The path runs through a mixture of woods and open countryside, with pleasant views of the sea in the distance to the south. (Chris Homer)

July 2017. Stalbridge to Poole, Dorset. The historic county of Dorset is set to be administered by a unitary authority, with all its district councils being subsumed in a new ‘Dorset Council’ based at Dorchester. As a result, the Trailway group, which has supported the local authorities’ efforts to create a long distance trail along the old Somerset & Dorset Railway from the county boundary to Poole, fears for the funding of North Dorset projects, especially the Trailway. Dorset County Council tends to fund projects related to tourism, especially along the South Coast where most of the tourist income is generated. North Dorset is the poor relation. If no money is spent on facilities like the Trailway and it does not link the ends of the county, especially Poole to Sturminster Newton and Stalbridge, it cannot compete with all the other attractions. It is important that all who can keep the Trailway in the minds of those who sit in Dorchester making decisions and remind them that the Trailway is not just a lovely place to walk dogs, but a real tourist attraction which can and could in the future benefit North Dorset to a much greater extent. (Lesley Gasson)

July 2017. Mount Pleasant, London. It’s not a railway walk but is fascinating by any measure: a restored section of the Royal Mail’s 6½ mile long, 2ft gauge miniature railway beneath London opened as a tourist attraction on Friday 28th July, backed up by an extensive ‘Ride Mail Rail’ advertising campaign. The system closed on 31st May 2003, but train rides will be available from Monday 4th September, with tickets being bookable from Thursday 13th July. (Jeff Vinter)

July 2017. Thorner to Cross Gates (nr. Leeds), West Yorkshire.  Part of the former NER line from Wetherby to Cross Gates (east of Leeds) accommodates a public footpath from the southern edge of Thorner (grid reference SE 379400) to just north of the A64 crossing north of Scholes (SE 380387), a distance of ¾ mile. Also, the latest OS online mapping shows a hatched black line (i.e. a ‘path’) continuing on the trackbed south from the A64 for another 1¾ miles to Stanks Bridge near John Smeaton Academy at SE 373356; the only problem is that such paths can be anything from a farm track to a high quality permissive route belonging to a local authority. We think that the section between the A64 and SE 376372 (the junction of Scholes Lane, Station Road and Rakehill Road) reflects outdated mapping, i.e. it probably isn’t there any more; but the remaining mile from SE 376372 to Stanks Bridge looks promising – and the aerial view on Google Maps shows the old railway variously with a solid and hatched grey line.  We note that, in 2012, Leeds City Council was planning a ‘Stanks Cycle Route’ in this area, the intentions being to re-use the old railway and provide safe, sustainable access to the academy. If a local member can bring us up-to-date, please get in touch via our Contact page. (Keith Holliday and Jeff Vinter)

Above: Excluding diminutive Bannister Green Halt, Rayne is one of two surviving stations on Essex County Council’s ‘Flitch Way’ between Braintree and the eastern edge of Bishops Stortford. (The other survivor is Takeley, at the Bishops Stortford end of the line.)  A track panel and BR Mark II passenger coach have now arrived to reinforce the railway atmosphere. Note the summer sun ‘razzing’ off the coach – a scene to remember later in the year, when the dull days of November are with us again. For further details, see the story below. 8th July 2017. (Steve Harris)

July 2017. Rayne, Essex.  Our correspondent visited Rayne station on 8th July and could not help but notice that the owners have now installed a railway carriage at the east end of the platform; it contains museum items and some extra seats for the cafe. The cafe was always very reasonable, offering huge slices of home-made cake and mugs of tea, etc.; it’s called ‘The Booking Hall, and its website can be visited at (Steve Harris)

July 2017. Garmouth to Cullen, Grampian (Aberdeenshire). More of this route has been moved on to the old railway, which means that the details published in the latest edition of Vinter’s Railway Gazetteer need a little refinement. Two walkable stretches of the old railway exist in Buckie: the Burn of Buckie Viaduct at grid reference NJ 420655, which survives in isolation, and a short tarmacked-and-illuminated section from the railway’s crossing of the A942 (NJ 425657) to the site of Buckie station (NJ 428658). Also, the section reported in the gazetteer as Portessie to Findochty has now been extended west and runs from Gordonsburgh to Findochty (NJ 433660 to NJ 463676), a distance of 2¼ miles. Finally, in Portknockie, a short and shallow cutting can be walked prior to the start of the official Portknockie to Cullen section, which begins at NJ 491683; this is not part of the official route, so the longevity of access here is uncertain. (Phillip Earnshaw)

July 2017. Inverboyndie to Banff, Grampian (Aberdeenshire). The eastern end of the Great North of Scotland Railway’s Banff branch is a trail between Inverboyndie Layby on the A98 (grid reference NJ 659640) and the site of Banff station (NJ 687646).  The route is 1¾ miles long, and offers glorious views over Boyndie Bay. (Phillip Earnshaw)

July 2017. Turriff to nr. Wrae, Grampian (Aberdeenshire). South of Banff (see entry above), a section of the GNSR’s Macduff branch is also a trail. The route starts on the west side of Turriff just off the B9025 at grid reference NJ 715504, and heads north for 2¼ miles to a minor lane at NJ 720531 near the tiny community of Wrae. (Phillip Earnshaw)

July 2017. Rothes to Dandaleith, Grampian (Aberdeenshire). Still in GNSR territory, there is a short railway path which extends south from Rothes to Dandaleith. The route starts off Spey Street in Rothes at NJ 279492 and continues for 1½ miles south to NJ 282470, where the A941 encroaches on the trackbed. However, it is possible to walk behind the crash barrier on the A941 and follow a cut path just below the road, still on the old formation, to near the site of Dandaleith station, which was at NJ 287460; this brings the overall distance up to 2 miles. Dandaleith is close to Craigellachie on the scenic railway-based (and whisky-rich) Speyside Way, so anyone exploring that trail might consider a diversion to Rothes, if only to add the Rothes-based Glen Grant Whisky Distillery to the tally of distilleries visited! (Phillip Earnshaw)

July 2017. Portsoy, Grampian (Aberdeenshire). There is a railway path – formed from yet more GNSR trackbed – which runs through Portsoy.  It starts from a minor road near Bogtown (west of Portsoy) at grid reference NJ 573651 and continues to another minor road nr. Tillynaught at NJ 600630, a distance of 3¼ miles.  It is definitely an official path from Bogtown to Portsoy, but within Portsoy a diversion is required before and after the town’s second station (the one on the through line to Cullen and beyond).  Coming out of Portsoy on the south eastern side, the trackbed is definitely a path as far as NJ 594647 where a farm track joins the formation, but there is nothing to stop a railway rambler continuing right through to Tillynaught Road (NJ 600630) – although the going gets a bit difficult on this final stretch as one passes through Roughilly Wood. Also in the town is a surviving length of the Portsoy Harbour Branch, which ran from Portsoy Junction to Portsoy Harbour; it survives as a tarmacked path of just under half a mile between Seafield Place (NJ 590658) and Church Street (NJ 590662); there’s a good photograph of the trail on the Railscot page here. (Phillip Earnshaw)

July 2017. Cheadle to Cresswell, Staffordshire. A new group called the Friends of Cheadle Railway aims to make the disused line between Cheadle and Cresswell more accessible for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The first stage of the project will be to clear and re-surface the route between Cheadle and Totmonslow, a distance of about 2 miles. The line is currently leased by Moorland & City Railways, who had planned to turn it back into a railway, although nothing has come of this so far. MCR director David Kemp commented: ‘When we first got involved with the line, the idea was to look at the possibility of re-opening it, but there doesn’t appear to be any great interest from the local authorities. I think that what is now being proposed may well be the best use for the line, certainly for the time being, and it would be worth doing. The advantage is that it doesn’t necessarily stop it from re-opening as a railway line, if that option arises in future, as it’s not being broken up, no-one is building on it and the bridges aren’t being removed.’ The local newspaper, The Leek Post & Times, reports that the proposals are welcomed by Cheadle residents, who regularly use the line. (Graeme Bickerdike)

June 2017. Wareham to Swanage, Dorset. We realise that this is not a railway path, but older members of this club will remember walking over the ballast from Corfe Castle to Swanage in the 1970s when this well-used BR branch line was closed and all the rails removed. We are pleased to report that the line is open again, throughout, with the timetable until 3rd September being available. (Jeff Vinter)

June 2017. Clones to Enniskillen, Co. Monaghan/Co. Fermanagh, Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland. An ‘Ulster Canal Greenway’ is under construction in Ireland from Lough Neagh to near Castle Saunderson, with completion scheduled for 2020. The hope is that this new trail will replicate the phenomenal success of the Great Western Greenway, which re-uses the trackbed of the old Midland Great Western Railway between Westport and Achill in County Mayo. For railway ramblers, the interesting thing about this project is that there will be a connecting 34 kilometre trail (22 miles) from Clones to Enniskillen which will re-use parts of the Great Northern (Ireland) Railway between Clones and Enniskillen via Newtownbutler and Lisnaskea. The €4.95 million project is being developed by Waterways Ireland with local council partners along the route, the intention being to create a sustainable transport link for both cross-border travellers and long-distance tourists. Where the old railway cannot be used, the route will utilise local roads. (Mark Jones)

Update: For those interested in both rail and water transport, the long-disused Ulster Canal is being restored too. The section from Lough Neagh to Clones was due to re-open in about 2015 and, when restoration of the entire waterway from Lough Neagh to Lough Erne is complete, it will deliver a network of over 600 miles of navigable waterway linking Limerick, Waterford, Dublin, Enniskillen, Monaghan and Coleraine. (Webmaster)

June 2017. Bedford to Sandy, Bedfordshire.  Many visitors to these pages will know of this 8 mile railway path, which links Bedfordshire’s capital with Sandy on the East Coast Main Line.  Our correspondent has provided details of all the off-trackbed diversions, which will help anyone exploring the route on foot or by bicycle – click here for details.  (Michael Brooks)

June 2017. Muston (nr. Bottesford) to Harston (nr. Denton), Leicestershire. Vinter’s Railway Gazetteer erroneously places this walk in Leicestershire, but it only dips a toe into that county – the vast majority of it lies within Lincolnshire. The main route runs from SK 831371 to SK 848324, but there is also a walkable ‘branch off the branch’.  This begins at SK 860342, crosses Casthorpe Road and then runs to the east of Denton village, finally finishing at the A607 at SK 874324, a distance of 1½ miles. It is fully accessible and well used by local walkers, even though its legal status is uncertain. The branch originally served quarries near Harlaxton. (Michael Brooks)

Above: Two views of the short tunnel west of St. Fillans on the former Caledonian Railway’s line from Balquhidder to Crieff via St. Fillans and Comrie, much of which is being converted into a cycle trail. For further details, see the story below. 10th June 2017. (Dr. Keith Potter)

June 2017. Lochearnhead to St. Fillans and Comrie, Central (Perth & Kinross). Further to our report in November 2016, we are pleased to announce that conversion is underway on Phase 3 of this cycleway, with work in progress on about 1 kilometre of mostly trackbed route, west of St. Fillans station. Significantly, the short tunnel at grid reference NN 694243 (see above) has been made accessible; it was previously securely fenced at both ends. The often waterlogged cutting to the west of the tunnel (top picture) has had drainage installed. It is unclear how far west this phase will continue: on a 10th June visit, clearance ended abruptly around NN 696243 where a token site fence had been installed, but it would be logical to continue to NN 697237 where the currently signed path joins the trackbed. It is assumed that a tarmac surface will be provided, but the work was at too early a stage to be sure. The first 200 metre section east of Station Road follows the foot of the embankment due to housing on the formation. At this end, connection exists via Station Road with the cycleway that first avoids the station area and a nearby farm, then follows the trackbed towards Dalchonzie (Phase 1). At the west end, there is still not a cycleway link to Phase 2, the new Glentarken bridge, the trackbed in between being an informal footpath, which is wet in places. (Dr Keith Potter)

June 2017. Haverhill to Sturmer, Suffolk/Essex. We have learned recently of a 3 mile railway path that runs from the eastern edge of Haverhill through the town to the village of Sturmer, re-using part of the trackbed of the former Great Eastern Railway’s Cambridge to Long Melford route. While the trail doesn’t always follow the trackbed exactly in Haverhill itself – which is not surprising – it is always close to it. The route runs between grid references TL 657467 and TL 697440, and is only a few miles from the short section of the same line within Clare Country Park, where the station now features a new café, as reported in May. The Stour Valley Path provides a handy traffic-free link from Sturmer to Clare for anyone wanting to explore the two trails in a single visit. (Robert Greenall)

June 2017. Newcastle-under-Lyme to Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. Owen Meredith, the Conservative candidate for Newcastle-under-Lyme, has called for the town’s rail link to Stoke-on-Trent to be reinstated (see here). Some of the route still exists, but other parts are used as a cycle trail, are seriously overgrown, or have been built on. Mr Meredith commented: ‘Newcastle is one of the largest towns in the UK without a railway station. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is also keen on the idea of a feasibility study. Being realistic I would not expect anything to be put in place until the end of the decade, [or] start of the next one, but there is a real opportunity here.’ Given the huge amounts of money that Network Rail requires for such projects, partly as the result of modern legal and safety requirements, this re-opening must be regarded as ‘highly aspirational’. (Keith Holliday)

June 2017. Camden Town to King’s Cross, London. Plans have been announced to create a 60 ft wide, half-mile long elevated park on a stretch of disused railway between Camden Town and King’s Cross. The route would start at Kentish Town Road before passing north of Camden Road station towards Caledonian Road station, continuing over several disused railway bridges and finishing near Camley Street. The plan has been proposed by an organisation called ‘Camden Town Unlimited’ and already has support from local businesses, police, residents and politicians. A key feature is that the route would provide grade-separated crossings of seven separate roads, which is no small consideration in this busy part of the city. (Graeme Bickerdike and Keith Holliday)

June 2017. Ayrshire, Scotland. A pressure group is calling for a major revolution to the rail network in Ayrshire. The report (see here) does not name the campaigners, but Transport Scotland and Railfuture are involved; they make the point that, while Network Rail is charged with maintaining the existing network, and Scotrail with running trains on it, no one is charged with improving or expanding the network. Communities like Mauchline and Cumnock ‘really deserve a railway station’ but have ‘continued to be ignored’ by rail chiefs. The most startling proposals are to (1) re-open the former coastal line, the Maidens & Dunure Light Railway, with stations at Alloway, Culzean and Turnberry, and (2) re-open the old Ayr to Dalmellington branch. We recognise that the government in Scotland has very different priorities to that in England, but the extravagant scale of these proposals may militate against their success. Re-opening closed stations on still operational lines is one thing, but reconstructing the M&DLR quite another. (Graeme Bickerdike and Keith Holliday)

Above: Rising out of resplendent May greenery, these are the vintage concrete steps which lead to the down side of the long-closed railway station at Trevor on the former GWR line from Ruabon to Llangollen, which closed on 18th January 1965. The line led eventually to Barmouth Junction, which remains open as Morfa Mawddach on the Cambrian Coast line. May 2017. (Chris Parker)

Above: The underbridge west of Trevor at SJ 261419 where the new railway path ends; see story below for further details. The new trail can be reached from Chirk station via NCN84, which uses the towpath of the Llangollen Canal. This station is ca. 3½ miles away. Ruabon station is closer, but does not have off-road access to Trevor. May 2017. (Chris Parker)

May 2017. Trevor, Clwyd (Denbighshire). We attach here a low resolution copy of the web page for a recent addition to the Pontcysyllte World Heritage Site – a 2 mile circular walk to the west of Trevor utilising canal towpath, secondary and minor roads, and around ¾ mile of the Ruabon to Llangollen line westwards from the site of Trevor station, where the heavily overgrown platforms still survive. The grid references for the trackbed section are SJ 268425 to SJ 261419, and the photographs above show the scene at either end. Our correspondent reports: ‘I first became aware of this last year but have only just checked it out. It is not long enough to qualify for the 3rd edition of Vinter’s Railway Gazetteer, but hopefully of interest for the website. It’s likely to be incorporated in one of next year’s AGM weekend walks.’ The indications are that other sections remain in local authority ownership, and one local reckoned that only a dispute with neighbouring farmers was preventing a further section being converted into a path, although that may no longer be true in the present political/financial/economic climate. [It is only in England that funding for walking and cycling projects has been slashed. Webmaster.] (Chris Parker)

May 2017. Bournemouth to Bath, Dorset/Somerset. We thought that visitors to this site would be interested to see the railtour advertisement here, which appeared in the August 1962 edition of ‘Modern Railways’. Note the reference to ‘the economy axe’, which is a very restrained expression considering what happened six months later (i.e. the publication of the Beeching Report). And what a great railtour this was! The train must have travelled from Bath Green Park to Cheltenham via Mangotsfield and Yate; then, on leaving Cheltenham, it continued to Kingham via the now closed line through Andoversford and Stow-on-the-Wold, before traversing the Oxford-Thame-Princes Risborough line, all for 55/- or £2.75 in modern money. (Mike Ross)

May 2017. National. Sustrans has started to re-evaluate what’s in the National Cycle Network because some sections are not particularly good. A number of these sections were set up by local authorities using roads, which means they do not provide the best cycling or walking experience, and the charity wants to improve the quality of its ‘core brand’. The latest edition of its supporters’ magazine, ‘The Hub’, features articles on a number of routes which do meet the required quality standards, and – unsurprisingly – many of these are based on old railways, including Rickmansworth to Watford (The Ebury Way), York to Selby, Connel Ferry to Ballachulish Ferry (The Caledonia Way), and Monmouth to Symonds Yat (The Peregrine Path). It all goes to show the value of re-using old trackbeds; nothing comes near them for the ‘grade separation’ of vulnerable users from motorised traffic. (Jeff Vinter)

May 2017. Monmouth to Symonds Yat, Gwent/Gloucestershire. Continuing with themes from the latest Sustrans’ supporters’ magazine, ‘The Hub’, Railway Ramblers gets a deserving mention for its help with upgrading the Peregrine Path between Monmouth and Symonds Yat: ‘Thanks to a grant that Sustrans received from Railway Ramblers, the Peregrine Path in Monmouthshire has received a much-needed makeover … The section between Monmouth and Symonds Yat is a mixture of on-road, traffic-free path and forest track. [It is actually an old railway line. Webmaster.] Due to a planning condition, the path was originally constructed using gravel which has led to a gradual reduction in its width from 3m to 1m. This has made it difficult for users to share the space comfortably. The grant has made it possible to restore the path to 3m, and a better maintenance schedule will ensure that it remains usable. Path users have expressed their delight with the work and believe that the number of people using the route has increased.’ (Jeff Vinter)

May 2017. Brockenhurst to Hamworthy via Ringwood and Wimborne, Dorset/Hampshire. The Castleman Trailway is a 16½ mile walking, cycling and horse riding route that, between Brockenhurst and Hamworthy, follows much of the old Southampton & Dorchester Railway. Between Ringwood and Upton Country Park, Greenspace teams from Dorset County Council and the Borough of Poole have installed 44 newly-designed finger posts to enable the route to be followed more easily; local oak from an arboricultural works in Poole was used. Also, volunteers from Great Heath have been refreshing ‘lamp post stickers’, which we presume means self-adhesive stickers placed on local lampposts. Finally, a new website for the trail is in preparation and should be launched later this year. (Tim Chant)

Above: Preserved Hastings diesel no. 1001 arrives at Winchester station at 10:10 on Saturday 13th May en route from Hastings to Southampton Central to operate three shuttle trips over the mothballed ‘Waterside Line’ from Totton to Fawley. The route taken was not the obvious one along the coast: instead, the unit travelled up the Hastings-London line as far as Tonbridge, then turned west for Redhill. The next stop after Redhill was Woking, so we reckon that the train must have reversed at both those places. The final leg of the journey was down the Bournemouth main line to Southampton Central. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: The level crossing at the north end of Marchwood station, seen from the window of the 10:54 Southampton Central to Fawley service on Saturday 13th May 2017. As can be seen, the crossing gates are of atypical design. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: The diminutive Marchwood station viewed at ca. 12:20 from the same train on the way back. Features to note include the level crossing at the far end of the platform, the semaphore signalling, and – beyond the level crossing – the ‘branch off the branch’ that leads into Marchwood Military Port. The station houses a small signal box and still carries a running-in board, which can be seen on the wall to the right of the gentleman in the red top. 13th May 2017. (Richard Lewis)

May 2017. Totton to Fawley, Hampshire. The Fawley branch no longer carries oil trains to Fawley Refinery, but there is renewed interest in re-opening it to passengers, initially to Hythe and subsequently to Fawley Waterside, where the power station is due to be closed and the site re-developed for housing. On Saturday 13th May, preserved Hastings Diesel unit no. 1001 made three return trips down the branch, each one completely sold out. (That was ca. 300 passengers per trip.) Carrying a ‘Fawley Forrester’ headboard, the trips were arranged in conjunction with the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership, which is behind the re-opening proposal. The branch remains in use from Totton to Marchwood Military Port for occasional military trains, but – if the re-opening goes ahead – there won’t be a ‘Waterside Rail Trail’ over the southernmost section. Given the number of new homes being built on the Waterside, and the parlous state of the Hythe ferry, re-opening the branch to passenger trains is a sensible proposal. (Jeff Vinter)

May 2017. Lauder to Oxton (Borders). This is the southernmost half of the North British Railway’s former branch line from Fountainhall to Lauder, the latter situated a few miles east of Stow station on the re-opened Borders Railway. The trackbed is now a footpath complete with stiles and wooden fingerposts, and a few plastic ‘LPN’ waymarks, whose initials probably stand for ‘Lauderdale Path Network’. (This would be consistent with news supplied a few years ago by local member Chris John, who informed us that a number of old Borders trackbeds were being added to local path networks.) At the southern end, the path joins former railway infrastructure on the northern edge of Lauder at grid reference NT 522483 at the top of a short infilled cutting; this is just north of the industrial estate that occupies the site of Lauder station, and can be reached from Brownsmuir Park by taking an urban footpath on the west side of the industrial estate, then passing the fire station and turning right. At the Oxton end, a stretch of footpath spans the short link between road and trackbed at NT 499530, on the lane from Oxton to Midburn. The footpath is on the trackbed throughout, except between NT 509515 and NT 513506, where the formation has been partly ploughed into arable fields. The official path makes a 2 mile diversion to the west here – not explored, as our correspondent was able to keep to both the trackbed (almost) and the access code by following field boundaries and grassland sections. The total distance is 4 miles, but with that half mile gap involving a lengthy diversion partly on roads. (Dr Keith Potter)

Above: The site of Fakenham West railway station in Norfolk. The replica running-in board on the right reads, ‘Fakenham West. This platform was part of Fakenham West station. Opened on 16th August 1880 by the Lynn and Fakenham Railway Company. It closed on 28th February 1959.’ For further details, see the article below. 3rd June 2010. (Ashley Dace under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0)

May 2017. Fakenham, Norfolk. The Norfolk Orbital Railway project (the trading name of The Melton Constable Trust) seeks to bridge the 20 mile gap between two of Norfolk’s popular heritage railways – The North Norfolk Railway at Holt and the Mid-Norfolk Railway at County School, north of Dereham. It is currently buying up sections of the old trackbed as they become available on the property market, a recent example being land near Pudding Norton, south of Fakenham, which includes two ex-railway bridges. On 9th May, interviewed for The Eastern Daily Press, Trevor Bailey, a trustee, commented: ‘It will take a considerable time to acquire the rest of the land required and to achieve the re-building of the railway, with the very substantial expenditure involved. We have to work carefully and considerately with existing landowners. For the coming years, we want to ensure the Pudding Norton site is open to the community, for walking, heritage education purposes, environmental experiences and events.’ A photograph accompanying the newspaper’s article suggested that this land might include the site of Fakenham West station, but we do not yet know the grid references of the Trust’s recent acquisition. If you can supply these, please get in touch using our Contact page. (Tim Chant)

May 2017. Chirnside to Reston, Borders. This 3 mile section of the former North British Railway’s branch line from St. Boswell’s to Reston has been made into a footpath marked with plastic emblems and equipped with kissing gates of a kind easily operated by horse riders. It runs between grid references NT 853569 and NT 869614, and forms part of the David Hume Way, commemorating the 18th Century Edinburgh-based philosopher, whose writings our correspondent well remembers struggling to assimilate as an undergraduate! (See here for a taster.) Access in the south is just north of industrial premises occupying Chirnside station yard; the station itself is reasonably intact and can be viewed from the former level crossing at its south end. The one missing underbridge on the path has ramped access to the road. The official path rises to cross the B6437 at road level, but walkers can equally well follow the trackbed below the overbridge. The path ends in the north at a minor road, but there is no problem with remaining on the formation to the Network Rail fence opposite Reston station, whence a marked footpath leads the bridge taking the B6438 over the East Coast Main Line. Further west down the branch, though not on this trail, there is a very well preserved station building at Edrom, whilst Duns station remains, though unsympathetically extended, within an industrial estate. (Dr Keith Potter)

May 2017. Barleith (nr Kilmarnock) to Galston, East Ayrshire (Strathclyde). Club members in Scotland continue to find new railway paths, this part of the former Glasgow & South Western Railway’s branch from Kilmarnock to Loudonhill being a recent example. Our correspondent reports: ‘This is a surfaced cycleway, marked by blue finger post signage. It can be accessed in the west from Craigie Road, Hurlford. In the east, the cycleway leaves the railway alignment in a landscaped area: it veers right and climbs, while a left-curving line of trees in a grassed area seems to mark the former railway boundary. The emergence of the cycleway wasn’t checked (we followed the trackbed), but it appears to be close to Galston Cemetery. The only point at which the cycleway leaves the trackbed is around grid reference NS 473360 where for some undiscernible reason it moves to the southern boundary for about 150 metres.’ The start and end points of this 2¼ mile route are NS 458361 and NS 493361. (Dr Keith Potter)

May 2017. Clare, Suffolk. The delightful railway station at Clare, on the former GER line from Cambridge to Long Melford, was used as a museum for many years but is now enjoying a new lease of life as ‘The Platform One Café’, which has been established in the original 1865 booking hall. The Grade 2 listed building is a feature in Clare Castle Country Park, but this is the first time that the park has included a café, although there are plenty of ‘eateries’ a short walk away in Clare town centre. The building’s new furnishings have been chosen to reflect its history, and there are plans to collect more railway artefacts for display. As an added bonus, the park includes a short length of railway trackbed which can be walked. (Tim Chant)

April 2017. York to Market Weighton, Yorkshire. A recent visit by our correspondent found that a half mile section of the former NER line from York to Market Weighton has been converted into a multi-use trail, between Bootham Junction (York) and Haxby Road, Earswick. The trail runs from grid reference SE 604540 (south of a bridge on the B1363) to SE 609549, where it connects with trackbed-based Link Road, which leads to the site of Earswick station at SE 612550; the Flag & Whistle pub, with a railway signal outside, now stands on the site. The south end of the trail joins the 2 mile path between York and Osbaldwick, which re-uses the York end of the Derwent Valley Light Railway. (Keith Holliday)

April 2017. Salisbury to West Moors, Wiltshire/Hampshire/Dorset. There is currently a 2 mile railway path from South Charford to Burgate Cross which passes through the old station at Breamore. The local New Forest newspaper, The Daily Echo, has just reported a burgeoning dispute at Fordingbridge (south of Burgate Cross), which concerns plans by developers Highwood Homes and Pennyfarthing Homes to build 145 new houses on the northern edge of the town, bordering the old railway line. Local campaigners and civic chiefs have ‘joined the battle’ to prevent this, claiming that the new homes would add too much extra traffic to over-burdened local roads, while placing extra strain on schools and other services. However, if the development does go ahead, the local authority (which at Fordingbridge is Hampshire County Council) would be entitled to seek Section 106 grants from the developers which, inter alia, could be used to extend the railway path southwards from Burgate Cross into the town; such an extension would certainly increase the number of people using the trail. (Tim Chant)

April 2017. Plymouth, Devon. Further to our reports in 2016, Plymouth City Council has now opened the extension to the new railway path that comes off the refurbished Laira Bridge. The new four metre wide path provides a level and direct multi-use trail from the east end of the bridge (grid reference SX 502542) into the Saltram Meadow housing development, and a further extension is planned for 2018 when the route will be continued east to Broxton Drive (SX 510541) before crossing Billacombe Road, the busy A379, by a planned new bridge. Councillor Patrick Nicholson, the council’s Deputy Leader, thanked Sustrans for preserving the old railway until it could be used for a trail, although the charity which actually did this was Railway Paths Ltd. Cycling in Plymouth has increased by 50% in the last six years, which is not surprising given the city’s commitment to providing high quality routes. It all goes to show that people will walk and cycle if given safe places to do so – a point made nearly 40 years ago by Sustrans founder, John Grimshaw. The funding for this extension has come from Section 106 grants from developers, and South West Local Enterprise Partnership’s Local Transport Board; we would not want readers to think that the money came from the government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, which proceeds at a glacial pace and continues to underwhelm. (Tim Chant and Jeff Vinter)

April 2017. Carmarthen to Llandeilo, Dyfed (Carmarthenshire). Further to our report in January, the South Wales Guardian reported on 8th April that planning permission had been granted for the first section of the Tywi Valley Path, which will re-use much of the former railway line through the ‘stunning Tywi Valley’ from Carmarthen to Llandeilo. This first phase will see the construction of a shared use tarmac path between White Mill and Nantgaredig (3 miles); it will be about 3 metres wide, with 1 metre grass verges on either side. When the entire route is complete, it will be 16 miles long. Carmarthenshire’s Director of Environment Ruth Mullen commented: ‘This is a flagship project for the council and forms part of our ambition to make Carmarthenshire the cycling capital of Wales … It is estimated the path could attract at least 15,000 visitors a year generating between £860,000 and £2 million in the local economy.’ The project is expected to cost between £5 and £8 million in total, but funding has already been secured through the Welsh Government’s Local Transport Fund. (Tim Chant)

Above: There have been further developments on Centurion Way in West Sussex. This is a view of the newly opened cycle ramp between the trackbed at West Dean and the lane which leads to the village centre. It provides access access to a surprising number of facilities, including The Dean Ale and Cider House, the excellent village shop and tea room, West Dean Gardens, The Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, the village church and the village school. For those who want to ride back to Chichester, there is a bus stop outside the ale and cider house on Stagecoach’s route 60 back to Chichester. For further details, see the story below. 21st April 2017. (Brian Loughlin)

April 2017. Chichester to Midhurst, West Sussex. Following the extension of the rail-based Centurion Way from Lavant to West Dean in November 2015, the South Downs National Park Authority announced on 7th April the opening of a new set of steps, with accompanying cycle ramp, which will permit users to exit the trail safely and easily at West Dean which, previously, had been a dead end. The Park Authority explained: ‘The access surface has been installed for a couple of weeks and the steps have remained closed to allow the surface time to bed in. Ideally the surface would benefit from a longer period to settle, however we felt that on balance it [was] more important to satisfy the increasing demand for the access to be open, particularly as user numbers have swelled with the spring weather.’ The next phase of this route’s development (as reported previously) will see West Dean Tunnel opened for walkers and cyclists, with a further railway-based extension beyond to connect with the South Downs Way at Cocking. (Alister Linton-Crook)

March 2017. Haweswater Reservoir, Cumbria. Construction of the controversial Haweswater Dam to form Haweswater Reservoir started in 1929. Manchester Corporation was behind the scheme, which was to supply water to the city, but the Parliamentary Act caused public outcry because it would mean flooding the farming villages of Measand and Mardale Green in what was considered to be one of the most perfect of all Lakeland valleys. In the event, all buildings were demolished in 1935 just before the valley was inundated, with the newly created reservoir leaving the valley floor 95 ft below the water’s surface. According to RR’s Phil Earnshaw, the road that Manchester Corporation constructed on the south side of the reservoir was surveyed initially as a railway, presumably to bring in materials for the dam, as had happened previously in the Elan Valley (near Rhayader) which was damned to provide water for Birmingham. On Saturday 24th June this year, Phil will lead a walk along the route, which he describes as passing through ‘as barren a landscape as you are likely to get’. The contour-hugging ‘railway-road’ still conveys the feeling of a railway, and runs for a distance of ca. 4 miles between grid references NY 469107 and NY 505156, near Bampton. (Phil Earnshaw, Keith Holliday and Jeff Vinter)

March 2017. Irlam to Timperley, Greater Manchester. Graeme Bickerdike’s excellent ‘Forgotten Relics’ website now carries a link to an ITV news item about plans for a 6 mile heritage railway and multi-use trail from Irlam (in Salford) to Timperley (in Trafford). Because it will require restoring Cadishead Viaduct, it is an optimistic scheme but will be spectacular if it can be pulled off. Promoter Neil McArthur believes the re-opened line would be both a tourist attraction similar to the popular Bury-based East Lancashire Railway, and also bring together on cycle, on foot and by train various local communities which are relatively close but currently served poorly by local transport facilities. (Keith Holliday)

Above: Lighter evenings mean that one can check out old railways after work! This is the site of Fulwell & Westbury station in Buckinghamshire; the platform was on the right, and the grassy mound indicates its location. Volunteers from the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway dismantled it in August 2009, and we suspect they are using it to restore their platform at Princes Risborough. A newly dedicated bridleway (see the story below) is immediately behind the photographer, on the opposite side of the road from where he was standing. March 2017. (Tim Grose)

March 2017. Fulwell & Westbury, Buckinghamshire. News has just arrived of a new railway-based bridleway in Buckinghamshire on the Banbury to Verney Junction branch of the Buckinghamshire Railway, following a decision on 27th October 2015 by the Planning Inspectorate acting for Defra (the Department of the Enviroment, Food and Rural Affairs). An application for a bridleway order was first made in December 2010, but the inspector, Peter Millman, found that ‘… the Order route was used by the public for walking and riding for the whole of the period 1983 to 2003, as of right and without interruption. There is not sufficient evidence to show that there was no intention, during that period, to dedicate it as a public right of way. Dedication is deemed to have occurred.’ The route starts at grid reference SP 627347 (just west of the site of Fulwell & Westbury station) and is now shown as a bridleway on OSmaps as far as the bridge at SP 626348 over the River Great Ouse, which is the county boundary with Oxfordshire. However, evidence at the inquiry showed that locals had been using the old line as far as a bridleway crossing of the trackbed, believed to be that at SP 617352. The total distance is ¾ mile, but, combined with local footpaths and bridleways, the practical usefulness of the route is more than this short distance might suggest. (Tim Grose and Jeff Vinter)

March 2017. Fort William to Inverness, Highland, Scotland. If you are interested in model railways and ‘might have beens’ from history, then read on. Love Productions aim to make a new TV series for Channel 4 in which they construct the world’s longest model railway – along the Great Glen Way in Scotland. Victorian engineers and speculators dreamt of building this link, but contemporary railway companies refused to cooperate and it never happened. However, now it is on its way – only in miniature. We daresay the proximity of the Caledonian Canal and its towpath was a factor in choosing this route. For further details, please see the flier here. (Rob Davidson)

March 2017. Waterford to Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, Ireland. Saturday 25th March saw the official opening of the 31 mile long Waterford Greenway, which re-uses the eastern section of the Great Southern & Western Railway’s former line from Waterford to Mallow. The trail is open to walkers and cyclists, and includes three viaducts, Ballyvoyle Tunnel, countless fine views and some waterside sections between Durrow and Dungarvan. The route – promoted by its own website ( – has been constructed to a very high standard, and cycle hire facilities are already springing up. Further rail trails in Ireland can be expected in the coming years, so – if you’re feeling glum about the dearth of funding for new routes in the UK – head west across the Irish Sea! Another positive factor is that this route survived to be re-used because Irish Rail did not sell off the trackbed in small sections to the highest bidder. (Tim Stannard)

March 2017. Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire. Bennerley Viaduct is approaching a crucial stage in its regeneration, and a ‘friends’ group has been set up to assist. A huge amount has been achieved so far, and interested members of the public were invited to attend the first Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct at The Gate Inn, Main Street, Awsworth, Nottingham, NG16 2RN on Monday 10th April at 7:00 pm. (Kieran Lee)

March 2017. Langport West to Muchelney, Somerset. The popular mile-long railway path from Langport to Muchelney follows part of the former GWR branch line from Langport to Yeovil, but its days might be numbered. The route belongs to two private landowners who, under the terms of a licence, receive an annual fee from South Somerset District Council for allowing public access, though not as a right of way. The gradual reduction of funding from central to local government means that South Somerset DC can no longer afford to pay for the licences, the first of which will expire at the end of March 2018. Further details are available in this article from the ‘Somerset Live’ website. (Tim Chant)

March 2017. Hawkhurst to Paddock Wood, Kent. It’s been a few years since we reported anything about this line (December 2011 and September 2012, to be precise), but we have just received news that something is happening with the proposed ‘Hop Pickers Line’, which sought to provide a multi uses route along the old SECR branch. This is the text of a report published on the Tunbridge Wells website in January this year: ‘New directional finger posts and a monolith mark the first stage of a way-marking and interpretation scheme which will eventually follow the route taken by the steam railway that used to bring hop pickers to the rural communities of Paddock Wood, Horsmonden, Goudhurst, Cranbrook and Hawkhurst. The scheme, which celebrates the heritage of hop picking in this area, has been developed by the Hop Pickers Line Heritage Group. Working in partnership with the Group, the Council [presumably Kent CC] secured funding for the project from Section 106 money which comes from contributions from developments including the solar farm at Paddock Wood, where the first posts and monolith have been installed. The first stage was formally opened at the beginning of December by Chair of Paddock Wood Town Council Elizabeth Thomas, who is also a borough councillor. The plan is for the specially designed directional finger posts, monoliths and information panels to be placed at points all along the route of the railway where public rights of way cross the line.’ At the project’s inception, it was intended that the Hop Pickers Line would follow the course of the old railway, and there is nothing here to suggest otherwise. If you want to read about local conservation of the railway infrastructure on the branch, there’s enough in the links here for a PhD thesis! (Greg Beecroft)

March 2017. Yatton to Clevedon, Somerset. There are serious plans to extend the Cheddar-Yatton section of the railway-based Strawberry Line from Yatton to Clevedon. North Somerset Council owns the land from Yatton to where the railway passes under the M5 motorway, and has permission from the government’s ‘transport people’ (presumably the Highways Agency) to use the sub-motorway tunnel as part of the trail. Beyond the M5, John Grimshaw, the founder of Sustrans, is in positive conversations with Clevedon Council about using the former railway land north of the tunnel. North Somerset Council has received money for the improvement of such trails, and the Strawberry Line Society is pursuing that. Writing to the Webmaster, our correspondent remarked, ‘When it will be open is another matter, but I will try to keep you informed’. (Irene Threasher, Strawberry Line Society)

March 2017. Stalbridge to Poole, Dorset. The latest newsletter from the North Dorset Trailway, which aims to recover and re-use the Dorset part of the famous Somerset & Dorset Railway as a multi-use trail, will be found here. It discusses all of the ‘missing links’, but readers will quickly appreciate the scale of the problem that faces the Dorset local authorities and their supporters when they see the size of the figures. As with similar projects around the country, the underlying cause is the government’s continuing austerity agenda, and especially former Chancellor Osborne’s 85% cut in funding for walking and cycling schemes, which came into effect almost a year ago. The 2015 figures for walking and cycling accidents are not yet available, but the 2014 figures made for sombre reading, and there is no reason to expect that another year will have changed anything. The calculations which put a price on each fatality now take into account the lost economic output of the deceased, which means that a young person’s death is usually costed at over £1 million. So, on the one hand, we’ve got a big cost associated with building safe routes, but on the other we’ve got a big cost arising from not having safe routes. There is a connection here. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: Radstock West Engine Shed. The Somerset & Avon Railway has long gone, and now Radstock’s best hope for re-connection with the national rail network is via the North Somerset Railway, which hopes to bring back trains to the former Frome-Radstock line. (The NSR will have its work cut out because the permanent way has suffered settlement, while the rails and sleepers are in poor condition.) The different colours in the stonework suggest that the engine shed was built initially as a three-bay structure, with two additional bays (in darker stone) being added later at the far end. 11th March 2017. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2017. Radstock to Frome, Somerset. On a club walk from Radstock to Frome on 11th March, it was found that the Radstock-Frome leg of Colliers Way (NCN24) no longer starts in the town’s backstreets, off Meadow View, but from the site of the former Radstock West station, which is being re-developed. The new start point is the roundabout at grid reference ST 690548; walkers and cyclists making for Frome should head south from here along Nelson Ward Drive. At ST 693544, the new section of trail passes Radstock West’s former engine shed, which volunteers are restoring; they told club members that its new use will be as a café, but it is such a large building that a lot more could be accommodated there. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2017. Leaderfoot Viaduct, Borders. The permissive path over Leaderfoot Viaduct (grid reference NT 574347) is now closed. The viaduct was repaired at considerable expense in the early 1990s, but appears to have passed into the hands of the Highways Agency’s Historic Railways Estate – which is extremely averse to risks. (Richard Bain)

March 2017. Midhurst to Petersfield, West Sussex/Hampshire. Some years ago, West Sussex County Council announced an aspirational plan for a trail along the former railway lines that ran east and west of Midhurst, to Pulborough and Petersfield respectively. Nothing came of this, but interest in the potential of the old railways around Midhurst as traffic-free trails has increased with the arrival of the South Downs National Park Authority, which is extending the railway-based Centurion Way that comes up from Chichester (to the south). When that trail reaches Midhurst, maybe something will be done with the other lines that served the town. On that subject, the Historic Railways Estate of Highways England, which owns a skew bridge on the Midhurst-Petersfield line, has applied recently to Chichester District Council to ‘underpack’ it and effectively render it useless for any future trail. CDC has rejected the application, but now HRE has taken its case to appeal. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2017. Dunster to Blue Anchor, Somerset. Further to our report in November 2016, the ‘Steam Trailway’ between Dunster and Blue Anchor (actually the first part of a longer intended trailway from Williton to Minehead) has run into trouble. The trail is now in place from Dunster Beach to within three-quarters of a mile of the promenade at Blue Anchor, but there local chalet owners – insisting that the public footpath across their land has been mis-signed for years – have blocked it, forcing an inconvenient detour via the steeply banked shingle beach. This is extremely difficult for anyone on a bicycle, and virtually impossible for a parent pushing a child in a buggy. Local RR member Ivor Sutton is one the case, with both local and national help from the Ramblers’ Association; he has collected over 130 written objections so far, which all include evidence of unfettered access to the route for 20 years or more. It is hoped that this may result in the case reaching Somerset CC’s Rights of Way Committee a little sooner than might other wise be the case. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2017. Ashton Gate to opposite Sea Mills, Bristol. With the branch line to Portishead set to re-open throughout by 2020 (thus rendering even the westernmost section from Portbury Dock Junction to Portishead an absolute non-starter for a railway path), readers might like to know that the River Avon Trail runs parallel to the line from grid reference ST 566722 at Ashton Gate to ST 548755 opposite Sea Mills (on the other side of the river), a distance of 3¼ miles. Along the way, the trail passes beneath the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge, which was a highlight of a rail trip down the branch enjoyed by the Webmaster in 1974 when freight services were still running. (Regular passenger trains were withdrawn on 7th September 1964.) West of ST 548755, the trail leaves the railway for a long loop around the river, but returns to it above Pill Tunnel, whence it follows the railway less precisely to Portbury, variously as the River Avon Trail, NCN41 and NCN26. Recent project maps show definite new/replacement stations on the branch at both Portishead and Pill, plus a ‘possible new station (subject to business case)’ at Ashton Gate. Portbury is going to be unlucky in that no new station is planned there, which is slightly odd: Portbury may be a small village and not far from the proposed stations at Pill and Portishead, but it is right by Junction 19 of the M5 which would have suggested a parkway station. There are no plans to replace the former halts at Clifton Bridge and Ham Green, but that is much less surprising. (Keith Holliday and Jeff Vinter)

Update: On 9th March 2017, MetroWest announced that the cost estimate for re-opening the Portishead branch to passengers had risen from £58m to between £145m and £175m. Some increase had been expected, but the breathtaking scale of this has caused shock and incredulity: the line has already been rebuilt between Parson Street Junction and Royal Portbury Dock; the extension from Portbury Dock Junction to Portishead is barely 3 miles long (and owned by Network Rail already); and local authorities have purchased the land required for the new stations at Pill and Portishead. NR says that additional costs have been identified under the Governance for Rail Investment Projects (GRIP) process, including ‘an increase in the scope of the works through the Avon Gorge’. Local councils have also identified additional costs, including alternative road access to Ashton Vale Trading Estate, associated land acquisition and environmental mitigation. But would an equivalent road-building scheme have to struggle against the same budget-busting constraints? (Ivor Sutton and Jeff Vinter)

February 2017. Donyatt, Somerset. We are pleased to report that the timber halt at Donyatt, on the Taunton to Chard Junction in Somerset, is to be restored following its destruction by arsonists on 25th November 2015. (Keith Holliday)

February 2017. Catesby, Northamptonshire. After many years as a waterlogged lost cause, Catesby Tunnel on the former Great Central main line to London is to be used for vehicle testing. If this happens, it might be possible to visit occasionally if the owners are amenable, as happens with Pinnock Tunnel (owned by Imerys) on the Par to Fowey line in Cornwall. (Keith Holliday)

February 2017. Glasgow Central, Strathclyde. Earlier this month, the BBC published a brief report on Glasgow’s ‘ghost station’, which turns out to be an underground platform beneath Glasgow Central. There are plans to restore the platform to how it looked in its heyday, no doubt as a result of thousands of people having visited in recent years on official tours. If you wish to join them, you can book yourself on to a tour by following the link here; they run from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily, and it is good to see that Network Rail is one of the promoters – clearly making constructive use of some old railway infrastructure. If British Rail had done the same, what might we still have today? (Keith Holliday and Jeff Vinter)

February 2017. Stourbridge Junction to Lichfield, West Midlands/Staffordshire. The largely disused railway from Stourbridge Junction to Lichfield via Brierley Hill, Dudley Castle Hill, Sandwell, Walsall and Brownhills is the subject of a re-opening proposal, partly to encourage people away from local roads and partly to ease rail congestion at Birmingham New Street. S.K. Baker’s Rail Atlas (13th edition) shows this route as a combination of freight and disused lines, although some re-construction would be necessary in the Brownhills area; the overall objective is to provide a through route from Worcester to Derby. The Conservatives’ West Midlands Mayoral candidate for Dudley, Andy Street, explained: ‘I want passenger trains back on this line. If up and running it would connect the east and the west of the Black Country without the need for trains to pass through Birmingham New Street station. The problem with the train network in the West Midlands is the congestion at New Street; it does not have the capacity to take more local trains. We are in talks with Network Rail and West Midlands Combined Authority about the prospect of reopening this line, [which] is exactly the type of project that as mayor of the West Midlands I will be trying to get funding [for]”. The overgrown tracks between Brierley Hill and Wednesbury (Great Western Street) are already being cleared of plants and trees so that structural and environmental surveys can be carried out. This section is likely to return to use first, as an extension to the Midland Metro network. It certainly makes a change for a disused line to become a railway rather than a trailway! (Tim Chant)

February 2017. Nationwide. On Saturday 11th February, The Times published an interesting article under the rather wordy title, ‘No-frills mini trains offer route to reopening lines that Beeching shut’. The story began thus:

‘A new generation of “no-frills” trains is being manufactured under plans to open up little-used branch lines closed by Dr Beeching in the 1960s. Ultra-cheap trains powered by truck engines, built using lightweight materials and running at low speeds, may be introduced within the next two years as part of a £4 million trial. The trains, which could be shorter than a conventional bus, will be manufactured at half the cost of an existing carriage and cause less damage to tracks. Rail chiefs insisted that reducing overheads would make it easier to maintain loss-making branch lines on which passenger numbers were low.’

The report identified a number of lines on which these vehicles might appear, namely Thornton-Leven, Ashington-Newcastle, Burton-Leicester, Wisbech-March, Bristol-Portishead, Bere Alston-Tavistock and Aberystwyth-Carmarthen. Given that the article was written by Graham Paton, the newspaper’s Transport Correspondent, it did beg a few questions. For example, how would these routes be re-acquired for rail use, and what would happen to properties built on former trackbeds? Also, given that the authorities have consistently under-estimated the demand for reinstated rail services, most recently in the case of the Borders Railway, who says that passenger numbers are going to be low – especially on trains out of Portishead and Tavistock? One might think that Mr Paton had never heard of the time-devouring and patience-busting road commute either from Portishead to Bristol, or from Tavistock to Plymouth. (Michael Sherman)

February 2017. Radstock to Frome, Somerset. Regular visitors to this site will know that Frome’s Missing Links (FML) is the local community-based group working to extend the Radstock-Great Elm leg of Colliers Way (NCN24) into Frome – not via roads, as at present, but via a new, purpose-built traffic-free and level route to Frome’s town centre and railway station. On 10th February, FML published the news that it had become an independent charity; the principal reasons were to apply for grants in its own right, and accept donations (hopefully with gift aid). The group also announced that it had just been awarded a little over £48,000 by the Heart of Wessex Local Action Group, which will be used to erect fencing and carry out groundwork improvements for Phase 2 of the ‘missing link’. Recently, it extended its appeals from just money and volunteer labour to include materials: CPM Ltd of Mells responded magnificently by donating pipes which will be used to construct a drain through an embankment, while Graham Lock of Murtry Hill Farm transported the pipes to the site. What FML needs now is supporters, and to this end has re-designed its website and is inviting members of the public to join the campaign. Membership is free, but it is important that FML obtains ‘critical mass’ to demonstrate widespread support. We thoroughly commend this vibrant and effective community group. Frome is a wonderfully idiosyncratic town – a significant part of the centre is mediaeval (pay it a visit) – and its residents are a determined bunch. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: This photograph of the deck of Network Rail’s new crossing of the Bristol main line at Bath, Bellott’s Road, shows why February is not the nation’s favourite month; although the photographer and Webmaster live 95 miles apart, their respective views in Bath and Chichester were equally cheerless. It is much to NR’s credit that the new bridge incorporates parts of the former viaduct, and looks like it thanks to the use of blue engineering bricks – not that they look very blue here, just drab! 3rd February 2017. (Matt Skidmore)

February 2017. Bath to Midford, Somerset. Further to our progress report in January, Network Rail have now completed work on the former S&D viaduct over the Bristol main line at Bath, Bellotts Road, and re-opened it to walkers and cyclists using the popular Two Tunnels Trail. During the works, NR converted the former three-span viaduct into a single-span bridge. (Matt Skidmore)

January 2017. Craven Arms to Llanelli (Shropshire/Powys/Dyfed). Anyone familiar with the railways of Wales will recognise this as the Heart of Wales line (i.e. definitely not a railway path), whose escape from closure during the 1960s and 1970s verged on the miraculous. For many years, ramblers have used the trains to undertake scenic walks from one station to another, and this traffic is now so well established that the local train operator, Arriva, offers bona fide walk leaders free tickets. On Monday 16th January, BBC Wales ran a story about a feasibility study that has been carried out to create a long distance path between Craven Arms and Llanelli. The route has been trialled and will link up with other paths such as the South Wales Coastal Path and the Offa’s Dyke Path. Further details are available from the BBC Wales website, and apparently funding is now being sought for signage, etc. (Brian Stone and Chris Parker)

January 2017. Sutton Scotney, Hampshire. Further to our report in July 2016, we have just learned that the re-development of the station site at Sutton Scotney (on the former Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway) will see the old goods shed swept away. When one looks at what the people of Tetbury have achieved with their abandoned goods shed, it makes one wish that the developers in Hampshire had more imagination. The removal of this sizeable building helps to explain how they will cram 28 new homes into the site. (Marcus Heap)

January 2017. Bettisfield to Fenn’s Bank, Wrexham County Borough (Clwyd). A 3½ mile railway path exists along much of the trackbed between these two stations on the Cambrian Railways’ former line from Whitchurch to Ellesmere and Oswestry. As an aside, Ordnance Survey’s online mapping gives the postal address of both Bettisfield and Fenn’s Bank as Shropshire after the nearest postal town (Whitchurch), but historically this area was a detached part of Flintshire. (Bill Bryson, who has written to comic effect about the idiosyncrasies of the UK’s local government arrangements, would love all this.) At the Bettisfield end, access is from SJ 461358 (off the main lane through the village); at the Fenn’s Bank end, industrial premises occupy the trackbed, so the sensible course is to leave the trackbed via the footpath at SJ 504387. The old railway forms part of the Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Reserve, which had a lot of waymarked paths installed back in 2001. What is especially convenient about this trail is that the Llangollen Canal also links Bettisfield and Fenn’s Bank, so the railway and canal can be used to provide a circular walk of a little under 8 miles. As a bonus, the stations at both Bettisfield and Fenn’s Bank survive as private homes. For further details, click here. (Keith Holliday)

Above: Network Rail are making good progress on re-modelling the former Somerset & Dorset Railway’s three-arched viaduct over the GWR main line at Bellotts Road, Bath. As can be seen, the nearest and furthest arches have been infilled and bricked up, while the central span has been raised to allow overhead power lines to go through in the near future. The shape of the S&D brickwork has been retained, as can be seen from the foreground, but the parapets have been raised – which would be necessary if the interior deck had been raised as well, which we think likely. 7th January 2017. (Bob Spalding)

January 2017. Bath to Midford, Somerset. Contributor: ‘Today I walked along the S&D trail from Midford to the outskirts of Bath and got as far as the bridge carrying the S&D over the GWR maiin line. They are making good progress and I took some pictures to bring RR up to date. I am no expert on these things and don’t know the story behind the choices made about the bridge, but it seemed to be heavily over-engineered for what it carries, a pedestrian and cycle trail. What would your thoughts be?’ Webmaster: ‘Heavily over-engineered? What, by Network Rail? I don’t know what you mean. Surely you’re exaggerating? Seriously, I know exactly what you mean. As railway enthusiasts, we can be grateful that they are making such a sympathetic job of the work, but I think that the original S&D viaduct/bridge was not listed (it was no thing of beauty), so one must wonder about the necessity of such an expensive solution. One can argue that the new bridge will last a very long time, and that time will make the cost seem less extravagant. Possibly, the planning conditions required NR to replace like with like.’ (Bob Spalding and Jeff Vinter)

January 2017. Usk, Monmouthshire. Usk featured in these pages in both 2015 and 2016 in connection with a proposed rail trail from near the town to Little Mill Junction, following closure of the freight line from the Royal Ordnance Factory at Glascoed, This time, Usk is in the news for its 256 yard tunnel, which Gwyn Smith, Sustrans’ area manager for South East Wales, has shortlisted as a priority for opening to pedestrians and cyclists partly because it would give direct access to Usk Primary School, avoiding the A472. The Usk Trail Access Group (UTAG) has been working to improve walking and cycling routes in the area for several years now, and its Chairman – Matthew Hamer – remarked that ‘It would be great to see funding go into making a proper route for the tunnel, as it’ll link with what we are doing [between Little Mill and Glascoed].’ (Tim Chant)

January 2017. Carmarthen to Llandeilo, Dyfed (Carmarthenshire). Carmarthenshire County Council intends to re-open parts of the trackbed of the former LNWR Carmarthen to Llandeilo branch as a multi-use trail. A start has been made already between Fronun and Bwlch Bach, near Abergwili, but this section is alongside a road; the rest is intended to be on the old railway, and traffic-free. The next phase will see a path created between White Mill and Nantgaredig at the western end of the line, The 16 mile route will follow the River Tywi linking major tourist attractions; it is expected to generate between £860,000 and £2 million for the local economy every year, while providing locals with healthy and sustainable travel options. Councillor Hazel Evans, the council’s Executive Board Member for the Environment, said: ‘I am delighted that we have been able to start work on the Tywi Valley Path which will cost between £5 and £8 million and will be developed in phases, depending on funding.’ So far, the costs are being met from a Local Transport Fund grant of £581,600 which was given to improve walking and cycling links in the county. Unfortunately, local farmers oppose the scheme. Their spokesman appears to be one William Richard Lloyd Davies, who cites flooding of the trail as a risk and says it should go alongside the A40, or use NCN47 – which is actually the B4300. (Tim Chant)

January 2017. Porth Penrhyn, Bangor, to Bethesda and Llyn Ogwen, Gwynedd. Following on from our report in July 2016, BBC Wales announced on New Year’s Day that the 275 metre Tregarth Tunnel is now ‘shovel ready’, and Lôn Las Ogwen should be diverted through it – and open to walkers and cyclists – by April 2017. A spokesman for Gwynedd County Council described the tunnel as offering a ‘level and direct alternative to a steep climb and a road’. He remarked that what the council learns from this scheme, and how it is run over the next couple of years, will have a big impact on projects to open larger tunnels elsewhere in Wales. (Graeme Bickerdike and Keith Holliday)

Update: On 27th February, the club was informed that work had started on converting Tregarth Tunnel for its new role, so the planned opening by April looks distinctly achievable. (Keith Holliday)

Above: The former Tetbury goods shed in the course of conversion into a modern community centre; note the glazed gable end, which now permits natural light to flood into the building. This picture appeared initially on the Geograph website, and the photographer’s superb caption is worth quoting in full: ‘The classic GWR standard goods shed, built in their hundreds all over the system. This fine example at Tetbury, dating from 1889, was in use until 1st July 1965, when the line finally closed for goods as far as the terminus. The passenger service had ended on 4th April 1964. For many years after closure it was the base of a coal distributors. You will read elsewhere that “no trace of the station remains”, but if you have a treasured copy of Paul Karau’s Great Western Branch Line Termini of 1977 as I do, you can trace the outlines of all of the buildings. You can even go so far as to make accurate scale models of all of them, using the author’s superb scale drawings. As I write, the large cattle dock which adjoins the shed is being rebuilt behind the fence on the left, using reclaimed materials.’ 4th February 2016. (Paul Pankhurst used under the terms of this Creative Commons Licence)

January 2017. Tetbury, Gloucestershire. HRH Price Charles visited Tetbury on Friday 23rd December to open the restored Tetbury Goods Shed, which the following day – Christmas Eve – hosted the town’s packed-out annual carol concert. Residents who had attended previous concerts in the then unrestored building were delighted by the brightly-lit, and heated, new community centre which it has become. Prince Charles, who lives at nearby Highgrove House, was part of an early discussion group in the 1990s which met around the fire of the local Royal Oak pub to consider what might be done with the old building, which is now Tetbury’s principal link to its railway past. The other link, of course, is the town’s rail trail, which was doubled in length late last year. (Tim Chant)

January 2017. Aylsham to Norwich via Reepham, Norfolk. On 29th December, the Eastern Daily Press published an article about a new mobile phone ‘app’ which will give visitors an ‘augmented reality history’ of Marriotts Way; it has been made possible thanks to a £455,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The route was chosen because it is Norfolk’s best-used long distance trail. Martin Wilby, chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Environment, Development and Transport Committee, explained: ‘It’s a race against time to preserve memories of the historic route, so the project will be recording and preserving the first-hand accounts of people who used to work and travel on, and live nearby, the old railway line. Overall our aim is to help people to better understand the industrial past of the trail and encourage them to appreciate and explore the haven for nature and recreation on their doorsteps that it is today.’ (Keith Holliday)

Feature Articles

This is the trackbed explorer’s guide to the Bedford-Sandy route, based on the LNWR’s old ‘Varsity Line’ from Oxford to Cambridge.
  • Eastbound, the route starts at the A603, about 0.6 miles from the town centre at grid reference TL 058491 because, further west,  the land is occupied by parking for a bus garage and other uses.  It then proceeds for about 0.4 miles alongside the old railway before it joins the actual former trackbed at TL 063492, contrary to what is shown on OS Explorer map 208.
  • The next ‘diversion’ is over a bridge across the A421 dual carriageway at TL 089499 as the new road severed the former railway line when it was constructed (in spite of much local protest).
  • There is another diversion at Willington Gravel Pits from TL 098500 to TL 104501.  Here, the signposted route passes through the wood to the north of the old trackbed for about 0.4 mile, again contrary to what is shown on the OS map: for this stretch the actual original trackbed is overgrown.
  • Next comes a deviation of about 400 yds round three sides of a rectangle at Willington Lock, as the adjacent Mill Farm bought a length of the original trackbed which is now private land.
  • Lastly, the former station at Blunham has been developed for housing and the signposted route is through the housing estate and down to Station Road, along the road between the abutments of the former railway bridge and up the other side before regaining the original route.

Report by Michael Brooks
13th June 2017


Above: A group of club members beneath the overbridge at the east end of Bettisfield station. The line was single track, although there were passing loops at both Bettisfield and Fenn’s Bank, the next station to the east. Unusually, both stations had only a single platform but with two lines that were signalled bi-directionally; the Bettisfield loop could be – and was – used by passenger trains not scheduled to call at the station to cross a ‘stopper’. 27th June 2009. (Chris Parker)

Bettisfield to Fenn’s Bank on the Cambrian Railways’ former line from Whitchurch to Ellesmere and Oswestry is a railway path that springs to mind for only a very select few – no one else seems to know of it! The club’s Welsh Area Organiser is one of the cognoscenti, and here recalls a 2009 walk over the line.

The old line between Bettisfield and Fenn’s Bank in Wrexham County Borough is indeed a footpath and I led a joint RR/WRRC walk along it on 27th June 2009. Access is readily available from the overbridge at the east end of the former Bettisfield station (the old goods yard entrance) at grid reference SJ 461358. It has (or certainly had) a firm surface and is the only vehicular route to Cambrian Cottage. Beyond there, it enters the nature reserve but remains clear and in good condition; although not marked as a public right of way on the OS map, a number of waymarked paths lead to it and in practice we found it to be a well used and maintained route acting as a link to the various parts of the Fenns Moss nature reserve. We met other walkers while using it, and it was gated at two or three points with indications that it is used by vehicles in connection with conservation and maintenance work. The [Nature Reserve] leaflet suggests that little has changed and states that disabled visitors can drive along the trackbed by prior arrangement, presumably in their mobility scooters. The trail also provides access to the ‘Fenns Old Works’ former peat processing works, which used to have a private railway siding and is now a listed structure. Access to the trackbed from the main road at the east end of the reserve (as the OS map indicates) is by public rights of way, some of which are fit for vehicles (there is also a visitor centre in that area). On our walk, we followed other rights of way further to the south to avoid a derelict former brick and tile works to regain the trackbed at Fenn’s Bank station. I don’t think that the countryside bodies would wish to develop this on a large scale given the sensitive nature of the site – it is in the process of recovering from decades of peat extraction.

Report by Chris Parker
16th January 2017