Dec 2021 – Co. Donegal, Republic of Ireland.
The main railway walking available in County Donegal is on the former Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway, which operated 99 miles of narrow gauge line from Londonderry to Tooban Junction, where separate branches led off to Carndonagh and Burtonport. A Google search for ‘Dismantled railway Letterkenny to Burtonport’ will bring up Ireland’s travel guide (Active Me), which shows the whole line on a zoomable map.
The eastern end of the L&LSR’s Burtonport branch, which, despite all the odds (such as never making a profit), survived until 1940 for passengers, and 1947 for freight. The Burtonport-Meenbannad section is now promoted as the Burtonport Old Railway Walk, which came about when the trackbed out of Burtonport was cleared in 2009 to repair a water main that had been damaged by heavy snow. The cleared section was gradually developed, and extended, as a very scenic walkway, with help from the local community. Parts of the route have a sealed surface, but in places the old line is narrow and exposed, eg. on high embankments, which are best avoided in stormy weather.
The six miles from Falcarragh to Creeslough is another section of the Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway, traversing the rocky terrain to the north of Muckish Mountain. Note that there are stepping stones over the Agher River. The main photographs on the websites for the Burtonport section make it clear that it is easy going, with a sealed surface for most of the way, through stunning scenery. You could get a wheelchair/pushchair along there easily enough, but there are places where two wheelchairs travelling in opposite directions would have to do a spot of jousting (Jeff Vinter)
Dec 2021 – Rainford Junction to Rainford (Rookery Lane), Lancashire (Merseyside).
Open to cyclists, walkers, wheelchairs, pushchairs, etc., this trail of 1¾ miles runs from grid refence SD 477025 to SD 486002. The walk is branded ‘Rainford Linear Park’, and passes through woodland managed by St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council. The trail starts within a few yards of Rainford Station, and originally formed part of the LNWR’s line from Rainford to St Helens Central. At the Rookery Lane end, a public footpath starting at SD 485001 enables one to continue past Rainford Industrial Estate to Mill Lane (SJ 491 995), but not on the trackbed. One of the access points looks like a very tight fit for wheelchairs. (Keith Holliday; Jeff Vinter)
Dec 2021 – Tetbury, Gloucestershire.
The Tetbury trail in Gloucestershire now runs two miles from the town’s restored goods shed to Trouble House Halt, and there are plans to extend it to Kemble, where the branch once left the main line. Tetbury to Trouble House Halt (ST 893930–ST 914953) is a linear walk and cycle trail started in 2005 on part of the former Tetbury to Kemble branch, beginning at the long-abandoned goods shed in Tetbury, now restored (and thriving) as an arts centre. Interest remains in re-using the trackbed right through to Kemble: Sustrans held a public consultation in May 2007, the first fruit of which was a half mile extension from Newnton Hill to Trouble House. There are several stations named after pubs, one or two still open, but Trouble House is said to have been the only one named after just a pub.
The trail developers are initially aiming to join up with the 1¼ mile section from Kemble Station to Jackaments Bottom (ST 985976 –ST 968971). As for the eastern end of the Tetbury branch, the Tetbury Rail Lands Regeneration Trust says: ‘There has also been some progress at the Kemble end of the old railway line. Network Rail have fenced off the old branch line from the active main line at Kemble Station. They have also put gates in the fences across the branch line so there is now access along the railbed from the station car park.’ The gap between the two sections is now ‘only’ 3¾ miles, and local interest in closing it remains strong. (Railway Magazine; Michael Steptoe; Jeff Vinter)
Dec 2021 – Royal Naval Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, Dorset.
Following the walk (and boat journey!) report by Richard Lewis on this branch in our most recent Walk Reports Supplement, a letter has been published in the Winter 2021 edition of the Swanage Railway Magazine about the line, which used to export cordite to UK munition sites via Poole Harbour. The factory site is now occupied by the Holton Heath Trading Estate, while the line ran to Rockley Jetty, crossing the main line by a bridge that remains in situ, although it is said to be unsafe and due for removal. It would require a replacement for the branch to become a walking and cycling route. After the line’s closure, access was possible from near the Holton Heath Nature Reserve and from Holton Lee. If designated a Public Right of Way, it would leave only the crossing of the entrance to Lytchett Bay by bridge to Rockley Sands to achieve a new direct route to Poole. However, the application submitted in 2010 claiming a right of way footpath was rejected in December 2020. The result of an appeal against this decision will shortly be known. A leaflet describing the walk does exist, though, and may be found on the Poole Harbour Trails website.
Swanage Railway Magazine; Chris Witt
Oct 2021 – Cornwall’s four new Saints Trails
Cornwall’s four new Saints Trails have been dealt a blow: two have been scrapped and the others scaled back. The only one based on an old railway (Newquay to Perranporth) will go ahead, albeit without some new bridges to cross roads, because the work has already started. Further details are available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-58875054, but it does not make for happy reading. Cornwall has been over-ambitious, and could learn a lot from its next door neighbour. Barring a bit of work in the vicinity of Ashbury & North Lew station, Devon now has a rail trail from there to Meldon; the surface is rough and ready, but at least the council got the trail in, and can upgrade the surface in years to come. (Jeff Vinter)
Oct 2021 – Dousland, Devon.
The old line from Yelverton to Princetown in Devon was first identified as a potential leisure route in John Grimshaw’s report on disused railways in 1982, and the section which falls outside Dartmoor National Park (DNP) has long since been converted into one, today forming part of the popular Devon Coast to Coast path. However, the missing link between Dousland and Yelverton remains just that, despite hefty funding and the purchase of the requisite land by Devon County Council. In 2013, a Council bid in conjunction with DNP landed £4.4m from the Department for Transport’s (DfT) ‘Linking Communities’ grant, with the aim of making Dartmoor accessible to a wider range of people, not just the super-fit cyclist equipped with sophisticated GPS equipment.
The Yelverton path would fit the ‘family-friendly’ bill perfectly, except that it still hasn’t been built, despite a cost estimate of a mere £25,000 to finish the job! To be fair, there were delays in the Council purchasing the land and obtaining planning permission, yet the DNP has concentrated on paths outside the park rather than those within its borders. Some suspect they are not that keen to encourage those seeking quiet active recreation within the national park, even though they bemoan the fact that 93% of visitors arrive by car. Opening up a greenway would offer a viable alternative.
A path of sorts does exist between Dousland and Princetown (see map), and the missing bridge at Peekhill over the B3212 has been replaced. However, the surface in places is appalling, the access barriers are a problem even for the ablebodied, maintenance seems mostly absent, and the route is still not complete, while the on-road alternative between Yelverton and Lake Lane is pretty lethal. The DNP approach seems rather weighted towards cyclists, and given the distances involved perhaps understandably, yet research has shown that on average 50% of the usage of off-road trails is by pedestrians, people with buggies, and those on mobility scooters. The burgeoning e-bike market is also opening up access for a much wider range of abilities. (West Country Bylines)
Oct 2021 – Toller Porcorum, Dorset.
In October, contractors working for National Highways (the organisation called Highways England until recently) ‘came in like a tornado, removing everything in their path’, according to a landowner. They arrived on site and entered the property of three landowners, creating an access route up to the former trackbed, felling trees and disposing of the timber. The landowners had not been notified of the work or given their consent for it.
One of the landowners, who does not wish to be identified, said: ‘It was wild and unspoiled – full of lovely things – but they’ve cleared all the vegetation and trees from around the bridge. The chippings were spread over the embankment, but they’ve now washed into the road drains which have blocked, so there’s a massive flood there at the moment. The contractor let slip that they were asked to do this because there is a bat survey about to happen for the demolition and they couldn’t take the risk that there were bats roosting in the trees. That would stop the job.’
The disused railway bridge over Barrowland Lane is needed for the development of a narrow-gauge railway and cycle route connecting Maiden Newton with Bridport. Building a new structure to modern standards would not be viable. However, the brickwork is in poor condition following years of neglect and National Highways now intends to demolish the bridge. On 8th October, the company told its newly-formed Stakeholder Advisory Forum that it wants to lift the nationwide moratorium and remove the structure – at a cost of around £175,000 – although it is thought that Ministerial approval would be needed. Demolition would allow Dorset Council to progress an alternative ‘trailway’ proposal along the old line, but the link to Barrowland Lane does not have planning permission or meet cycling infrastructure design standards. (Forgotten Relics; RR)
Oct 2021 – Bennerley Viaduct, Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire
On the recent Iron to Iron bike ride from Meldon Viaduct in Devon to Bennerley Viaduct (the only two such structures surviving in England), the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct were delighted to meet their patron, Sir Neil Cossons, at Ironbridge and share with him the remarkable progress which has been made over the past few years to bring the viaduct back into use. In return, Sir Neil spoke of the battles undertaken in the 1970s, 80s and 90s to save the viaduct from demolition, vividly recalling the bruising public inquiry in 1980. It is often stated that the reason that Bennerley Viaduct is still standing is because it was too expensive to demolish. It is true that the demolition costs were high but the real reason why the viaduct is still standing is because people got off their backsides and campaigned to save it. The current project builds on their work and far-sighted vision. The third phase of the Bennerley Viaduct Project has commenced. The viaduct’s owners, Railway Paths Ltd (RPL) have appointed the civil engineering company, Crown Plus, to install the deck. The contractors are on site, the crane is in position and work has commenced. The wrought iron troughs are being coated with linseed oil and steps on the eastern end of the viaduct are being constructed. Formal opening is planned for 2022, 55 years after the closure of the railway. (Friends of Bennerley Viaduct)
Oct 2021 – Spetisbury, Dorset.
The Autumn Newsletter of the North Dorset Spetisbury Station, Dorset Photo: Kevin Mitchell 14 Trailway Network (NDTN) gives an update on the hard work that has been carried out by volunteers at Spetisbury Station. They encourage people to appreciate the landscaping and maybe pause a while on one of the benches or picnic tables to enjoy the views over the Stour Valley. All of this work has been accomplished since 2012 by the Spetisbury Station Project Group, which is a Community Interest Company working under licence from Dorset Council to preserve and enhance the former station. The volunteers have excavated the remains of the station buildings and signal box, cleared decades worth of vegetation and created a pleasant green, wildlife-friendly space whilst keeping its station heritage alive with replica railway items. Their aim is to provide a small café on one of the platforms which will serve as both a community hub and a refreshment stop for Trailway users.
Unfortunately, a reduction in volunteers recently has meant that the small team has struggled to maintain the site to its usual high standard, and will not be able to continue work parties next year unless more volunteers come forward. Without regular work parties the station will soon revert to the overgrown, untidy state in which they found it. They are looking for people willing to give up a few hours every second Sunday to help with grass and hedge cutting and tending the flower borders, also anyone able to maintain the timber platform furniture. None of the team actually lives in the village so they would be delighted to see local residents come forward to help look after their own community space. There are plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the restoration, which began in May 2012, over the coming year. Spetisbury Station was downgraded to an unstaffed halt on 13th August 1934, and closed altogether on 17th September 1956 along with other nearby halts at Corfe Mullen, Charlton Marshall and Stourpaine & Durweston. (NDTN)
Oct 2021 – Cornwall.
A major cycling project looks set to be scaled back after a council scrapped some sections over costs. The £19m Saints Trails project aimed to put in place 19 miles of safe routes for cyclists and walkers in Cornwall, with £17.1m provided by Highways England, now known as National Highways, and £2m set to come from Cornwall Council. Plans were in place for four trails, but now two will be scrapped and one scaled back, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service. The Perranporth to Newquay scheme remains intact, with work having already started on it, although planned bridges, which would have taken cyclists over roads, have been removed from the route. Cornwall Council has also decided that Trispen to Truro and St Newlyn East to Carland Cross will not be created. The section from St Agnes to Chiverton Cross has been scaled back and instead of a dedicated route the Council is looking at 15 cycle paths running on existing roads. National Highways confirmed £1m of the money it gave to the council has been taken back, and Council Leader Linda Taylor announced that the authority would not proceed with compulsory purchase orders of the land needed for the project. Nick Aldworth, from National Highways, commented that ‘This approach will save around £1m against the original £19m investment, meaning it remains one of the largest cycling infrastructure investments ever in the region’. (Jeff Vinter)
Oct 2021 – Lichfield, Staffordshire.
Work has begun on a new greenway linking Lichfield with the existing path that runs from Brownhills to Walsall, the McClean Way. This path stops at the A5, as to the north of here the track remains in situ. However, this does mean that the bridge over the M6 Toll remains in place, which otherwise would have been a major obstacle to an extension towards Lichfield. The city’s District Council has commissioned the charity Sustrans to complete a feasibility study on a route for walkers and cyclists along the mothballed section of the old South Staffordshire line. Engineers have visited the site to identify possible access points to link with communities and facilities along the route, including the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals restoration project. Designs are now being drawn up for the greenway, which will feature a minimum three-metre-wide surface and include elements such as a new play space and seating areas along the way. Cllr. Doug Pullen, leader of Lichfield District Council, said: ‘To have an old railway line fenced off and unused is such a shame, and so bringing it back as a greenway for the good of all our local communities would be a real achievement.’ (Lichfield Live; Tim Kitchen)
Sep 2021 – Barcombe, East Sussex.
Lewes District Council have condemned National Highways’ proposed infilling of Church Road bridge in Barcombe. In response, Hazel Fell Rayner, the local campaign organiser, said: ‘We welcome the news that leaders from Lewes District Council have written to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, calling for the “full and unequivocal cessation” of National Highway’s destructive infill programme that threatens not only Church Road bridge in Barcombe but scores of other historic railway structures across the country. We are particularly pleased to see that they have challenged National Highways’ claim of immediate safety concerns as grounds for proceeding with infill without local authority scrutiny. It is unsustainable for a public body to undermine democratic process in this way. Over the past few days, National Highways has made contradictory claims about their plans, but the company’s actions on site, including the recent installation of bat exclusion measures, indicate an intention to go ahead with their preferred 16 infill scheme as soon as they are able. We will continue to campaign vigorously against this unwarranted act and value the support of Lewes District Council in opposing it in the strongest terms.’
Designed by civil engineer Frederick Banister, the bridge on Church Road, Barcombe was built in the early 1880s as part of a line connecting Lewes and East Grinstead. The structure carries a narrow, minor road and is assessed as having a capacity of 24 tonnes. A weight restriction prohibits vehicles over 20 tonnes from using it, helping to keep unsuitable traffic out of the village. The brick parapets and wingwalls have been subject to movement for many years, with cracks recorded as long ago as 1994. But instead of carrying out appropriate repairs, National Highways intends to bury the Victorian feat within an estimated 1,000 tonnes of aggregate and concrete. The design has already been completed and a start date for the work is awaited. There is anger that the scheme is being progressed under Permitted Development powers which leaves objectors without a voice and circumvents any democratic scrutiny of the historical, ecological and environmental impacts. (Forgotten Relics)
Sep 2021 – Leaderfoot Viaduct, Roxburghshire.
This marvellous structure will appear in the next Indiana Jones film, due out in July 2022, as the Sunday Telegraph published a picture of actors Harrison Ford and Toby Jones standing by one of the piers. It is not known whether they actually filmed on top of the viaduct, which is closed to the general public. 78-year-old Ford also visited shops in Melrose, much to the delight of residents. The Edinburgh Reporter quoted Leaderdale and Melrose councillor David Parker as saying that filming the franchise will be ‘great for Newstead, Melrose and the Leaderfoot area’. A good number of locals congregated on the nearby A68 bridge to watch the fun. (Sunday Telegraph; Edinburgh Reporter; Richard Bain)
August 2021. Bassenthwaite Lake, Cumbria.
Bassenthwaite Lake Station reopened for business on July 30th, not offering tickets to Keswick or Cockermouth, but at least with a train standing at the platform. After two years of restoration work, café facilities are now provided in both the rebuilt station building and the static restaurant carriage. The café offers wildlife viewing and an accessible woodland walk with a focus on showcasing all things Cumbrian, especially local suppliers and producers of the finest food. Co-owner Simon Parums says: “The idea was to provide some facilities to visitors of the nearby Dubwath Silver Meadows nature reserve, but once we decided to create a café it very quickly became apparent that the station building would not be large enough. Rather than extend it, we stumbled upon the replica train to use as our extension; two years later it has become a reality and we are incredibly proud of everything that we, and our fabulous team of contractors and volunteers, have done.” This new venture was featured in an article in RR 169 (pp. 26-28), a photo of the station building pre-restoration having appeared on the inside cover of RR 168. (Cumberland News; Richard Bain)
August 2021. South Downs, Hampshire
Highways England has found itself embroiled in yet another row over a planned bridge infilling project. Engineers, transport planners and the local authority have all hit out at Highways England’s proposal to infill a 156-year-old disused rail bridge in the South Downs National Park. The chief executive of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) labelled the plans to infill Stoke Road bridge as “vandalism”, while a spokesperson for the HRE Group accused Highways England of acting like “cowboys and bullies”. In April 2020, the SDNPA ordered Highways England to apply for planning permission for the work. However, the roads body subsequently decided that it would carry out the infilling under permitted development rights which allow temporary works to be carried out without planning permission in emergency situations presenting a serious threat of death or injury. This was confirmed in a letter to MPs on July 19 this year. However, Highways England director of the Historic Railway Estate Richard Marshall confirmed that the planned works have now been “put on hold” after the government intervened. The SDNPA and HRE group alike object to the assumption that the Stoke Road bridge is a serious risk to the public.
A spokesperson for the SDNPA added: “We find it very frustrating that such works lie beyond our control. We did advise initially that the works were development and would need the submission of a planning application. The agents came back and have, unfortunately, shown that the works do lie outside planning control under emergency powers. The SDNPA will be questioning the use of emergency powers and strongly resisting this vandalism.”
The Stoke Road bridge spans the disused Mid-Hants Railway a mile or so beyond the western terminus of the heritage line and is earmarked for reuse as part of a walking and cycling route. The route is safeguarded against adverse development under a policy adopted in the SDNPA’s Local Plan. Matt Skidmore, a member of the HRE Group, said that by infilling the structure Highways England is “putting Stoke Road bridge beyond use […] obstructing the development of a 27-mile circular path connecting the communities of Alresford, Kings Worthy, South Wonston and Sutton Scotney”. (Forgotten Relics)
August 2021. Penygroes, Caernarfonshire.
RR 158 (Summer 2018) carried a note about this disused station. Originally a pub, it acted as both ticket office and waiting room for the horsedrawn Nantlle – Caernarfon services. The Nantlle Railway operated between 1828 and 1865. Officially, the passenger service did not officially begin till 11th August 1856 but from a local property advert of the time, it is known to have operated unofficially “several times a day” prior to that. The station became a hardware shop in 1925, taking its name Siop Griffiths from the proprietor’s surname yet its claim to be the world’s first passenger station is not entirely accurate as the Stockton & Darlington Railway’s 1825 ticket office at South Stockton is also extant. It has now reopened as Yr Orsaf (The Station), a community hub with café and accommodation. Further information can be found at https://www.yrorsaf.cymru/en/. (Chris Parker / Rhys ab Elis)
August 2021. Harlow, Essex.
How far can the London Underground extend? Harlow Town Council has said it is willing to lobby for the London Transport network to be extended from its current terminus at Epping, which lies about 8 miles away. Of course, if such a project ever came to fruition, it would hardly qualify as either ‘London’ or ‘Underground’ and is also surely too far out from the capital, given the slow travel times – due to frequent stops – which were the main reason for the demise of the Epping – Ongar section. The Council would be better advised to follow up other initiatives it has on the table such as connectivity to CrossRail 2, or the four-tracking of the line to Stansted, although Harlow is still about 20 minutes by train from Stansted Airport. (New Civil Engineer, Forgotten Relics, RR)
A fabulous disused station is up for sale in Norfolk and the current owner is hoping to sell to a fellow enthusiast. ‘I’m looking for a railway enthusiast to take it over. Hopefully it will become a holiday destination for railway enthusiasts to come and stay in. That would be brilliant if it became something like that.’ A guide price of £400,000 probably sounds like a snip to those of our readers who live in the leafy southern shires, but whether or not you have the readies, it is well worth searching for on the Internet to enjoy views of the beautifully restored building, complete with canopy, spandrels and platform (albeit the latter is fenced). www.edp24.co.uk offers a short video tour of the property, but the estate agent marketing the house has very cleverly managed to take a whole series of pictures without showing even the slightest hint of the industrial buildings that dominate the location on its western side. (RR)
August 2021. Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire.
A station that has long been on the Editor’s bucket-list to see but is hidden away behind high hedges and down a private drive also came on the market recently, meaning some pictures could be viewed on the estate agent’s website. Despite being a sumptuous property ‘with its own tennis court, paddock and gardens’ however, there is little hint in the presentation of its previous railway use apart from a section of trackbed which comes with the house. (Barry Bubb)
August 2021. Powerstock, Dorset.
It is with great sadness that we report the death earlier this year of Mrs Diana Read, who lived at Powerstock station on the former Bridport branch with her husband Brian. Both were very good friends to this Club, and many members over the years enjoyed their generous hospitality when we called at the old station on a walk up or down the old branch. Brian and Diana purchased the station from the BR Property Board in 1969, which was no easy task in those days because it was still an operational station, and – although reduced to an unstaffed halt – BRPB staff seemed unable to accept that a family could live there while the trains still ran. Converting the property into a family home was another major undertaking! Our correspondent first met Diana unknowingly on his journeys up and down the branch in the early 1970s, when sometimes she was the only passenger to board at Powerstock, often with a wicker basket for shopping at Bridport’s Saturday market. He did not realise then that she and Brian actually owned the station, having been trailblazers with BRPB. Diana was in her eighties when she died, and the cause of death was old age rather than Covid-19. (Jeff Vinter)
August 2021. Pontarddulais, Glamorgan.
The online magazine, Railway Herald, reports that Swansea Council is to undertake a design and feasibility study into creating a foot and cycle path along a currently overgrown and/or inaccessible mile-long section of the former Central Wales line trackbed between Pontarddulais and Grovesend. Further funding would need to be found to bring it to fruition and in 2019 Rhys ab Elis reported that the north end of this route is a dead-end industrial estate road and the trackbed is then cut by the M4. However, the section immediately north of Grovesend is already part of the Gower Way mid-distance path. (Railway Herald; Chris Parker)
July 2021. East Grinstead (Worth and Forest Ways), Sussex.
The official NCN21 in Worth comes off at Church Road but the footpath further along the railway cutting is clearly signed to the wooden steps at the Salehurst Road & Saxon Road point. The trouble is that this last section has been allowed to deteriorate with fallen trees (which the nimble and able can just about get under) and now has dense undergrowth. The cynical would say that it is all rather convenient so that West Sussex County Council can close off this last section and direct all walkers via NCN21. However, in a subsequent contact, the Council has confirmed that the footpath will be restored to enable access as soon as possible.
Rowfant station is now in a sorry state of repair – neglected and covered in vegetation. How convenient for Colas Ltd (owners of the road making depot site) if it were considered ‘dangerous’ and had to be demolished. Whilst an attractive and somewhat unique building (opened in 1855 for exclusive use of the owner of Rowfant Estate, on request) it is, surprisingly, not listed. Representations have now been made to Historic England to see if they are prepared to list the structure, before it falls into irremediable disrepair. Our correspondent has completed an application to have the station building listed and awaits a response. The last remaining building at Forest Row station site, the Coal Office, has permanently closed as a café due to a lack of custom accentuated by enforced lockdowns. The building is in a sorry state – though the former café use is evident with coffee beans still in the machine and furniture stacked. Hartfield station site remains in use as Hartfield Playschool. (Chris Witt)
June 2021. Bennerley Viaduct, Notts/Derbyshire.
The contract for the new decking to go on Bennerley Viaduct has been signed, which will be the finishing touch and the restoration of this remarkable survivor should be complete before the end of this year. The official opening will take place not long afterwards, but of course that will depend on the weather being kind. (Jeff Vinter)
June 2021. Stow, Midlothian.
The station building at Stow has been saved from demolition and is being turned into a café/bar. The village, which has a population of around 700, has lost all three of its hotels and bars over the years and only has a part-time café. The station building is 173 years old and was originally earmarked for demolition during reconstruction of the Borders Railway but now the waiting room, ticket office and stationmaster’s house will also feature a cycle hub and meeting rooms. After the closure of the Waverley line, the station was converted into two houses. Stow Station was originally not due to be re-opened as part of the Borders Railway project but local campaigners fought successfully for its reinstatement. The station building is one of only two surviving original structures on the route, the other being Gorebridge, and had long been derelict when the line reopened in 2015.
Stow Community Trust (SCT) hopes the £844,000 development will attract visitors by train from Edinburgh mirroring the success of the re-opened railway in generating capital-bound passengers from the Borders. The Trust is now seeking a tenant to run the bar and eatery. Campaign for Borders Rail Secretary Nick Bethune said: “Around 2009-10, before the railway had been given the goahead, preliminary engineering drawings showed the buildings were to be demolished and the site used for car parking. Detailed design hadn’t started, so there was a narrow window of opportunity to make the case for keeping the buildings. I felt the station house had enormous charm and character and that it would be a tragedy to lose. Drawing on my experience as an architect, I was able to produce an alternative site layout that showed it was possible to retain the building and fit in the required number of parking spaces around it. It has taken a huge amount of further work by many people to turn that initial opportunity into the fantastic community asset that we see today.” SCT Chair Helen Corcoran says: “We want to encourage more people back onto the railway for leisure. It has been strongly used for commuting into Edinburgh, but not leisure traffic out from the city.” Funding for the project has included money from the Borders Railway Blueprint Programme and the Railway Heritage Trust. (The Scotsman, Forgotten Relics)
June 2021. Manchester, Lancashire.
Castlefield Viaduct in Manchester is to be turned into an urban park and meeting-place under plans drawn up by Highways England and The National Trust. The viaduct was built in 1892 and designed by Heenan and Froude, the engineers who worked on the Blackpool Tower. It formed part of the approach to Manchester Central Station (now the Manchester Central Convention Complex) until 1969 when the station closed. Since then the viaduct has stood unused with Highways England undertaking essential repairs and maintenance to keep it safe as part of its Historical Railways Estate portfolio. The initial plan is to open the viaduct next summer as a temporary park to test ideas and use the space to gather feedback for the viaduct’s longer-term future. To this end, the National Trust will be applying for planning permission in Autumn 2021. National Trust Head of Urban Places Duncan Laird said: “We’re delighted to be starting this project to bring new life to the viaduct. Our ambition is to give more people the opportunity to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of green, nature-rich havens on this remarkable heritage structure in the city.” (New Civil Engineer, Forgotten Relics)
May 2021. Usk, Monmouthshire.
Usk Tunnel, built originally by the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk & Pontypool Railway and now part of an official footpath, has been temporarily closed due to reports of falling bricks and debris, according to the South Wales Argus. A metal fence has been erected to prevent access and a spokesman for the Council said they had adopted this measure even though they are not the legal owners, adding: ‘This is a temporary solution until the ownership issues are resolved and permanent repairs can be made.’ The spokesman also said that Highways England ‘have secured the portions of the tunnel in their legal ownership.’ The 256-yard tunnel saw its last regular train in 1955, though a railtour passed through a couple of years after that. One railway forum claims there is a dispute over who owns the centre of the tunnel, which sounds rather unusual. (RR)
May 2021. Disused railway infrastructure.
The ‘burdensome estate’ has reached the national press. The ongoing saga over the demolition or infilling of bridges and tunnels by Highways England (HE) was reported on in The Times newspaper of May 4th, with both an article and editorial comment. It described the recent decision by Herefordshire Council to refuse planning permission to HE to block two bridges on the route to Hay-on-Wye, which a local campaign group is working to open as a trail. Other councils have said HE would need to apply for planning permission before carrying out any infilling work. HE has been trying to use ‘permitted development orders’ to circumvent the need for permission, on the grounds that the structures are unsafe. The Times comments that ‘their reasoning is as spurious as their motives’ and calls on HE to ‘let councils, walking and cycling federations and others’ come together to protect our rural heritage. (The Times)
May 2021. Butternab Tunnel, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
The secret is out. In 2016, the owner of a house whose garden includes the southern portal and a section of Butternab Tunnel on the ex-Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway’s Meltham branch (closed 1969) allowed the Yorkshire Area group in to see what remained. However, he did not wish this to be widely publicised so we refrained from commenting on it in the magazine. The property has since changed hands and the new owner is taking a rather different approach – turning the tunnel studio into an Airbnb. He says this of the previous occupant: ‘An eccentric millionaire decided to make the blocked southern end of the tunnel into an art studio for his wife and a home cinema was put there in the 90s. Fast forward to December 2020, we bought the property and decided to make it more sympathetic to its history, so we got rid of the rainbow arch and tacky art pictures. We are surrounded by ancient woodland. There’s a 30-foot waterfall cascading into a pond. It’s so private and peaceful.’ If any Club members decide to book a stay there, please tell us about your experience. (YorkshireLive)
May 2021. Kingham, Oxfordshire – Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire.
It has been reported that a group is commissioning Sustrans to investigate using the former Kingham to Bourton line as a recreational trail. First though, they have to raise funding for a Sustrans feasibility study. They claim the disused rail line ‘is flat, relatively undeveloped, usefully sited and travels through beautiful countryside’, which could be said of many such trackbeds. The thinking is to join Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow on the Wold, with Kingham Railway Station and from there on to Oxford, London, Worcester and Birmingham. Whilst the potential environmental and employment gains are immense, the full project would need the backing and agreement of numerous stakeholders, including landowners, and parish, district and county councils. The first stage then, is to identify the costs, benefits, hurdles and opportunities – hence the feasibility study. (spacehive.com; Paul Stewart; Chris Parker)
May 2021. Lichfield – Brownhills, Staffordshire.
Lichfield District Council is starting work on a project that could transform the mothballed railway track between Brownhills and Lichfield into a new cycle and footpath. Working with Network Rail and Sustrans, the council will assess a section of the old South Staffordshire Railway line for its potential to reopen as a greenway. This would link into the National Cycle Network which runs between Walsall and Brownhills. A feasibility study will be carried out this summer to gauge the scale of the project, likely issues, opportunities, costs and how best to develop it. The findings will be used to draw up a project plan and engage with the local community and partners. Councillor Doug Pullen, Leader of Lichfield Council, said: ‘Having seen, back in 2018, the excellent work carried out by the community group Back the Track, who are working to open up part of the disused South Staffordshire Railway between Walsall and the A5 as a leisure greenway, I’m tremendously excited that we are now in a position to explore the development of a greenway from Brownhills to Lichfield. This project presents real opportunities for our health, mental wellbeing, local connectivity and our visitor economy. I’d like to thank Network Rail and Sustrans for their willingness to bring it to life.’ Councillor Richard Cox, Cabinet Member responsible for Leisure, added: ‘We’re excited to get this project started, as creating a high-quality offroad cycle and footpath will be a great asset for the district. It will connect the National Cycle Network and encourage more of our residents to exercise and commute to work safely.’ Local RR member Phil Mullarkey says though: ‘I have mixed feelings about it myself as it could ‘snooker’ the reopening of Lichfield to Walsall. I’m a member of Lichfield Rail Promotion Group as well as RR!!’ (Lichfield District Council; Bob Prigg; Phil Mullarkey)
April 2021. Cardiff, Glamorgan.
Network Rail is claiming a world first in using electric resistant paint to avoid demolishing a Victorian-age railway bridge in Cardiff, which would have cost £40m. Intersection Bridge, a rail-over-rail structure in the city centre and on the main line from Paddington, is too low to fit all the kit required for electrification – as indeed is the case with most older bridges. NR’s usual procedure is to demolish the structure and replace it with a higher bridge, but this time – by applying a coat to the underside of the bridge – engineers were able to put the overhead line equipment to within 20mm and allow trains to run within 70mm of the brickwork without the risk of electric current being transferred. This is a new technology developed by the University of Southampton and NR says this will shape the future of their electrification projects and save the taxpayer millions. It also means much railway heritage can be saved. (NR Media Centre)
April 2021. Tidenham, Gloucestershire.
A planning application has been made by Greenways and Cycleroutes Ltd, in conjunction with Wyedean School and the National Diving & Activity Centre, to extend the Wye Valley Greenway from Bishton Lane, Tidenham, to Wyedean School, Sedbury, just across the River Wye (and Anglo-Welsh border) from Chepstow. Importantly, this would include the old railway bridge on the Wye Valley branch that crosses the busy A48. Wyedean School is cut off from the Wye Valley by the A48 and is actively participating in the development of the path, even providing the land to complete the route. At its northern end, the path connects with the section to Tintern, making a 5-mile trail in total. The pièce de résistance is the 1188-yard Tidenham Tunnel, now open in hours of daylight from April to September to walkers and cyclists (closed the rest of the year due to a resident bat colony). This makes it the second longest tunnel open for leisure use in the country. (Greenways and Cycleroutes Ltd.)
April 2021, Somerset.
John Grimshaw’s new charity, Greenways and Cycleroutes (GCR), is now working on the ‘Somerset Circle’, a circular network of lines around the county which will build on the existing Strawberry Line (Yatton – Cheddar) to create a county-wide route based largely on old railways. A map of the project and its ‘vision statement’ can be viewed on the Strawberry Line website. GCR has appointed a former senior manager from Sustrans to work on the negotiations and other issues, and good progress is being made in the Shepton Mallet area. We understand that the local authority’s intended trail along the old GWR line, connecting new housing on the eastern edge of town with the site of Shepton Mallet High Street station (now replaced by a local supermarket), can go ahead, while the old Somerset & Dorset route is intended as the Circle’s link to Wellow, Midford and the Two Tunnels Trail into Bath. We understand that, on the S&D, an early step will be to open up Bath Road Viaduct for public access. (Jeff Vinter)
April 2021. Sandsend and Kettleness Tunnels, North Yorkshire.
Surprising news was reported in the Whitby Gazette that Sustrans and the North York Moors National Park are looking at the feasibility of opening these tunnels to walkers and cyclists. There would be several problems to overcome – the north-west end of Sandsend (aka Overdale) Tunnel collapsed in 2008; the ‘offshoot’ tunnels from it to the cliff face, which were opened for dumping spoil during construction, are shored up with timbers and look quite dangerous. These would need to be sealed up to avoid the temptation of an adventurous traverse through them by curious walkers – and who could blame them! (I must admit to having foolishly explored them myself, many years ago).
While the trackbed approaching the tunnels from the south is part of the Cleveland Way long distance footpath, the access to it is by a flight of wooden steps cut into a steep hillside, which would be a barrier to cyclists and disabled people. The only way to avoid this would be to go through Sandsend Station, which is privately owned, and since Autumn 2020 has camping coaches on the platform. Also the tunnels and their approaches are owned by Lord Normanby’s Mulgrave Estate, who blocked the south-east entrance to Sandsend Tunnel long ago, complete with a warning notice to potential trespassers. However, the Bidstats website states: ‘An initial structural report into the condition of the tunnels has been undertaken. Most of the land in the proposed area between Staithes and Sandsend is owned by Mulgrave Estate who are partners in the project and very supportive of its aspirations’. The Cleveland Way currently avoids the tunnels, but the area to the north of them is unsuitable for cycling as it passes between farmland and a crumbling cliff edge, with stiles and steps to negotiate. Having said all this though, official and safe access to these tunnels would provide a marvellous extension to the Scarborough-Whitby railway path. (Jane Ellis)
April 2021. Elan Valley Railway, Powys (Radnorshire).
The Elan Valley Trail, a foot and cycle path which is part of National Cycle Network Route 81, uses the ‘main line’ trackbed of this former standard gauge reservoir construction railway from Craig Goch reservoir dam to Elan Valley Jn. It then parallels the Mid Wales Railway route to Rhayader station, climbing above the nature reserve which occupies the 270 yard tunnel and its approach cuttings. Four rare bat species hibernate in the tunnel. The station is a highways depot.The principal EVR civil engineering feature is Devil’s Gulch, a deep rock cutting about a mile south of Craig Goch. On 4th November 2018 this was blocked by a rockfall. Further falls have occurred since, the entire cutting is deemed unstable and remains closed indefinitely. Powys County Council renews the closure order every six months. Welsh Water is the owner but lacks funds to carry out repairs. In February 2021 it held online consultation sessions as to possible remedies/alternatives but any outcomes have not been publicised. This is hardly satisfactory as existing official and unofficial diversionary routes are hazardous and dangerous in differing ways. One EVR artefact which, surprisingly, survives in a better state is the former Cambrian Railways Elan Valley Junction signal box. Always greatly oversized for that location, it was replaced by a ground frame in 1908 and moved to Pwllheli West in connection with the extension of the Cambrian Coast line in 1909. Ironically itself downgraded to a ground frame in the 1970s, when seen in October 2020 it appeared well cared for. (Chris Parker)
April 2021. Darlington & Hetton-le-Hole (Co. Durham).
The former rail trail from Darlington (New Road) to Dinsdale, which was cut to about half its size when a new link road – the B6279 – from town to the A66 was constructed, has now been reinstated to not far off its original start point, while the former colliery lines in Hetton Lyons Country Park near Hetton-le-Hole now form a network of cycle routes, with a 2½ mile linear trail providing off-road access from outlying areas. (Jeff Vinter)
March 2021. Devon.
Information from DevonLive sets out summary details of all the proposed new (and to be extended or linked up) cycle trails in Devon. A search revealed the definite or likely-looking railway components as these:
- The Pegasus Way. This will complete conversion of a long section of the Bude Branch – which has been a work in progress for many years – between Meldon Junction and Cookworthy Forest, which is around 3½ miles beyond Halwill Junction on the Bude side.
- The Ruby Way. This will link Hatherleigh with Holsworthy, and it is possible that old railway trackbeds will be used. Devon has already converted parts of the Torrington – Halwill Junction line west of Hatherleigh between Runnon Moor and Pulworthy Moor, and between Highampton and Black Torrington, plus parts of the Halwill Junction – Bude branch between Halwill Junction and Cookworthy Forest, and West Combe and the eastern side of Holsworthy, just before Coles Mill Viaduct, which carried the line into the town’s station. Contacts within the ‘railway re-use community’ indicate that, after many years, Devon is close to securing access over Coles Mill Viaduct, which – amongst other things – will require new parapets.
- The Tarka Trail. ‘Land assembly’ is proposed to fill the gaps between Knowle and Willingcott (which will complete re-use of the whole of the Barnstaple – Ilfracombe branch) and between Meeth and Hatherleigh, although here only a short section of the old railway will be used west of Hele Bridge on the A386.
- Feniton to Sidmouth. Parts of this branch are open officially already, and the highly regarded Kings School at Ottery St. Mary has been campaigning for its conversion into The Otter Trail for several years.
- Tavistock to Bere Alston. At first glance, this looked like another prospective rail trail, but it is not to be because Devon still aspires to re-open the line and thus put Tavistock back on the national rail network. Sorry!
- Tiverton to Exeter. The inclusion of this route in Devon’s list is tantalising. The Exe Valley Way already links Tiverton with Exeter, but the old railway could not be used because, about 30 years ago, the county riled all the landowners by publishing plans for a rail trail before consulting them. As a result, the current Exe Valley Way eschews the railway: it is a demanding walk and, in places, not open to – and wholly unsuitable for – cyclists. Possibly a new route is in prospect, but at this stage the published sources do not give much away.
- The Primrose Trail: South Brent to Kingsbridge. The county’s website is silent on this trail. The obvious route would be along the old railway, but that would require the agreement of a lot of landowners. However, Greenways and Cycleroutes are very keen to develop a trail here, and there is a keen local campaign group with an informative website: https://primrosetrail.org/ (Jeff Vinter; Steven Hills)
March 2021. Hovingham, North Yorkshire.
Hovingham Estate has decided to move the path from the old Hovingham to Gilling East railway line at Cawton to the side of the field so they can plough the whole field rather than have to do a little strip at the edge separately (the red line indicates the trackbed).
March 2021. Carlisle, Cumberland.
The long-awaited re-opening of Waverley Viaduct in the city could be on the horizon, according to the leader of Carlisle City Council, John Mallinson. The bridge over the River Eden was used as an unofficial footpath for many years before being closed on safety grounds. Campaigners, led by the Carlisle Waverley Viaduct Trust, have been trying to have it re-opened as a footpath for more than a decade. Cllr. Mallinson reported on a meeting with Railway Paths Ltd., saying that this charity ‘is in a position to hold the title of the bridge, in support of the Trust, and to provide them with advice and assistance with fundraising activities.’ He added that he was now going to speak to the Trust to see if ownership issues can be resolved. (Cumberland News; Richard Bain)
March 2021. Hesketh Bank, Lancashire.
Enabling works are continuing on the ‘Henry Alty Way’, a planned footpath and cycleway along the westerly bank of the River Douglas between Hesketh Bank and Bank Bridge, in Tarleton. The path will be on the former trackbed of the West Lancashire Railway’s Tarleton Lock branch, which operated in the early years of the 20th century, mainly for goods, though it did offer a passenger service that connected with the Liverpool line at Crossens in Southport. The Love Hesketh Bank newsletter reports that ‘existing gates, stiles and fences on the route will disappear meaning that the facility will be fully accessible to all on a level surface.’ (Love Hesketh Bank; Stephen Ebbs)
March 2021. Camden, London.
The planned ‘Camden Highline’, which aspires to transform about ¾ mile of disused elevated track in north London, has announced that the winner of its design competition is James Corner Field Operations, the team that created the High Line in New York. (The Times; Graham Harrison-Watts)
January 2021. Bennerley Viaduct, Notts/Derbyshire.
Critical repair work is virtually finished, the eastern ramp has been transformed, and work on the western ramp has commenced, while the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct continue to raise funds for the deck so it can be installed later in the year. New walls have replaced the rickety fences, using reclaimed materials where possible. The abutment was in a chronic state of repair and has undergone a visual as well as structural transformation. Over 1000 cubic metres of material is being brought in to create the western ramp which will enable access to the viaduct from the Erewash Canal towpath. The TV series, The Architectures the railways built, will feature Bennerley Viaduct for a second time on March 2nd, focusing on the efforts of the local community to bring the ‘iron giant’ back to life. (Friends of Bennerley Viaduct)
January 2021. Alresford – Kings Worthy, Hampshire.
The trustees of the Watercress Way charity have revised their Strategic Plan and identified a number of project priorities. The aim of the charity is to open up more of the two disused railway lines between Alresford and Kings Worthy and Kings Worthy and Sutton Scotney for non-motorised public access. Over the last year or so, they have agreed a footpath along the old track bed through Top Field, Kings Worthy, linking to the cutting in Woodhams Farm Lane, and hope to open this in 2021. They have improved the surface of the flat mile in Martyr Worthy by the removal of tree roots and have developed a range of shorter self-guided walking, cycling and riding loops, including doing the whole trail in 8 short walks. They have also cleared the debris under Wonston Bridge. Future projects include extending the route alongside the former railway from Lovedon Lane in Kings Worthy to the A33. (Graham Lambert)
January 2021. Okehampton, Devon.
A year ago things looked bleak for the North Dartmoor line and any reinstatement of passenger trains on the line from Exeter to Okehampton. Heritage services from Okehampton to Meldon Quarry also ceased when the owners went into receivership. However, the government has now included a commitment in its National Infrastructure Strategy to restart regular passenger services between Exeter and Okehampton, via Crediton. Deliveries of new concrete sleepers and transition rails (bullhead at one end, flat bottom at the other) have arrived at Okehampton, while the signal box is likely to be considered an integral part of the reconstituted station, which has raised the hopes of the Dartmoor Railway Supporters’ Association (DRSA) for greater operational scope in the future. The DRSA also said: ‘Officials have surveyed the station site’s accessibility for bus services, checking the layout and turning area’. This is encouraging news for the DRSA who, as DevonLive reported, ‘were left high and dry following the collapse of the firm owning the Dartmoor Railway. They have continued to care for their assets at their Okehampton base, while the group report that those of the erstwhile Dartmoor Railway also remain on site’. A train service on this line opens up a viable public transport connection with the Granite Way, which uses the trackbed (or runs alongside it) from
Okehampton to Lydford. It also brings the aspiration of reconnecting Exeter and Plymouth via the old LSWR route, known formally as the Tavistock Okehampton Reopening Scheme (TORS), one step closer. (DevonLive, Dartmoor Railway Supporters’ Association, Keith Lawrie)