News 2021

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 able[1]bodied, 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.

Pulham Market Station
Spetisbury Station, Dorset Photo: Kevin Mitchell

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)