News 2023

October 2023. Great Musgrave, Westmorland.

Surprise, surprise. The now-notorious bridge at Great Musgrave in Westmorland which was infilled by National Highways amidst claims it was weak, is set to re-open without a weight restriction or any form of strengthening being needed. The masonry arch structure at Great Musgrave, engineered by Sir Thomas Bouch in the early 1860s, had been closed for 13 weeks whilst 1,600 tonnes of stone and concrete were removed from around it to comply with an enforcement notice – the deadline for which was 11 October. As recently as August, National Highways had claimed that it needed to ‘carry out additional necessary strengthening work so the bridge can continue being used safely by the public’. However, after a new capacity assessment was completed, the company has admitted that its “refurbishment work” – which has only involved localised repointing and repairs to stonework damage caused by excavation of the concrete infill – ‘will remove the need for a weight restriction, restoring the bridge to full capacity.’ HRE spokesman, Graeme Bickerdike, said: ‘It’s been a costly shambles from start to finish and the taxpayer has a right to understand the circumstances. The bridge’s return to its rightful place as a historic landscape asset is welcome, but the fact that no strengthening was needed completely undermines National Highways.’ Mike Thompson, Project Manager with the Stainmore Railway Company, who knew nothing of the infilling plans until the contractor was on site, said: ‘We’re obviously pleased that the bridge has been restored to its previous state so we can again focus on our extension northwards. But to discover that this whole shabby affair was for nothing sticks in the throat. How was it allowed to happen? Where was the oversight? It raises important questions about National Highways’ culture, honesty and competence, and therefore its suitability as the custodian of our legacy railway assets.’ The whole sorry caravan now moves on to Congham, near King’s Lynn in Norfolk, where the last surviving complete example of a bridge built using a system of modular concrete components first introduced by the eminent engineer William Marriott was infilled under emergency permitted development rights in spring 2021, at a cost of £127K. Retrospective planning permission was refused by the local council. (HRE)

October 2023. Knowle, Devon.

News that Devon County Council is to spend £900,000 on an extension of the Tarka Trail between Knowle and Willingcott on the ex-Ilfracombe branch has reached us, but it has not been possible to verify this independently. The new path would extend the trail from Willingcott Valley holiday park, a little to the south of the site of Mortehoe Station (variously named throughout its history), to Knowle, a small village about a mile north of Braunton, thus leaving only a small gap to complete the trackbed path from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe. (RR)

October 2023. Towcester area, Northamptonshire.

It has been noted that two paths exist which are not noted on Ordnance Survey Maps on the former railway line between Towcester and Cockley Brake Junction, which closed to passengers on 2nd July 1951 and to goods on 29th October that same year. The first is at Abthorpe and runs for approximately 0.3 miles between two footpaths that cross the line including a small bridge over the River Tove. SP648469-SP645467. Status: permissive path. The second is at Helmdon and the footpath extends down the formation beyond the station area from the marked public footpath for around 0.75 miles, towards Astwell, before turning away to the north to join another footpath which provides a circuit back to the village. SP591438 (western end). Status: public footpath? (Phillip Earnshaw)

October 2023. Wingfield, Derbyshire.

Following a £1.7 million restoration project led by the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust (DHBT), what some consider one of the best surviving examples of a rural railway station from the pioneering phase of railway development, is due to re-open – as a visitor centre, but not as a station. Wingfield station lies on the Derby-Leeds line, which remains open, and its main distinction is that it’s the only remaining original station building along this route. Wingfield Station was built in 1839/40 to the designs of Francis Thompson and is listed Grade II* for its historic interest. It forms part of a series of railway structures built for the North Midland Railway, which was designed by two of the most important and influential engineers of the railway era – George and Robert Stephenson. A woman who once lived at the station in Derbyshire was due to re-open the building on 27th October. Enid Buxton, née Barlow, lived at Wingfield Station near Alfreton as a child in the 1950s when her father, William Barlow, was station master there. The station closed in 1967 as part of the Beeching cuts and fell into a state of almost complete dereliction. The Victorian Society recognised Wingfield station as one of the top ten most important buildings in the country at risk of being lost for ever yet it required a long process to secure ownership of the building and restore it to its former condition. The public open days started on 28 October, when re-enactors brought the station to life. The tour includes a self-guided trail to introduce families to the story of the station and a chance to see a model railway of the line as it was in the 1940s that’s been specially built to go in the goods shed. After emergency repairs in 2022 made the building externally watertight, interior restoration was made to the same condition as when it opened in 1840. Recreations of the original wallpaper have been printed and hung in the ladies’ waiting room. Chemical analysis of paint fragments has ensured the right colour paint has been used. Plaster cornices have been moulded in situ, using traditional techniques. (Derbyshire Live) (This item brings to a happier conclusion than might have been expected; see Letters column, RR 171, page 15 – which referred both to the station and to the lady who has re-opened it.)

October 2023. Spending the HS2 money.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement that the notional £36bn earmarked for the HS2 leg to Manchester will be re-invested in new transport projects, a few rail re-openings can be found on the list. Tavistock may, finally, get its trains back, as may Gobowen – Oswestry, while new stations are slated for Cullompton, also in Devon, and Wellington in Somerset. The ‘headline’ project for disused railway enthusiasts however is surely the Barrow Hill line between Chesterfield and Sheffield Victoria, continuing on ex-GCR metals along the Don Valley line to Stocksbridge. It is currently open for freight, while the station buildings at Oughtibridge and Deepcar remain as private residences (the latter having been turned into something of a mansion). Haxby in Yorkshire is due to re-open, but Stoke – Leek is a bit of a mystery; has the government spoken to the Churnet Valley Railway? The heritage line has just re-opened the triangle at Leekbrook Junction as part of its drive north and it is tempting to imagine a ‘race’ to the town! Sharing the track into a new station in Leek would, of course, be the ideal solution. (RR)

September 2023. Pensford Viaduct, Somerset.

Engineering repairs carried out on behalf of National Highways have been completed on the 332-yard Pensford Viaduct on the ex-GWR Bristol & North Somerset Railway. New Civil Engineer reports that work on the 16-arch structure ‘involved repointing over 1000m2 of water-damaged parapet with a traditional lime mortar, carefully coloured matched with the original mortar’. Passenger services ceased in 1959 and freight nine years later when flooding weakened the viaduct. Sadly, these repairs do not allow the trackbed to be re-opened to walkers or cyclists but a footpath does pass underneath one of the viaduct’s spans. (NCE)

September 2023. Shepton Mallet, Somerset.

The newly-formed Somerset Council has granted permission for a new cycling and walking route along a further section of the ex-Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway. The route will start at Ham Wood Viaduct, run through Windsor Hill Tunnel and then cross Bath Road Viaduct. It is hoped funding can be found at a later stage to take the route over Charlton Viaduct as well. The Windsor Hill route is eventually intended to form part of the Somerset Circle, a 76-mile traffic-free circuit which would link the north Somerset coast (including Weston-super-Mare and Clevedon), Bristol, Bath, the Mendip Hills and Cheddar. The circle is currently around 50 miles linked up, and most of the outstanding sections lie in the former Mendip or Sedgemoor districts. (Somerset Live)

August 2023. Torrington, Devon.

The BBC may have rather over-egged this event with their headline ‘Train leaves disused station for first time in decades’, but there was a train, and it did move, albeit only for a distance of 300 yards. Along with the café that has recently been revamped in the station building, Torrington now hosts the Tarka Valley Railway, which aims to build back to Bideford, where a heritage centre exists at the station site that also looks after Instow Signal Box. The Tarka Trail runs through both stations on its use of the old trackbed between Barnstaple and Meeth. (BBC)

August 2023. Historical Railway Estate.

National Highways spent £9M over the last financial year, April 2022 – March 2023, on 265 projects maintaining and restoring assets in the Historical Railways Estate (HRE), which has more than 3,100 structures in its portfolio. 179 of these were in England, 62 in Scotland and 24 in Wales. These included work on the 21-arch Crigglestone Viaduct near Wakefield in West Yorkshire, on the 16-arch Westfield Viaduct on the Stirlingshire-West Lothian border, and at Hurstbourne Park bridge in Hampshire. This summer also sees a project to repoint the parapets of Pensford Viaduct in Somerset. (New Civil Engineer)

August 2023. Greenock, Renfrewshire.

As two local councillors put forward a plan to re-use a further section of what is known locally as the ‘high line’, the ex-Greenock & Ayrshire (G&A) line from Bridge of Weir to Greenock Albert Harbour (later re-named Princes Pier by the GSWR), it seems a good opportunity to look at the railways of a town that must rank even today as one of the best rail-served communities in the country. Two other lines reached Greenock and still serve it today: the Caledonian reached it via the Glasgow, Paisley & Greenock Railway which still has three stations in the urban area (not counting Port Glasgow), before continuing to its terminus at Gourock; and the Greenock & Wemyss Bay Railway, also taken over by the Caledonian, which branched off the above line at Bogston, just west of Port Glasgow, and has several stops along the southern fringes of the Greenock-Gourock conurbation – including an advertised station for the IBM plant – before reaching its own terminus at Wemyss Bay. Upper Greenock Station has gone, replaced by Whinhill a little to the east. At this point, the G&A line crossed over the Wemyss Bay line (the bridge, much overgrown, remains), running between it and the Gourock line for a short while, before diving into a mainly tunnelled section that emerges shortly before Princes Pier. There was also a network of dock and other freight lines. As mentioned in the Editorial, National Cycle Route 75 uses much of the old trackbed between Bridge of Weir (and Johnstone further south) and Greenock. It makes detours to avoid considerable building at Bardrainney, and a missing viaduct over Devol Glen (where calls have been made to Sustrans to build a replacement bridge), but rejoins the line as far as Lady Octavia Sports Centre. From here, the councillors want to create a linear park running into Greenock town centre. Their plan includes a community project to re-invigorate the site of Lynedoch Station, the only stop in the town on the G&A before its terminus, and a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Greenock Cut, a four-mile aqueduct, in 2027. To reach this, the plan involves using yet another old railway line, which ran from Whinhill on the G&A south-west to serve a paper mill at Overton. Tunnels are a major feature of the railways in Greenock, and the councillors recognise that the path will probably need to avoid them. However, a lovely viaduct does still stand at Cartsburn Street which would be a great asset if it could be included. (Greenock Telegraph; Forgotten Relics; RR)

July 2023. Tintern, Monmouthshire.

In 1866 the Wye Valley Railway Company announced that it would not build a line through the village of Tintern, but by-pass it. To make up for this the company was forced to build a branch to the wireworks on the other side of Tintern. However, by August 1875, before the opening of the branch, the Abbey Wireworks Company had stopped trading. The line remained empty until the early 1880s when the works were taken over by the Abbey Wire and Tinplate Company; this venture was short lived and the works closed for good in 1901. The bridge itself is a Grade II listed structure in both England and Wales and has recently re-opened following a £1.5 million restoration. The bridge was reopened by Derek the Walking Weatherman in June and will be featured in the coming season of Weatherman Walking on BBC Wales and i-Player. (Tony Dingley, Wye Valley Facebook Group)

July 2023. Edlingham, Northumberland.

Another hidden gem of a railway station has come on the market. It boasts a sympathetically extended station building, converted signal box, platform and 1.5 acres of garden. We believe an RR visit was made some years ago but the current owner valued his privacy, and the site is hidden by extensive woodland. Therefore, the estate agent’s shots are worth seeing and one or two were published in the Northumberland Gazette.

July 2023. Abergwili, Carmarthenshire.

The proposed Tywi cycle path has been awarded £16.7m from the Levelling-up Fund. The path will follow the ex-LNWR Central Wales & Carmarthen Junction Line for 16 miles between Abergwili, the home of the Gwili Steam Railway, and Ffairfach, on the Heart of Wales line. The path will include two river crossings, over the Afon Cothi and Tywi respectively, in short order to the east of Nantgaredig. At the Tywi crossing, the piers of the old railway bridge are still in situ and it is to be hoped the new structure will not necessitate their removal. There were five intermediate stations between Carmarthen and Llandeilo. Abergwili has been obliterated by the A40, but at Nantgaredig, platform coping stones, a running-in board (possibly authentic) and the old station hotel (now a pub) remain. Dryslwyn is a delightful survivor with several features in situ, including remains of the level crossing, while Golden Grove boasts two extant platforms, and a lovely station building (now, as Dryslwyn, a private residence). At Llandilo Bridge (railway spelling), in Ffairfach, the goods shed appears to survive but the rest of the site has been flattened. (Richard Rees)

July 2023. Wigan, Lancashire.

It has been noted that the deck of Douglas Viaduct, on what was the Standish Loop, just north of Whelley Junction, has been stripped of trees and other vegetation. In 2021 funding was sought to repair the structure and turn it into a footpath. Presumably this would extend through from where the official path currently ends at Whelley. It is an interesting development but in no way means anything has been agreed or is imminent. Perhaps a local member can provide more information about this. (Phillip Earnshaw)

May 2023, Scotland.

A round-up of some Scottish developments… 

1: The former station building at Dinnet on the Deeside line, formerly the office of the Dinnet estate is to be converted into a private house.

2: The former toll house at Park station, also on the Deeside line, has also been converted into a dwelling – offers over £150k.

3: Alford Valley Community Railway has received a £50k grant to purchase new sleepers to replace the existing wooden ones.

4: Banff – while a block of flats occupies the site of Banff Station, the former Banff Bridge station – high on the hill across the River Deveron from the town on the Macduff line of the Great North of Scotland Railway is to be demolished and ‘Holiday Lodges’ (whatever they are!!) built on the site. Another station bites the dust. A mile or so further north, more happily, Macduff terminus building and engine shed both survive in industrial/retail use. (David Picken)

May 2023, Robertsbridge, East Sussex.

The Secretary of State for Transport has made the Order for the Transport and Works Act Rother Valley Railway (Bodiam to Robertsbridge Junction) which will enable the completion of the missing link between the Rother Valley and Kent & East Sussex Railways. The RVR is delighted with the news and plans to start work at the earliest opportunity to carry out land and ecological surveys. Substantive physical works are unlikely to start before next year. Once the reconnection is complete, the heritage line will stretch 14 miles from the mainline connection at Robertsbridge to Tenterden in Kent. (RVR)  

April 2023. Oldham, Lancashire.

Planning permission has been granted to build a 400 foot bridge over the River Medlock to join two sections of footpath and cycleway at Park Bridge, avoiding a steep diversion. A long-demolished viaduct once crossed the valley on the Oldham, Ashton & Guide Bridge Junction Railway, and there was a large ironworks beneath the line. The bridge, which will be constructed using steel girders to give it an ‘industrial look’, will enable the route to follow most of the old trackbed between Alexandra Park in Oldham and the site of the short tunnel by Turner Lane in Ashton-under-Lyne. A few hundred yards south of here, there are some scant remains of Ashton Oldham Road Station – a retaining wall and what looks like a section of platform. In the current climate, a £5m investment of this nature is a welcome surprise. (Keith Holliday; Manchester Evening News)

April 2023. Corwen, Merionethshire.

The official opening of the Llangollen Railway’s new Corwen Station is scheduled for Friday 2 June, although trains will actually begin using the station a day earlier. RR will be represented by our Wales Coordinator, and we hope to bring a report of the event in our Autumn issue. (Chris Parker)

April 2023. Bala, Merionethshire.

Less welcome news comes from just a few miles south on the same ex-GWR line, with the rejection of planning permission for an extension to the narrow-gauge Bala Lake Railway into Bala town centre. This would not have followed the old trackbed, which continued to Bala Junction, but a new alignment deviating from the current Pen-y-Bont terminus to a new Bala Town Station, just off the High Street, behind the town cinema. The main reason for the refusal was a new one for the railway industry – sewage! (see article, p29). (RR)

March 2023. French Drove & Gedney Hill, Cambridgeshire.

(At least, the signal box was in Cambridgeshire; the station across the road seems to have been in Lincolnshire.) The restored signal box is up for sale. It seems rather stiff at £300,000 given it is not extended – unlike its magnificent cousin across a few drains at Murrow – and therefore provides somewhat cramped accommodation. However, it does come with considerable land and several outbuildings. (First Move; RR) 

March 2023. Smallford, Hertfordshire.

The Herts Advertiser has reported that refurbishment of Smallford Station on the Alban Way has begun. The work is expected to take around three weeks and will include the installation of ‘Victorian-style lamp posts and benches’. While the main work will be done by contractors, the Smallford Station & Alban Way Heritage Society is providing flower beds, and two students from nearby Oaklands College have designed some railway posters. The station site will also incorporate an exhibition in a refurbished goods van, showing something of the history of the station and railway. (Herts Advertiser; Mike Kurylowski)

March 2023, Powerstock, Dorset.

News of a short extension to the railway path on the ex-Bridport branch shows that the trail now reaches Barrowland Lane between Toller Porcorum and Powerstock. The route gains access to the road via a temporary ramp on the north side of the bridge that takes the trackbed over the lane, although this will be replaced with a permanent ramp along the line of the railway if the bridge is demolished. It would be interesting to know who writes the captions for Google Maps as they highlight this structure as a ‘historic railway bridge’. The trail is now almost continuous from Toller to Loders. (HRE)

February 2023. Devil’s Gulch, Elan Valley, Radnorshire.

Helped no doubt by favourable weather, the rock stabilisation at Devil’s Gulch cutting was completed ahead of (revised) schedule and the path through it reopened on 24 February. (Chris Parker)  

February 2023. Brixham, Devon.

The Brixham Railway Heritage Trail project aims to re-open as much of possible of the two-mile former branch line between the terminus site in Brixham and the erstwhile mainline station at Churston – now itself a heritage stop on the Dartmouth Steam Railway. Apparently, in the early years after closure, the trackbed was used as an unofficial footpath, but it is now either heavily overgrown or built over along much of the route. May 13this year marked sixty years since closure and a series of talks and presentations have been promoting the Trail project. According to DevonLive, ‘Starting at the site of the long-demolished Brixham railway station in Harbour View Close, the trail will weave between houses and other buildings that have been built over the tracks in Brixham, before heading to North Boundary Road park and along the existing track-bed which is then complete from that point as far as Bridge Road in Churston. At key points of interest along the Railway Heritage Trail the aim is to install a series of information boards, plaques and route markers so people can find out more about the relatively little-known story of Brixham’s railway.’ Six of the original eight bridges remain. (DevonLive; Steven Hills) 

February 2023. Erwood, Brecknockshire.

The gallery, craft centre and café at this former Mid Wales line station on the B4567 near Builth (closed to all traffic with the line 31 December 1962) originally opened as such in 1984 after rescue from dereliction. It closed at the end of 1984 when the then manager left to work abroad. New tenants took over and ran it until 23 September 2022. The lease was offered in October and the business reopened on 13 February 2023 in time for half-term. A Branch Line Society member called in for lunch on the 18th, the following Saturday. He reports that it seems to be a family business and is very pleasant, offering hot and cold drinks plus food (cold only – sandwiches, pasties, cakes). Seating is inside a refurbished wooden-bodied coach; another coach serves as the small art gallery. The signal box (ex-Newbridge-on-Wye, 12¼ miles north) is currently a storage area (aka junk room) but they hope to bring it into use as part of the site/museum in due course; like Penmaenpool box it was previously a bird hide. There are bird feeders with plenty of birds around and a walk along the River Wye. The website and Facebook page created by the previous management have yet to be replaced but nevertheless give a good impression of this very attractive location. (Chris Parker) 

February 2023. Ningwood, Isle of Wight.

Ningwood Station on the long disused Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway, Isle of Wight, was put on the market for £850,000 earlier this year. Although now listed as ‘sold subject to contract’, a fabulous set of photos can be found at the following link: The basic station building appears to be intact, although enlarged and modernised and the two platforms still survive. (Steve Wall) 

February 2023. Devon Bridges.

After the Great Musgrave fiasco, the new Head of PR at Historical Railways Estate was charged with publicising 80 good news stories in their first year of appointment. Four such episodes have emanated from Devon, where four bridges have been repaired, rather than infilled. The cost for three of them is roughly equivalent to what HRE was spending a year ago to infill just one. The bridges concerned are the overbridge at the south end of Christow station (ex-Teign Valley Branch), Wortha Mill Road Bridge just to the south of the beautifully restored Brentor station (on the ex-GWR Launceston – Plymouth line), Broadpark Road Bridge (possibly the structure which forms a pair with the previous bridge, that carries a lane/farm track over the ex-LSWR Plymouth – Exeter route), and Castle Bridge, Budleigh Salterton (that carries Castle Lane over the ex-LSWR Tipton St John to Exmouth branch). Our correspondent admits to some difficulty in identifying the exact bridges due to the general vagueness with which each was described. (Steven Hills)

January 2023. Sutton Scotney, Hampshire.

The Watercress Way have reported that they plan to put up a board alongside or on the gates – partly funded by the RR Footpath Fund – to explain what has been done, and what the old line looked like. They are hoping the Parish Council will contribute to that as part of the project. They also have a piece of oral history which can be added with a QR code on the board. Railway Ramblers will be recognised on that board. The group also found a boundary marker when excavating, which will be installed for interest. (Watercress Way) 

January 2023. Kimberley, Notts; Bennerley Viaduct, Notts/Derbys.

Railway Paths Ltd. have announced the approval of a bid to the Levelling Up Fund, to the tune of ‘£16.5 million to make town centre improvements in Kimberley, including transforming Bennerley Viaduct, creating step-free access to the viaduct and boosting the cycle path network in the region.’ This makes the construction of an accessible eastern ramp much more likely in the near future. Railway Ramblers has been a big supporter of Friends of Bennerley Viaduct for some time and has recently donated two cast iron benches which will be installed at the top of the western ramp in the spring. (RPL)

January 2023. Somerset.

Three new sections of railway path have opened on the ex-GWR Wells & Witham branch in Somerset. The Strawberry Line announced the opening of a new 1km section of path on Christmas Eve 2022, running from Station Road at Westbury-sub-Mendip to Erlon Lane byway. The path was designed and built by Greenways & Cycleroutes Ltd., with financial and political support from Mendip District Council. At Westbury-sub-Mendip (Lodge Hill), the goods shed survives in excellent condition. Meanwhile, about five miles east, on the other side of Wells, a short extension has been made to the Wells – Dulcote trail at the latter location. Finally, the Millennium Way has been extended east in Shepton Mallet, a path held up due to an earlier HRE objection to the planning application. Elsewhere in the town, work to develop a Shepton Viaducts Trail from the A37 (Charlton Road, Shepton) to Ham Wood Viaduct has stalled because the erstwhile owner of Winsor Hill Tunnels and Ham Wood Viaduct has been struck off by Companies House. (RR)