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 NATIONAL NEWS 9 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)
Butternab Tunnel, Netherton, West Yorkshire (in 2016 with the rainbow arch – since removed) Photo: Jane Ellis
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 10 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)
Apr 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 11 – 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)
Apr 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.)
Apr 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)
Apr 2021 – Sandsend and Kettleness Tunnels to reopen?
Following on from Phillip Earnshaw’s description of these North Yorkshire coast tunnels in Ramblings 169, I was surprised to read in the Whitby Gazette (18.3.21) that Sustrans and the North York Moors National Park are looking at the feasibility of opening them up to walkers and cyclists. There would be several problems to overcome – the north-west end of Sandsend (a.k.a. Overdale) Tunnel collapsed in 2008; the “offshoot” tunnels from it to the cliff face, which were opened up 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).
Whilst 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 the disabled. 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 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.
▲ Sandsend Tunnel collapse
▲Article in Whitby Gazette
Apr 2021 – Rock Fall, Elan Valley Railway (EVR) (Powys)
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 yd 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 4 November 2018 this was been blocked by a rock fall. Further falls have occurred since, the entire cutting is deemed unstable and remains closed indefinitely. Powys County Council renews the closure order every 6 months. Welsh Water Authority 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. https://bit.ly/3volaLl is an excellent local press report of 4 February 2021 with further details.
One EVR artefact which, surprisingly, survives in a better state is the former Cambrian Railways Elan Valley Jn 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.
(Report and Pictures from Chris Parker)
▲ Devil's Gulch looking S with path closed since 4-11-18 because of rock falls
▲S portal of Rhayader Tunnel 2
▲ Rock fall in Devil's Gulch looking N
▲N portal of Rhayader Tunnel where 4 bat species now hibernate
Apr 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)
Mar 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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Feniton to Sidmouth. Parts of this branch are open officially already, and the highly regarded Kings School at Ottery St. Mary has been campaigning14 for its conversion into The Otter Trail for several years.
5. 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!
6. 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.
7. 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)
Mar 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).
(Item and photo: Peter Billington)
Mar 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 15 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)
Mar 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)
Mar 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)
Jan 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 17 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)
Jan 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)
Jan 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)
Jan 2021 – Alston – Slaggyford, Cumbria.
The South Tynedale Railway has announced that it has become one of 445 organisations in the UK to receive a financial boost from the government thanks to the £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund. The South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society has received a total grant of £84,300. The railway is currently closed to the public and the funding will allow vital costs to be paid. It will also help the railway prepare for the running season in 2021, with maintenance and rebuilding of steam locomotives already ongoing. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘As a nation, it is essential that we preserve our heritage and celebrate and learn from our past. This massive support package will protect our shared heritage for future generations, save jobs and help us prepare for a cultural bounceback postCOVID’. South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society, Chair of Trustees, David Granath, said: ‘This funding gives us hope that we can once again welcome visitors back to the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to ride through the lovely South Tyne valley on our trains. We believe that our 90-minute return trip with cafés and car parking at each end of the line is the perfect package for a family day out and for the railway enthusiast’. (Rail Advent, Richard Bain)
Dec 2020 – Little Mill Jn – Usk, Monmouthshire
Monmouthshire County Council’s planning committee has approved plans to convert about 4 miles of the trackbed of the ex-GWR line between Little Mill Junction and Usk. The path will start near a point on the A472 to the west of Coleg Gwent and the Monmouthshire Council application says it will provide ‘a safe off-road cycleway route’ linking Usk with the canal and other purpose-built cycle tracks to Blaenavon, Pontypool and further afield. It doesn’t say how it will gain access to Pontypool, where an 11-mile cycle route leads to Blaenavon, although the application forms part of a wider proposed Usk to Pontypool national cycle route involving Sustrans. The plans approved are for the second phase of the cycle path project, with the other sections of the planned route between Glascoed Lane and Little Mill and connections to the roundabout at Mamhilad, just outside Pontypool, subject to separate applications. Our reporter said it’s not clear whether any of the section westwards to Little Mill en route to the canal at Mamhilad is on the trackbed. At the eastern end, it would be good if it could be joined to the footpath which utilises the old railway bridge over the River Usk at Usk Island, otherwise users would face a busy A-road for the final mile or so into the town. The Woodland Trust was the main objector to the application but the Council’s tree officer said the impact of the development on trees along the route would be ‘low’. The current use of the line as farm access would continue with several refuges provided for walkers and cyclists, as concerns had been raised over bikes, pedestrians and cattle sharing some sections of the route. (Chris Parker)
Dec 2020 – Rugby – Leamington / Long Itchington, Warwickshire
According to the Rugby Observer, Sustrans has announced plans to add five miles of trackbed in a re-routing of part of the Lias Line, as the section of NCN 41 between Rugby and Leamington is known. Phase 1, which will cost around £4.5 million, will see the ex-LNWR route used between the villages of Offchurch and Birdingbury, connecting with further sections of trackbed at both ends, and leaving a tantalising 2-mile gap at the northern end between Draycote and the Cawston Greenway, which uses the old line through the southern outskirts of Rugby. Currently, the trail makes a significant detour to the east and this project will create a much more direct route. The work will include a new bridge over the A423 at Marton, which Sustrans says ‘is nearing the end of its life’. Local knowledge would be appreciated on this, as a quick glance on Google Earth shows a substantial two-arch structure at this location. The path will also have to find a way around the small industrial estate which occupies the station site at Marton.
If funding allows, a second phase would use part of the old Weedon & Leamington branch, that remained open to Southam Cement Works until 1985. Latterly, trains had to travel south from Rugby and reverse at Marton Junction. The Works were demolished a few years ago and Phase 2 of Sustrans’ plans utilises the branch as far as Stockton Reservoir, a stretch that includes an attractive viaduct over the River Itchen.
The Lias Line is certainly due an overhaul as sections are heavily overgrown, and Sustrans itself identified it as being in ‘poor condition’ at a review last year. (Christopher Homer)
Link to original article https://rugbyobserver.co.uk/news/upgrade-to-warwickshire-cycle-network-takes-shape-25758/
Dec 2020 – Feasibility Study: Re-purposing part of Somerset and Dorset Line
A former Somerset railway line could be brought back into use as an "active travel" route to encourage people to commute without using cars.
The towns of Bruton and Wincanton were once served by the Somerset and Dorset Railway, which ran services from Bournemouth to Bath and Burnham-on-Sea.
See report in Somerset Live website at https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/former-somerset-railway-line-could-4789208
Dec 2020 – Rugby – Leamington/Long Itchington, Warwickshire
According to the Rugby Observer, Sustrans has announced plans to add five miles of trackbed in a re-routing of part of the Lias Line, as the section of NCN 41 between Rugby and Leamington is known. Phase 1, which will cost around £4.5 million, will see the ex-LNWR route used between the villages of Offchurch and Birdingbury, connecting with further sections of trackbed at both ends, and leaving a tantalising 2-mile gap at the northern end between Draycote and the Cawston Greenway, which uses the old line through the southern outskirts of 15 Rugby. Currently, the trail makes a significant detour to the east and this project will create a much more direct route. The work will include a new bridge over the A423 at Marton, which Sustrans says ‘is nearing the end of its life’. Local knowledge would be appreciated on this, as a quick glance on Google Earth shows a substantial two-arch structure at this location. The path will also have to find a way around the small industrial estate which occupies the station site at Marton. If funding allows, a second phase would use part of the old Weedon & Leamington branch which remained open to Southam Cement Works until 1985. Latterly, trains had to travel south from Rugby and reverse at Marton Junction. The works were demolished a few years ago and Phase 2 of Sustrans’ plans utilises the branch as far as Stockton Reservoir, a stretch that includes an attractive viaduct over the River Itchen. The Lias Line is certainly due an overhaul as sections are heavily overgrown and Sustrans itself identified it as being in ‘poor condition’ at a review last year. (Christopher Homer)
Dec 2020 – Keswick-Threlkeld Path Re-Open
Dec 2020 – Weymouth, Dorset
As part of work to resurface Commercial Road following the removal of the Weymouth Harbour Branch tracks, two cycle lanes have been introduced to facilitate cycling where traffic volume and speeds are relatively low between Westham Bridge and Lower St Alban Street. One of the Council’s main arguments for removing the tracks was to make the roads safer for cyclists. Councillor Ray Bryan, Portfolio Holder for Highways, Travel and Environment, said: ‘This road layout gives priority to cyclists – with vehicles slowing down to pass each other safely or overrunning into the cycle lane if safe to do so. Further proposed cycle links in the town centre, which will require legal orders to introduce, will be consulted on early next year.’
Update – January 2021. Another set of railway tracks has been unearthed on Commercial Road during the above work. A spokesman from the council said: ‘We believe this is the old route of the Weymouth branch line, which ‘The Loop’ section replaced.’ Perhaps RR members could give their views on this. According to the Dorset Echo, the project team are working with conservation officers to develop ideas of how best to preserve historic elements of the Quay tramway. Where possible, sections of track are being left in situ, including a 30-metre section at the start of the line in Commercial Road and ‘The Loop’ near Cosens Quay Car Park. The council spokesman also said that ‘some sections of rail may be used for a possible heritage feature along the route once the works are complete’. (Tim Chant, Dorset Council, Dorset Echo)
Nov 2020. Keswick – Threlkeld, Cumbria
The Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) has announced that the Keswick – Threlkeld path, which uses a section of the trackbed of the ex-Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith Railway, is to re-open to the public on Saturday, 5th December, on the fifth anniversary of Storm Desmond, which washed away part of the path, including two bridges over the River Greta. The work done included the repair and rebuilding of 3 miles of existing trail, the replacement of the two missing bridges, and repairs to the abutment of a third. A couple of hundred yards of new trail have also been constructed to replace the section which was destroyed in the storm. Cath Johnson, Area Ranger with the LDNPA, said: ‘We have also installed new drainage, repaired bridge structures and revetment walls and strengthened key sections of river bank to protect the trail and surrounding land from future flood(ing).’ (Richard Bain)
Nov 2020 – Blandford Forum, Dorset
The Pines Express, the bulletin of the Somerset & Dorset Trust, has reported on the opening to the public of the Blandford Arches. Kevin Mitchell writes: ‘The Blandford Arches Railway Trust has carried out improvement work to the remains of Bridge 198 across the River Stour immediately south of (the site of) Blandford Forum station. The viaduct was originally built during 1862-63 for single track and consisted of a pair of flood arches on the meadows either side of the river joined by a lattice girder span. Bridge 198 was rebuilt for double track around 1900.’ The northern arches are all that is left after other sections were removed when Blandford bypass was built in the 1980s. A metal staircase has been provided, giving access to the trackbed on top of the arches, and the brick parapets have been renovated. (Ivor Sutton, Pines Express)
Nov 2020 – Aberchalder – North Laggan, Invernessshire
This is part of the North British former branch line from Spean Bridge to Fort Augustus and the 3½ mile section which can be walked, between Invergarry and Aberchalder, has recently been improved out of all recognition. The old railway runs alongside General Wade’s Military Road and the trail used to alternate between the two routes. However, by autumn 2020, the trail had been upgraded and moved on to the old trackbed exclusively. En route there is a long, low viaduct near Aberchalder, the short Loch Oich Tunnel with its crenulated portals and a fine crenulated underbridge, plus (at the southern end) the remains of Invergarry station – see if you can spot the subway by which passengers gained access to its island platform. The route forms part of the NATIONAL NEWS 12 Great Glen Way, which was opened by Prince Andrew in 2002. Access from Aberchalder is at NH 339035, and from North Laggan at NN 300982. Aberchalder station is north of the A821 and not accessible. (Phillip Earnshaw, Jeff Vinter)
October 2020 – Sandsend, North Yorkshire
Camping coaches are back at Sandsend Station. On 21st October, a coach and a wagon were craned into position at the old station. A YouTube video shows them on lorries reversing a mile down the steep bank from Lythe to the old railway station at Sandsend before being lifted into place on the old platform. The Whitby Gazette reports that two camping coaches are once again to be installed at Sandsend, the first station going northwards from Whitby West Cliff on the Whitby, Redcar &Middlesbrough Union Railway which closed in 1958. Planning permission has been granted to the Mulgrave Estate, which owns the station house and the old line in this area. The trackbed is walkable to the southern portal of Sandsend Tunnel, as part of the Cleveland Way long-distance path. One coach, described as a Pullman-style former passenger coach, will have two bedrooms and a bathroom, while the other is to be used for storage of bikes, surfboards, luggage and garden furniture. These are to be sited on track fixed to sleepers which apparently will be actually on the end of the existing platform. The station also retains a cunningly concealed wartime pillbox which defended Sandsend Viaduct. The Yorkshire group was allowed access to this on their Yorkshire Coast walking week some years ago. (Jane Ellis)
Oct 2020 – Droxford, Hampshire
The fabulously restored Droxford Station on the Meon Valley line is advertised for sale in the Hampshire Chronicle for £1.6 million. The owner who is selling Droxford hasn't been there that long, and did much to restore the railway feel of the place, including building a replica signal box (described in the Chronicle as ‘a tasteful one-bedroom annexe which has open plan living space with kitchenette and fireplace, a double bedroom and private bathroom’). Your average signal box, then. Droxford Station was designed by T.P.Figgis, also known for his work on the Northern Line in South London, and had its moment of fame when Prime Minister Winston Churchill used it as his base during preparations for the Normandy D-Day landings. Droxford Station is, in fact, located in the village of Soberton. (Gifford Cox)
Oct 2020 – Lowdham, Nottinghamshire.
Lowdham Signal Box, declared redundant by Network Rail, has been saved by Lowdham Railway Heritage (LRH), a charity set up to re-locate and restore the Victorian structure. It was craned from its working position by the level crossing to the old cattle dock, on the other side of the Grade II listed railway station building. Lowdham Station remains open on the line between Nottingham and Newark-on-Trent. The box dates from 1896 and LRH hope to open it as a working museum by the spring of 2022. LRH member David Moore said: ‘What you’ll be able to do is come in and pull the levers and ring the bells so it will look and feel like it might have done [inside] a railway signal box in the 1950s.’ (West Bridgford Wire)
Oct 2020 – Wendover – Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire
This perhaps does not meet the criteria for Vinter’s Gazetteer, but here is a trail with a difference: inspired by HS2 and running alongside a live railway. Greenways and Cycleroutes (G&C) have reported on a proposal to create the Misbourne Greenway, a path for walkers and cyclists alongside the Chiltern Line between Wendover and Great Missenden. Born of the struggle to prevent the new high-speed line from isolating communities, as well as the desire to encourage outdoor exercise, this project is being promoted by G&C, Sustrans and Buckinghamshire County Council. The standard of the path will be similar to that of the nearby Waddesdon Greenway, use spare railway land from Dunsmore Lane to Mapridge Green Lane, and – subject to agreement – incorporate the Grove Farm section works into those of HS2. Unlike news elsewhere in this issue, this item shows different railway bodies working well together to create a traffic-free path and cycleway. (Jeff Vinter)
Oct 2020 – Catesby, Northamptonshire
According to a report in Rail magazine, the 1.7 mile-long Catesby Tunnel on the ex-Great Central route is to be opened to cyclists on Sundays, after the completion of the testing facility. It is expected the tunnel could be opened up in this way by next spring. (David White)
Oct 2020. Alnwick, Northumberland
Colin Davidson, an Alnwick resident since 1969, is behind a project to create a trail on the old railway from the Greensfield area of the town (roughly where new development ceases) to Mossy Ford on the B6341, the Alnwick-Rothbury road. The total length on the trackbed would be just over two miles, and the route would offer links with several existing footpaths, thus facilitating a number of new circular walks. However, two overline bridges on this section of trackbed are threatened with infilling by the Historic Railways Estate (HRE). The HRE is willing to hand over the bridges to the local authority, but that body might not be keen to take them on because of tighter council budgets. Alnwick is still being expanded with new housing, so a Section 106 grant from the developers (now called a ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ or CIL) might help with the funding. As before, these ‘grants’ (more accurately called levies) are to make developers contribute to works which will improve the local environment / facilities, thus offsetting the negative aspects of the development. Only two landowners are involved in this section, the Duke of Northumberland (who is sympathetic – his ancestors were keen on railways) and an organisation called the ‘Freemen of Alnwick’. (Jeff Vinter, Colin Davidson)
Sep 2020 – Gedling, Nottinghamshire.
The former railway mineral line from Netherfield to Gedling Colliery (now Gedling Country Park) has been designated as a potential cycle and walking route in the local council’s development plan. Tracing further back, the line was part of the Great Northern Railway extension from Derby which takes a circular route around the north of Nottingham. Initial work has been carried out to see if the two-mile route is feasible. The findings from the study suggest that there are many benefits for residents if the route was to be created. The route could improve residents’ health and help improve connectivity within the borough and the city, whilst reducing car traffic. The greenway would connect six existing parks and open spaces along the route to help create a green network. However, the plan would require support from Nottinghamshire County Council, Network Rail and Nottingham City Council. There is also mention of utilising it as a possible tram route. The Colliery closed in 1991. Reading responses to the reports on local media, the line has been fully fenced off for at least five years and is now significantly overgrown. There also seems scepticism that the route is too peripheral and doesn't cover sufficiently populated areas for it to be considered viable, and therefore reach construction stage. (Alan Green)
Sep 2020 – Dudley, West Midlands.
An engineering innovation and test centre to develop the next generation of Very Light Rail coaches is to be built on the site of Dudley Station and, according to the Construction Enquirer, there will also be a 1½ mile test track ‘along a disused railway line’. The article does not specify which line this might be, but as the ex-LNWR line to Dudley Port is earmarked for the Midland Metro extension, and the ex-GWR line north towards Tipton is built over, that leaves the ex-GWR line south towards Netherton. This raises the intriguing possibility of the re-use of Dudley Tunnel. At Netherton station site, a building of possible railway provenance remains intact and bricked up on the road above the cutting. (Forgotten Relics)
Sep 2020 – Royds Park (nr. Liversedge) – Heckmondwike (station site), West Yorkshire.
Between grid references SE 201247–SE 217237, a path exists along a 1½-mile section of the former Leeds (New Line) and utilises the superb Heckmondwike Cutting, which is no ordinary cutting thanks to the five stone overbridges and short tunnel which take it through the town. Most of the path is on the trackbed and, at the Heckmondwike end, one can continue south-east for another half mile along what was clearly intended as a potential extension to Walkley Lane (unofficial) and then a footpath (SE 220229–SE 221227) to Heckmondwike Junction. Unfortunately, a plan to infill the cutting beyond the station site for up to 74 new houses was given the go-ahead in 2019, despite opposition from scores of local residents. (P. Earnshaw; J. Vinter)
Sep 2020 – Wye Valley Cycleway, Tidenham, Gloucestershire.
The project to take the Wye Valley Cycleway through Tidenham Tunnel is gathering pace after months of uncertainty (concerning bats!) which ended when planning permission was finally granted. Workcamp No 2 was established with wigwam accommodation, track-lifting commenced both north and south of the tunnel, as did clearance work along the line. The tunnel works had to be complete by the end of September (those bats again), including blacktop, lights control box and 132 light fittings. A trench for the cables was excavated in the tunnel and then the various sections were laid. Each of the eight cables required 17 people to carry it into the tunnel and the distance increased every time as the team worked their way towards the far end. Other work included making alcoves for bat shelters and a shield under the air vent to catch any falling stones. David Judd, one of the project volunteers, writes: ‘It was truly magical when the lights were switched on and the tunnel revealed in all its splendour.’
It is both fascinating and heart-warming to see what goes into the reopening of a disused railway line for leisure use. Project Leader John Grimshaw, of Greenways and Cycleroutes, stresses the importance of volunteer input, which both saves on cost and gives local people a sense of ownership – which should see them continue to look after the line after its completion. Andrew Combes, one of the volunteers, commented on the work team: ‘It’s a family of lunatics, but a family, nonetheless!’ It is also an example of how walkers, cyclists and bats can be accommodated in the same space: a way forward in other locations too? The short clip about the recent workcamp is well worth watching: https://youtu.be/u7lB-79LG6E (Wye Valley Cycleway; Forgotten Relics)
Sep 2020 – West Dean – Cocking Hill, West Sussex
A planning application by the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) has been made for a 3½ mile extension to Centurion Way from West Dean to Cocking Hill. The proposed works to create a shared path for pedestrians and cyclists include replacement bridge parapets, an earth ramp on Drovers Estate, a bridge deck at Littlewood Farm, a new ramp to Cocking Cutting, hard surfacing and associated drainage, earthworks, new hedgerows and a woodland copse. The former railway line includes three tunnels on this section, West Dean, Singleton and Cocking. Singleton and Cocking Tunnels are designated as a Special Area for Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), while West Dean Tunnel is designated as a Local Wildlife Site. The path will make detours around all three tunnels, and that at West Dean will necessitate a half-mile diversion alongside the A286 to link the two sections of the Centurion Way, which sounds less than ideal. The goods shed at Singleton has been Grade II Listed for some time, but since the planning application, other buildings have been given the same status: the ‘ruinous but imposing water tower’ (to quote the SDNPA), the booking hall and the unusually large toilet block ‘constructed for the convenience of race-goers during Goodwood meetings.’ The SDNPA seems surprisingly keen to retain as many features of the old station as possible, and – quite separate from this application – has recently given consent for the refurbishment of the station house. (Tim Chant)
Sep 2020 – Camden – Kings Cross, London
An international competition has been announced to convert a 0.7 mile stretch of abandoned railway into a £35 million raised linear park connecting Camden Town with King’s Cross. The Camden Highline project, planned to open in phases from 2024, will create a new London park and linear walking featuring seating areas, cafés and spaces for charitable activities. According to the brief: ‘The Camden Highline will occupy 1.1km of disused railway viaduct running from Camden Town to King’s Cross and the vacant platforms at Camden Road Station, with a number of access points along its route to connect it to road level.’ The Camden Highline project will regenerate a stretch of disused track, formerly part of the North London Railway, between Kentish Town Road in Camden Town and Camley Street in King’s Cross, bypassing busy roads using eight existing bridges. (Forgotten Relics)
Sep 2020 – Christ’s Hospital, West Sussex
A low-key photo shoot was held in September to mark the opening of the ‘missing mile’ of the Downs Link in Christ’s Hospital, which runs between Mill Lane and Christ’s Hospital Station. The works included repairing two bridges, vegetation clearance, surfacing, drainage and platform repairs. A traffic-free route is now open right through to the mainline station. (Forgotten Relics)
Sep 2020 – Devon and Cornwall
The MP for North Cornwall, Scott Mann, is looking into a project which could link the Camel Trial (Bodmin to Padstow, via Wadebridge) with the Granite Way (Lydford to Okehampton), and on to the Tarka Trail in North Devon (which can be picked up in Okehampton). The obvious means by which to link the Camel Trail and the Granite Way would be to finish developing the Ruby Trail between Meldon Junction and Halwill Junction (already about three-quarters complete) and then go down the North Cornwall line through Delabole. Under two miles of that are open so far – just a short section starting at Halwill Junction. Mr Mann says such a trail could create jobs in places like Wadebridge, St Kew, Delabole and Launceston, yet it would be a massive undertaking. The missing link is about 40 miles long! (Stephen Hills)