(Link from Ivor Sutton)
The following analysis is provided by Jeff Vinter and Mark Jones
This is the best news to come from Somerset for a very long time, although Mendip District Council has been a significant partner. Mendip DC, with help from John Grimshaw’s Greenways & Cycleroutes Charity, managed earlier this year to secure a licence from Highways England/HRE to use their bridge to the east of Shepton Mallet High Street station, which – until then HE/HRE had refused to be part of the scheme.
The entire section between Cheddar and Wells has also been designed. At the Wells end, HE/HRE had planned to infill an overline bridge, but that escaped this fate when Graeme Bickerdike started to investigate. Via a Freedom of Information’ request, Graeme discovered that HE/HRE had already carried out works value ca. £10,000 on the bridge, and their own surveyor had passed it as fit to carry normal traffic.
So far, Cheddar-Wells is the Cinderella of the project. The report mentions a section that is open already between Draycote and Rodney Stoke. There is also a section around the Kings of Wessex School in Cheddar. However, progress stalled some years ago, when cash-strapped Somerset, having published the plans for this section, then stopped completely. Tessa Munt, then MP for Wells, became involved and raised a Parliamentary question, but was told it was a matter for Somerset CC, not Parliament. Further investigations suggested that the problem was Somerset’s lack of resources; at one point, it told the Strawberry Line Society it would have to raise the funds for the trail – which was a sum quite beyond the scope of a voluntary group.
With Yatton-Cheddar in place, and soon (hopefully) Wells-Shepton, there will be a strong case for dealing – at last – with Cheddar-Wells.
That is certainly good news because the Cheddar to Wells path has been talked about for the best part of 20 years, perhaps longer. I led a walk along it in 2012 (see report below, you had led Axbridge to Yatton the previous sunday) with permission for some private land so I think I can add a little to your report. I also walked the whole route in the early 1980s.
A short section from the outskirts of Wells to Haybridge (Wookey Station Site) is an official path and the line is intact as far as Easton. Here I remember talking to a lady who was upset that a path along the line here was built on the east side of the cutting, rather than in the cutting itself, as it impacted on the privacy of houses built on the west side of the cutting.
From Easton to Lodge Hill (Westbury) the formation appears to have largely gone and Lodge Hill Station building itself was demolished in 1989; this to me was quite an act of vandalism as the building was in public hands. West of Lodge Hill an airstrip was built over the course of the line – this must have been very short-lived as it only first appears on 1990s/2000s maps. By 2012 the airstrip had closed and we gained permission to walk across it. Modern maps do not show it at all but a satellite view suggests a concrete track remains.
Your report suggests that a walkable path exists between Rodney Stoke and Draycott. Unless things have changed very recently I do not believe that this is the case – my recollection is that this section is very fragmented, with multiple owners, and a satellite view confirms the former. At Cheddar, an established path runs past the reservoir but the trackbed either side of the station is built over.
I hope that helps; the other line that might form part of the grand circle is Yatton to Clevedon. This again was talked about years ago but I take it there is no further progress here.
Sunday 8th April 2012. The Strawberry Line 2: Wells to Axbridge.The final walk of the holiday explored the least well known part of what has become known as the ‘Strawberry Line’. Somerset County Council, partly due to pressure from the Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society and other local groups, has taken the first steps towards extending the popular rail trail between Yatton and Cheddar south to Wells. In the meantime, it was necessary to negotiate access with a number of landowners to put together a fascinating private land walk. Wells, England’s smallest city, at one time had three stations. The first of these was Priory Road, opened by the Somerset Central Railway, later part of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway on 15th March 1859 as the terminus of a short branch from Glastonbury. The next station on the scene was the terminus of the East Somerset Railway, from Witham, which was extended into Wells from Shepton Mallet on 28th February 1862. Tucker Street Station opened with the line from Yatton through the Cheddar Valley having been extended from Cheddar on 5th April 1870. The last goods traffic to Cheddar ran in 1969 with a railtour on 31st May of that year being the last train to traverse rails through Wells. Tucker Street station was demolished in 1975 but overgrown platforms survived from closure in 1963 well into the 1980s with the site of the line then cleared to make way for a relief road although a goods shed has survived.
A short official footpath took the group of fifteen close to Wookey Station where the goods shed again survives, but the platform and small wooden station were demolished soon after closure. North West of Wookey a long and somewhat fragmented stretch of private formation was enjoyed, though the group had to follow the top of a long cutting through Easton. The next station, Lodge Hill, survived until 1989 (and was photographed by the walk leader in the early 1980s) but was then demolished and its stone used to construct an additional building some miles to the south east at Cranmore. North West of Lodge Hill part of the formation was converted into a now unused airstrip which was explored with permission.
The next station, Draycott, was another single platform station with an unusual and rather attractive stone-built, single storey, bungalow type building with a fine fascia. The only level crossing between Wells and Yatton was situated at the north west end of the station. The station building has been delightfully preserved and restored as a private residence and still boasts many of the original Bristol and Exeter Railway features. However it is now surrounded by a tightly packed cul de sac of modern housing with no nearby evidence of the actual trackbed. Between Draycott and Cheddar little is accessible and a bus was utilised which gave the group time to visit Cheddar Station and walk along the official path towards Axbridge. Cheddar Station remains intact, though it quickly lost its overall roof. The building is now in use by Brunel Stoneworks, a firm of stone cutters allied to Wells Cathedral, producing exquisite designs widely used for ecclesiastical purposes. Finally reaching Axbridge, we concluded the day, rather neatly, where we had started just seven long days earlier.
Re Lodge Hill station, it was privately owned by a private school (based in Bristol, if I remember rightly). Looking at the state of the site now, I would say that the school sold the station privately to a developer to make money. I do not believe that the building was ever in public ownership, except when the railway was open.
Re the trail along the top of the cutting at Easton, I think you will find that it goes here because an ecological survey found protected species on the cutting floor. Additionally, there has been a public footpath along the top of the cutting for donkeys’ years, which (I presume) the trail will use. Arguments about loss of privacy from across the cutting top are spurious, like those fielded 30 years ago to oppose the creation of Centurion Way between Chichester and Lavant (‘it will become the haunt of prostitutes and drug dealers’). Since these assertions were made, garden gates have been installed along the section where some of the objectors lived, so that they can access the trail directly from their property. In the 19th century, the village road through Hockworthy was diverted and re-aligned, straight past our front door so as to separate the cottage and front garden. Cyclists and walkers pass by our windows every day but cause no problems; they do not even stop and sit on the long plinth on which the cottage is built. On the other hand, when we are outside, we get cheery greetings, compliments about our front garden, and the occasional request for directions. (On one occasion, we were approached by a motorist trying to find his way to Brean Sands – look on a map to see how far he had strayed, and using a satnav too!)
Re Yatton-Clevedon, North Somerset District Council is supportive of a trail on the old railway, but I have heard no news for several years. I expect that the trackbed has protected (i.e. from development) status between the two towns. A major stumbling block may be the crossing of the M5.
Just did a bit more research on Lodge Hill. It was a council owned outdoor education facility (not on the scale of Pinkery Farm which I’m so pleased survives) in the early 1980s but was then sold off, presumably due to funding cuts, to the school in Bristol. As you say, they then sold off the site and the station was demolished in 1989. What I didn’t know was that much of the station building’s stonework ending up going to Cranmore (East Somerset Railway) where it was re-used in the construction of the shop/restaurant there.
Regarding Easton, I’m sure it makes more sense to keep the trail on top of the cutting, particularly given that the cutting now ends suddenly at the A371 road. I’m sure the lady I met could easily put in a fence or hedge if she was that bothered about privacy.
Thanks also for the update on Clevedon – years ago heading south on the M5 you could see a clear path on the embankment to the south, but sadly this looks completely overgrown now.