Tag Archives: Railway Walks

Railway Walks Coming On DVD

The popular BBC TV series that has attracted a lot of interest from walkers, railway enthusiasts and fans of its presenter, Julia Bradbury, will be released on DVD on 12th January 2009.

Full details and an opportunity to pre-order the DVD from Amazon.  It will cost you £10.98 (as I write this)

However, if you can’t wait until  12th January, Striding Edge has it available now for £16.99

Ride Safe
Dave

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Railway Walks – The Gateway To The Highlands

The final programme in Julia Bradbury’s Railway Walks series saw a return to Scotland for her longest walk yet. 23 miles between the town of Callendar and the shore of Loch Tay took in some stunning scenery, yet seemed to have very little to say about the railway.

 

Indeed, the route of the railway had been fairly thoroughly obliterated since closure with at least one missing bridge and no trace of the old station buildings. At Callendar, the station site is now a car park and at the other end of her walk, Julia Bradbury gesticulated towards the site of the old station and a pier, now vanished.

 

Perhaps it was that I have absolutely no connection with this part of the world, or that the former railway was far less important in this programme, but despite the well-established formula of interviews with local people, including a local historian, an access officer and the chief of the McNab clan, the programme left me wanting to know more.

 

I was intrigued by hints at the area’s turbulent and violent past, but still know almost nothing about it. I want to know more about Rob Roy, a character mentioned several times during the programme and I would have loved to see some archive film of the railway in operation as well as a few grainy photographs of disappeared stations.

 

There is no doubt that this would have been a stunning railway journey and the remaining viaduct remains as a marvel of Victorian engineering and the area provides a great, if long walk along a loch or two. However, the enforced deviations from the original route of the line made this less of a railway walk and more of a walk through this part of Scotland.

 

Despite my feeling of the programme not giving quite as much as I had come to expect from the rest of the series, I hope that BBC4 and the programme makers have another series on the way because there are still thousands of route miles more of closed railway lines just waiting for the tread of Julia Bradbury’s boots.

 

Ride Safe
Dave

Railway Walks – Harbouring History

At the start of the latest in BBC Four’s excellent series of Railway Walks, I thought that presenter Julia Bradbury was taking us to another area that I know, although not as well as  some of the earlier walks in the series.  When the programme opened in Weymouth, I thought we were in for a walk along the route of the harbour line that used to run down from Weymouth station to the former station at the ferry terminal for the Channel Islands.  I once travelled in a train on this line on my way to my one and only visit to Jersey and that must be more than thirty years ago. I also have pictures of the line in both steam and diesel days and I remember walking along it some months after the last train had run when it would certainly have still been possible to use it.  As this programme turned out to be a completely different route, I wonder whether that harbour line is still there.

So, despite my initial expectations, the spectacular aerial shots at the start of the programme took us away from Weymouth station and away from the harbour line along an embankment between housing estates and out of the town towards Chesil Beach and onto the Island of Portland.

The route was a little different to the others in this series which have had a definite rural flavour. there was a distinctly suburban feel to the first part of the walk, which included a descent to a busy road at one point where a bridge had been taken out.  However, the town soon fell behind and as Julia’s series of interviews with local historians unfolded, so did a story that changed my perception of what I had considered to be a sleepy tourist area.

The former station platforms are still there with green Southern Region totems in evidence, although a picture of a steam train headed by a very Western pannier tank shown later in the programme suggests that this line’s chequered history continued into British Railways’ days.

Portland Harbour has a long heritage as a naval port with huge importance during the preparations for D-Day. It is also the last resting place of HMS Hood, which was sunk across one of the harbour entrances to protect ships inside the harbour from another local invention, the torpedo. The site of the former torpedo factory is now a housing estate, but the foundation stone of the factory itself is preserved on a roundabout.

There is still quite a lot of evidence of the military past of the area with plenty of gun emplacements and a Victorian citadel that is now a prison. Much of the former Navy base is now luxury flats and the former railway is now on private property and unavailable to Julia for her walk.

However, the former railway that Julia Bradbury was walking was originally built to remove the area’s best known export, Portland Stone. This limestone has been used for a huge number of buildings from St Paul’s cathedral, whose stone was chosen by Christopher Wren himself during a visit to the island, to the Houses of Parliament. Here in Nottingham, the university buildings that were endowed by Jesse Boot of Boots the Chemists fame are built of this same stone. It must have arrived in Nottingham on the railway and started its journey along the same route that this programme followed.

With the “main line” in private ownership, it was fortunate, then, that the island is riddled with old tramways that were used to carry the stone from the quarries high on the hills that the programme makers were able to use to bypass this area. Julia seemed to relish some of the steep climbs up tramway inclines that would have been worked by gravity when they were still operating. I could almost imagine the loaded wagons coming down the steep hill with wire rope and chain pulling the empties back to the top for another load of stone.

I had no idea that Chesil Beach, that classic example beloved of geography teachers everywhere had ever had a railway along part of its length, but the aerial pictures clearly showed its route.  Although this line was described as yet another victim of the Beeching axe, later in the commentary, it was said that the line had closed much earlier in the 1960s than those lines closed in 1968 as a result of the good doctor’s rationalisation plan.

The walk ended at Portland’s only beach, a pebbled cove. This completed a walk that started in the modern tourist town of Weymouth, passed through a century or more of military and industrial history and ended with images of tourists on Portland the 1920s with the quarrying going on a few hundred yards away. The final shots were of Julia Bradbury on the deserted beach.

Ride Safe
Dave

Railway Walks – The Whisky Train

This BBC 4 TV series gets better and better. In the fourth of Julia Bradbury’s walks along disused railway tracks, she visits another area that I have yet to experience for myself, the fabulous countryside of the Scotland’s Spey Valley.

The programme saw Julia travelling along the route of the former Speyside Railway through the heart of Whisky country and through some amazing countryside along the River Spey. From the opening shots of Salmon and Trout fishermen wading in the river, to the spectacular aerial views of the route, the whole programme made me want to jump on my motorbike and ride for the twelve or so hours that it would take to get to this northerly outpost of the railway network. Unfortunately, I am not impetuous or spontaneous enough to abandon all my responsibilities in the real world and head off on such an unplanned adventure.

My knwledge of this area was perhaps a little more complete than of the area covered by the previous programme in Cornwall, but I was blown away with the scenery of the area and the amazing state of preservation of much of the route. Although some of the river bridges appea to have gone, the stations appeared to be in a good state and the trackbed was clear and made for easy walking.

Further on from the section of line that Julia walked in the programme is the preserved Strathspey Railway running between Aviemore through Boat of Garten to Broomhill. It is a real shame that Julia did not visit that railway as she did in the first programme of the series when she visited Peak Rail’s preserved station at Darley Dale.

I enjoyed seeing how little environmental impact the vast, globalised Whisky industry has on the Spey valley and the people that Julia spoke to along the way, as in the previous programmes, brought the history to life.

Once again, this was a line closed in 1968 follwing the Beeching rationalistion of the network and, predictably enough, there was a former station master prepared to go on the telly to regret the passing of the line and to say that there was enough freight traffic to have kept it open. I can well believe that the enormous scale of whisky production that was evident throughout the programme could have provided work for this route, although whether that traffic would still be available today is a moot point.

The old stationmaster on the programme, like many former railwaymen had a momento of the closure and produced a totem from his old station, Ballindalloch.

Rather like Julia’s Snowdonia walk, this route went through a lot of places with unpronounceable names. However, with the Internet to the rescue, there is a map showing the former Speyside line here, with all the stations named.

With just two more Railway Walks to come, I am going to miss this series, but I am hopeful, with several thousand more miles of former railways left to explore, there is lots of scope for a second series.

Ride Safe
Dave

Railway Walks – Cornwall – The Birth Of Steam

In the third programme in this consistently good series on BBC 4, Julia Bradbury headed to Cornwall to explore a another disused railway route. However, unlike the first two programmes, the closure of the pioneering tramways around Redruth owes nothing to the good Doctor Beeching because they closed a century before his notorious report.

The two tramways that formed the route from the North Cornwall coast to the English Channel taken by Julia in this programme were originally built for the products of the mining industry. I found it fascinating to be reminded how the rural, tourist idyll that is 21st Century Cornwall was, in living memory, a scarred industrial landscape dominated by mining and chemical works.

Part of the route travelled during this programme was across a lunar-looking landscape that had been poisoned by arsenic that had been a valuable product from the mining industry. Throughout the journey, Julia seemed to constantly be close to derelict winding houses with evocative names, many including the name “Wheal”.

I have to confess that, unlike the areas featured in the first two programmes of Railway Walks, I had never heard of the route in this programme and Cornwall is not an area that I know well. Therefore I was rather shocked when I compared the regeneration that has taken place in the former coal mining areas that I know from the Midlands, where I live, with the images of industrial dereliction portrayed on this programme. Even with the reclamation of so much former Cornish mining landscape by nature, there has obviously been far more money spent on regenerating former colliery sites than has been spent on this former tin mining area.

As for the former tramways, it is great to see that lines that fell into disuse 140 years ago have found a new lease of life as cycle and walking routes.

A trip to Cornwall must be added to my ever increasing list of “must do” activities.

Railway Walks – Discovering Snowdonia

The second programme in what is becoming, for me, an unmissable series on BBC Four, saw Julia Bradbury walking the former Cambrian Railway route from Dolgellau to Morfa Mawddach and on across Barmouth Bridge.

This line has a resonance for me that goes back a long way before my involvement with railway preservation and restoration. I vividly recall travelling on this line on the way to childhood holidays on the Mid-Wales coast at Friog, tucked under the cliffs on the end of the beach at Fairbourne.

The original line that ran from Ruabon to Barmouth Junction (which was the original name of the station later re-named Morfa Mawddach) was built by a variety of railway companies, but by the time I was aware of it, had become part of the Western Region of British Railways.  I remember changing trains at Ruabon, almost certainly having broken our long railway journey from Swindon where we then lived. We would have alighted at Gobowen to travel along another lost railway line to Oswestry to visit grandparents.

I can remember the stations at Llangollen, Corwen, Bala, Dolgellau, Morfa Mawddach where we would have changed for the short trip round to Fairbourne. Some of the minor stations and halts on this route also stick in my mind with Penmaenpool and the tiny wooden platform at Arthog being the cues for mounting excitement because we had almost arrived.

My own first views of Barmouth Bridge invoked a similar reaction to that of Julia Bradbury in the TV programme, except that we had no time to stop and sit to admire that view from the slowing train.

Julia’s walk started on the site of Dolgellau station, now completely vanished under the town’s by-pass which has used the old track bed. Her walk started across the river from the station site and was only able to join the old railway line after crossing the river by a footbridge after the by-pass veeered away. The walk soon lost the traffic roar and became much more tranquil.

The aerial views of the spectacular scenery added to the shots from ground level of a route that continually revealed more and more of the mountains of Snowdonia and the river valley as it became an estuary.

The remaining railway structure, the signalbox, station buildings and even a well-preserved signal at Penmaenpool were a poignant reminder of the heritage that was swept away in 1968 when the line was closed. Julia met a former engine driver there who declined to express his opinion on TV of Dr Beeching, the man responsible for the closure of the line.

The programme, like my mounting childhood excitement, then moved on to towards Arthog, where Julia and a local historian stood together on the site of Arthog’s station, where again, no trace remains. We also saw the massive concrete tank traps that had been erected during World War II and which are a still major feature of much of the estuary and coastline in that area. I remember that as children, we called them “Dragon’s Teeth”, a name that could well have been coined by my grandfather!

Although the programme mostly invoked memories for me, I also learned that Arthog almost became a resort town, possibly to rival Barmouth itself, but that one man’s grand plans came to nothing, except for his embyonic resort to be used as a wartime training camp for marines, who would have welcomed the ruggedness of the surrounding hills and mountains.

I knew about the areas industrial past in Slate quarrying and have visited some of the disused quarries, with memories of a walk to one quarry high above  Fairbourne to visit the “Blue Lake”, probably another of my grandfather’s descriptions to enthrall us small children.

Julia’s walk eventually reached Morfa Mawddach, at one time a major junction station, which I believe had no road access at one time, but was simply an interchange between the coast route and the line that Julia had just walked. As Julia walked along one of the disused platforms at Morfa Mawddach, she had arrived at the still active line between Machynlleth and Pwllheli. Sue and I have walked the same path that Julia took for the final stretch across barmouth Bridge, the longest bridge in Wales.

In the 1980s, a worm almost achieved what Dr Beeching faied to do, to sever the Cambrian Coast line, but as this description says

The majority of the bridge is quite low to the water, and it caused British Rail massive problems in the nineteen eighties when a marine worm bored into the piles beneath the bridge, substantially weakening it. For a period only light Diesel Multiple Units could use the line and heavy locomotive-hauled trains were banned, but fortunately BR bit the bullet and repaired the bridge at massive cost.

Julia”s walk ended with the short stroll into Barmouth and an observation that this is one of the few big towns in this part of Wales that despite a very strong Welsh identity and widespread use of the Welsh language, retains its railway imposed English name, rather than being known by it’s perfectly serviceable Welsh name, Abermaw.

I have always had a deep-seated wish to see the whole of this line restored and re-opened from Ruabon to the coast. I am delighted that the Llangollen Railway and the narrow-gauge Bala Lake Railway have both made good use of part of the line, but it’s not the same.  I guess that my dream will probably never be realised, particularly after the loss of Dolgellau Station to the road scheme there. However, after the oil runs out, who knows?  Another of my grandad’s pieces of wisdom well before 1968 was that they shouldn’t be closing all these railways because they’ll need them again one day.

It’s a rare TV programme that can move me as much as this one did.

Ride Safe
Dave

Railway Walks – The Peak Express

This week, I caught a BBC programme in which Julia Bradbury heads off on more of her walks in the countryside. In her new series on BBC Four, she is walking along disused railway routes. It is called “Railway Walks“, with the first of the series being entitled “Peak Express”.

The programme started with a very familiar image to me, the platform totem at Darley Dale Station. A few moments later, Peak Rail’s train came into view driven by regular Peak Rail driver Robin Smith.

It turned out that Julia’s first walk was to be along part of the former Midland Railway route through the Peak District, now known as the Monsal Trail. Those of us involved in Peak Rail know this as the route that we want to restore and run trains on again.

Julia’s walk started at Bakewell station, the main building of which is still in use as offices. Her walk took in the route northwards and included an escorted trip through one of the tunnels – Headstone Tunnel, I think, because they came out onto the famous Monsal Head viaduct at the end of their tunnel walk. She also crossed the twin viaducts by the site of Millers Dale station, as well as the other landmarks of this route. Later she diverted around some of the other tunnels, walking right down beside the river Wye and ending her journey at Blackwell Mill.

Throughout the programme, as the amazing scenery of the route unfolded, I realised that this part of the line is our secret weapon. I know it will take a huge amount of work and a vast amount of money, but it is now up to those of us who are now involved with the railway now to show the same vision and determination as the preservation pioneers who had the original idea.

Imagine riding a train along that same trackbed that Julia Bradbury walked, through Headstone Tunnel and across the viaduct that poet John Ruskin so vehemently attacked at the time it was built:

“You Enterprised a Railroad through the valley — you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone, and the gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton”

Modern views have softened a little since then with the viaduct now being a listed structure.

The whole programme was great publicity for Peak Rail and for our future aspirations to restore the line through to Buxton, almost an advert on prime time BBC.

Ride safe
Dave