The E. & T.V.R. scout, having on occasion sent a few photographs to the esteemed elders of the Cornwall Railway Society, in time rather got into the habit after his outings of submitting a short story, often under the general heading of “Route Learning” or “Route Refresher.”
Keith Jenkin, who must be the Duchy’s most senior webmaster, became accustomed to receiving these scouting season dispatches and eventually bestowed upon the E. & T.V.R. the honour of its own section, now complete with index, on the huge C.R.S. web station.
This outlet for the stories and discoveries that find no place on the railway’s more formal web pages, and some of the many library photos that would never otherwise be seen, has made the case for an appendix to teignrail dot com, one that can be edited by the junior clerk.
Though he is too kind a man ever to admit it, Keith will be relieved not to be burdened with sudden loads of photographs accompanied by long-winded captions, references and links. However, his adherents, if they are interested, will be able to continue following the Teign Valley’s forays into the field.
If any reader wishes to see what went before and gave rise to this appendix, the C.R.S. Teign Valley section can be found here. Many more contributions were made but these will be lost in the monthly archives, though these are well worth exploring, as are all the other sections on this splendid resource.
The Teign Valley must extend its gratitude to the C.R.S. for setting this previously unimagined course; in particular, Keith must be thanked for his endless patience, often under trying conditions.
There are six turnings leading to South Zeal off the old A30, the first and last marking the extent of the turnpike bypass of the village. This is a road along which the scout has driven the railway’s utilicons and ridden his bicycle many times, yet shamefully he could not remember ever diverting to South Zeal.
To remedy this, one Sunday, he swept around the lanes, spoilt by the screeching of the A30 dual carriageway, and took in South Tawton before free-wheeling slowly down South Zeal’s delightful former main road. As always, the scout wished that he could be very much more delighted by seeing the village without the blight of cars.
The scout should have checked the opening hours of the Sticklepath Stores and Cafe. Finding the place closed, he continued to Okehampton to buy some lunch, after which he took the fourth turning for South Zeal, right and right again, and passed beneath the turnpike at Ramsley. Though commonplace now, road over road bridges were rare in the 19th century.
Fron Whiddon Down to just beyond milestone 10 of the Okehampton turnpike is lost beneath the dual carriageway. After the scout picked up the old road again, he thought he was right for Cheriton Bishop and had the distant, as it were, for the descent through Crockernwell.
It was here that it came to the scout that he had last ridden this section of the old A30 when it was the A30 and so he pulled up smartly in the village.
He remembered riding out from Exeter to see the new dual carriageway being built and loudly cursing the roadmen: “Will you desist? You do the devil’s work!” At least, that’s how the scout would like to remember it.
Twenty years later, the railway’s scribe would rail against them more rationally in A Journey in Time.
The scout was very glad that he had decided to stop, for he soon noticed this splendid assembly of relics set in a wall, denoting the meeting place of the Okehampton and Exeter Turnpike Trusts.
It was at Crockernwell, very early on 5th November, 1805, that Lieut. Lapenotiere, rushing the news of Trafalgar to the Admiralty in London, stopped for his post-chase to have a change of horses, the sixth such change since leaving Falmouth the day before. The news was delivered early the following morning. Perhaps the post horses and postillion were provided by the Royal Hotel. Nearside post horses were ridden while the offside one was kept in hand.
As remarked upon in Chenson (36), there are a hundred railways in normal times putting on a steam locomotive show of one kind or another, but there is very little reenactment of the spectacle that once would have been seen at a wayside inn, as two or four horses, fed, watered and rested, were brought out and harnessed; and nothing is made of the equine economy and organization there must have been which made doing this at a moment’s notice a normal event.
The railway’s friend, Richard Holladay, kindly sent some photographs that he had taken from the window of an Exe Valley train when he was a lad, which must have been not long before the service was withdrawn, in October, 1963.
It would have been simple to identify the locations and add some captions, but the scout took it upon himself to take corresponding shots, or ones as near as possible to the original locations.
This then provided the opportunity to take some more along the line, which involved several exploratory rides.
Richard took his first shot from the droplight of the second coach, when the branch train was on the main line between Cowley Bridge Junction and Stafford Bridge. The curvature and the cover gave away the location, which the scout captured while sealed within a wretched “bullet train.”
After Stafford Bridge, Richard’s train would have crossed the Exe again by means of North Bridge. The scout was following a footpath by the river when a horn heralded the approach of the daily train of empty minerals from Riverside Yard.
Richard’s next shot was taken as his train left Stoke Canon. Even had the scout been able to wander over the field through which the railway ran, it would have been very difficult to find the exact position of the train. So “today’s” photo is taken from where the public footpath once crossed the line, but now begins to follow it towards Brampford Speke, and from where both former railway boundaries are intact.
If Richard had been looking out of the other side, he would have seen the main line and Stoke Canon Crossing. He would not have seen what passes for a train nowadays.
Though the scout had been to the level crossing and Brampford Speke many times over the years, he realized that it had been decades since he had walked between the two and so set off along the track.
The three floodwater bridges were noticeably in poorer condition than when last seen and trees had grown up where there had been no more than scrub.
A lady gabbling into her walkie-talkie while at the same time picking blackberries greeted the scout as he went through the gate and continued towards the station footbridge.
He recalled that in the 1970s the meadow between Brampford Speke Halt and the river was grazed and provided an informal recreational area for villagers. On one occasion, the scout had gone there with a local family for the afternoon. He was armed with a junior hacksaw and intended to liberate a G.W.R. boundary marker, which stood above the ground. He soon gave up.
Today the meadow has been let go: Himalyan balsam has invaded and willow hides the footbridge.
Exe Valley Branch stations were all convenient to their villages, although Up Exe and Silverton andBurn for Butterleigh would have involved a stretch of the legs to reach the furthest destinations.
The next station was Thorverton, where Richard’s view from the train was of the entrance to the Down platform.
A loading gauge – possibly the one from the goods yard – has been erected on the approach and now serves as a bracket for “Beeching’s Way,” the name of the dwelling.
Although Beeching would have been a household name by the time the Exe Valley was closed, the closure was not strictly part of his notorious Reshaping plan. Exeter (St. David’s) to Dulverton was listed under “Passenger Services under Consideration for Withdrawal before the Formulation of the Report.” As Chairman of the B.R.B, Beeching would have approved the proposal.
Between Up Exe Halt and Cadeleigh lay Copenhagen Crossing. It’s not certain that this was the correct name, but it became part of a track leading to Copenhagen, a farm house trapped by the railway and river. Although an accommodation crossing must have been installed from the beginning, on the turn-of-the-century surveys there appeared to be no proper track leading to the farm.
Richard next put his camera out of the window at Cadeleigh, the station that would have been Bickleigh, had there not already been one with this name in Devon.
The last time the scout stood on the platform here was when the station had been bought from Devon County Council and the owner was busy laying the narrow gauge line that was to become part of the Devon Railway Centre.
Paying the admission charge in order for the scout to position himself where Richard was would have given little advantage, there being so many obstructions.
The A396 turnpike went over and under the line between Cadeleigh and Tiverton. At Howden Court, just outside town, the bridge was combined with the culvert carrying the Cotteybrook from one side of the line to the other, where it issued into the River Exe.
This holds fond memories for the scout because the railway adjoined the grounds of his prep school, where he boarded from 1965-71. The culvert, although strictly out of bounds, was irresistibly attractive to the boys.
It must have been little understood by the cub scout that the railway had been taken up only a year or two before his arrival. His only memory of the operational railway at Tiverton is of seeing mineral wagons standing on the bridge at West Exe.
Incidentally, in checking his old school reports to find which was his last term, he found these entries. History: Better work under pressure of Common Entrance. Art: Some very good work, with B.R. as the theme!
It must be many more than twenty years ago that the Cotteybrook Culvert was opened out and rebuilt in concrete. The brickwork invert, trodden by the disobedient cub scout, remains and shows the original curvature at each end. The concrete lid probably only serves to stabilize the bridge above.
It looks as if the culvert is now the responsibility of the Environment Agency, but it bears a railway-type identification mark with letters suggesting “Exe Valley Branch.” The scout’s E.A. contact was unable to dig in the files without a work-related reason to do so.
The bridge is owned by Highways Agency, which body inherited it as part of the “burdensome estate” from B.R.B. (Residuary).
From beginning as a terminus of the line from Tiverton Junction, Tiverton became a four-platform station with an extensive goods yard.
First in, last out, the Tiverton Branch closed to passengers in 1964 and goods traffic ceased in 1967.
The cub scout saw the ruins of the station in later years from the bridge on Canal Hill but never had the freedom to explore them.
When this use of his photos was sent to Richard for approval, he came back with news clippings about the opening of the town’s bypass in May, 1994, which included pictures of the Red Bus Services open top bus hired to take dignitaries for a ceremonial run along the new road.
Richard, the owner of Red Bus Services, drove the bus and would have passed within yards of where he had stood on the station platform more than thirty years earlier.
The 1957 AEC Regent is pictured from the foot crossing which replaced the bridge carrying St. Andrew’s Street over the railway.
Tiverton’s mile-long “Southern Relief Road” had first been discussed more than 20 years before. It cost £8-million and 8,000 tons of concrete were used in its construction. Its opening enabled the part-pedestrianization of Fore Street.
One news report acknowledged: “The road is being named after the former railway line that it runs along for some of the way.” All of the way, actually.
The same month, this bus was used to operate “Rail Heritage Tours” in connection with the event commemorating the 150th anniversary of the B. & E. opening to Exeter.
While looking at what remains of the approach embankments of the bridge which carried Blundell’s Road over the line to Dulverton, and reflecting on the many times he would have walked this way to events at Blundell’s School, it occurred to the scout that for some reason he had never followed the line between there and Bolham.
The course of the line is taken in part by the A396 leading towards the dreaded North Devon Link Road. As the line curves away, it can be traced through a recreation ground and housing to the infilled Cowleymoor Bridge. Thence is a path as far as Brickhouse.
Richard was looking out of the window when he passed Cove Crossing and he captured this view of Holmingham Quarry and its tarmacadam works. The two were linked by an aerial ropeway like the one at Christow.
Nearly at the end of his journey, Richard leaned out to take a shot of Morebath Junction, just after his train had joined the Barnstaple Branch.
Finally, Richard’s train pulled alongside the branch face of the island platform at Dulverton, just inside the neighbouring county, having taken him through 25 miles of beautiful countryside with its busy towns and villages, a joy a great many subsequently have been denied.
The scout was standing not far away from the same spot when he took the later photo while on a group visit in 2011. The Up platform remains but the island has gone. It was once amid where the grass is now and Exe Valley trains would have made their connections at right.
Viewing the new £40-million D.M.U. maintenance depot nearing completion at St. David’s brought back memories of Newton Abbot’s diesel depot, the ruins of which the scout scavenged.
From the general purpose to the monofunctional
The new work occupies the sites of the goods shed, the goods office and sidings which were part of the station’s only yard before Riverside was opened in 1943.
Beyond lay the carriage chutes, cattle pens, cartage stables and cottage, part of the goods avoiding lines and the locomotive shed, with its coaling stage and turntable.
This depot has been built for passenger trains alone and no provision has been made for the general purpose system that will surely be needed if the railway is to contribute fully to decarbonization and other pressing challenges.
As it is, not a single modern manager will be ashamed to admit that all the fuel, supplies and parts, and even on occasions the trains themselves, will come by road.
Why would Boots the Chemists have a rail depot?
On this side of the line, there are further reminders of the diverse transport services once provided by the railway.
The scout is standing on the former rail loading platform of Boots’ purpose-built warehouse on Cowley Bridge Road. Behind lay a string of other rail-served stores and New Yard, which provided additional capacity for station-to-station traffic. Beyond that was Henry Norrington’s oil store.
Before the camera, to the left, lay the yard of Ward & Co, coal and general merchants, and other stores, including Joe Lyons’. At Red Cow Crossing was the road vehicle weighbridge. The car park is still called “Ward’s.”
Newton Abbot (NA, 83A)
Newton had a locomotive shed very early in South Devon days and this grew to be a principal installation on the Great Western, with a repair shed and C. & W. workshop.
In 1962, the repair shed – “the factory” – was converted for the new diesels, with four roads, each having inspection pits and cab-level platforms, and the whole area being served by overhead travelling cranes. A new traverser, fuelling point, D.M.U. servicing facility, carriage washing plant and traincrew block were built.
The factory lasted all of eight years and the whole of the depot was closed by 1981.
The scout remembers getting a footplate ride on a Class 45 from the depot to St. David’s, a regular light engine movement, in 1978. Behind the window in the traincrew lobby, the clerks – roster, paybills, stores, timekeeper – were busy at their desks and men were coming and going. Upstairs were the mess, locker room, washroom and toilets.
The scout became very familiar with the increasingly derelict place, when, in 1985, armed with a “redundant assets” chit, he began taking away lots of useful equipment and materials, aided by the railway’s utilicon being able to get into the buildings.
He remembers particularly the constant cooing of pigeons on the roof trusses, everything being covered in droppings and an odd effect of the rooflights being broken. The floor in the unmodernized parts of the building was made of what could have been offcuts of wagon floorboards, or sawn up old floorboards, laid end-grain up. Black with oil, when wet the floor rose into hillocks; some broke up and others held their shape.
Today the factory is occupied by Teignbridge Propellors, certainly a worthy engineering successor, while most of the rest of the complex was demolished to allow the development of a trading estate. An effort was made to preserve the wagon repair shop but this was destroyed by arsonists in 2018.
The last haul, gifted by the demolition contractor, recovered and taken to Christow, was a pile of rails, including some 60 lb. bridge, in 2002.
When the utilicon worked to Holsworthy in November, the opportunity was taken to stop at some places on the Bude Branch (covered in Item 31 on the C.R.S. pages) and the scout resolved then to return to Halwill Junction in summer for a route refresher.
The station only went by the name Halwill Junction for a while. It began as Halwill and Beaworthy and ended as plain Halwill, although the Railway Clearing House Index to Stations had it as Halwill for Beaworthy.
Nevertheless, the settlement that grew around the railway was called Halwill Junction and today its name acts as a memorial.
All that remains of the station is the end of the light railway’s bay platform, where passengers joined the train for stations to Torrington. It lies at the start of a Devon Wildlife Trust nature reserve, where an information board remarks that “man borrowed the land from nature.” This woeful simplification does not mean to say that the world is better without the intrusion of the railways, for it can hardly be true that making a nature reserve from a few acres of the highly engineered guided transport system is any compensation for the widespread horror that has been let loose in its place.
The scout rode along the Bude Branch as far as the divergence of the Torrington line.
Then the scout went back to the junction proper and followed the rough path along the start of the North Cornwall line.
The scout scrambled up the side of the shallow cutting seen in the last photo and joined the bridleway which leads to the turnpike. The bridleway continues on the other side of the infilled bridge but the scout chose not to follow it as he wanted to pass through Halwill, the village later eclipsed by the junction which took its name.
The railway descends from the plateau to the valley of the River Carey, where Ashwater Station lies. It is important to the scout that he sees the villages and surrounding country that were once served by rail transport and so he rode into Ashwater before dropping to the hamlet of Ashmill.
Sight of the sign advertizing the village shop stirred his tummy juices and he failed to notice the railway connection as he passed here.
The volunteer-run shop cum post office is housed in a cabin beside the new village hall, where there are picnic tables. Momentarily thinking he would eat his steak pasty in this seclusion, the scout decided to go back to the village green, which he judged to be a nicer spot.
Only then did he see that the whitewashed edging stones were in fact concrete alignment “monuments,” which were once positioned alongside curves, allowing any movement of the track to be corrected. And of course they were used when the track was re-laid.
While pondering whether the bridge had been here when the scout last rode this way, many years before, a voice behind him advised that he was looking at an old station. When the fellow was asked if he knew when the bridge was removed, he pointed to it, now his possession, and kindly allowed the scout to take some photographs.
The friendly fellow was busy converting the old store by the station into two dwellings and told the scout that he lived on the other side of Newton Abbot. Asked if he was lodging, he replied that he drove here every day, a round trip of 110 miles or more.
What to one man was an expedition, to another is a “commute.” It is very far removed from life in these remote places in earlier times, where men may only have left the parish to find a bride.
Apart from Launceston, Tower Hill is the only station on the North Cornwall to have lost its station buildings, demolished shortly after the line was closed in 1966.
No alignment monuments were needed for the next two miles because the line was straight, the longest section on the North Cornwall.
Opting not to enter the town on this occasion, the scout took the quiet route back to the old A30, which he followed as far as Lifton before heading north through Broadwoodwidger.
On the way back from Halwill after a 41-mile ride, the utilicon was drawn up at Railway Cottages, Broadbury, originally Broadbury Cottages. There are also “Railway Cottages” at Halwill and Dunsland Cross (photographed in November), and most assuredly at other places.
In Southern terminology, this could have been Venndown Gate Gates, but more likely it was Venndown Crossing.
A stop for fuel was made outside Okehampton. The utilicon turned in 92.2 miles per gallon since the last fill.
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Variously referred to as the Utilicon or Autotruck, or other choice names, depending upon their running condition, the two “three-by-twos” owned by the railway have between them given nearly 40 years’ service.
Utilicon may be derived from “utility conveyance” and was a proprietary name given to a type of vehicle body that could be both a van and a passenger carrier.
Stanley A.F. West Ltd., the horticultural machinery supplier from which the railway bought its first one in 1982, advertized it as a “Piaggio Autotruck,” although there was little similarity with the Lister Autotruck other than that it was a three-wheeled goods vehicle.
The original requirement was for a truck that would be useful on sites and able to get into confined spaces. The first one did much of this “local work,” and with its four-speeds in both directions and an odometer that deducted in reverse, a day’s arduous work often showed little or no mileage.
As well as normal East Dartmoor district work, the vehicles had to be capable of covering the occasional long distance diagram. These have seen the little Tuscan workhorses reach such far-flung places as Kingswear, Plymouth, Bodmin, Bude, Barnstaple, Minehead, Taunton and Axminster.
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Many “off duty” scoutings are not intended to produce stories and photos but often do yield subjects of railway or transport interest.
There are some days, though, when a purpose is intended but the unusual opportunities that prompt the scout to rummage in his saddlebag for the railway’s Cybershot seldom arise.
An example of the latter was a long day spent in Dorset in July, 2018, starting with the 04.28 departure of the railway’s utilicon from Christow and followed by a series of train journeys.
Exeter (St. David’s) to Yeovil Junction
Thornford Halt to Dorchester (West)
Dorchester (South) to Moreton
Wool to Wareham
Holton Heath to Hamworthy Junction
Bournemouth (Central) to Branksome
Parkstone to Weymouth (Town)
Weymouth (Town) to Castle Cary
Castle Cary to Exeter (St. David’s)
Breakfast was taken in the delightful refreshment room at Yeovil Junction, which handily opens at six, before the scout rode the quiet lanes to Thornford.
There was time to look around Dorchester and Wool. Coffee and a bun were bought from a trailer on the trading estate that now occupies part of the vast World War I Royal Naval Cordite Factory at Holton Heath.
The line from Hamworthy Junction to Hamworthy was followed and then the scout crossed to Poole, rode part of the superb waterfront to Sandbanks and obeyed the instruction by walking, not riding, the near three-mile promenade to Bournemouth Pier. Then he rode to Boscombe Pier and back before making his way through the town he had last visited when there were trolleybuses (withdrawn in 1969) to find the station.
At Branksome, he chatted to two traincrew coming from the Bournemouth T. & R.S. Maintenance Depot, which occupies the former carriage sidings on the line towards Bournemouth West. Their mention of “9Fs” showed there was some regard for the old S. & D. They directed the scout towards the site of the old terminus.
Soon he found himself hurtling along the A338 Wessex Way and unknowingly passed over the site of some of the platforms and the goods shed, before cursing the madness of fast-motor roads and flinging his bike over the central barrier and a fence to escape the dual carriageway. Myopic motorists honked their horns, perhaps narked by the scout’s freedom.
The shell of Bath (Green Park) has been restored but there is nothing left of the southern terminus but a nondescript coach and car park. Even the Midland Hotel had closed six years earlier and was now the Midland Heights apartment block.
The scout then rode along busy streets to find Parkstone Station for the train to Weymouth, where there was time for a wander along the front and a bite to eat.
In 2017, the scout had looked forward to returning on the 17.28, the Saturdays-only Weymouth Wizard, because it was formed by an H.S.T. with bookable bike spaces and opening windows, but this year the crush of a lousy three-car D.M.U. about to labour on Upwey bank held no appeal.
The E. & T.V.R. utilicon arrived back at Christow at 20.45. Despite the scout riding 43 miles, covering 211 rail miles on nine trains and calling at 18 open or closed stations (excluding Poole Quay), with nine of them new to him, he took only one photograph.
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According to the British Standards “Glossary of Building and Civil Engineering Terms,” stop block(s) is “deprecated;” the correct term is buffer stop, described as an “assembly provided at the end of a length of track to limit travel of vehicles.”
One old superintendent did not quite take this view. A former goods guard always chuckled as he recalled the droll advice he was given when, not for the first time, he found himself on the carpet after putting a wagon over the blocks while backing off a long freight at Exminster:
“Hansford, the stop block is there to denote the end of the road; it is not a means of stopping trains.”
This buffer stop was last painted in 1984, after it was recovered from van Geest’s siding at Heathfield. Fifty pounds were paid for the stop and 64 ft. of track (32 ft. was once a standard rail length).
Friend of the railway, Keith Ettle, a renowned modeller, calls it a “long-stop;” its end brace rails are certainly more acute than later types. Its weakness is that the brace rails are not continued alongside the running rail to add strength. What must have been a severe collision long ago has buckled the rail on one side, giving the assembly a characteristic tilt.
The chaired sleepers were brought to Christow on the railway’s half-ton autotruck, five at a time. The rails were loaded, one at a time, onto the autotruck, taken up the ramp and left on the Teign Valley bay platform; this was the only occasion the vehicle ever carried 32-foot wide loads.
A local firm wanted £40 to forklift the buffer stop onto a lorry and so the Christow gang went with blocks, light rails and 45 gallon drums, and jacked up the whole thing. Two drums and a rail formed a bridge so that the lorry could reverse beneath it. The ballast was ramped so that the lorry would pick up the load as it reversed.
Remarkably, after the lorry had berthed alongside the bay and the rails had been slid over, the buffer stop arrangement worked perfectly and a greater time was spent loading the bits that had been used. And all for a saving of £40 (£130 today).
Another collision occurred at Christow in 1997 when the railway’s brake van had just been put on rail. The brake was applied only lightly because it was intended to push the van with the engine, uncoupled, down the severe gradient. The driver didn’t see the van run away but the crane banksman reported that it “went down the track at a considerable rate and jumped up in the air.”
It was later found that the fish bolts had sheered and the blocks had moved six inches. The simple remedy was to couple the van to the blocks and pull them back with the engine.
The van had new brake blocks which had not had chance to bed in because they had never been used while the wagon was in motion.
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A new 11kV overhead line was installed a few years ago across the Teign Valley formation at Horrowmore Farm, between Longdown and Christow. Strangely, it was done as if the railway had been still there or it were intended to put it back, and Network Rail staff were on site, demanding the usual precautions, like extensive earth matting around the poles positioned outside the former boundaries.
It may be that a legal document was found in Western Power Distribution’s files that required the permission of the railway authority be obtained. Was it that Western Power couldn’t take it as being obsolete and that Network Rail, when consulted, didn’t have the sense to waive it?
No explanation of this has so far been unearthed by the scout, who will continue with his enquiries.
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Taking the high road out of Crediton, the scout rode as far as Chenson No. 3 Crossing, before taking the bridleway through the woods from Chenson No. 2 to Hawkridge Cross. From there he returned via Nymet Rowland, Down St. Mary, Copplestone, Coleford, Colebrooke and Yeoford (38 miles).
It was only after riding on from Hawkridge Cross that the scout remembered once regularly buying butter from Hawkridge Farm, part of whose large complex he had passed through.
After taking lunch in the perfect peace of the churchyard of little St. Bartholomew’s Church in Nymet Rowland, the scout continued, pausing on the overbridge at Colebrooke Mill to peer at what remains of the former Southern main line.