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).
A mile from the halfway point on the Exeter to Barnstaple road lies “Old Toll House” at Chenson. This and the road as far as Eggesford were built by the Exeter Turnpike Trust in around 1829. The pavement of compacted stone would have been no more than two thirds the width of the present carriageway and may have had a high crown, Telford fashion, with verges and ditches on either side. There would most probably have been a turnpike (lifting barrier) or gate across the road and a door at the front of the house where there is now a window. The Exeter to Barnstaple turnpike was completed not long before the railway, but well-engineered roads brought greatly improved communication across the country much earlier. Enthusiasts claim that it is important to preserve the railways of the steam era as working museums. The plenty of rather muddled reenactment lines gives weight to a very short span even of the railway age, let alone the long history of transport in general. Little or no importance is given to the construction and use of all-purpose roads over centuries. The huge interest in steam locomotives arises from their being quite spectacular in operation. For fixated men, so-called “heritage” provides an excuse to play trains and has little to do with recognition of the former essential function of the railways. The scout’s idea of spectacle is not a “modern” steam locomotive hauling an excursion along the Taw Valley, a painful reminder of how British railways held on to archaic traction, watched by people who never travel by train and have no deep understanding of rail transport. No, a spectacle for the scout would be seeing a coach and four pull up here, having raised the dust on the road behind. It would be seeing the movement of the horses while they paused and the gentle adjustment of their harnesses. It would be admiring the craftsmanship of the coachbuilder and wheelwright, the gaiety of the finish, the slender sections of English hardwoods used in the frame, spokes and shaft, all beautifully chamfered and lined. It would be seeing the coachman reaching down to hand the gatekeeper a coin or two so that he would open the barrier. It would be marvelling at the dress and manners of the people and the method of operation. But the scout will never see such a spectacle reenacted or indeed any other aspect of the roads of the period recreated.
Modern reality: Keeping his ears pricked for the approach of a fast motor vehicle, lest this should become another roadside shrine (that’s if anyone bothered), the scout snaps another feature of turnpikes, nicely presented here. On the face appropriate to the direction of travel is marked EXON XIX (19) MILES and BARUM XXI (21) MILES.
Chenson No. 2 Crossing, viewed from the turnpike. It was here, in the sunshine of a year ago, that the scout was first moved to say a few words while pointing the railway’s new movie camera. The public bridleway leads over the River Taw and through the woods to Hawkridge Cross.
From the crossing can be seen one of the many bridges built when it was intended to double the North Devon line throughout. This one would have carried a new Down line over a small tributary of the Taw. Item Number 25 on the Cornwall Railway Society page devoted to the E. & T.V.R. has close-ups of Homeland Bridge near Eggesford, which now carries a diverted public footpath.
From the crossing can be seen the “adjustment switch,” or “breather,” that takes up the movement at the end of a length of continuous welded rail. The flat-bottom rail that forms the joint continues and is Thermit-welded to the jointed bull-head rail beyond. On double lines, the switch tongues trail in the normal direction of traffic; here this would be coming towards the camera.
It is those dipped joints that caused the “hammer blows” heard from within a Class 143 D.M.U. on this section, recorded here https://youtu.be/zvIcHpux6Sk The axle load of a Class 143 is about 12 tons, considerably more than the Class 158s now in use on the line.
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.
The junction of private and Network Rail ownership, just around the curve from Coleford “divergence,” once the junction of two double lines. With the American operator of the line that strangely was lost from the national network being in administration, it is not known when the long hoped-for passenger service to Okehampton will commence. Behind the camera, around 30 of the 150 miles of the former network (not counting the light railway) remain.
It is rare to find a railway bridge not carrying a cycle path that has been blast cleaned and painted. This is Waterleat at Colebrooke. The bridge once carried a double line but now it carries two single lines. At the former Coleford Junction, not far away on the left, the lines diverge, one to Barnstaple and the other to Okehampton. Just beyond the bridge to the right is a public footpath which leads all the way to Yeoford, one which the scout last took forty-odd years ago.
From the train, only a glimpse is had of the interesting features at Keymelford Road.
The Yeoford station sign being almost completely obscured was brought to the attention of an officer of Tarka Rail Association, who immediately informed railway management. Clipping the hedge would be a finishing touch to a station that has recently been repainted.
At Salmon Pool Crossing the two single lines from Crediton are seen going towards Yeoford. In a normal year, trains would now be running to Okehampton on Sundays, but with Dartmoor Railway going into administration last year there has not been any train for some time, and it is not known when there will be one again. With zoom, even the live line to Barnstaple looks rather unkempt.
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