In May, 2020, the scout penned a note to Nick Simmons, C.E.O. of Roadpeace, the road crash victims’ charity.
“Peace returned to the roads briefly in early spring. I took to cycling on what would normally have been busy roads just for the fun of it and to experience what they would look like if I were emperor. Of course, I realized that it would be dangerous getting used to the quiet and anyway the enjoyment was dampened by my deep concern about the consequences of the stoppage.
“One ride took me over the M5 and A30 outside Exeter. Usually I stop on bridges like these to observe the madness.
“Perhaps not surprisingly, 1950s traffic levels were accompanied by a spate of fatal collisions. Certainly, as the weeks went on, my impression was that there were fewer cars often driven by worse maniacs, which is the way it was in the early days of motoring.
“Now the roads are nowhere near normal but the joy of cycling on them has passed. On Thursday, the lovely sight of a horse and carriage on Exmouth seafront was ruined by the long line of cars following. People seem to be driving around aimlessly just because they can.
“The worst of it is the order to avoid public transport and take the car in preference. A friend sums it up in a media post: “I’m delighted to see the prominence being given to cycling by the coronavirus situation, but worried about the apparent demonisation of public transport, which has wide-ranging implications … “
“In the midst of the emergency, government published its Decarbonising Transport report, pointing naturally to less use of cars and more travel by shared means. Yet we have this incongruity.
“It is only a temporary measure but I worry that trends may be set and damage done in the long term.
“In the gloom, I hope at least that you’ve seen a lull in new cases. Let’s hope that some good will come out of all this.”
Part of Nick’s reply:
” … those peaceful roads must now really feel like a thing of the past. And I take your point, I found it hard to completely enjoy them even at the time, with concern too about the consequences of the stoppage along with the adverse impact on public transport.
“We actually haven’t seen any lull in Helpline calls, some of our long standing members appear to have been triggered by the pandemic and have needed support along with a depressing number of new cases prompted by less congested roads and drivers taking ridiculous and inappropriate opportunities to speed, often with awful consequences.”
Like insect life after an apocalypse, motor traffic very quickly recovered to near normal levels. In subsequent stoppages, there was hardly a noticeable reduction. What effect the plague will have on public transport in the long run is the subject of much guesswork.
Again, photographs kindly lent by Richard Holladay have prompted the scribe to go through the files and the scout to saddle up, this time to prepare a feature on the other East Dartmoor branch line.
Richard has provided a set of photographs of the “South Devon Phoenix,” which are marked “Copyright C. [Cedric] H.S. Owen.” They have been added to the C.R.S. Moreton Branch collection but without the inscriptions on the reverse of each photo, which have been included here (in italics).
The following extract from “The Moretonhampstead Branch: A Railway from Shore to Moor,” by John Owen, published by Waterfront, describes the event.
“Undaunted [by B.R’s. intransigence], the Society [South Devon Railway Society] continued with their campaign from their new headquarters at Teigngrace Halt, and planned a further major publicity Special for the following Whit Monday (11th June 1962).
“To advertise and promote the event, the SDRS held a competition to find a suitable name for the excursion; the winning title of ‘South Devon Phoenix’, suggested by a lady in Kingskerswell, being most appropriate given its intention. The ‘Phoenix’ left Newton Abbot at 1.18pm, with motive power being provided by ‘large Prairie’ 5153, and six carriages carrying 200 or so occupants – one of whom was W.N. Ayliffe, chairman of Newton Abbot Rural District Council. Stops were made at all the stations and halts along the Line, the train again receiving a particularly enthusiastic welcome at Lustleigh, the villagers having decorated the station as they had done two years previously. At the terminus, a ‘pilgrimage’ was made to the granite memorial stone inscribed with the names of the original M&SDR directors. After a stop-over of an hour and a quarter, the excursion set off for the leisurely amble back to Newton Abbot – there being a 15mph speed limit in force over the Branch – arriving there at 5.30pm. Although the trip had been an undoubted success in terms of attracting local publicity and interest, not to mention a pleasantly nostalgic day out in its own right, this well-supported hint to the Railway Authorities once again fell on deaf ears and unseeing eyes. With the exception of a Sunday School Special run just two months later, the ‘Phoenix’ proved to be the swan-song for passenger-carrying trains over the full length of the Branch. It also marked a change in direction for the SDRS, which soon switched its attention to developments taking place in the Dart Valley.”
Repeated washouts occur just south of Teignbridge when the neighbouring Stover Canal floods and water spills over the track. No attempt is made to defend the line and no lasting repair has been made.
The line is undoubtedly vulnerable here but a level of resilience could be achieved, using a variety of modern measures, sufficient to justify reinstating the former Teign Valley diversionary route.
Between 2011 and 2015, the rump of the branch was brought back into use. Timber gathered from forests in Devon and Cornwall was roaded to Teignbridge, where it was stockpiled in the large area of land between the railway and canal, where the siding and loading bank had been. The story is told fully under “What’s New?“
The station briefly comes to life in this 2015 video.
“Timber Siding” was a loop, connected at the far end to the single main line, and was installed for Stover Estate traffic. Lignite from the Blue Waters pit was loaded for a while after the war but it was then turned over to clay. The R.C.H. Hand-Book of Stations lists the trader as English Clays, Lovering, Pochin & Co., Ltd and the facility as “Stover Siding.” E.C.L.P. was one of the constituents of the conglomerate English China Clays and it was E.C.C. (Ball Clays) that used the siding latterly.
The following three photographs are taken from the Down platform at Heathfield in what is thought to be the early 1960s, when both branches had closed to passengers but were still open, at least in part, for goods.
In the third one, the huge quantity of track sections, both at right and in the “vee” of the junction, cannot be fully explained. It is likely that the chaired concrete-sleeper sections at right are for re-laying the line between here and Gulf Oil’s new terminal of 1966, half a mile towards Bovey. (B.R./O.P.C.)
The scout took the following six photographs in January, 2012, after the track beyond Heathfield had been needlessly lifted the previous year.
Bovey: In 1991, the scene that was so quintessentially English, of a country railway station going about its business of organized public transport, had gone. The system whose outpost had come to belong to the little town, the relatively benign means of transport which held the promise or potential to develop and modernize into part of a widespread sustainable national network open to all, and all things, had been given over to the self-centred car user and the self-interest of the haulier and vanman.
The following gallery contains photographs very similar to those already published. It can be assumed that they were taken within a year or so of the passenger service being withdrawn. (B.R./O.P.C.)
The railway’s objection to the development can be read in this entry under “Campaigning.”
This was to be the second to last passenger train from Moretonhampstead.
Several years before his journey on the Exe Valley train, the railway’s friend, Richard Holladay had photographed what were soon to become the ruins of the Teign Valley Branch.
Again, the scout has gone back, as near as possible, to where Richard had stood to take corresponding shots. These have been supplemented by a large assortment of library photographs which have not been published before and some more present-day views.
The project which continues today at Christow was started at Longdown in 1975 with the intention of rebuilding the one and a quarter miles of line to Dunsford Halt. This was then all part of the Culver Estate, whose owners wanted to open a woodland park, not a commonplace at the time.
Bought back for a peppercorn after closure, along with Culver Tunnel, the station was heavily damaged by ruffians from Ide.
It must have been on another occasion that Richard visited Christow. At a guess, the photos below were taken at the same time as the one which follows showing the scoured embankment near Ashton River Bridge. This was caused by flooding in October, 1960.
If this is the case, then Christow had been cut off in both directions.
The wall at left, the point rodding and the extended Down Main were all new in 1943 but Richard found them derelict 17 years later. Many features, however, have survived.
It is commonly thought that Chudleigh Station is buried beneath the dual carriageway. In fact, the station was beside the river and the site is still visible. It can be positioned by the overline bridge, now flanked by concrete additions.
Devon County Council, doing its bit to provide for universal car ownership and the explosion of road freight transport, had acted for the Ministry of Transport in designing the Chudleigh Bypass; its route had been decided upon in principle many years before.
Accommodating the branch railway would have added £100,000 to the £3.9-million cost of the new road. In the event, B.R. was happy to give it up and closure of Chudleigh in 1968 was quickly followed by the start of road construction.
The incursion of the road was not as bad as many believe and was only total between Bellamarsh and Knighton Heath.There is still an unobstructed path for a new railway beside the dual carriageway which could be made as flood-resilient as the road.
No mention of the rebuilding of the 1877 Knighton Bridge, which carried what became the A38 over the Teign Valley Railway at Chudleigh Knighton, has ever been found and were it not for a set of official B.R. photographs recording the commencement of the works, the scribe would have known nothing of what happened here; although there are glimpses of the new bridge in photographs taken from the level crossing.
The lower right plate below shows the bridge’s condition. Timbers temporarily buttress the spandrels, whose failure may have been caused by weight of road traffic, poor construction or subsidence.
The photographs must have been taken between 1948 and 1955. In the aerial photo which follows, the road is unaltered; the 1955 Ordnance Survey shows the new bridge.
The lookoutman present tells that trains were running and so it’s a weekday. It’s daylight and it’s the main Exeter to Plymouth road: how long would it be before a photographer would never be able to catch it even momentarily free of traffic?
In the two views taken at track level, men appear to be excavating and loading a bucket by hand ready for the foundation of the southern abutment of the new bridge, whose construction would not interfere with road traffic until each end of a new road formation was connected, whereupon the original bridge could be demolished.
The new concrete beam Knighton Bridge was built on much more of a skew and after it was opened the road had very nearly recovered its original turnpike alignment.
Unlike the original, the new bridge would span only the single line. It would be fanciful to think that clearance was provided for overhead electrification.
Over the extent of the works, the telegraph lines have been taken down, gathered and tucked inside a running rail.
It can be seen that the track had two-hole fishplates and close-sleepered joints in the 45-foot rails.
Beyond Knighton Bridge in the upper left plate can be seen Little Bovey Bridge.
Heathfield to Christow was mostly easy work for locos, but in leaving the Bovey Valley and cutting through Knighton Heath to the Teign, there were short lengths of 1:66 in both directions.
All that is seen here would be obliterated by the Chudleigh Bypass, opened in 1973.
The four photographs in the gallery above were obtained from British Rail and were marked copyright of British Rail/O.P.C.
Above left is the point at which the old turnpike, later the arterial A38, curved to cross the Teign Valley Railway. The scout’s bicycle must not be far from where the official photographer was standing in the top right of the set of four. The road through Chudleigh Knighton is now the B3344 and it continues from here on a new course parallel with the dual carriageway, out of sight at left.
The scout looks back towards the village in the photo at right. Little Bovey Bridge once stood in the scrub to the left of the bench and the road from the A38 once passed across the picture. The railway passed diagonally across this new road and then the dual carriageway, beneath the hedge at right.
Discovered only recently, this is one of a set of 12 aerial photographs taken while circling “Candy & Co. Ltd., Great Western Potteries,” mostly in 1948.
The one below, taken from the south-west, has been chosen because it affords a splendid view of the Teign Valley line as far as Chudleigh, whence it it hidden.
To aid following the two railways, they have been picked out in red on the faded clip which follows.
The find is especially rewarding because it has produced the only known sighting of Chudleigh Knighton Sidings, installed in 1943 to serve the U.S. Army fuel dump (P.O.L. (Petrol, Oil, Lubricant) Depot) scattered on the heath. The facility was used for a few months before and after “D-Day,” but in the aerial view two lines of wagons can be seen. Possibly the sidings were used to store surplus freight rolling stock.
Part of the formation can be traced today and thanks are due to the railway’s friend, Stephen Szypko, for exploring the area and identifying the remains.
The curvature of the A38 over Knighton Bridge is revealed, as well as the residue of its original straight course.
Incidentally, the disturbed area seen alongside the A38 at the bottom of the photo is the remains of the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion Depot.
By entering “Britain from Above” and registering, the high resolution version of this image can be viewed in great detail.
The same kind neighbour responsible for RAMBLES AROUND EXETERalso loaned the scribe Exmoor Village, a distillation of what observers had recorded when they stayed in Luccombe towards the end of the war.
The scribe suggested that the scout, who had been riding to the north coast at the start of autumn for several years, take in the village in 2019.
This the scout did in mid-September, putting his bicycle on the train to Sampford Peverell, more so that he could follow a favourite route than to take a short cut.
Leaving behind the racket of the wretched trunk road to North Devon, the scout went through Uplowman and followed the juvenile River Lowman, Tiverton’s other river, to Huntsham, skirting Bampton Down to enter the town from the north-east. Then he rode over the hills to Exebridge and followed the Exe Valley turnpike, beneath the poor old Barnstaple Branch, to the summit at Wheddon Cross.
The shop assistant at the filling station where the scout has taken to buying his lunch, not for the first time asked if he’d had any fuel. “That’s it,” as he pointed to his savoury assortment on the desk, was lost on the ample local lass.
Dunkery Beacon beckoned but was still two and three-quarter miles distant. Being able to see the beacon was promising, because it meant that the climb may have been rewarded with good views, unlike the first time the scout went there, when he struggled to find the plate with pointers to the places that could be seen from the beacon on a clear day.
For the last 1,000 yards or so, the scout pushed or carried his bike up the rocky path, finally seeing the full extent of the country beyond the beacon that had been unfolding around him.
The wind was fresh to strong and it was none too warm so the scout circled the cairn before settling in what he judged to be the most sheltered spot. He was joined by a few others he’d passed on the way up.
Just as he’d folded his paper so that it would not be taken by the wind, he glimpsed a column of cyclists coming up the path now known as “Macmillan Way West.” He groaned as he remembered on another occasion the lone fellow he’d heard grunting as he neared the peak. He had dropped his bike, climbed the beacon, filmed a panorama with his phone and ridden on, barely answering the scout’s greeting.
He groaned even more when another group and then another soon became a long line heading for the beacon.
Now, it is not uncommon for the scout’s lunch hour to be delayed or interrupted at Christow by visitors who themselves do not observe regular mealtimes, or who take perverse delight in upsetting the body clocks of others, or are simply thoughtless; but having climbed under his own steam to the highest point in Somerset, a scheduled ancient monument, what should by rights be reserved for quiet contemplation, the scout was angered that his lunch break here of all places was about to be disrespected.
As the group, by now 50 or more, with their knobbly-tyred bikes and their elbow and knee protectors, buzzed like flies around the beacon, the scout turned to his fellow seekers of solitude and grumbled about their moment being ruined. He asked if anyone had a starting pistol and if he had could he trigger the riders to go away [translated].
He was told by one of the group that they had been bussed up the hill. One cast his bike down and urinated on the heather, thankfully with his back to the ladies.
When anger subsided, the scout resigned himself to the sort of people-watching he used to enjoy in the bus station caff in Exeter. He thought about how his own style of cycle rambling differed as much from what he saw here as it did from the road racing of the spandex set.
The purpose of their gathering became clear when what turned out to be an organizer scanned the wristband of a rider who promptly launched himself down a steep track. At about 30-second intervals, the others followed until they had all gone and the scout at last could enjoy the rest of his lunch.
After a few words with the organizer about the incidence of broken bones, the scout set off down the “Macmillan” path, only to meet the head of another horde going up. They could cause him no more annoyance and so the scout was happy to acknowledge their “heys.” One remarked as he approached, “rough stuff, respect,” which the scout believed may have been a reference to Rough Stuff Fellowship, a little-known off-road cycling club that was formed long before the invention of the “mountain bike.”
Much as the scout was looking forward to exploring Luccombe, he wished he could have gone back to Wheddon Cross and taken the turnpike to Dunster, a long, exhilarating descent. Instead, the drop to Chapel Cross gives up almost all the height in less than two miles, with much of it between 1:7 and 1:5. Only a daring rider will let go of the brake levers.
Passing Webber’s Post, oft referred to in Exmoor Village, more officials and off-roaders were seen, as well as a motor-quadricycle bearing a first aid symbol.
Luccombe is just around the corner from Chapel Cross and it was here that the scout remembered having gone this way before, riding via Wotton Courtenay to Dunster. So did he remember Luccombe? Not particularly, he admitted, but then Stoney Street, the most charming part of the village, doesn’t draw the cyclist.
This time the scout would dwell here and seek out the places illustrated in the book. Photostats of these he’d left back at the station so the comparison shots had to be done from memory.
British Ways of Life
Exmoor Village was published in 1947 by George G. Harrap & Co. and was edited by W.J.Turner.
It was supposed to be the first of a series of books whose intention was “to present rather more fully, and in a new manner, people and their various ways of life.”
In fact, this was the only truly rural study ever conducted by Mass-Observation, a scientific, fact-finding body, formed in 1937 to study the habits, behaviour and opinions of ordinary people.
More human than scientific, in that observers often felt rather than measured, Exmoor Village borders on the romantic in places and its somewhat idealized view could almost have been commissioned by government as “what we’re fighting for” propaganda.
Arguing that the unique diversity of the English countryside made for smallness and character, Turner writes: “It also hampers large-scale methods and the quick adoption of novelties and is favourable to conservatism, permanence and the stubborn adherence to tradition. At a time in the world’s history when we are witnessing a quick and steady deterioration in so many directions, we may be inclined to be thankful that Nature has here put a check on the tendency to degradation which exists in mankind along with the desire to improve.”
Commenting upon the huge changes that had encroached, and would encroach further, onto the village, he writes: “Few would deny the immense material benefits, yet the ordinary way of life has suffered and in some respects deteriorated. There is less character and less individuality now in the country village because there are fewer active craftsmen.”
And on the lot and standing of the countryman: “Nobody can doubt that the general dissatisfaction with what life has come to be in all its meaningless prevailing not only in England but all over Europe to-day, is a sign of a coming fundamental change. But some of the things which all men desire were once to be enjoyed more in our Exmoor village than they are anywhere in town or country to-day; and this description of things as they are in our village may throw some light on what is needed for the future.”
Exmoor Village is a valuable record of a place and a time, or a place at one time. The only purpose here is to hint at what piqued the scout’s interest without going into detail. Nevertheless, a few excerpts cannot hurt.
In the chapter on the village school, the mistress despairs that the boys just want to work on the land and the girls want to go into service. “There’s hardly one with a spark of ambition to raise themselves from the level of their parents.”
Turner replies: “It does not seem to occur to anyone that a farmer requires a different sort of education from a clerk and that it is the standardization of education that should be deplored.”
The scout and the scribe are agreed that they would happily have left school at 14 and joined the railway, equipped with all that they needed to make a start in life.
Turner, however, adopts a snobbish tone when reviewing entries left by holiday guests in a visitor’s book: “These verses are some of the less impressive results of compulsory education for all.”
In an example of children having their lessons related to what they knew, the wilderness of Scripture was one day likened to Dunkery. The next, they were asked where Jesus went after the Temptation. A boy answered: “Up on Dunkery, Miss.”
In the chapter on farming, a farmer in the village had this to say about the marketing of his spring lambs: “That’s one good thing the [National] Government has done—given us a sure market, so that if you rears a good sheep you know you’ll get a fair price for ‘un, because it’s all graded and you get what it’s worth. … But after the war what’s going to happen? That’s what I’d like to know. The town people always expects their food to be cheap. They’ve taken high prices for granted now there’s a war on, but food will be the first thing they’ll expect to buy cheaper after the war.”
The scout wonders whether today’s farmers would prefer wartime order over market fluctuations or the dictatorship of supermarket buyers.
So taken was the staff with Exmoor Village that an old copy was obtained for the station library. A pretty label stuck to the flyleaf reads: “This book belongs to Rosemary Lewis.”
That the scout was looking at scenes largely unchanged and unspoilt, save for the usual sprinkling of jarring metal crates, is largely thanks to Luccombe being part of the Holnicote Estate, gifted to the National Trust in 1944. But he was well aware that the life within the fabric of the village had changed completely in the 75 years since. When could it last have been said that all the men worked outdoors or with their hands and all the boys expected to follow them? But Turner said in his time: “It has probably changed more in the last 50 years than ever before … “
The scout is used to riding into a village and not seeing a soul or hearing a sound, even on a bright summer’s day. A fellow was working in the churchyard and a few faces were seen but this hardly excepted Luccombe from the norm. Had the scout visited in 1944, it’s unlikely that his extensive movements in the village would have gone unobserved or that he would have had no contact with villagers. But even Turner remarked: ” … although the village remains, the communal life has dwindled from what it was.”
The scout left Luccombe and rode via West Luccombe to Red Post on the busy A39. How could he not have taken a detour into Allerford?
On his way to Minehead, a lone descent-rider, separated from the pack, emerged from a lane. Now with the advantage, the scout showed what a steel frame and 117-inch top gear can do on the open road, even when powered by a semi-fossil. He shot past the dashing young blade and continued without let up for some way. This rare bout of competitiveness also caused him to shoot past three of the turnings to Minehead, but was nonetheless satisfying.
There was time to relax, drink a cold beer and watch the activity at Minehead Station before catching the train to Bishop’s Lydeard, hauled by a Manor.
Supplementary to the text of Exmoor Village are some Isotype charts, one of which is reproduced below because it shows the services and facilities available in the area at the time.
Remarkably, although the village has lost its school and shop, the majority of the functions seen on the chart remain. Porlock has lost its police station but still has a grocer, a chemist, a butcher and an ironmonger. As far as delivery services go, Luccombe villagers will now be ordering an almost unlimited array of goods from anywhere in the world at the touch of a key, and perhaps do this more readily than they would travel the three miles to Porlock.
The greatest casualty has been the railway, which must have brought the holidaymakers who stayed in the village even if the bus was the public transport that played the greatest part in day-to-day life. The 10 buses in each direction in 1944 are now seven. The main road is one and a half miles from The Square.
Minehead Station, five miles away, closed in 1971 and the nearest network station became Taunton, 26 miles; this is not much less than the scout’s 29-mile journey from Sampford Peverell.
The nearest goods station dealing with full wagon loads was Minehead, but under the 1938 cartage arrangements for goods smalls Dunster served the Luccombe area. Today there are no public goods stations at all and the railway operates no service comparable to that of 1944.
A reason, if one were needed, to visit Oswestry, the headquarters of the former Cambrian Railways, was provided by the railway’s motor trolley having been stationed there when new from the Wickham factory in 1949.
Two more reasons for a pilgrimage were the Drewry diesel shunter, six years younger than the one at Christow, and the 1922 G.W.R. brake van being worked on at Christow having come from Llynclys, just along the line towards Welshpool.
The scout detrained at Gobowen and rode to Oswestry, quickly going on to Llynclys. Oswestry is connected to the national network but the new Llynclys Station is on an isolated section; the Cambrian Heritage line extends only as far as Llynclys Junction.
Upon returning to Oswestry, the scout wandered around the town, took in as best he could the remains of the very large railway centre it once was and visited the C.H.R. museum, where a handsome donation was made.
There were no trains running but a volunteer was kind enough to escort the scout through the site and onto the platform, where the loco was standing coupled to a brake van.
It had been intended to reach Llangollen for a ride along to Carrog and back, but the scout was at a disadvantage, making do with scraps of satellite images instead of a trusty O.S. map; it has been known for him to get lost even with the best map in the world.
The scout rode back past Gobowen and on towards Chirk, aiming to join the Llangollen Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. This he did all right at a bridge, confidently setting off along the towpath beneath.
After having gone some distance without encountering what he had expected, the scout groaned as it suddenly dawned on him that he had made a mistake.
While chatting to a cyclist on the train around Shrewsbury, who’d given up his tour of Wales because of the heat, and who expounded on his 14-speed Rohloff hub, I had said that I was going to be following the “Shroppie,” adding: “You can’t get lost on a canal.” No, but it’s possible to go the wrong way.
Whether to go back or continue was the question; the path had become quite rough, with exposed tree roots, so a return by road may have been quicker. Some way towards Ellesmere, he later found, the scout left the canal at at main-road bridge and then had to decide which way to go. He set off to find a guide post and luckily hadn’t gone far before the destination blind of a bus gave him direction.
Some time later, via Whittington (one of the scout’s prep school headmaster’s stock phrases was: “Turn again, Whittington.”), the scout drew up at the Gobowen level crossing where he’d started.
With now too little time left to get to Llangollen, he followed the busy Wrexham road and picked up the canal towpath near Chirk. This soon brought him to Telford’s aqueduct over the Ceiriog Valley, where he crossed into Wales.
He then lit his headlamp for the walk through the tunnel which follows, fortunately not meeting another cyclist. At the other end, a path leads up to Chirk Station where once was the terminus of the Glyn Valley Tramway.
The scout rode into town and enjoyed a long lunch in a shady park, after which he roamed the streets and skirted the giant Kronospan factory, in part supplied for a number of years by trains from Teignbridge, thus making another Teign Valley connection.
Finding the canal again, he followed it as far as the bridge where he’d gone the wrong way and continued to Gobowen for the train home. (452 rail miles)
A year later, the scout got off the train at Chirk, determined now to reach Llangollen.
The canal was not going to fool him, now that he’d mastered the navigation of New Street. On two previous occasions, he’d found himself going through barriers to get between platforms or, stuck amongst shoppers and diners, trying to find a way to the basement platforms without using the escalators; now he’d discovered the footbridge with stairs at the west end that links all the platforms with the street.
Off down the known path went the scout, in not much more than three miles coming upon the utterly astounding Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which takes the canal over the valley of the Dee.
The scout chatted to a canal warden about the aqueduct, its maintenance and use. The warden told of the daft behaviour he had seen, such as boat people dangling their legs over the side and paddleboarders insisting they be allowed to pass.
On Station Road in Trevor, the scout spotted a path which led past the station site and on along the abandoned formation. It soon got rough and clearly wasn’t going to continue, so the scout clambered up to a bridge and then joined the main road to Llangollen.
The picturesque setting which the scout had seen many times in print was soon revealed and he spent an hour wandering around the town, its riverbank and station, before entraining a D.M.U. for a ride along the line which once went to the coast at Barmouth and has been heroically rebuilt as far as Corwen.
It was a very enjoyable ride alongside the Dee. At Berwyn, while the train waited, the scout watched canoeists shooting the rapids below.
As the train pulled into Carrog, another Teign Valley connection was made, for in the siding behind the box stood the railway’s decommissioned track recording trolley. The train terminated here, leaving plenty of time to eat lunch bought from the station buffet and wander around the place.
When he returned to Llangollen, the scout climbed up to the canal and followed the towpath back to the aqueduct. He then wandered around the post-industrial landscape of the area through which the canal was to have continued. The scout could see the remains of railways and works in Acrefair and Cefn-mawr, but had to wait until he got home to understand the extent of it all revealed by the 25 in. Ordnance Survey. https://www.old-maps.co.uk/#/Map/327500/343500/12/101052
This led to the village of Ruabon, whose station is second only to Wrexham General, by a measure of passengers, in the area. It was until 1965 the terminus of the line to Barmouth and, like Chirk and Gobowen, was a stop on open-access operator Wrexham & Shropshire’s short-lived service to Marylebone. It was where the scout, after a quick look around the village, opened a cold beer in the shade of the footbridge while he waited for the train from Holyhead. https://www.wrexham-history.com/ruabon-railway-station/
The journey south over the “Welsh Marches Line” from Shrewsbury, via Hereford, was one of the most awful the scout has ever had to endure. The air-conditioning of the Class 158 D.M.U. had failed, or could not cope with the heat, and even on the move the four hopper windows in each coach could not relieve the sweltering interior. How very much more pleasant would have been this 121-mile journey had the scout been able to stand at an open window, as he would once have been able to do.
Although the air had cooled by the time Newport was reached, it was still a pleasure to board a short-formed H.S.T. to Taunton.
The realization that he would soon never be able to lean out of the window again drove the scout to ignore the new warning notices and announcements, and enjoy the cold rush as the train approached the end of Severn Tunnel and began the ascent. The experience was quite a contrast to that inside the 158 oven earlier.
In his capacity as the railway’s Procurement Officer, the scout once went to view park and garden machinery being sold off by Torbay Borough Council from its yard in Westhill Avenue. This turned out to be the former tram depot, but the scout did not always take a camera with him in those days and so all he has is the memory of the rails still in place.
On another occasion, the P.O. viewed two redundant Piaggio three-wheel trucks which he bought for £57.50. They cost £69 to transport to Christow and the deal involved a bottle of whisky going to a member of the borough’s staff.
Despite regularly passing an obvious feature of Torquay Tramways, the shelter on Newton Road outside Torre Station, the scout had never set out to follow the routes or to see what had become of the depots.
It cannot be said whether Forest Road is steeper than Fore Street or St. David’s Hill in Exeter, but the scout reported that the climb made him puff. He wondered if a motorman had ever had cause to apply the electro-magnetic brake which was attracted to the rails.
The Torquay depot is now a housing complex, “Tramways,” but there is at least a memorial to the system.
After the tortuous descent to Market Street, the scout could say that he had covered the nine route miles of the system, the rest having been done before without thinking.
On another summer’s day, the scout had ridden the grim back streets of Torquay, with which he has never been especially familiar, and emerged onto Babbacombe Downs, where he ate his lunch on the highest clifftop promenade in England, gazing at three gigantic cruise ships at anchor in the bay beneath.
Later, he peered through the glazed doors of the little theatre, crying out for help to see it through the lost summer season, and then dropped down the steep lane, past the house where Oscar Wilde entertained, to the breakwater at Babbacombe Beach, where he photographed the ships at sea level. There was little prospect of them going to sea again in 2020.
It is possible to descend to the neighbouring Oddicombe Beach by means of the remaining part of Torquay Tramways, the Babbacombe Cliff Railway.
As he cycled along Babbacombe Road towards the harbour, the scout stopped to watch the demolition of the Palace Hotel, once Torquay’s largest and old enough to have been seen by tram passengers. A chap joined the scout and reminisced about the good times he had had there in the ‘sixties. A luxury hotel and spa is to be erected in its place, a sign of the change in the established trade.
Plymouth’s tramways, the last to close, appear on the 25in. Ordnance Survey; Exeter’s horsedrawn line is shown on the 1905 survey; but Torquay’s tramways do not appear at all.
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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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.”. Read more