14 Whiteball

On Thursday, the scout rode to Taunton by way of the centre of Exeter, the pre-bypass route being High Street.

After buying lunch at the little buffet at Sampford Peverell, cleverly he thought that he would follow a green lane from Pugham Crossing but this came to an abrupt end at the M5 fence. So he skirted round to Burlescombe and followed the lane the signalmen would once have taken to rejoin the old A38 near the summit.

Until later in the last century, these were “Tunnel Cottages,” built not far from the line of Whiteball Tunnel. The old A38, still with its “cat’s-eyes,” is now used for access and is stopped up beyond the red van. The early 1970s diversion lies on the other side of the cottages.
For some reason, these are now “Redhill Cottages,” named after a nearby farm. This would once have been on the climb to the summit of the A38.
Conveniently, a footpath leads from “Railway Cottages” across to “Marlands,” at the other end of the tunnel. This is the area still known as “The Tippings,” after spoil from some of the 14 construction shafts was spread here.
The Wellington Monument can be seen standing guard over the Blackdowns. In the middle distance is the M5 motorway, which took a very different course from the A38. The trees at left stand on the Devon-Somerset border. The tunnel lies beneath the immediate foreground.
It was thoughts of this landscape which sustained the allied agent, Odette Hallowes, when in German captivity; she had moved here at the start of World War II to live with her mother-in-law. +
The footpath brings the walker to the rim of the massive approach cutting, the other side of which can be seen. Still in full sun, the Quantocks can be seen in the distance. 
The classic shot of Whiteball, with “Werescote” towering above. The rails don’t sing to announce an Up train: they just burst out of the tunnel. The scout thought he had heard something so had his camera ready.
The train had crested the summit of the climb on the other side of the tunnel and was now on the 1:80 falling gradient, the severest part of Wellington Bank. +

An entry in the inspection reports for Perridge Tunnel on the Teign Valley Branch came up in the scout’s mind.

16.10.1949:  As all available masons were engaged on the relining of Whiteball Tunnel it has not been possible to programme the repairs required in this tunnel.”

It is clear that both Whiteball and Perridge were troublesome tunnels.

“Marlands Bridge,” the last before the tunnel, appears to have its beams aligned to the gradient. Appropriately, the lady who lives at “Marlands” came along while the scout was here and they chatted. She was met by another lady who appeared from the lane up to White Ball. After meeting the lady doing the flowers in Sampford Arundel church, no doubt the handsome stranger on his bike will be all the talk at the next coffee morning.
The road to the right is the original turnpike through White Ball. Up this the horses would have slogged with coaches of passengers going from the temporary Beam Bridge railhead to Burlescombe while the tunnel was under construction.
The “White Ball Diversion” was made in the 1920s and much widened in later years. It is still busy and the traffic goes very fast. The tipper racing downhill to Beam Bridge will have come from Westleigh Quarry with stone that might once have gone through the tunnel.
Before the M5 was built, the scout used to cycle this road in the dark for the fun of it.
As usual, lineside detail is lost in the foliage. This is taken from “New Beam Overbridge,” built in 1973 at the foot of the “White Ball Diversion,” looking towards the tunnel.
At middle is the old “Beam [under] Bridge” and at right is the Beam Bridge Inn. A little beyond, between the railway and the old turnpike, was once a row of eight cottages. Marked on the O.S. as “Beam Bridge Cottages,” they were also known as “Railway Cottages.” At left lies the truncated old road and beyond the village of Sampford Arundel, the first or last village in Somerset.
From Westford foot crossing, between Wellington and Beam Bridge, can be glimpsed M.P. 170 3/4. The next one, M.P. 171, is where, on 9th May, 1904, Rous-Marten’s stop watch recorded a quarter-mile covered in 8.8 seconds (or thereabouts), an event later to become a legend. The “Ocean Mails” had had the benefit of the 1:80, 1:86 and 1:90 falling gradients from Whiteball Tunnel. Today’s trains climb the rising gradients at 100 m.p.h.
This crossing today has warning lights and a klaxon, there being curves in both directions. The scout thought that the driver of the mail train would have been sounding his whistle profusely. +
There can’t be many loading gauges still in situ. This one is in the poor old goods shed at Wellington

After this the scout rode from the centre of Wellington to the centre of Taunton in 22 minutes. It would have been quicker without the cars and traffic lights.

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