Station to Station: Lawrence Hill to Bristol Temple Meads

A quick post this morning while waiting for a train in Bristol. I arrived at Temple Meads way earlier than I needed to so decided I might as well visit a station I’ve not been to before. The nearest one is Lawrence Hill, so I bought a ticket and hopped on the early train to Cardiff.

The trip to Lawrence Hill is only a few minutes. The train was fairly busy – presumably mostly with commuters. A few got on at Lawrence Hill, but I think I was the only one to get off. There isn’t much to say about the station itself. It sits in a cutting nestled below the A420. Two platforms, basic facilities. Exactly what’s needed in a location like this.

The walk back is about a mile, and is mostly along the Bristol and Bath cycle path. It was busy with bikes so wits need to be kept! Honestly, the walk is not hugely picturesque or anything like that, although the Railway Passage murals are worth a look.

So now I’m back at Temple Meads – still with over an hour before my train!

Station to Station: Buckenham to Cantley

I took the opportunity of a family holiday visiting friends in Norwich to get in a stroll along the River Yare between two stations on the Wherry Line – Buckenham and Cantley.

Buckenham is one of the countries least used stations – the tenth least used in 2016/17 – with only 122 Entries and Exits. This is partly at least due to its remoteness. There is literally nothing else around. But this is also its appeal of course. It being right by RSPB Strumpshaw Fen must surely make it a useful stop for birdwatchers? Not being one myself, perhaps there are other better places nearby.

The low usage numbers are not helped by the paucity of services of course – 1 each way on a Saturday, 5 each way on a Sunday and none at all in the week. It is also a request stop. Given all this, I was slightly surprised to find 2 other people got off at the same time as me. One of whom had a swish camera and took pictures of the station sign. There is at least one person as pointlessly obsessed with doing this as me!

I didn’t have long to hang around at Buckenham since I needed to be sure of catching the train at Cantley. The route is pretty straightforward following an obvious path along the banks of the Yare. It is also stunningly beautiful on a sunny Sunday morning.

I was intrigued by The Beauchamp Arms on the other side of the river. These days there is no easy way to get across, although it seems there used to be a ferry. Now that could make this into an even more appealing walk!

Other than the stunning scenery, the profusion of Azure Damselflies and the pleasantness of the weather there isn’t much more to say about the walk through the Cantley Marshes. It is easygoing  although the heat of this particularly morning sapped my energy faster than I was anticipating.

The sugar factory is an impressive human intervention on the landscape. I always enjoy the counterpoint. For a sense of scale, the Reedcutter pub can be seen just beneath the tanks.

Cantley station is another wonderful small station, although significantly better used than Buckenham, with a correspondingly higher level of service. It also has a traditional manually controlled gate level crossing. The signalman physically leaves the signal box and closes the gates across the road. This is wonderful and feels like a direct connection to a bygone age. I don’t know how much longer this will be here – I presume there must be plans to upgrade the signalling along this line  and the level crossing would probably be a casualty of that – so catch it while you can!

The journey back to Norwich was less pleasant than the journey out – a single carriage train which was full to bursting. Passengers were even turned away at Brundall station. Still, this did not detract from a wonderful morning walk through the Norfolk countryside.

All the Plymouth Stations

Finding myself in Plymouth over the Easter weekend, I took the opportunity to do something I have been wanting to do for ages – embark or disembark at all the stations in Plymouth. These days, in this denuded railway age, there are 6 stations: Plymouth, Devonport, Dockyard, Keyham, St Budeaux Ferry Road and St Budeaux Victoria Road.

Of course, there used to be many more stations in Plymouth. Wikipedia lists 29, although some of these are outside my mental map of what counts as Plymouth. Nevertheless, that leaves ample opportunity to seek out remains and remnants in the future – perhaps following in the footsteps of  Hidden Plymouth. Even in my own lifetime, some very impressive pieces of railway infrastructure have gone – such as the Ford Viaduct which was demolished in the 1980s. In theory, I should remember it but I don’t.

Plymouth to St Budeaux Ferry Road

I started on a Saturday evening by taking a train from Plymouth station itself to St Budeaux Ferry Road. Not many services stop at St Budeaux Ferry Road – 4 a day each way on a weekday, 2 on a Saturday and only 1 on a Sunday. This station is on the main line between Plymouth and Penzance, and the services to and from this station are the stoppers which service this route.

There isn’t much to say about the station itself – 2 platforms, reached by taking the road bridge. This is the least used Plymouth Station – 3976 entries and exits in 2016-17 (so about 11 a day). This is not surprising given the low level of service.

St Budeaux Victoria Road to Devonport

The next day (Easter Sunday itself) I walked along Wolseley road from my in-laws house to the other St Budeaux station – St Budeaux Victoria Road. This is literally across the road from Ferry Road, but is the first stop on the Tamar Valley Line between Plymouth and Gunnislake.

These days the Tamar Valley Line is single track, but there is a long disused second platform here – a remnant of when this formed part of the route into Plymouth from London via Okehampton. The other consequence of the single track running is that the driver has to leave the train here to either pick up or replace a physical token stored in a secure cabinet on the platform. Without the token, the train is not allowed to proceed onto the line.

The journey to Devonport station does not take long. The guard seemed rather surprised by my ticket – yes, I am geeky enough to want a ticket naming each of the stations I visit.

Devonport station was my local station when I lived in Plymouth, but I rarely used it.

Dockyard to Keyham

Next step was to stroll between Devonport and Dockyard stations – not a very long walk, but it took me along streets that I haven’t had cause to visit for many many years.

Much to my delight I discovered a new (to me at least) record shop on Albert Road – Dockyard Discs. I will definitely be paying a visit next time I am down.

Dockyard station is the smallest of the Plymouth Stations. It is also a request stop, which is always exciting. Much to my surprise, there was someone else waiting. We both stuck our arms out. The guard by now I think had twigged what I was up to and gave me a wry smile. I got a slightly sarcastic wave  when I got off again about 1 minute later at Keyham!

Keyham is a much larger station than seems necessary these days, with two long platforms linked by a substantial footbridge, which leads all the way out via the houses on Admiralty Street. The footbridge passes over what used to be the marshalling yard, which still contains one siding. It looks like it is occasionally used – presumably in relation to the branch in to the dockyard which is just around the corner. There are occasional nuclear waste trains in and out which I would like to catch one of these days.

And that was it! Just a short walk home. All the Plymouth Stations visited (and named tickets stuck in the scrapbook).

 

Exmouth and the Avocet Line

A family holiday to Exmouth promised plenty of opportunities for scenic and interesting inter-station walks. Sadly, the weather gods had other ideas and most of my planned adventures will have to wait for another time. We did manage to dodge the rain a few times however.

Our first trip was to Teignmouth – to visit a vintage shop (Hello Retro) and a record shop (Scene & Heard). The record shop was worth a visit, though I didn’t buy anything and I’m not sure there would have been anything there to buy no matter how hard I looked.

The intention was to walk from Teignmouth along the coast path around to Dawlish and catch the train back from there. Unfortunately, the sea wall had recently been damaged at Sprey Point and it was not possible to complete the route. Nevertheless, even the part we did fulfilled a lifelong ambition to walk along this part of the coastal path. I have whizzed past in the train more times than I can count. It was every bit as good as I imagined – the trains are frequent, the drivers always wave and toot at the kids, it’s just brilliant.

And we had a special bonus. We happened to be walking along the line as the Royal Train passed, taking the Queen back from Plymouth where she was attending the decommissioning of HMS Ocean. Now I’m not much of a fan of the Royal Family, but this was still an impressive sight. My son was particularly excited for some reason. And yes, the driver of the royal train also waved and tooted.

The next excursion took us from Exmouth to Exton. We walked back along the Exe Estuary Trail to Lympstone Village to catch the train back to Exmouth. This was a short walk, but we were dodging heavy showers so it was long enough!

Exton is a tiny but very picturesque station perched right on the edge of the Exe estuary. It is theoretically a request stop, but every train we went on stopped there regardless of whether anyone was getting on or off. It is the least used of the Avocet Line stations, averaging about 70 people a day in 2016/17.

The walk back to Lympstone is along a very well maintained cycle path, so was flat and easy. It takes you past the Royal Marines Training Centre, which has its own station (opened in 1976) which is only for use by people with business at the base. The gate was open, but I was too much of a wuss to actually go onto the station! I did snap a picture of the sign (to add to my collection)  from the train.

Lympstone Village station is another small one platform station, as you would of course expect. There is the remant of a second platform very overgrown, but this must have been disused for a very long time. The photo on the Cornwall Railway Society website [1] from 1974 show it was already disused then. Just down the hill is a very nice pub, The Swan Inn, which was busy when we visited. Always a good sign.

I didn’t manage to do most of the walks I planned, so I have plenty of incentive to visit this amazing part of the world again (my kids also want to revisit the swimming pool at Devon Cliffs) so I am sure I’ll be back!

[1] http://www.cornwallrailwaysociety.org.uk/exmouth-branch.html

Station to Station 2: Castle Cary to Bruton

My second Station to Station walk was between Castle Cary and Bruton – a walk that took me about 2 hours on foot and about 7 minutes back on the train!

I really don’t know very much about the town of Castle Cary, despite driving past it every day on my commute. I didn’t learn much about it today since the station is outside the town and my route took me around the outskirts through the adjoining village of Ansford.

From this point on the walk follows the Leland trail, named after John Leland, librarian to King Henry VIII. This trail is a reconstruction of part of the route he took when visiting South Somerset between 1535 and 1543 cataloging the contents of monastic libraries and antiquities. Sounds like a great job to me.

I deliberately chose this route to walk along a track that I’ve noticed almost every day and  wondered where it went – Solomon’s Lane. I do this a lot with footpaths. It transpires that until the road slightly further south was turnpiked in 1793, this was the main route to Bruton [1]. It doesn’t look much today. I wonder who Solomon was?

At the end of Solomon’s Lane, the path continues across some lovely Somerset countryside. Some slightly grumpy cows didn’t really want to move, so I walked off route a bit to give them some more room. The path continues through an orchard before arriving back at the road near to the village of Cole.

After passing under the current railway line, the road eventually passes under another bridge that once carried the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway on its route from Evercreech to Cole. There isn’t that much left to see of it in this area, but it does seem to haunt all my walks. By the way, this bridge is labelled SAD-116, and another one that the road passes over SAD-115. I’m not sure whether these labels are original or not, but I can feel a box ticking exercise coming on.

The last part of the walk is across the wide open fields of Wyke Farm, and finally down a well trodden lane into Bruton itself. Bruton is a very pretty town, full of history and tradition. It’s also, well, I can’t quite find the word – posh isn’t quite it, nor does hipster quite cover it. The fact that the Spar sells craft beer and Quinoa crisps maybe sums it up. I like it, by the way.

Frustratingly, I hadn’t left myself enough time to visit either of the pubs along the High Street, nor to pop into the museum. I fully intend to do this walk again, but using a more direct (hence quicker) route so that I can explore the town itself a bit more. This time I just headed straight for the station.

Bruton station is pretty quiet. (40660 entries and exits in 2016-17: 111 people a day). It was originally built as part of the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway, opening in 1856. These days it has a sporadic service through the day  – not regular. Hence the importance of catching my particular train, otherwise I had a 2 hour wait.

And so finally back to Castle Cary station, which sits astride the Taunton to Reading Line and the Bristol to Weymouth Line. It has a large (and quite cheap) car park to attract commuters, which is often quite full. However, the station really comes in to its own for the Glastonbury festival, when for a long weekend it is absolutely heaving – and well worth avoiding if you are not a festival goer.

Post walk note – I left my camera on a stile in the middle of this walk. I had to drive to a point as close to it as I could get and walk through the muddiest field I have ever seen in the vain hope that it might still be there. It wasn’t. However, a very kind woman had just picked it up for safe keeping and saw me striding with purpose and guessed it might be mine. And so I was reunited! I am incredibly grateful for kind strangers.

[1] ‘Ansford’, in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 10, ed. Mary Siraut (Woodbridge, 2010), pp. 85-100. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol10/pp85-100 [accessed 4 February 2018].

Camerton Branch – Hallatrow to Paulton

A wander around the section of the disused Camerton Branch of the Bristol and North Somerset Railway between Hallatrow and Paulton (26 Jan 2018).

The Camerton Branch is a long disused section of railway which ran between Hallatrow and Camerton to serve the collieries. Opened in 1882, it was later extended to Limpley Stoke where it connected with the Bath to Trowbridge line. It is probably most famous for providing the filming locations for the classic film “The Titfield Thunderbolt”.

It also happens to run close to where I live and so has become a regular haunt for me. Until 1915 (and for a brief period later) there was a passenger service on the line, but by all accounts this was never popular. How I wish it existed today!

This walk took me from Paulton along the line as far as Hallatrow and then back and forth across the line at every point that the footpath allows. At first the walk is directly along the old trackbed, although there is little else remaining of any old railway infrastructure. Note – not on this particular walk, but not far away there are very clear remains of Paulton Halt which are worth a visit.

I walked right to the point where the line to Camerton branched off from the main line. The footpath passes directly over this junction, but there is disappointingly little to see. The bridge over the Clutton to Hallatrow road remains as an impressive marker however.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing left of Hallatrow station itself. The site is now occupied by industrial units which at least make the old location obvious and are I think a good use of these sort of sites.

Also close by, and deliberately on route, is the Old Station Inn, which opened sometime between 1905 and 1929 by the evidence of the old OS Maps available online at the National Library of Scotland. This is a pub worth visiting – the beer is always good and there is an interesting collection of railway related miscellany and other pub clutter. You can also eat in a converted railway carriage attached to the back of the pub – though I think you need to book for this.

After a quick pint of Butcombe, I stomped back across the very muddy fields to Paulton.

Station to Station 1: Pilning to Severn Beach

This is the first in a series of walks between two different stations.

As walked route from Pilning Station to Severn Beach station.

On the 20th January I finally walked a route that I’ve been looking at on the map for ages, with the added bonus of ticking off an ambition to get to Pilning station. Pilning is not the easiest of stations to get to – it isn’t even listed in the timetable anymore. Instead there is a note against two Saturday trains from Cardiff to Taunton saying “Also calls Pilning”. The timetable also advises that to get there from Bristol requires a change at Severn Tunnel Junction. This reflects the removal of the footbridge and the resulting closure of the westbound platform. There are now no direct services from Bristol Temple Meads.

I caught the 07:23 GWR service from Bristol Temple Meads towards Cardiff Central. The guard commented that in 10 years in his job, he had never checked a ticket for Pilning before! However, he knew the route and told me where to change. Impressive.

Severn Tunnel Junction is a strange station – seeming to consist mostly of enormous (presumably accessible) footbridges. I guess in theory it serves the village of Rogiet, and other local commuter traffic. Perhaps it is busier later in the day or in the week but it was extremely quiet when I was there (253,918 entries and exits in 2016-17, so yes I guess it gets a bit busier). I will be back to explore another time – not least to make the walk to nearby Caldicot station.

Next up, the 08:26 to take me back through the Severn Tunnel to Pilning. This time the guard was confused by my ticket (because it was from Bristol) and didn’t understand what I was doing. She let it pass because it was “hardly any distance”. I had the timetable on hand to explain if I’d needed to.

On arrival at Pilning I was handed a Station Guide leaflet by one of the passengers getting on, who presumably has some part in the running of www.pilningstation.uk (we didn’t really have time to talk!) This contains a really interesting history of the station itself and the railways in the surrounding area. Definitely has me piqued my interest enough to come back and explore.

Pilning itself shows its neglect. It is run down, has no facilities and at present is surrounded by a building site – working on the electrification of the line I guess. While this is a shame, I can understand the lack of investment. It is not a well-used station (230 entries and exits in 16/17 – though this is a large increase from the 46 the year before), and it is in an awkward place – not really that close even to the village it serves. Nevertheless, I suppose it would get more use if there were more than 2 trains a week! The history of the station is interesting – see http://www.pilningstation.uk/tell-me-more/the-past for more details. I may write some of my own thoughts in a future post.

So at last the walk! This is a pretty straightforward route, starting off along the road towards Pilning village. I took the footpath through the allotments and cemetery of St. Peter’s Church. At this point I think you can still make out where the old train line from Pilning Low Level to New Passage Pier passed through, taking passengers to the ferry across the Severn.

I didn’t have a lot of time to stop and explore, but still I was as stubborn as ever about actually following the footpath, even when this probably isn’t strictly necessary. The footpath that cuts the corner across the fields as the B4064 curves around to the SW is a case in point – it was not easy to find, was obstructed and covered with brambles and when I did get to it, was across a very muddy field. Having done it once, in the future I will probably just follow the road around. However, the next section alongside the M49 is well worth walking along – the path is good and it feels odd walking right next to the motorway.  The footbridge over the motorway was a revelation too – it wobbled!

And so to Severn Beach. The “seaside” town that time forgot. A very unusual place indeed. Today I did not have time to seek out the disused amusements, or really to take in any of the atmosphere – the weather was rapidly worsening and I was just glad to get to the station and catch the train back to Temple Meads. The header photo for this blog gives an idea of the conditions.

The Severn Beach line is wonderful. It starts with the bleak industrial landscapes of Avonmouth and the Severn Estuary, then runs down the beautiful Avon Gorge and finishes up through the heart of Bristol itself. I am already planning many excursions along the line.

 

This was a terrific morning out – some interesting train journeys and an easy walk. The only thing missing was a pub or two. It was too early in the morning on this occasion, but I will be doing the walk in the opposite direction in the future, and there are two pubs to visit in Pilning – one of which is conveniently near the station. Perfect.

Link to route on OS Maps