Station to Station: Freshford to Avoncliff

That rarest of rare things – an afternoon without the kids. A beautiful crisp sunny February afternoon at that. So what could be better than a short stroll along the canal? A short stroll along the canal that also takes in two stations – that’s what!

This was intended to be a longer walk, but we started a bit later than planned. Oh yes, we. On this occasion I was walking with my wife – something we don’t get the opportunity to do on our own very often. Walking with the kids is fun too, but this was a proper treat.

We parked up at Avoncliff Station – kinda. We tucked in on a verge alongside the narrow road some distance from the station in fact. Avoncliff is a tiny station, that well deserves its original title of Avoncliff Halt. Judging from how full the car park is it is a popular place for starting a walk . We caught the train to Freshford, a 3 minute journey.

Freshford is an altogether different affair, the long sweeping platforms seem vast after the diminutive Avoncliff. But it is still pretty. There is a garden that for years was maintained by the Vaisey sisters, daughters of the village doctor. When it was restored by local villagers in 2007, Network Rail reportedly swept in and chopped it all down! It was looking pleasant when we were there, so I suppose it has now been re-restored. You can read about the incident here: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/columnists/miles-kington/miles-kington-the-railway-station-garden-that-set-a-rival-village-apart-464377.html

We then walked through the fields, crossing under the railway line at Limpley Stoke. This was the decision point. The original plan was to walk up the hill and through the woods to Monkton Combe before heading down to Dundas Aqueduct. But time was already ticking on, so instead we crossed the Avon via the road bridge and joined the Kennet & Avon Canal.

The walk back along the canal was perfectly peaceful – apart from the occasional interruption from the trains. It was, as all walks along canals are, easy going. Other than that, there isn’t actually much to say about it. We walked past a sign describing the history of Murhill Wharf and Tramway, where stone was transported from the nearby quarry. There are apparently some GWR remnants to be seen, but we missed them this time.

Before long we were back at Avoncliff, walking over the impressive aqueduct. If you look carefully, you can see that the central section has a pronounced sag. This happened shortly after the aqueduct was completed in 1801, and it has had to be repaired many times since.

All walks that end at a pub are worth doing, and this one was no exception. It says something about the peculiarity of the weather at the moment, that we sat outside with our drinks. In February. In our coats, of course, but even so. A perfect end to a pleasant walk.

Station to Station: Thornford to Yetminster

A quick jaunt after work on a pleasant winters day, taking in two small Dorset request stop stations, a pub and (a new obsession) a place called Beer.

I started by catching the train at Castle Cary to Thornford. I knew I had to ask the guard to let me off at Thornford, but I struggled to get any of the train staffs attention. It turned out this was because they were discussing a man who had left the train at Castle Cary – after urinating out of the train doors. Alcohol can be a bad thing!

I was not the only request stopper at Thornford, which was not a complete surprise. According to the usage figures there are roughly 10 entries and/or exits a day (3,448 a year). It would be a very nice place to live and commute from, and I suspect that was the reason for my fellow traveller’s departure.

The station is about a mile from the village itself, but there is a dedicated footpath and it is a very simple walk. I only saw a small section of the village, so any judgement I make about it would be unfair. I’ll still do it though. There were lots of Range Rovers and even a Maserati. I doubt there is much affordable housing. But it was very pretty, and the pub (The Kings Arms) was very good. I had a tasty pint of Dorset Rogue by Piddle Brewery.

My next port of call was Beer Hackett. The route there was via two connected lanes – Horsepool Lane and Claypits Lane. I love walking along tree lined lanes like this. It is easy to imagine people tramping along them for generations, essentially unchanged now from then. Even though many modern roads follow traditional routes, they have lost that feeling. On this particular day, however, it was very soggy underfoot and the benefits of modern metalled roads were obvious.

The lanes eventually lead me back to the road, just outside the village of Beer Hackett. Me being me, I immediately started wondering how many places there are called “Beer” and can I visit them all? I don’t know the answers to these questions – but expect occasional pictures of signs as I add to my collection!

I didn’t hang around long in Beer Hackett, but I did visit the churchyard. The sun had come out, and the church looked splendid. I had to hurry on to catch the train, so I didn’t explore inside. Something for another day.

The footpath from Beer Hackett to Yetminster crosses the railway line. I am always childishly excited at these crossings. On this occasion, I could be fairly certain there would not be any trains – the next one due would be the one I was on. Nevertheless, I sense a certain very low level danger when actually stepping over the rails, which is crazy!

I arrived at Yetminster with no time left to explore the intriguing looking antiques shop and cafe near the station, let alone time to venture into the village or find the pub. I am planning a walk from Chetnole to Yetminster, so hopefully I may have more opportunity next time. I did get to hear the distinctive chime of the church clock. Every three hours, it plays the national anthem!

Yetminster station itself is small and lacking in facilities, but was clearly larger in the past. I don’t know when the second platform closed, nor the enormous derelict Railway Inn right beside the platform. I rather like the concrete stairways down to the platform from the road. Yetminster is another request stop, twice as well used as Thornford. Yet again, I was not alone in signalling clearly to the driver.

All in all, a very pleasant walk, although I wish I had not dawdled so much at the beginning to give me more time in Yetminster.

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 country’s 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. 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.

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].

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