Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Beeching's Legacy

Thursday's Guardian Country Diary describes a walk along a section of disused railway line between Romaldkirk and Cotherstone in Teesdale, which now forms part of the Tees Valley Railway Path.

When I was a kid I went to school on the train every day. I travelled on electric trains but those were still the dying days of steam and I can still recall the sound and the smell of steam locomotives like these thundering through the station while I waited for my sedate electric train to arrive. Along with my mates I often stood on the footbridge while the fire-breathing, steam-snorting monsters passed underneath.

The mainline steam trains are now a distant memory - and so are many of the rural railways that were axed in the Beeching closures in 1963.

This is what the rail network looked like before Beeching ......

...... and this was what remained when he'd finished his work.

But it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and many of the old railways lines whose tracks have been lifted are now excellent footpaths that pass through some spectacular countryside and have often become unofficial nature reserves. 

Here are some pictures of some fine local examples:

The Tees Valley Railway Path photographed in high summer this year.

A wonderfully festive hawthorn berry crop along the route this winter ...

..... with plenty of holly - Cotherstone village is in the distance.

This is a cutting along the Tees Valley Railway Path near Romaldkirk earlier this year, in February. Drifting snow that filled railway cuttings often brought trains to a standstill when lines like this in the Pennines were still in use.

The footpath along the old railway line that runs through the nature reserve at Smardale Gill in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria ....

.... where the Smardale Gill viaduct carries the line through the limestone grassland.

This is the same line, but this time on the eastern side of Kirkby Stephen, where the line travelled eastwards across the notorious Stainmore Summit - the highest railway in England.

The line east of Coxhoe in County Durham, with magnesian limestone embankments rich in wild flowers and butterflies.

And finally, the railway path through the Derwent Country Park near Gateshead, where you can walk on the track bed of the old Derwent Valley Railway through woodland to the Nine Arches viaduct and watch red kites soaring overhead.


  1. After Beechings destruction, it's good to see how nature has reclaimed the land. It looks beautiful and so peaceful.
    I just hope this government don't decide to start building all over it.

    1. That's always a worry - old track beds would also make convenient access roads for housing or light industry developments. quite a lot of abandoned railway goods yards have become housing developments. All the best for Christmas and the New Year, Keith.

  2. Beeching might have come up with some very short-sighted decisions but, as you say, nature has benefitted immensely with these 'corridors', that often link otherwise remote 'islands' of habitat.

    Sadly, with the density of development in some places, and the high cost acquiring land for infrastructure projects, I fear that the process is about to be reversed. For example, I hear that there is already a move afoot to abandon the proposed route of the controversial HS2 rail project and divert it to huge lengths of existing abandonned track-bed.

    Wishing you all the best for Christmas and 2014 - Richard

    1. I think you're right, Richard - old track beds are easy targets for voracious developers.
      Best wishes for Christmas and New year, Richard .... it's all downhill to spring from here onwards!

  3. And I forgot to say - a most enjoyable, and beautifully illustrated post. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for the kind sentiments. I find myself less eager to climb hills these days and more inclined for look for nice level railwey footpaths!

  4. The walks are very beautiful and peaceful.It is the opposite in India, where with every change of government, new railway lines are added. Sometimes, old forests are cleared for it.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year !

    1. Merry Christmas to you too lotusleaf, and best wishes for 2014.