Sunday, 1 December 2013

Kielder and the Border Counties Railway


Last summer we spent a week in Northumberland in Kielder Forest, staying in a log cabin right by Kielder Water. When we were up there it rain constantly and the area was experiencing flooding and all sorts of associated problems - not exactly summer!

This isn't a comprehensive survey in the slightest, really just photos taken as we went about our holiday! There are plenty of other stations which can be seen easily from roads and thus viewed without trespass; Wall and Humshaugh are two which are very well preserved and are easily seen from the road. Much of the route, in fact, can be see from the road which makes it very easy to follow.

Even today you can understand why the line lost its passenger service in the mid fifties - 13th October 1956 and freight would only last until 1st September 1958. Originally it was hoped to exploit the area's coal deposits but the coal wasn't suitable for industrial use, even though it was ideal for domestic use. The mines on the line never really flourished in the way those on or near the Newcastle - Carlisle line did. The area was very sparsely populated, with small centres of population dotted here and there; Bellingham was the largest place which the live served between its centres, Hexham and Hawick. Although the latter wasn't on the Border Counties Railway itself, the services were extended along part of the Waverly route. Riccarton Junction was where the Borders line meet the Waverley - there was nothing there. Riccarton was a pure railway community, it existed because this was a convenient place for the lines to meet. A thankful wrong turning meant I ended up seeing a couple of key bits of the Riccarton - Hawick section too!

There's an excellent site on the railways of the area if you want to see historical photos of the area Northumbrian Railways, also Railscot has a lovely selection of photos after closure and it's well worth following the route through the excellent Disused Stations beginning at Hexham and following the line northwards, as we will do.

Hexham

Hexham has been quite an affluent centre in the lower part of the Borders - this is still reflected by the businesses you can see as you walk through the town. The railway opened up transport links to the town and it was very much the hub of the local network which once radiated from the station on the Newcastle - Carlisle. Not only did the Border Counties line start here but also the Allendale branch.


The remaining signalbox is very well known and typical of the gantry style boxes which were once common in the north east, the Northern Division of the North Eastern Railway seemed quite keen on the type. At the other end of the station was once another box of a more conventional style; very similar boxes can still be seen locally. Although there's still a substantial amount of infrastructure in the station area (and a decent model railway shop!), it is but a shadow of its former self.


At the site of Border Counties Junction, where it left the mainline, as well as the remains of the viaduct, there remains also the base of the signal box. Hard to believe that it once provided jobs for three or four railwaymen.


The original image can be found here on Geograph.

Reedsmouth Junction

I've always felt the name 'Reedsmouth Junction' is quite a well known one in railway circles - though many people have heard about, not everyone can tell you where it is or which lines it served! The facilities also seemed quite out of proportion with the the level of traffic the line had, especially in its later years. However early in its life it represent a typical country junction. The loco shed was a sign of the one time importance of the location. The signal box and station building/water tank survive now, the latter with a roof rather than its tank, as private houses while the loco shed survives in agricultural use.

From the road little is immediately obvious, however the bridge over the Scotsgap line still bears sign of the railway - the Engineers Line Reference is clearly displayed. This is very similar to the example here at Market Weighton.


Looking over the bridge, there's something very peaceful and tranquil about abandoned railways.


The station covered quite a large site and somewhat dominated the immediate vicinity - the signs of ash ballast can still be seen around the junction area itself.


There are some excellent photos of the operations at Reedsmouth here.

Bellingham

The station in the market town of Bellingham lasted longer than the other intermediate stations on the line - a freight service continued to serve the station until November 1963, running via Morpeth, Scotsgap and Reedsmouth. Even passenger trains would occasionally visit, via the same route, to serve Bellingham Show. DMUs saw use on the line for excursion traffic but now it's an EMU which waits in Bellingham's platform! Perhaps further north than you'd expect to see one!


Its presence is in connection with the Bellingham Heritage Centre occupies an area over the trackbed at the south end of the station while the station building itself is in use as county council offices. The EMU houses railway exhibits, including numerous 0 gauge models with a local connection, and a cafe - inside the centre are further railway displays, as well as other local industries and history. It's very good, and is an excellent example of how a small museum can be.


Tarset Halt

Or at least just north of Tarset Halt.

From childhood holidays in Northumberland, when we visited Kielder I always remembered an old p-way hut which stood by an embankment, and despite the missing bits is still standing. As time passed I discovered that this was within sight of Tarset Halt and the odd mound behind was once the earthworks for Tarset Castle. There's a surprising number of quite intact p-way huts along the route - possibly an indication of how few people are around and no seems to have got round to vandalising them in the last fifty years! And that's the odd thing - it's fifty-five years since trains passed by and these huts still remain, some hardly any different from how they were when in use, just a little weather beaten.


The whole scene is very 'modellable' - just further north a low, three arch viaduct crosses the Tarset Burn as the line passes behind Tarset Hall.



Kielder Forest

The line begins to change in character Tarset, the lush valley bottom opens up and soon you're out in open moorland. Falstone, for example, appears quite bleak in old photographs, only tree growth since softens its appearance. I didn't get to Flastone and Plashetts station is now somewhere beneath the water! However the line resurfaces as it climbs towards Kielder. Near the site of Lewiefield Halt you can glimpse the embankment from the main road.


To the casual observer, the station building may just appear to be a normal stone built cottage - it's much like many of the structures on the line, nothing elaborate and quite at ease within its surroundings. As with many country stations, Kielder's building incorporated living accomadation too.


I imagine it was quite a pleasent existance - not too taxing with a gentle pace of life. Ultimately this would be the reason why lines like this would prove unsustainable.

From a Forestry Commission postcard.

To the north of the station another p-way hut still stands, this one in remarkably good condition.


I suspect this one has had some other use at one point but even so it remains very much intact and part of the scene.


If anyone wants to model the line, access to structures would be very easy indeed!


Deadwater Halt

Deadwater is the last station before the railway crosses the border.


Of course there's another platerlayers' hut just near Deadwater! In fact there's another one right by the station!


The station itself is some distance from the road but can be easily spotted and is little altered since it closed. Indeed, the station building is little changed since it was built. It's quite a delightful spot really. The earthworks, as elsewhere, are still very much intact. This bridge is a good example of the condition of many structures - very much complete and virtually untouched since the demolition trains, even the handrails survive.


Over the Border


And the first time we headed north over the border, the heavens opened!

Whitrope


Following a wrong turn as we headed for Hawick we came upon the Whiterope, which was once the home of Whitrop Siding and Whitrope Siding Signal Box on the Waverley Route. This was once a mainline from Carlisle to Edinbrugh - it is still possible to travel by train between these two cities but no via the route via Hawick. This was one of the major closures which resulted from Beeching's Reshaping of British Railways report. It did duplicate as a through route, but other routes which duplicate others have survived as useful extra capcity. Perhaps the Settle and Carlisle line is a good example of this. The reasoning and sense of this closure has been debated over many years and I won't go into it here.

The Waverley Route Heritage Association is an organisation which exists to promote the route and ulitmately, I think, with the hope of seeing the route restored. There was a proposal, not to long ago, to reinstate the line to Riccarton Junction from Carlisle and the back south towards Kielder. This was intended to allow logs to be transported out of the Kielder Forest area and avoid the many lorry journeys which would otherwise be required. Sadly nothing came of this scheme and lorries carrying logs are a very regular sight if you visit the area.


Until such time that the line sees through trains, the WRHA's main activities centre around the Whitrope site where they have established the Whiterope Heritage Centre. It hadn't officially opened when we were near, and there was very little happening but it showed a lot of potential! Hopefully we'll return to see at some point in the not too distant future.


Shankend


The Waverley was known for being quite a bleak and even desolate line in places and Shankend is a station which really shows this very well. The station building survives and, unusually, so does the signal box! The signal box is now a holiday cottage style and it's not too long since it was on the market. It's a typical structure of the style in which other boxes were built and, although it has been modified over the years since closure, it still retains a familiar appearance.


The railwaymen and their families would have to have been hardy souls in this area - trees have softened the appearance of the hills over the years but still the bleak nature of the area is very clear. Shankend Viaduct is a wonderful structure which is still complete and imposing.


And this is where we left the line. Well not quite as we were near sites which were once railway property in Hawick but now you'd never really know. And Hawick is probably one of Britain's larger towns to not be served by the railway, and I think it shows. It is a pleasent town (and only ever having seen it in the rain maybe doesn't help!) but it shows a lack of prosperity which may well be a reflection of its lack of good transport links. Even the A roads in the area are not modern, fast roads but winding routes very much following the contours. Had the service remained it may well have prospered as a commuter town for Edinburgh, who knows? The development since the railway disappeared would cause problems for the Waverley's reinstatement but even getting to a stage where this is an issue to be sorted is a long way off. Maybe the retention of the route will forever be a missed opportunity?

Certainly for the enthusiast the area has much history to offer and of course the area offers some stunning scenery and is rightly popular with visitors. Kielder is a well served for visitor facilities and offers a unique environment in many ways. It would be nice if the railway could return one day and help remove the hundreds of lorry journeys but for now, and maybe forever, the remains of the Border Counties Railway provide a wonderful link with the past, virtually untouched since the day the track was removed.

Want to know more?

Disused Stations

Excellent site which details all the stations on the line - the link takes you to the beginning at Hexham and you can follow the line northwards towards Hawick.

Hexham to Hawick

Excellent book by Roger R Darsley and Dennis A Lovett published by Middleton Press.

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