Bridg­ing our com­mu­ni­ties

Macclesfield Express - - YOUR PICTURES - SARAH ROE

WHEN the Vic­to­ri­ans opened Martholme Viaduct to take the East Lan­cashire Line over the river Calder in 1877, the small town of Great Har­wood and the vil­lage of Read be­gan a shared his­tory that con­tin­ued long af­ter the rail­way was dis­man­tled in 1965.

This mag­nif­i­cent tes­ta­ment to 19th-cen­tury en­gi­neer­ing has 10 arches, with a gen­tle curve, tow­er­ing 20 me­tres over the val­ley.

Walk­ers from Great Har­wood used the viaduct to cross the river, visit friends and go to pubs in Read, Si­mon­stone and Padi­ham.

The trains had gone but the old rail­way line be­came a pleas­ant un­of­fi­cial path­way for lo­cal peo­ple and the viaduct acted as an im­por­tant link for com­mu­ni­ties on both sides of the river.

But in 2001 Martholme Viaduct closed be­cause of the foot-and-mouth out­break, and never re­opened. Weeds sprung up be­hind iron rail­ings and the great viaduct lost its pur­pose, act­ing only as a vast and beau­ti­ful mon­u­ment to a golden age of in­dus­try and rail­way build­ing.

Now Sus­trans vol­un­teers and com­mu­nity groups in the area are cam­paign­ing to re­open the viaduct and re­in­state the right of ac­cess to walk, cy­cle or ride horses over it. Their vi­sion is a new healthy trans­port cor­ri­dor for Lan­cashire, where peo­ple can travel on foot or by bi­cy­cle all the way from Burn­ley to Great Har­wood and Black­burn with­out go­ing on the roads.

The nearby Padi­ham Green­way, a for­mer rail­way line which con­nects Burn­ley, Padi­ham and sur­round­ing vil­lages, has al­ready been de­vel­oped by Sus­trans (with the com­mu­nity and Padi­ham town coun­cil) to pro­vide a safe walk­ing and cy­cling route di­rectly into town cen­tres.

It’s well used for both leisure and com­mut­ing, but the viaduct could pro­vide a vi­tal miss­ing link to the other side of the river.

Last Satur­day the Friends of Martholme Green­way held an open day to al­low peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence the panoramic views over the val­ley once again. They of­fered rides on a minia­ture rail­way along the viaduct and for a day the com­mu­ni­ties of Read and Great Har­wood re­newed their his­toric con­nec­tion.

Across Bri­tain dis­used viaducts di­vide com­mu­ni­ties once linked by the great trade and leisure routes, and Sus­trans and lo­cal peo­ple are work­ing to re­vive th­ese lost path­ways as mod­ern-day trans­port cor­ri­dors in the sky. Last month, the Lin­colnshire and Not­ting­hamshire vil­lages on ei­ther side of the river Trent re­united to cel­e­brate the re­open­ing of Tork­sey viaduct as a cy­cle and walk­ing route. For 50 years, the only walk­ing route over the river in­volved a 10-mile de­tour. In Rossendale, Lan­cashire, Sus­trans has com­pleted a £200,000 project to re­store Lumb Viaduct, and the lo­cal coun­cil plans to build a con­nect­ing cy­cle and walk­ing route.

Old rail­ways make fan­tas­tic mod­ern-day cy­cle and walk­ing routes as they are di­rect and traf­fic-free. If Padi­ham Green­way linked across Martholme Viaduct, for ex­am­ple, peo­ple in Great Har­wood could cy­cle a pleas­ant three miles across the Calder to Shut­tle­worth Mead Busi­ness Park, avoid­ing the traf­fic jams on Black­burn Road.

Viaducts are aes­thet­i­cally beau­ti­ful but costly to main­tain and in the cur­rent cli­mate of bud­get cuts, we could even­tu­ally lose them. The age of steam is over but we can still make use of our an­ces­tors’ ex­pert rail­way build­ing skills for a new era of pedal power.

Sus­trans is the char­ity which cre­ated the Na­tional Cy­cle Net­work, 14,000 miles of cy­cle and walk­ing routes, in­clud­ing the Padi­ham Green­way. Sus­trans helps more peo­ple to travel by foot, bike or pub­lic trans­port for more of the jour­neys we make ev­ery day.

For more in­for­ma­tion and to support Sus­trans look up www.sus­trans.

●» Martholme Viaduct

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