Bridging our communities
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. org.uk
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