Heritage paths of railways past
ONE good thing to come out of the drastic cuts to railway lines recommended by Dr Richard Beeching in 1963 was the reclamation of miles of linear tracks and woodland.
Across the country many of these paths have become well-loved community routes for walking and cycling.
They act as a new type of transport corridor for getting to work and school, as like their railway counterparts they were designed to get people from A to B.
In urban areas they also help connect wildlife like badgers or water voles to their feeding grounds and burrows.
The charity Sustrans first started converting old railways into cycle routes back in the 1980s, including paths like South Manchester’s Fallowfield Loop.
This six-mile traffic-free route is now a peaceful tree-lined avenue perfect for a stress-free cycle from Chorlton to Fallowfield, Levenshulme or Gorton.
But at one time express trains would have rattled through this track on their way to Sheffield or Harwich. The nearby Transpennine Trail, which runs 215 miles from Southport to Hornsea, also runs mainly on old railway lines including the Godley to Apethorn section of the former Woodhead Line in East Manchester.
Local people now want to celebrate the heritage of these open-air transport museums. After all, bike riders and trains have long had an affinity – you can travel to most places in Europe by cycling to a station and putting your bike on the train.
On the Chester Greenway walking and cycle route volunteers restored the old signs, signals and benches for the old Blacon railway station. In Cumbria, Sustrans recently won £859,000 to restore features along the old iron ore railway near Workington and Whitehaven – now part of the popular Sea to Sea long distance trail.
Two years ago the Friends of the Fallowfield Loop organised a 50th anniversary celebration of the Blues and Gospel steam train which called in at Wilbraham Road station in Whalley Range for a concert on May 7, 1964. Musicians like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee arrived on a special chartered steam train from Central Station to play to the crowd. For one evening in 2014 the path buzzed again with the excitement of that electric day back in the heights of the civil rights movement.
Volunteers in Manchester also hope to restore an impressive old railway turntable pit on the old Godley to Apethorn railway track. It once held a 65-feet turntable which was capable of swivelling the largest freight locomotives. A good engine driver would be able to balance a 100tonne steam engine on the turntable so that he and their fireman could push the engine round with ease. The local team has cleared out the pit and wants to repair the brick and stonework so it can become a heritage feature on the path. Its size and shape mean it could even be rejuvenated as an outdoor performance space.
Sustrans is a national charity which helps people to walk, cycle or use public transport for short journeys. Sustrans has volunteer opportunities throughout Greater Manchester. If you would like to get involved please contact Abigail.pound@ sustrans.org.uk or look up www.sustrans.org.uk
●» Sustrans volunteers working on the turntable pit along the Godley to Apethorn route