MAK­ING TRACKS

Whether it’s a wildlife haven, car­riage caff or scenic cy­cle trail, rein­vented rail­way lines have much to of­fer

The Simple Things - - ESCAPE | OUTING -

I SPY

With­out trains steam­ing back and forth, the ar­chi­tec­ture of long-aban­doned rail­ways is all the more ap­par­ent. Bridges, viaducts and tun­nels of­ten linger long af­ter the tracks them­selves have van­ished. In fact, these fea­tures can help serve mod­ern com­mu­ni­ties; an old viaduct between Bolton and Bury in Greater Manch­ester has been turned into an en­closed route that lo­cal res­i­dents call the Sky Walk. Each for­mer line pro­vides an ex­cel­lent van­tage point for read­ing the land­scape and see­ing signs of the in­dus­trial past in the sur­round­ings, such as the for­mer quar­ries, mills and lime kilns that the trains once served ( just take an OS Ex­plorer map to iden­tify what’s what). An even more mind­ful ac­tiv­ity is watch­ing the sea­son turn into that of mists and mel­low fruit­ful­ness, from ver­dant coun­try­side to one of fiery shades.

There may be few trainspot­ting op­por­tu­ni­ties but plenty of chances to spot wildlife, some species of which have made cer­tain cut­tings and em­bank­ments their key habi­tats. Lyd­ford Old Rail­way in Devon is home to sev­eral types of grass­land but­ter­flies, in­clud­ing the pro­tected heath frit­il­lary. Along a 4.5-mile for­mer train route, known as Park­land Walk, North Lon­don has its very own bat cave in the form of tun­nels between Alexan­dra Palace and Fins­bury Park, which are now closed to safe­guard the colony there. Stock­ton Cut­ting in War­wick­shire is a Site of Spe­cial

Sci­en­tific In­ter­est, being rich in or­chids, due to its blue lias lime­stone bedrock (the wood­land be­yond has the full com­ple­ment of wood­peck­ers). To dis­cover na­ture-rich old rail­way lines across the coun­try, search ‘rail­ways’ at wildlifetrusts.org.

ALIGHT HERE

The Vic­to­rian ar­chi­tec­ture of old sta­tions com­bined with the ro­mance of the rail­ways se­duces many an en­tre­pre­neur into restor­ing them as a venue for their busi­ness. Warm your­self by the orig­i­nal fire­places, pick some sec­ond­hand books from the warren of shelves and cab­i­nets, or sim­ply sit and read a pa­per in the wait­ing room at Mary and Stu­art Man­ley’s much-loved shop Barter Books in Northum­ber­land’s for­mer Al­nwick Sta­tion. It is run in the same pub­lic-serv­ing spirit as its pre­de­ces­sor and in­cludes an en­tire room for chil­dren com­plete with toys and a book-lined truck in which to read. Ex rail­way build­ings across the coun­try have been turned into com­mu­nity-minded tea­rooms where the lo­co­mo­tive-themed in­te­ri­ors at­tract a mixed bag of pun­ters, from groups of se­ri­ous cy­clists to chaotic young fam­i­lies, all equally keen to en­joy the gen­er­ous help­ings of nos­tal­gia and home­made cake. Re­quest stop: Plat­form 1 at Carn­forth Sta­tion in Lan­cashire for The Re­fresh­ment Room, a café that repli­cates the set of the 1945 film Brief En­counter in which it played Mil­ford Junc­tion. Let your heart skip a beat over a cuppa in the very spot where Alec (Trevor Howard) helps re­move grit from Laura’s eye (Celia John­son) and sparks their un­re­alised ro­mance in the bit­ter­sweet love story.

The very pretty Old Pet­worth Sta­tion in West Sus­sex was con­structed out of wood in 1892, prin­ci­pally to serve Ed­ward VII en route to Good­wood for the races. On a branch line that has been de­com­mis­sioned for nearly 50 years, it has been turned into

In the cool, il­lu­mi­nated pas­sage­way it’s easy to imag­ine the ghosts of lo­co­mo­tives past

a colo­nial-style B&B by own­ers Gud­mund Olaf­s­son and Cather­ine Stor­mont. Its well crafted in­te­rior – with wood pan­elling, brass beds and orig­i­nal fea­tures such as lug­gage racks – pays homage to the golden age of travel. Guests have the op­tion of stay­ing in the sta­tion build­ing or step­ping aboard one of four gleam­ing Pull­man car­riages. Other train-themed places to stay are on glamp­ing web­sites such as Canopy & Stars (canopy­and­stars.co.uk).

UN­DER YOUR OWN STEAM

Being flat, even and rel­a­tively soft of sur­face, for­mer trackbeds make ideal ter­rain for ex­er­cise. Along part of Som­er­set’s old Straw­berry Line, there is a ten-mile cy­cle­way from Yat­ton to Ched­dar; with plans to ex­tend it from Cleve­don to the Mendip Hills (thes­traw­ber­ry­line.org.uk). Stroll along the five-mile Phoenix Trail, between Princes Ris­bor­ough in Buck­ing­hamshire and Thame in neigh­bour­ing Ox­ford­shire, and not only will you be re­warded with spec­tac­u­lar views of the Chiltern Hills and red kites wheel­ing over­head but 30 rail­way-in­spired art works, in­clud­ing a sculpted wooden bench called Winged Seat (search ‘Phoenix Trail’ at chiltern­saonb.org). Por­tioned up into ap­petis­ing smaller sec­tions is the 41-mile Dee­side Way (deeside­way.org), which starts in Aberdeen and fin­ishes at Bal­later in the Cairn­gorms Na­tional Park, the stop for the Queen’s sum­mer des­ti­na­tion of choice, Bal­moral Cas­tle.

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Re­stored track­side build­ings 1 add charm to a trail. 2 Cin­ders and ashes! It’s the rstored Blue­bell Rail­way. 3 Level cut­tings means many routes are wheel friendly. 4 Dee­side Way (we’re pretty sure she doesn’t need the map)

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Som­er­set’s Straw­berry 1 Line cy­cle trail. 2 Step this way for a Brief En­counter at Carn­forth sta­tion. 3 Bat heaven along Lon­don’s Park­land Walk. 4 The beauty of a disused rail­way? You can walk through the tun­nels 2

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