While the wait goes on for its newly-installed colour light signalling to be commissioned (see my previous post “A Wherry big delay”), one feature to savour on the Wherry Lines in Norfolk is the remarkable number of working semaphore distant signals.
These distinctive yellow and black arms, with their fishtail ends, have all but disappeared in many other places – there is only one left in Scotland and two in Wales – yet the 46 miles of route from Norwich to Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft features almost a dozen working distant signals.
Pick of the bunch are the three examples at Lingwood, on the Acle route to Great Yarmouth, where there are two level crossings close to each other, and down trains will uniquely pass two consecutive distant signals, with a single distant arm in the up direction.
This curious arrangement is due to the close proximity of the two level crossings either side of Lingwood station and the fact that, ever since home signals were removed in the early 1960s, red lights on the gates themselves have acted as stop signals.
Consulting my trusted Norwich & the Broads OS Map (No. 134) and the rail timetable, my first challenge on alighting at Lingwood was to find a vantage point to photograph the Class 37-hauled “short set” as it passed Lingwood Level Crossing’s up distant signal (L1), with the map indicating a footpath close by.
This foot crossing of the line was easy to reach in about ten minutes, by heading north from the station, turning right at a T Junction and then right onto a path as the road turned left. But L1 was still some way off and the springtime vegetation sadly meant it was only partially visible (photo below).
With the first stage of my mission accomplished, and around 80 minutes until the short set was due to return (departing Norwich at 12.36), I took a 30-minute walk to the next and finest vantage point, by returning to Lingwood station then continuing on to the neighbouring village of Strumpshaw, before turning right into Hemblington Road and heading north towards the railway.
Hemblington Road over-bridge has a view looking west of CR1, with its replacement colour light beyond (pictured above), while looking east towards Lingwood you will see the Lingwood Gate Box down distant (LR3) standing in front of another over-bridge (pictured below). Nowhere else in Britain is it possible to see a train passing consecutive distant signals, as happens here.
Readers of my “Favourite photo-spots: Brundall” post (July 2018) may recall that I had previously spotted CR1 from a foot crossing of the line a little further west of Strumpshaw, where it had also been possible to see the up distant signal controlled by Brundall Signal Box.
Having seen and photographed what Lingwood had to offer, my next challenge was the two distant signals at Cantley on the Lowestoft route. Rather than re-trace my steps to Lingwood, I set off on a 35-minute walk to Brundall, where there was time for a leisurely pint of Woodforde’s Wherry in The Yare, before heading to Cantley to see the short set passing its distant signals.
The current timetable works well for photographing the first afternoon working of the short set to Lowestoft (14.55 ex-Norwich), with a 14.20 arrival at Cantley (Brundall dep. 14.14) leaving plenty of time to head west from the down platform, and along a path that gets to a track leading down to the railway close to the down distant (C22) as seen in the bottom photo.
Having seen the 37s pass at around 15.10 there was ample time to walk back to the station, over the level crossing and to then follow a path between the British Sugar plant and the River Yare, before taking a path leading to the left just beyond the plant to a foot crossing of the railway close to up distant C1, which the short set passed at 16.15 (pictured above).
So on a single day visit, with a fair bit of walking included, it had been possible to see no less than five working distant signals – all being passed by the Class 37- worked short set. For its May Day (6 May 2019) outing this had been reduced to just two coaches and was being powered by DRS-owned 37423 “Spirit of the Lakes” and unnamed 37716.
Across England, working distant signals can still be found on the Grantham-Skegness “Poacher” Line, between Harrogate and York, around Norton-on-Tees and on the freight-only Blyth & Tyne route. There are a couple of examples too on the Cumbrian Coast, and the last working lower quadrant distant can be seen near Sutton Bridge Junction in Shrewsbury.
“Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is being published by Pen & Sword on 30 June.