Regular readers will know I have a fascination for those elusive yellow and black distant signals that are increasingly hard to find on our national network, particularly after the loss of so many with completion of the Wherry Lines re-signalling in February.
Anyone who recalls part one of my Buxton and Hope Valley blogs (May 2020) might remember that it mentioned two working distant signals at charming Furness Vale and another at Middlewood, so on the final day of the recent heat-wave (22 September 2020) it seemed like time to seek them out.
On a long hot summer’s day in 1989 I made one of my most rash investment decisions ever when I followed the example of many other Brits at the time and bought a second home, near Dinan in Brittany. Over the next three decades it gave me a chance to get to know the region and its fascinating, but much-rationaised, railway network.
Having finally and reluctantly decided to sell the house, this seems like a good excuse to look at some of the changes that I have seen on Brittany’s railways over the past three decades, as witnessed on my numerous delightful days by train out over that time.
Delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic mean that a re-signalling project on Teesside due to be completed this month (September 2020) has slipped to early next year, granting a stay of execution to Britain’s oldest working signal box.
Re-signalling a 4½-mile stretch of the Durham Coast Line from north of Stockton-on-Tees to Billingham has been deferred until February 2021, according to information given to me by Network Rail, meaning another few months’ working life for the 1870-vintage box at Norton South.
Along with nearby Norton East, which is normally boarded up and switched out, this is the oldest working signal box on the national network, but only the East box currently enjoys Grade II listed status, ensuring its future preservation.
Among numerous surviving outposts of mechanical signalling in the North-East, one rather pleasant place I had not previously managed to visit is Nunthorpe, 4½ miles south of Middlesbrough on the 35-mile long Esk Valley Line to Whitby.
Here an attractive Grade II Listed signal box controls a level crossing, passing loop and four semaphore signals, as well as overseeing train movements towards Whitby and the junction at Battersby, where services to and from Whitby reverse.