Working distant signals on the Buxton Line

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.

Taking advantage of the travel perks that come with being a Rail Replacement Coordinator for Firstgroup, I caught an almost-deserted Avanti West Coast Pendolino from Euston (07.33) to Stockport then a Buxton-bound Northern service as far as Furness Vale.

From here I began by looking for up (southbound) distant 22, which I found by taking a delightful 15 minute walk north from the station along the towpath of the Peak Forest Canal, passing Furness Vale Marina on the left before crossing a brick arched bridge (above) that carries a track towards the line and signal.

This signal is very close to the overbridge carrying the track towards the nearby A6 Buxton Road and, with a sighting board behind, the only option for a shot was from over a wall in front of the signal which, when pulled off, was partially obscured by overhanging foliage, as seen below.

150112/124 pass distant signal 22 with the 10.08 Manchester Piccadilly-Buxton

Walking back to Furness Vale along the canal towpath there was a fascinating view looking north across the valley to the Hope Valley Line and to another outpost of mechanical signalling and New Mills South Junction Signal Box, which seems to be having a pretty substantial makeover, to judge by the extensive scaffolding seen below behind the box.    

Next up was the Furness Vale down distant (5), which I found by heading south along the A6 Buxton Road from Furness Vale for about 15 minutes, until it passed under the railway just south of the signal. By walking round the corner onto the B6062 there is a good and unobstructed view of the distant signal on the railway embankment (top photo).

Alas for me when, in perfect light and after a 40 minute wait, the signal was briefly pulled off, but somehow returned to the horizontal just before the northbound train passed, only to be pulled off again as the Manchester-bound train disappeared from view!

150124/112 pass down distant 5 with the 11.59 Buxton-Manchester Piccadilly

Rather than retrace my steps along the busy A6 I returned again to Furness Vale station by heading a short way north on the B6062 until it crossed the Peak Forest Canal, where there was an access to the towpath close to a water treatment works.

The 1887-vintage LNWR box at Furness Vale houses a 22-lever frame

150135/116 approach Furness Vale with the 12.08 Manchester Piccadilly-Buxton

Back at Furness Vale station there was another chance to see and photograph Class 150-worked services passing the four other semaphores controlled by Furness Vale Signal Box – down home (6) and starter (8) together with up home (21) and starter (20).

150116/135 arrive at Furness Vale with the 13.59 Buxton-Manchester Piccadilly

Next it was time to take an 11-minute journey northwards to Middlewood, a remote station that is only served by alternate Buxton Line trains – so every two hours – and is a setting off point for walkers and cyclists wanting to travel the Middlewood Way – a long distance path built on the former railway line from Rose Hill Marple to Macclesfield.

Norbury Crossing’s motor-worked down distant (4) near Middlewood station

The former route crosses immediately above Middlewood station, where there is a board giving a potted history of the Macclesfield, Bollington and Marple Railway (closed to passengers in 1960 and freight a decade later), with the name board pictured above marking the site of the former Middlewood Higher station.  


From the south end of the down platform at Middlewood there is a good view of the motor-worked down distant signal (bottom photo) that is one of just two semaphore signals controlled by the diminutive box at Norbury Hollow Crossing ¾-mile north of the station, and a brisk 10-minute walk by road from Middlewood station.

150130 at Norbury Crossing with the 15.34 Buxton-Manchester Piccadilly

Norbury Crossing is a charming spot where one of the signallers clearly takes a great deal of time to maintain an impressive floral display. Apart from the distant signal, which is lever 4 in its 6-lever frame, the other semaphore is down home (3) that stands just south of the crossing. One other signal controlled by the crossing is a colour light up home signal (2).