Any village that can boast Grade I Listings for both its parish church and a unique windmill is well worth a visit, particularly when it is also one that contains a Grade II-Listed signal box, wooden level crossing gates and semaphore signals.
As if that was not enough justification for a day trip, the village of Heckington in Lincolnshire is also one of those increasingly rare places on our national rail network to boast two working semaphore distant signals.
My only previous visit had been an hour-long stop in March 2017, while returning from a trip to Skegness and Boston, so my aim on a return visit on 23 June 2021 was to capture more of the railway scene at this charming spot, and its distant signals in particular.
For those unfamiliar with the location, Heckington is 4½ miles east of Sleaford on the delightful East Midlands Railway-operated Poacher Line to Skegness, and a point where the single line from Sleaford becomes double track as far as Hubberts Bridge station, near Boston.
The 1876-vintage Great Northern Railway (GNR) signal box stands at the western end of the up platform, close to a huge Grade I-Listed eight-sail windmill, and earned its listing primarily for being a good example and attractive of a GNR Type 1 design
In the citation for its listing the box is described as having: “elaborate detailing, such as the pointed Gothic arch polychromatic windows which are thought to be unique for the GNR.”
It was also identified for the high degree of its intactness – the only alterations being the removal of the fireplace, and the replacement of the steps – and for its setting close to wooden level crossing gates, the original station building and the nearby Grade I-Listed windmill, as seen above.
Today the 18-lever Saxby & Farmer frame, which dates from 1925, controls a total of five semaphore arms, as seen in the diagram above, closest of which to the box is up starter HN3 on a tall and modern square galvanised steel post that looks rather incongruous in this historic setting.
There is a reminder of the previous HN3 on its concrete post in a fine nocturnal view of the signal box on the rear cover of my invaluable 2010 “Signalling Atlas and Signal Box Directory.”
Looking further west onto the single track beyond the level crossing, down home signal HN14 is partially obscured by vegetation, while further west, and close to an automatic half barrier crossing in Burton Road – a 15-minute walk from the station – stands down distant signal HN15.
Alas, though, and as I have found at places like Millom and Uttoxeter, HN15 is only pulled off for a train that is not stopping at Heckington, such as the Toton-Boston freight working I was able to photograph on the station some time later.
To the east of Heckington station, down starter HN13 is a colour light (photo above), but taking another 15-minute walk to the neighbouring hamlet of Great Hale, turning left into Grove Street and onto a road called Great Hale Drove brings you to Great Hale Drove No. 1 Level Crossing, from where there is a good view of up distant HN1.
Having trekked to this automatic half barrier crossing in the hot sun it was not my lucky day to see trains passing distant signals in the off position when HN1 was only belatedly pulled off just as the train I had come to photograph (formed of 153379/156479) was passing the signal!
On a clear and sunny day it is possible to look east from the end of the down platform at Heckington station and using a zoom lens capture a train passing HN1 and approaching up home HN2, as seen in the shot above showing 170419 with 2S20 from Skegness (15.14) to Nottingham.
Heckington station is a delightfully well-preserved and peaceful spot, with splendidly colourful gardens that are lovingly tended by local station adopters, and a railway and heritage museum in the main station building, sadly closed at present due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Besides the listed buildings Heckington also boasts two attractive looking pubs – The Nag’s Head and The Royal Oak – but for price and convenience you cannot beat the 8 Sail Brewery tap, beneath the windmill and only yards from the station, where its delicious Fenman Bitter (4.1%) and Pilgrim Pale Ale (4.2%) cost just £2.50 a pint.