My continuing quest to find and photograph working semaphore distant signals takes me back to the delightful Poacher Line from Grantham to Skegness, and to one of the six stations along the 58-mile route that only enjoys a “Parliamentary” service.
Hubbert’s Bridge is a fascinating spot, just 3¾ miles west of Boston, where a futuristic looking signal box dating from 1961 makes a stark contrast to the traditional crossing gates which it controls, along with six semaphores that include working distant signals in both directions.
The sparse service enjoyed by Hubbert’s Bridge – two down and three up trains daily – makes a day trip by train from the south impossible, so having once again secured some remarkably cheap advance purchase tickets (London-Boston for £23.25 return with railcard and splitting at Grantham) I spent a night in Boston, and so had a chance to visit Hubbert’s Bridge on two consecutive days (2/3 February 2022).
After last year’s enjoyable day trips to Ancaster and Heckington, I was a good deal more hopeful of seeing both Hubbert’s Bridge distant signals in action, since virtually every service passes through the remote station non-stop.
Not only that, but having surveyed the immediate area using Google street view, it was clear that both distant signals could easily be seen from the side of the A1121 road, which runs parallel to the railway line from the western side of Boston all the way beyond Hubbert’s Bridge to another “Parliamentary” station, Swineshead.
Arriving at Boston station around midday on Tuesday, 2 February 2022 would have meant a long wait for the next train to Hubbert’s Bridge (at 15.47) so I ordered a taxi and probably became the lady driver’s first ever fare who asked to be dropped at the yellow and black signal just before Hubbert’s Bridge station!
All six of the semaphores can be seen from the deserted station platforms, but for a view of trains passing the distant signals it is well worth taking the slightly hazardous (no pavement) 15 minute walk in either direction along the A1121 for a close-up of trains passing them.
For a rather safer view of some of the semaphores it is worth taking a walk along a path that runs on the south side of a sizeable waterway that parallels the railway (as seen above) and is known as the South Forty-Foot Drain. This was dug from 1635-38 on the orders of a local landowner called the Earl of Lindsey as a way of draining the Fens.
Hubbert’s Bridge marks the eastern end of an 8¼-mile stretch of double track that extends from Heckington and its striking British Rail (Eastern Region) signal box is a rather different structure compared to the historic Great Northern Railway boxes I photographed last year at Ancaster and Heckington.
Standing on the station’s down platform, at the opposite end to the signal box and crossing, section signal HB11 is at the end of the platform, just before the start of the single line section to Boston, with up home HB24 nearby and up distant signal HB25 just visible some way beyond.
Looking west along the double track towards Swineshead you will see up section signal HB23 and down home (HB6) standing some 400 yards down the line, with the motor-worked down distant (HB5) just visible beyond
My one photographic disappointment on 2 February was when DB 60039 “Dove Holes” approached HB5 with its trainload of empty steel carrying wagons from Toton and the signal remained at caution, as seen above. This was because its slight delay meant it was then held for several minutes at HB6 until 2S18 had cleared the single line from Boston.
Anyone turning up at this remote spot and hoping to catch a train is likely to face a long wait. After early morning up and down stops (07.50 to Nottingham and 08.12 to Skegness) there is then a gap of almost eight hours until the next up train at 15.53 and down service at 16.14, with one final up call at 19.01.
That dismal service means weekly passenger numbers barely reach double figures and would seem to make a strong case for putting request stops into Poacher Line services at places like Hubbert’s Bridge and the handful of other stops, including Swineshead, that receive an equally sparse service.
I was the only passenger to board the 16.14 to Skegness on 2 February, with no-one alighting, and was also the only passenger waiting on the station’s newly-rebuilt platform 2 the following day (3 February) to board the 15.53 to Nottingham, again with no-one alighting.
For anyone tempted to visit this fascinating area, I can highly recommend the Stanley Hotel in the centre of Boston (25 High Street – £44.00 B&B) and to pass the time between trains at Hubbert’s Bridge I can recommend the Wheatsheaf pub for its friendly service, good food and fine local ale (Bateman’s XB).
I can also recommend the pleasant four mile walk from the centre of Boston to Hubbert’s Bridge, which takes you south down the High Street then continuing ahead and passing the famous somersault signal, before turning right to follow a path on the north side of the of the South Forty-Foot Drain until you reach Wyberton Level Crossing. Here you cross the road and waterway and continue for two miles along the path on its south side.
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