Exactly five years after my only previous visit, it is time to pay an overdue return (on 27-28 June 2022) to the two finest remaining outposts of mechanical signalling along the charming Tyne Valley Line from Newcastle to Carlisle.
Following removal of the long “switched out” box and semaphores at Bardon Mill there are just four remaining locations where semaphores survive along the 61¾-mile route, namely Corby Gates (Wetheral), Haydon Bridge, Hexham and Prudhoe.
Having paid a visit to Corby Gates in November 2020, my destinations this time were delightful Haydon Bridge, mid-way along the route, and Prudhoe, most easterly of the four semaphore-signalled locations and, like Haydon Bridge, home to another fine North Eastern Railway signal box.
My two-day return to the Tyne Valley began at Haydon Bridge, after a delayed journey from King’s Cross, where the NER signal box dating from 1877 has acquired an attractive new name board since my last visit and controls an adjacent level crossing and a total of five semaphores from its 31-lever frame.
This quintet, all of which can be seen from the platform ends, comprise an up home signal (HB8) and section signal HB10, while in the down or westbound direction there are an outer home (HB23), home (HB22) and section signal (HB21).
For alternative views of the semaphores it is worth taking a walk westwards to a modern green footbridge, as seen above, from where there is a view back to the signal box and HB8, while venturing a little further, an over-bridge carrying the B6319 gives you a good view of trains passing HB21.
Heading east from the station along a road parallel to and north of the railway brings you to a point where the road ascends, close to signal HB10, and there is a good view looking back towards the station of trains passing HB23 as they approach the station, as seen above.
Passenger services passing Haydon Bridge, not all of which call at the station, comprise Class 156/158 workings between Carlisle and Newcastle, some of which continue to Morpeth. These mainly run as single units, but occasional trains are formed of four cars.
Besides these Northern services, there were also LNER crew training runs from Heaton depot at Newcastle to Carlisle, with 5-car Azuma 800206 making two round trips on 28 June, presumably in preparation for future ECML diversions between Newcastle and Edinburgh.
Freight traffic seems almost non-existent on the Tyne Valley Line, and although a number seem to be pathed each day, very little seems to actually run. I saw no freight action at all on 27 June, but did see a Carlisle–Tyne Yard (and return) departmental working for Network Rail while at Prudhoe on 28 June.
Haydon Bridge is a rather sleepy place that boasts an old and attractive bridge across the Tyne and must have improved enormously when a by-pass was opened in 2009 to take the A69 around the south side of the town.
For a place to stay I can highly recommend The Reading Rooms, just 200 yards from the station, where my room overlooked the river. It is opposite the Railway Hotel, which I can recommend for its food, but for a better pint I went to the George Havelock pub around the corner, where Rivet Catcher (4.0% and £3.65) from the Great North Eastern Brewing Company went down rather well.
After an early morning chance to photograph 800206 heading on its first training run of the day to Carlisle, I took a 22-minute trip to Prudhoe on 28 June, which I would describe as the finest of all the semaphore-signalled locations along the Tyne Valley and a now unique chance to see eastbound services passing three consecutive semaphores arms.
Prudhoe’s tall NER signal box dates from the early 1870s and stands on the north side of the line, controlling an adjacent level crossing and having a total of seven semaphores on its 45-lever frame, all but one of which can be seen from the station platforms.
Four semaphores in the eastbound (up) direction comprise outer home (PE15) – the only one not visible from the station – home (PE16) starter (PE17) and section (PE18). The westbound trio comprise an outer home (PE42) hidden behind a sighting board, home signal PE41 at the end of the down platform and section signal PE40, whose sighting board has fallen off since my last visit!
This latter signal stands some 400 yards west of the station, adjacent to a foot crossing of the line that gives a vantage point from which to see up outer home signal PE15 to the west and the other three up signals all pulled off as Newcastle-bound trains pass.
There is rather more passing traffic at Prudhoe than at Haydon Bridge as in addition to the roughly hourly Newcastle-Carlisle workings there are also hourly services operating between Hexham and the Durham Coast Line that continue on to a variety of destinations, including Nunthorpe, Battersby and Whitby on the Esk Valley Line.
For an interlude between trains at Prudhoe it is well worth taking a look at the 1883-vintage Ovingham Bridge, an impressive single-lane steel structure spanning the River Tyne immediately north of the rail station. Those in need of refreshment should visit the Adam & Eve pub, just south of the station, where I enjoyed a brew called Forbidden Hops (4% and £4.00) from Laine Brewery Company.