Railway ramble to Ribblehead

Spending a few days with my wife and friends in the delightful village of Dent meant the chance to match a love of walking with another passion for railway photography on a challenging 10-mile walk from England’s highest station to equally remote Ribblehead.

While those at Wimbledon and in much of the south endured cold and rain, it was a case of warm sunshine in the Yorkshire Dales that made for near perfect walking conditions on Wednesday, 30 June 2021, and the chance for some  panoramic photography of scenery and passing trains.

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Hello Heckington

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.

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Surviving semaphores on the Robin Hood Line

Finding new locations with semaphore signalling is proving increasingly difficult, so when I saw a picture posted online of a distant signal controlled by Norwood Level Crossing on the Robin Hood Line in Nottinghamshire it seemed like a good opportunity to pay a visit.

Armed with some remarkably cheap advance purchase tickets from King’s Cross via Retford and Worksop, I travelled first to Creswell, the station north of Norwood Crossing, where there are numerous semaphores, all semi-permanently “pulled off” and controlled by the mothballed Elmton & Creswell Junction Signal Box.

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Interlude at Inverkeilor

Among ten remaining outposts of mechanical signalling along the scenic East Coast Main Line in Scotland, one fine spot that I had not previously managed to visit is Inverkeilor, a quiet village just off the A92 trunk road mid-way between Arbroath and Montrose.

While retaining its 1881-vintage North British Railway signal box, Inverkeilor lost its station almost a century ago (22 September 1930) so getting there, as I did on 8 June 2021, requires a ten-minute £2.50 journey from Arbroath on the hourly Stagecoach X7 bus.

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Bonny Blair Atholl

Spending a weekend at Pitlochry meant the chance for a Saturday (5 June 2021) visit to delightful Blair Atholl, one of the remotest stations on the Highland Main Line, and one of the route’s remaining outposts of mechanical signalling.

Blair Atholl’s attractive 1890-vintage McKenzie & Holland signal box stands just south of the station and level crossing and controls the end of a single track section of line from Pitlochry that becomes double track northwards to Dalwhinnie. 

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Enchanting Edale

For the frequency and variety of passing passenger and freight traffic, stunning scenery and a handful of semaphore signals, it is hard to beat Edale as a photographic location on the busy and scenic Hope Valley Line.

Edale station is remarkably isolated from any significant settlement, but its station is a hugely popular alighting point for walkers setting out to tackle Kinder Scout, the 2.088ft peak overlooking the remote station, or join the nearby Pennine Way. 

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An island of semaphores in North Wales

Completion of a project to re-signal 50 miles of the North Wales Main Line in Spring 2018 means that anyone travelling along the coast by rail towards Holyhead will now wait until reaching the Isle of Anglesey before encountering any semaphore signalling.

Once on the island, though, there are four fascinating outposts of mechanical signalling along the final 19 miles of the route, including one of our oldest working signal boxes and one of only two working semaphore distant signals to survive in Wales.

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Semaphores on the Windermere branch

Along with the splendid Furness and Cumbrian Coast Lines, one other Lake District location to retain semaphore signalling is Burneside, the second of three intermediate stations on the ten-mile branch line from Oxenholme to Windermere.

While the single-track branch has no passing loops and operates on a “one engine in steam” basis, Burneside Higher Level Crossing, south-east of Burneside station, is protected by a pair of home signals controlled from a small frame across the road from the crossing keeper’s Portacabin accommodation. 

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Back to Barrow

Travelling by train to Millom on the Cumbrian Coast for the visit to Foxfield featured in my previous post gave me an excuse to spend a couple of hours on Tuesday, 4 May 2021 reacquainting myself with the fine collection of semaphores at Barrow-in-Furness. 

While new rolling stock in the shape of the CAF Class 195 units have appeared on services towards Lancaster and Manchester, the signalling infrastructure at Barrow remains happily unchanged and stuck in a delightful time warp. 

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Fantastic Foxfield

Time seems to stand still in signalling terms along the delightful Cumbrian Coast Line, a route that is our finest remaining outpost of semaphore signalling, but change is taking place at Foxfield, a location featured in my December 2020 post on working distant signals around Millom.

Paying a return visit to seek out a couple of photographic locations that I was unable to get to in December, I learn that the two Foxfield distant signals are being motorised, ending the heroic pulls signallers have had to make from the station’s 1879-vintage wooden signal box.

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