A walk up the Looe Valley

Among the handful of charming branch lines in Devon and Cornwall, one of the most scenic is the 8¾-mile long Looe Valley Line, linking the GWR main line at Liskeard with the delightful fishing port of Looe and running alongside the East Looe River for much of its length.

Having walked down from Liskeard to the seldom-served first stop at Coombe Junction Halt on an October 2020 visit, my challenge on 7 July 2022 was to take a train down to Looe then walk back the 6¾ miles north from there to Coombe Junction, attempting to capture views of trains and scenery along the way.

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Tyne Valley’s finest semaphores

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.

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Return to Rainford Junction

Five years after my only previous visit (June 2017) it is time to take a return trip to charmingly quiet Rainford Junction, mid-way along the Northern Trains route heading south-west from Wigan Wallgate to its end-on connection with Merseyrail at Kirkby.

This one-time junction for routes north and south towards Ormskirk and St. Helens is a pleasant spot, where a well-fortified Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway signal box dating from 1874 has four semaphores and will give drivers coming off the double track route from Wigan a token for the single line leading to the buffer stops at Kirkby.

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Semaphores and freight action on the Mid-Cheshire Line

Discovering a route where there is almost as much freight action as passenger traffic, as well as one with some mechanical signalling interest and one I had not previously travelled, has at last taken me on 8 June 2022 to the fascinating Mid-Cheshire Line.

Standing roughly mid-way along the 38¾-mile Stockport to Chester route is Plumley West Signal Box, where two semaphore signals are the only ones on this line and, along with Beeston Castle, Ellesmere Port and Helsby, one of just four Cheshire locations to retain any mechanical signalling. 

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Two re-opened Scottish signal boxes

RE-OPENING of signal boxes is something of a rarity in a world where closures are far more commonplace, so another mini-break in the Scottish capital meant a chance for a couple of rail and bus trips to see and photograph two boxes north of the border that are now back in daily use.

Most recent of the re-openings is Greenloaning, a remote village just off the A9 north of Dunblane, which had been routinely switched out for years until daily re-opening last month, while re-opened to coincide with the launch of Montrose-Inverurie local services is another remote box at Craigo, mid-way between Montrose and Laurencekirk.

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England’s last combined home and distant semaphores 

Returning to Parbold last month (feature 17 May and photo above) was a reminder that this is one of only a handful of locations in England where working examples remain of combined home (or stop) and distant semaphore signals – there are none in Scotland or Wales.

What was once a commonplace feature on main line railways has been dramatically reduced by two recent re-signalling projects to the point where I believe that there are now just a dozen remaining examples of working stop and distant signals on the same post.

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Favourite photo-spots: Abergavenny

Spending a few days in Abergavenny while on a walking trip in the Brecon Beacons with family and friends meant another chance to capture locomotive action and lower quadrant semaphores at this southernmost outpost of mechanical signalling on the Marches Line.

After being rather unlucky with the weather on my previous (October 2021) visit, I was particularly keen to check out the scope for photos from what is called Caederwen footbridge, north of the station, as well as a road bridge some distance beyond.

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Seaside specials return to Newquay

THREE YEARS after they last ran, it is good to see more evidence of passengers being attracted back onto the rail network following the COVID-19 hiatus, with the return this week (15 May 2022) of seasonal through services from London Paddington to Newquay.

While the Cornish resort has lost its summer Cross-Country (XC) services from the north, until 9 September there is a 09.04 Paddington-Newquay on weekdays, with direct services from Newquay to the capital departing at 11.18 and 14.55, the former even offering a restaurant service from Plymouth. 

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Semaphores and bi-modes in West Lancashire

Paying an overdue return to charming Parbold, mid-way along the West Lancashire Line between Wigan and Southport, it was interesting see a significant change in rolling stock since my previous visit five years ago.

As services along the route run extensively under the wires on journeys between Southport and Stalybridge or Alderley Edge via Manchester, many are now formed of the bi-mode Class 769 units that have been created by adding a diesel engine to former Class 319 units.

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Surviving semaphores at a Shropshire junction

Last week’s trip to Bromfield prompts me to take advantage of some bargain-priced “Great British Rail Sale” tickets and pay a return visit to the hideous-looking signal box at Craven Arms, just six miles to the north, where significant signalling changes have taken place since my previous visit in September 2016.

Craven Arms Crossing Signal Box was re-built in 2000, when a steel structure was constructed around a life-expired GWR box dating from 1947, with the latter being subsequently removed, while the signalling equipment including a 30-lever frame remained to control a fine array of lower quadrant semaphore signals.

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