Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Halifax to Thornton 01/04/13

27th March marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Beeching Report on the Reshaping of British Railways, and I have already posted my somewhat intemperate thoughts on that matter, but that mix of small-minded accountancy, flawed statistics and socially regressive thought is worthy of a railway walk to demonstrate that we might have gained something from the losses this country suffered. Trouble is, the route that I intend to explore was actually closed down in the years prior to 1963, which demonstrates that the demonisation of Dr Beeching is somewhat misplaced as all he did was accelerate a process of decline and closure which had been in progress since the early 1950s, but when all is said, he still remains a worthy figure of hate in my eyes. So onward to tread the old Great Northern Railway's route from Halifax to Keighley, opened between 1874 and 1884, by what railwaymen used to call 'the Alpine Route', which is one of the most heavily engineered railways in the whole country, and you'll forgive me if I go full-on trainspotter as I seek out every single railway remnant I can find along the way.

The Beeching Report 50th Anniversary Walk: Halifax to Keighley Thornton  9.3 miles

Halifax Viaduct stub & Coal Drops
What had promised to be a good Easter Monday glummed up somewhat as I rode out to Halifax, and I cursed the fact that I had used most of my break for the important business of housekeeping, but at 9.25am I'm ready to start out from yet another of West Yorkshire's railway stations in search of railway antiquities. The first thing to note is the fact that Halifax station was, like Leeds, originally two railway stations next to each other, the Lancashire & Yorkshire's platforms are still extent, with the GNR's to the west of the grand central building, now cleared away but their location is pretty obvious in the car park and grounds of Eureka! when viewed from above, and even more so from below, why else would the station need such an elevated entrance? The station car park occupies the site of the goods yard, and clues to its use are provided by the small office on Church Street and the coal drops at its eastern edge. All that remains of the 35 arch Halifax Viaduct at the start of the line is a short stub, so roads need to be traced along Cripplegate around the back of Halifax Minster to head on the find the remnants of the retaining wall of the GNR's goods shed at the bottom of Wade Street, just behind Sainsbury's. From there, it's back to the main road towards Northgate, and thence down under North Bridge, over Hebble Beck, to meet the site of North Bridge Station and goods yards, and it's all car park now and home to a car boot sale today, but the retaining walls provide indication of railway usage, which endured to this point for goods traffic until 1974, and if you enjoy flyovers, the ones carrying the A58 overhead are good ones.

Old Lane Tunnel, south portal
Beyond the car park a low level trespass is necessary to enter the cutting that leads down to the portal of  Old Lane tunnel, a much longer trek than I anticipated though I'm not the first to come this way judging by the tracks in the snow. The portal may be bricked up, but beyond is a tunnel 368 metres long and largely built by the cut-and-cover method, squeezed under the smallest of spaces alongside Old Lane and the the mills at Dean Clough, and then steps need to be retraced to join Old Lane, to admire the steep ginnel leading to the footbridge which once led up to North Bridge station. Factor this in with the cobbles on the lane and the extensive mill complex adjacent and you feel like you could have slipped back into the 19th century for a moment. I love old industrial buildings, and the complex at dean Clough is pretty spectacular, even in glum light, and I'm pretty sure that their best face isn't the one facing Old Lane and will have to give this location a revisit. Press on out of town along Old Lane, and fail to get sight of the north portal of the tunnel, and only spot what might have been an abutment of Woodside Viaduct through the trees. Leafiness takes over along Old Lane, and sight of  Lee Bank tunnel can't be had as it hides somewhere under the A629, but we do get Old Lane Mills, seven storeys massive and built in the days when industrial buildings were meant to last, and now completely derelict but surely fit for future re-use as the clough creates its own car park. Get sight of trackbed on the opposite side as progress is made north, and at Broad Tree Road, you can find the plate girder bridge crossing above it and an excellent view is gained north as the line passes Ladyship Mills.

Ovenden Station
As Old Lane comes towards its end, a country view is obtained and there is snow heavily corniced on the high hills to the east and I hope that this is not a harbinger of what is to come as I ascend, as there seems to be a lot more remaining of our blast of winter out here than there was around Leeds. At the top of Old Lane, we meet what is probably the most remarkable survival of the whole route, namely Ovenden Station, the station house's survival is no surprise as it is stone built and functions as a house, but the station building itself is wood and still in use as the office of a scrapyard, it's in poor condition but I do hope some one has an eye towards properly preserving it. Ascend over the trackbed to meet Ovenden Road, and thence on to Shay Lane as the railway disappears behind houses, but detour onto Royd Lane and Churn Milk Lane to spot bridge remnants, before all trace of the railway is obliterated by contemporary industrial units, and the only visible remnant is on the opposite side of the road, this being the remaining abutment of the bridge that took the line from Holmfield to Halifax St Paul's (yep, Halifax once had a suburban railway. There is virtually no trace of Holmfield goods yard and station, where traffic endured until 1960, just a short stretch of retaining wall at the end Spindle Street and a forlorn sign indicating Station Road amid the industrial gloom. Press on to Holdsworth Road, which crosses the line twice with a plate girder bridge and stone bridge over the infilled cuttings, and ascend past Holmfield Mills and meet the sharp climb of Brow Lane, familiar territory from when I came this way along the Calderdale Way.

Strines Cutting
I carry on up to School Cote Brow which leads above the now lost Strines Cutting, a half a mile long rough cut rock cutting which was dug out to lead to Queensbury Tunnel, and to get a view of what remains, another trespass is needed to cross over the extensive amount of infilling, but it being a Bank Holiday means there's no one around at the neighbouring industrial units to spot me, and again the footprints in the snow indicate that I'm not the first person to come out here recently. Forgotten Relics described the situation here better than I could; 'Take a tunnel with a falling gradient and a lengthy rock cutting at its lower end. Back fill the cutting following closure of the line. Allow the drainage system to fail, then introduce substantial volumes of water through the tunnel's lining and via its shafts. What happens next?' Indeed, Queensbury tunnel has flooded and formed a lagoon at the southern end, and the portal is completely obscured beneath the water, and to put that in perspective the tunnel was drained last summer and has returned to completely inundated in only eight months. I shudder slightly at this scene and return to the road to head up the hill as fencing off bars the way north despite there being several rights of way along this stretch of the hill. My path takes me on a detour around the Parkinson Spencer refractories site, through muddy farmland and rather too much snow to get above airshaft one to view Strines Cutting from above, and it's then almost impossible to get straight up along the route of the tunnel and a path has to be wound across the hill to ascend and the mud and deep snow makes progress very hard, the ground is unbelievably wet and the drifts of snow are knee deep in places. I must have been softened up by all that road walking as the climb of about 120 metres takes 40 minutes and I am frankly bushed when I hit the top and pause to water for quite a while, and at least there's a view to soak up as I recharge.

Queensbury Tunnel, north portal
Press on through Queensbury next, and it looks like winter hit it pretty hard, it feels like the locals were out for a couple of days shovelling the snow off the roads, which has now caked hard in piles along the pavements, and this town of grey stone houses looks glum under a grey sky, clearly this is a town to enjoy on a brighter day than this. Forge ahead along the A647, which would have been one heck of a pub crawl if all the establishments were still open, and the Parish church and Black Dyke Mills of brass band fame provide the landmarks, and it's by the monumental Public Library that Station Road is met and the long descent to the site of the railway station starts. I live in a place with a station which is poorly placed for the town, but this one is ridiculous in comparison, the road soon becomes a rough track (and ice covered today) and snakes down the hillside for half a mile, descending 100 metres, to meet the three sided station where the GNR lines from Halifax, Bradford and Keighley converged to make a three sided station, like Shipley, only in the middle of nowhere. Aside from the station house, there's little visible remnant-wise, though the triangle of earthworks is still obvious, and off to the east behind infilling is Clayton Tunnel, but we will detour off to the south for another trespass over a well-trodden track, to get a look at the north portal of Queensbury Tunnel, closed to all services in 1956, which looks in poor condition but is open as the bricks which had sealed it have been removed, replaced by the most lightweight of fences, but I will not be attempting to enter its 1.4 mile long depths as even from a distance it sounds like it is raining within the tunnel, and you can see the water pouring out of the brick work. The amount of water ingress is certain to cause a catastrophic failure of some kind in the future without extensive remedial work, so you heard it here first: 'Queensbury Tunnel is a man-made disaster waiting to happen'.

Snow drift in Headey Cutting
Return to the station site, and from here we get a proper metalled path to follow north, as the Great Northern Railway trail is being developed to link Queensbury and Cullingworth as part of NCN Route 69 (dude), and it's far from complete but it follows the trackbed north as far as Thornton and gives me a decent path to walk on as the sun finally starts to re-emerge. That's what I expected anyway, but as the path rises away on the in-filled cutting, drifting snow has obscured the road surface all the way to Cockin Lane, and it's 8 inches deep and caked hard, so you have to follow the paths made by previous walkers and where it's clearer there's and inch thick crust of ice which is an even less forgiving walking surface, pacing along this is unbelievably hard work and thoughts of bailing from the trail start to descend on me. The next stretch, to Headey Lane is easier going, following the track to High Birks Farm which has been cleared (noting an iron footbridge passing over along the way) until the path crosses the mammoth embankment over High Birks beck where the snow has set hard in ridges, like cresting waves over its top. Then it's down through the cutting below Upper Headey farm, with its well-placed feature bridge, where there is more snow and ice horror on the path and a drift has corniced hard on the east side, where kids have obviously been climbing.

Thornton Viaduct
Again I stop and my ankles start to feel sore from walking on all these rotten surfaces, but at least we have an engineering marvel upcoming to lighten the mood, namely Thornton Viaduct crossing Pinch Beck over 20 arches on slender piers and describing a slight S-shape as it blends perfectly into the landscape, and a detour down onto the edge of Headey Golf Course is necessary for a picture or two, but the better view of it is to be had from the north side, indeed all the views around are spectacular as the snow grips the high lands west of Bradford. Stop for lunch and a needed recharge, where the path takes a route around Thornton Primary School, and I start to psyche myself up for the remainder of the walk, setting off along the quarter mile of path to where the current section of the Great Northern Railway Trail ends, and it's off through the trees below the houses along Thornton Road we go until a fence bars the path and no obvious escape route presents itself. Maps suggest there is a way up to the new development at Woodsley Fold, but if there is a way across the beck to the other side, it is completely hidden by snow and there's no visible option that I can see. Retrace my steps, certain that I missed a path, but none is forthcoming and the snow and ice has to be renegotiated all the way back behind the school to the top of the viaduct and the main road is joined as I feel my spirits sinking badly, as all these digressions and back-tracking must have added 2 miles onto my walking day. Meet the notice board indicating the entrance point to Thornton station, where all services ceased in 1963, and checking my watch I see that it's 1.45 pm and I can't face another 8 miles on my feet as I've sweat all the way through my fleece and I'm going to slay my ankles if I do much more ice walking, and I have got to go back to work tomorrow, after all. So this is the place to bail from this trail, and am delighted to find that the Bank Holiday 607 bus is less than 15 minutes away, and hit the ride into Bradford deciding that this walk is going to have to have a part two, and also wondering 'Is Winter ever going to end?'.

Next on the Slate: The Beeching Report 50th Anniversary Walk, Part 2, obviously...

1,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 552.3 miles
(2013 total: 87 miles)

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