Step into autumn with these five picturesque walks along Britain’s long-lost railway lines

Step into autumn with these five picturesque walks along Britain’s long-lost railway lines


Ramble past rolling countryside; stumble through golden ancient woodlands; hike dramatic coastal paths and experience autumn’s breathtaking natural beauty when you take a restorative stroll along some of Britain’s infamous long-forgotten railways.

Each of these five footpaths, trails and cycleways were once booming train-lines, some of which fell victim to Dr Richard Beeching’s 1963 report The Reshaping of British Railways, while others had been lost to the wilderness many years before.

Discover how you can see what’s left of these abandoned railway lines when you embark on one of these five delightful stomps this autumn.

The Rodwell Trail

Gather the troops for a pleasant amble along the 3.5km Rodwell Trail route. This glorious footpath and cycleway was once home to the mixed-gauge Weymouth & Portland Railway, which opened in 1865. The 5-mile line was operated jointly by the Great Western Railway and London and South Western Railway with passenger services running between Weymouth and Portland Victoria Square. The broad-gauge rail was removed in 1874 and a short railway was opened in 1878 to serve the Royal Navy dockyards. After the Second World War there was a decline in passenger traffic and these services ended in 1952. Freight trains continued until complete closure in 1965. Today, you can walk past the remains of Rodwell station’s platforms as well as the fort ruins of Sandsfoot Castle.

The Tarka Trail

Enjoy breathtaking views of wild coastal scenery, rugged sea cliffs and luscious countryside when you trek part of the Tarka Trail’s 180-mile loop. Established in 1987, the disused railway line between Barnstaple and Bideford was converted into a footpath to form a section of this epic route. Prior to this, the North Devon & Cornwall Junction Light Railway was in operation, having opened in 1925. Passenger services along this 20½-mile meandering line were fairly minimal. Trains were usually mixed (i.e. also conveying goods wagons) and the journey time was leisurely. Closure came for passenger trains in 1965. However, the northern section from Torrington to Meeth was kept open for clay traffic until 1982. Today, there are a number of former railway sections that have been incorporated into the Tarka Trail including the Ilfracombe Branch Line (between Braunton and Barnstaple and between Woolacombe and Ilfracombe), the already mentioned Bideford Extension Railway (between Barnstaple and Bideford) and the North Devon Railway (between Bideford and Torrington).

The Spa Trail

Wildlife enthusiasts will delight in this rural ramble through unspoilt woodlands, which follows the old railway route between Horncastle and Woodhall Spa. The Horncastle railway first opened in the mid 1800s and its branch survived mainly on goods traffic – outgoing agricultural produce and incoming coal was its lifeblood – while passenger traffic was relatively light. The branch eventually lost its passenger service in 1954 and it’s freight services survived until 1971. Today, visitors and walkers can make the most of the traffic-free trail, spotting a variety of sculptures in the wild before stopping for a much-deserved refreshment.

The High Peak Trail

Immerse yourself in glorious countryside scenery when you walk the High Peak Trail. This mesmerising 17-mile footpath and cycleway was once entirely used as the Cromford & High Peak Railway – one of the earliest railways in Britain. It was first opened in 1831 with the intention of transporting minerals and goods between Cromford Canal and the Peak Forest Canal. Today, it is completely traffic free and loved especially by cyclists and horse riders, as well as runners and walkers.

Speyside Way

One of Scotland’s greatest trails, the Speyside Way offers visitors 65 miles of breathtaking landscapes through the valley of the Spey, with spectacular views of the moors and the mountains to boot. The former railway along the Spey Valley from Craigellachie was opened as far as Abernethy (Nethy Bridge) by the Strathspey Railway in 1863. Heavily engineered with numerous bridges across the Spey, this 33-mile scenic line became an important lifeline for the numerous whisky distilleries scattered along the valley. The line lost its meagre passenger service in 1965. Distilleries between Boat of Garten and Aberlour continued to be rail-served until 1968. The last section from Aberlour to Craigellachie and Dufftown finally closed in 1971. If you commit to walking the entire route, you’ll find a number of fascinating landmarks and sites including the restored Cromdale Station, which is now a unique holiday let.

Find out more about Britain’s fascinating history of long forgotten railway lines in Julian Holland’s new book End of the Line, which is out now and available to buy online and from all good book shops.

Covering the period from 1948 to 1996, The Times End of the Line chronologically traces the history of more than 400 long forgotten railway lines, region by region, from their opening to closure and a few cases to reopening. This book by Julian Holland is publishing on October 13.