ilfracombetitle - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

The final part of the online guide to the Barnstaple & Ilfracombe Railway. This is the final section of the route again its taken up by the Tarka train and constitutes a public shared pathway through to Ilfracombe itself. Here’s another map to illustrate the route in question from Mortehoe to Ilfracombe. Its difficult to do the line justice however it must be said its route at near 600 feet above sea level gave the line’s passengers unique panoramas right across the Bristol channel unparalleled by any other railways in the area or even those in South Wales. The gradients along this section were extremely challenging too with Ilfracombe station immediately at the bottom of a stiff climb of 1 in 36 towards Mortehoe.

Mortehoe to Ilfracombe is a spectacular route for it offers great views of the sea en route where the land falls away to the north towards Lee, before entering the steeply sided valleys with the Ilfracombe (or Slade) reservoirs to one side of the railway. The whole area to the north west of the railway is indeed designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. There’s a short tunnel and then the railway is on a ledge high above the valley as it approaches the town with spectacular views across the sea.

Mortehoe to Ilfracombe

ilfracombemap3 - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

Map of the old line between Willingcott and Ilfracombe. Its part of the Tarka Trail these days.

There’s not really a lot of coverage of this particular section thus its quite difficult to cover it to any good extent. Some You Tube videos do feature it but sort of miss out on the spectacular scenery! There’s a bonus however – a picture I took of the line in 1980 when it was still clearly a railway alignment complete with ballast!

mortetoilfracombe - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

Aerial showing the route between Mortehoe (top left) and Ilfracombe. As will be seen from this much of the route is within the steeply sided wooded section that is the picturesque Slade valley with its reservoirs. Most of the station site at Ilfracombe is now an industrial estate.

1) Mortehoe and Shaftsborough Lane bridge

Mortehoe station itself was just over 51 miles from Exeter. The milepost denoting the fifty one miles stood right at the southern extremity of the station perimeter.

mortehoestn - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

Not very much recognisable as a former transport stop these days but these much altered buildings are Mortehoe & Woollacombe station. Source: Google Streets

mortehoebridge - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

Just part of the old railway bridge parapets can still be seen at Mortehoe Station Road. The cutting beneath has been filled in and the Tarka Train crosses the road on the level. Source: Google Streets

EkYsMjRXYAIUIVC?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

National Cycle Network sign at Mortehoe Station Road bridge. Source: Twitter

EkYsMjvX0AI8 yV?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

Immediately upon leaving Mortehoe the former line gave quite unparalleled views over the coast and sea – and this from the top of a hill – a rarity in England! Source: Twitter

EXveSMjWoAgWLGo?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

Shaftesborough Lane bridge from the trackbed. Source: Twitter

shaftsborolanbr - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

The same bridge from the roadway with the former line heading towards Slade and Ilfracombe. Source: Google Streets

The next bridge is at Campscott and in fact this is the last bridge over the line. Pictures of it are hard to come by however. The next substantial structure of any kind were the tunnels at Slade – at least these do feature on social media.

hutslade - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

The rail workers hut at Campscott from a You Tube video (have lost the link to that video).

2) Slade reservoirs and tunnels

EnRdRTWW4AENf7x?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

The up service to London passing the upper Slade reservoirs on 27 July 1963 in the care of both WR & SR engines, these are Mogul 6346 and 34079 141 Squadron respectively. Source: Twitter

sladereservoirs - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

Vista of the reservoir and the former railway at the same location as the 1963 aerial. I created this specially from a You Tube video (link lost) by merging two different views.

Just before the twin Slade tunnels the Ilfracombe distant signal is still extant as an evocative reminder of the former railway. When I walked the line in the 1980s the signal was there too with the trackbed still quite clear at this point.

DSC 0659 - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

This is a photograph I took of the old Ilfracombe railway in 1980 whilst walking along the line. Its taken from one of my slides – but havent found a way to pull good quality images off my slides – the scanner I use isnt very good…

2013 Andrew Pettey Tarka Trail Tunnel Copy 1201x800 - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

Looking from the north end of Slade tunnel with the second railway worker’s hut which can be seen on this section. Source: Visit Ilfracombe

DSC 0681 - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

The north end of the tunnels as evidenced from this 1980 picture I took which is on one of my slides. The trackbed was still as it had been left after the lines had been ripped up some five years earlier.

dd85423938db5565b9175b52148808d2 P1012384 1024x768 - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

The twin Slade tunnels, one of which is now blocked off. Source: Tarka Trail

3) Ilfracombe

Ch7R9Q5XEAA5bow?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

Spectacular views as the former railway line approaches Ilfracombe. Source: Twitter

DfEhR rXUAUEYUq?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

How the scenery looked by rail during the 1930s! Source: Twitter

DFBKas3W0AM2gv6?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

National Cycle Network sign near the site of Ilfracombe station. Green is a homage to the Southern Railway! Source: Twitter

46315176 1963229180459963 7935667565076938752 o - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

There is an information board on the railway but its vandalised and very dirty here’s an image of it as when it was new. Source: Combe Rail

DFBKX  XUAAam68?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

The same information board as it is today. Dirty and unkempt after years out in the open. Source: Twitter

Ilfracombe railway station was fifty four and half miles from Exeter as evidenced by the milepost which stood by the location where the tracks began to fan out for the station and goods yard.

Even though Ilfracombe station site is now a distribution depot, its said some of the rail infrastructure still exists within the industrial park including steps, handrails, lamp posts and cabling posts.

ilfracombe02 - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

What was once the main road access to the station is now part of the Pall Corporation facility. Source: Google Streets

ilfracombe01 - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

A little further down Station Road was a pedestrian only entrance, which ascended to the station by way of a flight of steps. The steps are still there in the undergrowth, however as this view shows, the concrete posts forming the entrance to this and a Southern railway concrete lamppost can still be seen. Source: Google Streets

CYMi5 3WwAAgR1q?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

A final look at Ilfracombe station as it was in the sixties before the line was rationalised. Source: Twitter

7939424526 e93b200a43 b - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

The derelict station site in about 1972. Source: Flickr

CBC OpcWcAApfBZ?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

How it sadly all looked in the end – just waiting for the demolition men… Source: Twitter

Miscellaneous addenda

12718324 945434392239452 4902014858734944905 n - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

Artists’ impression of how the former steps leading to the station off Station Road could look complete with an information board. Source: Combe Rail

Ef LMcgWkAAvYwd?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

1960 Runabout ticket which permitted travel across Devon including Barnstaple to Ilfracombe. Source: Twitter

A picture at Railscot shows the demolition of Ilfracombe station in September 1976. These show the main station buildings already half demolished and the canopy no longer extant & the station nameboard thrown on the ground.

Did the Class 52 ‘Westerns’ ever reach Ilfracombe? Despite the axle loading and restrictions on the Barnstaple line beyond Yeoford Junction (the Plymouth line was passed for 52s however and the class could be seen on Meldon Quarry ballast trains) it seems at least one Class 52, D1012 Western Firebrand, is recorded as having reached Ilfracombe in lieu of a failed Warship – surprising but perhaps someone knew the 52s could just about reach Ilfracombe with care… There’s a picture of D1012 on the return trip at Braunton in 1968 which can be seen in one of Combe Rail’s newsletters.

I found a couple of items on Twitter related to the early attempts to revive the Ilfracombe Line. As mentioned in the first of posts on this feature, the North Devon Railway Preservation Society tried to prevent the lifting of the track on the line however British Rail would only stop its work provided a sum of £20,000 was paid the next day!

EQ TcHlXsAAnIqE?format=jpg&name=medium - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

The North Devon Railway Preservation Society. Their plans floundered as we saw in the first part of this feature. It was due to British Railway’s insistence £20,000 be paid by 9am the next day if the society wanted to stop British Railways’ contractors ripping up the tracks. Source: Twitter

D7vhndyXYAE8a3D?format=jpg&name=900x900 - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

The North Devon Railway’s headquarters in Barnstaple during the 1970s. Source: Twitter

Combe Rail is currently active in its objectives to preserve and even reopen parts of the line. Plans have been put forward for a section between Barnstaple and Braunton as a fully fledged light rail system with nine main stops. Its been featured in the press (see Devon Live) and is supported by local politicians. A bid was made to the Government’s reopen a railway scheme for a grant. There is a website dedicated to the project: Taw-Link

87464778 2843323665783839 4853531168689094656 o 1024x573 - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

How the Taw-Link light rail could look, serving communities along the Taw between Barnstaple railway station and Braunton. Source: Facebook

A couple of First Day Covers for the Ilfracombe Line on Twitter here and here.

An interesting aerial picture of Barnstaple taken after the closure of the Ilfracombe line and landscaping of the former railway alignment beyond Barnstaple Junction is evident. The Taw viaduct still stands however awaiting demolition. Twitter

Epilogue

CCI23042020 0353 - Trains no more across the River Taw #5

A scene seen no more. 34107 ‘Wadebridge’ on the Taw Viaduct sometime in the early sixties. Picture from Railway Reflections magazine 1983 – cleaned up and colour corrected by me.

R.I.P. Barnstaple and Ilfracombe Railway 1874 – 1970.