North Devon is set to grace our TV screens tonight for the return of Walking Britain’s Lost Railway’s – and what better way to kick off a new series than by starting in this scenic county?

It will be the first episode of series three and will air at 8pm (November 27) on Channel 5 tonight.

TV presenter and adventurer, Rob Bell will trudging through North Devon tracing the footprint of the railway line that ran from Ilfracombe to Barnstaple and then crossed the wild terrain of Exmoor to clifftop town of Lynton.

According to the Radio Times, within the show Rob hears great stories from people he meet along the way, including some about the 14,000 US troops who trained for D-Day on Braunton Burrows.

A local military historian reveals that the evening train service was so unreliable, the GIs often “borrowed” bicycles and buried the evidence in the sand dunes.

After receiving the news of the returning show, Devon-based fans were quick to express their excitement on Twitter.

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One person wrote: ”Looking forward to seeing this … and you’re starting in my part of the world, beautiful North Devon!”

While another wrote: ”Excellent back to my home county!”

THE ILFRACOMBE BRANCH LINE

View NW, towards Bideford and Barnstaple; ex-London & South Western line from Bideford, Barnstaple Junction and Exeter, also continuing to Halwill Junction. The station and passenger services to Halwill ceased on 1/3/65 and from Barnstaple Junction on 4/10/65. Goods traffic lasted until 17/9/83 – on the Halwill line to Meeth Quarry well into 1982. In 1960 trains were being worked mainly by LMS-type Ivatt 2MT 2-6-2Ts, one of which is here approaching on a train from Barnstaple Junction.

The Ilfracombe branch of the London & South Western Railway (LSWR), ran between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe in North Devon. The branch opened as a single-track line in 1874, but was sufficiently popular that it needed to be upgraded to double-track in 1889.

The 1–in–36 gradient between Ilfracombe and Mortehoe stations was one of the steepest sections of double track railway line in the country, and was most certainly the fiercest climb from any terminus station in the UK.

Passenger numbers though dropped dramatically in the years following the Second World War and the line was mentioned as a candidate for closure in the Reshaping of British Railways report in 1963.

However, it was not until October 5, 1970, that the line closed, although the last train ran on October 3. The track was lifted in June 1975 and the distinctive curved steel girder bridge over the River Taw in Barnstaple was demolished in 1977

The trackbed between Mortehoe Station and Ilfracombe has been restored as the Devon Coast to Coast Cycle Route (rail trail) and forms part of the Tarka Trail.

Combe Rail was set up in 2015 and hope to eventually reopen the line.

WHAT WAS THE BEECHING AXE?

Dr Richard Beeching, in two reports, The Reshaping of British Railways (1963) and The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes (1965), identified that 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of railway line for closure could be closed – totalling 55 per cent of stations and 30 per cent of route miles across Great Britain.

THE OLD RAILWAY VIADUCT IN UPLYME EAST DEVON IS A REMINDER OF DAYS GONE BYE AND HAS BEEN UNUSED SINCE THE BEECHING AXE IN 1963
THE OLD RAILWAY VIADUCT IN UPLYME EAST DEVON IS A REMINDER OF DAYS GONE BYE AND HAS BEEN UNUSED SINCE THE BEECHING AXE IN 1963

His analysis showed that the least-used 1,762 stations had annual passenger receipts of less than £2,500 each (£56,500 in 2020) and that the least-used 50 per cent of stations contributed only two per cent of passenger revenue and that one third of route miles carried just one per cent of passengers.

He recommended that mostly rural and industrial lines—should be closed entirely, and that some of the remaining lines should be kept open only for freight. A total of 2,363 stations closed, although 435 already under threat of closure prior to the Beeching Axe.





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