Thursday, 26 March 2015

to ilfracombe!!

Nº34069 Hawkinge running into Mortehoe & Woolacombe Station from Ilfracombe, with an up train. Some time during the 1950s. (Photographer unknown)

Devon suffered greatly from the Beeching cuts and seemed to be mortally wounded for decades after much of the rail network was brutally slashed mainly in the 60s. The Ilfracombe line - a magnificent steeply graded double track main line - did struggle (just) into the 70s, closing on 5 October1970. It was the final nail in Devon's railways, and very nearly the last Devon closure (which was the Kingswear line in 1972, though that line never really closed as such, just turned into a 'heritage' line overnight).

Even in 1970 the closure was seen as ridiculous and soon attempts were being made to reopen the line, which stayed intact until 1975. But the scheme collapsed in a mess of financial shenanigans, and the line was ripped up. The heart had been ripped out of both North Devon's railways and holiday trade.

Some people claim this tainted rail revival in North Devon which should really be a centre for heritage rail. Bideford station, Instow signal box and Torrington station are being or have been restored, and there is the fantastic Lynton and Barnstaple line up on Exmoor, but really the whole area has a lot of catching up to do ....

But now we have Combe Rail, a group dedicated to rebuilding the Ilfracombe line. I like to think I played a small role in helping launch this as it grew out of the Ilfracombe Facebook group, which now has over 800 members!! Hopefully many will join the new organisation and help make this happen sooner rather than later. 

So North Devon is stirring. There is even the chance of a 'Race to Barnstaple' as the Lynton and Barnstaple, Torrington and Ilfracombe lines rebuild back to Barny. There is also the other important route to Barnstaple, the line from Taunton, once a busy partly double track cross country route which cut a lot of time getting to Ilfracombe from here in Bristol. A tiny part of this line has been rebuilt of course, as part of the West Somerset's Taunton facilities. So far there is only a Facebook group, but how long before this line also has an active group promoting its early reopening? I'd love to see a fourth runner in the Race to Barny!

As Climate Change hits harder and harder (and warmer!) and as oil supplies tighten our coastal resorts are going to see a boom in visitor numbers. They are already inventing themselves as ideal short break destinations - but to really cash in on this they have to offer easy rail connection.

The Ilfracombe line revival is part of that process ....

In deep sleep 1973 (source)


  1. No realistic chance of getting back through the middle of Barnstaple. Best option would be to head north from the Junction alongside the new road bridge and pick up the old trackbed near Braunton.

  2. I would back any of these schemes as viable heritage projects with a schools, shopping and holiday schedule included within the heritage timetable.

  3. Devon like Norfolk had its railway ripped up and nothing put in its place. Only now are we finding out to our cost this was shorted sightedness. The railways served the community, provided jobs, brought tourists, farmers could get produce to market, rural arts crafts would be get there product to a wider audience quicker, also keep cars of the twisty turny country roads. Good luck and keep fighting to have the railway brought back