The second part of the virtual tour along the route of the Barnstaple to Ilfracombe Railway. The line closed in October 1970 after British Railways had totally rationalised the line in an attempt to keep the costs of running it to a minimum. Ultimately the Government of the day was not satisfied and ordered it shut. For more than a decade the route remained in a derelict state pending a possible restoration bid. Around half of the route now constitutes the Tarka Trail which stretches round both sides of the Taw estuary from Bidford to Braunton and there has even been talk of a light rail route from Barnstaple to Braunton utilising the old railway alignment. A good part of the route runs alongside both the Taw estuary and the airbase at Chivenor.
Chivenor to Braunton
This section continues from Chivenor to Braunton. The route marked here in fact ends at ends at Georgeham Gates in the northern part of Braunton.
1) Chivenor to Wrafton
Level – 1026 near Heanton Court (aka The Tarka Inn.) Source: Google Streets
Better view of the post near Heanton Court. Source: Instagram
Heanton Court aka the Tarka Inn, somewhat easily reached from the Tarka Trail. Source: Google Streets
The railway leaves the estuary and heads along the northern perimeter of RAF Chivenor. Here’s a nice look at the river before the route finally leaves the estuary to head inland. Here’s the approximate location on Google Streets. Source: Twitter
The site of the former road crossing at Duckpool – now a roundabout which primarily serves the base at Chivenor. Source: Google Streets
Although it is generally recognised this was Duckpool crossing, on much older maps its described as Chivenor crossing. It seems the name only changed after the line was double tracked in the late 19th Century.
RAF Chivenor is an important location in Britain’s defence and its helicopters are also on stand by to help with coastal incidents or people stranded on the Devon moors. Much of the airbase can be seen from the old railway as the route forms a boundary along the north side of the military base.
A view of the buildings at RAF Chivennor from the former railway alignment. The airbase was served by Wrafton station. This viewpoint is probably about where the eastern extremity of the station’s site was. Source: Google Streets
Aerial of RAF Chivennor photographed during an airshow there in 1971. The closed Ilfracombe line runs along the top edge of the airfield. Wrafton station can just be discerned at top left. Source: Twitter
2) Wrafton to Braunton
The original Wrafton station (44 and half miles from Exeter) of 1874 was a simple affair – just one platform and a siding. The passing places in those days before the route was double tracked were at Braunton and Mortehoe. The station’s goods yard was expanded and a pair of platforms provided. Its ironic in the last years of the line the station reverted to a single track once again.
In fact the singling of the line from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe was said to be due to a need to cut costs. Didnt make much difference did it? No matter whether it was double or single track the objective was of course to get rid of it altogether.
Another crossing site turned into major road intersection at Velator. The railway’s alignment was in the centre of the roundabout. Source: Google Streets
The down home signal at Braunton. Source: Google Streets
With regards to the above signal post, its evidently been moved. The post is very tightly upon the edge of the former railway boundary which somehow suggests it was in fact at this location. However there isn’t any justification for having a down signal on the up side of the line, the curvature here was ever so slight as to not even require any signals to be placed in a different location. The home signal at Braunton on official railway diagrams is shown on the other side (the down side) which shows its been moved from where it once was some distance further north. Even more evidence comes in the form of aerial pictures which shows the signal wasn’t ever in the location it is now!
The site where Braunton Gates crossing used to be. This is just beyond where the platforms were sited. Source: Google Streets
Braunton station stood between a pair of level crossings, that at the southern end had its own cabin known as Braunton Gates. The other crossing at the northern end of the station was controlled by Braunton signal box.
There was a goods yard and a pair of sidings on the down side which stabled locomotives awaiting the job of assisting heavy trains on the six hundred foot climb to Mortehoe & Woolacombe station. One of the surprises is in the line’s heyday both LSWR and Great Western locomotives were used as banking engines.
The goods shed was on the up side. The building still remains, much modified, and these days its home to the Museum of British Surfing.
The former goods shed at Braunton, now the home of the British Surfing Museum! The viewpoint is taken from where the down platform would have once been. Source: Google Streets
The old goods shed is now the home of the Museum of British Surfing. This is where the road access was and it explains the large sliding doors to this side. Source: Twitter
Braunton station some years after the line had closed. The view looks north. Source: Tarka Trail
It is said the railway was line was purchased for £515,000 from British Rail in the late eighties in order to reuse the land and make a new trail towards Barnstaple!
The site of the main road crossing at Braunton, looking south along what would have once been the station and its platforms. Source: Google Streets
The white building across the green on the right, now a newsagents, is all that remains of the station buildings. This green in fact covers most of what was once the pair of platforms and tracks!
Its incredible to think I stood here all those years ago when the station and its crossing still existed! The platforms and trackbed were easily accessible because half of the crossing’s gates had disappeared – whether that was through accident or vandalism I do not know but I suspect the latter.
The red brick building at left is in fact that shown in the 1930s image below – it was once Lake’s cafe. The differences between then and now is the upper windows have been bricked over and the roof no longer sports a finial post.
Lovely picture showing the crossing at Caen Street Braunton possibly in the 1930s. The building at right still exists and can be seen on the modern Google Streets view above. Source: PicClick
When I first encountered this part of the line forty years ago the station was still almost fully complete along with gates and signal box (just as those at Wrafton and Barnstaple Town were too.) It was the track that was missing, having been taken up five years previously and I am sure many other people who visited North Devon in those days were quite bemused somewhat by an entire disused railway station occupying the centre of a town. Of course the disused station at Barnstaple Town was also still extant in those days but not prominent like Braunton.
Yes one could find disused stations in many places and many miles of derelict railway stretching across the countryside – but one that was right in the centre of a town with crossing gates too – well that was a rarity! I think its a reason why many have shown interest in this particular line for they do remember the three stations (Barnstaple, Wrafton, Braunton) in this rather unfortunate derelict state.
The track bed continues to be walkable north from here as far as Georgeham Gates and is part of the Tarka Trail. Alas Google Streets hasn’t covered this section. The same problem goes for the remainder of the line as far as just south of Mortehoe. Google continues to be used where it possibly can be – whilst other images have had to be used to illustrate the former railway route towards Ilfracombe.
Some distance north of Braunton station is this narrow lane at Star Cottages. This led to an accommodation crossing over the railway which once ran in the background. Source: Google Streets
With some further investigation it seems from aerial evidence there were five of these totally ungated crossings in the section between Caen Street and Georgeham gates! Britain’s railways were certainly very trusting of people in those days!
Colourised image showing three of the five foot crossings north of Braunton station. That leading off Star Cottages is the one left of centre. Sourced from Britain from Above.
From Braunton the line climbed very steeply. The distance to Mortehoe was just six miles however the difference in elevation between the two stations happens to be six hundred feet! Thus the severe gradient equated practically a hundred feet for every mile. However the gradient got worse as the line continued north thus much of the line’s severe gradients in fact occur between Stoney Bridge and Mortehoe thus it was one of the most severely graded lines in the country. In comparison the Lickey Incline in Worcestershire (a gain of 286 feet in just two miles) is the most severe main line of all however if the Ilfracombe line had still been open it would have been just behind the Lickey in terms of records.
Instead of a sunset picture here’s a lovely view of the gardens at St. Brannocks, just up the road from Georgeham gates. Source: St. Brannocks Gardens
This continues in the section covering Georgeham Gates to Willingcott