A great railway journey is revisited by imagination

Just across the road from the Tenantry Column on the way into Alnwick is the bank that takes you up to the grand terminus of the former Alnwick-Coldstream railway line and of the tiny branch connecting to the main line at Alnmouth.

Sunday, 15th January 2017, 12:09 pm
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 12:11 pm
Barter Books, Alnwick

The former station – now best known for its mammoth bookshop – certainly makes a statement.

The branch line to which it was the gateway must have been one of the most picturesque in England.

Lee and Kerry Head featured in The Restoration Man tv programme with their home at Whittingham Station. Picture by Jane Coltman

Let us, for a moment, imagine that the trains still run on the line and so set out to Berwick on the Tweed and Glendale route. First of all, however, just some background.

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The Alnwick-Coldstream line opened in 1887 when the present station was built, connecting the new line with the 1850 branch line to Alnmouth.

As a passenger route it only survived for 40 years, being closed in 1930 on account of too few passengers. One problem was that the stations tended to be a distance from the communities they served.

Anyway, let us climb aboard and watch the smoke pouring from the funnel as the locomotive steams out of Alnwick’s grand terminus.

Lee and Kerry Head featured in The Restoration Man tv programme with their home at Whittingham Station. Picture by Jane Coltman

After a mile, we pass through the short tunnel at Rugley Wood, with the familiar smell of steam coming through the carriage windows.

Five miles further on and we cross the magnificent curved Edlingham viaduct. From the window we see both the ruins of Edlingham Castle and the Romanesque church of St John the Baptist.

The castle began its life as a fortified manor house, built by John de Edlingham in the 12th century. Later it sported a moat, a palisade and a gate tower.

The church, strong and austere, has a remarkable fortified tower added at the beginning of the 14th century.

As we steam away from Edlingham we look west toward the crenelated eye-catcher of Lemmington Branch, high on the hill. Across the valley to the west, rise the Simonside Hills.

Passing through another tunnel, we soon arrive at Whittingham Station.

The only station along the line with an island platform, it is still visible from the bridge behind the Bridge of Aln pub. It is being converted now for residential use, and a goods shed also survives nearby.

Pressing on north-west, we stop at Glanton Station. All the picturesque stations along the line survive in some form and were the work of the same architect, probably one William Bell.

Just below Wooperton Station, now caught up within the industrial site of a sawmill, we pass Percy’s Cross, marking the death of Sir Ralph Percy who fell in the Battle of Hedgeley Moor in 1464.

Just three miles up the line again, and we halt at Ilderton Station, which, after the floods of 1948, was the terminus for goods trains from Alnwick. The floods had destroyed a bridge between Ilderton and Wooler.

For a short period in the 1990s, Ilderton Station became a restaurant with tables on the platform and a disused railway carriage parked nearby.

Onward we travel – let’s imagine the bridge survived – and we arrive at Wooler Station, perhaps the major stop along the line. Here the goods depot is now Miller’s antiques.

The next part of the journey takes us into the broad and rich countryside of Glendale.

At Akeld the train stops again, and the signal box survives as a perfect miniature. Here the line leaves the Wooler-Coldstream road behind, branching westward past a house now simply known as The Levers and reminding all of its nearness to another signal box.

We pass Ad Gefrin, in the lee of Yeavering Bell, the site of King Edwin of Northumbria’s great palace on the banks of the River Glen, before gliding into Kirknewton Station.

We are now in the attractive foothills of the Cheviots and we pass through Kilham, whose sidings were the inspiration of a railway train-shunting puzzle.

Our next stop is at Mindrum, right on the border with Scotland, and next we pass over the noble viaduct at Learmouth and into Coldstream station, which confusingly is in the English village of Cornhill-on-Tweed.

Here we change trains and transfer to the Kelso-Tweedmouth line.

On this final leg of this breathtakingly beautiful journey, we follow the glorious valley of the River Tweed.

Here we stop at Twizell, not far from the mediaeval bridge, then on to Norham, where the station remained a museum until 2010.

Then on we steam, stopping at the exquisitely named station at Velvet Hall, and finally through Tweedmouth Junction into Tweedmouth Station, where we change on the main line for Berwick.

No trains now steam along the tracks, which finally disappeared in the 1960s following the Beeching Report. But we can still trace the route and it offers a great day’s outing, with either a picnic or pub lunch half way through the journey.