Bridge End, Colsterworth to Stainby Station
modern photographs and description by John Pegg and C. Taylor
edited by John Clayson
We begin where Part 1 concluded at Bridge End, Colsterworth, just over 3 miles along the High Dyke Branch from its junction with the main line near Stoke Tunnel.
This second section takes us a further 2¾ miles, to the site of the sidings and goods station at Stainby. These facilities marked 'the end of the line' so far as British Rail and its predecessors were concerned, because the tracks beyond were the property of the various quarry operators. Extensive land remediation has removed or covered over most traces of those railways.
The first 1½ miles, from Bridge End as far as Skillington Road, has been imaginatively laid out as a nature trail by Colsterworth & District Parish Council. The trail is maintained with the support of volunteers and is very easy to follow.
Beyond the nature trail section the route becomes less easy to trace, and ultimately a diversion by road is necessary to avoid a field with growing crops and an inaccessible area of the old trackbed beyond.
As before, we are equipped with our 'time machine' into which we will step occasionally to see what changes have come about since the 1960s and 1970s.
To compare the landscape today with what was here before, use this link which will open in a new tab. You can switch between a 1930s OS map and a modern aerial view by dragging the blue dot slider marked 'Change transparency of overlay'. Leave the tab open and you can drop back occasionally as we progress along the way.
Are you ready? Then let's set off!
PS - The High Dyke Branch Rediscovered - Part 1 is here in case you would prefer to look at that first.
The Woolsthorpe Line Nature Trail
At Bridge End there survives one of the brick abutments of a bridge which used to bring the branch line across the old Great North Road.
To the left, about 50 yards south, is the beginning of the nature trail and from now on it's much better underfoot.
A Short History of the Railway Line - from the information board
To find out more, the Colsterworth & District Parish Council website has an interesting page about ironstone mining in the area here.
Here's a map which shows the next 1½ miles of our route, which takes a generally westerly direction:
Bridge No. 3 - crossing the River Witham
Before climbing up to track level let's take a look at the River Witham bridge (south side).
This substantial bridge over the river and the embankment which took the branch high above would have been the most costly part of the line to construct. Now 100 years old, its condition appears to be virtually as good as the day the last joint was pointed.
The branch to Colsterworth Quarries, and sidings for Colsterworth North Quarry
Soon after crossing the river the embankment becomes wider. This is our first encounter with the site of facilities where ironstone mined at quarries nearby was brought to the railway.
On our left a branch line used to descend to the Colsterworth No. 1 and No. 2 quarries next to the village. To our right a set of sidings served the Colsterworth North quarry. There was also a small loco shed, and a tipping dock for loading rail wagons from internal quarry dump trucks. It all looks very peaceful now. There's little, if any, evidence today of all that industrial activity...
Now it's time to enter our time machine but be careful, and don't get in the way of the shunting.
This is where Woolsthorpe Road used to be crossed by the railway because from here the road's original route lay to the north of the branch line. In 1966, to allow quarrying to be extended right up to the northern boundary of the railway, the road was diverted to run beside the railway on its south side, and traffic no longer crossed the branch line here. The new road was made over land that had already been quarried.
If you look again at the link provided earlier you can compare the old and the new alignments of Woolsthorpe Road.
Passing over the old crossing and taking another look at the map of 1930 we see that there was a siding here, on our right hand side. Here trains could pass and, if necessary, local goods traffic could be handled to or from the railway.
Beyond the siding, on the south side of the branch line, there was a water tank supported on a tall brick base. Hauling the heavy ironstone, and even empty wagons, along the branch made steam locomotives very thirsty. They could take a drink here.
Bridge No. 4: an 'accommodation bridge'
When a new railway was built across farmland, access had to be maintained across the line between areas of farm property which had become separated. Bridges and level crossings provided for this purpose are called 'accommodation' bridges and crossings, presumably because they help (i.e. accommodate the need of) the landowner to manage their property as readily as they could before the railway was built.
Bridge No. 4 on the High Dyke Branch is a good example of an accommodation bridge: there's been no public right of way through it, and you can see from the 1930 map how it's there to maintain a ground level connection between the separate parts of two fields which had been divided by the railway. This bridge appears to serve little purpose today, but remember that until 1966 there was no road here; Woolsthorpe Road was then 200 yards on the other side of the branch line, running along the northern side of the fields.
Towards Skillington Road
This is a straight half-mile or so which is more open to views on either side than we've seen until now.
We must step aside for a minute, while this train comes past.
All's quiet again, the wildlife hasn't been disturbed.
Skillington Road Crossing
Here the branch line crossed Skillington Road.
Once upon a time there were wooden gates, a signal box, signals, telegraph poles and some sidings ...and glorious sunshine!
Beyond the Nature Trail
Here ends the official Nature Trail but we'll carry on to see what we can find.
Skillington Road Junction
When it was built the branch line curved sharply left here, turning south to Stainby. In 1925 a branch to Sproxton, further west, was opened from a junction at this location. For now we will follow the original route to the left, returning to explore the Sproxton line in Part 3.
Woolsthorpe Road Crossing
In 1966 the diverted Woolsthorpe Road crossed the line here, instead of at Colsterworth Crossing which we passed earlier. So a new level crossing was built.
No traditional wooden gates here to be opened and closed by the train crew, a signalman or a gatekeeper as we've seen elsewhere on the branch, using our time machine. At this crossing modern lifting half-barriers were put in, along with warning lights for road traffic.
We'd better step aside and let another train pass - the line's busy today.
Now I wonder what the farmer would think if this lot came rumbling across their cornfield?
We'd better not trample the crops, and the section of the trackbed beyond the field, leading down to Stainby Sidings, isn't accessible. So we have to take a diversion now to reach the site of Stainby Sidings and Station. The quickest way is to turn left along the road (or retrace our steps along the former railway) to Skillington Road, then turn right to head south to a crossroads with the B676, where we turn right again to pass through Stainby on Main Road, which becomes Buckminster Road. We soon arrive at a bridge which used to cross the line. The length of the diversion is about 1½ miles.
Here's a map and an aerial view to help. The diversion is shown by the red line.
Buckminster Road Bridge, Stainby Sidings and Station
Just past the village of Stainby we arrive at this bridge.
The line here used to be in a cutting on both sides of the bridge. The cutting appears to have been filled in, except immediately next to the bridge.
Looking to our right (north) we go back into our time machine. The trees and the infill disappear, and we see two generations of steel company locomotives at work.
Back to reality, the trackbed today...
Now we'll ascend to the road again and take a look from the south side of the bridge. There was once a cutting here too but all is now nice and level, good for growing hay...
But are those clouds a ghostly reminder of the steam engines that once passed this way? Listen carefully and you might hear one approaching...
So here we are at Stainby Station, the terminus of the Great Northern Railway's High Dyke Branch. We hope you've enjoyed some fresh Lincolnshire air.
There is a wealth of information about the Colsterworth and Buckminster (around Stainby) ironstone quarries, including photographs of the quarries in operation, in The Ironstone Quarries of the Midlands: History, Operation and Railways Part 8: South Lincolnshire written by Eric Tonks (ISBN 978-1-907094-07-1), pages 13-80 and 94-119.
Part 3 (in course of preparation) will cover the line to Sproxton from Skillington Road Junction which was opened by the London & North Eastern Railway in 1925.
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