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The High Dyke Branch Rediscovered – Part 2

Bridge End, Colsterworth to Stainby Station

modern photographs and description by John Pegg and C. Taylor

edited by John Clayson

Introduction

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.

Here's our start point - the old abutment of Bridge No. 2.  One end of a steel girder bridge which took the branch over the old A1 was supported by this sturdy brickwork. 
Please note the metal fence above the brickwork which we shall see again, from the other side, in a later photo.

To the left, about 50 yards south, is the beginning of the nature trail and from now on it's much better underfoot.

There's a very helpful Information Board.

A Short History of the Railway Line - from the information board

Congratulations to the volunteers for their work in keeping this section of the line open.

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:

The nature trail section of the route shown on a map of 1958.

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).

Note the inclined courses of brickwork at the end the arch, which are needed because the river is crossed at an angle - it's known as a skew arch.

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.

A map of 1930 showing the River Witham bridge and the branch to Colsterworth Mines marked 'Mineral Railway'.
There's no access here to the north side, but this is what it looks like.
The River Witham bridge parapet on the north side,  The bridge number, if you can read it, should be 3.  We previously saw similar metalwork securing the end coping stone in place on Bridge No. 1.
Ok, now we can climb the path up the side of the embankment to rejoin the branch line.
This is the other side of that fence at bridge No. 2.
And now, with the fence at our backs, we are heading onwards.
We can just see the river Witham way below, through the trees.  This river crossing is the lowest point on the branch.  It's now uphill all the way to Skillington Junction.
No its not night. just thick foliage.

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...

Looking south, is this wide area where the mineral branch line went to the quarries near Colsterworth village.
The sidings for Colsterworth North quarry must have started around here, on our right.

Now it's time to enter our time machine but be careful, and don't get in the way of the shunting.

Class O2 No. 63931 shunting ironstone empties at Colsterworth Yard on Saturday 25th March 1961. The Grantham crew were driver Sid Harris and fireman Dick Healey.  Dick is leaning from the cab window.  The shunter waits, leaning on the pole he uses for coupling and uncoupling wagons.
Photograph by Colin Walker.
The gardens of houses which back onto the line at Woolsthorpe form the boundary along this stretch.  On our right we have just passed the site of the tipping dock and the loco shed.

Colsterworth Crossing

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.

A map of 1930 showing Colsterworth Level Crossing on Woolsthorpe Road's original alignment.  It also shows Colsterworth Siding, the tank for locomotive watering and bridge No. 4.
Here are a pair of the original railway concrete gateposts of Colsterworth Crossing, which now carry a modern tubular steel gate.  The photographer is standing on the original line of Woolsthorpe Road across the railway.  There used to be a small signal box on the right here.
This photo was taken from the same position looking right and it shows the old road surface, now in use as a farm track.

Colsterworth Siding

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.

A map of 1930 showing Colsterworth Level Crossing, Colsterworth Siding, the tank for locomotive watering and bridge No. 4.
The location of Colsterworth Siding

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.

Having brought a train of empty ironstone wagons up the High Dyke Branch from Highdyke to Colsterworth Yard, Class O2 No. 63932, propelling a brake van, is taking water at Colsterworth Siding.  It will then travel further up the line to Stainby Sidings to collect a train of loaded iron ore tipplers from the exchange sidings there. The fireman on the tender is Tony Collingwood.
Date not recorded.
Photograph by Colin Walker.

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 Number 4 leads under the branch here.
The disused passage under the bridge.

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.

A map of 1930 showing Colsterworth Level Crossing, Colsterworth Siding, the tank for locomotive watering and accommodation bridge No. 4.
The painted bridge number is still visible.

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.

This device was used for tensioning the wire boundary fence.
Great, a seat, we are ready for a rest and there's a nice view as well.
Well rested, on we go.

We must step aside for a minute, while this train comes past.

In August 1971 a loaded ironstone train hauled Brush Type 2 locomotive No. 5858 runs alongside the new (1966) alignment of Woolsthorpe Road, having just passed over Skillington Road Crossing. The original route of Woolsthorpe Road had been across the recently quarried area in the right background.  One of the large quarry machines is working away behind the locomotive, in No. 4 quarry.
Photograph by David Ford C678

All's quiet again, the wildlife hasn't been disturbed.

Still good walking and lots of wild flowers and insects along this section.
Many six spotted Burnet moths can be seen here (July).

Skillington Road Crossing

Here the branch line crossed Skillington Road.

Now we're approaching Skillington Road.
Skillington Road looking south.  The branch line crossed over in the foreground, Woolsthorpe Road - as diverted in 1966 - crosses behind.
Skillington Road Level Crossing and Skillington Road Junction in 1930.

Once upon a time there were wooden gates, a signal box, signals, telegraph poles and some sidings ...and glorious sunshine!

A loaded train approaching Skillington Road Crossing from the west in August 1971. Beyond the gate, a post shows a change in the gradient of the line, an important indication for the drivers and guards of these very heavy trains.
Photograph by John Ford J2445
Looking west from Skillington Road Crossing in August 1971.  How neat and tidy is the scene - on the track there's hardly a weed in sight!
Photograph by John Ford J2757

Beyond the Nature Trail

Here ends the official Nature Trail but we'll carry on to see what we can find.

Approaching the parting of the ways.

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.

The site of Skillington Road Junction, Stainby to the left and straight on to Sproxton.
Skillington Road Junction looking west in June 1973.  The original Stainby line is to the left and the later branch to Sproxton to the right.  On the left horizon are the road traffic warning lights, the raised half-barriers and the rail traffic 'Whistle' signs for the Stainby line's level crossing over Woolsthorpe Road.  On the far right is another change of gradient post informing us that we have just ascended at 1 in 88 from Skillington Road Crossing.
Photograph by John Ford J3222

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.

The Stainby line just before it crosses over the Woolsthorpe Road.

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.

A loaded train from Stainby hauled by Brush Type 2 locomotive No. 5675 at Woolsthorpe Road Crossing, approaching Skillington Road Junction, in April 1972.
Photograph by David Ford C917
This picture was taken in 2011 at the site of the level crossing over Woolsthorpe Road.  The railway telegraph lines have gone, but the electricity poles remain.
Looking south, the track bed has been restored to farm land.  After 1952 this was a legal requirement when mining was completed.

Now I wonder what the farmer would think if this lot came rumbling across their cornfield?

Class O2 No. 63932, travelling tender first, is approaching Skillington Road Junction from Stainby with a train of loaded iron ore tipplers for Highdyke. The fixed distant signal is for Stainby, where British Railways and the steel companies exchanged empty wagons for full ones at a set of exchange sidings.
Date not recorded.
Photograph by Colin Walker

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.

Compare the map of 1930 with a recent aerial view of the same area to trace the route of the branch line between the site of Woolsthorpe Road Crossing and the bridge under the Buckminster Road, near Stainby.

Buckminster Road Bridge, Stainby Sidings and Station

Just past the village of Stainby we arrive at this bridge.

The road over the 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.

In the 1960s Hunslet 0-6-0ST Juno, built in 1958, is moving south from Stainby Sidings and approaching the Buckminster Road bridge with incoming ironstone empties.
Photograph by Noel Ingram [S2 940], used with permission from Steam World.
Looking north from Buckminster Road bridge in November1968.  Stainby Sidings appear to be nearly full of laden ironstone wagons as a British Steel diesel locomotive propels another load under the bridge for British Rail to take down to Highdyke.  You can see why there've been so many trains passing by as we came along the line.
Photograph by John Ford J1490

Back to reality, the trackbed today...

This picture was taken at track level from roughly where the diesel locomotive was in the photo above.

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...

The view of the Stainby Station site from the road.

But are those clouds a ghostly reminder of the steam engines that once passed this way?  Listen carefully and you might hear one approaching...

Barclay 0-6-0ST locomotive 'Stainby' is bringing ironstone from one of the quarries to the exchange sidings.  It is approaching the Buckminster Road bridge from the south, though we cannot see the bridge for the exhaust steam caught by a brisk south westerly breeze.  The nearer track on our left is the siding at Stainby Station where, like the sidings at Burton Lane and Colsterworth, rail traffic could be transhipped to and from road transport when required.  This was a goods station - it saw no farepaying passengers.
Photograph by Noel Ingram [S2 951], used with permission from Steam World.
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.

Back to Railways Rediscovered


Copyright note:  the article above is published with the appropriate permissions.  For information about copyright of the content of Tracks through Grantham  please read our Copyright page.

12 thoughts on “The High Dyke Branch Rediscovered – Part 2

  1. Malcolm Asbury

    Many congratulations to all involved in this fantastic presentation. It certainly brings to life what was a major industry for the area and will serve as a record for, and reminder to, current and future generations of the contribution of our area to a national industry.
    It also illustrates that important mineral extraction does not necessarily mean pemanent destruction of both natural and industrial beauty, particularly when nature has had a few years to exert its influence.
    I can't imagine how many hours have gone into its construction. All I can say is very well done! Keep up the good work, can't wait for Part 3!

    Malcolm Asbury 7/1/19

    Reply
    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Hello Malcolm,
      We're very pleased to hear how much you enjoyed our new page. It's particularly encoraging to receive feedback about the wider relevance of the study to industrial history and environmental recovery.
      So far as the content is concerned, the main credit goes to the initiative of John Pegg and his granddaughter, who first suggested the 'Railways Rediscovered' idea and then went out and surveyed the lines. Other vital components are the resources, mainly photographic collections, that various contributors are making available to Tracks through Grantham.
      Part 3 , which will be much shorter, is 'on the stocks' but it may be a few weeks before it's ready.
      Thank you for your interest.
      John Clayson

      Reply
    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Hello Phil,
      Thank you for your comment. We'll continue to include new photographs from all eras as they become available, and to suit the content of the pages.
      Best wishes,
      John Clayson

      Reply
  2. Martin Reed

    Thanks very much for the hard work in piecing that all together and wandering through nature to show the current state of affairs. Great work. Very much looking forward to Part 3.

    Reply
    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Thanks for your appreciative feedback Martin. We hope to have part 3 ready in a few weeks' time
      John Clayson

      Reply
  3. Andy Hides

    Another interesting article. As a boy I cycled many of the lanes around the area searching out the remnants of the mineral extraction. My late father was a bus driver for Lincolnshire Road Car and I travelled on services to and from places like Oakham which passed many of the quarry workings in the area, though by then they were in decline or even in the process of being closed and back filled. One of the other bus routes took you you out to Wyville. This service passed by the Harlaxton No.4 quarry at Hungerton, referenced in Part 3 of the Woolsthorpe Branch Rediscovered story on here.

    Reply
    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Hello Richard,
      Thank you very much for sending these links to information about a remarkable and unusual piece of equipment which the LNER installed at Skillington Road Junction for the mechanical power operation of the points there, using remote electrical control from the signal box at Skillington Road Crossing. Do we know if this was a unique application of the Sheremeteff mechanism in Britain, and was it in use until the branch closed in the 1970s?
      John Clayson

      Reply
  4. Stephen Robbins

    Thank you for a lovely history of the branch.
    As a young man I used to work at Colsterworth, locally called 'Froddys'. I worked at North Pit, No2 and Stainby Glebe and Sproxton.
    As I recall the main motive power on the branch back in the '70s were mainly Brush class 31 and latterly, when Stainby Glebe was in operation, Brush class 47. A ground frame box was installed here. I remember it being delivered to Glebe pit. A lorry turned up with the cabin and about half a dozen men got out, put it in position and left, it took all of 5 mins.
    There is another website that has workers' recollections of life in the pits and one from the guy who worked the box at North Pit sidings.

    Reply
    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Hello Stephen,
      We're very pleased to hear that you've enjoyed reading our account of the High Dyke Branch. Thank you for adding to the story with your own memories of the locomotives and the arrival of the ground frame. If you can send us a note of the website you mention at the end we will add a link to it.
      John Clayson

      Reply
    2. Neil Slack

      Check out the books by Eric Tonks, Ironstone Quarries of the Midlands, there are 8 volumes covering Lincs, Leics, Rutland to name but a few; very interesting and informative.

      Reply

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