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The Woolsthorpe Branch Rediscovered – Part 3

Casthorpe Junction to Harlaxton Quarries

photographs and description by John Pegg and C. Taylor

We've retraced our steps to Casthorpe Junction, 3½ miles from Belvoir, where a line branched off to the left.  Harlaxton Quarries opened in June 1941 to help meet wartime demands on the iron and steel industry.  The LNER, later British Railways, owned the line for about 600 yards to Casthorpe Sidings, where wagons were exchanged with the mining company.  Between the sidings and the quarries the wagons were hauled by the quarry's fleet of locomotives.  At the system's greatest extent the farthest point reached by rail was about 5½ miles from Casthorpe Junction.

Quarrying was extensive until the early 1960s and many pits were opened and worked.  Demand then reduced until finally, in February 1974 the last loads of ironstone left the quarries at Harlaxton by rail.  In 1976 a new venture saw nearly all of the trackbed converted for tipper lorry operation to a loading dock at Casthorpe sidings.  This operation was short-lived, however, and the facility closed at the end of March 1977.

Traces of several phases of development of the railway can be seen on the walk, which covers the first two miles of the 3½-mile 'main line'.

The header photograph (above) shows an ironstone train travelling towards Casthorpe Sidings from Harlaxton Quarries in the 1960s.  Much of the line had a delightful rural setting.
Photograph taken by Noel Ingram.

Here we are, back at Casthorpe Junction. Keeping right takes us to Denton and is covered in Part 2. We're going left this time, down the branch which led to the Harlaxton quarries.
Just past the junction.
It’s quite wide here, room for sidings.
No. 76085 at Casthorpe Sidings, leaving with an ironstone train on 28th April 1966. The driver, fireman and guard lean from the cab as their photograph is taken. They would have brought some empty wagons down the branch and left them in one of the other sidings - there were five parallel tracks here.
At the far end of these exchange sidings the mines' tank locomotives delivered full wagons, then they would take the empties back to the quarries.
Photograph by Noel Ingram.
Casthorpe Junction and sidings. We're still keeping close company with the Grantham Canal just a couple of fields away.
The maps are dated 1970 unless otherwise mentioned.

Approaching the level crossing over the Casthorpe Road. On the map it mentions a 'Water Point' with a tank, here on the left. Perhaps thirsty engines could stop for a drink?
Here's 'Gunby', one of the Harlaxton Quarries locomotives, leaving the exchange sidings with a train of empty wagons and passing the water tank perched on its tall brick pillars.  Can you spot the photographer's dog?
Photograph by Noel Ingram.
The view today from where the front of the engine would be in the last photo. In front is the level crossing with Casthorpe Road. No sign of a railway gate. Did the crossing have gates, or was it an open crossing? Who's going to stop the traffic for us?
No need to worry, there's a chap with a red flag.
Barclay 0-6-0ST 'Rutland' is at Swine Hill Pit, crossing the road between Harlaxton and Hungerton higher up on the Harlaxton Quarries system.  These wagons would travel over the Casthorpe Road crossing later in the day.
Photograph by Noel Ingram.
Taken in the area where the weighbridge used to be, could this be part of the weighbridge infrastructure? The posts appear to be rather large for a crossing gate.
At this point we are walking on the track parallel with the mineral line, which is overgrown with the trees on the right of the photo. A distant view of Denton reservoir can be had on the left along here.
A small stream culvert with an interesting reflection.
Top left is the 'Water Point' with tank, then the level crossing over Casthorpe Road, followed by the weighbridge. The wider area on the outside of the curve, beyond the level crossing, is the site of a siding which was the terminus of a lorry road, marked 'Track'.  Bilt in the early 1960s, the road was intended to bring ironstone from proposed new workings two miles to the north east. The lorries were to be unloaded into railway wagons at a tipping dock next to the siding, at the widest part at the centre of the map. The lorry road, the siding and the tipping dock were completed, but the new quarry never opened. Near the bottom of the map the stream crosses under the line through a culvert, on its way to Denton Reservoir.

We are now walking on the mineral line; the old concrete fence posts are in the bushes on the right.
A milepost can be found here on the left, although it’s difficult to discern the figures.
The mile post. We think the figure's a '1' - we are one mile from Casthorpe Junction.
Good walking on this stretch.
This stream flowing under the line supplies water to Denton Reservoir from the Fish Ponds in Denton village. It leads to the Old Beck which becomes the Foston Beck, eventually meeting the River Witham between Hougham and Westborough.  We think this bridge was rebuilt when the trackbed was converted for lorries in 1976.
A long straight stretch, bridging the principal stream feeding Denton Reservoir and crosing Nether Lane on the level.

We are getting close to the A607 now, the road runs left to right near the line of trees on the left horizon. Oh, and by the way we have been joined by a four-legged friend.
Don't know his name, but he was keen to show us the way.
We're now entering the cutting to go under the A607.
The A607 bridge - it looks a bit damp in there.
The view from the other side looking back.
Yes, it was rather wet!
The bridge which takes the A607 Melton Mowbray to Grantham road over the line. The line's in a cutting and road's been raised on an embankment, probably using spoil dug out of the railway cutting.

The view with the bridge behind us.  Step aside now, I think there's a train heading our way...
On Saturday 9th September 1961 the Railway Correspondence & Travel Society (RCTS) East Midlands Branch arranged a Rail Tour from Nottingham along the Woolsthorpe Branch. The first part of the trip was by diesel railcar to Casthorpe Sidings (seen in Part 1). The party of more than 100 then climbed into four open wagons for a trip to Harlaxton Quarries. The special train has just passed through the A607 road bridge. It's hauled by one of the quarry locomotives, 'Achilles', with Driver Steventon and Fireman Clapton in the cab. Glad we got out of their way in time!
Photograph taken by Humphrey Platts.
OK, we're safe again to contibnue our walk.  Our feet are drying off a bit now. Wonder what's round this bend?
This is as far as we walked. If you zoom in on this photo you can see...
...Harlaxton Manor in the distance.
The final section of the walk reached a point where the land has been restored to agriculture. On this map of about 1970 the main line of the Harlaxton Quarry system is in red, the yellow lines indicate branches to those quarries that were still active in 1970. The land rises from north to south by about 180 feet across the area shown by this map. The main line was therefore laid out with a reversing point to assist with climbing the hill. Fortunately loaded trains were going downhill - only empty wagons needed to be brought up the bank.
Here is a recent aerial photograph showing the route of the main line and branches in relation to the landscape today. Between 1941 and 1976 quarrying took place over most of the southern half of this view, and extended about ¼ mile south of the lower edge.

Oh and not forgetting our new friend.  He showed us the way back, and when arriving where he joined us he shot off over the fields to where his owner was calling him!

This is the engine shed and yard near the south end of the main line (the red line on the map) on 21st December 1971. The three long, straight sidings are where groups of loaded wagons were assembled from the various quarries to be taken down the main line to Casthorpe Sidings.
By this time the quarry's steam locomotive fleet had been replaced by second-hand diesels bought cheaply from British Railways.
Photograph taken by John Clayson

We do hope you have enjoyed reading this page. Please take a moment to tell us how you discovered it and at the same time send us some feedback by using the comments section at the end of the article.

A wealth of information about the Harlaxton ironstone quarries, including photographs of the quarries in operation, can be found in The Ironstone Quarries of the Midlands: History, Operation and Railways Part 8: South Lincolnshire, pages 130-177 written by Eric Tonks, ISBN  978-1-907094-07-1.

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.

9 thoughts on “The Woolsthorpe Branch Rediscovered – Part 3

  1. Ricky

    My son and I walked around the switch back point, there are still sleepers and a what looks like an old tipper waggon side!!!!

  2. Alan Lucraft

    I remember finding that piece of steel from a wagon back in 1986 whilst on a visit to the quarries and trackbed with Eric Tonks and other members of the Industrial Railway Society, it is probably a remnant of one of the wagons scrapped at the end of the reversing point after one of the two runaways that occurred on the steep incline down from the quarries.

    Oh, and this website is terrific, some superb coverage of the railways in the area.

    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Hello Alan,
      Thank you for your comment about the wagon wreckage at Harlaxton and also for your compliments on the site. We rely on the support of local people for most of the content, so gratitude is due mainly to our many contributors.
      John Clayson

  3. Ben Hack

    This is a route I’ve cycled many times and a constant companion is Mr Eric Tonks’s Ironstone Quarries of the Midlands Pt VIII. I love this route as at the reversing point there is a good view of Grantham. I think the Border Terrier is the farmer’s. As I was cycling through his field on the footpath the dog came over and became my friend for 1/2 hr, just couldn’t get him to go home!

    A terrific website as I enjoy seeing what Grantham used to look like before my time!

    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Hello Ben,
      Thank you for your kind comments. It's great to hear that you enjoy Tracks through Grantham. John Pegg and his granddaughter explored the route for us, so I'll let them know that the dog is still greeting visitors to its territory. We appreciate feedback, so you're very welcome to continue to keep in touch.
      John Clayson

  4. Steve Thornewill


    I grew up in Harlaxton and, with absolutely nothing else to do in the village, playing in the fields was to only option. We had great fun avoiding the "radar" that the trains carried (peeping boxes to warn wildlife). As kids we only had a small view of where the tracks went through the fields and we had no idea of the purpose so thanks for compiling the website filling in the background details of route, purpose and history. Those were the days...

    Steve Thornewill

  5. Jeff Bullock

    I grew up at the top of Swine Hill at Harlaxton from 1948 till 1955. We played around the quarry and the railway and I well remember the runaway train that burst through the sand catcher at the bottom of the hill and finished up, engine nose down in the ditch at the side of the road and a line of trucks behind. I was about nine or ten. The recovery was done while we were at school to my great disappointment, I think they used a bigger engine to haul them back up onto the track.


    I saw the link to the 'site in this month's Steam World. I lived in the house featured on page 136 of Eric Tonks' book on South Lincs quarries. We walked across 2 level crossings in the quarry yard to get to the road to catch the school bus. The sound of locos working hard, bringing the empties up the gradient, was an everyday background sound.
    I remember Ajax, Buccleugh and Sir Joseph working the quarries and Harlaxton, Achilles and Gunby taking the loaded wagons down the line.

    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Hello James - thank you very much for sharing your memories of the railways at Harlaxton ironstone quarries. As you can see from my photo at the end of the article, I paid a visit there once but unfortunately it was after the steam locos had been retired. I went with a friend who had just passed his driving test and we borrowed his parents' VW Beetle to get around the countryside to these remote locations.
      John Clayson


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