On the 4th of March 1967, the Budleigh Salterton Railway branch line closed. It ran from Sidmouth Junction (now called Feniton) to Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth, Devon. The wave of manic railway closures in the 1960’s included this branch line. It was believed that its main users were holiday makers rather than local residents. This was probably true because the timetable was so poor that it didn’t meet the needs of local people. The trains were infrequent and British Railways refused to listen to the users demands. Passengers wanted direct trains into Exeter via this route or convenient connections with mainline trains at Sidmouth Junction.
50 years later…
On the 6th of March 2017, fifty years almost to the day the line closed, the local Otter Valley Associationorganized a walk over part of the old route. The route is NOT a public right of way but landowners Clinton Devon Estates gave permission for access on this special occasion.
The walk started adjacent to the site of Newton Poppleford station. There is no trace of the single platform or goods shed as they were demolished years ago. It’s just possible to compare photographs taken during the line’s operation with the site today. Sadly, the only remnants were the two concrete posts leading into the former good yard. However, the former station master’s house is still standing.
As a railwayman, the sight of a disused railway never fails to stir anger and resentment within me towards those responsible for the destruction of the railways. Many obstacles to reinstatement of the lines were put in place including demolishing bridges and embankments. Small sections of track bed sold off to individual landowners. Those in power had vested interests in road transport and wanted to make sure that any future rail competition would be disadvantaged. It is completely outrageous.
We left the old station behind and headed across the busy main road dodging cars. The start of the route is along a residential road to a locked farm gate. After passing through, the party of around forty walkers proceeded along the old track bed. When walking old lines, I always look for evidence of the former railway as I walk the route. It was easy to spot the concrete fence posts that marked of the borders of the railway line. On this route these must have been made in the Exmouth Junction concrete works many years ago. There was no evidence of ballast.
After a short time we arrived at a gated bridge over the River Otter. I spotted what appeared to be sleepers on the bridge.
Further on we saw overgrown accommodation crossings complete with posts and railings and the remains of a gate.
I took a number of photos of buildings that were probably there when the line was operating. There is a DVD of the line showing footage taken from a train heading along this part of the route. It would be interesting to identify and compare scenes from yesteryear and today.
The River Otter looped round on the West side of the line and we crossed on another steel overbridge. Soon after, we were passed by the current motive power on the route – a tractor hauling a trailer full of slurry. The smell was rather unsavory to say the least! I would have preferred smell of a passing steam locomotive! Nearing Otterton a small bridge had Bullhead rail included as part of its construction.
East Budleigh Station
We were greeted by the current owner of East Budleigh station. He has laid a 7¼” gauge railway on the former standard gauge track bed. This runs along the length of the original platform and around the front of the station buildings. We were delighted to be offered train rides which was a very nice and welcome gesture and we left donations for Millwater School. The station exterior is largely unchanged since closure and is well maintained.
During lunch, we spent a pleasant half an hour taking in the atmosphere of the old station. I had a book on the line with me containing an extract of the working timetable from 1951. I decided to check to see whether there would have been a train due. There was and it would have been a freight train from Exmouth to Tipton St John. It was timed to arrive at 12:35 and had a few minutes to shunt the yard before departing at 12:45 for Colaton Raleigh sidings arriving four minutes later. Here it would shunt again but with slightly less time before departing at 12:54 for Newton Poppleford to shunt the yard there. This would have been a truly magnificent sight now sadly lost forever.
After lunch was over we departed East Budleigh station ourselves and headed along a section of track bed which was new to me. I enjoyed the sight of the Silcock’s Grain Store erected in the early 1950’s at East Budleigh station that would have been the focus of the pick up freight train all those years ago.
There were lovely views across the fields. How much more enjoyable would they be from a moving train? In the 1960’s, John Betjeman said that you see much more countryside from a train an ever you do from a motor car. He also referred to the difficulties experienced by motorists with lorries in front and neurotics hooting from behind. He said we would deeply regret destroying branch lines and, of course, he was totally right.
We passed over a leat which leading down to the River Otter. Nearing Budleigh Salterton, we briefly left the old line as a large pile of hay blocked the track bed. However, the diversion afforded us the view of one of the railway overbridges over a small farm track.
It was only after crossing the B3178 road, that we were able to rejoin the railway route at Kersbrook on the edge of Budleigh Salterton. Here we saw a magnificent skewed bridge constructed of brick and this was our access back onto the trackbed. After walking through a lovely wooded section we climbed a path up to road level and stood on the road bridge looking down onto the former railway.
Originally the railway terminated at Budleigh Salterton. The extension to Exmouth was opened six years later on 1st June 1903 . We left the line at Budleigh to be guests of the Fairlynch Museum which has an exhibition of artifacts from the station including the running in boards and the station totem sign. What a wonderful day I had following in the path of passengers on the trains from over fifty years ago. I only wish this country would get its act together and reinstate branch lines to relieve our overcrowded roads and provide a safer and more relaxing way to travel on the railways.