Forest of Dean Visit

Class 56 No. 56078 stands at the buffer stops adjacent to Horton Road Level Crossing, Gloucester on 30th December 2021

Over the New Year we were lucky enough to spend a few days in the beautiful Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. On our journey to our hotel we made a slight diversion via Gloucester as COLAS liveried Class 56 No. 56078 had worked 0Z51 Bescot Up Engineers Sidings to Gloucester on 29th December and was sitting at the buffer stops adjacent to Horton Road Level Crossing before her onward journey to Port Talbot on New Year’s Eve. As can be seen in the video below, our brief interlude at Gloucester Railway Station also produced a couple of CrossCountry Voyagers and the Direct Rail Services (DRS) Daventry to Wentloog Tesco service. 221132 can be seen sitting at Gloucester platform 4 with the 1S43 0725 Plymouth to Edinburgh Waverley service which had been terminated at Gloucester because of “severe flooding beyond that which could be mitigated on Network rail infrastructure.” Stablemate 221130 arrives with the 1S47 0927 Plymouth to Edinburgh. Class 66 No. 66427 is working 4V44 Daventry DRS (Tesco ) to Wentloog ( Freightliner ) passing Horton Road Level Crossing, Gloucester on 30th December 2021 and the same loco can also be seen working 4Z36 1530 Wentloog ( Freightliner ) to Daventry DRS (Tesco ) passing through Lydney on 31st December 2021. The wait at Lydney was made all the more interesting chatting to a young rail enthusiast, and his dad, about his love of all things Direct Rail Services. He was visiting the station with a banner wishing DRS a Happy New Year. Fabulous and well received by the driver of 66427 if the deployment of the locomotives’ horn is anything to go by! The CrossCountry Voyager units preceding the Daventry working are 220013 and 221127 forming the 1Z53 1227 Plymouth to Edinburgh service which escaped the disruption to XC services due to industrial action over the role of train guards on New Year’s Eve.

While in Lydney, we made a visit to Lydney Harbour which has contributed to centuries of prosperity to the local economy and also that of Britain. Lydney Harbour was where the vast majority of Forest coal, iron ore and other commodities was loaded into ships bound for Bristol, the West Country and Ireland. In the late 18th and 19th Centuries, a network of horse drawn tramways proliferated the Forest of Dean built to transport coal and ironstone to local ironworks as well as the harbour at Lydney. These tramways were replaced in the mid-nineteenth century which saw the introduction of railways to the Forest.

Yoshi at Lydney Harbour

The Lydney and Lydbrook Railway was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1809. This became the Severn & Wye Railway and Canal Company and the current canal and basin complex at Lydney was constructed by them between 1810 and 1813, the outer harbour being completed in 1821. A horse drawn tramway was the first evidence of rails at the harbour. This was converted to Great Western Broad Gauge in 1868 and finally to standard gauge in 1872. Where the River Severn narrows is the site of the Severn Rail Bridge which was built 1875 – 1879 and was seriously damaged in an accident on 25th October 1960.

Two river barges hit one of the piers on the bridge, causing two spans to collapse into the Severn. As they fell, parts of the structure hit the barges causing the oil and petrol they were carrying to catch fire. Five people lost their lives in the incident. In the January 1961 edition of The Railway Magazine hopes were expressed that the bridge would be repaired as, in the 1959 British Transport Commission report to the Ministry of Transport on the re-appraisal of the plan for modernising British railways, it was stated the Severn Railway Bridge route would be developed to relieve the congested Severn Tunnel. However, further collisions with the bridge piers in the years following resulted in British Rail demolishing the bridge between 1967 and 1968 as it was felt to be beyond economical repair. A memorial to those who lost their lives in the 1960 accident is situated at Lydney Harbour.

Memorial to those who lost their lives during the Severn & Wye Railway Bridge disaster

For the duration of our visit to the Forest of Dean, we stayed at The Speech House Hotel, a former 17th Century hunting lodge built for King Charles II. Built in 1676 the hotel is situated close to the centre of the Forest on a site used for the holding of the Forest Courts at which the Foresters settled matters of dispute and privilege concerning mining and Forestry Law and custom. The hotel was enlarged in the later part of the 19th Century but nearly all the original building remains and has been refurbished to offer modern facilities and luxurious rooms while retaining its period features. The Speech House Hotel also has dog friendly rooms and our four legged companions are allowed in The Orangery which serves light meals and afternoon tea. We found the menu, devised by Head Chef Gareth Jenkins, varied and interesting showcasing local produce from the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley. It was also extremely tasty! Our room was clean and comfortable and the New Year’s Eve meal and entertainment enjoyable whilst observing covid guidelines.

Our stay included a guided walk through a part of the Forest which was formerly the track bed of the Severn & Wye Railway Mineral Loop which ran from Drybrook Road near Cinderford to Tufts Junction, just south of Whitecroft. The section from Drybrook Road to New Fancy Colliery / Mallards Pike is now a cycleway and footpath. Construction of the Mineral Loop began in September 1870 and was built to standard gauge as the Great Western Railway was at that time converting from broad gauge. The line was opened to traffic by May 1872. During the Second World War, the Forest of Dean was used for ammunition storage and to facilitate this, the Mineral Loop was severed in May 1942, the track being relaid some 19 months later in December 1943. By the end of the war all the collieries located along the Mineral Loop had closed, the military depot at Moseley tunnel providing the sole traffic for the line. In March 1951 the Mineral Loop was cut at Moseley Green and the line south of this point closed as far as Pillowell. The remainder of the line was closed in June 1953 with the exception of the section between Pillowell and Whitecroft. The Forest of Dean Railway Trail and Mineral Loop is a 6.8 km loop trail located near Cinderford, Gloucestershire that features a river and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for walking, running, and mountain biking and is accessible year-round.

Following our walk and a very welcome spot of lunch, we headed into nearby Coleford primarily to visit The Great Western Railway Museum Coleford, which I had gleaned from their website was open on Fridays and Saturdays. Perfect as our stay coincided with a Friday. However we soon learned, not a Friday which happens to fall on December 31st. Completely understandable, but a pity the website had not been updated to reflect this prior to my email to the museum to enquire about their next scheduled opening sent on 31st December. The museum is housed in one of the last remaining permanent railway buildings in the Forest of Dean on the site of the former Coleford railway yard. Have to say, it looks an interesting location with an exciting collection of artefacts and we will hopefully find time to visit another time in the future.

After spending the evening celebrating the arrival of 2022 we were up early on New Year’s Day as we had booked a steam train ride on the Dean Forest Railway, an 85 minute nine mile round trip starting at Norchard Station. The train heads south to Lydney Junction and north to Parkend before returning to Norchard. The train stops for around 20 minutes at each end of the line where the engine runs around its train which provided ample time for photographs and for anyone who wishes to do so, to visit the footplate of the locomotive, although I’m not sure if dogs are allowed! The Dean Forest Railway started life as a tramroad in 1810 and was retained by British Railways until 1985. Today’s Dean Forest Railway Society began heritage operations on a small siding at Parkend in 1971 with the aim of preserving and operating the last remaining section of the Severn and Wye Railway. They moved to develop the Norchard site in 1978 followed by extensions towards Lydney Junction in 1995 and Parkend in 2006. Everyone we met representing the railway was extremely friendly and helpful. The locomotive for our January 1st trip was 4575 Class small Prairie tank engine No. 5541 which was built by the Great Western Railway at Swindon Works in 1928. She spent much of her working life in Machynlleth having been previously briefly based at Swindon shed and Bristol Bath Road. During 1960 she moved again to Plymouth Laira where she stayed before being withdrawn from service on 10th July 1962 having completed 921,589 miles in revenue earning service. In September 1962 she was sold for scrap and taken to Messrs. Woodham Bros of Barry where she remained until 1971 when 5541 was saved and moved by rail to the Dean Forest Railway at Parkend; the 25th locomotive to leave Barry Scrapyard for preservation. She arrived at her new home on 10th October 1972 in time for the October Gala Day. Restoration was undertaken on the siding behind the down platform at Parkend and was completed, and first steamed on 29th November 1975. On 16th January 1978 in light steam, she joined the movement of stock from Parkend to Norchard and was a regular performer on the short track constructed at the Steam Centre. The 4575 Class were popular engines on the GWR, they were versatile and well-liked by crew. They were an improved version of the 45xx Class engines, the main modification being the larger, sloped tanks and cast motion brackets.

The videos below show a taste of our 2021 visit as well as a previous visit of mine made in 1995:


The Railway Magazine – January 1961

Many thanks to Caroline for allowing me the use of her photographs within the galleries above

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