exploring the North Dorset Trailway

Spetisbury station is conveniently located at the start of the North Dorset Trailway, which mostly follows the trackbed of the old Somerset & Dorset railway as far as Sturminster Newton. Last week my wife and I hiked along the Trailway from Blandford to Shillingstone and back, so I thought I’d share some of the photos I took. The Dorset countryside looked beautiful in the sunshine, and so peaceful too being away from the main roads. From the site of Blandford station, the Trailway heads north through Milldown towards Stourpaine, where the platform of Stourpaine & Durweston Halt can be glimpsed between the trees. Here there is a short diversion away from the railway trackbed, but it rejoins the old line at the spot where the Stourpaine Loop allowed trains on this single track stretch of railway to pass. Slightly further on, there is a new footbridge over the River Stour to replace Hodmoor Bridge which was demolished after the railway closed. Continuing north, the cutting at Gain’s Cross has been infilled and the three-arch Cliff Bridge buried along with it, although the parapets can still be seen. Then it was onwards to Shillingstone, where the North Dorset Railway has restored and rebuilt the station. It’s quite a long walk but easy-going, but it can be easily cycled to if you don’t fancy the walk. Find out more about the Trailway here.

work party 4th July

A shortened work party today as the spells of warm sunshine in the morning gave way to heavy rain by lunchtime. But we still made some progress in that the grass on the platforms has been mown and some of the flower borders have been tidied up. The rain and sun of late has certainly caused the grass and foliage to grow quickly but we are doing our best to keep it all as attractive and welcoming as possible, and it was good to hear the nice compliments from several passers-by today. One job we had hoped to do was remove the running in boards from their posts. These have now deteriorated to such an extent that they are a real eyesore. However, the rain came down so this will be a job hopefully for next time. But don’t worry, we have plans drawn up to replace them with much more durable signs.

work party 23rd May

There were four of us for today’s work party – Dean, Sally, Rob and me (Kevin). In between the rain showers we set to work tidying some of the flower borders. After several months of not being able to hold work parties, nature has started to reclaim the station site again. But, to be honest, I really like the slightly wild look and it is nice to see the colourful wild flowers taking hold in some areas. We will continue to keep the grass trimmed around the picnic areas and on the platforms, but for now it’s actually good to just let nature take its course. And of course it’s ‘No Mow May’ when grass should be left uncut to encourage wild flowers (which sounds like a good excuse to use)! What do you think?

a welcome donation

We have recently received a generous donation towards the Spetisbury Station Project from Ashley Babbs of the local Blandford Estate Agent. Ashley spent the majority of his childhood living in Spetisbury, and has many happy memories playing on the old railway line, Spetisbury Rings and the water meadows. In more recent years Ashley has visited the old station many times with his children. In recognition of our hard work at the station he wanted to make a donation to help the project, so kindly got in touch.

If you are looking for a local agent with real knowledge of the area, do get in touch with Ashley and his colleagues!

Thank you Ashley for your donation, we are always pleased to support local businesses.

work party 9th May, we need your help!

We’re back! We held out first work party of the year today now that lockdown restrictions have been eased, and it was great to be back at the station. We were joined by Frances, one of our gardening ladies, who did a good job of tidying her flower bed. Unfortunately, the heavy rain of yesterday and the steady drizzle this morning meant that we couldn’t accomplish much today, but we did manage to clear the steps up to the platform of weeds. Our little wildlife pond was also looking very attractive now that the plants have matured a bit more.

Four months of no work parties has meant that the station site isn’t looking as neat and tidy as we would normally like, with much grass cutting, weeding and hedge cutting now needed. To be honest, the small team of volunteers do struggle to keep on top of things and we would welcome new members to help out in any capacity. None of the team actually live in Spetisbury, and we would be particularly pleased to see local residents join us to help look after their outdoor space. Details about how to join us can be found here.

wildlife pond

a ‘might have been’ railway scheme from the 1890s….

A follower has kindly contacted us about a fascinating proposed railway scheme which would have greatly changed Blandford as a railway town, and provided increased train connections from surrounding villages including Spetisbury.

In the 1890s the Wilts, Dorset & East Devon Railway was an ambitious plan to construct a new route from Salisbury to Exeter via Blandford. The first 21 mile section would have left the Salisbury to Yeovil line at Wilton and pass through new stations at Broadchalke, Sixpenny Handley and Pimperne before joining the Somerset & Dorset railway at Blandford, where a new junction would have been built. The line would have then run for 11 miles through Blandford St Mary, Winterbourne Whitechurch and Bere Regis to join the London & South Western Railway’s Poole to Dorchester line at Moreton. The line would have then continued 50 miles through Shipton Gorge, Bridport, Charmouth, Lyme Regis, Seaton and Sidmouth and connect with the L&SWR line at Topsham, just a few miles from Exeter.

Plans drawn up by J.F. Errington Barnes of Dorchester sought to ‘connect the watering-places of Devonshire and Dorsetshire and develop the resources of the district.’ The Western Gazette of 23rd November 1894 reported: ‘The country through which the proposed line will pass is certain to be benefitted, a large quantity of agricultural and dairy produce, at present to be conveyed by road for long distances. The local population amounts to 90,000, and if this is to be added to Salisbury and Exeter, the total reaches about 140,000. The advantages possessed by the project railway are obvious and its construction would be welcomed by the large number of landowners, mill owners, farmers and other traders as well as residents in the localities affected.’ The Wilts, Dorset & East Devon railway would have provided faster journey times between London, Dorchester and Exeter, but in the end the line was never built.

The information above is taken from an article published in the Blandford Express .

springtime at the station

Today my wife and I took a walk along the North Dorset Trailway, past Spetisbury station and up to the iron age hillfort known as Spetisbury Rings or Crawford Castle. Although it is still a bit chilly for the time of year, it was nice to see the fresh springtime colours all around and see a kestrel hovering overhead. The station team are very much looking forward to resuming work parties later this month – heck out our event diary page for updates.

On our walk I couldn’t help think about the changing landscapes through which ran the Somerset & Dorset railway. The northern section from Bath down to Evercreech Junction took the line over the steep Mendip Hills through a succession of tunnels and over several viaducts, passing several collieries. Heavy trains often had to be double-headed to cope with the gradients up to the summit of the line 811ft above sea level at Masbury. From Evercreech Junction down to Bournemouth the scenery was more open and rolling, and any late-running trains could make up a bit of lost time on the fastest section of the line from Blandford through Spetisbury to Corfe Mullen. In complete contrast, from Evercreech Junction a branch line ran across the lonely and remote Somerset Levels, carefully avoiding any centres of population (except Glastonbury) on its way to Burnham-on-Sea. This section was often dead straight and level for mile after mile. The numerous level crossings were worked from isolated crossing keeper cottages, which mostly had no running water so drinking water was delivered in churns by the locomotive crews. What a lonely, but perhaps very pleasant, way of life!

all about signalling

We have just put the finishing touches to the latest addition to the website – a new webpage all about signalling and the signal box. The signal box is just about the most interesting aspect of Spetisbury station that we have excavated, and further research has given us a fascinating insight into its working.

This photograph is of particular interest as it shows Spetisbury station during rebuilding circa 1900, when double track and an extra platform was provided. Prominent is one of the original disc & crossbar signals, which would soon be removed. On the right is the newly built station building on the new ‘up’ platform. On the far left the new signal box is under construction, along with one of the more modern semaphore signals which superseded the disc & crossbar signals. You can just make out a large white cross on the arm of the semaphore signal, which indicated that it was not yet in use. The signal box and new signalling came into operation on 29th April 1901 when double track operation was introduced between Bailey Gate and Blandford.

construction of the signal box (left) circa 1900

let is snow!

This photo has just come our way, a really wintry scene taken at Spetisbury. We don’t have any other details of the year, etc, but the winter of 1962/63 was particularly harsh with widespread blizzards across south west England. In fact, the northern part of the Somerset & Dorset line over the Mendip Hills became blocked for a time. The locomotive is a former Midland Railway 4F 0-6-0 on a goods train, possibly from Evercreech Junction to Poole. The location is the bridge (now demolished) over Louse Lane at the southern end of the village. The train has just passed through the cutting made through the lower slopes of Spetisbury Rings hill fort.  During construction of the railway in 1857, a large number of human skeletons were unearthed here – read the full story on the station history page.

‘down’ goods train in the snow at Spetisbury

At the moment it’s not snow that prevents us from working at the station, but Covid-19! Due to the lockdown, we are not able to hold work parties but we will be back in action just as soon as we can! Please check the events diary page for further information.

Christmas work party 20th December

We had some welcome sunshine for today’s last work party of the year, well I say ‘work party’ but not much work actually took place…. Instead, the team enjoyed a socially-distanced festive picnic lunch. It was also good to see other local families having their own picnics and drinks on the other tables dotted around the station site. From the platform we had a good view across the Stour Valley which had become flooded after recent heavy rain.

A total of 76 letters were posted in Santa’s Post Box at the station, mainly by children in the Acorn, Ash and Elm classes at Spetisbury Primary School.  Santa (aka Moira) and Santa’s Little Helper (Moira’s neighbour) worked very hard to reply individually to each child and also send small gifts and treats. This has become a Christmas tradition over recent years and we are pleased to support the local community in this way, and to have received such positive feedback from the school, including this post on their Facebook page:

The team would like to wish all its supporters and visitors to the station a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and let’s hope 2021 is a better year for everyone. Work parties start again on Sunday 3rd January – click here for a full list of dates. We hope to see you soon!