Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Bluestone 'Cut'

Last Sunday I wrote about Big Hill 'Cut' and I mentioned that the railway between Rookby Scarth and Kirkby Stephen had only been 'doubled' in the early 1890's. After that work was complete the North Eastern Railway turned its attention to the line to the east end of the SD&LUR between 'Barney' and Bishop Auckland,  and in 1899 'doubling' was authorised  for a mile up the steep  bank between Barnard Castle East signal box and Coal Road level crossing and also between Forthburn and Gibbs Neese. This left a mile and a half of single line working in the middle between Coal Road and Forthburn, where the railway cut through the ridge on the northern edge of Teesdale.

This missing 'gap' was never doubled because the line ran through a very deep and narrow cutting known to railwaymen as Bluestone 'Cut', named after a local farm just above the railway. It was almost as deep as  'Big Hill' and much longer, running for nearly a mile north eastwards. At one end the train crew picked up the 'tablet' at Coal Road crossing and at the other at Forthburn. This was one of the loneliest boxes on the line reached only by walking along the track through the cut or by a path over the fields. Photographs of the cutting seem to be very rare, the only one I have seen in print is in Allan W. Stobbs' book 'Memories of the LNER in South West Durham'.

As a child I have a vivid memory of walking out from 'Barney' with my grandmother to have lunch with my grandfather who was on duty in Forthburn signal box. We headed up the road past Coal Road cabin, turned left and then off the road and down onto the single track and into the shadows of Bluestone 'Cut' itself. It was quite a scary place with solid walls of rock on either side of the track and very little clearance. I remember worrying about what the heck would happen if two 4MT's stormed into view with a mineral train but I guess they had  fixed on a known lull in the traffic for this lunchtime adventure.

Recently I have been a couple of times to where the road crosses the course of the line but even in winter the entrance to this cutting now seems hopelessly overgrown and I have never ventured in. I suppose it is a kind of 'land of lost content' for me down there, a veritable Cockaigne for 'gricers'. But in truth even if you could force a passage through the undergrowth it is probably horribly swampy and half buried with fly tipping. Dreams so often are!

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