It really is 50 years ago...

Four days into 2009, the national media have mostly been interested in a recession, Isreal bombing Palestine and the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution. Cuba has once again overshadowed the other notable 50th anniversary.

The 4th of January 1959 was the last day on which a passenger train ran along the Wye Valley and Ross and Monmouth railways to Monmouth. 50 years on, we organised a special trip out to commemorate it. The weather was snowy originally, but the best that could be managed 50 years on was a heavy frost.


Start: Cathedral Car Park, adjacent to Chepstow Cathedral and near to Chepstow station, Chepstow.
Finish: Troy Gardens, adjacent to the former Monmouth Troy station and near to the A449/A40 dual carriageway, Monmouth.
Via: Tidenham station, Tintern Quarry, Old Station Tintern, Llandogo Halt, Whitebrook Halt, Redbrook, Wyesham Halt.
Length: 16 miles.
Start Time: 09:45
Finish Time: 17:15
Journey Time: 7½ hours
Photos taken: 221
Date: 04/01/2009
Notes: Too dark after Redbrook for realistic photography.
 Chepstow was the starting point for both the 1959 service (11:20) and the 2009 walk (09:45). Due to the limited light it was decided to cut Chepstow station from the route and save 5 minutes which could be better spent stuck in bramble bushes. The loss of the OB's local station and the cessation of rail services to Monmouth means that the train was never particularly practical for this one-way walk to Monmouth anyway. Therefore a short-stay car park on the North side of the A48 was chosen as a starting point and, after 5 minutes of steady walking, this point was reached - on the East bank of the river, looking down on the A48 and the railway. Chepstow station is behind the large warehouse in the centre of the image.
 Trees have grown up where there was once a view North across the snow towards locomotive No. 6439, at the head of the train. The railway has just climbed up a 1-in-66 bank from Wye Valley Junction and now turns to head Northwards across the landscape towards Tidenham.

 Tidenham was already a little too tired to be a chocolate box image in 1959, but the view today shows no buildings, no trains, no snow and no track. Instead we have buddleia. The only vehicle in view is the resident trailer.

Tidenham is the "odd-one-out" among the stations on this route - the 1959 special was not the last to pass this way. A string of tours subsequently trundled through on their way to Tintern Quarry. After the quarry closed they took to terminating in the quarry loops just north of Tidenham station instead. They have their own webpage here.

 By 1959 the Wireworks branch had been abandoned for 24 years. There are no signs of traffic returning, unless you count a couple and their dog going for a walk.

 At Tintern station the 1959 train stopped for water, allowing the passengers to get out and mill about. Briefly the station was a hive of activity, with 400 people on the train and uncounted locals taking advantage of the sight of the last-ever passenger train to call at the railway's busiest station. Fast-forward 50 years and the place is deserted, with no passengers, no train and no staff. The station is locked up between Christmas and April, regardless of anniversaries. Maybe we should have told them.

The weather briefly thought about snowing here, possibly timing it so that if the trip took in Tintern Tunnel then it could get it over with before anyone noticed. Tintern Tunnel was not on the agenda, however, and so there was just enough time to spot that it was snowing before it thought better of it, and the weather returned to biting cold without snow.

 The last train to call at Llandogo on its way to Monmouth was on a "crisp winter morning" (Brian Handley). By the time the special got here on the 4th of January 2009 it was a cold winter afternoon and the camera was on strike.
 Handley also features a picture of Whitebrook Halt on the 4th of January 1959, showing a snow-covered platform, shelter and background house. At that stage it appeared to be black, although black is an unusual colour for a house. It is now painted white to go with the snow, except snow went with the ice age and the frost just isn't the same.
 Although Redbrook station had a reputation for good gardens and attractive scenery (boosted by the station platform being a little further up the line from the goods yard), most of this was somewhat under the weather in 1959. By 2009, it had all been swept away. This photo shows where 6412 came to rest (ok, not quite - there were several bramble bushes growing on the critical point and this view is taken from where the loco's buffers were), with the fire giving off warm air in the cab on a cold morning. 6412 has gone now, but a fire (probably not the same one) was burning happily in the same place 50 years and half a day later.
 The 1959 railtour arrived in Wyesham less than 10 minutes after leaving Redbrook and was pelted with snowballs as it passed through. The 2009 walk arrived in Wyesham less than 40 minutes after leaving Redbrook and spent some time trying to take an adequate photo in the dark. This is the new estate next to what was once Wyesham Halt, seen on a 10-second exposure. Due to global warming, days are shorter than they were in 1959.
 Not even a 10-second exposure could obtain a decent view of Monmouth Troy by 5pm on the 4th of January 2009. Here the 1959 railtour turned and headed North towards Ross-on-Wye, with 6412 leading and 6439 tailing the 8-coach set. It returned later in the day and headed South back to Chepstow - the last passenger train to serve Monmouth. Our re-run was suffering from exhaustion and a bad leg by this stage and so resolved to catch the train back - until it was remembered that it left 50 years previously, almost to the hour. It is most annoying to miss a train by such a large margin, but happily it was possible to cadge a lift from the convenient chauffeur-driven Bedmobile. In an unusually public-spirited gesture, complemented by true lack of compliance with our copyright notice, the Order of the Bed has decided to release this picture into the public domain.
It would be nice to think that there will be no need for a 60th anniversary special walk because the railway will have been re-opened by then. However, there is always the possibility that in 10 years time the line will be in the same condition as it is today. It would then be jolly nice if the walk could either begin three-quarters of an hour earlier or if a special train could be commissioned for running along the line between Tidenham and Tintern Quarry, substantially reducing the journey time for the walk.

Meanwhile locomotive No. 6412 is now owned by the South Devon Railway and appears to have a prosperous career ahead of it in preservation. It has already been preserved for longer than it worked in service. It has also worked on both the South Devon Railway and the West Somerset Railway immediately following their re-opening, so it cannot be accused of being cursed.

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