The Ross and Monmouth Railway

This railway had a fairly self-explanatory title. Its aim in life was to link the town of Ross, with its Hereford, Ross and Gloucester Railway, with the town of Monmouth and its Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway. This helpful little railway therefore had (it thought) the opportunity to become a major north-south route while serving lots of local communities and so enthusiastically rushed off to obtain its Act of Parliament in 1865. This allowed it to raise most of its planned budget before an economic collapse brought on by the contractor on an adjacent railway in 1866 killed all prospects of finding people with large sums of money.

This caused some problems for its grand schemes, which would ultimately result in the map seen at left. Small railways can be surprisingly bold, however, and the Ross and Monmouth decided to push for it. Working south from Ross, it completed both its tunnels, all three planned intermediate stations, two of the three proposed river crossings and 12 of its 13 miles before funding ran out in 1873, leaving it stuck outside the May Hill pub at Monmouth wondering what to do next. Its solution was probably the best possible option - it built a temporary southern terminus (named after the pub) and inaugrated services between Ross and Monmouth. The following year it crossed the river, joined the line from Pontypool at Monmouth Troy, and settled down to make money.

The three intermediate stations were called Kerne Bridge (which also served Goodrich and its castle), Lydbrook Junction (about a mile from Lydbrook) and Symonds Yat (perhaps the most perfectly situated station in the country, sat at the bottom of a deep, rocky, wooded valley on the river bank miles from anywhere). 1875 saw the Severn and Wye Railway open their line from Serridge Junction, sat happily a mile from anywhere in the middle of the Forest of Dean, to Lydbrook; it terminated at Lydbrook Junction, giving the stop (theoretically) four platforms (the fourth - the Severn and Wye's spare platform - was actually probably never used very much) and therefore making it the largest station on Monmouth's rail network. It also meant that the Ross and Monmouth line was the only one of the four railways from Monmouth to have an intermediate junction with another railway - although the Wye Valley line did arrange to have its own branch line.

The Ross and Monmouth was arguably the most successful of Monmouth's branch lines, lasting with a separate company until a merger with the Great Western was forced by the Government in 1922. It developed some additional traffic with various private sidings on the lower sections of the line, while Walford Halt opened between Ross and Kerne Bridge in 1931. Nationalisation in 1948 had little effect, although a halt was opened at Hadnock in 1951 in an attempt to boost traffic in an area where there wasn't enough to justify building a decent platform. Kerne Bridge had lost its loop in the early 20th Century and now Symonds Yat lost its too. The line was always worked by steam locomotives; railway celebrity came towards the end with locomotive No. 1401, as seen in the 1953 film The Titfield Thunderbolt, working a few trains. It was not enough to save the line; closure came at the beginning of 1959, with the last regular trains on the 3rd of January, a final special on the 4th and death on the 5th. The Wye Valley line provided freight services to Monmouth's two stations while the Ross and Monmouth was closed south of Lydbrook; the line north of Lydbrook to Ross was retained for an Edison and Swann wireworks built in the triangle between the lines at Lydbrook Junction. The section between Monmouth May Hill and Monmouth Troy was shut in 1963, with Troy going at the beginning of the following year. Five months later the Hereford, Ross and Gloucester was closed, with Ross to Gloucester being retained for that wireworks at Lydbrook; tiring of paying the entire maintenance bill for a singularly expensive 15 miles of railway, the wireworks shut in 1965 and the remains of the line closed.

The pictures below - all taken on the 3rd of January 2010 - give some idea of this route, reopening possibilities and issues and what survives of a rather splendid, if slow, bit of railway.

Monmouth Troy

Our journey to Ross begins from Platform 2 at Monmouth Troy, looking towards the station's east throat where the Ross and Monmouth line ran straight ahead before curving north and crossing the river to head for Monmouth May Hill, while the Wye Valley line branched off and curved gently away on its own viaduct to Wyesham before curving south and departing for Chepstow. Behind the camera trains ran through Monmouth Tunnel to Pontypool; for the first 40 years of the Ross line's career it was worked as a through line from Ross to Pontypool, but the amalgamation of the Ross and Monmouth into the Great Western saw the through route split, with passengers changing at Troy.

Monmouth's principal station was not quite the typical country junction - it had no bay platforms for branch trains, for example - and generally had the appearance of a minor through station. However, after the First World War the three lines which congregated on this spot all treated it as a terminus and for the second half of 1954 - its peak year - its 19 daily terminating passenger and 3 goods trains must have created fairly perpetual bustle - particularly by rural junction standards. Kitted out with a large main building, small refreshment room and spacious goods yard, it was arguably the best station that Monmouth could have had - apart from its location, which was poor, and the quality of through services to places away from the branch lines, which (apart from Wye Valley services terminating at Severn Tunnel Junction, thereby sort of connecting with the mainline from South Wales to London) were non-existent.

Troy station provided the Ross and Monmouth Railway with a good southern terminus for 85 years, until all trains from Ross ceased in 1959. Its goods yard has gone, buried under new housing, but a gas station in the old station throat has saved the station site from redevelopment for now. It has recently been cleared of overgrowth, revealing its size (quite large compared to stations on surrounding lines) once more.

None of its four lines retain completely intact trackbeds; the most intact and therefore most likely to be resurrected is that from Chepstow along the Wye Valley. Those less familiar with the terrain should note as a basis that the Wye Valley Railway (Chepstow to Monmouth) is traditionally distinct from and should not be confused with all other railways along the long path of the Wye - unless referring to the 1985 company set up to recommence services between Chepstow, Monmouth, Ross, Hereford and Gloucester.

Monmouth May Hill

Monmouth May Hill was the temporary terminus of the Ross and Monmouth Railway and so for six months it represented Monmouth's rail outlet to the north. It was never given any freight facilities to speak of, although it did have a couple of private sidings - principally Troy handled all the messy stuff, while May Hill only handled passengers.

As May Hill was only served by trains to and from Ross for much of its life it did less business than Troy, despite its far more convenient location for the town centre. This convenient location meant that trains likely to carry schoolchildren ran through to May Hill occasionally from the Pontypool line (although since Wye Valley trains would have to turn at Troy to access May Hill and operators down the years never wanted to suggest that this was possible, Wye Valley schoolchildren just had to get off at Troy and walk). Other trains terminated at Troy and so it was that station which got most bookings to and from the Chepstow and Pontypool lines.

When closure came up May Hill was offered the rather unlikely prospect of promotion for a very brief period. The big idea from the locals was to concentrate trains on May Hill, perhaps ultimately axing the river crossings and re-instating the long gone third side of the triangle between Wyesham Halt and Monmouth May Hill. It was never going to happen; BR wasn't the sort of organisation that could get its head around such developments (the goods yard would need moving at enormous expense and May Hill would need resignalling; if trains were to continue using Troy then BR would just be puzzled as to why passengers couldn't change there or walk into Monmouth). Instead the timber buildings were razed to the ground and sports fields cover the site. This is the view from the access road; the station was located in front of where the large brick building in the centre now stands.

Proposals to re-open the line in 1985 thought that avoiding Troy would be a good idea; there was no need to worry about the goods yard by then and presumably the site was still available. Nowadays a station on the exact site of May Hill is essentially out of the question. Room remains on the south side of the bridge under the Coleford road, but generally it appears that Troy has won - unusually, since the original Troy was always eventually smashed, burned to the ground and the site redeveloped.

Hadnock Halt

Inspirational stations No. 5,965 - Hadnock Halt.

Ok, nobody has ever ranked stations by how inspirational they are, but Hadnock Halt, with its foot-high ten-yard-long platform and eight-year career can hardly rank very high. By the early 1950s it was an accepted idea that if slow branch trains were losing money the best way to rectify this was to provide minor wayside halts in the middle of nowhere, name them after places that may or may not exist (or perhaps after passing roads or pubs) and make the services slower. The provision of Hadnock Halt in 1951 was part of this general idea. Its construction cannot have cost very much, given that the platform barely reached rail level. It provided rail services to a few local houses near the top end of Hadnock Lane, about a mile out of Monmouth.

Closure in 1959 killed this section of line altogether and soon the stop was dismantled, with the little shelter being folded back up into its flatpack and the nameboard taken away. By the early 2000s no trace of Hadnock Halt remained; it was merely a large lump of earth, covered in brambles and populated with a few sheep waiting for a train that would never come. The Peregrine Path was run through here by Sustrans in 2007, linking a car park on the railway trackbed a few hundred yards to the south with Symonds Yat. The path is an excellent memorial to Monmouth's railways. Its terminus is in a slightly pointless location which requires people to go a long way out of Monmouth to pick it up. However, most of them now do it by car and the halt platform - now too low to meet current Health and Safety standards - continues to await its next service.

Arguably the path has, however, raised the "inspirational" rating of Hadnock Halt by a few hundred places. As one of only six stations on the Monmouth network to clearly retain its platform (the others being Usk, Raglan, St Briavels, Tintern and Tidenham) it is an excellent example of how a little investment can last for a very long time. In this case it has lasted nearly 60 years - five-sixths of that time has been spent without any trains.

Symonds Yat

Symonds Yat station was very tidily situated. Trains from Monmouth came up the valley and ran into the two-platform station built on the banks of the Wye, with the building on the Up platform being cantilevered out over the river (below the fence to the left) overlooking some rapids with a little island in the middle. The Down platform had an attractive timber building in the style of other station buildings along the line - a short low structure running into a square block with its roof set at right angles to the main building. At the east end of the station the two tracks merged and headed to the right of the large white building in the centre distance (which wasn't there in those days) into Symonds Yat Tunnel, from which they emerged into complete solitude, still on the banks of the Wye, under the mass of Symonds Yat Rock some 400 yards later. A picture of the station can be seen at an external link here.

The station remained much the same for most of its career; a quiet little place, disrupted only by the four passenger and one goods trains which passed through in each direction each day (Sundays excepted). In 1951 the points at the Ross end of the passing loop were removed and the Up line truncated to form a siding, which for the rest of the 1950s was used for a Camping Coach (essentially the rail-based equivalent of a caravan). The complete closure of this stretch of the line in 1959 meant that the station was simply left to rot away, with grass growing up on the running lines. By the time the demolition gangs arrived in 1962, after a three-year stay of execution to allow for possible re-opening, it must have seemed like the place was being put out of its misery. The gap between the platforms was filled in, although the general hump of the platforms survives.

All visitors to Symonds Yat now come by road. The station is unfortunately isolated on a stretch of line with industrial estates at each end, making re-opening difficult, otherwise it would seem to be somewhat ridiculous that the site can find no better use than a car park.. The west portal of the tunnel has been buried, but the struts for the Up platform shelter remain - as do some of the platform slabs at the other end of the station.

Lydbrook Junction

Lydbrook Junction was the point where the Forest of Dean and Monmouth rail networks met, providing a link that - had either network met the promises made by their promoters - should have been very successful. The Ross and Monmouth opened through here in 1873, running out of its tunnel through the distant hillside, crossing the Wye, passing through the gap in the trees to the left of the brick building and running down the track in the foreground towards Monmouth. A passing loop was provided here with two platforms, the station being located in the gap in the trees.

1875 brought the Severn and Wye Railway to the site and the station became a junction. The Severn and Wye line featured a tunnel at Mierystock (or Meirystock, or maybe it was Mirystock, or perhaps Mery Stock), stations at Upper and Lower Lydbrook and a fine girder viaduct over the mouth of the Lydbrook valley. It emerged at the bottom of a typically Severn and Wye steep gradient between the bank of trees and the shadow in the centre of the picture. Passenger services were run to the Severn and Wye's two platforms between 1875 and 1929, although there is no record that they ever ran off the insular Forest network and provided through trains to Monmouth (which would have been jolly handy).

Two railways proposed to give Lydbrook Junction a third railway. The first scheme was from the South Wales and Forest of Dean Junction Railway, which would have run from Abergavenny through Skenfrith to here, with a branch to Ross-on-Wye. The second came from the Golden Valley Railway, which ran trains slowly and unprofitably between Pontrilas and Hay-on-Wye, with a scheme for a branch to here from its new line between Pontrilas and Monmouth. Both would have been twisting single-track railways which would have crossed the Wye and this railway just east of Symonds Yat before curving the hillside just above the Ross and Monmouth, running along the bramble patch on the right and making a junction with the Severn and Wye Railway. The aim was to extract the allegedly remunerative Forest coal traffic. Neither line was built.

An Edison and Swann wireworks grew up in the triangle between the lines and provided profitable traffic. It could not save the Severn and Wye line, which fell out of use in 1956, but it gazed benevolently over the station as it became the only passing loop between Ross and Monmouth in 1951. From 1959 it was the sole source of traffic for the surviving stub of the line to Ross, but this traffic ceased in 1965 when it was taken over by a paper manufacturer. It became the Reeds Corrugated Cases factory and an aerial view, giving a better idea of the junction, can be seen at an external link here. Closure of the splendid site came in 2003. It appears to be in excellent condition today; had the railways in the area survived for other traffic it would perhaps still be using rail for its output.

Lydbrook Viaduct

Lydbrook Viaduct separated Lydbrook Junction from Lydbrook Tunnel. To the north of the tunnel the line ran briefly along the hillside and then crossed the river on a slightly longer and now demolished viaduct which carried it into Kerne Bridge station. Both viaducts were laid out in the same way - the line ran out from the abutment to the riverbank on small approach girders supported by some rather flimsy struts before crossing over the Wye on larger girders with bigger support pillars. Once back on the riverbank the approach girders resume to carry the line to the other abutment. The rails were laid on longitudinal baulk timbers (very thick sleepers laid under the rails with occasional timbers keeping them apart so that the rails keep their distance) with flimsy side fences. The design is vaguely reminiscent of that later used on the Wye Valley line at Penallt and Tintern, although those two structures benefitted from a spot of refinement; in this author's view Penallt Viaduct looks more attractive and less like a mixed bag of Meccano. Unlike Penallt, Lydbrook does not possess a footpath slung along the side of the bridge; instead, the public footpath over the river here (which evidently post-dates the line) runs over the main structure.

The viaduct spent a period in 2006 closed off for essential engineering works. Passing over it now one feels that more essential engineering works may be needed sooner or later, but local authorities round here have little money. The tunnel to the north was also closed off after closure with a solid breeze-block wall in each portal, which seems to have proved a little inconvenient (both for maintenance and for those who wish to explore it) since both portals now have identically-shaped holes in their walls. The northern portal is dry and as inviting as a dark hole ever can be, but the southern portal is three inches deep in water which continues for some distance into the bore.

Kerne Bridge

Kerne Bridge was the most northerly of the three intermediate stations opened with the line and is now the most intact of all the stations formerly served by Ross and Monmouth trains. The handsome little building overlooked fields leading down to the river on this side, while two platforms were situated between it and the road. The bridge itself crosses the Wye at this point, linking the local civilisation to the Bicknors and Goodrich Castle, and had to be rebuilt slightly to fit the line under the east end of it. The Castle was the line's pet ruin and the GWR keenly encouraged visitors.

In 1908 the Down platform at Kerne Bridge was taken out of use and converted into a siding by removing the pointwork at the northern end of the site. The 1930s saw this siding used for stabling a Camping Coach - a remarkably civilised one which opened onto a platform (access to most Camping Coaches required a certain degree of agility, since they were normally parked on a spare siding in the goods yard with a ladder provided for access). The Second World War stopped such frivolous things as holidays, but a new Camping Coach was brought in for the 1950s, giving the line two such vehicles.

Following closure, the station's growing dereliction was made increasingly apparent by the decision to relay the track through the Up platform with nice new concrete sleepers and fresh ballast, contrasting with the lifted track through the Down platform and the grass-covered platform surfaces. After all the track was lifted it became an outdoor activities place, with sleeping capacity being augmented by an old railway coach (a Mk 1 BSO for those who know the jargon). Suitably enlarged, the building is now a house (the fate of the BSO is unknown, but it's not here any more). The platforms are long gone, since the roads which once overlooked the station have been improved and widened, obliterating much of the site. A small car park sits on the goods yard, with a short footpath down to the former viaduct towards Lydbrook.

Walford Halt

Walford Halt was the first of the two halts on the line to open. The timber platform with its familiar Great Western pagoda shelter (well - moderately familiar - the large corrogated iron shelter with open front door and roof like a Japanese pagoda erected at Walford was the only one on the Monmouth rail network, although the design was common elsewhere) opened in 1931 to serve a small village. The line had run from Kerne Bridge on a long embankment, initially by the riverbank and then across fields. Once through the halt trains crossed a minor road on a girder bridge just over three miles from their destination. Most of the remainder of the journey would be made running through farmland.

The halt was not unsuccessful - it attracted business and provided an additional stop on a long stationless stretch which did actually run through an area where people lived (unlike the rest of the line). However, its location on a generally unremunerative line meant that its future was poor and it closed after slightly less than 28 years of use. Both platform and shelter have vanished, although the steps up to the former halt survive today. The overbridge to the north of the stop has also gone; the southern abutment survives, but the northern one has been torn away to provide a farmer with access from the road onto a farm track running along the trackbed. Part of the embankment behind the northern abutment survives and is now held back by a retaining wall, which proclaims that the line's three-letter identifying code is "ROS" and that it is 3 miles and 2 chains from the junction at Ross.

South of Ross

After a couple of miles of running through farmland the railway passed through a short cutting and emerged here, running into the suburbs on the south side of Ross. The terminus was still about a mile away as the line passed between housing estates and under a couple of roads in an area of Ross known as Tudorville. It then ran around the eastern flank of the town, acting as a bit of a greenbelt with housing and industry to the west and fields rising up to the trees of the Forest of Dean to the east.

This area of suburbs seems to have mostly grown up while the railway was still alive, providing a huge area of business on the outskirts of the town which was some distance from the railway station. Despite the enthusiasm of British Rail and the GWR for providing halts where nobody lived, however, no stopping places were ever provided on this last mile of track as it ran through built up areas and leafy suburbia. One feels that a Ross South Halt would have attracted far more traffic than Hadnock Halt. Nonetheless, trains simply ran through the south-east end of Ross without stopping and the locals either bought cars or caught the bus.

Nowadays a cycle route runs around the east flank of Ross along the trackbed. It has users but often seems a little tired. Of particular interest is that every single railway bridge around Ross has either been infilled or removed and, despite the Ross and Monmouth Railway not featuring a single level crossing on its entire route, users of this path must cross the three intermediate roads on the level.


Ross on Wye station was opened as the sole intermediate passing loop on the Hereford, Ross and Gloucester Railway. The railway entered Ross from the north-west after a run from Hereford which barely went a yard without some impressive engineering feature - whether it be a long tunnel, a sizeable river crossing, a high embankment or a remarkably deep cutting. The run through Ross featured a rather impressive and now largely long-gone viaduct through the town centre before the line arrived at the fine brick station on the outskirts of the town. The line then departed across country and managed a fairly unimpressive bit of line for the rest of the journey to the junction with the mainline at Grange Court, with the exception of a tunnel at Lea (a village which is now home of narrow-gauge loco workshops Alan Keef Ltd.) and a couple more fine cuttings and embankments. Initially built to the 7'¼" broad gauge, the line was only the second such line in the country to be converted to standard gauge (4'8½") when the construction teams descended on the route for a weekend in 1869.

The Ross and Monmouth Railway approached Ross station on an embankment, slipping into a shallow cutting which eventually opened out and allowed the line to arrive in its little bay platform to one side of the station at about ground level. Branch locomotives could live at Ross, which had its own engine shed and - for many years - its own turntable.

The Hereford, Ross and Gloucester Railway was killed in May 1964, bringing down the curtain on Ross's rail services. After making the usual objections the local authority took over the site and decided that while it wholly opposed the closure of the line it saw no reason to provide for its reopening. The station buildings were demolished - although the goods shed and engine shed survive - and the site redeveloped. The picture looks west from the approximate site of the east end of the Gloucester-bound platform.

A building not dissimilar to that once at Ross was built at Kidderminster station in the late 1980s for the Severn Valley Railway's heritage steam trains from Bridgnorth. However, the prospects of seeing such a station building at Ross again are remote.

This website likes to consider the possibilities of reopening lines as (probably unsuccessful) attempts at commercial enterprise connected with the national rail network, but with both ends blocked by industrial estates and many miles of abandoned trackbed separating said ends from the wider network anyway such an outcome is highly unlikely for the Ross and Monmouth route. Nonetheless, the line's wonderful scenery makes it an excellent candidate for re-opening as a tourist link. Steam-hauled services between Ross and Monmouth would have to terminate on the outskirts of both towns but could still provide a link that would bring people to Symonds Yat and Goodrich Castle without the need for a car. Such a service would be unable to compete with the motor car for daily traffic but it is impossible to produce a rail link along this trackbed which could compete with the 15 minute drive between Ross and Monmouth along the modern road anyway. Perhaps a slower, more thoughtful connection would be preferable here. In due course passengers could be brought in to the south end by rail from Chepstow, but unfortunately a return of services between Hereford, Ross and Gloucester is dependent on the demise of the Ross-on-Wye industrial estate.

Consequently it is hard to see the return of the old 1950s network radiating out of Ross as very likely at the moment. Instead one is tempted to feel that extending the current Peregrine Path from Symonds Yat through Lydbrook to meet up with the Forest of Dean cycle network would be a more productive use of the trackbed. If a steam railway group began work at the Ross end it would be some years before they wanted the trackbed south of Lydbrook Junction anyway. Meanwhile cyclists on the Peregrine Path could be allowed to arrive at the route using sustainable transport by reopening the route from Chepstow to Monmouth, which is a little more intact and can be more readily linked into the national rail network. The old factory at Lydbrook would make a rather nice tourist hotel with no shortage of car parking.

Background Picture: The splendour of the Ross and Monmouth scenery is such that it can even be appreciated in the depths of winter. This is the view looking east from Lydbrook Viaduct, up the Wye Valley towards Lydbrook itself. The junction station is to the south while the line plunges into a lengthy tunnel a little to the north, making this a short glimpse of the view between the two.

Middleton Press have divided the line into two; Monmouth to Lydbrook can be found under Branch Lines to Monmouth and Lydbrook to Ross is under Branch Lines around Ross. Both are by Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith and were published in 2008. The Ross, Monmouth and Pontypool Road Line by Stanley C. Jenkins is the Oakwood Press offering (originally published 2002 (blue cover), new edition 2009 (yellow cover)). The National Archives at Kew hold the GWR plans of the line under Rail 274/78.

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Last modified 06/04/11

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