Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, Derbyshire
PUBLISHED: 12:53 24 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:13 20 February 2013
Anton Shone reports on the latest developments in the Ecclesbourne Valley
Wirksworth was a town when Canterbury was a village and Liverpool was a swamp, or so they say. Sitting at the head of the Ecclesbourne Valley in comfortable, contented serenity, Wirksworth may give the unsuspecting visitor the impression of being a sleepy Derbyshire town, but behind the quiet facade a dragon stirs.
It is the dragon of the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway and the Railway is the symbol of Wirksworths wish to regenerate itself. The Railway is a huge local community effort: of the Railways 1,400 or so shareholders, over 60 per cent live within a five mile radius; of its almost 600 supporting members 80 per cent live within 10 miles of the line. The line runs from Wirksworth, some nine miles along the lovely Ecclesbourne Valley to Duffield where it meets the main line to London, to Paris and to the world...
Ten years ago, the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway was an overgrown wilderness. It had survived many years to carry limestone from Wirksworths quarries and when the quarries closed, the line went quietly back to nature. Neglected and abandoned, it was on the verge of extinction. The loss of the quarrying industry had brought Wirksworth to its knees and the town sought to reinvent itself for tourism. Out of the ashes of the quarrying industry the people of Wirksworth created for themselves a Heritage Centre, the National Stone Centre and the tiny and remarkable Steeple Grange Narrow Gauge Railway, all devoted to bringing tourists to the town, saving its economy and its businesses and returning it to prosperity. With all these pieces in place the community looked at its lost railway to the outside world and decided to rebuild it.
Over this last decade, the line from Wirksworth to Duffield has been transformed. The Railway has built a business, which not only includes heritage trains, both steam and diesel, but it has become a nationally recognised rail testing base and even a location for TV and film crews. Wirksworth has been on national television with Casualty, Five Days, the ITV drama Mobile and even a major film (Oranges and Sunshine). But the real thrust is to re-open the whole line. Wirksworth Station is a small marvel, with its red and cream buildings and its station gardens, visitors can board the train to travel the three and a half miles to Idridgehay the next station south. But the Railway, the community, its shareholders and its members have their sights on Duffield: there are five miles of line between Idridgehay and Duffield to be rebuilt and the Railways volunteers are almost there, after these ten years of effort. Even Duffield is feeling the effect, no-one can look over the A6 railway bridge at Duffield without being amazed and impressed by what has been achieved by the volunteers, and at the south end of the line, as many volunteers live in Duffield and nearby as come from Wirksworth, to help change the sleepers, lay the track, rod the drains, repair the fences and do all the other 1001 jobs which are needed to build a railway. As much as the economy of Wirksworth will benefit, so too will the shops, cafs, pubs and businesses of Duffield. By the end of the year the line has to be ready to be inspected and if all goes well, the whole of the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway will open in April next year. Wirksworth will not so much be able to get to Paris, as Paris will be able to get to Wirksworth!
In August the area to the south of Wirksworth as far as Idridgehay and north to Ravenstor resounded to the sound of steam locomotives as they took the hills by storm. Over two weekends the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway had organised a steam gala based at the immaculately refurbished Wirksworth station. For the first time since 1965 it was possible for members of the public to travel by steam train to Idridgehay. The steam engine Bellerophon, which appeared in the BBC series Cranford recently, was visiting from the Foxfield Railway in Staffordshire and was soon put into action on the line south. Visitors could also climb aboard the newly restored resident steam locomotive Ferrybridge No 3 and travel up the steep incline to Ravenstor.
On the platforms there were displays by various railway associations, including the LMS Carriage Association and the Patriot Project, which aims to build a newPatriot class steam engine, named
The Unknown Warrior, as a national memorial in time for the 100th anniversary of the Armistice in 2018. A number of information boards allow visitors to trace the history of the Wirksworth and Duffield Railway. The fortunes of the station, which was opened on 1st October 1867, were closely linked to the local quarrying industry.
A great time was had both by rail enthusiasts, local residents and holidaymakers. Martin Miller, WyvernRail plcs managing director stated that the results of our first steam galas were a delightful surprise in respect of the sheer popularity of the events.
Further information, details of special events, driver experience days and progress updates on the extension of the line to Duffield can be found at www.e-v-r.com