As a kid, I was besotted with trains. Growing up near a railway station, watching Thomas the Tank Engine all the time and having the nerd in me developing early meant it was a given, really. As I grew older the interest in the trains themselves waned, however as my social politics developed and I took more of an interest in history, particularly local history, my interest in the railways as part of Britain's heritage and the way in which they developed and, in some cases, discarded. Being a native of the "grim north", I'm fiercely proud of our role in the Industrial Revolution and the part northern towns and cities played in developing the country as a whole.
And it was that thinking that led me to joining Liam on a bus to Grimsargh in order to walk the former Preston to Longridge line from the old Grimsargh station through to Deepdale where the line split off. The line, opened in 1840, was originally designed to carry quarried stone in horse drawn carriages, then was earmarked for an ambitious plan to link it to Yorkshire. That never happened and the line shut to passengers in 1930 and to goods in 1967. From Grimsargh the line went off up to Longridge, with a spur through to Whittingham Lunatic Asylum. In Deepdale, the line forked firstly to Deepdale Street station, which only closed as a coal depot in the 1990s and secondly to Deepdale Station, where the line ran through the Miley Tunnel and onto the main Preston station.
The first stop en route, once we'd got off the bus a stop early and eventually found where we were going, was The Plough in Grimsargh. When the station was first in use, this inn doubled as the booking office until a proper station building was put in place. After a couple of pints, some decent food and watching England toil in the field against Australia at Lord's we eventually decided we'd better get on with what we were doing.
The first clue we'd spotted to suggest we were definitely in the right area just happened to be Old Station Close which had been built on the site of the old station. Now just a bland collection of houses, with one side following the alignment of the station. Next to this was the route of the line itself, now named Old Railway Walk and a walking/cycle path designed to be enjoyed by all. It wasn't long, however, before we realised that the path itself was headed up and over one former railway bridge, onto the main road above. A quick glance ahead showed that the path was still there so, despite a few protestations from Liam, we headed down there. After all, if you're going to do something, you've got to do it properly.
Old railway sleepers and the banking either side are clues to the uninitiated as to the "pathway's" former use. It's clearly not a well-trodden path and anyone sensible could clearly see why and would have bailed out. We, however, carried on until we hit the first major obstacle. Clearly we weren't going any further, so we emerged back onto the main road and found another path which then connected with the railway line again.
After negotiating this bit of rural Preston for a while, passing some modern housing estates, we joined a proper path, part of which forms a section of the Guild Wheel. It's also part of the reclaimed railway route which Lancashire County Council have used to create a cycle/walk way. More examples of the history of the pathway are visible along the route, although how many people notice these is another question altogether.
After crossing the M6 we found ourselves leaving the rural behind and hitting the more urban surroundings of Ribbleton. Symbolised by this, which they clearly wouldn't stand for in places like Grimsargh. More brickwork lined the pathway, which led up to the old Ribbleton Station on Gamull Lane. The building itself is still visible, an uninhabited house with a rather junk filled garden. After crossing the road and walking around the front of the station, we re-joined the path and walked past more brickwork, along more pathway and alongside more overgrown greenery. Must be another nature reserve.
Eventually, just behind West View Leisure Centre, we really couldn't get any further. A rather large fence prevented access to an overgrown area of track that even we would've backed away from. A set of buffers unexpectedly sat just beyond the fence, left to rust whilst reminding the odd daft soul of what once was.
We headed out and round, joining the line again on Skeffington Road, where, oddly, a railway warning sign still exists. The level crossing just further down was the last bit of accessible track on this stretch. Fences and walls prevented further access, so we found our way through onto Deepdale Mill Street. This was the last bit of track we could get at, part of the Deepdale Street spur of the line. The line splits just after Skeffington Road, so we were unable to get to the junction. Before leaving this section, we headed a few hundred yards down the road to the railway bridge for the Maudlands line, which is 100 years old this year. Unfortunately the plaque shows that this has been very much forgotten.
We wound our way down Fletcher Street onto Deepdale Street and, at the bottom, gazed across Deepdale Street station, which has come to a rather sad end. Considering how recently it was used, you have to look closely to find any clues that the station was there. After a few wistful sighs it was out onto Deepdale Road to try and find Deepdale station.
We missed the exact location initially, meaning I went back a day later to take a couple more snaps. (Stop laughing at the back.) However, a clue as the proximity was to be found in the old paving stones used. From there we followed the line as closely as possible, through to the absolute finishing point of this stretch, as the line disappeared off into the Miley Tunnel. At that point, the two of us called it quits and headed to the Lamb and Packet for a post-walk debrief.
I myself, however, wasn't quite finished. My walk home just happened to take me past the "other end" of the Miley Tunnel, where the line emerges. Firstly at Maudland Bridge Station, which borders Maudland Road and Cold Bath Street. Then, just further up, two blocks of student accommodation (...) cover the Engine Shed and Maudlands station just next to it, with the former line running between them. Again, I hadn't done as thorough a job on this as I should have, so ended up going back the next day for the last couple of snaps. The advantage of living close.
That, however, was that. A few reminders remain across the route of part of this city and the North West's fine and proud industrial heritage, but many of them will just be ignored by people who have no idea what they are. Local councils have tried to retain the interest of the local public in making it known that they are developing former railway land. And whilst that might work in Grimsargh, it sure as hell doesn't seem to fly in Ribbleton.
The entirety of the photographs from the walk can be found here.