Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Hamble Rail Trail

Hamble Rail Trail
Rail trails are not always found in the most obvious of places and this is no exception.  This short walk actually traces the remains of two separate branch lines, each no more than a mile long but built for two very different reasons.  The start of the Hamble Rail Trail is within Victoria Country Park near Hamble-le-Rice in Hampshire.  Details of the walk can be found at http://www.hamblevalley.com/images/RailTrail4web.pdf.
Former Trackbed

There were no public transport requirements for me on this walk, although it could easily be started and finished at Netley or Hamble stations.  I parked for a modest fee in the park itself.  It was a pretty gloomy, damp December day although fairly mild and a good one to explore the old railways since most of the vegetation had by now died back.  From the old hospital chapel I headed up past the tearooms to find the first of the old railways.  This was the short branch that served the old Netley Hospital that used to occupy the park, but which mostly burned down in 1963.  A good history of the hospital can be found at http://www.sole.org.uk/vichosp.htm.  The half mile railway was closed over sixty years ago and despite its short length a surprising amount of it can still be traced.  In the car park there are noticeable lengths of rail embedded in the tarmac and just beyond the tearooms the access road follows the old trackbed.
Joining The Mainline

I followed the road and at a junction a little further on the road veered off while the railway cutting continued on.  For about 300 metres I had classic disused railway walking, but the experience was pretty short-lived as at the next road crossing the railway route is lost to undergrowth, while the Rail Trail continues on its way across an orchard.  To be honest I didn’t miss a lot for only 200 metres or so further on I met the main Portsmouth to Southampton rail line.  The old junction is not easy to trace but at the fence of the main railway line a path continues on towards Netley station and the junction can be just about picked out (with a little imagination).  I turned right at the railway fence and headed towards Hamble station.
Netley Park

It wasn’t long before I came across the second of my branch line railways, the disused but largely intact railway that serves the BP Oil Terminal on the Solent coast.  The railway was originally built to service a factory building aeroplanes during World War 1 but the war ended before the railway was completed.  It has more recently serviced an oil refinery built where the aircraft factory used to be, but has not been used for more than twenty years.  Unusually for a rail trail, this one follows a railway that it still intact although the chances of it ever being used again must be remote given its condition.  Oil is transported via pipeline these days, rendering the railway obsolete, although BP are keen to keep it ‘just in case’.  A full history of the line can be found at http://www.hamblelocalhistory.hampshire.org.uk/Railway.htm.
Overgrown Track

The junction with the main line has been severed although could probably be restored fairly easily.  Almost from the off the railway is almost completely enveloped by nature and it is surprising to note that trains still used the route as little as twenty years ago, such is the overgrowth.  No attempt has been made to remove any of the trackwork though and there are sidings and points buried underneath.  Once past the small pond on the right the path now follows the old line quite closely for a short distance until reaching the entrance to a police training college, which once served as the mental asylum wing of Netley Hospital.  At the road junction the rails have been covered over and on each side of what would have been the level crossing there are warning signs advising people how dangerous it is to walk along the railway.  Seemed a bit odd seeing as there is free and easy access further along each direction of the Rail Trail.  Across the road the route deviates away slightly to avoid some allotments, but then meets back up at the main road into Hamble village, where our branch line crosses by way of a level crossing.  Crossing this road wasn’t easy, although I didn’t need to worry about diverting down to the level crossing as suggested in the brochure.
Level Crossing

On the other side of the crossing the path heads down the right hand side of the rail line, which is now completely buried in bramble bushes.  On the other side of the tracks is a housing estate that I’m guessing wasn’t even here when the railway last ran.  On the left I could see the wide open expanse that was once Hamble Airfield, but despite me craning my neck and squinting across the site I couldn’t see any remains of the airstrip.  I did disturb a couple of deer though, who ran away at great speed, their tails bobbing up and down as they did so.  I am guessing that the airfield is a popular place for unofficial dog walking as there were several gaps in the fence all the way along. 
Passing New Housing

Eventually I reached Spitfire Way and changed sides of the rail line once again.  Here the line had split in two once again and some quite large trees were growing in the trackbed.  Surrounded by housing with nicely mowed grass all around though made this part of the line look a bit odd.  At the end of Spitfire Way the line crossed the main road for the last time and on the other side entered the oil depot.  Ironically this is the best preserved part of the line, but off limits to walkers.
Enetering the Depot

After my exploration of the two railways the rest of the Rail Trail is railway free, cutting across Hamble Copse and Hamble Common to the shore of Southampton Water.  This is a path I know well, since it formed the part of the Solent Way I had walked a few years ago.  This time I would be heading in the opposite direction as far as Victoria Park.  There wasn’t much in the way of shipping out on the water, other than a few oil tankers moored at the storage depots either side of Southampton Water.
Bare Trees

This section of walk along Southampton Water is probably one of the best sections of the Solent Way and I was very happy to reacquaint myself with it.  I soon passed the unusual gun turret that still keeps guard over the harbour and a little further on I stumbled across a car that had had all its windows bashed out.  As I got closer I realised that it must have been a fresh crime scene (or training exercise from the nearby police college) as I saw a young police officer standing guard over it.  The vehicle looked like it had been partially burnt out.
Keeping Watch

I eventually got to back to the Chapel in Victoria Park that was closed on account of it being refurbished.  Normally there is a good exhibition inside and next time I am down this way I shall take a look.  I also took a little look at the miniature railway that runs around the park.  All deserted today of course, but probably worth a future visit.
Netley Chapel

This is a short walk, but full of interest to anyone who likes old stuff like me.  There are plenty of remains from both World Wars, railways, industry and other history as well as all the shipping activity along Southampton Water.  It’s not challenging though so probably only worthy of attention if you are low on energy or short of time.

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