Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Stokes Bay Railway

Gosport Station
Having exhausted all the ‘official’ railway walks/ cycle rides in Sussex my attention must now turn to neighbouring counties to see what I can find there.  Hampshire is a particularly rich vein to tap into and of course I have already found a few (Hayling Billy, Meon Valley Line and the Hamble Rail Trail).  A particularly intriguing railway that demanded exploration in the very short time I had available while in the area a couple of weeks ago is the Stokes Bay Railway.  This short line in the southern part of Gosport was constructed as a short cut to the Isle of Wight before the pier was built in Portsmouth for Isle of Wight ferries.  The line closed as long ago as 1915 so it is something of a miracle that any of it survives at all, but a quick look at the map will show that most of the line has been turned into a cycle path.  An interesting little potted history of the line can be found on including a couple of pictures of the pier and how it would once have looked like.
Former Stokes Bay Station

I parked at the sea end of the line.  There would once have been a pier out to sea here, but the site is now occupied by the local lifeboat station, a rather fitting change of use.  The pier finally succumbed to demolition in the early 1970s when the Royal Engineers were allowed to use the rest of the structure to practice their methods on.  There is almost no trace of any railway across the green area at the back of the lifeboat station so I picked up the trail once again in Crescent Road just to the north.  From here a well defined and signed cycle trail suddenly starts out of nowhere and heads north.  This is the line of the old railway, although inevitably there is little in the way of clues indicating its original use.
Now a Cycle Trail

The walk isn’t terribly exciting until after the next road crossing the only real railway feature left intact appears suddenly.  The line crosses Anglesey inlet via a short viaduct and at this point the view across to Portsmouth and the iconic Spinaker Tower comes into view.  How different must this view have been to the Edwardian traveller?  For a start there probably would have been next to no housing in this part of Gosport.  Its early demise can surely be no surprise when you consider how sparsely populated this part of Hampshire was in those days.  Once the pier in Portsmouth opened, life for the Stokes Bay Pier and its shipping service to the Isle of Wight would always be a struggle.  The ferry service initially became summer only and then ceased altogether in 1913.  It was a miracle there were any railway services at all once the ferry service was withdrawn, but the trains managed to soldier on for another two years!
Anglesey Viaduct

The walk continues between houses after the interesting little interlude of the viaduct.  Autumn has really got a grip now and the relatively few trees alongside the former railway (in contrast to most walks of this nature) showed a nice range of colours from yellow to burgundy.  A little further along the track and there was another glimpse across the water, courtesy of another inlet of Portsmouth/ Gosport harbour.  This one was intriguingly called Workhouse Lake, giving a strong hint to its original identity.  No sign of a workhouse now, just yuppie housing development but at least the presence of some birdlife made it a lot more interesting,
Workhouse Lake

A short way past Workhouse Lake and the trackbed stops for now, although there is an interpretation board reminding people that this was once a railway.  I would imagine few people in the area actually know this without looking at the board since there are so few clues left. 
Autumn Colours

Across the road would have been the only intermediate station on the route, Gosport Road.  The site has been completely changed beyond all recognition from thos days since it is now occupied by a telephone exchange, itself of some vintage by the looks of things.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that too was supplanted by something else in a few years time.  The trackbed immediately to the north of here has also disappeared for about ¼ of a mile and I had to walk the length of St Andrews Road opposite and dive down the back alley of the houses on the left hand side before finding the track once again. 

This time the trackbed was a more conventional tunnel of trees although to be fair that didn’t last very long at all.  Just ahead the southern end of the former triangle junction of the line as it diverged from the Gosport to Fareham line is still a junction, but this time of cycle routes.  Originally the south to west line in the triangle didn’t exist and passengers for Stokes Bay would have been seriously inconvenienced by having to go into Gosport first and in many cases changing trains entirely.  This arrangement was finally fixed but not until several years after opening.
Now an Alley

As I was pressed for time I decided that the Fareham section of line would have to wait for another day.  I took the right hand option and headed the short distance past a fairly unloved looking recreation ground and past a school and through a housing estate now built right across the trackbed.  I was keen to see Gosport station, one of unusual design and a listed building as a result.  This meant that following closure in the 1960s the old place was left to rack and ruin as no-one really knew what to do with it.  I was rather surprised to find it a building site when I arrived.  The old place is now to become affordable housing courtesy of the Guinness Trust (see the marketing blurb at ).  It wasn’t too easy to see how the place would look from the end that the trains would have once used, so I headed instead to the other end by negotiating a few streets.  The work then became much clearer, with many of the original features to remain although it would be hard to imagine that it was once a railway station.  Still there were some good pictures on the hoardings.  As I stood looking at what it was to become my image of the finished building was shattered by one of the workers who told me that it would look nothing like the publicity!
Triangle Junction

I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I headed back towards the seafront and vowed to be back to explore more in a few months time when the work has been completed.
Redevelopment of Gosport Station


  1. Very interesting posting.

    I cycled some of this route in July as part of the 400mile charity ride I did with JD.