This walk was postponed from 25th October because of the storm warnings in the weather forecasts. On this new date – 11 enthusiasts turned out for the event. Although the walk started near Bedford Bridge, the West Devon Brick Works and Wheal Franco copper mine, we considered these at the end of the walk, although Wheal Franco was mentioned shortly after we set off.
Up the re-entrant (valley) slope to Magpie Railway Viaduct, we passed an impressive open mine shaft, presumably of the Wheal Franco copper mine (1823-1875). Somewhere in this area, the mine went down to 160 fathoms (960 feet) and employed 130 men. Between 1846-62, operating mainly from the new site on the east (far) side of the main road, 10,333 tons of ore were raised at Wheal Franco, valued at £51,500. The sites were briefly re-opened during the early 1870s, but these later operations were not very successful.
Original viaduct built of granite stone with splayed timber trestles in 1859 to a design by Brunel, as part of the South Devon & Tavistock Railway. It was rebuilt in 1902 in Staffordshire brick. The viaduct is 197.5m long x up to 19m high. All the viaducts on the line were rebuilt around this period.
When the viaducts were rebuilt, they left the old piers in place.
There are two small gates at the end of the track up past the mine shaft that lead up to the old railway – now a cycle track. This is part of the 99-mile Sustrans cycle track from the North Devon coast to the Plymouth seafront.
The viaduct very often has people looking over it, although most cyclists seem to just pass over it. Old, hands, I suppose.
The photograph above is a good view on looking back over it.
The catkins are coming!
Screw Bridge – probably a corruption of “skew” – it is neither straight across the old railway nor is it level. On our return walk we will cross it: there are quite a number of Skew Bridges in the UK.
Gem Bridge ….. officially opened on 22nd May 2012, costing £2.1M, i.e. opened in time for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee and to coincide with the Summer of Cycling. The previous bridge (rebuilt 1910 using iron girders) was demolished in the 1960’s. The new bridge was partly funded by a £600,000 EU grant with the aim to improve cycling links between UK and France. This cycle track runs from Ilfracombe, on the north Devon coast, to Redon, in south Brittany.
Brunel’s bridge was 40 metres high and over 300 metres long. The new bridge is 24 metres high and 200 metres long.
In Imperial units: the old viaduct was 131 ft high x 984 ft long; the new bridge is 78 ft high x 656 ft long.
A view from the far end (Tavistock end) with walkers, runners and cyclists.
Someone suggested that I should be in the photograph, in the end I resorted to photographic trickery.
On returning from Gem Bridge (Gem Tin Mine was on the river banks below), we detoured off the cycle track onto a footpath that led up and over Screw Bridge. After crossing it, the track ahead, up to the open Down, is seen above.
Beside the track up to the Down, at SX 49549 70239, are the locally famous “Three Witches” group of entwined trees, long dead. A lady dog-walker told me you have to cross your fingers as you pass by them!
After crossing the open part of North Roborough Down, sometimes called Buckland Down, we descended down a longish, steepish sloping track to pass underneath the Magpie Viaduct. A few yards before the viaduct we saw an impressive adit that must have been part of the Wheal Franco Mine.
On crossing the car park and walking down to the River Walkham, we saw Bedford Bridge – built in 1822 as part of the turnpike toll road from Plymouth to Tavistock. The toll road fell into decline after the railway opened in 1859. It is named after a large landowner at that time.
Today, this building is named Walkham House. It is seen in the 1842 Buckland Monachorum Tithe Map and in the Tithe Apportionments it is listed as “Ellis Farm – Kings Arms Inn Etc” In the 1841 Census, it is listed as “London Inn”. This area of Horrabridge has long been called “Magpie” and appears as such in today’s Royal Mail postcode finder and there is mention in references sometimes to a “Magpie Inn” which this, or an older building, probably is, or was. Then it was back to the cars and a sojourn at the Burrator Inn to dry out and recover.