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Thursday, 15 April 2010

The next dig thing

Just a few short weeks, and the new route's brought great changes to the top end of Linear Park. The current newcomer being what appears to be a red carpet, rolled out perhaps to honour two particular teenagers who along with their footsteps appear to have been quietly haunting the place.

The Devonshire Tunnel excavation isn't representative of the work needed to the rest of the Two Tunnels route - most of it doesn't involve excavating to a depth of around seven metres.
We're grateful for the forbearance of the immediate neighbours to this task, some of this work has not been quiet, it's involved the removal of trees, and much has invoked what have been described as 'Dragons' or 'Dinosaurs' rather than the 3000 or so pairs of hands that originally built the railway. (At other times we know them as diggers)

At the same time, many have seen the work first hand, and have also enjoyed the sight of the surprising number of visitors who've been up to the various fences to view the emerging tunnel, now in plain view, albeit behind the block wall. Some of these visitors have travelled a surprising distance to see the work in progress - if you can beat Glastonbury (by bus), do tell us - post a comment.

This phase of the contract being almost at an end, we continue to be grateful to the contractors Hope and Clay for turning out such a professional job - as has been remarked on in the steering group, something that was remarked on in the latest steering group meeting notes. This has been more than an ordinary excavation and as at least one visitor has observed, in the eyes of many thousands of people the old railway between Bath and Midford deserves to be as much of a world heritage site as any other location with that distinction. It's also the (unintentionally beautiful) product of a great deal of human endeavour, and while it's most unlikely to host trains once more, it is at least being thought of in one piece again.

Not that the old line can't produce a few surprises as far as trains are concerned. Late on Wednesday afternoon, a small party from the Two Tunnels committee visited the excavation courtesy of a neighbour. We were a little late, but at the moment we stepped up to the neighbour's garden fence and the portal of Devonshire Tunnel hove into view, a loco whistle from 35028 Clan Line sounded clearly across Oldfield Park from the present-day line through Bath - another truly scalp-tingling moment. To cap this, five minutes later, down in the cutting in warm sunlight, a heavy beat as the loco accelerated from its stop at Bath Spa caused us all to glance down beneath Maple Grove bridge - just to be sure.

So, what's next? Several weeks hiatus, especially because we're awaiting a bat licence, and the block wall will be coming down. Devonshire Tunnel will in due course be providing access to the Lyncombe Vale section, but before that, remedial work both to the tunnel and its portals. Whilst it's in surprisingly good condition after 35 or so years protection beneath the ground, the stone is very wet and will be drying for months, and it also merits a certain amount of removal of harmful concrete pointing and replacement with something more sympathetic. So, onward and upward, or in the case of the ramp, downward ...


Gerard said...

Be assured that those of us who can't get there in person watch with envious eyes from across the Globe! Thanks for the pictorial updates Mark, keep 'em coming and well done.

Anonymous said...

I have relatives living near Radstock and my visits always include a cycle trip on the Colliers Way. I'll be sure to visit the site on my next visit. Being able to continue the journey direct to Bath will be wonderful.

Is the gravel surface shown in the last picture the final surface? I read somewhere that the path was to be tarmaced.

West Sussex

Mark A said...

@Gerard: New Zealand? In terms of distance, that's sorted the virtual visitor heirarchy. (It would be interesting to know about physical visitors to the Devonshire Tunnel site too ...)

@Anonymous: the 'Red carpet' is actually crushed building aggregate we think. It's not the final surface which will be a hard(ish) one. A principle with these routes is to lay the final surface at a stage that it will not have to carry much by way of construction traffic, it's a bit like painting the floor of a corridor and avoiding starting at both ends and working to the middle.

Blockbell said...

Looking again at Duncan Harper's 1998 book on the opening of the Bath Extension, I note (in addition to references to the original Bath ticket platform near Oldfield Park and the planting of shrubs on the railway formation around Watery Bottom so as not to upset Mr Moger of Lyncombe House) that our much-loved tunnel is referred to as "Bloomfield tunnel"!

This is from an account of the line by D H Gale published by the Bath Journal Office in 1874.

Toddingtonted said...

Absolutely fantastic work! I salute you all.

Rob said...

Are their any plans that are aimed at getting people from the Bristol/Bath route onto the new path? It's such a short distance but a very cyclist unfriendly environment.

John Yeo said...

I guess having an incline down to the tunnel entrance will make the experience more dramatic and it cuts the cost of digging down to formation level all the way back to Maple Grove bridge. Were these the reasons behind the decision, Mark?

Janus said...

I do hope that, once the 'direct route' to Midford thru' the Two Tunnels becomes a reality, that someone will alter the 'restoration' plaque currently on Midford viaduct which claims erroneously that it is 7 miles to Bath!