As the winter months come into view there is still a chance to enjoy the great outdoors even though it may not be bright and sunny and not even a good day for naturism. Walking in the winter can be bracing and fun providing you can find the right walking conditions that aren’t too muddy or waterlogged. Last Friday we took a walk from Rayne to Flested (and back) along the Flitch Way. The Flitch Way is a cycle and walking route running along a decommissioned railway line through Essex.
Starting in Bishops Stortford, the path takes you through Hatfield Forest Country Park and the town of Great Dunmow to Braintree. Highlights include the Victorian railway stations dotted along the path, deer in Hatfield Forest Country Park and views of the River Chelmer near Great Dunmow.
Bannister Halt in 1952 (left) Rayne Station in 1968 (right)
The Braintree to Bishop’s Stortford line, decommissioned in 1972, now enjoys a new lease of life as a country park full of railway cuttings rich in wildlife dotted with attractive Victorian stations. The route name comes from the Flitch Trial, a folk custom still surviving today which originated in Little Dunmow. Every four years a married couple stands before a mock court – if they can prove to the satisfaction of the judge and jury that they have, for a year and a day, ‘not wished themselves unwed, they are awarded half a pig known as a ‘flitch’ (side) of bacon.
The line was originally one of several schemes promoted in the 19th century, which included north-south routes connecting Great Dunmow with Epping, Halstead and/or Saffron Walden. The route of the built line was proposed by the Eastern Counties Railway in 1859, the line from Bishop’s Stortford, Dunmow and Braintree was eventually built by Great Eastern Railway who had since absorbed ECR. The first turf was ceremonially cut at Dunmow on the 24 February 1864 and contractors began work the following.
Easton Lodge in 1975 (The crossing keepers cottage left, Site of Level Crossing right)
Virtually the entire length of the branch line’s 18 mile route was single track, except at Dunmow and one or two other stations where dual track allowed trains to pass each other. The line was finally opened for passenger use on 22 February 1869 with intermediate stations at Takeley, Felstead & Rayne. Further stations were later added, Easton Lodge in 1894, Hockrill Halt in 1910 and Stane Street and Banister Green Halts in 1922.
With hindsight, it is now apparent that the branch line was never going to succeed as a profit making passenger service. The branch line’s saviour came in the 1880s. The sudden demand for agricultural produce in London combined with new industries that were starting up in Braintree, both required a freight service and it was this that was to provide important revenue for the railway. Freight traffic continued to grow, especially at the Braintree end of the line, but by the end of the 19th century passenger traffic to Bishop’s Stortford remained light.The route of the built line was proposed by the Eastern Counties Railway in 1859, the line from Bishop’s Stortford, Dunmow and Braintree was eventually built by Great Eastern Railway who had since absorbed ECR.
The line was almost entirely single track apart from at Bishop’s Stortford, Dunmow, Takeley, Rayne and Braintree where there were passing loops. Goods sidings were provided at Hockerill Halt, Takeley, Easton Lodge (for supply of US Air Force bases at Stansted and Easton Lodge), Dunmow, Felsted (for general, and use of sugar beet factory) and Rayne.
Major features included a viaduct crossing the River Chelmer to the south of Great Dunmow which was demolished in the 1970s to make way for the A1256 Great Dunmow bypass. Passenger numbers were at decent levels when the line first opened, but increasing competition from bus and road transport meant trains were running almost empty near the end of its serving life; it closed to passengers on 3 March 1952. The line remained open for freight until the end of 1971 before closing completely in 1972.
Felsted Station is in private hands but is just visible from the bridge mounts which are still there. Felsted railway station (Below in 1968 & 1975)is located in between Felsted and Little Dunmow and closed to regular passenger traffic in 1952.Walks like this feature great views and features like the bridges and stations give you a great insight of what once was. If you have walks like these in your area its worth exploring them.
(Some Information and old images from http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/ and Wikipedia)