Great Britain

A deserted railway platform and lines high up in Gateshead at Eighton Banks

The currently disused line and platform at Eighton Banks in Gateshead are part of the Bowes Railway, and it's hoped they will be in use again next year

Venture to the village of Eighton Banks, high up in Gateshead, and it's hard to deny the place has retained its windswept, semi-rural feel over time.

There are fine views into County Durham and it's not far from the Angel of the North. There was even a battle here, way back in time - the Battle of Shadens Hill in 1068.

And there was coal and railways. A stone's throw away, Springwell Colliery (1826-1932) was one of many pits in North Durham where coal was mined, then transported along the Bowes Railway to Jarrow on the River Tyne for export.

It was an overgrown section of the old Bowes line I came across on a recent cycle ride along former tracks up to Eighton Banks. There was even a deserted platform 'in the middle of nowhere' where you'd clearly wait in vain for the next train to arrive.

So what are these intriguing industrial remnants? But first, what of the Bowes Railway which played a pivotal role in the history of our region?

Opened in January 1826 by the the Grand Allies, it was built to move coal from Springwell and Mount Moor collieries to Jarrow staiths. The project was headed by colliery engine wright George Stephenson who designed the railway with three rope-hauled inclines and a locomotive-worked section, employing two very early steam engines.

The line was extended to Kibblesworth in 1842, to Marley Hill in 1853, and to Dipton in 1855. It continued to operate in the same way, using six inclines (two gravity-worked and four powered) and two locomotive-worked sections at either end of the railway.

Springwell Colliery closed in 1932 and the colliery buildings were converted into railway workshops. (Today these form the basis of the popular Bowes Railway Museum). In the same year, the line changed its name from Pontop & Jarrow Railway to Bowes Railway.

From 1947 the line was taken over by the National Coal Board, and there was significant investment in the railway, including replacing the ageing steam winding engines with modern electric haulers.

The neighbouring Pelaw Main Railway was linked to the Bowes Railway in 1955 (surviving the collieries at Ravensworth, Team Valley and Ouston).

The line closed beyond Kibblesworth in 1969, with Kibblesworth then being the only pit sending its coal via the Bowes Railway. The closure of Kibblesworth Colliery in October 1974 brought to an end to most operations, with closure finally coming in November 1974.

One final section of the line, known as Monkton Railways, remained, linking Springwell Bankfoot, Monkton Cokeworks and Jarrow Staiths – but in January 1986 it was closed by the National Coal Board, leaving only the preserved sections of the railway in operation.

This was a 1½ mile section between Black Fell and Springwell, saved alongside the Springwell workshops and 40 wagons from the railway fleet. The site also preserved three original locomotives for use, as well as demonstrating the two remaining inclines. The railway was later made a scheduled ancient monument, with the preserved workshops later helping build a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket.

And what about the section of the line I came across at Eighton Banks on my bike ride?

A spokesman for Bowes Railway said: "This section of line ‘around the curve’ was opened in 1955 to link the Pelaw Main and Bowes Railways. The platform was constructed in 1986 by volunteers as part of the Bowes preservation scheme, with track being laid towards the Waggon Inn in more recent years.

"The railway operated steam-hauled passenger and coal trains (as well as its unique rope hauled trains) until 2013 when a loss of funding and staff forced the museum to temporarily close.

"The museum has continued to fight back, reopening in 2014, and repairs to the locomotives, level crossings and tracks have been ongoing ever since.

"It is hoped that once repairs are completed to the level crossing at Springwell the trains can return in 2022."

We look forward to finally catching that train...

Find out more about the Bowes Railway and the museum here.

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