THE SOLWAY VIADUCT - NORTHERN END
A couple of days after visiting the southern or English end of the Solway Viaduct, the opportunity arose to have a look at the northern or Scottish end. It takes quite some finding as the access to it by road is by no means clear. Luckily we had an old Ordnance Survey map which showed the site of the dismantled railway and from this information we were able to plot a course to the viaduct's northern pier.
Before we had even reached the viaduct we were able to see some of the viaduct's stone facing blocks just here on the foreshore. This gives some kind of indication of the force of the currents, tides and storms that occur in the Solway Firth.
The viaduct was quite badly damaged by ice floating down the Firth and although these blocks are upstream from the viaduct it is possible that ice has carried them here at some time or other.
The first thing that we noticed on seeing the northern, or Scottish pier was that it was much smaller than the pier on the southern or English side of the Solway Firth. It is in fact 154 yards long, compared to the 440 yards of the pier on the English side.
In the lee of the pier are some tidal nets. Presumably the rising tide will overflow them and fish will swim in, and will be trapped inside when the tide recedes.
One thing that Liz and I had noticed from across the way was that the pier over here seemed to be in much better condition that the pier on the southern side of the Solway. The hut that is there is also quite a modern structure - certainly not contemporary with the railway. It seemed to be pretty conclusive that the good condition of the pier and the modern structure on the end were connected in some way.
This had all of us (I was with Carole and Adrian on this excursion) making all kinds of speculation as to the purpose of the structure.
We climbed onto the old track bed via the gate that you can see in the distance, and straight away we could see why the pier was in such a good condition. Modern engineers have dug into Brunlees' track bed and laid this heavy steel pipeline along it.
We immediately put our ears to the pipe and we could hear some kind of liquid flowing along it so it's definitely in use. Hence the necessity to keep the pier in a good state of repair.
And from a view in the other direction looking south towards the Solway Firth we could see the reason why they had dug into the track bed and also the purpose of the modern hut at the end of the pier.
What we have in the hut is a pumping station that would be pumping the liquid along the pipeline. We had, by the way, worked out the the liquid is flowing from north to south.
I don't think that there is any doubt that this is a pumping station connected with the pipeline and whatever liquid there is that is flowing along it. And it's all nice, modern and clean as you can see and nothing at all to do with the railway that used to run (well, crawl, given the state of the viaduct) along here in the olden days.
The plot sickens.
From the end of the northern pier there is a really good view across the Solway Firth to the southern pier that Liz Ayers and I walked along the other day, as well as an intervening sandbank. That sandbank wasn't there when we were on the southern pier, so it must have been high tide then and low tide now.
There is also an excellent view of the hills of the Lake District in the background. Nice and sunny as the day might have been, it was still only late March and you can that the hills still have quite a covering of snow. I bet it would have been pretty cold up there; it certainly looked it.
But never mind the southern pier or the hills of the Lake District - I'm much more interested in this concrete structure.
I'd love to know what it is and what it's for. The only reason that I can think of for it is that the pipe that we have just seen would go out into the Firth and the concrete would be to protect it from damage by ice, passing ships and the like. Ice is plentiful here and wreaked havoc on the viaduct. In January 1881 ice floes of a thickness of 6 feet did so much damage to the viaduct that repairs took 12 months to complete.
I mentioned earlier that we had devined that the flow of liquid (we presumed that it was liquid) was flowing in a north-south direction. To the north of us is the Chapelcross Nuclear Power Station (minus its towers these days) which by the purest coincidence is but a cock-stride from where the old railway track bed upon which we are standing joins onto the main Glasgow-Carlisle-London railway line.
To the south, across the Solway Firth and around the coast some way is Sellafield, formerly known as Winscale and better-known as the centre for processing (or trying to process, if it doesn't leak out somewhere) Britain's nuclear waste.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Surely not!
But I digress. And not for the first (and neither for the last) time either.
Returning to Brunlees' viaduct we can see once more the good condition of the stonework. Here at the sharp end of things, figuratively speaking, it's much better than the southern pier across the other side of the Solway Firth. I'm not sure whether that's due to a difference in the effect of tides, current and wind, or whether it's to do with maintenance by those who are in control of this pipeline.
If you look closely at the bottom margin of this photo you can see that there has been a major repair to the pier just here. Mind you, they have not been able to do the job with masonry but have used some kind of aggregate. It's depressing that modern workmen seem to be totally unable to reproduce the fine work that was undertaken by workmen of 150 years ago, despite all of the modern hi-tech tools and equipment.
Regardless of the poor condition of the southern pier today, there is no evidence that the pipeline comes ashore over there. Liz and I certainly couldn't see it during our visit.
From the pier we walked for a distance along the old track bed northwards towards Annan, just to see what we could see. Ironically, a railway had been proposed along here back in the 1850s, linking a small coalfield at Canonbie, near Langholm, with a new port installation for the export of the coal by sea. But there was never enough money and never enough coal and the scheme never saw the light of day.
The Solway Junction Railway when it was finally built struggled too, and in 1873 the Caledonian Railway absorbed the Scottish operations of the line. In 1895 the Caledonian took over the operations on the English side.
On the pier on the southern side of the Firth there are some masonry blocks that seemed to delineate a boundary of the railway land. Here on the northern side there was a similar arrangement of stone blocks but of course they were in much better condition. It's a pity that the site is slowly becoming overgrown although it's giving a home to some wild flora and, presumably, some fauna too.
And what kind of flowers are these? Why, yellow ones of course. What do I know of botany?
While I'm not too impressed with Brunlees' ironwork, I have to say that the quality of masonry is so much more impressive. This that we are standing on is an overbridge, and what passes underneath is simply a cattle creep. But cattle creep or not, you have to admire the quality of the structure.
There's no doubt that this bridge is built to last and it is a tribute to the Victorian engineers who designed and built it. It's a pity that modern engineers can only work in concrete and glass and have absolutely no affinity for more aesthetic forms of construction.
Carefully studying the old map that we had, we calculated that this would have been roughly the point where a spur left the Solway Junction line, hugging the line of the fence in the distance and linking up to the Glasgow and Southwestern Railway's line between Carlisle and Dumfries, Kilmarnock and Glasgow.
Wandering harmlessly along abandoned railway tracks is quite interesting and in most cases quite legitimate, but where part of the former railway system is fenced off as securely as this is and with objects of value beyond, then it really is not a good idea to push your luck by clambering over the fence for a better and closer look for any industrial history.
Some way further on, we came to another pumping station on the pipeline. They seem to have been much more serious about this particular one - they have fenced it in to stop any unauthorised interference.
The railway engineers did everything that they could to have the gradient along the line as level as possible, so the big disadvantage of laying a pipeline along a disused railway track bed is that it is out of the question to rely on the aid of gravity to move the liquid. They will need pumping stations at frequent intervals to push it along.
The pumping station we have just seen is situated more-or-less on an overbridge that formerly carried the Solway Junction line over the Glasgow and Southwestern line. This view is looking along the GSWR towards Annan, Dumfries, Kilmarnock and Glasgow.
You'll notice up on the embankment underneath the bridge up there a pile of yellow sacks. From the old Ordnance Survey map that we had with us, we reckoned that the spur line from the Solway Junction line above would have joined up with the GSWR round about there.
Strange as it might seem, this spur and a short length of line leading across the bridge upon which we are standing was the last length of the Solway Junction Railway to remain intact and was certainly in use in the early 1950s. It ran from the GSWR into Annan Shawhill station a little further along the Solway Junction Railway from where we are standing and was used for the unloading of coal trains. There was also a small factory there that depended upon the railway link to handle its freight.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a van from British Nuclear Fuels, or British Nuclear Fools as they are better-known, had pulled up and two operatives had wandered off towards the pumping station at the end of the pier.
I ran after them.
"I wonder if I might ask you the purpose of this pipeline" I enquired, somewhat out of breath (I'm not as young as I used to be)
"It's an overflow drain from Chapelcross" replied an operative
"Does it go to Sellafield" I enquired.
"Oh no" he answered. "It's discharged into the Firth"
If the overflow contains no suspicious content, why don't they simply discharge it into the drains in the vicinity of the power station rather than spend an enormous amount of money on a pipeline and pumping stations to send it a good 10 miles or so directly to the sea?
That's a question to which I don't really want to know the answer.