The Wye Valley Railway

1866 Scheme 

The original WVR route south of Llandogo was somewhat different to the eventual alignment, which was only adopted in the 1870s and would not have been built if the line had been completed promptly after obtaining its Act of Parliament. It is marked out in black on the map above (where north is to the right).

Perhaps of most note is that this route would have seen the line spend less than 1,000 yards underground. (A tunnel through the meander north of Tintern would have made it a straighter route at the expense of requiring a third expensive tunnel, so the proposal went for some extra bends instead. Trains ran more slowly in the 1860s, so bends were less of a concern than they are now.) Other effects of the alteration included a lengthening of the bridge over the Wye, which was to be 60 yards long rather than the 67 that was required at Tintern. Gradients were to be varied slightly, with 1½ miles of 1 in 86 climbing from the Wye Bridge (rather than the 1 in 66 for just over a mile from Wye Valley Junction to Tidenham Tunnel) followed by a mile of 1 in 71 down to the Wye (rather than descending at 1 in 90 and 1 in 100 to Brockweir). The railway would then rise gently up the hillside to pass around the Tintern meander above the village before plunging steeply back to river level on a falling gradient of 1 in 75; the eventual scheme eliminated the tighter curves at the expense of the local traffic and had to build a branch line with an additional river crossing which would have been unnecessary had the railway been laid out on the 1866 route.

The chord running south from Tidenham was to link into the South Wales and Great Western Direct Railway - which planned to cross the River Severn into England at this point, but never did.

Had the line been built, Tintern station would have been built within Tintern itself, although Tidenham would most likely still have been built in its cutting above the A48 (where the two alignments converge briefly and the levels proposed are largely similar, the longer run down to the mainline with the earlier route being explained by the easier gradient). A halt would have very likely still gone in at the south portal of the first tunnel in the 1930s, but it would have been able to serve the larger population at Woodcroft, on the St Briavels road, rather than the scattering of houses around the eventual halt on Netherhope Lane. A halt could also conceivably have been built to serve St Arvans at the north end of the railway's bridge over the Wye, but it wouldn't have had road access so such a development would have been unlikely.

The 1866 scheme runs around the outskirts of Livox Quarry on the west bank of the river in that meander just north of its river crossing, mirroring Tintern Quarry on the east bank which the 1875 scheme skirts and served well. Livox lasted much longer than Tintern - it wasn't visible from the road and wasn't digging up Offa's Dyke - and perhaps the railway would have similarly survived another 25 years for stone traffic had it run that way. Equally, the quarry owners might have been more willing to lose the railway when they could transport the stone out with greater ease by road than was possible at Tintern Quarry, which is built into a steeper hillside. To exploit Tintern Quarry it would have been necessary to provide a conveyor belt across the river, which would have also allowed stone from that quarry to be transported by road if rail costs became excessive. And excessive they would have become, since the bridge over the Wye at Livox would have had much the same problems as that at Tintern, except it would have had to be repaired to allow the stone traffic to continue.

On the other hand, while a station in Tintern wouldn't have generated enough traffic in itself to save the line, the output of two quarries together might have made it worthwhile rebuilding the bridge for heavy stone traffic, thereby justifying retaining the railway for the passenger traffic until such time as it became politically undesireable to axe rural branch lines. Perhaps... it's still a rather optimistic version of events for a line which certainly wouldn't have been any faster than that which was built and so would probably still have quietly disappeared in the 1959 round of closures. If passenger traffic had survived 1959 then the only result would have been that Appendix 2 of the Beeching Report would have included all the WVR stations and the line would have closed to all traffic, rather than just goods, in 1964.

The pictures below give a rough idea of the alignment of this proposed route and how it would have fitted into the landscape.

Wye Valley Junction

 Chepstow Tunnel was built in the late 1980s when the A48, seen at left, was brought across the Wye alongside the railway in order to bypass the old awkward passage through the town centre, with its narrow roads, restrictive medieval town gate and early 19th-century river bridge. The new road wanted a link into the suburbs on the English bank of the river, so it climbed sharply away from the railway, put the railway in a tunnel and built the road junction over the tunnel. The road then curves away to the north to pick up the old alignment of the A48 and the railway emerges from its tunnel for Wye Valley Junction.

However, had the WVR been built to its 1860s scheme the rail junction would not have been at the far end of the tunnel but here, with the Monmouth-bound track climbing up where the bushes down the centre of the picture are and requiring the road to climb even more sharply to successfully enclose it. Alternatively the rail junction could have been moved to its current location and the steeper incline imposed to avoid clashing with the road; the two alignments meet at Tidenham station anyway. But by the late 1980s it would probably have been deemed simpler just to shut the quarry branch and the prospects of reopening, with the first quarter of a mile obliterated, would be bleaker than ever.

Before the tunnel was built, the railway ran down a narrow rocky cutting here, with the wall on the right hand side being mirrored to the left of the railway. It was then possible to see right down the cutting to Tutshill Halt, Wye Valley Junction and the point where the mainline eventually curves slightly to the north to follow the banks of the Severn to Lydney.

Tidenham station

 Tidenham station is something of a fixed point in the history of the WVR; except for its short period of closure in 1917, the little single-platform station, set in a slight cutting in the hillside above the A48, has been a location of note since the 1866 Act went through. It was the only point on the line between Chepstow and Llandogo to remain completely unchanged when the line was redrawn in the early 1870s, although the gradient on which the station is built was steepened slightly during proceedings.

The station roughly marks the point where the railway crosses the old Roman Road which is now the A48, so a stop would most certainly have been planned for here on the original plan. Whether or not it would have exactly resembled the station that was built is debatable. Nicely decorated with standard Great Western Railway trees, the station has survived the years of closure better than most and the location is still clearly visible today. Uniquely among all of the intermediate points of interest featured on this page, it has seen construction work, rails and trains. Nowadays it is decorated with rubble, buddleia and a familiar dead trailer, but it remains - for now anyway - a rail-linked station, as intended in 1866.

(It should probably be noted that, since the route was only changed south of Llandogo, the stations at Bigsweir/ St Briavels and Redbrook would have also been built in the same place under the 1866 scheme.)

Woodcroft Tunnel (South Portal)

 Woodcroft Tunnel South Portal was to be located in the field shown left at the bottom of a deep cutting. Having curved away from the line which was actually built, the proposed route reversed its gradient and fell steadily towards Tintern, although strictly speaking at this point it was running west rather than north. This was a circuitous route.

In the distance, along the skyline, is Woodcroft. It is an attractive sort of place and had the line been built along this route it would probably have obtained a halt at about the time that Netherhope was built. However, the halt would have been some way from Woodcroft and there is no road in the vicinity. It would also have been thoroughly unpleasant, being located at the bottom of a 50ft deep rocky cutting by the mouth of a 712yard tunnel. Netherhope Halt was fortunate to be built at the bottom of a steep hill, allowing it to be situated in an attractive little cutting despite the line soon finding itself far enough below ground level to justify a tunnel.

Wintour's Leap

 Royalist Sir John de Wintour is said to have given his name to Wintour's Leap when he made his horse carry him over it during the English Civil War. It was a great way to escape pursuing Parliamentarians, who didn't have quite the same frame of mind and instead left him and his horse to paddle down the Wye to Chepstow, where they were presumably fished out and taken into the Royalist-held castle for protection.

Since then the Leap has not actually featured much in general points of exciting news, although the B4228 St Briavels to Chepstow road has a delightful blind bend at the top of a particularly high point of the cliff where traffic approaching from St Briavels at excess speed is protected from one of the finer deaths available on the British road network by a rickety overgrown fence and a minimal crash barrier. Oddly nobody appears to have exercised their right to be killed this way recently. The Leap has also been subjected to some general quarrying efforts which have left it slightly further back from the river than it was in de Wintour's time.

The WVR was going to have the Woodcroft Tunnel emerge partway down this cliff on the right of this view (taken, regrettably, on one of the occasions in the Wye Valley when it rains). The railway would then run down the hillside before plunging into another tunnel on the left, which would have carried it through one of the Wye's periodic meanders into the next length of the valley.

This is a particularly attractive point on the valley and it is in many respects a shame that the railway never came this way. However, it may also be this point which finished it off, due to the awkwardness of bringing the railway out of a sheer cliff at an angle and then running it along the side of said cliff without falling into the river, which runs close to the rock face.


 Livox Quarry survived somewhat longer than Tintern Quarry; the fact that its exit didn't depend on a lightly-maintained elderly railway tunnel meant that it survived the 1980s and only closed comparatively recently. It is seen here in September 2010; in January of the previous year it had still been filled with bits of (slightly derelict) quarry equipment. Efforts are now being made to landscape it - unlike Tintern, which is gradually landscaping itself and will perhaps eventually look all the better for it.

The farthest wall of the quarry backs onto a ridge, with the morning sun marking out the summit as it pours down the other side. Behind the ridge is the Wye - this design ensures that those on the river can't see straight into the quarry and we can't see the Wye. The background hill is on the other bank of the Wye (though, due to the way in which the Wye twists around, it is in fact the same bank as the one that this picture was taken from). The 1866 WVR intended to burst from this hill, cross the river, turn to its right and run around the bottom of the quarry to the left of this picture. It would then pass across the middle of the view (hidden behind the trees) and head off to the right towards Tintern.

The 1875 WVR, as built, was used as a standing point for taking this picture, with its view across the Wye from a fine embankment across the railway.


 The original line was to take a rather central course through Tintern; had it been built then there would be little possibility of being able to pass through the village without noticing that it once had a railway. This would probably be balanced by a reduced liklihood of the line reopening brought on by someone deciding in the 1970s that the station would make a lovely secluded site for a small housing estate.

This picture was taken from a location close to the point where the Wireworks Branch of the constructed line crossed the A466 on its way to the Angiddy wireworks. The Angiddy is below the foreground fence and the wireworks are less than quarter of a mile away to the right. The Wye is off to the left and the camera is pointing towards Chepstow.

The exact proposed location of the station is unclear. It would have been based on a compromise between operational convenience (which would dictate a location halfway between Tidenham and Bigsweir) and construction convenience (which would dictate a location where it is possible to build a three-platform station and goods yard without having a 50ft cliff above and a 50ft retaining wall below). This compromise would have either dictated a location at the north end of the village or on the flank of the background hill, with the station's northern throat being located around the particularly tall tree in the centre of the image. This location is more likely, being fairly convenient for the Angiddy wireworks and Tintern Abbey; neither is more than a few hundred yards away, which is more than can be said for the eventual station site. This location would have been 5 miles from the junction; the eventual station was 4½ miles, but that's as much down to the junction being moved as a shorter route.

The valley was then to be crossed by a 50ft-high embankment, with bridges for the road (between the houses) and a tramway (which presumably subsequently became part of the Wireworks Branch).

From Tintern station, the line was to run around the hillside and rejoin the current alignment a little to the north of Brockweir.

While the WVR may perchance one day re-open, the prospects of this alignment being built are nil. It is not entirely clear why it was decided to change course. Perhaps the demise of the South Wales and Great Western Direct Railway led to a re-assessment of the route. From a construction point of view it is the superior railway; the west bank of the Wye is largely more gently sloping than the east and Tidenham Tunnel is a massive work of engineering which would simply not have been necessary for the 1866 route. However, there are three things which went against this alignment:

  1. The railway was to pass through Tintern station rather too close to the Abbey; the later route preserved its picturesque appearance;
  2. The two tunnels were on a gradient of 1 in 71; the later route offered a gentler gradient;
  3. The Wye was likely to have to be marginally diverted at Wintour's Leap to provide the necessary room for the planned alignment.

Perhaps it was a decision based on these three points which sealed the fate of this scenic little route before the first shovel of earth had even been turned.

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Last modified 16/03/11

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