The railway from Brockenhurst (Hants) to Hamworthy (Dorset) via Wimborne was built in 1847 as part of the original route between Southampton and Dorchester. Superceded by the later, more direct route along the coast through Bournemouth, it closed in the 1960s and 70s. Parts of the line west of Ringwood now form the Castleman Trailway but other stretches, too, can still be followed on a bike.
When the first railway between Southampton and Dorchester was being planned, Bournemouth was still a small fishing village with a population of less than 700, so it's small wonder that an inland route through the well-established market towns of Brockenhurst, Ringwood, Wimborne, and Wareham was chosen. Unfortunately, this, together with the insistence of the authorities that the railway should stay well away from the wooded areas of the New Forest, gave the line a winding route and it soon became known as Castleman's Corkscrew, after its foremost promoter, Charles Castleman, a Wimborne solicitor. A branch line from Hamworthy Junction ran to Hamworthy, on the edge of Poole Harbour.
The railway network in South Hampshire and Dorset gradually expanded over the following decades with lines from Ringwood to Christchurch in 1862, Christchurch to Bournemouth East in 1870, Broadstone to Poole in 1872, and Poole to Bournemouth West in 1874. In 1888 a new line was built from Brockenhurst to Christchurch, giving a more direct route to Bournemouth, and a line across Holes Bay completed the map in 1893, giving a direct route between Poole and Dorchester.
After this, the Ringwood line became very much a secondary route. (Click here to see the Winter 1954 timetable for the line.) Passengers services between Brockenhurst and Hamworthy via Ringwood, Wimborne, and Broadstone were axed by Dr Beeching in 1964, and the section between Brockenhurst and Ringwood closed completely. Broadstone itself closed to passengers two years later when the Somerset & Dorset (Bournemouth to Bath) line closed. Freight trains ran from the Broadstone end as far as Ringwood until 1967 and to an MoD fuel depot at West Moors until 1974. After that, a local twice-weekly goods service to Wimborne together with the presence there of an exhibition train company base, kept the western stub of the line just about alive until 1977. Demolition followed swiftly after each section closed.
In the New Forest and at the western end of the line the trackbed has survived virtually intact. But this part of Dorset and Hampshire has grown rapidly over the last 25 years and unused land around Wimborne, Broadstone and Poole has been too valuable to stand idle for long. However, it is still possible to ride along most of the trackbed, although a diversion is needed between Ferndown and Wimborne.
The Corkscrew left the present main line at Lymington Junction, about a mile south of Brockenhurst, but you can't join the old line at that point, Instead, leave Brockenhurst on the B3055 Sway road. Turn right when you come to a T-junction and pass under a railway bridge, then watch out for a bridleway leading under the railway on the right. The path follows the New Forest boundary with the low embankment of the closed railway line a short distance away on the right, before joining the trackbed where it enters Forestry Commission land at Cater's Cottage. A couple of under bridges have been removed on this section but shouldn't give too many problems.
The line passes under a couple of bridges, one a substantial three-arched design, then passes a camping site at Setthorns. A couple of miles further on the trackbed comes to an end at a filled in cutting. Follow the path to the left to the road, turn right then immediately left. The road you are now on has been built on the course of the old line, and its origins are fairly obvious to the observant. The advantage of using the old railway as a replacement for the existing road to Burley can be seen a mile further on. The busy A35 crosses above the old railway line, providing a ready-made underpass in place of the dangerous cross-roads on the old road.
The old Holmsley station building is beyond the A35 bridge. It opened as Christchurch Road station, despite that town being some 7 miles off! The station building has now been extended and converted into tea rooms. Cross the end of the road to Lyndhurst and rejoin the trackbed through a small gate hidden in the hedge on the far side. Once through the gate look on the left and you'll see the remains of one of the platforms.
This stretch of the line crosses empty open heathland though a few tracks cross the line, marked by the remains of old level crossings. The only building near the line is a modernistic construction which replaced a level crossing keeper's cottage – the rails can still be seen in the surface at the edge of the road. A short distance further on an overbridge – Greenberry Bridge – has been removed. The path is fairly rough in parts on this stretch, but not impossibly so.
All too soon the trackbed path comes to an end near the village of Burley (surprisingly, there was never a station or even a halt here), beyond which the old line leaves Forestry Commission land. Although Hampshire County Council owns some of the old line between here and Ringwood, parts have been sold off. It has been suggested that the line be included in plans to develop additional cycle routes but there are objections on the grounds of "the difficulty of traversing parts of the old railway track and the damage which would be done to wildlife and habitats in so doing".
Follow a narrow track to the right and through a car park. Turn right onto the road and follow it into the village centre, then turn left. After a mile and a half, fork left following the sign for "Crow". As you approach Crow, there is a sudden rise in the road. This marks the site of Crow Level Crossing – the old crossing keeper's house remains on the right hand side of the road, the trackbed now forming part of its garden and is consequently inaccessible. Take the next turning on the right (Crow Lane), then, in a touch over ¼ mile, turn left into Crow Arch Lane. The trackbed crosses the line by the junction and is now a footpath. It crosses over Crow Arch Lane, its line now being followed by Embankment Way. At the end of this road turn left into Castleman Way. This takes you through the site of the station which was immediately before New Street level crossing, which is the road opposite the Railway Hotel.
Continue along Castleman Way to the mini-roundabout at Christchurch Road (there was another level crossing here) and keep straight ahead. The entrance to the latest addition to the Castleman Trailway is just ahead on the left. Fortunately, British Rail found it impossible to dispose of this stretch of the line because of its three bridges across the River Avon until its use as a route for cyclists and walkers became obvious. (Note: despite the occasional sign to the contrary, most of the route described here does appear to be open to cyclists – in a couple of cases a sign at one end of a path says "Pedestrians only" while at the other it is advertised for "walkers and cyclists".)
The first bridge across the River Avon was rebuilt in concrete only a few years before the line was axed but the others are built of iron girders. The large baulks of timber on which the rails were carried can still be seen rotting away. At the end of this section the course of the line has been broken by the dualling of the A31 but a cycle link, marked on the pavement, passes beneath the new road and rejoins the trackbed on the far side. This leads along the edge of the Moors Valley Country Park before crossing the road at Ashley Heath. On the far side of the road can be seen the remains of the halt which once existed here, complete with concrete nameboard.
After Ashley Heath there is a two-mile, almost straight, section to West Moors. The trackbed approaching West Moors has vanished beneath a housing development and the cycle path is diverted through the site of the old MoD sidings. The surface is of ash, a material which the steam railways of the past had all too readily available.
The route through West Moors is not particularly easy to follow and is marked only by small and easy-to-miss signs. Leave the site of the sidings by the gate beside a huge block of concrete which once served as a buffer stop. Go straight ahead onto the road (Arnold Close, which marks the location of the junction of the Corkscrew with the West Moors to Salisbury line), follow it round to the left, then take a concrete path between fences on the right. Keep going straight ahead until you come to the road. The flats on the right just before the road are built on the station site. The older house across the road is an old railway cottage – the track ran to its left.
Turn right onto the main road past the Tap & Railway pub and continue for a couple of hundred yards up the road – you may find it easier to walk your bike along the pavement since the waymark signs are all on this side of the road – until the waymark signs point you to a pathway on the left. Follow this path for about half a mile, then follow the Castleman Trailway signs along another path to the left. This will bring you out opposite the headquarters of Dorset police. The Trailway turns off along another woodland path at this point, but I decided to take to the roads. Besides, the road which runs from the left (out of a golf course) to the right is on the course of the railway line.
Follow this road to the right to the roundabout with the A31 (the railway line disappears under the main road here). Go straight ahead at the roundabout into Cobham Road. Follow this through an industrial estate (the old railway runs behind the facory units on your right) until you come to traffic lights at Wimborne Road West. Turn right and follow this to another roundabout on the A31, then go straight ahead following the signs for Wimborne town centre (B3073). As you head along this road, watch out for Hayes Lane on the right by a garage. If you divert along it you'll come to a tell-tale hump in the road which marks the site of an old level crossing. Bungalows have been built on the trackbed on both sides (one is called The Gates) but the concrete gateposts remain. Further along the B3073 you'll pass the end of Northleigh Lane, which climbs to cross the railway on an ornate bridge.
As you head into the town you'll pass the spot, soon after the junction with Gordon Road, where the railway bridged the road, but there's no trace of it now. The way out of town is via Rodway and Poole Road (turn left at the roundabout at the edge of town), but delay that for a moment and take time to explore the town first.
As you leave the town divert via New Borough Road if you want to see the site of the old station. Not that there's anything left – not only were the buildings and platforms demolished but even the embankment on which the station and goods yard was sited was completely removed to leave a level area on which to build an industrial estate. Continue along Poole Road, over the River Stour bridge, and then above the A31 bypass. Just after the junction with Oakley Lane look out for the resumption of the railway path on the left of the road.
After a short distance the path passes through a short tunnel at Merley (actually more of a long bridge – the A341 passes over the line on a skew) and then heads along the edge of Delph Woods. As it approaches Broadstone the path suddenly leaves the railway line and diverts to the right, joining another railway line. This is the trackbed of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway, which the path follows to the site of Broadstone Station. Tennis courts and a sports centre occupy most of the site of the four-platform station from which it was once possible to travel by train in four directions.
Beyond the sports centre the path passes through an underpass beneath a roundabout, then keeps to the right to rejoin the old railway line. The Castleman Trailway now follows the original line from Broadstone to Hamworthy Junction. The later line from Broadstone to Poole ran at a slightly lower level on the left and its course is now followed by a new road, Castleman Way, on which there is a cycleway, part of NCN route 25.
The way ahead is relatively straightforward as the old line curves gently to the right, even if the path becomes increasingly narrow. A suburban road occupies the trackbed for a brief distance but the railway line is easily picked up again. The Castleman Trailway leaves the railway line at the edge of the built-up area and turns left to follow the course of an old Roman road. However, the railway line can still be followed across Upton Heath until it is cut by the modern A35 dual carriageway. A sandy path to the right leads to a bridge over the main road. At the far end of the bridge, turn left onto a very narrow, winding path which leads back to the railway line.
The route becomes increasingly narrow and overgrown as it passes through the housing estates of Upton. The land on the right hand side was occupied by Lytchett brickworks and claypits and was served by a siding which survived until the closure of the line in 1966. Amazingly, although the line had already closed when the estates were built, no attempt was made to bulldoze it or build over it.
Eventually the path crosses the end of a cul-de-sac, then follows a paved path which leads to Poole Road. Cross over and rejoin the railway route by the Upton Trailway sign. Another difficult section follows until, finally, another path crosses the old line. Follow this to the right down the side of the embankment which leads out onto a road. (You could probably struggle through the undergrowth a bit further along the old line if you were that enthusiastic a follower of old railway lines!) Turn left and, at the dead end, follow a short path into the Allens Lane industrial estate. The old line runs behind and above the units on your left. At the main road turn left. Ahead are two bridges: the first carried the disused line from Broadstone, while the further one is today's main line.
Before you get to the first bridge turn right into Turlin Road, then left into Junction Road. This takes you to Hamworthy Junction station and the end of the route.
This is a railway path with a difference. Although much of the route survives, there seems to have been no coherent plan to develop it into a popular cycling and walking facility. Instead odd bits have been developed at different times and in different ways. Much of it is decidedly informal and hardly any of it is used extensively. Along much of the route the waymark signs are small and discreet, and almost seem designed to keep it hidden from view.
This is a pity, because the route is a superb one, crossing the open heaths of the New Forest (about to become England's latest National Park) in the east, the woodlands west of Ringwood, and the virtually hidden trackway through the thriving conurbations at the western end. The only bleak spot is that on the approach to Wimborne, but that is made up for by the delightful town itself.
You can either follow through the pages in sequence or go back to pick another route from the list of the old railway routes I've used.
Updated: 18 August 2004: technical update 16 July 2005