7 forgotten railways in Yorkshire

PUBLISHED: 16:33 21 October 2016 | UPDATED: 16:42 21 October 2016

Bolton Percy

Bolton Percy


Once the steam and smoke has gone, old railway lines and the land that surrounds them become wonderful corridors for wildlife. They’re not bad for people either. Here are seven of the best in Yorkshire.

Transformed landscapes that host remnants of our past, abandoned and disused railways are the perfect places to explore hidden secrets and discover a wealth of wildlife.

Railways criss-cross the UK, connecting people and distant places. Once the most effective way to travel quickly, rail-lines dominated our landscape, carrying materials during the First and Second World Wars, transporting tourists to newly discovered places and delivering materials for some of our most important buildings.

Today, there are hundreds of secret, forgotten railways which have fallen out of use by people and been reclaimed by nature. Now they are wildlife highways, bursting with wildflowers, butterflies and birds, and full of secrets and history waiting to be discovered. The Wildlife Trusts protect old railway sites, often known as cuttings or embankments, for nature and for people to enjoy. Here are some of our region’s most special.

Potteric CarrPotteric Carr

Potteric Carr Nature Reserve

Railway construction at Potteric Carr commenced in 1840 when the Great Northern Railway pushed south from Doncaster towards London forming what is now the main East Coast Main Line (ECML). Over the next 100 years, various additions and realignments have occurred, many in connection with the exploitation of the rich coal reserves which lie beneath this part of Yorkshire; as well as in connection to the improvements to the ECML. In doing so, the area of land we know as Potteric Carr was created, the land, much of which was agricultural in use, becoming isolated and flooded.

Through this ‘neglect’ a habitat not too dissimilar to that which occurred before the 18th Century slowly developed. Many of the reserve’s footpaths are formed on what were the Dearne Valley and South Yorkshire joint railways’ lines to and from the colliery’s in the area. The Magnesian Limestone ballast adding to the biodiversity of the area-as well as forming excellent, level paths. Finally, the location of the Kingfisher Tearooms sits on the site of Low Ellers Junction, the old signal box sign still being retained in the area. Visit for common spotted and bee orchids and old man’s beard -Britain’s only wild clematis. Great crested and palmate newts are in some of the pools, and toads are common.

Spurn PointSpurn Point

Spurn National Nature Reserve

Built during the First World War, the railway at Spurn was a way of getting materials and men up and down the peninsula between Godwin Battery and Spurn Fort (Green Battery). It is a standard gauge rail track and ran from the pier head at Spurn Point to sidings at Kilnsea, opposite the Blue Bell. Materials for the construction of the forts at Spurn/Kilnsea arrived by sea and were distributed to the desired locations.

There were up to five different locomotives used on Spurn at some time or other. The railway had an unusual history between the wars and locals used a trolley with a sail fitted to sail up and down the peninsula. They even used an Italian racing car body fitted with iron wheels to run along the rails. It is said that the Italian car body and engine are still buried on Spurn. A book called ‘Sailing the Rails’ was written by a local historian Howard Frost and is a comprehensive history of the Spurn Railway. Today, this nature reserve is often visited for its wildlife-rich mosaic of beach, mudflats, saltmarsh, dunes, grassland, open water, saline lagoons and native sea buckthorn scrub.

The Lines WayThe Lines Way

The Lines Way

This disused railway line runs all the way from Garforth to Allerton Bywater, south-east of Leeds, and is enjoyed by cyclists and walkers in the area. Creating a perfect corridor for wildlife this 4-mile stretch is home to glow worms which are thought to be declining in the UK.

There is also opportunity to stop on a number of nature reserves along the way including Letchmire Pastures where bee orchids grow and Townclose Hills which has a stunning display of wildflowers.

Kiplingcotes Chalk PitKiplingcotes Chalk Pit

Kiplingcotes Chalk Pit

Whilst not a railway itself this nature reserve was quarried until 1902 to provide the chalk for building the embankments of the Beverley to Market Weighton railway which opened in 1865.

It later became a nature reserve in 1965 and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust began to manage it, using sheep and ponies to graze it to create the ideal conditions for flowering plants. Amongst the many species that thrive are wild pansy, wild thyme, greater knapweed and field scabious.

Bishop Monkton Railway CuttingBishop Monkton Railway Cutting

Bishop Monkton Railway Cutting

This small haven for wildlife is tucked away within an intensively agricultural landscape. Sitting on the now disused London and North Eastern Railway line, the magnesian limestone bedrock provides the perfect conditions for a rich abundance of wildflowers including cowslip in spring and common spotted orchids in summer.

Pre-1967, when the line was in use there was a small hut for the railway workers with a garden, plants from which still survive today. Whilst not native these plants do provide an additional food source for insects and are an insight into the site’s past.

Rifle Butts QuarryRifle Butts Quarry

Rifle Butts Quarry

This tiny nature reserve is a real hidden gem, a few minutes walk from Kiplingcotes Chalk Pit along the old railway line. The quarry itself was used to provide the stone to construct the railway, which ran between Market Weighton and Beverley, and was then used as a rifle range from the 1890 until the First World War hence its name.

Over 150 plants have been recorded on this 0.27 ha patch including cowslip, marjoram and giant bellflower. Breeding birds such as yellowhammer and butterflies including common blue can also be seen.

Bolton PercyBolton Percy

Bolton Percy Station, Tadcaster

Once a railway goods platform and still lying next to the Leeds-York railway line, this nature reserve covers the old platform and bridge embankments.

Nature has taken hold of this old station yard - bramble scrambles over the old platform, flower-filled grassland grows where once there were rail tracks and scrub growth provides sheltered scallops filled with fluttering butterflies and moths in the summer months.

Wherever you live there is a Wildlife Trust that covers your area. You can support their work by joining your local Wildlife Trust today. Visit www.wildlifetrusts.org to choose the Trust you would like to join

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