The Branch.... by Dr. D. A. C. McNeil
Should you by any chance be travelling along Swithland Lane north from the preserved railway station at Rothley you will pass a number of ‘desirable residences’, a cross-roads – the road on the left leads under a railway bridge and beside a reservoir to the hamlet of Swithland – and finally to the end of those residences. You will then be struck by building works beside the road. These building works are for a heritage site, part of the old quarry branch which ultimately joins up with the Great Central Railway project.
It was many years ago, when I was practicing being the worst museum curator the Great Central was ever to know, that I first came across this particular line. In those days it was just an embankment, but that embankment was trapping water and a local farmer was not pleased about it. In fact, he wanted to sue. It transpired that the embankment was part of the Landesborough estate and had nothing to do with the GCR.
The branch was built to convey granite from the old Mountsorrel quarries both to the Great Central and to the Midland railways (its bridges still exist over the main road in Mountsorrel and over the River Soar to the Midland). As road transport improved and became more efficient the line went into decline, and was abandoned in the 1950’s. An attempt was made in the 1960’s, but this fell through; in the 1980’s Lord Landesborough himself tried to revive it, as did the Railway Vehicle Preservation people at a later date, but both were beaten by bureaucracy. Lord Landesborough died in 1988. In his will he stated that the land on which the branch had been built was only to be used by a railway. Vox populi rose in 2007; part the line was relayed and between that date and the first train running on 23rd November 2013. The restoration of the quarry working had blocked the track bed at one point, so the line no longer runs into Mountsorrel itself.
As it stands the branch has been relayed between Bond Lane – now official Mountsorrel – Halt via Nunckley Hill, where the heritage centre will be and the site of an old quarry – to the Great Central near the Swithland sidings. It appears that the long abandoned plans to build Swithland station (abandoned by the original GCR) are not to be revived. A small halt and picnic area just short of the main line will act as the terminus.
Three granite buildings in various stages of decay will be moved to land provided by Lafarge Tarmac, which is also contributing to the costs of the works, as are several other local companies and charities. In these building it is proposed to house a historical museum of Mountsorrel and Rothley; a history of the quarry complete with local geology; and a history of the branch line. In addition, in order to make the legendary ends meet as the saying goes, a tea-room will provide tea to visitors. And, of course, whilst the work goes on, donations are still gratefully accepted.
I walked the line, or part of it and I was guided to a place in the car-park at Nunckley Hill which was out of the way of concreting lorries and lorries delivering iron rails. I put on my high visibility jacket and set out. My first port of call was to be the new Mountsorrel station. Now I have walked untold miles over railway tracks in my time. When the going got too rough I would walk to the side of the ballast. Yet it is now clear to me that, a) old age has struck and b) I have never walked a freshly laid line before. Instead of the ballast being levelled with time it was still lumpy and bumpy. The sleepers, which I used to use, now appear further part than they were. I ploughed on. A bright sunny day allowed me to take passable photographs of two bridges and the station. Unfortunately the banks had not settled enough, and the season was a little too advanced for a large number of wild flowers. There were odd patches of red and blue,but not so many of white, and a few large patches of yellow. I returned along the track to the old quarry and then turned up into a little wood which is part of a nature reserve. There were helpful boards erected giving facts about what was to be seen; there was a strange, carved head; there was a picnic area where the volunteers were resting from their labours, and there was a gate leading back to the track. I staggered on. It was quite a way to Swithland sidings. And there was a long straight piece of track leading into the distance. I left that for another day.