Walking along Whitegate Way reveals some of old railway line’s history

In these days of lockdown, many people will have taken to walking in the countryside. We have, especially with a new puppy. One of the favourite locations for a nice long walk with no hills is the Whitegate Way.

The old railway line that ran between the Manchester/Chester line at Cuddington to the salt works on Bradford Road and the Winsford and Over station behind what was the Navigation Inn/Vale Royal pub.

The salt mines made fair use of it along the Meadow Bank side of the river, and the terminus for passengers. So, let’s have a look at a now well-used country walk and cycle and horse riding trail.

Both sides of the River Weaver were heavily involved in salt mining, salt that was transhipped by Weaver Flats, this was slow, and the mine owners needed access to the faster and cheaper costs offered by a railway. Flats served the other side of the river, but it was not until 1882 that Over and Wharton station was opened as a link to the LNWR that later became the West Coast mainline.

Across the river in 1867 work started on the Winsford and Over branch line for the West Cheshire Railway WCR and later became part of the Cheshire Lines Committee, CLC. Benton and Woodiwiss won the contract to build it and, the total cost of the line, including the land, houses and stations amounted to £150,000 (£17.4 million today), the branch was opened on 1st June 1870.

The CLC owned wagons and coaches but hired their locomotives and staff as required. Initially, a coach or two was attached to a goods train, but later passenger trains were provided.

The line ran from the Winsford Junction on the Chester side of Cuddington station to Winsford and Over station via Falks Junction, Whitegate station and Newchurch Common. At Falks Junction, the lines split, and one went down to Bradford Road where it crossed over to the Meadowbank works, and the other direction took it to Winsford and Over station.

Now there is just a signpost on Falks Junction, but initially, there was a small siding and a signal box. After Falks Junction, the line to the station saw many spurs go off into the salt works on that side.

There was another crossing at Wades Lane (by the sewage works), together with a signal man’s house and a signal box.

Before reaching Falks Junction, we pass Newchurch Common; there are lakes on either side that used to be sand quarries and there was a crossing keepers house despite the road being a minor one, and a set of rails still exists there.

Then we reach Whitegate station; it has only ever had one platform and a signal box together with a grounded four-wheel carriage for storage.

Today there is an excellent café there. Onwards then to Catsclough Crossing where the railway crosses a continuation of School Road, Meadowbank. There was a crossing keepers cottage that is still there, now privately owned and a set of lines are still in situ.

For those wanting a circular walk of about two miles, go to School Road, Meadow Bank and walk straight ahead into the country, turning left at the next junction. This will take you to Catsclough Crossing, turn left here and continue until you reach Falks Junction with a signpost. Straight on and cross Bradbury Rd turning left. Walk back to Meadow Bank along the side of the salt works.