A marvel of Victorian engineering that saw its last train almost 50 years ago has been given a new lease of life as Britain’s longest cycling tunnel.
The Combe Down Tunnel is a key section of the Two Tunnels Greenway, a four-mile stretch of disused railway between Bath and the village of Midford in Somerset. It forms part of a longer cycling loop that takes in other striking engineering accomplishments, including the already reopened but shorter Devonshire Tunnel, the Dundas Aqueduct and Tucking Mill Viaduct.
The Combe Down Tunnel has taken five years to complete, at a cost of £4.2m. It will be officially opened by cycling charity Sustrans, who have led the restoration project in partnership with Bath & North East Somerset Council, on 6 April 2013.
Jon Usher, Sustrans Area Manager for West of England, said their work on the project started back in 2007, when the organisation was spurred on by local community organisation Two Tunnels Group to secure Big Lottery Fund cash for the restoration.
“In all fairness to the tunnels and to the Victorian engineering they were in remarkably good condition considering they’d been left for 40 years or more since the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway was closed,” he said.
The restoration included clearing out the in-filled tunnel entrances, laying the tar path, target repointing on some brickwork and clearing “100 years of accumulated soot”.
The launch date marks 50 years since the Beeching report condemned thousand of miles of UK railway to dereliction. To date, Sustrans claim they have resurrected 1,500 miles of disused lines as cycle and pedestrian paths around the country.
To celebrate the tunnel’s opening on 6 April there will be a festival at Bloomfield Road Open Space. From 12.30-4pm there will be a 13-mile family bike ride on the loop through the Combe Down and Devonshire tunnels, and along the Tucking Mill Viaduct and Dundas Aqueduct. Sustrans will be taking donations of £5 from individuals and £10 from families.