Unearthing a hidden secret of railway line

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Every week hundreds of people, both locals and holidaymakers take a walk along the Cleveland Way from Sandsend to Kettleness or even as far as Runswick Bay.

The first mile of the journey is on the track bed of the old railway line from Whitby to Loftus which closed in 1958. However, what none of these walkers know is that when they pass over the Steeping Pits embankment (about a couple of hundred yards from Deepgrove Tunnel) they are in fact walking over a wooden viaduct.

Railway enthusiast and author Dr Michael Williams looks at some of the hidden past of this popular walk exclusively for the Whitby Gazette and takes up the story.

For, hidden beneath the embankment are the remains of that viaduct which has been covered by spoil taken from the excavations of the tunnel and used to cover it.

We know that a wooden viaduct was constructed, for the Engineer’s report to the Directors of the private company building the line in 1873 reported that £300 (which would be approximately £25,000 in today’s money) had been spent on it.

A similar wooden viaduct was planned to cross the deep ravine of Overdale Beck, but with the abandonment of the works along the cliff edge and the construction of Deepgrove tunnel it was never built, although the embankment upon which it would have abutted is still there.

At the same time far more was being spent on the construction and completion of the well-known wrought iron viaducts at Staithes, Sandsend, Eastrow, Newholm and Upgang.

So why was the viaduct covered?

It was not dangerous or flimsy, for such a relatively large amount of money had been spent on it.

There was no real need to cover it, but it seems likely that it could have been because there was nowhere to put the vast amounts of spoil taken from the Deepgrove tunnel excavations.

The tunnel is almost a mile in length.

We know that Deepgrove tunnel was begun in July 1879 and not completed until 1882.

Some of the spoil was taken along two specially constructed adits in the middle of the tunnel and dumped over the cliffs into the sea, but most of it would have had to be taken to the exits.

Today, these spoil tips have become part of the normal landscape, but there is no disguising what they originally were.

Since the viaduct was covered, probably in 1882 when the tunnel at Deepgrove would have been completed, it has disappeared from history.

In fact, no-one knows it is there.

Like the Forgotten Tunnel at Keldhowe, which featured in a previous article in the Whitby Gazette on January 2 this year it is part of the remarkable and fascinating railway history of Whitby and its immediate surroundings.

An archaeological dig would be straightforward enough to arrange.

And, it is not impossible that the whole structure could be uncovered and in turn unearthing another forgottten part of the area’s railway past.

Dr Michael Williams has also written journals and studies on the Whitby to Loftus line, it’s viaducts and tunnels, and the Beeching cuts.