Michael L. Roach.
A near 30-mile road journey took me along the west side of Dartmoor from Plymouth to Meldon Viaduct which once carried a double track railway from Plymouth to Exeter via Okehampton. In fact the viaduct is located just over two miles south west of Okehampton. For a very small hamlet Meldon is well-known for three things: its railway viaduct, its dam and reservoir, and its hard rock quarry which once supplied ballast for almost the whole of the Southern Railway. The date of the visit was 14 April 1962 and the journey had taken me well over an hour because of going off the direct route to see 4591 enter Lydford Station with the 10.15am Launceston to Plymouth train.
Meldon Viaduct is in fact two viaducts side-by-side completed in 1874 and 1879 and built of wrought iron. Steel had already been invented and if the viaducts had been built just a few years later they would probably have been built of steel. The Forth Bridge was designed in the early 1880s and the contract for its construction was let in 1882. The Forth Bridge was the first major structure in Britain to be made of steel. Both Meldon and Forth bridges have lasted well with regular maintenance. Meldon is one of only two wrought iron viaducts remaining in the country:- the other is at Bennerley, Ilkeston in a completely different situation on the edge of an urban area. Bennerley is three times the length of Meldon but only half the height. Of course there is an even more famous partly wrought iron bridge (as opposed to viaduct) only some 25 miles away and that is the Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash. Meldon Viaduct has been a Scheduled Monument since 1976.
I took a couple of photos of the viaduct, including a train crossing it and then moved on to take some lineside pictures much closer to Okehampton Station. In all I took photos of three trains and all were headed by rebuilt Bulleid light pacifics of the WC/BB class. The class had been common on the lines from Okehampton to Plymouth and Padstow for many years but it is believed that after being rebuilt the class had been forbidden at first.
The WC/BB locos seen that day were:
34056 Croydon An Exmouth Junction loco for the previous 7 years, the loco lasted until May 1967
34062 17 Squadron An Exmouth Junction loco for the previous 10 years; it was withdrawn in May 1964
34098 Templecombe An Exmouth Junction loco although it moved to Eastleigh the following month, May 1962
After trains ceased to cross the viaduct in 1968 the track was lifted and a roadway built across on one side. The viaduct became a haul road for lorries taking aggregate to the site of Meldon Dam during its construction perion 1970 to 1972. Later the roadway became a cycle track as it still is. What does the future hold for Meldon Viaduct and will the rail route across the viaduct be restored one day. It is possible that private car ownership could decline with the gradual takeover by electric cars and their attendant high battery costs and the difficulty of charging car batteries outside some properties. I think the railway will be rebuilt one day, although it is probably some years off. Tieing the two viaducts together at track formation level would enable a single line to be laid down the centre of the available width with the cycle path retained on one side.
MLR / 20 February 2023