At 33 arches in length, Hockley Viaduct is a substantial feat of engineering. It is located a few miles south of Winchester, adjacent to the M3 and is the largest remaining, single piece of evidence that there once was a railway line that linked Southampton to Didcot. Although wound-down for passenger services prior to it, the line south of Newbury was finally closed for traffic in 1965 as a result of the Beeching Report. There is much debate about whether the closure of many lines as a result of this report was for the best and is something I will not go into here! I would say that it did leave many hundreds of miles of redundant infrastructure and that in many cases the potential to re-use this for means other than shopping and housing developments was often missed.
The viaduct itself is a historically important structure. The route that it was a part of was strategically vital during the liberation of Europe in 1944. Arguably though, (especially from a civil engineering perspective), it’s most significant (but not obvious) feature is that it’s core is made of concrete and not brickwork. If we ignore the fact that concrete was used by the Roman’s and then forgotten for centuries, this structure, built around 1890 is the earliest structure of significant size to use concrete. Strangely enough, because you can not see the concrete, effort’s to apply for listing from English Heritage for the viaduct were turned down and it’s fate could well of been destruction, as with other bridges on the same route (such as the one below) if it wasn’t for the dedication of a group volunteers.
The question is; what use is a viaduct without a railway to run along it? Especially one that’s structural integrity was coming into question as a result of a structural survey. Fortunately it found a potential use as a cycle route by Sustrans in 2008, a year after campaigning had started by the newly formed “Friends of Hockley Viaduct“. And to an outsider, it seems to make so much sense. Many of us like to cycle, but there are few places where it can be done away from traffic, but still on a smooth, well engineered surface. To me, if you can’t have a railway on an old track-bed, a cycle route makes a lot more sense than most others. That way, the huge amount of investment and not to mention the blood sweat and tears it took to build the railways and associated infrastructure in the first place is not wasted.
In February 2013, local cycling Olympic Gold Medalist Dani King; opened Hockley Viaduct as a cycle path. The restoration work that involved the Friends of Hockley Viaduct and Winchester City Council was significant and lasted 18 months. The newly opened viaduct is now part of cycle route 23 and enjoyed by many. I was quite fortunate to get a picture with no one on it! Plans for the future include adding interpretation panels, to help tell it’s story to those who use and visit it.
I have been meaning to visit the viaduct for some time and am very pleased I did. If you are in the area and looking for a good off-road but well-surfaced cycle or walking route that encompasses a substantial and impressive piece of railway history, I can think of few better places than Hockley Viaduct! Thanks for reading folks 🙂