Ayot Greenway

Welwyn - Dunstable

Part of the Lost Rails Project

Click to enlarge this map of the route
© Stephen Wragg 2010
Coming in to Wheathampstead Station, perched above the village, from the west in 1959.
© Alan J Willmott
The rural nature of the line meant that it was quite common for pheasants to get hit by trains - only to be taken home and cooked by the train crews
In this clip, a former train fireman explains how, during wartime, pheasants and rabbits were taken home to supplement the family rations
Clive Kessel, a former British Rail signal engineer in the 1960s, describes how bespoke parts had to be made to repair the out-of-date equipment on the line
Most of the line was made up of single tracks, so tokens were used to control the flow of traffic and prevent two trains travelling on the same stretch of track at the same time
Mr Kessel describes how, on one occasion, a derailed train was put right in just half an hour
Dennis Toyer recalls the freight on the railway at Wheathampstead during the Second World War
A short description of the steam trains that used this railway
In this extract, Mary Anderson, born in 1924, talks about the coal trains that used the line to supply Welwyn
Dennis Toyer recalls how train drivers used to slow down near the Luton Town football ground to get an update on the scores
Trains didn't run on a Sunday on account of wealthy landowners, who didn't want to be disturbed by trains going through their estates
Sue Jenkins talks about the games she played by the level crossing in Sherrards Wood as a child in the 1950s,
The roads in the 1920s were often muddy, so people used to walk to the station in wellington boots, and change into smart shoes at the station
Rather than waiting an hour for the next passenger train, some workers finishing in the afternoon hitched a lift on break vans - in exchange for unloading some of the goods

The Luton, Dunstable & Welwyn Junction Railway was the longest of our branch lines, extending beyond the county to Dunstable. It opened in 1858 following very real demand from Luton, the largest town in England still without a railway or a canal. But Luton was too important to be served by a single-track branch, and in 1868 it was connected to the mainline Midland Railway, leaving the Dunstable line with just the local traffic.

However, commuter demand from Harpenden and Wheathampstead remained strong until car travel took a grip in the 1950s. A famous passenger, the playwright George Bernard Shaw of Ayot St Lawrence, might have been spotted waiting for his train at Wheathampstead. Like the Buntingford line, the Dunstable saw the introduction of diesel trains and carried on until the Beeching axe fell in 1965.

From as early as 1900 the railway was used to transport gravel from the pits at Blackbridge, just north-east of Wheathampstead. By the 1920s the trains were returning full of London’s landfill rubbish. This daily traffic continued to 1971 when the line was taken up. The site, covered in nettles, elder bushes, hemlock, and rabbits, runs alongside the track for a kilometre.

The trackbed can be walked ridden or cycled in two sections with a break at Wheathampstead. The western section follows the valley of the Lea, while the shorter section between Wheathampstead and Welwyn runs through rolling countryside, with tall trees, embankments, cuttings, and plenty of curves.

Discover more

Photo gallery of The Ayot Greenway

Audio memories

Below you can listen to a selection of clips taken from interviews with people who worked on or lived near the line.

This page was added on 01/03/2011.

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