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