Reflowering Cole Green Way railway
PUBLISHED: 11:31 19 June 2018
A former rail line between Welwyn GC and Hertford could once again be a transport route - a green one, in more ways than one
Cole Green Way is one of a number of disused railway lines that criss-cross Hertfordshire’s countryside and provide superb routes for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The route, which connects Welwyn GC and Hertford, is owned by Hertfordshire County Council and managed by its Rural Estates Team. Working in partnership with the Countryside Management Service, a new Greenspace Action Plan for Cole Green Way has been agreed, which will bring about big improvements over the next five years.
The Hertford North to Welwyn GC branch of the Great Northern Railway carried regular passenger trains for nearly a century between 1858 and 1951. There are indications of this all along Cole Green Way in the form of cuttings, embankments and five old railway bridges. However, the most striking evidence is Cole Green Station.
The station, about midway between Welwyn GC and Hertford, opened on March 1, 1858 and at its peak had two platforms, both with wooden waiting rooms with wide canopies, and a two storey brick station building incorporating the booking office and stationmaster’s house. It served the villages of Cole Green and Letty Green, while also containing a goods yard, coal yard, cattle dock and pens. The station was busy enough to support an adjacent pub called the Railway Tavern which survives as the Cowper Arms.
Following final closure of the branch line in 1962, the station gradually fell into disrepair with the surrounding land taken over by scrub and secondary woodland. Despite the passage of time, the features of the station are still readily identifiable. Both platforms have survived, with some original cast iron railings at the rear of each. Part of the northern platform and the former station forecourt are used as a car park, and the goods yard is now a picnic area. The southern platform is heavily overgrown with some brickwork from the platform buildings remaining.
After the closure of the railway, the value of the route for recreation was quickly recognised, and the majority was acquired by the council. Cole Green Way now forms part of the National Cycle Network, on a route which connects to Hatfield, Ware and beyond. It has a key role to play in a network of non-motorised transport routes which make sustainable transport easier and more enjoyable. This will be increasingly important as the towns at each end grow and local roads become even busier.
Cole Green Way is just as important as a continuous corridor of valuable woodland and scrub habitats. Narrow strips of grasses and wild flowers border the central track where sufficient light reaches the ground. In a few places there are larger, more open areas of diverse grassland with species such as cowslip, common knapweed and field scabious. Badgers live in one of the cuttings, and bats such as pipistrelles will travel and feed along the habitat corridor on warm summer evenings. Butterflies like the speckled wood can be found in patches of sunlight reaching through the trees, and there is even a population of glow worms close to the Cole Green Station.
Despite its undoubted value to the community, Cole Green Way can be difficult to use and enjoy. Its surface is frequently muddy and suffers from poor drainage, especially in winter, while signage is not as clear or welcoming as it could be. The new plan will address these issues, through resurfacing, the installation of new drainage, and improvements to the main entrance points. Promotion of the route will be increased to help realise its potential and new interpretation and signage installed. The plan also includes measures to maintain the important habitats and proposes a major project to restore and celebrate the heritage of the old station.
Cole Green Way is already a fantastic resource for local people and has great potential. The exciting new plans will help realise this, developing a route which is easy and pleasant to use and makes a vital contribution to sustainable transport in Hertfordshire.
Andrew Taylor is a Countryside Management Service projects offier. For more information on the CMS, visit the website, hertfordshire.gov.uk/cms, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01992 588433.