Saturday, 21 August 2010

Sonning Cutting

I didn't feel much like going for a ride at the end of the day yesterday. I felt tired, and the weather wasn't ideal. But I needed to get out.

I decided to head west, because there are several different options for cutting the ride short, and coming home early. By the time I had covered five miles though, I felt like carrying on, despite a head wind. I ended up going through Twyford, and part way along the A4, to reach Sonning Cutting.

When Brunel built the Great Western Railway he intended to run it close to Sonning, but there were too many objections to his preferred route, and he ended up routing it further south. That meant making a cutting through Butts Hill and Shepherds Hill between Twyford and Reading.

I've travelled through this on the train a number of times, but never seen it properly, and it is quite impressive from above. It's a big cutting - over a mile long, and sixty feet deep - that took two years to cut by hand, killed several workmen, and bankrupted the contractor.

The line was opened in March 1840. Less than two years later, on Christmas Eve 1841, there was a bad rail crash here, when a mixed goods and passenger train ran into a landslide caused by heavy rain. The passengers in open wagons were crushed by the goods wagons behind. Eight people died, and another 17 were injured. It resulted in new legislation to improve rail safety.

This bridge seems to be known locally as "Suicide Bridge". It is at the deepest part of the cutting, and the Samaritans have erected signs on both sides giving their phone number. Which I think speaks for itself.

On the way I found another old Bath Road milestone, which I have added to OSM. I think that completes the set of milestones that still remain between Colnbrook and Reading.

Larger map here

I had a tail wind pushing me along on the return journey, which made for a cracking pace, and I ended up covering just over 20 miles, taking the weekly total over 100 miles for the first time in a while.

The destination may have a rather gloomy history, but despite that it was a very satisfying ride, and I'm glad I overcame my natural inertia.

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