From the 'East Anglian Magazine' of 1967 recollecting a journey made in 1966



By V. W. Hinkley

Thanks to the good citizens of Sudbury and the hue and cry that they raised at the prospect of being cut off, by rail, at least, from that artery of East Anglia, the old Great Eastern line to Norwich, there was no danger of being unaware of the impending demise of the Stour Valley line from Marks Tey to Cambridge. An opportunity had arisen to return, by train, from Cambridge to Ipswich and so instead of travelling direct by way of Newmarket and Bury, I decided to take the roundabout route through Haverhill and Sudbury before the post-Beeching axe fell.

The signal light changed from red to green, the driver 'reved up' his motors and without flag waving or whistle-blowing we were away, dead on time. I felt a childish thrill of expectation.

We followed the well worn, highly polished London line as far as Shelford and there turned left down what looked like a slightly overgrown garden path with young trees pressing in on one side. Away to the north rose the Gog and Magog Hills, the 'Gogs' to the locals. For three straight,slightly undulating miles my interest lay only in backward glances at familiar landmarks seen from an unfamiliar viewpoint until we reached Pampisford, the first of three dilapidated stations. There was no doubt about it, British Rail hadn't wasted a penny on these doomed places since steam, grass grew in unaccustomed places, windows were uncleaned and unmended and it was an interesting exercise to identify the station.

At Bartlow, during the two-minute stop (the schedule was not a tight one), I noticed red-rusty rails curving away through trees to the south and realised that it was the northern end of a short and apparently disused branch to Audley End which I had often seen from the air. On now to Haverhill and during the run we managed to show a clean pair of buffers to several motorists on the A604 alongside the line. Under a bridge and here was a station of some consequence, two platforms, people on both, and a bookstall, a goods yard even a gold-braided stationmaster, perhaps.

There was plenty of time to examine Haverhill from a distance, and a selection of its inhabitants at closer proximity, because this was a passing place on the single track line. They and we were waiting with growing impatience the appearance of a train from Sudbury. The waiters on the other platform seemed an average, stoical lot; were they New Haverhillians used to a 30-second service on the Underground? Rush hour it might be; but it was a Suffolk version of it. A few more strolled onto the platform, there must have been fully two dozen by now. An attractive girl kept her pretty face buried in a newspaper and gave us tantalising glimpses of it when she looked up occasionally to turn the page or look up the line.

No longer can a puff of smoke herald an arrival: one moment the train was not there and the next it was, bearing down on us at no great speed. A strange rite was performed between driver and signalman involving the exchange of a large ring. This caught deftly on the crooked arm, bestowed powers of travel over the line ahead.

At last we were off again, noting remains of the now defunct Colne Valley line away to the right and shortly we were picking up our own river, the Stour, as we approached Stoke-by-Clare, a sweetly Suffolk-sounding place. As dilapidated stations go, this was well kept and reflected a dutiful care in the past.

The line from now on became truly rural, the Stour and its attendant willows appearing first on one side and then the other. The view ahead changed with every twist of the track; and there were many, producing a sequence of scenes comparable with a travelogue. All credit to the inhabitants of Clare, Cavendish and Long Melford (what delightful East Anglian names) that their villages, look as attractive from the rear, so to speak, as they do from the front.

At Melford the remains of the branch from Bury can still be seen and a few minutes later we were curving our way round the south of Sudbury to a halt at the Station-on-the-Bend.

There was not a long wait before the train from Marks Tey came slowly round the sharp curve and disgorged its load. After an exchange of staffs we were off to the south in company with road and river to Bures where, as at so many stations, nobody got on or off.

With river gone the journey now took on a less interesting aspect and it seemed as if reaching Colchester in double-quick time was uppermost in the driver's mind. A brief halt at Wakes Colne, where the keen eyed can still discern the remains of the Colne Valley line joining from Haverhill, across the viaduct over the Colne and on to Marks Tey.

From here for a few brief minutes we were able to throw off caution and take advantage of a fast straight run on the main line to the outskirts of Colchester. Here, for our temerity, we were checked by a halt until a platform was made ready to receive us or perhaps until the station announcer had found her script.

If, in time, the line closes or is relegated to goods traffic, the memory of it will stay with me after faster and more glamorous journeys have been forgotten. Having ridden the line once I don't think I shall be be in at the death, thought it should be quite a party: you see, the last train from Cambridge to Haverhill runs on New Year's Eve.