Downhill all the way on the Fly Line
Graham Hudson discovers a walk along a disused railway line near Leeds and unravels an unexpected piece of local history.
IN 1834 the Yorkshire colliery owner Richard Oliver Gascoigne opened a horse-worked railway through his private Parlington estate, linking Garforth Colliery with a coal depot at Aberford on the Roman Road north from Castleford. Known locally as the Fly Line, and carrying passengers and goods as well as coal, the railway provided a useful service to the community until its closure due to competition from the buses in 1924.
I researched the history of the line while studying for my art teacher's diploma and today the Fly Line, a public footpath along its whole route, is still one of my favourite walks.
A clear run
From Garforth station on the Leeds-York main line it is but a few minutes' walk beside the A642 to Ash Lane. Here I turn off to the modern concrete works, site many years ago of the Isabella pit. After that the run of the Fly Line is clear - a straight footpath on a low embankment heading north. In the three miles between Garforth and Aberford the line descended 100 feet and in this direction the train simply freewheeled with the gradient, the horse that was to pull the wagons back up to Garforth riding a dandy cart at the rear.
At Hawk's Nest, site of Elizabeth pit, the Fly Line passes under the busy M1 but soon the sound of traffic fades and one is deep in the woodland of Parlington Hollins. The path gradually curves north-eastwards until the trees end at Gamekeepers Cottage. Here was a private gasworks and coal staithe for Parlington Hall where domestic servants would alight, returning from visits to Garforth. With the train at a halt, the horse was needed to get it moving again. When the wagons were rolling under their own weight, the animal would be quickly unhitched to step nimbly back on board as its own cart passed by.
Now the lane begins to descend, bringing into view Dark Arch. Close on 100 yards long, it has all the appearance of a railway tunnel but predates the line by 20 years. The arch was created when the lawn of Parlington Hall was extended to hide coal traffic that passed along Parlington Lane from pits to the west. A sunken fence, or ha-ha, between lawn and parkland prevented deer straying over and when it proved impractical to take the railway through the tunnel the ha-ha provided a ready-made cutting. Today one has the choice of either following the Fly Line along the ha-ha or braving the gloom of the Dark Arch. Most choose the latter.
Steam power came to the Fly Line in 1870 and the locomotive Empress was purchased in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The old photograph (above) shows Empress and carriage at the bridge known as Light Arch, which one reaches some 400 yards on. Beneath the bridge one can still see faint traces of soot from the locos.
Little more than another half mile brings me to Aberford. The walls of the coal staithes above the depot yard remain but the passenger shed is long gone. Round the corner from the Swan Inn there is a Metro bus stop with a good service back to Leeds. Alternatively one could walk on to Lotherton Hall, the later Gascoigne residence, now a museum and gallery. There is a summer Sunday service from Lotherton back to Leeds, but bus times should be checked beforehand.
Map: OS Explorer 289 Leeds
Start: Garforth Station (grid ref: 407336)
Terrain: Easy going; ideal for family groups
Distance: Three miles
Time: Up to two hours
Transport: Train timetable information available on 0345 484950. Bus timetable information on 0113 245 7676.
Further reading: Aspects of Leeds 3 to be published late 2001 by Wharncliffe Publishing (01226 734555)
Source: Leeds Group - Ramblers' Association > http://www.leedsramblers.org.uk/fly_line.htm