Much of Northumberland is and always has been deeply rural, though it also includes coalfields and (until transferred to the newly-created county of Tyne and Wear) the Tyneside metropolitan area, making what remains of Northumberland an even more rural county. For the purposes of this book, everything north of the Tyne and south of the Scottish border that used to be part of Northumberland is included here, whether or not it still is. This is sensible, since without Newcastle most of the railways in the area would not have served any purpose.
I lived in Newcastle (specifically, Jesmond) for a couple of years in the seventies when I worked for the council south of the river in Gateshead. I liked the area and I visited several places in rural Northumberland during the summer months. Continuing my earlier efforts in London, I took some driving lessons but eventually gave up, so I was heavily reliant on buses for my visits to rural Northumberland. Most of the railways that I would have used had long since closed, along with some stations on the surviving lines that I might have found useful, although I was at least grateful that Haltwhistle still has a train service. I therefore have a particular interest in this book about what has been lost.
The first chapter deals with the Tyne Valley, which retains a railway linking Newcastle and Carlisle. In the heyday of the railways, there were a number of branches that have all now closed. The second chapter deals with Newcastle suburban lines, while the third chapter focuses on the Blyth and Tyne, together with its branches. I was unaware that the coastal loop through Whitley Bay and Tynemouth (which I also used on several occasions) was a major re-alignment of the original network in the area, constructed following the takeover of one railway company by another. As originally constructed, there were rival termini in Tynemouth, which is hard to imagine now.
The next three chapters cover the rural routes. The fourth chapter is about the lines in the north of the county from Alnmouth via Alnwick and Wooler to Coldstream, and the eastern end of the line from Berwick to Kelso via Coldstream. The western end of the line is in Scotland so is outside the scope of this book. The fifth chapter covers the coastal branches to Seahouses (originally called North Sunderland) and Amble, together with a third coastal branch (to Seaton Sluice) that was built but never carried passengers. Conceived as a commuter route, the line was abandoned before the anticipated housing estates were built. Had the line survived, it might well still be in use today. The sixth chapter covers the lines that used to go inland from Hexham and Morpeth. From Morpeth, the trains ran west to Scotsgap, from where the Rothbury branch to the north diverged. Continuing west from Scotsgap, trains arrived at Reedsmouth, where they could meet trains coming from Hexham. The trains could then continue in a generally north-westerly direction to Riccarton Junction (in Scotland) on the Waverley route from Carlisle to Edinburgh, though this book stops at Deadwater, that being the last station on the line in Northumberland. I would have loved the chance to travel on these rural lines, but many of them had closed before anybody had heard of Beeching. Indeed, the route from Alnwick via Wooler to Coldstream lost its passenger service as early as 1930, though freight traffic survived much longer.
The seventh and last chapter deals with stations now closed on lines that remain open. Of these, the one I would have wanted to use was Beal, the nearest place on the mainland to Lindisfarne (Holy Island). Fortunately, I was still able to visit it by bus, along with Rothbury, Wooler, Seahouses, Amble and some of the other places mentioned. Whether I would still be able to do so now if I lived in the area, I don't know. Many of those bus services were poorly patronized then so it wouldn't surprise me if some of them have been discontinued, just like the train services that they replaced.
Like other books in the series, this provides an interesting look at railways that have been lost, and what relics remain. Here you can find where to look for viaducts that no longer carry trains but remain intact, together with trackbeds converted into footpaths or cycleways. You'll also learn which station buildings survived into the new millennium, many of which are now in private ownership. Of course, redevelopment never stops entirely, and some of the relics that could still be seen at the time the book was published may eventually be lost, while (just occasionally) redevelopment of the railways may bring passenger services back to places that have lost them, especially on lines that remain open for freight traffic. Nevertheless, historians, railway enthusiasts and anybody else who is curious about the evidence of railways that no longer exist (perhaps because they walk down a street named Station Road that is nowhere near any railway that they can see) will find this book and others in the series extremely useful and entertaining.