PLANS are afoot to re-open the old railway line between Worcester, Bromyard and Leominster.

One of the prime movers, Tom Fisher, says “It’s a fantastic route through beautiful countryside and the idea would be to create an all-purpose route for the use of walkers, cyclists and horse riders; it would be economically beneficial to the area.

“This is a complex and challenging project but we have been encouraged by the wide-ranging support we have received. “

Although the railway was only 24 miles long, it took some 36 years to complete, opening in four instalments during the period 1861-97.

That the line opened at all is surprising because it traversed a sparsely populated, agricultural area of North East Herefordshire.

Indeed, one might be forgiven for wondering where the promoters of the railway thought the traffic would come from to warrant the three stations between Bromyard and Leominster at Rowden Mill, Fencote and Steens Bridge. There was also a halt at Stoke Prior. There are no settlements by any of them, and just a few farms and houses near Stoke Prior and Rowden Mill, whose station we can view from this month’s walking route.

It’s true that in the autumn of 1893, about 5,000 women and children came by train to Herefordshire and Worcestershire to pick hops, some of them travelling on the Bromyard line from the Black Country.

Farmers, like those at Great Wacton, with its tell-tale hop kilns, would meet the trains to take them to their farms on wagons.

Years later, this source of revenue to the railways was lost when more and more people arrived by charabanc and motor coach.

By 1910, however, no hops were being picked in this corner of Herefordshire and the number of trains on the line was reduced to four a day.

The Bromyard and Leominster branch does seem to have provided a very personal service. The owner of Bredenbury Court built a back drive to give easier access to the railway at Rowden Mill station.

We can see his drive because our walk takes us past at North Lodge on our way down into the railway cutting between Bredenbury and Edwyn Ralph.

Francis Wigley Greswolde Greswolde-Williams, the landowner in question, was a man of many parts as well as many names. A justice of the peace, he is partly remembered as a supplier of cocaine to the Happy Valley set in Nairobi.

Once finding himself sitting next to the prince who became Edward VIII, he offered him some cocaine in between dinner courses – and next found himself going through a plate glass window.

Greswolde often commandeered the train and every year a coach was put at his disposal in the sidings ready for the family to go shooting in Scotland.

Meanwhile, a little way east of Rowden Mill and close to our route is Wicton Farm where it was not unknown for the engine driver to nip out and pick up a couple of dozen eggs. These were “not exactly HS2 times”.

Fencote, only two-and-a-half miles higher up than Rowden, still took nine minutes to reach because of the stiff gradient. At 685 feet it was one of the highest stations on the Great Western Railway.

After the war, the trains between Leominster and Bromyard were virtually empty for years and the service did little for the town of Bromyard, and much less for the shareholders. Unsurprisingly, the service was withdrawn completely in September 1952.

Writing for Bromyard Local History Society in 1970, Dr Philip H Crosskey said: “Long will be the arguments over the wisdom of allowing the railways to decline and what should be their role in this modern age and for the future.

“As a personal memory I found the Worcester-Bromyard line a beautiful introduction to my adopted town.

Leaving the draughty griminess of Foregate Street to be greeted by the damson blossom at Suckley, the primroses of the cuttings and the May freshness of the Herefordshire countryside, the leisurely arrival at Bromyard station with the courtesy of the railway staff are all unforgettable.”

While the railway in these parts was always a bit of a folly and High Speed Rail could hit the buffers elsewhere, perhaps the slower initiative will gather some pace?


Three-mile easy walk mostly along country lanes. Two pastures, one footbridge, three stiles.

Map: OS Explorer 202, Leominster & Bromyard.

  1. From roadside parking by Bredenbury Primary School, pass Valley View as if for Edwyn Ralph. Bend R and L, continuing downwards, past North Lodge to Bredenbury Court and Greswolde’s back drive. Pass Rowden, Overdine, and Wiggall, beyond which the views open out ahead, giving a perspective of how the old railway was cut into the valley. Rowden Abbey marks the lowest point. (View to Wicton Farm (R) where the engine driver “nipped out for his eggs.”) Reach the left turn along the country lane to Great Wacton Farm. Proceed a few steps ahead to
  2. Railway Bridge. Gain a perspective of Rowden Mill Station from the parapets and roadside beyond. Return to, now, TR along the lane for Great Wacton Farm. Pass Station Cottage, up lane, Great Wacton Hop Kilns (announcing the importance and handiness of the railway for hop pickers of old), to point on hard stand between stables (L) and farmhouse.
  3. (Landowner’s preference is, now) before last barn on left, TL on hard stand to put that barn on your right. Immediately beyond that same barn, TR into pasture, over crest, angling left. Aim for bottom left corner. Pass through farm gate. Head up R edge of pasture, two-thirds of its length. TR across footbridge, brook and stile, up through gate. Go up through henhouse enclosure, through metal gate, L edge of pasture, two stiles, immediately L of drive to (what is) Wacton Grange. Reach road.
  4. Wacton. TL up lane, past drive behind you that goes to Little Wacton Farm, the Henhouse. Then Wacton Court. Three-quarters of a mile up to Badger Heights and Tree Pines Garage.
  5. Bredenbury. TL past the Barneby Inn into the village along nearside pavement. Pass Parish Room and War Memorial at St Andrew’s Church, including the name of 18-year-old William Aldridge who perished in Afghnistan in 2009. Just beyond, TL for Edwyn Ralph to start point.