Fans of the ferric will love Bennerley Viaduct. The 430m-long former railway bridge glides over the marshy flats east of Ilkeston, on sturdy iron pillars. A victim of axe-murderer Dr Beeching, it was saved from demolition and reopened as a foot and cycle bridge in 2022. Today was sunny, I had some morning article research in nearby Nottingham, and I couldn’t resist riding up to experience it.
Nottingham has a good skeleton-system of bike routes these days – by British standards, anyway, which is like saying Jeremy Hunt is good by Tory party standards. But I got four miles from the train station to where I had to be (Beeston, a pleasant suburb with a pedestrianised cafe district) avoiding traffic completely.
Part of my route took me through the university, past the Ningbo Friendship Bridge, and alongside a lake that felt like the more salubrious part of some shabby third-world country. Which it is.
For the ten miles or so from Beeston to the Viaduct I mostly followed the Nottingham Canal. It’s got a pretty good towpath, smooth-ish and cyclable without much mud despite the recent rains. Which is good going, seeing as the canal was abandoned in 1937 and hasn’t seen any boats since. A few short stretches have water, intentionally (for anglers) or not, but most of its former course is now filled in or a dry trough.
Bennerley Viaduct strikes an imposing figure as it strides across the flats below. The boggy ground wouldn’t take the weight of concrete, hence the use of iron pillars. Built in 1877, it’s still something of a poster-bridge for metalwork buffs. There were once many similar rail crossings in Britain, but Beeching’s wrecking ball got them all except Meldon Viaduct in Devon (which I’ve cycled a few times).
After years of being a fenced-off curio, the Viaduct was restored to leisure use in January 2022 thanks to Sustrans. You can now bike or walk across it and enjoy the bracing views, and many people do.
Sitting between the almost parallel, and cyclable, towpaths of the Erewash Canal and the Nottingham Canal (which meet a couple of miles north at Langley Mills) the Viaduct provides a handy link between those towpaths.
Except it doesn’t quite at the moment, because while there’s a nice access ramp at the western end, the eastern end is only available via several dozen steep steps. There’s a bike-rail thing for wheeling your machine up, but I found it awkward and strenuous enough, so goodness knows how I’d cope if I was old and knackered.
Maybe I can come back in a couple of years and find out.
Still, getting home from the Viaduct was easy: a mile along good tarmac towpath and bike paths to Ilkeston station, and a couple of Northern services back to York. Not before a couple of beers in the very pleasant, airy Wetherspoon in Ilkeston market place, though.
Despite the abundance of ironwork on the Viaduct, there wasn’t a steel bike stand to be found in the whole of the market place: nowhere to park the bike safely at all. As Alanis Morissette might have sung about Bennerley: Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?