North Dorset Railway is based at Shillingstone Station. The Station is situated in the heart of the Blackmore Vale, Thomas Hardy’s ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’, by the river Stour, overlooking two ancient hill forts and contains a café, shop, museum, station garden, signal box, and a range of rolling stock, with direct access for visitors onto nine miles of off road Trailway. The views from the Station are spectacular and welcoming throughout the year. The Station Gardens are also a prominent feature for the 28,000 visitors that come annually.
The North Dorset Railway (formerly the Shillingstone Station Project) is a heritage railway project based at Shillingstone Railway Station on the former Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway. The medium-term aim is to restore the current leased length of one quarter of a mile: an addition of 1,200 feet (370 m) of single track mainline with a loop through the platforms. The long-term aim is to extend north towards Lamb House Bridge, and to provide a rail link with Sturminster Newton, working in harmony with the North Dorset Trailway. Track has been laid through the station using 95 bullhead rail extending to the Church gate on the current southern boundary. The signal box, coal store, motor trolley hut, permanent way huts, signals and pole routehave been rebuilt. The 400 foot Down platform wall has been rebuilt. The North Dorset Trailway runs alongside the formation and up over the 395-foot (120 m) 'down' platform.
A major obstacle to track laying at Shillingstone Station has been overcome with the help of a £47,000 EU Leader grant. The popular North Dorset walking and cycling Trailway has been diverted off the Down platform and onto a new dedicated, volunteer built, embankment, which has been popularly received. The grant also enabled the platform to be raised and resurfaced, the provision of car park spaces and an accessible toilet. Since then the permanent way team have wasted no time in laying the second track through the station as far as the northern boundary of the current site and are excited by the prospect of a northern extension to the railway. Extensive planning and consultations are in progress with the aim of fulfilling the members wishes to extend the line over Lamb House Bridge as far as Bere Marsh, which would more than double the currents length of track. Further preparation work, including a construction and environmental management plan, and biodiversity plan, and recommendations from stakeholders need to be incorporated into our plans in order to gain the necessary permissions and approvals.
Progress is steady and initial responses have been positive and encouraging. Station signage has been improved and interpretation boards to enhance visitor experience are being produced. A Station Heritage Plan is also being prepared by the Visitor Experience Group. A Museum and Signalling group have been established to develop facilities and to educate visitors on the history of the Station and line. The Museum is affiliated to the Dorset Museums Group and a popular visitor’s attraction.
The next stage of development is for the railway to seek operational status with the membership eager to see working heritage trains returning to this part of Dorset. To this end the railway has just acquired a diesel Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 loco ‘Ashdown’ and is in the process of stripping down and rebuilding a brake van which is intended to form the first passenger carrying set up. The railway is continuing to improve and enhance its health and safety management systems and is waiting for planning approval for a new welfare and training container.
The steam locomotive preservation group ‘Project 62’, also based at Shillingstone, is halfway through the restoration of the first of their two Yugoslavian built class 62 USA type 0-6-0 tank locos, which will make a great sight when it returns to steam. Restoration work is now able to take place under cover as a large warehouse adjacent to the station has become available for a temporary period.
Members and supporters have contributed more than 10 thousand pounds in donations during the Covid-19 lockdown. Further donations are invited by sending a cheque made out to North Dorset Railway, to the Membership Secretary, 50 Clayford Avenue, Ferndown, Dorset BH22 9PG.
All volunteers work at the station or behind the scenes. There is a huge range of jobs to be done and we welcome volunteers with all kinds of skills, backgrounds and abilities. If you are interested in learning more please have look at our volunteering page on our main website using the link above.