The trains have long gone, the smoke cleared, the track lifted; the tunnel still stands, burrowing through the limestone hills above the Wye Valley. Old railway routes make good footpaths and one of my favourites is The Monsal Trail in Derbyshire. Once a bustling main-line, surrounded by industry; now 8 miles of peaceful, scenic recreation.
Centuries before Christ, the Prophet Isaiah once proclaimed; “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Isaiah was looking ahead to the coming of the Lord, but perhaps he should have been a railway engineer. Trains don’t like steep hills. Instead of filling in the valleys and levelling mountains, the engineers on this line settled for tunnels and viaducts; same impact, less effort. It also makes for gentle progress for walkers and cyclists through some glorious scenery.
When the route first opened for walkers, the tunnels remained closed and walkers had to pick their way laboriously over some steep climbs. More recently, after much work, the tunnels have been made safe, paved and lit. Even so, a 500-yard tunnel is a dark place; the new lighting doing little to relieve an almost stygian darkness. Step carefully forward into the gloom though and a light appears. No, not an oncoming cyclist, but the distant exit portal; there is light at the end of the tunnel.
With the old industry gone, the landscape has been recolonised by a profusion of wild flowers, birds and insects. What were once scars on the landscape are now home to a variety of rare plants; beauty for brokenness indeed. Each tunnel opens onto a new vista; each brings its own reward. It is all there to be enjoyed, if only we take the time. Soon, hopefully, we will be back; there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Rev Philip Payne
Mothering Sunday 2021
The Pew Sheet for 14th March can be found in Downloads