Angus automatic train control trials: locomotive

Angus automatic train control trials: locomotive - click the picture to see it full size

The iron ore block making plant at Washford in 1909

The iron ore block making plant at Washford in 1909 - click the picture to see it full size

Timber ore transfer bins close to the west adit of Coltonpits mine

Timber ore transfer bins close to the west adit of Coltonpits mine - click the picture to see it full size

The arrival of the second demonstration run at Comberow, on 4 July 1907

The arrival of the second demonstration run at Comberow, on 4 July 1907 - click the picture to see it full size


Flog It 25th April at 4.30pm

See Phil Gannon talking about the WSMLA in an episode of Flog It! filmed at Crowcombe Court
It will be broadcast on Wednesday 25th April at 4.30pm on BBC1
If you are unable to watch the programme on this date, you can catch up on BBC iPlayer for up to 28 days after broadcast.


Last week the West Somerset Mineral Line Association carried out a joint project with Exmoor National Park at the Winding House at the top of the Mineral Line on the Brendon Hills. The Association's interest was aroused when members were called to rescue a hedgehog that had fallen into a hole that appeared unexpectedly in the Winding House.

The Winding House once contained the very large drums that wound the cable used to haul the ore laden wagons up the Incline slope. In addition to the new hole, the capping over the brake cable duct had failed, so ENPA obtained Scheduled Monument consent for these features to be excavated, recorded and made safe. As a result, a group of fifteen WSMLA members and volunteers under the supervision of ENPA archaeologists spent last week investigating.

During the five days they were exposed to rain, sleet and snow and some welcome sunshine. Everybody worked extremely hard and volunteers were surprised to find the remains of over two dozen railway sleepers 160 years old, used to protect the brake duct.

Many smaller items were found, such as hand tools and railway spikes which were taken away for investigation. Detailed measurements were made of the excavations, including accurate GPS locations. A a full report will be produced by ENPA.


Winding House Working Party

27 February – 3 March 2017

Would you like to help give the Winding House and incline of a former industrial railway on the Brendon Hills some TLC? Capping of the brake duct and a small cistern have failed and Scheduled Monument consent has been obtained for these to be excavated, recorded and made safe. Other works in the week will include clearing drainage and controlling vegetation. The work will be undertaken from 27 February – 3 March in liaison with the West Somerset Mineral Line Association. We recommend early registration as numbers are limited.

Contact Chris Sampson


The WSMLA Newsletter for 2015

Available to read now  in PDF format



In response to an email sent to, the Association's Secretary attended the January 2015 Auction Sale by Greenslade Taylor Hunt in Taunton and bid for Lot 314 'RAILWAY ACTS'. Chris is now the grateful owner of a copy of the West Somerset Mineral Railway BILL, BILL (as amended in committee) & ACT, 1855. The Act authorised 'the Making and Maintaining of the West Somerset Mineral Railway and, the Improving and Regulating of the Harbour of Watchet'. His intention is to place a copy of the Act on this website. The Lot also included a copy of the Seven Valley Railway Act, 1853.This may have been used by Rowcliffe & Son, Solicitors, Stogumber as a model when they prepared the WSMR Act, 1855.

Phil Gannon's BBC Radio Interview

End of the Line: Somerset's most ambitious engineering project ever?
How important was the incline on the West Somerset Mineral Line? Charlie finds out.

If you missed the WSMLA Chairman Phil Gannon's interview with Charlie Taylor on BBC Radio Somerset in December 2014, you can listen to it now by clicking here. Running time 12min.

'Worst road in Britain' on Exmoor closed by bridge damage

From Western Morning News on 29 November 2014

It has been dubbed “the worst road in Britain” by a smallholder who rescues an average of two motorists a week from the leafy gulch that passes for a highway in Exmoor National Park - but now good samaritan Keith Parker (pictured) can look forward to some peace and quiet.

This week notorious Wilhays Lane has been closed until further notice because an historic bridge that crosses it has been damaged by passing traffic.

No one knows whether overly large lorries have hit the old West Somerset Mineral Line bridge from below, or whether it was forestry vehicles travelling on the track above which did the damage - but, then, no one seems to know if Wilhays Lane is a proper highway or not.

What is certain is the fact that it is marked as such on the Ordnance Survey map and that companies operating satellite-navigation systems believe it is a highway - which is why so many vehicles get stuck in its two neglected and overgrown miles on a weekly basis.

However, Somerset County Council claims the stretch of road between the hamlets of Chidgley and Leighland is a Restricted Byway.

“Walkers, cyclists, horse riders and non-mechanical vehicles like a horse and cart are allowed to use Restricted Byways. Public motor vehicles are not permitted to travel on Restricted Byways but private vehicular rights are protected for access to property,” a council spokesman said.

Members of Old Cleeve Parish Council take the exact opposite view: “As far as the parish council is concerned Wilhays Lane is still a proper highway - Somerset County Council have got it wrong,” said parish clerk Pam Scragg. “I have lost count of the letters and emails we have sent (SCC) over this lane.”

Mrs Scragg said one councillor had recently walked the lane and was advising people not to drive their cars along it because it was “full of potholes etc”.

Some of the craters in the lane are over a foot deep, and yet drivers still attempt negotiating the road because it is a handy shortcut between the busy Watchet-to-Raleighs Cross road and a number of villages in rural West Somerset.

“We’ve had an ambulance stuck down there on an emergency call to Leighland,” said Mr Parker, who often tows vehicles out with his vintage tractor. “The guys were really nice but they came from Taunton and didn’t know the area - so they followed their sat-nav.

“It’s so deep and overgrown they couldn’t even get a radio signal down there to ask for help. A neighbour came out with a Land Rover and we pulled them out - and we both got nice letters from the NHS thanking us for our help.”

Mr Parker added: “We’ve even had an oil tanker stuck down there, as well as lots of tourists. They all burn their clutches out trying to get back up the steep hill in reverse. Most recently we rescued a French couple who got stuck. They were really upset.”

Speaking of the damaged bridge, William Theed, president of the Exmoor Tourist Association, told the WMN: “It’s thoroughly bad news for the tourist industry - lorries are being directed down that lane and our national history is being destroyed.

“If the county council has demoted the lane from being a highway, it’s not been discussed with the parish council or the local residents.”

The bridge has now been caged off so no one can pass underneath it, and the lane has been closed at either end. The SCC spokesman said: “The council is in discussions with relevant parties to ensure the necessary action is taken as soon as possible, and will be reviewing the signage on site.”

She added: “The council does not currently provide highway information to sat nav companies.”

Mr Parker commented: “We were dreading the van deliveries just before Christmas - we always get a rush of them getting stuck at this time of year. Now it looks like we’ll get some peace and quiet - but it does mean lots of local residents will have to drive miles around.”

See original post here

This bridge is Underbridge 10, it's a Listed Building (II). From the ENP Historic Environment Record entry "Mineral railway bridge over road. 1857. Red sandstone, squared and coursed. Round arched opening, rusticated surround. Probably one of the smallest railway bridges extant."




Summary of the WSMLA Walk, Thursday 17th January 2013

Langham Hill Engine House, Miners Trail and Bearland Flue

Chargot Woods car park was the meeting place for a cheery group of WSMLA Volunteers and walkers well-wrapped against the cold and snow flurries that would stay with us for the duration of this informative walk.

Before setting off for the first location a brief history of the Brendon Hill mines was provided using the information board in the car park (1) supplemented by illustrations from Mike Jones’ excellent books on the Mines and the West Somerset Mineral Railway Line.

1. Chargot Woods Car Park 2. Langham Hill Engine House
1. Chargot Woods Car Park 2. Langham Hill Engine House

A short quarter of a mile walk to the north-east led is to the excavated remains of the Langham Mine workings where the walk leader gave an excellent explanation of the workings of the Mine and its centre-piece, the Engine House, which had housed a second hand steam powered beam engine (2). This dual purpose engine would have wound trams loaded with iron ore up the steep slope of the mine shaft as well as pumping water out of the mine. A short distance from the site, an aerial cableway brought iron ore in buckets from another mine about half a mile to the west and this would also have been loaded onto the railway wagons here which would then join the main Mineral Railway line and be dispatched to Watchet.

Retracing our steps back to the car park, the snow gently falling though failing to make any impression on the soggy ground underfoot ,we took a sharp turn left just before the car park onto another path which descended down the hillside zig-zag fashion till we reached a clearing at the end of which was a fenced-off entrance (3). The zig-zag path is known as the Miners’ path which they negotiated daily on their way to and from the hill-top communities to get to their place of work.

3. Miners' Trail Adit

3. Miners' Trail Adit

The fenced-off area gave away the location of the Miners’ place of work. This is the entrance to one of two Adits (horizontal mine shafts driven into the hillside in the hope of encountering lodes of iron ore). This is the lower of two adits (now sealed) found along the trail and fenced off for safety and access reasons.

Gazing into the mouth of the adit, appropriately suited and booted against the winter weather, we wondered what the Miners’ would have thought 150 years ago as they prepared for their day underground.

After a brief rest we tackled the upward climb back to the car park making a short detour to see the restored Bearland Wood Ventilation Flue (4). Here there is another example of the excellent information boards (5) prepared by the lottery-funded West Somerset Mineral Railway project which are sprinkled along the length of the Mineral Railway line to inform visitors as to the significance of key locations and items of interest. On a clear day from here – so we were informed -there is a great view down the Combes to the north-east, though on this occasion it was partially obscured by the steadily falling snow.

4. Bearland Ventilation Flue

5. Bearland Flue Info Board

4. Bearland Wood Ventilation Flue 5. Bearland Flue Information Board

Back at the car-park we all agreed that despite the persistent but gently falling snow this had been a refreshing and informative walk and for some, a good appetiser for some warming soup at the Raleghs Cross Inn.

Text & images by Garrick Mound


The WSMLA Walk on Wednesday 5th December 2012

Eight hardy walkers and WSMLA volunteers gathered at Raleigh’s Cross Inn on this unusually sunny and dry day in the early December 2012 for a comprehensive guided tour of the upper part of the West Somerset Mineral Line.

Having re-gathered at the Incline car park we walked to Beulah Chapel which we were able to enter, gather breath and listen to a potted history of the origins of the Brendon Hill Mines, the West Somerset  Mineral Railway and of the communities that inhabited and worshipped in these parts some 150 years ago! This provided excellent context for the next 5 hours or so as we wound our way around the northern slopes of the Brendon Hills exploring the heritage and remains of the Railway and the supporting communities.

Moving on to the Winding House we paused briefly at the entrance to the driveway of the house of the Mines Manager Morgan Morgans (1) and to spot some hidden treasures in the hedgerows (this was in the form of one of the old coal buckets (2) used to carry coal for the Steam Engines) to gather more nuggets of history before learning of the workings and engineering of the Winding House itself (3) and (4).

Mines Manager Morgan Morgans (1)


Old coal buckets (2)


Winding House (3)


Winding House (4)

The subsequent walk down the incline (5) was a little tentative given the soaked and slippery nature of the ground following the months of drenching it had received but the group managed it safely to the bottom having photographed the fast flowing streams and waterfalls, marvelled at the engineering feat of the revetment and admired the stoneware of ‘underpass’ number 14 along the way!

On arriving at Comberow we scuttled through the undergrowth to discover the remains of the Comberow Station platform (6) before being treated to an impromptu guided tour of one of the gardens of a dwelling-house adjoining the camouflaged platform. Some keen eyes were able to spot a few relics of the railway (7) decorating the entrance to the dwelling.

Walk down the incline (5)


Comberow Station platform (6)


Few relics of the railway (7)

A pleasant walk skirting the woodland that lined the western banks of the Mineral Line (and clearing away some remnants of fallen trees that blocked the path as we went) and across sunny fields and vales led us to Leighland Chapel where we caught breath, satiated hunger and thirst and learned of the history of the site from its Saxon origins, its patron St Giles to the current Victorian-built Chapel.

Having rested, replenished and recovered it was time to do the return leg – this time, the only way was up! Up via the Samaritans Way (8). But it was a gentle ‘up’ that led past Leigh Barton Farm where we were treated to more local history, the explanation of a ‘gin’ house (and no, it was not once a public house) and the machinations of millstones – some excellent examples of which were leaning against the farmyard wall (9).


Samaritans Way (8)


Farmyard wall (9)


Onwards and upwards, the trail led through and alongside more woodland affording great views back to Comberow (10), past a picturesque waterfall finally traversing the incline about half-way up (11) before the path led us to our waiting cars and welcome relief for the feet.

Comberow (10)


Half-way up (11)

This was a great walk – good weather, excellent guides with extensive knowledge of the integrated story of local geology, mining, railway and community and just the thing to exercise mind and body ahead of the festive season! 

Text & images by Garrick Mound


UK's National Parks family awards volunteers for going above and beyond



The West Somerset Mineral Line Association has been highly commended for their work by the judges of the UK National Parks Volunteer Awards

The winners of this year's UK National Parks Volunteer Awards were a hardworking volunteer known for getting 'stuck into' any challenge, a globally recognised programme providing activities in the Lake District National Park and a project helping to reintroduce a bird that less than 60 years ago had disappeared from the British Isles.

"It may be a cliché in these circumstances to say it was an incredibly difficult choice – but it is absolutely true," said TV presenter Julia Bradbury, who served as one of the Volunteer Awards judges. "The breadth of dedication and altruism all the volunteers offer, across the country, is inspirational."

Fellow judge and TV presenter Helen Skelton agreed that it was no easy choice.

"In truth I could have given the award to any of the shortlisted groups," she said.

The nominees, Helen Skelton said, "demonstrate an enthusiasm and ability to protect and preserve their National Park."

Skelton, Bradbury, and Emily Carr, from UK National Parks brand partner Merrell, took on the daunting task of sifting through a shortlist of 15 volunteer individuals, groups, and projects that help to make the UK's National Parks family such a valuable resource. The awards recognise the efforts of those deemed to have gone above and beyond the expectations of volunteers in helping to protect, maintain and enhance the environment and heritage of their area. The three winners are: 

  • Individual Volunteer: David Preston
  • Volunteer Group: Lake District National Park Volunteer-Led Activity Programme
  • Volunteer Project: Lake District Osprey Project

Emily Carr stressed that all the volunteers should be praised for their "incredible voluntary service to the UK National Parks."

The judges were so taken by the quality of the volunteers shortlisted that they were also eager to highly commend individual Jim Vallis, group West Somerset Mineral Line Association, and project Heritage At Risk Project. More information on both the winners and those highly commended can be found further below.

Volunteers are, as Julia Bradbury points out, "a source of great pride across the National Parks," and the three winners are among thousands of people who put forward their time, energy and skills to the betterment of Britain's breathing spaces.

"Whether they’re mending footpaths or helping out in visitor centres, our volunteers love our National Parks and that enthusiasm is infectious. They help us with some of our most vital conservation and preservation work – they're a formidable force for good," said Carl Lis, Chairman of UK ANPA.

The UK National Parks volunteer awards are supported by Countryside Council for Wales, Merrell, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage.

The winning individual volunteer wins a prize of outdoor gear from Merrell. Winners of the group and project categories will receive a £1,000 bursary to help facilitate future volunteering activity.

To view the winners, and a list of both the long and short list of volunteers, visit: 


Phil Gannon on the radio - Monday 12 November 2012.

Did you miss Phil on Radio Somerset Breakfast this morning? Don't worry, you've still got another 7 days to listen if you follow this link. Fast forward 22:50 mins and you'll hear Phil's interview at Beulah Chapel and at 1:16:30 hrs he's at the Winding House. The interviews followed WSMLA being shortlisted for the National Parks Volunteer Awards. There's more information about the awards below.   


New Association Officers elected

At the Trustees’ Committee meeting held on 12 Oct 2012, the following Officers were elected

  • Phil Gannon:            Chairman
  • Tessa Wilson:          Vice-Chair
  • Chris Sampson:       Secretary
  • Jonathan Westcott:  Membership Secretary & Treasurer 


First AGM held on 26 September 2012

The AGM was attended by 11 members and 3 guests. The Constitution and Rules of the Association were adopted. A new committee of 6 trustees was elected. The first meeting of the new committee will take place on 12 October, when the Officers of the Association will be appointed.

The Chairman's Report is reproduced below.

• Report is from the time of the inauguration of the WSMLA. Thanks are due to David Dawson and Rob Wilson-North for their early groundwork in setting up the new association.
• First met on 22nd March 2011, and a Steering Group of volunteers (Peter Murphy, Chris Sampson, Loretta Whetlor, Tessa Wilson, Rachel and John Irven, Phil Gannon and Linda La Velle) was formed to affect the transition from the HLF Project.
• A Charity Commission constitution model was adopted. After some discussion the name West Somerset Mineral Line Association was agreed, and our association came into being.
• We agreed that LLV should be chairman, supported by PG as vice-chairman, Peter Murphy as secretary and Jonathan Westcott as treasurer. The other initial volunteers agreed to act as committee members.
• The remaining funds from the HLF project were transferred to the WSMLA account.
• The committee continued to meet approximately monthly, focusing on its core activities, Association events and recruitment, all about which more later.
• A highlight of the year has been the launch of Mike Jones’ book and the celebration of his Peter Neaveson award for outstanding scholarship in archaeology for the two volume book about the Mineral Line.
• Another major piece of work and achievement of the committee has been the development of our website.

Walks and Talks

• See newsletter for details of the many and varied walks and excursions that have been organised and led by our wonderful team of volunteers. These are the premier outreach of the WSMLA and have been enjoyed by hundreds of people from all walks of life. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive and grateful for an excellent and educational day out.
• Donations are invited rather than charges made.
• We are very grateful to SCC for their co-operation in putting in stiles for easier access to the Ralegh’s Cross mine site.
• Another excellent and developing collaboration is with Beulah Chapel, whose 150th anniversary we helped to celebrate. It is a living and vibrant feature of the Mineral Line and we are delighted with our relationship with their congregation.

Access and Amenity

• Washford to Watchet trail: erection of kissing gates at either end and finger posts as signage and the installation of benches along the trail. A final interpretation board in Watchet.  Complaints from landowners.

Website Development

Considerable discussion about the links with the HLF website and the management and maintenance of the new one. Robert Edwards was co-opted to the committee to advise. Our enduring thanks is due for his expertise and patience.  We now have a working and up-to-date website that is a credit to the association. The overall aim is to move all the resources from the old to the new website over time, but this is a very big job. Encourage all to visit and comments welcome.


• Beulah Chapel: Gillian Tapp and other congregation members for opening and sharing common  interest
• Consultants: Mike Jones, David Dawson, Rob Wilson-North
• Walks and Trips Volunteers: Tessa, Colin, Phil, Chris, Roy, Martin, Mike.
• Committee: Robert Edwards (website); John Irwin (constitution), Tessa (walks, newsletter) Rachel and Loretta (Watchet liaison).
• Officers: Peter Murphy (first secretary), Chris Sampson (sec and walks leader); Jonathan Westcott (treasurer); Phil Gannon (vice chair, walks leader, expertise in dealing with LA/environmental issues, Washford liaison). 


National Parks Volunteer Awards (updated 18 Oct 2012)

The Association of National Park Authorities (ANPA) has launched the National Parks Volunteer Awards to praise their unsung heroes who do so much essential work in the National Parks and our own Association has been entered for an award. The ANPA has bagged well-known outdoor fan, BBC Countryfile's Julia Bradbury and TV explorer and presenter Helen Skelton to help them judge the UK National Park Volunteer Awards, along with a panel of experts with a wide knowledge of the environment sector. Five groups have made it onto the shortlist , including WSMLA! Winners will be announced in November - watch this space for announcement. The very best of luck to us!

You’ll find more information on the ANPA website, click here

Guided Walks Reports

A brief report of the walk on Wednesday 19 September 2012

cottage in the woods

                          Cottage in the Woods

We met at Ralegh’s Cross, four guides (Tessa, Chris, Colin, Roy) and nine guests including Patrick from ENPA. It was cold so we put our coats on and drove to the new car park in Eastern Wood, where we set off for Beulah Chapel. The chapel was open and Gillian Tapp was waiting to tell us about it. It was good to have a member of the congregation talk to us about their church. After the Winding House we set off down the Incline, where we met Judy and Peter. Judy is the daughter of the late Colonel (Colditz prisoner) and Mavis Drew. The family have lived in Comberow for over 50 years. Judy explained that the track through the underbridge below the revetment wall is known as Market Road. The track was used to drive livestock from the village up to Ralegh’s Cross to be sold at market. After a picnic lunch in the now warm sunshine at Comberow, the group split, one party taking a shorter route back to the car park, the other continuing via St Giles, Leighland and Leigh Barton farm. At St Giles church we learned about the martyred priest Dom Philip Powel and the artist and blacksmith Rachel Reckitt. We met Gill White, whilst her husband Philip (Church Warden at St Giles) was on the tractor ploughing Pigeon field. Their son’s family now farm at Leigh Barton, former home of the Poyntz family where Dom Philip was their chaplain. At Leigh Barton we studied sketches from survey work and building analysis showing the layout and development of this typical Exmoor courtyard farm. We walked back through woodland, past the ‘cottage in the woods’ and waterfall, to our cars.

Why not come and join us on another one of these splendid walks? You’ll find details on the GUIDED WALKS page of this website.




Phil Gannon's Railway Journeys

Join Phil for a ten minute trip along the Mineral Line. Click on the arrow below to start your journey.