Tunnelling in Lockdown

The railway tunnels of the Forest of Dean have provided a welcome distraction during lockdown (photo: Allan Ockenden)

With the Deputy Gaveller ordering the closure of mines and caves in the Forest of Dean during lockdown, and Wales closing its borders to foreigners, the CCC caving contingent in the Forest (i.e. Chris and Allan) has had to seek out other underground interest in the area - Railway tunnels.

During the heyday of the iron and coal industry in the Forest of Dean in the late 18th and 19th centuries a complex railway network was developed which represented the greatest density of railway lines in the country. Due to the hilly terrain these railways incorporated steep gradients and numerous tunnels.

The Haie tunnel (1083 yd) was first constructed in 1809 for a horse-drawn tramway and at that time was the longest in the world. It was later enlarged for use by the Great Western Railway.

With the closure of the mines in the mid 20th century, the railways became obsolete and the network gradually declined until meeting its final nemesis in Dr Beeching. Most lines can still be traced through the woods and many rail tracks have become cycle routes. The Moseley Green tunnel (503 yd) and Hawthorns tunnel (634 yd) became secret munitions stores during the war and the Tidenham Tunnel (1188 yd) on the Wye valley route which, remained in use until 1981, is now being upgraded to facilitate a new footpath/cycle linin the Wye Valley.

Most of the other tunnels are now sealed up to prevent disturbance to bats and vandalism. Some, however, can be accessed and can provide entertainment for an hour or two for frustrated cavers.

Allan Ockenden