It’s one of the most scenic parts of Grange-over-Sands. The old railway pedestrian crossing connects the town centre with the seafront by providing a walking space across the twin railway tracks. A simple enough role and one that you might think would endear it to both visitor and resident, alike.
But the picture-postcard crossing at Bailey Lane now lies closed to pedestrians, despite an illustrious history. The same trains still pass by as before, but pedestrians can no longer cross the track, as they have been able to do since Edwardian times. Other crossing are available, but the Bailey Lane gated crossing is the oldest.
Lying a few miles south of Lake Windermere, Grange-over-Sands is a prosperous town with excellent communication by road and rail. It’s popular with those who wish to retire to the fringes of the Lakes District. Unusually, these days, it is self-sufficient in local shops, having at least one of just about everything…
The entire Cumbrian coast is served by the connection to the West Coast Main Line, with trains south to Lancaster, Preston and all points to Manchester, including its busy airport.
Grange sits on the northern end of the viaduct across one of the main estuaries of Morecambe Bay. It is a thoroughly pleasant place, with an unrivalled set of volunteer-tended gardens along most of the mile-long promenade. In the summer, there is an art exhibition the shore that brings in thousands of visitors.
This mixture of ‘old and new blood’ provides a heady, if conservative, melting pot of intellect and opinion. And the closure of the direct foot crossing to the sea seems to have divided opinion equally.
Network Rail, which controls the tracks and stations, has long campaigned for the closure. The long history of the line – first as a freight carrier, and subsequently as a passenger service – has seen an often quoted ‘two deaths and several near-misses in the past thirty years’. But, as one of the locals said to me, ‘You could find that statistic connected to any busy line… and much worse, in cities’.
In 2017, the near miss of an inattentive couple crossing the line was used by Network Rail as justification to close the crossing, which has remained locked ever since.
The town is not without an alternative, but it is one that does not have the cultural history of the Bailey Lane crossing. A nearby car park hosts a dedicated underpass constructed by Network Rail in 2005, at a cost of 5 million pounds. Its a very sound piece of civil engineering, and works well.
Local council planning officers had recommended that the older level crossing remain open, but the council majority disagreed, illustrating the strong division of opinion.
We had often crossed the line here, to climb the very steep lane into the centre of the town, affording wonderful views back across the sea. There’s a sadness about the fact that this interesting foot route is now unusable. You can still access Bailey Lane, even from the car park that houses the alternative; but the ‘energy’ is gone, and part of the lovely town’s fine history has been removed.
It is likely that it will never be restored.
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.