Author Archives: rogerfarnworth

The Forest of Dean – Milkwall Tramway at Dark Hill

In early September 2020, while staying in Bream in the Forest of Dean we walked around the Titanic Steel Works and the Dark Hill Ironworks of father and son David and Robert Mushet. These two establishments sit adjacent to what was the Coleford branch of the Severn and Wye Joint Railway. They were also served, in its time, by the Milkwall branch of Severn and Wye Tramway.

The location is significant in the development of the Bessemer Process for making hardened steel. Robert Mushet took the relatively novel ideas of Bessemer and refined them to the point where the process became functional in an industrial context. [3]

The tramway closed when the Coleford Branch opened as the route of the new railway closely followed the old tramway. There are only a few places where the route of the old tramway diverged from the newer railway and one of these locations is in the area of the Mushet owned works. The next few OS Map extracts come from the very early series of 25″ OS Maps which were drawn in the period from 1873-1888, nonetheless, the old tramway was by this time only a memory,

At the Eastern end of the Dark Hill Iron Works site, the old tramway diverged from the line of the Severn and Wye Joint railway. The loop shown here was no doubt provided to lessen the gradient. Steam power enabled the newer railway to take a more direct route. The Severn and Wye Joint Railway is shown by the double black lines which curve from the right of the map extract to pass through the words ‘Darkhill Iron Works’ at the bottom of the extract. [1]

The tramway route shown by the thin red line ran across the North side of Darkhill Iron Works and then on the Northeast side of the Titanic Steel Works. The  Severn and Wye Joint Railway looped round the South side of the two sites. [1]

The two distinct red lines which appear on this map extract are both part of the old Milkwall branch of the Severn and Wye Tramroad. That to the West of the Map extract became the Sling Branch which left the Coleford Branch of the Severn and Wye Joint Railway at the small Milkwall Station to the North. That railway can be seen running to the West side of the Titanic Steel Works. The other red line is just to the Northeast of the Titanic Steel Works. [1]The two arms of the tramway which are seen as red lines on the map extract prior to this one are shown coming together just to the South of the Milkwall Station on the Severn and Wye Joint Railway which is sited just off the North side of this map extract.

We followed a Heritage Walk route which took us around Milkwall and Dark Hill areas of the Forest. [2] We encountered a significant section of the old stone sleepers which were used to support the cast-iron L-shaped plates which the trams ran on. Pictures I took at that location follow. I have also included a photograph taken the same week at the Dean Forest Railway which shows how the plates were keyed-in to the stone sleepers using  purpose made ‘chairs’.

Generally the modern footpaths which follow the routes of these old tramways are not wide enough to allow both rows of stone sleepers to be seen.

The different gauges used at different times in the Forest can be seen clearly in this picture taken at the Dean Forest Railway at Norchard on 2nd September 2020. The tramway gauge and construction can be seen in the foreground. Tramways in the forest were of 3’6″ to 3’8″ track gauge. Each plate was fixed in place by a metal chair which in turn was supported by an independent stone block/sleeper. All the photographs above are my own.

As we noted when looking at the map extracts above, the Sling branch of the Severn and Wye Joint Railway followed the line of the older Milkwall Tramway. Our walk took us, for a short distance, along the line of the Sling Branch. The more modern rails of the branch were supported on concrete blocks similar in size to the stone blocks which once supported the tramway. My picture below shows these concrete blocks where they are still visible outside Fairview Cottage which appears in the third of the four map extracts above.


  1., accessed on 3rd September 2020.
  2. There is an app which can be downloaded to mobile phones which provides access to a number of different Walks, one of these is the Coleford Heritage Walk, part of which we followed:, accessed on 3rd September 2020.
  3. David and Robert Mushet:, accessed on 8th September 2020.



The Forest of Dean – Bream Heritage Walk, the Oakwood Tramway and Flour Mill Colliery

We are in the Forest of Dean again for a week away from work. On 1st September 2020 we followed a sign-posted circular walk which started in the centre of the village of Bream on the Southwest side of the Forest. The route was planned with the support of the Big Lottery Heritage Fund and featured a series of different heritage locations around the village. An overview plan appears below. [1]

Bream was one of a number of villages which sat on the edges of the old Royal Forest of Dean and in pre-industrial times had a population of around 300. The industrialisation of the Forest brought relatively rapid expansion to many of these villages. Bream’s population in the early 21st century is over 3,000.

The walk, including the different detours that we chose to make was about 7.5 miles in length. The first sections of the walk were along modern roads but we soon found ourselves walking along one of the access routes that would have been used by the workers in the iron ore mines in and around Noxon Park.

We passed a number of caves and sink-holes which were created by early iron ore miners. The area is riddled with underground workings and a number of relatively large caves have, over the years collapsed to create large and deep depressions (or scowles) at the surface. These can be found between locations 11 and 14 on the walk route map.

Initially, these workings were served by packhorses that carried the iron-ore away to be refined, but by the 19th century, plateways or tramways were being built to improve the transport of the ore.

The walk took us first along the route of the China Bottom Branch of the Oakwood Tramway which was covered in an earlier post about the tramways in the Forest ( [2] The branch ran between the approximate locations 13 and 14 on the map above. The track shows up on the old map below as two dotted lines leading from the bottom left of the map towards China Bottom.

When we reached China Bottom, we joined the route of the Oakwood Tramway which can be seen running left to right across the map extract below. The early China Bottom Branch served the small mines in the Noxon Park. These were superseded by the larger mines at China Bottom and Princess Louise and the early tramway branch was then abandoned and the cast-iron rails were lifted.

Extract from the OS 25″ Map on the mid 19th Century. [5]

China Bottom takes its name from a large iron-ore mine which once occupied the site which was called ‘China Engine Pit’. Its name indicates that the mine had a powerful steam engine which lifted iron-ore to the surface and pumped out water from the mine. “These engines were usually beam engines of the type used in Cornish tin mines, as seen on the TV series Poldark.” [7]

Close by was another large iron-ore mine called the ‘Princess Louise’ which had a 180 metre deep shaft. For more information, see the ‘Derelict Places’ Website. [3]

Princess Louise Pit, OS 25″ Map from the mid 19th century. [6]

The Oakwood Tramway

From location 14 through to between location 20 and 21 our path followed the route of the Oakwood Tramway. We picked it up again by taking a diversion northwards from location 24.

Oakwood Tramway ran, at first, on the Northern side of Oakwood Brook,  between locations 14 & 15.  The brook was culverted under the tramway and then supplied water power for Oakwood Mill which sat close to the brook between it and the road between Sling and Bream. [1]

At location 16 on the walk we passed Oakwood Mill Land Level, another iron ore mine.

“The land level was driven from 365 feet O.D. at the entrance. It is an adit or tunnel driven into the hill side for a distance of 1650 feet (500 metres). From the far end of the tunnel further levels were driven at right angles to facilitate mining and removal of the iron ore.  The level also allowed water to drain from the iron ore measures above 365 feet, allowing previously underwater deposits to be exploited. The level can be seen on Sopwith’s Map of 1835“. [11]

In 1827 David Mushet the metallurgist laid the earliest length of the Oakwood Tramroad from this area to Parkend. “Within a short distance you can observe a series of large flat stones in the pathway. These are sleepers for the Oakwood Tramway which terminated at Parkend and was used to transport mainly iron ore for transfer to the railway at Marsh Sidings (near Parkend’s Fountain Inn).” [11]

To the left and right of the walk route we came across dry mill ponds which originally “fed the water wheel at the Oakwood Corn Mill. The mill occupied the old buildings to the left and the waterwheel which drove the machinery was situated in a sunken chamber at the side. The sluice gate, which released the water onto the wheel, can be seen in the far corner of the stone-lined pond. It is probable that the operation of the mill was sporadic and dependant on the mill ponds containing sufficient water to drive the wheel.” [11]

The route of the Oakwood Tramway between locations 14 and 15, 1st September 2020.The different gauges used at different times can be seen clearly in this pisture taken at the Dean Forest Railway at Norchard on 2nd September 2020. The tramway gauge and construction can be seen in the foreground. Tramways in the forest were of 3’6″ to 3’8″ track gauge.

The Oakwood Tramway most probably consisted of L-shaped cast-iron rails resting on stone blocks or sleepers, as shown above, which served to spread the load over the ground, and to maintain the gauge. We located a number of these stone blocks along the first length of the tramway between 14 and 20. Each had two or three holes into which the rails or ‘plates’ were fixed. A few photographs taken on 1st September 2020 at different locations along the path, follow. …

There were long lengths of the route where usage and time have resulted in these stone blocks/sleepers being covered. “From this point, the tramroad did not plunge down the slope to the bottom of Mill Hill, it ……. went to the right and took a level path that hugged the hillside as it continued along the valley.” [12] It then turned to the Northeast following the valley.

In the valley bottom is what, in the 21st century, is a large white rendered private house. This was, until 1969, the ‘Oakwood Inn’.

At location 19 on the walk we passed what was once Oakwood Mill Deep Level iron-ore mine. It was driven in the early 1800’s by “David Mushet and it drained water from the earlier surface workings, both draining the mine of water and allowing a much easier extraction of ore.” [13] And at location 20, we passed the remains of Bromley Furnace.

The next significant location on the walk is the Oakwood Chemical Works and Flour Mill Colliery. We will return to look at the route of the tramway after we have looked at the Flour Mill Colliery site.

Flour Mill Colliery and its present use.

At locations 21, 22 and 23 on the walk we passed the site of Flour Mill Colliery. The walk runs immediately alongside the remaining colliery buildings on the line of the old tramway.

A while ago, the Colliery and the current use of its remaing buildings featured on my blog. [4]

The buildings of Flour Mill Colliery sit immediately alongside the route of the Heritage Walk, 1st September 2020.The Electricity Generating Hall/Building of the old colliery is now in use as an engineering works, 1st September 2020.

These buildings are now in use for the repair and refurbishment of steam locomotives. We spent a while wandering around the boundary of the works.

For more pictures please click here, [9] and for more information about the engineering works please click here. [10]

The route of the walk deviates away from the tramway alignment approximately at the entrance to the modern works, just northeast of the electricity generating hall. The tramway route begins to drop away heading for the transshipment wharves at Parkend.

When Flour Mill Colliery was expanding in the late 19th century it had to bridge the Oakwood Tramway which ran through the enlarged site. The later 25″ OS Map extract below shows the site of Flour Mill Colliery towards the end of the 19th century. The Oakwood tramway can be seen bridged by a relative wide man-made land bridge. [15] This is approximately at location 23 on the walk. The Oakwood Tramway leaves the map extract in the top right corner heading for Parkend. A rope-worked incline runs away to the right just to the South of the Oakwood Tramway. That incline led to what was most recently known as the Princess Royal Colliery.  ……

The 25″ OS Mapping of the late 19th century shows that Flour Mill Colliery had two shafts. The more southerly of the two had required a bridge between the shaft and the colliery spoil heaps. The more northerly of the two shafts, later required a land bridge over the tramway which was first culverted before the land was built up to provide access across the Oakwood tramway to a rope worked incline which took coal from Flour Mill Colliery to Princess Royal Colliery. [8][14]

The Oakwood Tramway again

25″ OS Map extract [18]

To the Northeast of the land bridge, Oakwood Tramway was in deep cutting. Its route could only be found by taking a deviation from the Bream Heritage Walk at location 24 on the walk route shown above. It was a delight to find significant remains of the tramway between this point and the Parkend Road.

The Oakwood Tramway was a single-track line with passing places. The two pictures immediately below were taken to the North of location 24 on the Bream Heritage Walk. They show the location of one of these passing places. A shirt loop of line left the main route and returned back to join it in a very short distance. Just long enough to accommodate a train of trams and their motive power (a horse or two)! The map extract below shows the location. [16]

The two pictures show the northern end of the passing loop which can be seen on the OS Map above. The first looks north, the second looks South. Both pictures were taken on 1st September 2020.The rope-worked incline passed under the Bream to Parkend Road at this location. The barrier protect the drop into the cutting, (Google Streetview). 

Our walk turned away from the Tramway just North of the location of the passing loop shown in the pictures above. We walked up to the Parkend Road and turned back towards Bream. We were able to make out the point where the rope-worked incline passed under the road. The last picture above was taken from the Bream to Parkend Road at location 25 on the Bream Heritage Walk,


  1., accessed on 1st September 2020.
  2. The Oakwood Tramway ran West to East before turning Northeast towards Parkend.
  3., accessed on 1st September 2020.
  5., accessed on 2nd September 2020. 
  6., accessed on 2nd September 2020.
  7., accessed on 3rd September 2020.
  8., accessed on 2nd September 2020.
  9., blog post completed on 4th September 2020.
  10., accessed on 2nd September 2020.
  11., accessed on 1st September 2020.
  12., accessed on 1st September 2020.
  13., accessed on 2nd September 2020.
  14., accessed on 3rd September 2020.
  15., accessed on 3rd September 2020.

The Flour Mill Colliery and The Flour Mill Ltd again!

We were staying in the Forest of Dean in September 2020 and followed the Bream Heritage Walk. Details of the walk can be found on my blog, [1] and independently on-line here. [2]

The walk passes alongside the engineering works at Flour Mill Colliery. [3] We spent a while walking round the industrial site before continuing our walk.

“The Flour Mill is a listed building which was converted to a railway workshop in 1995 – 1996, and used as such since 1996. The Flour Mill Ltd operates the business in the building undertaking work repairing and overhauling steam locomotives.” [3] Please note that this is a working site and not a visitor attraction.

It was possible, from outside the boundaries of the site, to take a number of photographs which might be of interest. …..

Locomotive boiler and driving wheels/axles. Others may be able to give an idea of the provenance, 1st September 2020.








These two photographs show Locomotive TDK 4015 ‘Karel’ outside the main works building. This locomotive was imported to UK and moved to the Avon Valley Railway. It was withdrawn in 2013, and sent to the Flour Mill in the Forest of Dean for overhaul. It returned to traffic September 2016 but was back under repair again in 2020. It was made by Fablok, Poland in 1947. [4][5] (1st September 2020).

Another locomotive boiler and the site crane, 1st September 2020.

These two images show a railway crane awaiting refurbishment. I will have to rely on others to provide more information! (1st September 2020).

The next series of images are all taken from the North boundary of the site.

More information about the site can be found on The Flour Mill’s website. [3]


  1., published on 4th September 2020.
  2., accessed on 1st September 2020.
  3., accessed on 2nd September 2020.
  4., accessed on 3rd September 2020.
  5., accessed on 3rd September 2020.

Matthew 16: 21-28 – 30th August 2020 – Take Up Your Cross

I first met Graham Turnbull in 1994. In the previous couple of years he’d felt God calling him to work in Rwanda. He’d left his job as a solicitor & trained to teach English as a Foreign Language. He left the UK in 1994 to travel overland to Rwanda – taking a landrover to the place he’d be working there.

As he was travelling, the genocide started in Rwanda and many people were killed. Graham was unable to enter Rwanda and I shared a house with him for two weeks in Kisoro in Uganda.

When the troubles subsided, he taught for 2 years in a place called Cyangugu in Rwanda. But he began to feel that he should be working for the UN as an ‘observer’. Observers travelled round Rwanda ensuring a visible international presence and so keeping violence to a minimum, a risky venture. His friends and family prayed it through with him, and in spite of the dangers agreed that God did seem to be calling him to this role.

Less than two months after he joined the UN there was an item on the BBC evening news – 5 UN observers had been killed in an ambush. Graham was the one Briton in the team. He was 37 years old when he died. …………..

God called Graham to Rwanda and led him to work with the UN. Graham gave his life in God’s service.

I wonder, is this what Jesus means in our Gospel reading when he says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Is he calling us to his kind of sacrificial lifestyle?

For many Christians around the world, this does indeed seem to be the case. The majority of saints who fill the Anglican calendar were martyred for their faith. There were more Christians tortured and killed in the 20th Century than throughout the whole of the history of the Church before that. But is Jesus calling us to that level of self-sacrifice?

Last week (on Sunday 23rd August 2020) those of us following the Anglican lectionary heard Peter acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. Now we hear Jesus talking of his death, placing the Cross right at the centre of what it means to understand him as Messiah. Jesus is saying, very clearly, that his disciples, that we, will not understand him unless we understand the cross, and in some incomprehensible way take it on board for ourselves. In this passage, Jesus isn’t calling us to martyrdom, but rather to making the Cross central in our lives.

Why is the cross so important, so crucial in our understanding of Jesus as King, as Messiah?

Lesslie Newbigin says that the Cross “is the supreme parable: the kingdom of God, both hidden and manifest in the dying of a condemned and excommunicated man.”

Jesus says: “Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it will bear no fruit.”

Paul talks of the cross as demonstrating God’s weakness, a mystery that shows that God’s weakness is stronger than our strength.

The cross was the place where sin was defeated, where redemption was won, where Jesus opened a door for us back into God’s presence. The Bible claims that at the place of seeming weakness, the greatest victory was won.

So what does Jesus mean when he talks of us taking up our cross?

Let me suggest three different things: the Cross is about identification, about self-denial/sacrifice and about weakness.

Firstly, we can identify with those who are suffering.

In Phil. 3:10, Paul says: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” Graham, whom I mentioned earlier, and others like him have paid the ultimate price for commitment to Christ. Persecution continues throughout the world and we are called to ‘identify’ with those who are experiencing Christ’s sufferings. To read their stories, to pray for them, to write to them and to their persecutors, to demonstrate Christ’s love in action.

Secondly, self-denial/sacrifice.

Do we really understand as individuals and as congregations, what Jesus means by self-denial? Is there any evidence of the Cross in our life together? Are we prepared to make ourselves vulnerable so that others might know God’s love? Are we willing to let our guard down – let others see our weaknesses, our fears, perhaps let others know about how God has helped us? Perhaps, for us, self-denial means giving time or energy to serving Jesus in different ways in the Church family.

Thirdly, weakness.

Some of us are very conscious of our weakness, conscious of pain, and of suffering. The Cross of Christ, the Cross we are called to take up, makes it clear that Christ identifies with our weakness and pain. It promises that in facing our weakness we will find God. Not when we are strong, not when life is wonderful, but most clearly, most real-ly, when we are at our point of greatest weakness, when the night is dark, when everything seems to be destroying us. Then, when we are weak Christ not only walks alongside us, but in the words of the poem ‘Footprints’ so loved by many, it is then that he carries us.

Finally, another quote, this time from David Runcorn, in a book called “Touch Wood: Meeting the Cross in the World Today.”

The Cross shows us a God: “who comes to us from beneath. He enters our world through its weakness, its wounds, its places of rejection. He shares our emptiness. He enters the absence of all we long for and becomes it. He makes it his own. He enters our desolation so completely that he makes our deepest cry his own, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?'”

The cross is central. We are very unlikely to be called, like Graham Turnbull, to sacrificing our lives for the Gospel. But in the Cross, Jesus calls us to service, to self-denial, to sacrifice – and with every fibre of his being, Jesus understands and identifies with our sense of weakness.






Matthew 16: 13-20 – 23rd August 2020 – Peter the Rock?

Peter is the rock on which the church was built. At least that’s what our Gospel reading suggests. ….. St. Paul says similar things about us as Christians. Listen to his words from Ephesians 2:

You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. [1]

We are God’s temple, God’s dwelling place, rocks, bricks being built into God’s Church. As Paul suggests in the second reading set for today from Romans 12. [2] Each of us exercising our different gifts and strengths, supporting and caring for each other is in Paul’s thinking, strengthened as a building by the interlocking nature of our lives together.

Jesus says to Peter: “You are the rock on which I will build my church.”

But Peter was anything but a rock. Yes, he has just exclaimed that Jesus is Messiah – but two verses later Peter shows just how fickle he is. He cannot accept Jesus’ statement to his disciples that he must die. “God forbid, that this should happen to you, Lord,” he says. And Jesus uses the strongest of words to rebuke him.

Later, as we know so well, Peter promises always to be faithful, yet within 24 hours of that promise he has denied his Lord three times. Peter is no rock. He’s not even stable enough to build a dog kennel on, let alone a house or a church!

So what is Jesus talking about? He knows how unstable Peter is. ………..

Jesus is looking beyond what is self-evident. He sees into Peter’s heart and he also sees his potential. Jesus’ seemingly unfathomable statement about Peter is based not on what we can see of Peter, not even on what Peter thinks of himself. Jesus’ statement, Jesus’ confidence in Peter is built not on Peter but on Jesus’ confidence in the transforming love of God.

And as we watch Peter in the story of the early Church we see someone who gradually becomes a rock, a place of certainty, a person, who in the end, dies a martyr’s death. We see God transforming Peter, dealing with the rough edges of his personality, dealing with the selfishness and sinfulness, the pride which is so much a part of his life. Moulding and making Peter into the rock that Jesus said he always was.

We too are living stones being built into a temple fit for God. Just like Peter, we are being changed and renewed, we mess up, we get things wrong, we hurt ourselves and each other. We definitely are not perfect! However, just like Peter, whatever we currently feel about ourselves, whatever we think others think about us, Jesus sees us as his rocks, his stones, his bricks.

And just like Peter we are called to build God’s church. We are called to be the secure point, the place of hope, the signpost to others around us. We are called to point others to the one who has loved us, who thinks the world of us and who gives life purpose and meaning. We are called to point others to Christ and to be the rock on which they can begin their life of faith.

We are called, as the Church in our community, to be a visible manifestation of the Kingdom of God in that community. If people cannot see the Kingdom of God in the church that serves them, where will they encounter that Kingdom?

We are not perfect, and never will be this side of heaven. But we are called to be a people, like the apostle Peter, who learn over time how to be more like Jesus. This is Jesus’ vision for us, or of us … that we are a community, in our parishes, and in our individual churches, that shines with the light of the Gospel. When God looks at us, that is what God sees. God sees the possibilities, the improbable joys, the unlikely achievements.

And, dare I say it, that is God’s hope for the way we relate to each other.

When we look at those with whom we struggle, we are intended to look through God’s eyes, to see the possibilities, unlikely as they may seem. To see what that person might become if loved and accepted and trusted. To see the possibilities, the improbable joys, the unlikely achievements.  To see that they too could be a Peter – a rough cut stone which could become the most beautiful of diamonds.

You and I are being built, being changed as God deals with us throughout our lives. You and I are each being built into the person God already knows we are, and it is God’s intention that we together become the people we are meant to be. His family, his people, his nation.


  1. Ephesians 2: 19-22.
  2. Romans 12: 1-8.

Matthew 15: 10-28 – 16th August 2020

What do you make of the Gospel reading set for 16th August 2020? … What does Jesus mean when he talks about the children and the dogs? Does it sound racist? Was Jesus being racist? That seems to be a blasphemous question to ask. Doesn’t it? ……..

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Why did Jesus say those words? Was it just rhetorical, aimed at getting the response it did? Was he just quoting a standard Jewish phrase? Was he, perhaps, working out his theology on the hoof? Learning as he went along? Applying what he had been taught by others and then discovering that it didn’t work or it was wrong. … Only realising as a result of this incident that his calling was wider than just to Israel? On the surface, in the first instance, he seems no different from his disciples. … Was it the woman herself that changed his mind? ……. What was going on? ………….

The Jewish establishment of Jesus’ day was concerned above all with purity – and we saw something of that in the first few verses of our Gospel reading. Our gospel goes on to raise real questions about racial purity. Just who does God see as his people. For many Jews it was clear – only the chosen people, only Jews. God wasn’t concerned for others, for the Gentiles.

Over the past few weeks in the Summer of 2020, we have once again seen images of refugees crossing the Channel in really unseaworthy boats, often small inflatables. I guess that we will also remember stories of people dying in container lorries in recent years. How should we respond to the stories we hear?

There is a very strong lobby which wants us to be fortress Britain. We are too full says that lobby. We cannot take any more. …

The world-wide statistics are indeed frightening.

According to the UNHCR, at the end of 2019, there were 79.5 million people displaced from their homes (about 1% of the world’s population) Many of them, 45.7 million displaced within their own countries but 29.6 million were refugees – people who have been forced out of their country of origin. Of these 5.6 million are Palestinian refugees and 3.6 million are Venezuelan refugees. Most (4 out of 5) stay as close as possible to their country of origin because they want, if at all possible, to return to their own land. ……There were 4.2 million asylum seekers throughout the world. [1]

The Governments statistics on asylum seekers show that, for the past 15 years or so numbers have actually been considerably lower than they were just after the millennium. [5]

What does this mean for the UK/Europe? The latest detailed figures available from the Red Cross [2] are for 2018.

Asylum Seekers: the UK received applications for asylum for 37,500 people (including dependents). This is far less than Germany (162,000), France (110,000), Greece (65,000) and Italy (49,000).

That works out as 5 applications per 10,000 UK population. In Europe the figure is 14 per 10,000 people.

Refugees whose claim for asylum has been accepted by the state in which they now dwell are given ‘leave to remain.’ But are still refugees. [2]

According to UNHCR statistics, at the end of 2018 there were 126,720 people still classed as refugees in the UK.  The number in Turkey is 3.7 million! [3]

The Syrian Crisis started in 2011. In the four years to 2015, the UK took 216 Syrian Refugees – 216 in 4 years! In 2020 the number has reached close to 20,000, the figure which was promised by the UK government.

At any one time around 5,000 people are waiting on the French side of the Channel to try to cross to the UK. Last year 1,900 crossed the channel, this year it has been 4,000, so far.

The most astounding figure that I have come across is the number of people granted asylum in Germany. This reached its peak in 2015 – wait for it – 440,000. Yes, over 400,000 in one year! Over the past 30 years, Germany has received at least 3.6 million asylum applications, or nearly one-third (32%) of all asylum applications in Europe over the period. [4]

In this context, what is our response to be, put up walls and exclude those most in need? Britain for the British! Fortress Britain. Keep everyone else out?

When we read the Old Testament we see that there was a constant tension in the life of Israel between those who believed that the Jewish race should be pure and ethnically ‘clean’, (whatever their reasons) and those who had a much broader vision. So Nehemiah and Ezra enact laws to prevent Jews marrying foreigners, yet the stories of Ruth and Jonah, probably written at around the same time, suggest that God is interested in the outsider and the foreigner. Ruth, who became the grandmother of King David (the person who became the symbol for the nation of Israel), was a hated foreigner, a Moabitess. And in Jonah, it is Nineveh, the hated Assyrian enemy city, that repents.

Jesus grew up in a community for whom those issues of racial purity were very important. Israel was for the Jews, no one else! That attitude would have been accepted as normal, an unwritten truth that the community accepted and which no one challenged. At some stage Jesus had to confront those attitudes in himself and his friends and family. Was this Gospel story the moment when it started to happen? …

Ultimately Jesus healed the woman’s daughter. But did he go through some sort of conflict within himself first? ………..

Does that help us when we grapple with our own feelings and ideas? Does it help to think of Jesus having similar struggles and overcoming them? Was this incident for Jesus just a little like the temptations in the wilderness – a real struggle? Or was it no more than the equivalent of swatting a fly? Easy? After all he was God, wasn’t he? Nothing too big or difficult for him! …

But Jesus was a real human being who had to learn and grow just like us. The toddler who had to take his first steps, the five year old who had to learn to read. ……

We have an ongoing struggle to engage with now in our country. It is a real struggle for the heart of our nation. Are we going to be xenophobic, focused only on ourselves, or are we going to be the open, relatively welcoming nation, that for much of our history we have been?

The issues are, of course, complicated.  Governments of all persuasions have struggled to work out what to do. There are no easy answers. ………

But I want to live in a country, in a world, where people matter; indeed that is a Gospel imperative. As Christians, we are called to respond to real need with a generous and open heart. We are called to set aside prejudice and to be open and welcoming.

Working that out can at times be complicated. We may need to make difficult choices at times. We will need to choose to be open, to place love and concern at the heart of our motives and actions. And as we do so we will begin to be a community that we can all be proud of, a community that welcomes the stranger.


  1., accessed on 15th August 2020.
  2., accessed on 15th August 2020.
  3., accessed on 15th August 2020.
  4.,of%20Europe%27s%202015%20asylum%20seekers, accessed on 15th August 2020.
  5., accessed on 16th August 2020.

1 Kings 19: 1-18; Matthew 14: 22-33 – Sunday 9th August 2020 – Holidays and Retreats

We are in holiday season – and our Old Testament Reading tells the story of the first known package holiday. Not arranged by TUI or Jet – this holiday is arranged by God.

Elijah has been working all hours as the head prophet in the Yahweh organisation. Business has not been that good. The competition have been gaining ground. It seems like bankruptcy is on the cards. Yahweh could well go out of business – or succumb to a hostile takeover by the Baal conglomerate. … The tension is brought to a head on Mount Carmel. Elijah challenges the opposition. A credibility test – whoever wins is the real God.I guess that you know the story well – Elijah wins. Baal cannot provide the fire to light the sacrifice on his altar. Yahweh, the God of the Bible, sends fire down from heaven. The whole Baal organisation is in turmoil – Baal’s prophets are killed. Elijah is on cloud nine. But things are not quite that simple – the chief shareholder of the Baal conglomerate is incensed. Queen Jezebel will not go away, she issues threats on Elijah’s life.

How does Elijah respond?

The tension of recent events has got to him. Rather than confident trust in God, built on the foundation of what God has just done at Mount Carmel, Elijah panics – he runs. It’s a classic case of depression and stress – he’s taken on more than he can handle. Elijah can now only see problems where once he saw opportunities. Run down, feeling hopeless, he runs off into the desert.

I don’t know about you but there have been times in my life when I’ve been just like Elijah in our reading. Stressed out, having lost perspective on life, God seems to have disappeared.

It isn’t always something as drastic as Elijah’s experience that affects us. It’s strange isn’t it how often when we review something we have done, that it’s the negative things we remember rather than the good. Or, I wonder, have you ever had the experience in some unguarded moment of tearful emotions overcoming you. Sometimes holidays, perhaps because we begin to relax, or perhaps because of the memories they evoke, are times when life is particularly hard – times when we’re prone to self-pity – even times when God feels distant.

How did God deal with his faithful servant Elijah in this time of darkness? ……….

It’s important to note that God doesn’t tell Elijah to snap out of it – or to buck his ideas up.

No! First God allows Elijah time to rest and sleep; then God makes sure that he is well fed and watered; and then he takes him on a forty day excursion to the mountains.

At times we need to hear this – rest and recuperation are God’s gifts to us – listen to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” ……..

Secondly, God helps Elijah to see that although God can work in power, God is to be heard most clearly in the silence. God’s words of comfort to Elijah are whispered gently to him. Time away from noise and business, times of holiday and retreat, are times when we can hear God. Times when we can be resourced again for faithful service.

Life can drain us, it can pull us down, we can feel defeated. Holidays and retreats are God’s gift to us, they’re times when we can choose to make space for him. Times when we can pick up our Bibles again. Times when we can make space to pray. Times when we can set aside noise and competition and listen to God’s still small voice of hope. ……

Peter’s story in Matthew’s Gospel is a little different!

He is out of the boat walking towards Jesus. …. For a moment things seem to be going really well – until he looks around and sees the storm and suddenly the water underneath his feet really does feel like water. And Peter begins to sink. Life for him, like Elijah, is overwhelming. Peter is desperate.  “Lord, save me,” he cries. And Peter, like Elijah, discovers that God is there for him. …..

Both Peter and Elijah have seen God at work in dramatic ways – Elijah on Mount Carmel, Peter, with the feeding of the 5,000. But both discover that they have to learn to trust God for themselves. It is not what they have seen that counts – not even what they have been involved in. They for themselves have to learn to trust the quiet voice of God in the midst of what life can bring.

Peter cries out, “Lord, save me.” …. Elijah stands still, listening to God’s voice.

Whoever we are, whatever our nature and whatever our experience of life, we need too to learn to place our confidence and trust not in our own abilities, not in the faith of others but in the love that we discover God has for us. And when God reaches out to us in love, we need, like Elijah and Peter, to trust him.

And we can trust God to be there for us at all times – providing the strength that we need for each day, intervening on occasions, but most of all assuring us of his loving presence.

And when we come to Communion, when we release our burdens in confession, when we receive again the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection, when we eat the food that God provides for us. We can hear God speaking once again in the silence, God says again – “I love you, rely on me!”

Every day that we come to Holy Communion can be a holiday – a Holy day!



Matthew 14: 13-21 – 2nd August 2020 – How to Read a Story?

Matthew 14: 13-21

Many of us, when we go on holiday, take with us something to read, usually a novel or two, occasionally a biography. Apart from reading books about railway history, I’m an avid reader of suspense, crime and murder mystery novels. I really like the police procedurals like Rebus from Ian Rankin, Alan Banks by Peter Robinson, Bob Skinner from Quintin Jardine and books by Rachel Lynch, Harlen Coben, James Patterson, … etc.

This isn’t really the time or place to chatter on about what I like to read. But I do want to ask you about the way in which you read a story or a novel. Who do you identify with most readily? Whose eyes are you looking through as the story unfolds? Is it the hero or the heroine, a bystander, or someone else who is involved in the plot?

I guess to some extent it depends on how the book is written, whether it is in the 1st person or the 3rd person, whether you are actually encouraged to identify with one character or another. Some of the most intriguing stories are those where the author encourages you to see things through the eyes of one character, to identify with them, only to find out that they are not the person you thought they were. The experience can be quite shocking!

It is usual for us, when we read a story or a novel, to identify with someone … to live the story through them.

So, I wonder, when we read stories in our bibles do we do the same? Or do we sort of stand detached, alongside events almost like spectators?

I think the bible authors had just the same kind of intentions as modern story-tellers do. They want to draw us into the story, to get us involved.

We are given an account of the feeding of the 5,000 in all of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All the accounts are different in their own way, all reflect the perspective or agenda of the particular Gospel writer. All help us to have different perspectives on the story! So Matthew and Mark place this story just after the death of John the Baptist – and in the context of the story that is clearly meant to be important. Luke suggests that the 12 have just arrived back from their mission as healers and preachers and that they are desperate to talk to Jesus about the things they have done and seen happen. John adds personal detail mentioning both Andrew and Philip, two of the disciples, by name – and mentioning that the five loaves and two fish came from the picnic box of a young boy. The same story told in four different ways.

Not only is the story told slightly differently by our four Gospel writers – highlighting different things in the story. We also have the opportunity to see the story through different people’s eyes. If we allow ourselves to imagine it, we can look out on the story through the eyes of the disciples, perhaps particularly Andrew or Philip, we can watch as members of the crowd, we could take the young boy’s perspective (although he does not appear in Matthew 14) or we could see things through Jesus’ eyes.

One thing I could ask you to try would be to choose a character from the story in Matthew 14 and listen again to the story trying to see things from their perspective and then perhaps share with others who have read the story but who have chosen other characters, what you saw. It would be a good way to broaden your understanding of a passage that you have read.

I’d like to highlight a couple of things that might come from doing just that as we read this story:

Jesus: The context of this story of the feeding of the 5,000 is set for us in each of our Gospels. Jesus has just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, he is in mourning. … The disciples have returned from the mission he has set them and they are full of excitement; clamouring and eager to talk to him about their impact on other people’s lives. … Our reading tells us that Jesus hearing about John’s death, withdrew by boat, privately to a solitary place. I guess he needed space to mourn. The other Gospels tell us that he withdrew with his disciples. In Mark we hear Jesus say these words to his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”.

Jesus is exhausted, emotionally, spiritually and physically – he is done in and he needs space. His disciples similarly need space to rest and recuperate from their mission. I can imagine Jesus climbing up the slopes on the far side of Galilee – so grateful for the opportunity to rest, only minutes later to look up and see a large crowd gathering. Jesus was exasperated, grief-stricken, exhausted, ready for a break. … I guess, some of those feelings will be shared by parents and others here who have still to take their holiday, maybe even by those who have just had their holiday with children in tow.

In this instance, Jesus sets aside his own needs for the needs of the crowd. Even in the midst of his tiredness and grief he is willing to give himself to their demands for his attention. A while back, on our day off at 8.30 in the morning the doorbell rang. Still in my night clothes, I answered the door and there was a man of the road – can I have some breakfast. Come back later I said, we are still in bed. At 9.00 he was back, this time shouting through the letterbox, a few expletives about our laziness and unwillingness to serve him. He eventually got a piece of my mind and some days later came back to apologise. What does Jesus’ attitude in our Gospel reading say to me about my attitude to this man? Could I not have served him rather than place my own needs for rest first?

As Christians, all of us are here to be God’s hands and feet in society. Jesus challenges us, not just by his words, but by his actions, to be willing to go the extra mile in serving others! And only after having done so, here in this story, do the following verses tell us that he makes time again for solitude and rest!

The disciples: John and Mark have the disciples chuntering away before they come up with a very small amount of food. John has them ‘borrowing’ the food from a young lad. Both the disciples and the young lad had no idea what their paltry, tiny offering would make. They perhaps only made the offering to reinforce the fact that trying to provide for this host of people was a lost cause. ‘Lord, we just have to send them away – can’t you see that now?’

But Jesus takes their reluctant, tiny offering and turns it into the most sumptuous of banquets. … Like the disciples we so easily see what we have to offer as not enough. We are not gifted enough, our congregations are too small, we can’t possibly afford to meet Parish Share, we cannot meet the maintenance demands of our buildings – it is hopeless. … And it is so easy to think like that.

We are small and seemingly overwhelmed by the world around us, yet God is still working in our midst. We reminded ourselves last week that it is when we feel small  and helpless, then we are most like the Kingdom of God, for it is then that God can work through us. Things are fragile, they are certainly very dependent on the life of God’s Spirit. God is quietly at work in our midst and we have had a part to play in his work in our world.

Here in the characters of our story – seeing events through their eyes – we can be:

  • challenged and encouraged;
  • spurred on to service; and
  • reminded of God’s love and provision for us.


Why not try what I have suggested for your prayers this week? Sit with this or another passage of Scripture for a little while. Try picking one of the characters in the story and see things from their perspective. Ask yourself: What do they notice? What do they do? Why, what motivates their actions? If you chose the passage from Matthew 14, you might find that you gain a different insight to the ones that I have suggested. …………..

Take time as well to pray for the work of the church, for those in authority in our world, for peace, for the needy, for those who are unwell and for those who are at rest with the Lord.

Co. Donegal Railways, Ireland – Part 4 – Strabane to Letterkenny (Part A – Strabane to Raphoe)

Wikipedia gives us a very short history of the line from Strabane to Letterkenny and provides a single image – the Railway Clearing House map with stations in Strabane and Letterkenny:

The Railway Clearing House map with stations in Strabane and Letterkenny. [3]

“The County Donegal Railways Joint Committee (CDRJC) constructed the Strabane and Letterkenny Railway. It opened for public service on 1 January 1909 with a route length of 19.25 miles. It was the last railway constructed by the CDRJC bringing the network operated by this company to 121 miles. The company pioneered the use of diesel operated railcars, but despite this innovation, closure came at the end of 1959, and the railway was shut on 1 January 1960.” [2]

 This history must be worth expanding! It gives so little detail!

Wikipedia tells us that Letterkenny was already rail-served in 1909. “The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company (The L&LSR, the Swilly) was an Irish public transport and freight company that operated in parts of County Londonderry and County Donegal between 1853 and 2014.” [4] Incorporated in June 1853, [5] “it once operated 99 miles of railways. … It closed its last railway line in July 1953 but continued to operate bus services under the name Lough Swilly Bus Company until April 2014, becoming the oldest railway company established in the Victorian era to continue trading as a commercial concern into the 21st century. Following a High Court petition by HM Revenue and Customs, the company went into liquidation and operated its final bus services on 19 April 2014.” [4][7][8]

The first railway station in Letterkenny opened on 30th June 1883. The line out of Londonderry started out as the Londonderry and Buncrana Railway and was absorbed into the L&LSR in 1887. [9] That line is not the subject of this article but it is important to note that Letterkenny had been rail-served for many years before the branch from Strabane arrived in the town.

Raphoe Bishop’s Palace. [10]

Raphoe Cathedral. [11]

Raphoe Royal and Prior School in 21st century. [12]

Patterson et al [1: p41] explain that the Co. Donegal Railways from Strabane to Stranolar – which were accessed from Londonderry over either the Great Northern Railway (along the valley of the River Foyle) to Strabane or the more tortuous route owned by the Co. Donegal Railways which passed over the higher ground to the East of the River Foyle, through New Buildings, Collion, Donemana, Ballyheather and Ballymagorry and on to Strabane – ran to the South of an area which included the small towns of Raphoe and Convoy. The L&LSR ran to the North of this area. “At the end of the 19th century, Raphoe had a population of around 700, …. centred around a cathedral, a ruined bishop’s palace and a Royal School. Convoy, only about a third he size of Raphoe, was a manufacturing village with a reputation for woolen textile manufacture. By Donegal standards, the people living there felt they ought to have a railway.” [1: p41]

That sense of entitlement built on endeavours which began as early as 1860 but which foundered on more powerful interests. It wasn’t until around 25 years later that a light railway/tramway was planned between Strabane and Drumcairn and it became more likely that the area would be rail served. However, that scheme also foundered for lack of money. [1: p41]

It was 1902 when a new version of the scheme was proposed at an estimated cost of £100,000 which ran between Strabane and Letterkenny via Lifford, Ballindrait, Convoy and Raphoe. The scheme was the subject of a bill submitted to Parliament in the winter of 1902-3. [1: p41-42] That application failed to achieve its key objective of reaching Letterkenny. The Act only allowed a line from Strabane to Convoy. A further submission was made in 1904 and was successful. The promoters called the line the Strabane and Letterkenny Railway (S&LR)  and within no more than a year it had effectively been taken over by the Great Northern Railway in advance of their takeover of the Co. Donegal Railway. [1: p42-43]. Work started on building the line in 1906. Robert McAlpine and Sons were the principal contractor. The line was eventually opened to traffic on New Year’s Day 1909. [1: p43-44]

Patterson et al comment that “since much of the share capital of the S&L had been provided by the Midland and the Great Northern, owners of the CDRJC since 1906, it was natural that the Joint Committee should take over the operation of the line and work it as a branch. ” {1: p44-45]

1905 Ordnance Survey Map. [14]

Strabane Railway Station was first opened in 1847 on the Great Northern Irish standard-gauge line. It expanded to include the narrow-gauge Co. Donegal lines in 1894 when the new narrow gauge crossed the river into the southern end of the station.

Prior to the narrow-gauge, the Finn Valley railway shared the southern approach to the railway station with the Irish North Western Railway – the predecessor of the GNR. The Finn Valley Railway was held to ransom for access into Strabane Railway Station. The advent in Ireland of the new 3ft gauge railways encouraged the directors of the West Donegal Railway  (WDR) to choose that gauge for their new railway in the late 1870s. After a period of mixed gauge use of Stranorlar Railway Station, Parliament sanctioned the amalgamation of the  Finn Valley  with the WDR in 1892 and in 1893 powers were obtained for a change of gauge between Stranorlar and Strabane and for the construction of a new narrow-gauge link from the old Finn Valley junction with the GNR into Strabane Railway Station. [1: p19-28] That link appears on the 1905 Ordnance Survey Map above. The map was drawn only a few years before the construction of the S&LR.

My sketch below shows the layout of Strabane Railway Station in the years following the construction of the S&LR. Strabane Railway Station in the 1930s (c) Roger Farnworth

A Journey Along the Line – Strabane to Letterkenny – Part A – Strabane to Raphoe

Strabane on the GSGS Map from the 1940s. The GNR runs roughly North-South the Co. Donegal runs from the top right to the bottom left with the branch to Letterkenny returning to the North edge of the map having passed through the Railway Station at Lifford. The station at Strabane is marked by the linked roundels near to the centre of the map. [13]

On the GSGS 1940s OS Map, the Strabane to Letterkenny branch is shown leaving the  Co. Donegal mainline just to the North of Strabane Railway Station.  My sketch above shows the actual arrangement. It was difficult to fairly represent the track arrangement at the station at the scale the GSGS Maps were drfated. Letterkenny trains left Strabane Railway Station at the station platforms and then turned sharply round to the Northwest before crossing the River Foyle and entering Lifford Railway Station.

The next few pictures show the footbridge at Strabane Station. The first three  are relatively low resolution images posted on the BBC Northern Ireland Your Place and Mine website. [15]

These first three images are taken looking North through the Station. The first is taken from just South of the Western station platform. On the far left of the image the S&LR platform can be glimpsed. The second shows the main station buildings with the footbridge steps to the right of the image. The third looks Northeast under the footbridge towards the main station buildings.

The fourth picture was found on both Sepiatown [16] and OldStrabane webpages [17] It shows the station footbridge, again looking North, from the GNR side of the station. (I have been unable to contact both of the two sites to get permission to share photographs, postcard images, etc., here. Email links, where they exist, no longer function. Should the site owners wish me to remove the images credited to those sites then I will do so and replace them with the links referred to in the references at the en of this article.)

The first colour image shows the station footbridge again, also looking Northeast, this time from close to the Co. Donegal lines turntable. County Donegal Railway No 11 “ERNE” is moving vans in May 1957. [17][18]

The second colour image shows the same engine (No. 11 ERNE Class 4, 4-6-4 ‘Baltic’ tank), heading away, light engine, from Strabane Railway Station on the Letterkenny line in March 1958. The CDR signal box, and station footbridge are shown in the background. [17][19]

The following image shows a Goods Train approaching Strabane from Lifford, presumably having travelled from Letterkenny. The photographer is looking Southwest from a point near the Signal Box at Strabane. [17][20]

As noted above, these superb images can be found on two sites, and Each image is individually references on the website. I have only been able to provide a general reference for the same images on the website.

Those on the website are geographically referenced for their location around the station site.

A train prepares to depart for Letterkenny. Platform 5 at Strabane Railway Station. [17][24]Diesel Shunter Phoenix at Strabane Station looking Southwest from Platform 5 – the platform used by the Strabane to Letterkenny services The signal box can be made out beyond the end of the platform. [17][22]Railcar  No. 14 at Strabane Railway Station on 20th August 1959, preparing to leave Platform 5 for Letterkenny. [17][23]The Strabane & Letterkenny Railway closed on 1st January 1960. This photograph was taken sometime after the closure (probably in 1965). The rail track has been removed and replaced by a road. The building on the right nearest to the camera is the Co. Donegal Railways signal box. [17][21]The route of the ols S&LR is marked by the double row of trees heading North from the modern A38 (Google Maps).

Kerry Doherty supplied this photograph for comparison with the one above. It shows Strabane Railway Station and is taken from the “camels hump” bridge. He comments that ‘This site has been much filled in and raised quite a bit.’ Photograph supplied by Kerry Doherty. [45]Kerry Doherty supplied this photograph for comparison with the one above. It shows Strabane Railway Station and is taken from the “camels hump” bridge. He comments that ‘This site has been much filled in and raised quite a bit.’  The line in the centre foreground is the S&LR. Photograph supplied by Kerry Doherty. [45]

Turning through 180 degrees, we are now looking in the direction of Lifford, the Letterkenny line trackbed would have been where the grass is on the far side of the road. Curving off sharply to the right (c) Kenny Doherty. [45]

Trains for Letterkenny used the most westerly platform at Strabane Railway Station – Platform No. 5. Trains traversed a very tight curve round to the Northwest, followed a short straight-alignment before crossing the River Foyle.

As we have noted, there was a sharp curve in the line out of out of Strabane. THis image shows the trackbed after the curve, looking towards Lifford. Kerry Doherty comments: ‘It’s interesting to note that when the line was lifted in January 1960, this was tarred and the railway bridge used for buses and lorries and the road bridge was being replaced. The tar is still under the moss underfoot,’ (c) Kerry Doherty. [45]

Looking across the River Foyle at the location of Lifford Station which is in the trees, (c) Kerry Doherty [45]

The magnificent stone abutment of the bridge. This is the southern bridge abutment, (c) Kerry Doherty. [45]

The location of Lifford Bridge, (c) Kerry Doherty. [45]

Lifford Bridge. Photo by John Langford, supplied for inclusion here by Kerry Doherty. The picture is taken from approximately the same angle as the more modern image above. Lifford Station Halt can be seen on the right side of this image. Kerry Doherty Collection. [45]

The Location of the old Strabane/Lifford Railway Bridge across the River Foyle (Google Maps).The Construction of Lifford Railway Bridge. The photogrpaher is on the West side of the River Foyle, looking SE towards Strabane Station on the Strabane-Letterkenny line. The picture was taken in 1908. [17][25]

A much later image of the Strabane/Lifford Railway Bridge (c) Margaret (Blee) Fisher. [26]

The Strabane/Lifford Railway Bridge over the River Foyle is shown during construction above and much later, probably not long before demolition, in the adjacent photograph.

All that remained in the latter 20th century was the bridge foundations. By the early 21st century, these also were gone.The same bridge in 1959.This photograph is taken from the end of the platform at Lifford Halt (c) Roger Joanes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). [29]Morgan Collection : News PhotoThe S&LR bridge can be seen towards the to[p of this image. Lifford Halt Station is just to the left pf the bridge. This image is embedded with permission from An unidentified Co. Donegal steam locomotive is crossing the bridge in charge of a long goods from Letterkenny. [30]

Lifford Station and Railway on the S&LR. [27]

Lifford Halt Station Builing, a colourised monochrome image. The photograph was taken by William Lawrence included here courtesy of Kerry Doherty. [43]

Lifford Station ( from behind ), the platformwass on the other side of the building. This picture was taken some years ago as the building has been modified and is now surrounded, as can be seen below, by a high fence. The images below show the building as it is now, owned by two different people. The track-side elevation is much better kept and in recent years was the post office, (c) Kerry Doherty. [45]Lifford Halt Station Building (Google Streetview).Lifford Halt Station (Google Streetview).

The photo above appears on the Donegal Heritage Centre Facebook page and is embedded here with permission. [31] There is also  an excellent photograph of the station and platform in Anthony Burges book, The Swilly and the Wee Donegal. [44: p30] The satellite image below shows the S&LR just North of the location of the old station.

The S&LR (Google Maps)The S&LR [31]The S&LR [31]The approximate alignment of the S&LR approaching Ballindrait Station which is just off the satellite image to the West. [31]The approximate line of the S&LR in the 21st century. [27]

Ballindrait Railway Station as first built. This picture is an old postcard view taken by William Lawrence and provided courtesy of Kerry Docherty. [43]

Ballindrait Station in 21st century viewed from the West along the access road from the village (Google Streetview). The building on the right is the old passenger building with the platform beyond.

Ballindrait Railway Station was to the Northeast of the village on the North side of the Deele River.

The Good Shed (Google Streetview).

Ballindrait goods shed, looking towards Lifford (c) Kerry Doherty. [43]

There is a bungalow on the site of the old station, close to the old station house, but many of the buildings associated with the station are also still present. A sequence of views are adjacent to this text, three of which are views on Google Streetview.

The two wintry views are from the Irish National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. [32]

Ballindrait Good Shed from the Southwest. [32]

The Station Master’s House (Google Streetview)

There are also some pictures taken recently by Kerry Doherty which show the site from the alignment of the old railway (these make an excellent comparison with one of the images in the book, The Swilly and the Wee Donegal, by Anthony Burges . [44: p31])

Kerry Doherty’s photos include one of the old goods shed looking towards Lifford.

The Station Master’s House from the Southeast. [32]

The station buildings are in a surprisingly good condition having seen little or no maintenance over the years since the closure of the S&LR.

Ballindrait platform shelter and platform remains, looking towards Coolaghy (c) Kerry Doherty. [43]

I am particularly grateful to Kerry Doherty for the modern images which appear to be more up-to-date than the Google Streetview images.

Leaving the station, the railway travelled only a short distance due West before crossing the station access road leading up from Ballindrait village on a steel girder bridge.

Ballindrait platform shelter and platform remains, looking towards Coolaghy (c) Kerry Doherty. [43]

There is a view of the old railway, taken from just West of the under-bridge, below. It is a bucolic image of the S&LR which represents the scene at Ballindrait as it must have looked for much of the working day. It foreshortens the length of the station site quite considerably leaving the impression that the goods shed and the station platform are very close to each other.

The bridge deck has been removed and the abutments, if they still exist, are completely obscured by vegetation.


Leaving Ballindrait the line followed a relatively straight course for a short distance. This view looks back towards the station from just beyond the road under bridge which took the station access road into Ballindrait. [45]

Tamnawood Crossing-keeper’s Cottage [33]

Tamnawood Crossing-keeper’s Cottage (Google Streetview)

Beyond Ballindrait the S&LR followed the route of the R264 closely.

Initially crossing a side road on the level at Tamnawood Crossing. The crossing keeper#s cottage still stands in the early 21st century and is shown below in two images, the first comes from the Irish National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. [33] The second from Google Streetview.

At first it ran along the North side of the road. Modern develop obscures its route. The first two Google Satellite images below show that modern development.


After a few more hundreds of metres, line crossed the R264 on the level. The old road has been realigned at this point. The location can be picked out on the GSGS Map below but is more easily picked out on the larger scale extract provided after the two satellite images.

The approximate alignment of road and rail is illustrated on the Google Streetview photograph below the larger scale map extract.

Beyond the road crossing the S&LR followed the South side of the R264, only a few metres away from the carriageway, until it reach Coolaghy Halt where it turned away Southwest from the road.

The route as far as Coolaghy Halt is illustrated on the Google Sateliite images below.GSGS Map from 1941 shows the route of the Strabane to Letterkenny Railway following the route of the Ballindrait to Raphoe Raod (R264). [34]GSGS Map from 1941 shows the point at which the S&LR crossed the R264. [34]The R264 looking Northwest towards Raphoe showing the approximate alignments of the old road and the S&LR (Google Streetview).

The location of Coolaghy Halt (Google Maps)

Coolaghy Halt was the first point for some distance that the railway left the side of the old road. The route of the S&LR is still easily picked out as a line of trees and shrubs running West-southwest away from the R264.Coolaghy Halt in 1942 from the Tom P. McDevitte Collection courtesy of Kerry Doherty, the image is also reproduced in ‘Railway Days in Strabane’. [43]Coolaghy Halt’s location in the 21st century. The platform was where the fence sits today. Photograph by Kerry Doherty. [43]The location of Coolaghy Halt (Google Streetview)A side road from the Northeast met the R264 at the location of the Halt which was on the South side of the road. The red line on these two Google Streetview images shows the approximate alignment of the old S&LR at this point (Google Streetview).

Onward from Coolaghy Halt, the S&LR was only away from the R264 for a few hundred metres, running behind what is now P Connolly Car Sales and Repairs before drifting back towards the road and roughly following its alignment for a few hundred metres before turning away to the Southwest again en-route to what was Raphoe Railway Station.Raphoe Railway Station sat on the South side of the town. [35]

A view from above the cutting just before crossing the road into the Raphoe Station site, you can see the gap where it crossed the road, (c) Kerry Doherty. [45].The approach from the East to the level-crossing at Raphoe. This picture matches the more modern one above and is also taken from above the cutting on the route from Strabane and looks toward Raphoe station. [37]Raphoe Crossing-keeper’s Cottage just after closure of the line. [38]The Crossing-keeper’s cottage, Gate House 52, in the early 21st century, The photographer is standing on the track-bed, (c) Kerry Doherty. [45]A nice acknowledgement to the railway past, (c) Kerry Doherty. [45]The Level-crossing location in the 21st century. The Crossing-keeper’s cottage remains (Google Streetview)Looking forward from Raphoe gates into the station site. [42]

There is an excellent view of the station complex available in Ernie’s Railway Archive on Flickr … … That image is best seen as part of that album of photographs on Flickr. [40] The next few pictures show the station while the line was in operation.

Erne at Raphoe Railway Station in 1959 (c) Douglas Robinson, used with permission from the Co. Donegal Railway Heritage Centre. [36]

Shunting at Ballindrait in 1959 (c) Roger Joanes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) [41]

Railcar No. at Rahoe Station (c) Roger Joanes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) [39]

A view of Raphoe Station from the West (c) Roger Joanes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) [38]

The site of Raphoe Station in 21st century taken from a similar position to the last Roger Joanes image above. The Station Master’s House on the left is the only building remaining on the site. Kerry Doherty comments that ‘it was difficult to get a photo of the site as many lorries now occupy the yard’, (c) Kerry Doherty. [45]

We complete the first stage of the journey along the Strabane to Letterkenny Railway at Raphoe. As we noted at the start of this article, this is a place with a long history and it is worth the stopover to see the town!! There are two superb pictures of the station in Anthony Burges book, The Swilly and the Wee Donegal. [44: p32 &33]


  1. Edward M Patterson (original author), Joe Begley & Steve Flanders (authors of additional material in the Revised Edition); The County Donegal Railways; Colourpoint Books, Newtownards, Co. Down 2014. As noted in my first article about the Co. Donegal Railways this was to have been my holiday reading while walking different parts of the network, but 2020 has been a strange year!
  2.,this%20company%20to%20121%20miles., accessed on 14th July 2020.
  3.,_Cavan_%26_Clara._LetterKenny_Strabane_RJD_113.jpg#/media/File:Athlone,_Cavan_&_Clara._LetterKenny_Strabane_RJD_113.jpg, accessed on 14th July 2020.
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  5. Steve Flanders & Hugh Dougherty, The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway; Midland Publishing, 1997.
  6. Edward M Patterson (original author), Joe Begley & Steve Flanders (authors of additional material in the Revised Edition); The Lough Swilly Railway; Colourpoint Books, Newtownards, Co. Down 2017. This was to have been part of my holiday reading, but 2020 has been a strange year!
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  43. Kerry Doherty of Ballindrait, Co. Donegal. provided a series of images from his collection of photographs for use in this article.
  44. Anthony Burges; The Swilly and the Wee Donegal; Colourpoint, Newtownards, Second Impression, 2010.
  45. After first publishing this article, Kerry Doherty of Ballindrait very kindly sent me a series of pictures which needed to be included in the article. Each of these bears the reference number [45].

Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52 – The Kingdom

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Jesus gives us a number of pictures of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven.

First, the mustard seed – something so small that you can hardly see it, yet when it is fully grown it is almost as big as a tree – seemingly insignificant and of no apparent value yet having an impact far beyond what could be imagined.

Second, the Kingdom is like yeast which when mixed into the dough leavens the whole loaf and makes it rise – perhaps just 7g or 10g of yeast will leaven 500g of flour. so, the kingdom is alive and growing. It’s an agent which turns something flat and dry into something light and airy.

Thirdly, two pictures about the value of the Kingdom, treasure hidden in the field, and a pearl of great price. The kingdom has hidden value, easily missed for years, like treasure trove in a field, trampled under foot as the farmer ploughs the field, or a pearl hidden inside an ugly clam.

The overall impression is of something easily missed, seemingly of little value or importance – but yet, ultimately of immense worth. Something hidden, seemingly small and of little value – yet far more important than we can imagine.

So when Jesus uses the words “the Kingdom of God”, what is he talking about?

In the Gospels we hear Jesus saying these words on many occasions: “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come close to you.” And in the context it sounds a little as though he is talking about himself.

So, is that what the Kingdom is? Anywhere where Jesus is present? …

Elsewhere Jesus talks of the Kingdom as being within us. … So, is that what the kingdom is about – not something physical but something that governs our hearts? …

Sometimes Jesus seems to talk of the Kingdom as being something for the future, something beyond this life – somewhere that we call Heaven. … So is that what the Kingdom is about – something that Christ will bring in when he returns, whenever that may be – something not for now but for then, for the future?

What are you praying when we pray those words in the Lord’s Prayer … ‘Your Kingdom Come’?

The Kingdom of God is the Rule of God – wherever it may be. Yes, it does refer to heaven, and we look forward to a time when all that is evil is gone, when peace and justice, mercy and goodness have sway.

But it also encompasses life here on earth – God’s rule in our hearts, changing us, calling us on to love others, to work for a just, peaceful world, experiencing his presence with us. But a lot more than that too.

The church has fallen into the trap down the years of identifying itself with the Kingdom and of seeing God’s kingdom being about the rule of earthly Christian Kings. …………… So we have been responsible in the past for the Crusades; the temporal power and authority of the Bishop of Rome has been called the Holy Roman Empire; we have assumed that because we have a Christian heritage, all our culture must also be Christian, that the values we live by must be the values that the world should live by; and at times we have been arrogant and aggressive.

But says Jesus – that is not the kingdom. The kingdom is often insignificant, often overlooked. It is not about physical wealth, or might or power. In fact, the church is most like the Kingdom when it is weak and small, unsuccessful and overlooked by society. And the Kingdom exists where hope is born out of nothing, where God’s servants live like yeast in the dough of society, where truth and light and goodness is a treasure to be discovered hidden in the lives of ordinary people.

And as we look at ourselves and the world around us. As we feel insignificant and small, as our churches seem to have little hope for the future, … then we are most like the Kingdom of God, for then we can begin to feel the weakness and hopelessness of so many around us. And we can be part of our community like the yeast in the dough – not going out arrogantly with the answers, but rather joining our community in seeking God=s presence, looking for signs of the Kingdom, carrying with us the love of God and looking out for that love evident in the lives of those around us.

Then God’s kingdom is coming here on earth and small seeds of hope will germinate in our lives and the lives of those around us – and perhaps new shoots of life will develop and in time trees of righteousness and justice and peace may well have grown in the places where we live and work.

Prayers for the coming of God’s Kingdom

Almighty God,
your ascended Son has sent us into the world
to preach the good news of your kingdom:
inspire us with your Spirit
and fill our hearts with the fire of your love,
that all who hear your Word
may be drawn to you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.     Amen

God of our salvation, hope of all the ends of the earth,
we pray:
Your kingdom come.

That the world may know Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace,
we pray:
Your kingdom come.

That all who are estranged and without hope
may be brought near in the blood of Christ,
we pray:
Your kingdom come.

That the Church may be one in serving
and proclaiming the gospel,
we pray:
Your kingdom come.

That we may be bold to speak the word of God
while you stretch out your hand to save,
we pray:
Your kingdom come.

That the Church may be generous in giving,
faithful in serving, bold in proclaiming,
we pray:
Your kingdom come.

That the Church may welcome and support
all whom God calls to faith,
we pray:
Your kingdom come.

That all who serve the gospel may be kept in safety
while your word accomplishes its purpose,
we pray:
Your kingdom come.

That all who suffer for the gospel
may know the comfort and glory of Christ,
we pray:
Your kingdom come.

 That all who are unwell may know your consolation, strength and healing …….. particularly ……………we pray:
Your kingdom come.

That your constant care will be the experience of all who rest in you …….. particularly …………… we pray:
Your kingdom come.

That the day may come when every knee shall bow
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
we pray:
Your kingdom come.

Almighty God,
by your Holy Spirit you have made us one
with your saints in heaven and on earth:
grant that in our earthly pilgrimage
we may ever be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer,
and know ourselves surrounded by their witness
to your power and mercy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.