The Alloa Waggonway

The Alloa Waggonway was the earliest form of railway in Clackmannanshire, being built in either 1766 or 1768 (the date is apparently not certain). It's purpose, like most waggonways of the pre-Victorian era, was to transport coal from local mines to the nearest places ships could be loaded, this being the only way of moving coal any great distance. The line was several miles long and was single track with frequent passing loops, with all traffic being worked by horses or gravity. Later, in 1806 another waggonway called the Sauchie Waggonway was also built, this time down to Clackmannan.

 Although both systems withered away after the coming of standard gauge railways in the middle of the nineteenth century, which made horse-drawn coal deliveries to ships less uneconomic, it didn't happen overnight, as the Alloa Waggonway can be seen still to be in existence in the survey of 1861-2 which can be viewed at the Alloa Town Plan Page of The National Library Of Scotland website. My friend Ewan Crawford also has pages about the Alloa Waggonway and the Sauchie Waggonway at his Railscot website.

Very little of the Alloa Waggonway has survived into the 21st century, but at the Alloa end there are three structures and two sections of the route that have survived as part of local footpaths, and with the help of some digital snaps I took in 2002 for a friend (plus one more recent picture), I hope to show you these and the route of the line between them on this page.

Our starting point, dictated simply by the pictures I have available, is the point at which the waggonway approached Alloa station from the Sauchie direction.


1. This first picture shows the view from the trackbed of the waggonway looking back in the direction from which the loaded wagons would have come. The trackbed is relatively wide at this point as there was a long passing loop at this point which is marked on the 1861-2 town plan.


2. Looking more or less in the other direction here is a view showing how close the waggonway came at this point to Alloa Station (which was at the station bridge seen here in the background), and also the Tillicoultry branch of the Stirling & Dunfermline which was in the cutting on the right.


3. Looking in the other direction proper it is obvious where the end of the passing loop once was. the trackbed narrows at the point to crossed the main line on a bridge much newer than the waggonway as it would have been built in the 1840s. Presumably the waggonway was re-built and even re-aligned at that time, and this may not have been convenient as the bridge puts a summit in the line that would not have been there previously.


4. Here is a close up of the bridge over the main line. It looks a little narrow, but it only carried a single track that was narrower than standard gauge, so there would have been plenty of room, even allowing room at the side for horses or ponies providing the motive power!


5. Here is a picture taken in 2005 of the waggonway bridge over the main line from the side. I had intended to stick to my 2002 pictures but a good picture from this angle was impossible to take between the early 1990s and 2005 due to out of control vegetation! I admit the bridge doesn't look all that special at a first glance, but remember that the line over the top was 80-odd years older than the one underneath!


6. Back to my 2002 pictures and looking backward toward the bridge from the other side there isn't much to see as the footpath curves away from the route of the waggonway. The bridge in the last two pictures is just out of sight and the route of the waggonway goes behind (or perhaps though) the tree seen on the right.


7. Alloa town centre didn't suffer quite as much demolition and re-building as many towns in the 1960s and early 1970s, but here is the exception. The local 'Ring-Road' was built in the late 1960s wiping out several local streets, a fair number of buildings, and of course passing right through the route of the waggonway! However the waggonway ran diagonally across what you see here and curved round beyond the Station Hotel seen in the middle of the picture. The end of the hotel has an acute shape for that reason!


8. The same scene looking the other way showing the old station forecourt from which the previous picture was taken. The waggonway would, viewed from here, have appeared to head off to the right as it ran approximately along the nearer carriageway of the road and then curved uphill to the middle of the trees in the middle-right of the picture to reach the summit at the bridge over the railway.


9. Looking the other way at the station hotel the line of the waggonway is clear as it runs into a steep-sided cutting which is now a footpath. Indeed this is likely to be one of the earliest examples of an ex-railway becoming a footpath. The building on the left is part of the Station Hotel, whose 'side' is at roughly 45 degrees to it's frontage!


9. To get a better view down the waggonway I moved sideways a bit, and the second surviving large structure on the waggonway in Alloa can now be seen - one of two tunnels under local streets. The waggonway had another passing loop at this point, but it closed up to single track well before the tunnel.


10. Moving down a bit, I included this picture because it shows the local 'street sign' acknowledging the fact that this was indeed the trackbed of the waggonway. The cutting probably had much shallower sides originally, but it must be remembered that much of the center of Alloa has grown up around it in more than two centuries, and the steep sides will be one consequence of that.


11. The steep sides have obviously been a problem at some point as these girders have been propping up the sides for decades. Exactly how long I don't know, but one of my early memories as a child in Alloa in the 1960s was being taken down here and they were there then. (I used to wonder who had removed the roof, as I hadn't realized what they were for!)


12. A close up view of the first of the two tunnels in Alloa. Both are very shallow as they are really just primitive road overbridges, but they are built like tunnels, and you certainly feel underground walking through them as they are both reasonably long compared to their width & height. This one is under the junction of Dysdale street and Mar Street, with a set of steps giving access.


13. Looking into the tunnel from the opposite end it can be seen that a tunnel which is probably over two centuries old can have a bit of a dampness problem! There was also muddy patches on either side of the footpath inside the tunnel as well on the day I took these pictures, which was in the middle of summer! (25/6/02 to be exact.)


14. Stepping back inside the tunnel I took a view of the next section of the trackbed framed by the portal, and it can be seen that it runs in a dead straight line down to where Alloa docks once were. Just visible in the centre of the shot is the second tunnel.


15. I then moved up a few yards and took another shot in which the second tunnel, running under Bedford Place can be seen a little more clearly. Although the trackbed doesn't look at that wide, the 1861-2 town map of Alloa shows a short passing loop about half-way between the two tunnels. At that time the line marked the edge of Alloa as there is nothing shown between the tunnels on the west side of line, which is on the right in this view.


16. Moving down near to the Bedford Street tunnel I took this view looking back up toward where I was standing in the last picture. Trees and other vegetation seem to be encroaching a bit, which adds to the seclusion of a footpath that isn't used all that much. This is of course partly to do with the fact that it's route wasn't chosen to suit most pedestrians particularly, but also because many people don't do all that much walking anymore (me included - I drove!).


17. Looking the other way, in the direction the loaded coal waggons would have travelled, the Bedford Street tunnel can be seen to be much the same length as the one under the junction of Drysdale Street & Mar Street. A large muddy puddle is messing up the footpath, but this was admittedly a wet summer (as most have been in recent years). The structure above the tunnel is interesting, but I'll explain that in a couple of pictures time!


18. A closer view of the portal shows that this tunnel mouth has been built (or re-built perhaps) in brick. The only reason that occurs to me is that the tunnel might have been lengthened at some point, which might just be in connection with the structure above. If so, this portal might be a twentieth century extension of an eighteenth century structure, the reason being...


19. ... that the waggonway now runs under the west side of the Alloa War Memorial which would, like so many others, have been erected in the 1920s. The waggonway tunnel goes under the left side of the war memorial as seen in this shot, and runs on a diagonal so that the portal is just at the back of the leftmost of the central section, and the tunnel will run under the road in the foreground (Bedford Place) just off the left edge of my picture.


20. The other end of the Bedford Street tunnel has no sign of brick at all and therefore looks much more original. Again there is access from  the street above, this time with a more practical ramp leading down from where I was standing to take the last picture opposite the War Memorial.


21. Looking the other way it can be seen that the footpath on the trackbed of the former waggonway doesn't go much further before disappearing. From this point on, it is as far as I know only possible to trace it's route with the help of a map as this part of Alloa has been both heavily industrialized and partially de-industrialized since the earliest days of the waggonway, the oldest parts of which were in this area. There was a railway yard down here until the 1970s, all of which is gone as well.


22. And this is what this part of Alloa is like now - new roads, a post office depot, modern industrial units and some flat stretches of grass. I'd sooner see the railyard and the older industries anytime. Thank goodness (at the time of writing) that we still have the large glassworks which was still nearby when I took this picture...



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