Guide to the Line
This guide provides an overview of the main features of the Great Central Railway on a journey from north to south, starting at Loughborough Central and terminating at Leicester North. A much fuller description of the journey is available through the Railway’s publication Through the Window available at the Shop at Loughborough Central.
So, before we board our train lets not miss all there is to see at Loughborough Central itself.
Loughborough Central Station
Loughborough Central is the railway’s principle base and is built on the island platform model with the two platforms served by a single set of buildings. There is much to see here with the Museum, Shop, Buffet and Emporium on the platform along with the General and Ladies Waiting Rooms. The Museum contains historical information and artefacts from the start of railways and in particular the Great Central. It gives a good background to the importance of railways and the goods and passengers they carried. Facing the bottom of the station stairs is the Shop where, videos, books, model trains and all sorts of memorabilia may be purchased. Further along the platform is the Buffet where anything from a cup of tea to a full meal may be had. On Platform No.2 you can enter the Emporium selling everything from books to DVDs to help raise money to run the railway. Loughborough Central has toilet facilities, including a disabled toilet, and the platforms may be accessed by the stairs or a lift from the Booking Hall off Great Central Road.
Off the north end of the platform, along a path to the west side of the railway, you can walk to view the signalbox, an original Great Central Railway ‘box and the Locomotive Shed. Both these areas are working areas and access is restricted. But just ask any staff and access may be available.
Loughborough Central to Quorn & Woodhouse
Now let’s board our train for the journey to Leicester North. Before you enter the carriage just check to see your locomotive for the trip. It may be steam or diesel hauled from a long gone period of the railways. Or it may be our DMU where you can get a panoramic view through its front and rear windows.
As the train pulls out of the station you are travelling along a preserved heritage railway unique in the UK – a double track main line. Passing the Great Central Road bridge you will see on the left immediately as you pass under the bridge a factory which used to be the Shepshed Lace Manufacturing Company. It was centre of lace making in Loughborough from 1922 until it closed in the late 1980s. The factory is now used for small business units.
Shortly after, and still on the left, is a larger factory that was the home of Ladybird Books famous the world over for its children’s books. Ladybird ceased production in 1991 and the factory is now used for the production of wallpaper.
Having passed carriage sidings on the right the train now passes under Beeches Road bridge and passes the site of Tuckers Central Brickworks on the left. A new housing estate is where the factory used to be but you may see where the track bed widens where once a siding ran from the railway ran into the works.
The next major bridge is the one that carries the A6 trunk road over the railway. Once through that bridge the line runs into open countryside with views, on the right, to the wooded hills of Charnwood Forest. Farmland borders the railway on both sides and the bridges at Woodthorpe and the new bridge carrying Epinal Way are passed under. As we proceed the playing fields of Loughborough Grammar School are seen on the left and finally we see the Manor Hotel on the left as we enter Quorn & Woodhouse Station.
Quorn & Woodhouse Station
Quorn & Woodhouse station is built on the classic island platform model but is much smaller than Loughborough Central and is built to the standard Great Central Railway pattern of a country station. Again a visit to the station itself and its facilities is well worthwhile. On the station itself is the NAAFI Style Tearoom where a good cup of tea is always waiting. In the station yard is the new Butler Henderson Cafe serving a wide range of food which you can enjoy inside and out in the picnic area between the cafe and railway. From there you can watch the trains go by – but don’t miss yours! At the south end of the station yard is the new turntable where giants of steam can be turned, an event that attracts many visitors. Just by the turntable is the signalbox.
Quorn & Woodhouse to Rothley
On leaving the station the train runs along a straight embankment with fields to both sides. Distant views are available to both sides. As the train rounds a bend to the left trees screen the massive granite quarry at Mountsorrel. We pass under a bridge carrying Kinchley Lane over the railway and then we cross Swithland Reservoir seen first on the left and then, as we cross Brazil Island, to the right. This part of the line provides some of the most spectacular views from your train journey.
After crossing the reservoir we enter the Swithland Sidings complex built from nothing during the preservation of the line. Here the double track is bounded by long loops either side of the main running lines and a complex of sidings to the left. Immediately to the left as you enter the sidings is the branch line to the Moutnsorrel quarries newly installed by the railway’s volunteers. It will shortly allow branch line trains to join the main line and provide you with another journey opportunity. As you proceed through the sidings you will see the newly commissioned signalbox on the left.
As the train leaves the sidings it runs downhill through a cutting and in to Rothley Station.
Rothley station is built on the classic country station layout of the Great Central Railway but whereas the station bridge at Quorn & Woodhouse is of girder construction that at Rothley is built with a brick arch. The station is built between two embankments giving it a cosy atmosphere. Again it is a place to explore in its own right as you break your journey south. A Tearoom is on the platform and a parcels Office provides some of the history of the line. There is a Waiting Room on the platform and there are toilet facilities.
In the station yard is the Ellis’s Tearoom built in the former Goods Shed of the Great Central Railway. Here a whole range of food and drink is available though the week. Disabled toilet facilities are provided behind the Tearoom.
In front of Ellis’s is a picnic area where you can enjoy the excellent food on offer and adjacent to that is the Charnwood Forest Garden Railway providing endless entertainment for young an old alike as the little G scale trains run around the alpine scenery.
So its now back to the train!
Rothley to Leicester North
Immediately the train leaves the station you will see, on the left, the Rothley Carriage Works where all the railway’s carriages and wagons are repaired and maintained. As you travel south you will see carriages and wagons to left and right that are in various stages of renovation. The train then passes over Rothley Brook on a high bridge with a golf course well below the railway to the left. Moving on the train passes along embankments and cuttings before passing under the new road bridge carrying the A46 road above. Thurcaston is visible to the right. The train then enters deepening cuttings with the Leicester suburbs appearing on both sides. The train passes a foot crossing and you willl probably hear a warning whistle as the train approaches it.
The train finally passes the remains of a concrete tank trap built in World War II before passing under the station bridge of the former Belgrave & Birstall station. We then enter Leicester North station, the terminus of the line and the end of your journey.
Leicester North Station
Leicester North is an entirely new station built during preservation. Even though this is the end of the journey that station and facilities are worth a look.
The station has a Tea Room and Waiting Room and just to the south is the Geenacres complex and its own cafe The Platform. Here you can get a range of drinks and food and enjoy the view over the City of Leicester with the National Space Centre building prominent. A fifteen minute walk will get you to that building and to the Adjacent Abbey Pumping Station with its beam engines. It is worth the walk but keep a railway timetable with you so you don’t miss the train back to Loughborough Central!