The Lenton Railway Triangle

Warning – post may contain irresponsible behaviour

1899 Ordnance Survey map extract
1899 Ordnance Survey map extract

I’ve been fascinated for many years by the area of land enclosed by a triangle of railway tracks to the south of Castle Marina in Lenton. The formal designations of the junctions at the three points of the railway  triangle are Lenton North Junction, Lenton South Junction and, at the eastern point, Mansfield Junction.

I’d begun to call this area of land the Lenton Triangle, but soon realised that, these days, the expression is more commonly taken to mean the area of Lenton bounded by Faraday Road, Ilkeston Road and Derby Road. However, there’s no escaping the triangular nature of the site – its prime defining feature, in fact – so I propose that it should be referred to as the Lenton Railway Triangle.

A fascinating 1987 article in the Lenton Listener reveals that, at that time, as part of the Castle Marina development, there was a proposal to build houses on the eastern portion of the triangle (having first removed the railway track between Lenton North Junction and Mansfield Junction), and to construct a lake, open area and tennis courts in its western portion, with a small conservation area remaining to the southwest.

The section of line between Mansfield Junction and Lenton South Junction first came into being as part of the Derby to Nottingham railway, opened in 1839 by the Midland Counties Railway, while the section between Mansfield Junction and Lenton North Junction was originally laid as part of the Nottingham to Kirkby-in-Ashfield line opened by the Midland Railway in 1848. The curve connecting Lenton North Junction with Lenton South Junction (Lenton South Curve) was presumably added not long after that, thus completing the triangle and largely isolating the land in-between the tracks (a hand-drawn map in the 1969 publication entitled The Railways of Nottingham (which accompanied an exhibition of the same name at Wollaton Hall) indicates that Lenton South Curve was added sometime between 1850 and 1879, which would mean that the full triangle of tracks has been in place for between 139 and 168 years as of 2018).

I’d assumed at first that the isolation of the land in-between the tracks would have been complete. However, study of historical maps of the area shows that a footpath, linking what is now Lenton Lane with the area to the east of what is now Meadows Way, ran through the southwest corner of the site until sometime during the first half of the twentieth century, access to and from the land inside the triangle apparently being maintained via foot tunnels underneath the Lenton South Curve and the Nottingham to Derby line (though the existence of a tunnel under the former is more clearly indicated on the 1899 OS map than its presumed companion under the latter).

On its route through this part of the site, the footpath crossed a stream/drainage channel (which is still there today and runs roughly south-southeast from a point near Lenton North Junction) by way of a footbridge that is no longer marked on modern maps.

These features alone seemed to merit some sort of exploration, so, on an unseasonably hot April evening, a friend and I set out to see what we could find.

Other than donning a pair of walking boots, neither I nor my companion had given much thought to the practicalities of the expedition. Diving into the part of the site nearest to Mansfield Junction, with a plan to reach the watercourse and to see if there were any remains of the footpath, footbridge or tunnel(s), while doing our level best to avoid detection by passing train drivers, we soon found that the task of reaching the other end of the triangle was going to be somewhat more arduous than we had anticipated, the terrain being, at this point in time, markedly different to the accessible-looking surrounds portrayed by the satellite imagery that I had consulted beforehand.

Dense swathes of tall, brittle, bamboo-like Japanese knotweed canes impeded our progress, aided and abetted by bramble and raspberry stems and rosebay willowherb, the only real relief coming with the assistance of an occasional tree.

Slowly but surely, sweating profusely, thorn-induced damage to skin and clothing accumulating with each metre gained, we closed in on our target, unaware that the noise generated by our activities had been heard by another friend who, knowing that we’d planned to explore the site this evening, had poked his head over a nearby fence on the other side of the tracks to have a look at this hidden Shangri-La that I’d been banging on about for so long.

I’d hoped that we might have time to seek out some interesting artefacts from the time before the railway arrived (I remembered seeing an incongruously-sited gate once, while travelling past on a train) – or even something of a more recent vintage – but our physical discomfort, the gradually fading light and the ever-present need to stay out of sight of the passing trains caused us to press on before, finally, we caught a glimpse of flowing water.

As we emerged out onto the top of the bank that sloped down towards the stream, the arcadian scene before us seemed quite improbable given the nature of the triangle’s surroundings. We watched as the water in the channel down below moved serenely towards its final destination, wherever that might be, before starting to make our way towards the historical location of the footbridge.

As our progress was slowed once again by the surrounding vegetation, we noticed that the light had now diminished to the point where, even if we weren’t exactly in any danger of being trapped here overnight, if we delayed our return journey, it was likely to take us far longer to navigate our way back out.

With some reluctance, we made the decision to turn back. The discovery or otherwise of any remains of the footpath and its associated structures would have to wait for another day.

Reader, we made it home safely. Lewis and Clark we are not, but in this day and age, when so many activities have ended up as diluted, anodyne exercises in officially-sanctioned, health and safety-conscious banality, our little adventure had made us feel truly alive, if only for a short time.

The Lenton Railway Triangle had started to give up its secrets.

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