A linear route of 8 km (5 miles).
This months trek is a beautiful and very scenic 5 mile route exploring the lost ‘Hayling Billy’ railway line that used to travel from Havant to South Hayling along the western edge of the island. The old line has since been made into a trail that can be walked or cycled in either direction. We chose to catch the number 30 bus down to West Town and walk back northwards along the trail to Havant, with the wind behind us.
On 28th June 1867 the first passenger train arrived at South Hayling Station. The station here consisted of 2 platforms, a large goods shed and three goods sidings. The trek today starts in West Town at the beginning of the Billy Trail, just off Station Road and the first building to be seen is the old goods shed with its distinctive look, that has now been restored and converted into a 144 seat theatre. There are plenty of information boards at the start here, describing the history, showing the route and displaying some great pictures of the past.
Heading north on the trail, the straightness of the track is very reminiscent of an old railway line; it passes alongside the waterfront to one side and cattle fields the other, so can be quite exposed to the elements on windy days. Looking out across the harbour gives great views towards Portsmouth.
Hayling Island and the Billy Line soon became a popular holiday & day trip destination and by the 1920s the trains were carrying up to 7000 passengers on peak days. However during WW2 the island’s priorities changed and many of the holiday camps were used to house troops. The Billy Line became crucial in transporting soldiers and heavy equipment to the island, particularly as the old timber road bridge was not even strong enough to carry a bus full of passengers. Pillboxes were also constructed to form a line of defence on the island and there are around a dozen that can still be seen, a fine example of one will be passed roughly halfway along the trail.
The trail is very easy to follow and continuing northwards the old site of the North Hayling Halt is now a small car park and unfortunately not recognisable anymore. Farmers transporting their goods off the island would have used this interim station, it was designated as a request stop for anyone wanting to get on and off. A further information board situated here shows what the halt would have been like.
Just a little way up the trail from this halt can clearly be seen the oyster beds. Oyster seeds imported from France would spend the winter here before being transported to Whitstable for the summer, the train played an important role in transporting the oysters back and forth, a platform and siding was built to cope with the 700 tonnes of oysters every year, however this ceased in 1925 and active farming ended in the1970s. The area is now West Hayling Nature Reserve and an important breeding ground for seabirds.
A little further north and the trail comes to an abrupt end as the old swing bridge that would have carried the trains across the harbour is now only a series of struts in the Langstone Channel. The last train to journey down the line was in 1963 and in 1965 the old bridge was deemed unsafe and beyond economic repair. An old signal at this point has been restored and stands proud on the old route.
After walking to the remains of the bridge you’ll need to back track and take the small path around the harbour to the road bridge, the route uses this bridge and crosses the small channel here, caution is required as this is a very busy road. Back on the mainland is the village of Langstone where the Old Station Masters cottage was sited, unfortunately it was burnt down in December 2018 and only the two chimneys remain.
The trail crosses the road and the final stretch enters the suburbs of Havant. Just before Havant Station the track passes under an old bridge and passes original level crossing gates by the station.