The Real Watership Down Header

The Iron Road,

in March 1982 and June 1983.

Sorry, this should be the Iron Road from the track from Efrafa.
The Iron Road (in the trees) from the track from Efrafa.
Here's how Holly describes his first encounter with a railway embankment:

From chapter 27, 'You Can't Imagine it Unless You've Been There':

'The patrol that was after us could actually follow us in the dark and rain faster than we could run away and before long they were close behind. I was just going to tell the others that there was nothing for it but to turn and fight when we came to a great, steep bank that seemed to slope almost straight up to into the air. It was steeper that this hillside below us here, and the slope seemed to be regular, as if men had made it.
'Well, there was no time to think about it, so up we went. It was covered with rough grass and bushes. I don't know how far it was to the top exactly, but I should guess it was as high a well grown rowan tree - perhaps a little higher....'

Sorry, this should be the view to Efrafa from the Iron Road.
Efrafa from the Iron Road.
Sorry, this should be over the bridge over the Iron Road.
A rabbit's eye view over the bridge over the Iron Road.

Holly, well Adams actaully of course, was describing a different railway to the one that's there today. He was describing a steam railway and not an diesel railway.

The Efrafans were wary of going beyond
the Iron Road, and assumed that no other rabbits would either, thus the wide patrols missed
Hazel’s rabbits. In the film the situation
is more confused, probably to make
Bigwig’s entry into Efrafa more dramatic:
the area just beyond the Iron Road is the
scene of Blackavar and
Hyzenthlay’s breakout attempt.

Blackberry knows all sorts of interesting facts about Watership Down.
Here is the view back to Efrafa from a bridge that carries the track that runs south from the Crixa and a rabbit's eye view back over that bridge from the southern side. This railway line runs from Basingstoke, where it branches off the main London-Southampton line, to Salisbury where it joins the Southampton to Exeter route. This was once the route of the great Atlantic Coast Express, forever associated with the magnificent Merchant Navy locomotives. Now it is a secondary route and there are few through trains from London.

So, how do we know it was a steam railway in Watership Down? Well, as you look from the bridge carrying this track over the Iron road itself, consider the following words as Holly continues:

Sorry, this should be the Iron Road running towards Whitchurch.
The Iron Road running towards Whitchurch.

'When we got to the top we found ourselves on small, light stones that shifted as we ran on them. That gave us away completely. Then we came upon broad, flat pieces of wood and two great, fixed bars of metal that made a noise - a kind of low, humming noise in the dark. I was just saying to myself, 'This is men's work all right when I fell over the other side.
I hadn't realized that the whole top of the bank was only a very short distance across and the other side was just as steep. I went head over heels down the bank in the dark and fetched up against an elder bush: and there I lay.'
Holly stopped and fell silent, as though pondering on what he remembered. At last he said, 'It's going to be hard to describe to you what happened next... And then - then an enormous thing - I can't give you any idea of it - as big as a thousand hrududil - bigger - came rushing out of the night. It was full of smoke and light and it roared and beat on the metal lines until the ground shook beneath it....

Sorry, this should be an S15 (30825 in Barry scrapyard).
Frith's messenger?
An S15, typical of the type of loco
that ran on the Iron Road.
Holly also said the embankment '...was covered with rough grass and bushes.' In steam days the embankments were regularly cleared and treated with weedkiller from special trains. This was to reduce the ever-present risk of lineside fires. Thus most of the trees you can see either side of the track would have grown up in the fifteen years since the end of steam in 1967. My best guess would be that Holly's great messenger from Frith was actually a Ex-LSWR S15 such as this, or possibly a C1. Both were regulars on goods trains over this line which runs from Basingstoke to Salisbury, but were gone by early 1966.

Here are Graham's photos of some of the same scenes. The negative film he used is perhaps kinder to this sort of scene. Its certainly far easier to scan!

Sorry, this should be a softer view of the Iron Road.
A softer view of the Iron Road (taken using a soft-spot filter).
Sorry, this should be an S15 (30825 in Barry scrapyard).
A human's eye view over the bridge over the railway.

ReturnClick Bigwig here to return to select another location. It might be best to avoid his ears, his fleas live there!