The Real Watership Down Header

The Arch under the Iron Road,

in May 1983.


From chapter 27, 'You Can't Imagine it Unless You've been there':

''For a long time I couldn't move. At last I got up and found the others, one by one, in the dark. None of us said a word. At the bottom of the slope we discovered a kind of tunnel that went right through the bank from one side to the other. We crept into it and came out on the side where we'd gone up. Then we went a long way through the fields, until I reckoned we must be clear of Efrafa.'

And from chapter 37, 'The Thunder Builds Up.'

'As the light faded from the thick sky, Hazel slipped once more across the hard, bare earth under the railway arch, came out on the north side and sat up to listen... They returned under arch and as Silver came out of the bushes to meet them, they could hear the other rabbits stirring uneasily among the nettles.'

The film, which features this location,
was effectively written as it went along, which perhaps explains some things. Martin Rosen had never written or directed an animated film when
he took over both jobs from John Hubley.
Scenes ended up being written just
before being animated, perhaps without
a really clear idea of how the story should
be told.
It turned out well, considering…

Blackberry knows all sorts of interesting facts about Watership Down.
Sorry, this should be the Arch under the Iron Road.
The Roadless Arch under the Iron Road.
High-res

The view above is of the arch from the south, Efrafa lies beyond. In the film this was accurately portrayed, fences and all, only the crops were different. The tracks were considerably tidied up as the setting for Bigwig and the Efrafan does to shelter under the bridge while waiting for Kehaar to turn up. Then the General and the owslafa came over the embankment and down the bank nearest the camera and confronted Bigwig.

Sorry, this should be the roadless railway arch, or an under-bridge.
The arch, or an underbridge in railway jargon.
High-res
The lightning struck and Kehaar finally got the message and flew in to attack Woundwort. The rabbits perhaps thought of everything in two dimensions and could not comprehend Kehaar waiting on the bridge above them. In the book, however, all this action takes place in the field beyond.

This is the view of the arch from the north, the Efrafan side. The river Test lies in the distance beyond.

There's another page with more photos of the roadless railway arch.

Sorry, this should be Watership style graffiti on the arch.
Watership style graffiti on the arch.
It is not very easy to get to, yet some others had before me and they had gone equipped with chalk as can be seen here.

Although the railway arch features frequently in the book and is a central point in the film it is never described in detail by Richard Adams. I fact, as you can see above, it is a short three arch brick viaduct. If you look closely you will be able to see that it is was built from two types of brick showing it was originally built to carry a single track and was extended on the north side when the line was later doubled. It is what is termed an 'occupational crossing' i.e. it was built to allow access between two parts of land, in this case farm fields, that the newly built line had divided. This was done at the railway companies expense as an obligation of the original Act of Parliament that was passed authorising the line's construction. That is why it is roadless, the only traffic it was built to serve was the horse drawn farm cart. Quite a piece of engineering - just for a cart!

The arch serves to separate Efrafa from the rest of the world, the railway line marks the southern boundary of Woundwort's influence, there are no equivalent features on the other three sides so in effect the railway 'encircles' Efrafa, metaphorically at least. The land north of Efrafa is interesting in it's own right and perhaps may have been expected to feature in any sequel. However 'Tales from Watership Down' does not use this useful resource.

It is also interesting to compare the Watership Down area with the surrounding countryside. It is the only large area for many miles that remains largely intact. Almost anywhere else in Hampshire and Berkshire the rabbits would not have been able to travel so far without encountering some town or village. The roughly rectangular area covered by the book Watership Down is an agricultural region of unique variety, an area of outstanding unnatural beauty and is worthy of any attempts to preserve it intact.

Sorry, this should be the view south from the arch to the river.
South from the arch to the river.
High-res
This is the view southwards from the roadless railway arch towards the water meadows and the river Test. A few tens of yards ahead of you is where Kehaar attacked the General during the flight to the Test. In the film it all happened on the bank to your left. The insubstantial fence that stretches across the gap is to prevent grazing cows from wandering through the arch in search of greener pastures. Note the corner fence post, does that look familiar? It should do, Bigwig stopped by it a number of times in the film, such as in this scene:
Sorry, this should be Bigwig approaching Efrafa.
Bigwig approaching Efrafa

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