Louth to Firsby, and beyond
South of Louth, the ELR ran straight to Alford, once it had rounded the curve near Wood Lane. South of this curve was Mablethorpe Junction, which led not just to Mablethorpe and Sutton on Sea, but back on to the main line at Willoughby, thus becoming the “Mablethorpe Loop.” On summer Saturdays only, the early-morning Cleethorpes to King’s Cross express would divert round the loop, rather than its normal route straight down the ELR (for holiday makers).
Passing Legbourne Road Station, then Authorpe, the line next came to Aby with Claythorpe, where in past times the railway was used to rush water cress from almost the lineside to London. Next was Alford Town, renamed from simply “Alford” at the time of the grouping, so as not to be confused by LNER staff with Alford west of Aberdeen! Alford Town was somewhat west of the main town.
Willoughby Junction, a star in the annual best-kept station awards, was just a mile or two south of Alford round the first bend since Louth. Visible from the station to the south was the Clover Milk dairy with its tall brick chimney and private sidings. Holiday “specials” came mostly from the south, leaving the ELR at Willoughby, and continuing along the loop line to Sutton-on-Sea to Mablethorpe.
Burgh le Marsh, round a large sweeping bend, came next though its station was a considerable distance from the village from which it took its name, and by now the Lincolnshire Wolds on the west of the line are beginning to disappear. The railway now journeys into the vast skies and flat landscape of the fens, coming to Firsby Junction, which was, before the arrival of the railway, and has now again become “in the middle of nowhere!” However, whilst the railway was here it was an important and imposing station, being on the main line from King’s Cross, Peterborough and Boston to Louth and Grimsby to the north .... and terminus of both the Spilsby Branch, and the Skegness branch!
Originally, Skegness trains had to use the line from Firsby Station to gain their line to the seaside, and the bay platform was used for this. Even trains from the south had to come into the station, and then reverse on to the Skegness line, using either Platform 1 or the bay Platform 3. This led to a bizarre layout (which I thought I had misinterpreted until reading the explanation in one of A J Ludlam’s excellent books). Trains could gain the Skegness line from Platform 1 and Platform 3, but NOT directly from Platform 2! So any trains approaching from the north had to pass through Platform 2, and then reverse into either of the other two platforms before proceeding to Skegness. Apparently for years, requests were made for a slip to access the line direct from the north, but these went unheeded! So, should you wish to run an excursion train from the north to Skegness .... I’m afraid you’ll have to adopt the same procedures as were done in real life!
Platform 1 was bi-directional. You will find a three-signal post at the south end of Platform 1. The upper signal is for the Skegness Branch, the middle signal for the main line heading south, and the lower signal is for the Spilsby Branch.
As Skegness grew in popularity, the reversing necessary at Firsby became intolerable, so a line was put in to access the Skegness Branch directly from the south. This necessitated two extra signal boxes - Firsby South and Firsby East. The triangle thus formed had its uses! Once Mablethorpe started receiving larger engines than its turntable could cope with, they would uncouple from their stock and be sent in ones, twos or threes down to the Firsby triangle to be turned. The same applied to Skegness engines, though Skegness had first a turntable, and afterwards a triangle of its own, to do this.
Heading south from Firsby on the main line, we pass through Little Steeping, and now deep in Fen country pass the lonely Bellwater Junction where the “New Line” heads off west.
As the line continues straight as a dye towards Boston, the virtual route stops just south of Eastville.