The Coal Stroll: unearthing the ancient ‘Fly Line’

Map of the walk

The route of the old Aberford Fly Line

It turns out that I’ve been living on the doorstep of a really old rail link that helped two towns thrive in the nineteenth century when coal ruled Britain – and I didn’t even know it.

After accidentally stumbling across the walk during a speculative internet search about the local landscape, I decided to use the Bank Holiday weekend to uncover the history of the Fly Line – a now disbanded track between Garforth and Aberford in West Yorkshire.

Along the three-mile route I came across several buildings still wearing the scars of their coal mining heritage. I even discovered the remains of an old carriage. Now, a hundred years on, it’s broken down and almost hidden by the leaves and branches of a local wood.

The walk: Garforth – Aberford Fly Line

The Ash Lane signpost with the lane stretching down into the distance The top half of an old carriage rotting in the woods. A path running ahead and underneath a motorway. A view of the path leading to Lily Pit Cottage in the distance. Bluebells in the woods A road leading to the Parlington Estate A sign that reads 'Gamekeeper's Cottage' on the entrance gate. A sign for walkers and cyclists on a post with a tunnel entrance in the distance. A view from inside the Dark Arch showing old brickwork. A bridge over the path ahead. A large disused quarry. An old brick wall winds down to Aberford in the distance.The journey began at the top of Ash Lane in Garforth – just round the corner from my house. It really is an inconspicuous start to the walk, but the line didn’t start there. To understand where it originally began needs a lot of imagination since the sidings to Garforth’s pits – and the pits themselves – have been covered by the concrete of a Tesco car park, a housing estate and a dozen warehouses.

Helpfully, this map on the excellent Parlington Hall website shows you where things used to be.

The walk takes you down Ash Lane, past where the Isabella pit used to be, and out to Hawk’s Nest Wood – where the old carriage lays rotting. Apparently a family used to live in it many years ago. It’s hard to imagine now, given the state it’s in.

Beyond there, it takes you past the former sites of the Elizabeth and Lily pits. The M1 now crosses the Fly Line where the old Lily pit used to be, creating this tunnel that wouldn’t have existed when the line was opened in 1834. The tunnel is graced with some amusing graffiti (although you won’t find it amusing if you’re Phoebe Woods).

The picture on the left shows you what the path is like. I’m not sure whether those are the old rails pushing the surface up or something else, but in the distance on the left is Lily Pit Cottage – the pit is long gone but the cottage is still lived in.

Once past the M1 you continue to trace the Fly Line north and through a wooded area. Since I did this walk during May, I came across plenty of bluebells.

The area is pretty dense with trees, but after half a mile or so the track bends to the right a bit and joins Parlington Lane – the road that runs through the old Parlington Estate.

This is where Parlington Hall used to be. I understand that it’s not there any more. There’s a really good website about the history of the Hall, the estate and the wider area of Aberford and Garforth – and it’s updated regularly. The author provides a much better description of the walk and offers more historical detail, so if you live in the area or just fancy a walk along an old rail line because you’re a train geek, check it out.

I’m sure there should be an apostrophe in ‘Gamekeepers Cottage’ but this was a walk in the countryside, so I decided to have a day off and not think about grammar.

Just beyond the Gamekeeper’s Cottage is a tunnel that runs for 200 yards or so. It was a bit creepy. As I understand it, the tunnel wasn’t built for the Fly Line – in fact the trains used to run alongside it, not in it. The Parlington Hall website offers more insight into the purpose of what’s called the Dark Arch, so that’s worth reading too.

A few minutes’ walk on from the Dark Arch is the Light Arch. As you’d expect from the name, this is a much shorter tunnel. In fact it’s more of a bridge. This, as I understand it, was built to carry an estate road over the line. Again, the Parlington Hall website has more information.

For more details from a rail perspective, check out the LNER Encyclopaedia website, which gives great detail about Garforth’s coal pits, the Gascoigne family who used to own the pits, and of course the Fly Line. It’s got some great black and white photos on there too.

Parlington Lane is, as the name would suggest, an established lane. Although it’s wide enough to take cars, it’s not a tarmacked surface and so traffic is non existent. As a result, it makes the area an idea route to cycle on.

Further down the line from the Light Arch is an old abandoned quarry. I think the train used to stop here as there was an old wall that may have been a station entrance or platform. I had to go and stand in it to give the photo some scale.

From the quarry it was just a short walk down the hill to Aberford. There’s an established wall on the left as you come out of the wood, which the track used to hug as it winds its way down to Aberford terminus.

The depot manager’s office, where the coal staithes used to be, still exists, although now it’s a residential property (the white house in the distance in this photo on the left).

I’m not a train enthusiast but I must admit I found myself intrigued by the history of the line – particularly because it was right on my doorstep. It’s a great way to spend a spare Sunday afternoon and comes recommended!


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