Reading has its very own crumbling monument to Edwardian civilisation lurking behind a BP garage on Rose Kiln Lane. The Coley branch line was built in 1908 and decommissioned in 1983. It ran a short distance from the Basingstoke railway line, just south of Reading West station, to the wharves along the Kennet at Fobney Street.
Some of the original rail tracks can still be seen on Fobney Street where the goods yard used to be, and the route of the track is still clearly visible on maps, albeit now overgrown and derelict. As it passes the new and gigantically orange Lok’n’Store depot, the A33 follows the route of the old Coley branch line under the Berkeley Avenue bridge.
The most interesting part of the Coley branch line starts behind the petrol station at the Rose Kiln Lane junction where an overgrown and obscured footpath at the south east corner of the retail complex leads directly onto the railway embankment.
The route is used by ramblers, runners and the occasional cyclist, but most of its denizens are wildlife. There is at least one large badger sett on the route, and roe deer haunt the reeds, marshes and brooks through which the railway once ran. Thirty years of unchecked growth has resulted in dense and occasionally grotesque woodland along the sides of each embankment.
The railway crosses the Holy Brook over an elegant single span brick bridge, now much festooned with brambles. One of the Coley Park tower blocks on Wensley Road is visible from this bridge and looks rather like a Mayan temple set amidst riotous jungle foliage.
The track runs across a tall, dark brick bridge over a now disused farm track shortly before joining the existing Basingstoke railway line at Southcote junction. Many offerings from the early twenty-first century have been left at the base of this monument from the early twentieth.
The route comes to an end as unceremonious as its start; there is merely a break in the galvanized fencing along one side of the metalled footpath between Wensley Road and Southcote Farm Lane and you are jettisoned back into modern suburbia.