Fortress Ilminster project wins top award

Chard & Ilminster News: The restored Donyatt Halt station where volunteers uncovered anti-tank blocks (which can be seen on the right) installed during the Second World War The restored Donyatt Halt station where volunteers uncovered anti-tank blocks (which can be seen on the right) installed during the Second World War

A RAILWAY cycle path project between Ilminster and Chard - which was heavily defended during the Second World War to try and stop any German invasion - has won a high profile award.

The project – which was unveiled in June – uncovered wartime points of interest and installed seating and information boards at points of interest along the disused Stop Line Way linking Ilminster and Chard, and running through Donyatt and Knowle St Giles.

It has now gained regional recognition by winning the Environment and Culture award from Action for Market Towns.

Volunteers, community groups and parish councils in each of the four settlements drove the project forward with Heritage Lottery Funding and the support of South Somerset District Council’s Area West Development and Countryside teams.

The council's community development officer Zoe Harris said, “The award is great achievement for the volunteers and recognises all the hard work that everyone put into this project.

"Once completed the entire coast-to-coast route will be 75 miles long and we are pleased that a section in South Somerset has won this award.”

The council's Area West chairman, Cllr Kim Turner, added: “People living locally got together and came up with this idea as a priority within their parish and community plans.

"South Somerset District Council is here to help communities push their ideas forward and we were glad to have played a part in this scheme.

“I have seen the end result and I do think it will bring many more people into the area – tourists and locals.”

New interpretation boards highlight the historic construction of the Chard to Bridgewater Canal, and the coming of the railway and Stopline which was built as a defensive measure against invasion in the Second World War.

Volunteers worked hard to uncover the hidden reminders of the war – large anti-tank blocks were placed along the old Chard to Ilminster railway line as part of a ‘fortress’ designed to stop or delay any German invasion.

Cllr Carol Goodall, who was one of the project leaders, said that partnership working was the key.

“The idea that the four different communities were working together gave the Heritage Lottery bid the edge over some of its rivals," she added."

"A lot of hard work went into the project but I feel, as do I am sure all the other involved in this work feel it was well worth the effort.”

A leaflet with a map and information about the route is now available in tourist information centres.

Sustrans, Somerset County Council and Somerset Wildlife Trust were also involved in the award-winning scheme.

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