Efforts to extend a popular cycling route through rural Somerset have taken a step forward thanks to a national transport body.

The Strawberry Line active travel route currently runs uninterrupted between Yatton railway station and Station Road in Cheddar.

The Strawberry Line Association, a registered charity, has been working with local authorities to extend the route further east, opening new sections in and around Wells and Shepton Mallet as well as enhancing existing parts of the route, such as the section through Sandford in the Mendip Hills national landscape.

The charity and its partner Greenways and Cycle Routes are currently focussed on closing the gap between Wells and Shepton Mallet, with an extension under construction near Dulcote recycling centre and a short new section being provided near Wells’ new Lidl store, which is currently being built.

National Highways has now confirmed it is actively working with both parties to open up former arches under a crucial bridge which would allow the route to be extended west towards Wells.

Stump Cross Bridge carries Ridge Road over the former railway line to the south-west of Shepton Mallet, with one of the extensions which opened in March joining the road mere yards from the bridge.

Since the railway line was closed and dismantled in 1963, the arches were filled in by “parties unknown” and the area fell in disrepair, becoming a magnet for fly-tippers.

The site was taken over in 2013 by National Highways’ historical railways estate (HRE), which manages more than 3,100 structures such as tunnels and viaducts.

National Highways has since cleared up the site, installed a bat ‘hotel’ beside one of the spans, and undertaken work to ensure the bridge could continue to carry traffic safely (including local farm traffic).

Shortly before Christmas, the organisation (formerly known as Highways England) confirmed that an extension to the Strawberry Line wasss being actively pursued as an official project.

HRE head Hélène Rossiter said: “We are really excited about Greenways and Cycle Routes’ aspirations for this site and are working closely with them to support their plans for another one of our structures to connect with the popular Strawberry Line.

“We know that there is strong community support for re-purposing Stump Cross Bridge, and we’ve taken this on board as part of our plans.

“As ever there are challenges to overcome but by working together, we can maximise our chances of success.”

The HRE’s co-operation was instrumental in ensuring a section of the Strawberry Line could be delivered in March 2023 near the Shape Mendip campus, connecting the Townsend Retail Park (including the town’s Tesco superstore) to Collett Park and the nearby homes by passing under the busy A371.

The Strawberry Line Association said this was “an exciting development regarding our  extension ambitions west from Shepton Mallet.”

For more information on the Strawberry Line, including how to get involved as a volunteer, visit www.thestrawberryline.org.uk.