Retro: Sundew’s epic walk to Corby

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In the summer of 1974, Sundew, the world’s largest walking dragline set off on an epic journey from Exton Park in Rutland to Corby – a 13-mile distance which took nine weeks to complete.

It was an astonishing feat of engineering which captured the imagination of people in the area and a feat which has entered in to folklore.

Sundew, the walking dragline excavator

Sundew, the walking dragline excavator

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sundew’s journey Rock By Rail – The living Ironstone Museum at Cottesmore is planning a special event and residents are invited to take part by sending in photographs, cine film and their memories of the astonishing feat.

The Great Walk will be commemorated at the museum in Cottesmore on July 20 when volunteers hope to have assembled a photographic timeline and an exhibition on the journey.

Steve Parker, one of the museum’s volunteers, said: “There was tremendous interest in Sundew’s walk at the time. It was a mammoth feat of engineering and the machine entered folklore in the region.

“Today there is still tremendous interest in Sundew.

“We are hoping to collect as many pictures as we can, taken by people during that summer of 1974, to display in our Sundew cafe.

“We would also be interested in any pictures people may have of the machine working at either Exton Park or Corby.

“We would also like to hear from people who worked with Sundew at those two places, or helped it along the way.

“It would be lovely if they could come along on the day to talk about their memories of Sundew.”

Built by Ransomes & Rapier, the excavator was named after the winning horse in the 1957 Grand National.

Weighing 1,675 tons, at the time it was the largest walking dragline in the world with a reach of 86 metres and a bucket capacity of 27 tons.

It moved with the use of two large moveable feet which could be used to “walk” the dragline forwards and backwards and its direction was controlled by a large circular turntable under the body of the machine.

Sundew worked at a Rutland iron ore quarry belonging to the United Steel Companies (Ore Mining Branch) until operations there finished in 1974.

Plans were made to move it to a recently opened British Steel quarry near Corby but dismantling it, moving it and rebuilding it at the new site was not viable.

It had taken two years to build and cost £250,000.

It was decided that the best option was to walk it to its new location and during the journey Sundew crossed three water mains, 10 roads, a railway line, two gas mains and a river before arriving at its new home north of Corby.

Sundew even enjoyed national fame when it was featured on the children’s television programme Blue Peter, being driven by presenter John Noakes.

On July 4, 1980, Sundew walked to its final resting place and the huge boom was lowered onto a purpose built earth mound, before being scrapped in 1987.

Its cab is now a prize exhibit at the museum in Cottesmore and volunteers are planning to restore it to its former glory as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of its huge walk.

Mr Parker said: “We will be holding a barbecue in the shadow of Sundew’s driving cab and it would be fantastic to share people’s memories of quarrying with these vast machines.”

Anyone who has photographs or cine film which they would like to lend the museum, or memories of The Great Walk, can email them to Mr Parker at hanglands@gmail.com, drop them in at the museum in Ashwell Road, Cottesmore, Oakham, on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Sundays, between 11am and 4pm, or send them to the museum.

Museum

Visitors to The Living Ironstone Museum at Cottesmore can explore how ore was mined in the area for decades.

A section rail line runs in to the quarry area and passes the digger playpen where old machines are put through their paces on a regular basis.

A viewing area allows visitors to look in to the quarry area where limestone has been stripped away to reveal the ironstone ore beds.

The trail includes Sundew’s cab where visitors can climb aboard and enjoy a driver’s view of the whole working area.