The rumbling thunder and eerie whistle of a train drifts up the valley behind me. Even though I know that the train can’t follow me along this long-abandoned path, I still feel chills at its seeming closeness. It’s like that all the time on the trail–you’re never too far away to hear the sound of the nearby Norfolk Southern railroad. And as you take the twists and turns along this old railroad bed and ponder its history, you can’t help imagining a train coming at you just around the corner.
I few minutes before, I left my car back at High Bridge Park and after taking a few photos of the famous High Bridge, I set out on the trail. Almost immediately the forest engulfs me. Birds call back and forth and flit about. The trail follows the top of an old embankment. In places the old railroad ties are still somewhat intact.
After crossing a meadow and the rear of a junkyard, I come into an area cut through the rock. I pass between mossy rock walls on my left and rock and rubble on my right. A few minutes after entering the gap, I find some old concrete footers and what looks like a cistern.
Soon the rock wall of the cut ends providing the first good views of the Kentucky River. The trail is surprisingly high above the river. The rhythmic thudding of a boat motor calls to me. As if to emphasize the history of the trail, a paddleboat is making its way upstream. The faint voice of the Shakertown riverboat tour guide drifts up the cliff. Eventually the boat turns and heads back downstream and the quiet sounds of nature return.
The trail was obviously carved out of the rock along the cliff. Through the forest here a rock wall is always on left of the trail, at times towering far above me. Sometimes the trail seems to be farther from the wall. Perhaps there were once two tracks here? The path is wide enough.
The trail travels out onto a short embankment. Down to the right huge stones are stacked together. “What’s that?” I wonder. An old fort? A rock fence? I scramble down the slope to the top of the stones. It appears to be a large retaining wall, put here to keep the trail above from washing into the river far below. Standing on them they’re almost as wide as a sidewalk. There is a good view of the brown-green Kentucky River.
The forgotten remains of a barbed wire fence is embedded in the middle of a tree. Judging by the size of the tree it has been there for quite a while. Perhaps it was originally put up by the railroad?
I’m approaching a place where the railroad sliced through a hill. The rock walls tower above the trail making it seem especially narrow. The hill beside the trail would be fun to climb for a better view someday.
After the shade of the narrow gap, I blink in the sunshine. Another retaining wall is visible down to the right. Ahead is another cut through another hill. I enjoy the view here and then push on through the next hill.
Soon the trail crosses out into an open field. The soft buzzing of the bees going about their work mixes with the faint hum of the overhead electric lines. The trail passes beneath one of the towers. I smell the clover and grass in the breeze.
Leaving the meadow behind, the trail crosses a high embankment with green algae covered ponds on either side. The trail seems to be heading straight into the hillside. A tunnel! Sadly, over the years, dirt and rocks have slid down to partially fill this entrance to the tunnel. I struggle over the pile of dirt and gravel and slide down into the darkness.
The soft plink of occasional drips of water is the only sound in the tunnel. The the moist coolness of the air is a welcome relief after the hot sun. The tunnel is straight so I can see the opening at the other end. It’s just long enough that it feels almost too dark at the middle. A flashlight would be helpful. To avoid a puddle I have to scramble over some of the larger rocks that seem to have fallen from the side or top of the tunnel. The center is still fairly level and clear of obstructions. Approaching the exit, this side also has a short pile of rock and dirt, but is mostly clear.
The walls around the tunnel portal are covered in dazzling icicles. A couple inches of snow cover the ground. The snow crackles as I walk. I hear a crash ahead of me and realize that I’ve startled a deer. Her white tail waves to me as she bounces away up the hill.
The trail makes a broad curve to the right here. In the snow it is easy to pick out the old railroad bed. The backs of several houses are visible from here and the trail becomes a well-maintained path. I am forced to leave the railroad bed as it ends at a road. Perhaps at one point there was a tunnel here too.
Crossing the road, I see that a house or shed has been built about where the old railroad bed would have been. Whatever was here has been filled in. Looking ahead, I easily spot the trail again, rising on an embankment. I take a few steps down the road and rejoin the trail.
For the next half mile or so, the trail is paved. It appears to be a long driveway to a farmhouse. Tall trees line the trail. Icicles dangle from rock walls beside the trail.
The trail leaves the paved driveway and heads out across fields. The trail here feels more like a farmer’s path, and that’s probably what it’s used for now. It is nice and level and straight. It passes through the occasional grove of trees, but mostly through meadows where cows graze. No cows today in the cold.
Up ahead and to my left I can just make out the existing Norfolk Southern railroad line. A train snakes by, white smoke rising in the cold air. I continue along the trail noticing that it looks like it will eventually intersect the railroad.
The last bit of the trail is quite overgrown with underbrush. The trail leaves the meadows and enters a thicket. I’m able to follow what’s left of the railroad bed and before I know it I’m out at the tracks. I can see the signal bridge and the red Wilmore caboose ahead. It’s just a short walk and I’m in downtown Wilmore. Perhaps I’ll stop at the Cozy Cafe and get a warm cup of coffee.
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