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Saturday, 1 September 2018

NGRUK Home Page

Snap of Prince and Blanche at Tan-y-Bwlch in the mid 1960s
I have been fascinated by narrow gauge railways for at least the past 50 years - since a family holiday in North Wales when I was a youngster and quite by chance we camped beside the Festiniog Railway. Over the years I have visited several preserved narrow gauge railways and tramped the trackbeds of many abandoned lines. Having just retired from full time work I decided it was time I catalogued more fully my interests and my various wanderings. This blog aims to encapsulate an accumulation of information, images and video clips.

Over the coming years I intend to visit (and re-visit) the sites of narrow gauge railways in the UK accessible to the public and record the outcome of my visits and researches. The outcome will no doubt be idiosyncratic and completely partial - I am, after all, only human!

The accepted definition of 'narrow gauge' includes railways with a gauge of less than 4' 8½". This should therefore include miniature railways. However, as there are nearly 500 railways in the UK which fit this description I have decided initially to concentrate on passenger carrying and commercial railways with a gauge between 12" and 4' 8½".

Below you will find a list of the railways which fit my parameters outlined above. I think I have listed the passenger carrying and commercial lines which have existed or do exist in the UK (with a gauge greater than 12") - however, I have found it is quite difficult to find a definitive list - railways seem to come and go at will. In addition, I have plotted all the railways on a Google Map, to help me plan my visits.

View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map

You will notice that this list has around fifty 'live' entries so far out of just over 200 possible railways. I am intending to start from scratch - visiting and revisiting each railway but, this time, being more systematic in the information, images and videos I collect.

 Narrow Gauge Railways in England
Narrow Gauge Railways Railways in Wales

Narrow Gauge Railways in Scotland
  • Alford Valley Railway (2')
  • Almond Valley Heritage Centre (2' 6")
  • Campbeltown and Machrihanish (2’3”)
  • Clyde Valley Railway (2')
  • Craigtoun Park Railway (15")
  • East Links Railway (2')
  • Glasgow Underground Railway (4')
  • Leadhills & Wanlockhead Railway (2')
Narrow Gauge Railways in Ireland
  • Arigna Mines Experience (2')
  • Ballymena, Cushendall & Red Bay (3’)
  • Ballymena & Larne (3’)
  • Ballycastle  (3’)
  • Castlerigg & Victoria Bridge Tramway (3’)
  • Cavan & Leitrim Railway (3')
  • Clogher Valley tramway (3’)
  • Cork, Blackrock & Passage (3’ (originally 5’3”))
  • Cork & Muskerry Light Railway (3’)
  • County Donegal Railway (3’3”)
  • Difflin Lake Railway (15")
  • County Donegal  (3’) 
  • Fintown & Glenties Railway (3')
  • Giants Causeway & Bushmills Railway (3')
  • Irish Steam Preservation Society (3')
  • Lartigue Monorail and Museum (0')
  • Leisureland Funworld Express (2')
  • Londonderry & Lough Swilly (3’)
  • Peatlands Park (3')
  • Schull & Skibbereen (3’) 
  • Stradbally Railway  (Railway Preservation Society of Ireland) (3')
  • Sunshine Peat Co. (2' 6")
  • Tralee & Blennerville Railway (3')
  • Tralee & Dingle (3’)
  • Tramore Miniature Railway (15")
  • Waterford & Suir Valley Railway (3')
  • West Clare Railway (3')
  • West Clare  (3’)
  • Westport House (15")
Narrow Gauge Railways elsewhere
Isle of Man
Channel Islands
    • Jersey Railway (3’6”)
    • Pallot Steam Museum (2' ??)

      Background research
      To inform my visits I have been conducting more generalised background research on the history and development of narrow gauge railways in the UK and Ireland. From time to time I will share the outcome of my researches here:

      Progress Reports
      Over time I will keep posting general progress reports in addition to the postings on railways I have visited. These will be presented here in chronological order.

      You may also be interested in my other two blogs which are slightly interrelated:
      • Swiss Railway Tour - A ten day trip I organised in 2007 to travel on what I considered to be the most well known railways in Switzerland
      • Peckforton Garden Railway - My 15mm scale garden railway depicting a fictional three foot narrow gauge railway supposedly situated in the Cheshire countryside.

      Friday, 18 May 2018

      Saltburn Cliff Railway

      In a nutshell

      Gauge:         4' 8½" (so not strictly narrow gauge - but deserves an honorary mention)

      Length:      207'

      Opened:     1884 (previously 1870 - 1883)


      Lower Promenade
      TS12 1HQ 

      Tel: 01287 622528 

      Date of visit:     23 July 2017

      Key Facts

      • It is the oldest operating water-balance funicular cliff railwayin the United Kingdom
      • It was first built in 1870, shortly after the Stockton and Darlington Railway (the first passenger carrying railway in the world) reached Saltburn
      • It was rebuilt in its present form in 1884
      • It is a water-balanced funicular railway, which means that each passenger car has a large water tank beneath the passenger compartment. When a car reaches the top of the lift, water is poured into the tank. The weight of the water counterbalances the weight of the other car which is connected to the first car with a cable. When the car reaches the bottom of the lift, the water is released from the tank and the process is repeated.
      • The cars carry up to 12 passengers
      • Their water tanks each hold 240 gallons (1100 litres)
      • The water released at the bottom of the lift held in a large reservoir tank and the water is pumped back up to another reservoir tank at the top of the lift.
      • The lift was refurbished in 1955, 1979, 1991, 2014 and 2018.



      My Impressions

      Having visited Saltburn to photograph and ride on the Saltburn Miniature Railway, I felt I must travel on the Cliff Lift which is only a short walk from the railway. Although the lift is not narrow gauge, I felt its history and status warranted inclusion on my blog - a sort of honorary narrow gauge railway.

      After watching the cars rise and descend a couple of times ......

      ... we paid our fare at the ticket booth at the base of the lift and made our way into the carriage.

      The first thing which caught our attention was the stained glass windows which had been reinstated when the lift was refurbished in 1991.

      Within a few minutes our carriage filled with passengers and the doors were closed by the attendant.
      Very gently, the carriage made its way up the track, passing the descending car at the half-way point.

      We then reached the booth at the top of the lift, passing beside the water-filling mechanism.

      We watched the attendant at the upper booth going about the business of operating the water filling machinery and braking system as the cars ascended and descended.

      Finding the whole process fascinating.

      Although the cost per mile of the ticket is probably quite substantial, we felt it was well worth the modest outlay to help ensure that the lift is kept operational in its original condition. The staff are clearly very proud of this piece of Victorian technology and were willing to knowledgeably discuss its maintenance and operation.


      Wednesday, 28 June 2017

      Progress Report 5

      Well, as you can see, it's been quite a while since I posted my previous Progress Report - over three years. I have been making visits to railway in that period but they have been less frequent. Partly, this is because the railways which I have yet to visit are now further away, having visited most of the railways which are within a day's travel of my home in Cheshire.

      Since my last report in 2014, I have visited:
      So, I've not exactly been idle.

      Over the past eighteen months, health problems with various members of my immediate family have restricted my ability to travel far from home. We are hoping that these problems are now becoming resolved and so have plans to visit a few railways in the North East over the next few weeks and maybe take in a couple en route.

      There are still plenty of railways on the list which need to be visited, scattered widely across the country from the South West (eg Seaton Tramway and Bicton) to the far North (eg the Alford Valley Railway in Aberdeenshire) and, of course, we've not yet touched any in Ireland.

      At least two of the railways on the list seem to have closed but I will leave them in place just in case they are resurrected, as has happened with the Teifi Valley Railway, which is now one of the last railways to be visited on my Welsh list.

      I was disappointed that I was denied access to the TwinLakes Leisure Park - because I was a lone adult male unaccompanied by children. Even when I explained that I wanted only to travel on the railway and would be happy to be chaperoned, I was told it was company policy. It does seem to be a sad reflection of our times (and especially galling as I was a primary school teacher for many years). I may have to reconsider visiting the miniature railways which are located inside other leisure parks - or maybe await the arrival of a grandchild .......... !!

      Apedale Valley
      I am in no mad rush (as yet) to complete my quest - I am presently around 1/3 of the way down the list.  I am still enjoying visiting parts of the country which I might otherwise have never visited ..... and we now have a small caravan, which might help ease the cost of more distant visits.

      As indicated, the rate of visitations is inevitably slowing as the unvisited railways become more distant and geographically diverse. In the meantime, I have actually re-visited some of the railways and updated their entries accordingly (eg  Apedale Valley, Ffestiniog, Talyllyn).

      I will keep you posted!

      Thursday, 11 August 2016

      Morwellham Quay - Copper Mine Tramway

      In a nutshell

      Gauge:         2'

      Length:       Approx ¾ mile overall

      Opened:     Originally mid 19th century
                         Visitor tramway - early 1970s


      Morwellham Quay
      PL19 8JL
      United Kingdom

      Tel.:        01822 832766 


      Date of visit:     9 June 2015


      Key Facts

      • Morwellham Quay was established in at least 1105 and remained important as a harbour well into the 19th century when it became the biggest exporter of copper in the British Empire with vessels of up to 300 tonnes using the quays.
      • The George and Charlotte copper mine through which the railway runs was opened in 1718 when it was known as the Providence Mine.  The George and Charlotte Mine is first mentioned in documentary sources from 1775.
      • The tramway runs 460 metres into the Deep Adit of the mine and passed an underground waterwheel which was used to pump water out of the lower levels of the mine 350 feet below.
      • In addition to copper and arsenic, the mine yielded a number of rare minerals including the largest known crystals of childrenite in the world.
      • Between 1862 and 1867 the mine reached its peak production, but it closed in 1868. It was reopened from 1869 to 1871. 
      • In the early 1970s, a new access to Footway Shaft was created to allow the narrow gauge tramway to be constructed. The railway travels for over 480 metres into the mine.
      • The railway follows the entrance to Deep Adit, just above the River Tamar, and extends past Whim Shaft, an internal shaft, the bottom of Crosscourse Shaft, and past Ley's Shaft towards Downs Shaft.
      • This adit was the main water drain for the mine and also the principal means of access for materials.
      • The adit roof is approximately 2 metres high and 1.8 metres wide. 
      • In 1985/86 the 'New Quay Drive' railway tunnel excavation (through virgin rock) connected the side of Deep Adit (at a point approximately 200 metres from the portal) to a new railway tunnel portal, via Engine Shaft thereby making a balloon loop for the railway.
      • The railway uses battery powered locomotives and specially built 'carriages' for the visitors.



      My Impressions

      After parking and making my way through the ticket office and shop for the Morwellham Quay site, I made my way down towards the quays and the main exhibits

      The site itself looked very interesting but I was anxious to make my way directly to the Mine Tramway as I heard it can become very busy at peak times. After passing through the main village, I headed upwards behind the white buildings on the right to the Mine Tramway station.

      A small queue was forming and we had to wait as a party of French schoolchildren were pre-booked on to first train.

      Before long another train pulled into the station ......

      .... and before boarding there was a brief opportunity to admire the one of the BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) which would be our motive power for the journey underground.

      We were ushered aboard the passenger coaches and given safety instructions. I managed to secure a place directly behind the loco - an advantage of getting there promptly and waiting .....

      ....... and before long we were off. The first quarter of a mile or so of track took us alongside the River Tamar which we glimpsed from time to time through the trees and bushes which lined the railway ......

      ..... and then we reached the entrance to the mine itself - which looked quite unprepossessing and utilitarian.

       The train wound its way through various galleries and tunnels where clearances were quite tight - which explains the cage-like structure surrounding each carriage.

      At intervals we stopped and our driver informed us about the history and working practices in the mine.

       The conditions were harsh and much of the work was done by hand. It seems hard to believe that, at one point, this mine and those surrounding it were the most productive in the whole of the British Empire.

      After negotiating a few more twists and turns, we came to what was, for me, the highlight of the tour .... the underground waterwheel.

      Not easy to photograph through the grille of the carriage roof, the waterwheel, which has been restored to working-order, was used to pump water from the lower chambers of the mine, which extended up to 350 feet below us.

      We then set forth one more ........

      ..... until, ultimately, daylight was seen once more.

      We emerged into outside world and made our way to a run round loop, ........

      ..... which gave us some tantalising glimpses of yet more industrial archaeological sites beside the river.

      The loco ran around its train ......

       ..... and we then made our way back up the valley ....

      .....  passing en route, the entrance to the mine which we used previously.

      We now retraced our tracks .....

      ...... before arriving at the station once more.

       There was time to watch the loco run round its train .....

      ..... before it made ready for the next batch of visitors.

      There was time for me to visit a few more of the exhibits .....

      .... including the house which had been used for the filming of the TV documentary about the Edwardian Farm.

      I was very impressed with the mine tramway. It afforded us with the opportunity to venture into the workings of a real copper mine and gain some idea of the sorts of conditions in which this important ore was extracted during the Victorian era.

      I thoroughly enjoyed my visit - not only to the railway - but also to the whole site - and the corned beef hash which I enjoyed in the café
      was also something to savour.


      Saturday, 6 August 2016

      Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway

      In a nutshell

      Gauge:          2'

      Length:         3 miles (4.8km)

      Opened:       20 November 1919 - closed 1969 (for commercial traffic)
                           Reopened 1968 (first preservation train)



      Tel:       01525 373888


      Date of visit:     31 July 2016


      Key Facts

      • The railway was built just after the First World War to link the Double Arches sand quarries with the mainline railway south of the town at Grovebury sidings. 
      • It was constructed using surplus equipment from the War Department.
      • Two Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T locomotives were originally used on the line but they were unable to cope with the sharp radius curves in the railway and so were sold in 1921. 
      • It then became one of the first railways in Britain entirely operated by internal combustion locomotives (mostly Motor Rail / Simplex locos).
      • After WWII, most of the sand traffic was handled by road vehicles and so the railway declined. It closed to commercial traffic in 1969.
      • It was immediately taken over by a Preservation Group which had started running trains along the tracks in 1968
      • The present terminus, Page's Park, was where sand trains waited in sidings before crossing the road to the washers and transhipment sidings for the mainline railway
      • The route now passes through housing estates which were built in the 1970s before striking out into open country, passing some of the now disused sand quarries on the way
      • The line terminates at Stonehenge Works where the line's workshops are based. Beside the station is the brickworks after which the station takes its name
      • The railway houses one of the largest collections of narrow gauge locomotives in the country - and recently ran a train headed by sixteen of their internal-combustion powered locomotives.



      My Impressions

      Having never been to Leighton Buzzard before, I was pleasantly surprised by the location of the main terminus for the railway, being situated at the edge of a park. The first thing I noticed was the impressive, recently opened main building - very grand for a preservation railway.

      After buying my ticket and browsing through the secondhand railway books, I made my way to the platform for the first train of the day.

      Our locomotive was one of the line's O&K 0-6-0WT locos, Elf. She was being made ready before departure.

       I boarded one of the open-sided bogie coaches and before long we were chugging along the line. After skirting Page's Park ......

      ..... we very soon started making our way through various housing estates, which must make this railway fairly unique in the UK. We then crossed one of the many level crossings on the route - Stanbridge Road.

      At  Leedon Loop, the driver exchanged tokens .......

      ....... before we once more passed through housing estates and level crossings.

      On reaching the edge of the town we passed over Vandyke Road.....

      .... after which the line took an abrupt right turn. While pausing for the guards to reboard the train we could admire the recently landscaped wild flower meadow .....

      ..... before running alongside Vandyke Road and out into the countryside.

      After a mile or so we reached the Redland Brickworks ......

      .... before rolling into the line's terminus - Stonehenge Works.

      Here there were opportunities to view some of the exhibits and browse the exhibition showing the history of the railway and its connection to the World War I Light Railways.

       After watching the loco take on water .....

      and run round its train ....

      ..... I boarded once more for departure.

      Passing the wildflower meadow once more, we re-entered the outskirts of the town .......

      ...... passed the spur showing one of the branches to a former sand quarry .......

      ...... before passing Beaudesert (an Alan Keef diesel) on a Down train at Leedon Loop.

      We ultimately steamed back into Page's Park station to terminate our journey.

      After watching Elf run round her train ......

      ..... receive some ongoing maintenance ....

       ..... before departing once more, .....

      ..... I partook of an excellent lunch of omelet and chips in the cafe and then wandered around the engine sheds where Chaloner (a de Winton vertical boilered loco) was on show .....

      ...... together with some of the line's other locos - another O&K 0-6-0 and a Baldwin tank.

       After another visit to the bookshop, I was able to watch the departure of Beaudesert, before hitting the road back to Cheshire.

      This is a remarkable little railway with an interesting history. I would like to revisit when it holds one of its galas to view some of the line's Simplex locos 'in steam'. Presumably, in a couple of years' time, when it reaches its 50th anniversary, there will be a special event or two. Well worth a return visit.