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North West Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, Cumbria

A narrow gauge railway was opened in 1875 to bring iron ore from the mines in Eskdale to the Furness Railway at Ravenglass. The line is now a major tourist attraction, run by an enthusiastic Preservation Society.

The seven mile long mile track climbs 210’ from the coast at Ravenglass to the foot of England’s highest mountains in Eskdale. It follows the valleys of the River Mite and Esk to its terminus at Dalegarth.

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Some History

This was the first public narrow gauge railway to be built in England In 1875, a 3’ gauge railway was opened to carry iron ore from the Whitehaven Iron Mines Co mines near Boot to the Furness Railway standard gauge line at Ravenglass. It was known as ‘Rat Trod’ in the Cumbrian dialect.

Following requests from residents along the valley, the line was upgraded to meet the requirements for running passenger services and the first passengers were carried in 1876. Buying another loco, hiring coaches and building stations made the company bankrupt in 1877.

Trains continued to run under the control of a series of receivers. Within ten years, all but one of the mines had closed. There was not enough traffic from other sources (local goods, passengers and farms) to cover running costs. The track and locos were neglected and passenger service stopped in 1908 after the Board of Trade declared the track to be unsafe for passengers. Goods trains continued to run whilst attempts were made to raise money to rebuild the track. These failed and the railway closed completely in 1913.

In 1915, the abandoned railway was taken over by the model maker W.J. Bassett-Lowke and his business partner Robert Proctor Mitchel. They converted the line from 3’ to 15” gauge and began running a daily service, using Bassett-Lowke built locos, including Synolda and River Irt. The regauged railway was soon known as ‘La’al Ratty’

As well as passengers, the line carried goods and mail, as well as granite from a newly opened quarry at Beckfoot to the crushing mills at Murthwaite. A new loco, River Esk, was built. From 1929, the section of track between Murthwaite and Ravenglass was converted to dual gauge with a standard gauge track straddling the 15’ rails.

The station at Ravenglass was rebuilt to better handle the increasing traffic. Older locos were either withdrawn from service or rebuilt and new locos arrived.

Passenger services were suspended in 1939, although granite trains continued to run. In 1949 the railway was sold to the Keswick Granite company who wanted to gain control of the quarrying side of the business. However, due to the lack of investment since the 1920s, much of the equipment in the quarry and crushing plant was worn out and in need of replacement. Rather than make the required investment, Keswick Granite chose to close the quarry in 1953, but kept the passenger trains running in the summer months.

Passenger services were losing money and from 1958 attempts were made to sell the line as a going concern, but the asking price was too high. Finally in 1960, Keswick Granite announced that the railway would be sold by auction. If a buyer could not be found, the railway would be sold off in separate lots.

Locals and railway enthusiasts formed a Preservation Society to save the line, with backing of local business men Sir Wavell Wakefield (owner of Ullswater Steamers) and stockbroker Colin Gilbert. Their efforts were successful and control of the railway passed to a new private company with the backing of the Preservation Society, an arrangement which still exists.

The railway was in poor condition, suffering from a lack of investment since the late 1920s. There were only two steam locomotives, River Esk and River Irt, who were in need of a complete overhaul. Money was raised to build a third loco, River Mite.

As passenger numbers grew, more locos were built, including diesels. A new locomotive, Whillan Beck, arrived in 2018.

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The track has been completely relaid and regraded to improve gradients, with a new cutting near Spout House Farm. New station buildings were constructed. As well as building and repairing their locos, the workshops also carry out external contracts for Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Radio based signalling was introduced in 1977, a system which was later adopted by British Rail for some of its minor lines to cut costs.

The line is single track with passing loops at Miteside, Irton Road and Fisherground. Trains operate by radio communication between drivers and Ravenglass signal box. There are no semaphore signals apart from Ravenglass station.

Daily steam trains runs from March to November with a one way trip taking 40 minutes. Trains are run with a mix of enclosed or open compartments. Each seat four people but it is a tight squash and views are restricted. On a dry day, try and choose one of the open compartments!

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Last edited:

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Route

Ravenglass
is the only coastal village which lies in the Lake District National Park.

The main line station with the Ratty Arms Pub is separated from the Ravenglass and Eskdale station by the car park.

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The Ravenglass and Eskdale Station is the headquarters of the railway company with offices here. The excellent small museum is in the former Furness Railway platform shelter on the main line station. The Turntable Cafe is on Platform 1. At the end of the platform are two self catering camping coaches.

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There is a turntable at the western edge of the platform and this is the zero marker for mileage markers along the line.

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There are two loco sheds to the south of the track and a carriage shed to the north. The former Furness Railway stone-built goods shed is now used by the R&ER as a workshop.

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Leaving Ravenglass, the line turns eastward and runs past marshland alongside the estuary of the River Mite. The mudflats are often a good place to see wading birds.

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Varied bird-life can be seen on the mudflats of the estuary.

The first station is the unstaffed Muncaster Mill, a request stop, where the A595 crosses the line. Next to it is Muncaster Mill, a water-powered corn mill which is now a private hous, surrounded by very attractive flower gardens.

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From here, the line begins to climb steeply through Mill Wood and alongside the northern edge of Muncaster Fell.

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Cont...
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
At Miteside there is a small halt with a shelter formed by an upturned boat. formed from a boat. This is accessible only by public footpath, and was opened to serve residents of nearby Miteside House. The first of the passing loops is here.

The line hugs the northern foot of Muncaster Fell with views across the Mite River valley.

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There is a small halt at Murthwaite, accessible only by footpath. The remains of the former granite crushing plant at Murthwaite can still be seen and some of the buildings are a permanent way store with its own siding.

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Further on, the line reaches an impressive point where it rounds a bluff known as Rock Point, high above the River Mite, before turning down into the valley.

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Irton Road station is the mid-point of the line and is the second passing loop.

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The station was originally known as Hollowstones after an adjacent farm, was one of the most important stations on the line, serving the village of Eskdale Green as well as upper Mitedale. There was a carriage and wagon workshop here used before the newer facilities at Ravenglass were built in 1920. The station building was the only one to be constructed from stone rather than wood and is the only original station structure to survive. The storage shed also survives as well as sidings now used by the permanent way department, serving as a loading point for ballast.

Modern additions to the building include a toilet and the radio transmitter for passing messages to and from the trains.

The stone bridge carried the track from the station to Hollowstones farm.

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The station overlooks rough grazing farmland with sheep and cattle.

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Between Irton Road and Eskdale Green, the railway switches between valleys, leaving the River Mite and entering Eskdale.

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Eskdale Green Station is situated below the village bearing the same name. It was originally known as King of Prussia after the nearby pub. A new station was built by the Preservation Society in 1968.

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The line overlooks the valley of the River Esk with isolated farms.

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Cont...
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The line climbs steeply up Hollin How bank above the King George V pub.

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A halt was built to serve the popular campsite at Fisherground Farm.

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There is also a lineside water tank here, although the water is no longer used for the steam engines since its chemical composition is less suitable for the boilers than mains water.

This is also the site of the third intermediate passing loop.

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Beyond Fisherground, the line twists along the valley side, leading to fanciful suppositions that the contractor was paid based on length of railway laid.

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In the C19th, Beckfoot Station was the last station served by road and was the upper terminus until the line was extended to Dalegarth in the 1920s. It had a goods yard shed and even a chocolate vending machine in the shelter. The station is now unmanned and, as it is very close to Dalegarth, passengers will only be picked up on trains travelling between Dalegarth and Ravenglass and will only be set down on trains between Ravenglass and Dalegarth. The line crosses the Whillan Beck here before it joins the River Esk.

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Dalegarth is the upper terminus of the railway. The current building dates from 2007 and is cleverly designed to make use of the railway embankment, with an education/meeting room below the cafe and shop.

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It has a run round loop, turntable and sidings.

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The former trackbed of the line to the iron-ore mines at Boot is visible continuing along the valley, and the route can be walked. The upper terminus was originally at Boot but the gradient was too steep for 15” gauge locos and a new station was built at Dalegarth.

Dalegarth is a short stroll from Boot village, with its restored water mill and hostelries, the Boot Inn and Brook House Inn.

Cont...
 
Last edited:

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Boot

The name comes from the old English, meaning a bend in the river. This is now a tiny hamlet high in the hills of the Esk Valley.

Iron ore had been discovered here and a railway was built to carry the ore to the sea. The mine was never very profitable and closed by 1913.

Boot is a short walk from Dalegarth Station and is a very attractive small settlement with a resident population of between 10-14.

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The mine manager's house is now a small shop. The cottages next to it were miners cottages.

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The C17th packhorse bridge crosses the Whillan Beck and leads to Eskdale Mill.

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This is the last remaining working water mill in the lake District and still has many of its original features, although it now has a modern steel waterwheel .set among the trees away from the buildings. This also supplies electricity to the National Grid. It was originally built to mill oats and barley, but later on was mainly used for wheat.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Museum

This is a fascinating small museum in what was the former Furness Railway platform shelter on Ravenglass main line station. The building was redesigned and extended as a display shed for locomotives and rolling stock as well as many artefacts connected to the history and working of the line. There is also an exhibition gallery with rotating exhibitions from the local community.

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As well as the exhibits there are many information boards to read. Allow plenty of time - at least an hour if possible. I had only 20 minutes and couldn’t begin to do justice to the museum.

The highlight of the collection must be the steam locomotives - Katie, Synolda and Little Giant.

Katie was built in 1896 and worked on the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway from 1915-19 was mainly used for freight, only taking passengers on busy days. She had a small noiler and had to stop frequently to raise more steam. Passengers used to get off and pick flowers or heather. She has been restored to working order and used for special events. .

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Synolda, the blue engine next to katie, was built by Bassett-Lowke in 1912 and is similar to other locos built by them to run on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. She is painted in 1915 livery. Although in working order, she is too light for normal operation and only used on special occasions.

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Little Giant is another Bassett-Lowke loco and was built in 1905.

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A sectioned boiler from the locomotive, River Esk, demonstrates how a steam engine works.

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Other locos include ICL No.1 Bunny which was made from parts of a Crewe Tractor converted car that blew up. From 1927, it worked the daily passenger trains during the winter months. It was heavy on petrol and rarely ran after the 1950s. It holds the railway speed record, having made the

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Near this is Quarryman, another tractor engine built in 1927 and used to carry granite from Beckfoot quarry. It was still in use until 1980.

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There are examples of tools and wagons used to build the railway.

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Many of the early mine workings were connected to the railway by inclines. Loaded ore wagons went down by gravity, pulling the empties back up using a wire cable. A brakesman controlled the speed through a long break handle attached to the pulley at the top of the incline.

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There is a reconstruction of a 3’ tipper wagon that ran on the original railway.

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There is an example of a granite wagon used to carry stone from the quarries at Beckfoot.

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The railway also carried a variety of goods to settlements along the line.

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There is an example of the wooden open Bassett Lowke coach which carried passengers on the reopening of the railway in 1915.

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Later open coaches were provided with a roof.

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