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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.

      Sunday, 27 May 2018

      Progress Report 6

      As can be seen, since my last Progress Report, I have made a trip to Yorkshire and visited:
      Although the Cliff Lift at Saltburn is actually standard gauge I have included it as:
      1. In is an interesting piece of railway technology with a significant history
      2. When doing my original research, I was under the impression that it had a gauge of 4' 6" - presumably owing to some misleading information on a website somewhere.
      The other two miniature railways have a fascinating history - both being established before the Second World War and both opting for steam outline, diesel powered locomotives. Although I would prefer to see live steam locos in action, I feel their history and origins so make these locos interesting in their own rights. They are certainly well engineered and with gauges of 20" and 15" are substantially built.
      Loco 1932 Triton - on the North Bay Railway in Scarborough
       As times goes by, I am having to travel greater distances from home to reach railways which are further than a day's travelling distance. Owing to family ill health, I have not been as mobile as previously and so my visitations are fewer and further between. However, I am planning to travel on the Snowdon Mountain Railway when we can be sure of decent weather, and also hoping to travel to the South East of England at some point before the end of the season to visit some of the railways located there.

      North Bay Railway (Scarborough)

      In a nutshell

      Gauge:         20"(508 mm)

      Length:       78 mile (1.4 km)

      Opened:     1931


      North Bay Railway
      North Yorkshire,
      YO12 6PF

      Tel:         01723 368791

      Date of visit:     22 July 2017


      Key Facts

      • The railway was planned as an integral part of the development of Northstead Park (formerly known as Hodgson's Slack)
      • The line was originally intended to be 18" gauge and then 15" gauge, the gauge promoted by Sir Arthur Heywood and Wenman Bassett Lowke as the 'Minimum Gauge' (see A short Chronology of the Minimum Gauge). Eeventually, Hudswell Clarke won the contract to supply the locomotives to a gauge of 20".
      • The plan for the original railway was a circular route but this was later modified into the present terminus to terminus route along the cliffs
      • At Scalby Mills, there was originally a balloon loop for reversing the locomotives, which included a short tunnel into the cliffs. This was replaced by a Y junction in 1962 and ultimately by the existing turntable in 1988.
      • The only time the railway has ceased running was between 1940 and 1945 during the Second World War.
      • The decision to use steam outline diesel locomotives instead of live steam locomotives was motivated by reduced operating and maintenance costs.
      • Neptune was the first locomotive to run on the railway and is still running today.
      • The original locomotives use torque converters to transfer power from the diesel engine to the driving wheels to provide a very smooth transmission and is akin to driving a steam locomotive with a single regulator and no gears. The torque converters have now been replaced by hydraulic pumps and motors.
      • The railway has four steam outline diesel locomotives - 1931 Neptune 4-6-2 (built in 1931), 1932 Triton 4-6-2 (built in 1932), 1933 Poseidon 4-6-2 (built in 1933) and 570 Robin Hood 4-6-4T (built 1932).
      • The coaching stock was originally built by Robert Hudson in Leeds. The bodies were replaced in the 1960s and again in 1991, 1998 and 2007.
      • The railway is open daily from April to October and then some weekends and school holidays during the winter (January excepted).


      Map by Svitapeneela at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

      My Impressions

      On arriving at Peasholm station, the first thing which struck me was the size of the locomotives. As the gauge is wider than most miniature railways (ie 20" v 7¼" - 15"), the locomotives are proportionately larger.

      Having paid for my ticket, I watched my loco (1931, Neptune) running around her train .....

      ..... making use of the balloon loop which circles the engine sheds and enables the loco to reverse direction without the need for a turntable. I am not aware of any other railways which use this clever approach, but I am willing to be corrected.

      After coupling-up, within a few minutes we were off, skirting the boating lake .......

      .... and passing beneath the rails of the water chute.

      After passing the outdoor concert arena, we reached the cliffs and the passing loop at the former Beach Station where we passed another train travelling in the opposite direction.

      Travelling on shelf cut into the cliff face ......

      ....... we reached Scalby Mills Station, where our loco was turned on the turntable......

      ...... and ran round our train ....

      ... ready for the return journey.

      We, once more, made our way back along the cliffs to Beach Station ......

      .... where we passed the returning train and the drivers exchanged tokens.

      We then retraced our steps into Northstead Park .....

      .... and returned to Peasholm Station.

      I now took the opportunity to walk beside the line, watching the train depart .....

      ..... and the boat on the water chute splashing into the lake, ......

       ...... before being hauled back up again.

      I gained a good view of trains as they passed by on the opposite side of the lake.

       At Beach Station, I watched loco 1932, Triton ......

      ...... passing Neptune.

       There are plenty of good vantage points for watching the trains pass by on the cliffs above the beach.

      As they had two trains in service (which I believe they do on most operational days), the services are very regular .......

      ...... and so the wait is not long between trains.

      And, of course, there are always the attractions of the beach, itself.

      What a fine little railway this is! Although the locomotives are not steam powered, they are distinctive and interesting in their own right. Their heritage is undeniable and their size and the quality of their construction gives them poise and elegance as they ply their trade back and forth through the park and across the cliff face.

      I spent a good 2-3 hours travelling on and watching the various train manoeuvres - being particularly fascinated by the balloon reversing loop at Peasholm Station. The staff were attentive and keen to discuss the railway and its locos. The railway gauge of 20" makes it fairly unique in the UK, Shipley Glen Tramway and the railway at Woburn being the only others (to my knowledge). A very interesting railway with an interesting history and heritage.

      There is a cafe adjacent to the station at Peasholm and plenty of other eateries within a short walk of the park. The ticket office sells a few mementoes and a guide to the railway which elaborates on the history and operation of the railway outlined above.


      Friday, 25 May 2018

      Saltburn Miniature Railway

      In a nutshell

      Gauge:         `15" (381mm)

      Length:         5/8 mile (1 km)

      Opened:     1947


      Saltburn Miniature Railway,

      Tel:           01287 622712

      Date of visit:     23 July 2017

      Key Facts

      • The railway was first set up in 1947 by Mr. H. Dunn and was then only 300 Yards long.
      • In 1949 the railway obtained  4-4-4 tank loco "Blacolvesley", which was built in 1909 by Bassett-Lowke and is the oldest workable internal combustion locomotive in the world. It is now in private ownership and resides at the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.
      • In 1953, the railway was modified to allow for the running of two trains, with a passing siding.
      • By 1983, the railway was more or less derelict and was acquired by the Saltburn Miniature Railway Association, a group of volunteers
      • During 2000 - 2003, the railway was rebuilt in its present form.
      • The railway currently has three steam outline diesel powered locos (4-6-2 DE Prince Charles, 0-4-0T DH George Outhwaite, 4-6-2 DH Saltburn 150) and a live steam loco, 4-4-2 Blacklock R
      • The railway runs at weekends throughout the year, opening at 1.00pm


        My Impressions

        After a quick tour of the town and a ride on the Cliff Lift, I walked the length of the railway, taking various video shots and photos.

        On  the siding leading to the engine sheds, they were swapping over locos. 4-6-2 DH Saltburn 150 was being replaced by 4-6-2 DE Prince Charles.

         This provided me with an opportunity to see Saltburn 150, before she retired to the shed.

        The furthermost terminus of the railway is Forest Halt, where there is a platform and run-round loop.

        I walked back up the line to the main terminus, Cat Nab, which is very close to the sea front, behind a large car park.

        I bought my modestly priced return ticket and boarded the train. Before long it set off.

        After rounding a 90 degree bend, the line ran parallel with Skelton Beck, passing the engine sheds and carriage sidings, before taking a right hand curve on the banks of the beck.

        At Forest Halt, the loco ran round her train ......

        .... before proceeding back up the line.

        The track, locos and stock appeared to be in tip-top condition and the line seems to be thriving, thanks to the efforts of the volunteer workforce. Although the railway itself does not have a tea room, there are cafes within five minutes' walk at each end of the line serving a good range of refreshments. There is wheelchair access and the staff are on hand to enthusiastically answer questions.

        This railway is one of the original miniature railways, most of which adopted the then popular gauge of 15 inches (see 15" gauge railways - a short chronology). Although this railway is quite short in comparison to other 15" gauge railways, it is well worth a visit as is the town of Saltburn which retains its original feel of a Victorian seaside resort.


        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!