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Wednesday, 29 September 2021

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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.

      The Wells and Walsingham Light Railway

      In a nutshell

      Gauge:          10¼" (260mm)

      Length:       4 miles (6.4km)

      Opened:      1857 (Standard gauge) 6 April 1982 (present railway)


      Wells & Walsingham Light Railway
      Stiffkey Road
      NR23 1QB

      Tel:         01328 711630

      Date of visit:     24th - 25th September 2021

      Key Facts

      • The railway claims to be the longest 10¼ inch gauge railway and the smallest gauged public railway in the world
      • The trackbed for the line was once the standard gauge railway which ran from Wymondham to Wells where there was a terminus
      • Wells on Sea Station was also the terminus for the Heacham to Wells branchline
      • The original railway was built quite cheaply and so follows the undulations of the landscape and hence includes some fairly stiff gradients (up to 1 in 66)
      • The Wells and Walsingham Railway was established by Lieutenant-Commander Roy Wallace Francis  (1922 - 2015) a former British naval office
      • The railway's principal locomotives are two 2-6-0+0-6-2 Garratt steam locomotives (Norfolk Hero and Norfolk Heroine) and a Bo-Bo diesel loco (Norfolk Harvester)
      • The railway runs five trains each way during the summer season and four trains each way during the spring and autumn
      • There is a shop with a small range of refreshments available at Wells on Sea station
      • There is a large, free car park at Wells and the village (pay and display) car park at Walsingham is a five minute walk from the station


      My Impressions

      I started my visit by going straight to the main station at Wells, where I familiarised myself with its layout and facilities.

      The ground floor of the signal box includes a shop and a café serving a basic array of drinks and snacks.

      Immediately behind the signal box is the engine shed and turning to the opposite end of the platform is the carriage shed. Spare stock is also stored on the siding behind the platform loop.

      There is a large grassy car park, picnic facilities a play area for children and a gift shop selling locally produced paintings, ornaments and clothing accessories.

      Ere long, a steam whistle announced the imminent arrival of a train from Walsingham.

      I watched the train disgorge its passengers and the rather magnificent Garratt loco (Norfolk Heroine) run round its train.....

      A few minutes later, the train departed for Walsingham

      Most of the passengers decided to sit in the open topped carriages to make the most of the gorgeous late September sunshine with which we were blessed during my visit.

      The following day, I revisited the line. This time going straight to Walsingham station where a large group of passengers was patiently awaiting the arrival of the first train of the day.

      Once more, Norfolk Heroine had been rostered ......

      .... and, after running-round, ........

      ...... she made a swift and efficient departure with quite a heavy train.

      I hastened back to my car and then sped up the road, parked and was able to observe the train passing through Wighton

      Returning to the car, I was then able to watch the train climbing the bank out of Warham

      Another short car journey and I was able to catch the train's arrival into Wells, where the loco ran round and took on more coal and water.

      Before long, the train departed once more.

      I then drove down to Wells harbour where I found a very pleasant eatery and bought a few essential supplies, before returning to the station for my afternoon's adventure. .......

      ..... a cab ride!

      Despite its diminutive size, the cab, while cosy, was sufficiently large to accommodate myself and the driver who described in detail the actions required to keep the locomotive performing at its optimum.

      A 1 in 80 gradient out of the station is followed by a very short 1 in 440 gradient .........

      ...... then another 1 in 76 gradient - all within the first mile!

      There then followed a 1 in 66 decent then a 1 in 96 ascent, and so the driver (who acts as fireman) has his work cut out ensuring the correct balance between fire and water level, as it runs from one end of the boiler to the other, maintains sufficient steam pressure for the climbs, without wasting steam on the descents.

      In addition, there are five ungated level crossings and two intermediate halts to contend with so the train's speed has to be optimised for the conditions and there is much rather creative use of the whistle to alert drivers and warn potential passengers of the train's imminent arrival.

      After three miles, there is a long and steady 1 in 80 climb .........

      ...... into Walsingham station, where a knot of passengers was awaiting our arrival.

      After a sprightly run-round, we departed ......

      There was time to admire the surrounding landscape which, at this time of year is quite picturesque with the lengthening shadows from the afternoon sun.

      The passengers also seemed to be enjoying the sunshine and vistas of the Norfolk countryside - not to mention the ride!

      As we approached Wells, I was alerted by the driver to a local avian resident perched on a branch just above the track.

      On cue, the buzzard swooped down the track ahead of the train before swerving off to the left. A rather poignant and impressive end my rail-borne experience.

      We slowly and, to my mind, rather majestically, coasted into the station.

      This is an experience which will live with me for a long time. What a lovely little railway in a beautiful setting and an extremely picturesque part of the world. 

      I can thoroughly recommend this railway for a visit. There is plenty to see and do in the area for all ages - and I can also endorse the quality of the dressed crab sandwiches available from the eateries in the town.


      Wednesday, 18 December 2019

      Snowdon Mountain Railway

      In a nutshell

      Gauge:          2'  7½"(800cm)

      Length:        4 2/3 miles (7.5km)

      Opened:      1896


      Tel.:         +44 (0) 1286 870 223

      Snowdon Mountain Railway
      LL55 4TT 


      Date of visit:     20 September 2019

      Key Facts

      • The Snowdon Mountain Railway is the only rack assisted railway in the UK
      • There has only been one accident on the line, on the day it first opened when one passenger died after the first downward train became derailed probably because it was overloaded
      • The line was constructed between December 1894 and February 1896
      • The rack system used by the railway was devised by Roman Abt, a Swiss locomotive engineer. Two racks are positioned between the rails, staggered by half a tooth to ensure there is always a complete tooth on the pinions engaged with the rack
      • The locomotive is not coupled to the carriage, so that the carriage would not be dragged down the mountainside if the locomotive became derailed
      • Gripper rails are fitted to either side of the rack to prevent the pinion from disengaging with the rack
      • Each locomotive and carriage has a manual brake which operates on the pinion
      • The locomotives also have a compression brake which uses air in the cylinders to slow the descent
      • The locomotives and carriages also have automatic brakes which engage if they exceed a certain speed
      • The railway has eight steam locomotives, five of which were built for the line's opening.
      • There are also four diesel hydraulic locomotives, powered by Rolls Royce engines
      • The line has ordered a diesel/battery hybrid locomotive which is intended to enter service in 2020. The batteries will be recharged on the descent.
      • There is a cafe and visitor centre at the summit (3560ft (1085m) above sea level) which was opened in 2009
      • There is also a cafe and toilet facilities at Llanberis station
      • During the winter or bad weather, trains will only run to Halfway station
      • It is advisable to book in advance as the number of tickets are limited each day


      Source: By MickMacNee at en.wikipedia - I created this work entirely by myself., Public Domain,

      My Impressions

      The last time I travelled on the Snowdon Mountain Railway was over fifty years ago, so I was anxious to see how things had changed.

      We arrived at Llanberis in good time to pick up our pre-booked tickets. While waiting we indulged in a cup of coffee and a snack, sitting outside in the early September sunshine.

      There was a good selection of food available at the cafe and so we were spoiled for choice.

      There was time to watch the departure of one of the diesel hauled trains ......

       ..... and our train being marshalled from the sheds. We were booked on one of the vintage steam services. We figured that as this was likely to be a one-off, we would travel in style.

      Before long, we boarded. Although not first in the queue, we were able to get a good seat at the rear of the carriage close to the loco.

      After crossing the Waterfall viaduct, we soon left the treeline......

      ......  and reached the first station / passing place at Hebron.

      After passing a downward diesel train, we progressed further, the mountain scenery becoming more rugged, until we reached Halfway Station, where we paused to wait for another downward train.

      Our guard/train manager took the opportunity to point out some of the scenic features observable from our vantage point ......

      ..... until the downward train passed us on the loop.

      We continued upwards, allowing a fine view of the downward train and the emerging landscape towards Anglesey.

      As we laboured further up the mountain, the views began to open out, here looking towards the Rivals on the Lleyn Peninsula.

      As we approached Clogwyn Station, the train traversed a stretch of line on a ridge, which permitted views down to the left of the Llanberis Pass in the valley below. Apart from the summit, this is probably the most spectacular view on the trip.

      We paused again at Clogwyn Station to await another downward train which we could see approaching from further up the line. There seemed to be a considerable number of people walking the path from Llanberis to the summit, hardly surprising as the weather was unseasonably warm and the sky very clear.

      Eventually, the train came nearer, passing over the curve on which the first passenger carrying train derailed on the line's opening day.

      Then it was our turn to tackle the last section of the railway to the summit. The views opened out even more, giving a fine view out of the whole island of Anglesey .......

      ..... and along the north coast of the Lleyn Peninsula ......

      ....... before our train gently eased itself into the station at the summit.........

      ............  where the loco was given a well deserved rest

       We were given 30 minutes at the summit which allowed plenty of time to browse through the souvenirs and walking equipment in the shop, ...

      .... grab a cuppa and a pie in the cafe .......

       ...... and join the crowd at the summit.

      The views from the summit were spectacular in all directions.

      Looking North West ........

      ...... looking East

      ...... South West .....

      ..... South East.

      .... and West.

      It was very blustery at the top and so it was somewhat of a relief to re-board our train and start the descent. With our destination visible in the distance .....

      ..... we passed many walkers toiling their way towards or away from the summit.

      At Hebron, we met another steam heritage train making its way up towards the summit.

      Eventually, we arrived at Llanberis ......

      ...... where our train was shunted back into its siding.......

      ..... and we could watch the departure of another train towards the summit.

      Passing through the railway's shop on the way towards the exit, I bought a handy little guide on the railway's history but avoided the temptation of buying a snow globe or fridge magnet.

      I was impressed by how efficiently the railway is operated and also by the enthusiasm and willingness of the staff to help and/or discuss the railway.

      The stock was scrupulously clean and well maintained, particularly considering the age of the steam locomotives and the heritage carriages. The fare is not cheap, but then it is a unique experience in the UK and presumably the cost of maintaining the track and railway infrastructure.

      It is possible to take a one way journey, but I would advise you to check the long term weather forecast. We were extremely fortunate in having booked the perfect day for viewing the landscape. This was partly luck and partly due to careful scrutiny of the weather forecasts by my partner - who, incidentally, funded the trip as part of an unexpected Christmas present two years ago. It took us that long to find the ideal conditions in relation to weather and our availability. A previous booking we had made a year earlier had to be cancelled because steam hauled trains had been withdrawn owing to fire risk during the drought at the start of the 2018 summer season.

      It pays to be patient!