Search This Blog

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Haigh Hall Miniature Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:      15"

Length:     approx 1 mile

Opened:    1986


View Larger Map

Tel.        01942 828508 


Date of visit: 14 October 2012


Key Facts

  • The line is situated in Haigh Hall Country Park.  Haigh Hall originally belonged for many ages to the Bradshaigh family - the local MP for Wigan before passing to the Earl of Crawford. The Hall and its park are now owned by the Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust.
  • The track is in the form of a circuit which is pinched where the tracks pass close to each other
  • The track passes mostly through Woodland skirting ornamental lakes and pools. 
  • There are two stations ‘Haigh Hall South’ which is the main station which also has a three road engine shed and ‘Haigh Hall North’ which is adjacent to the estate's walled garden
  • The line has two locomotives - Rachel, a former Fairbourne Railway diesel and Helen, as steam outline 0-6-0 diesel locomotive built by Alan Keef Ltd.



    My Impressions

    According to the Manchester Countryside website, the railway is supposed to run on Sunday afternoons during the winter months. And so, we set out one October Sunday to explore this railway. The car parks are quite extensive with free parking for disabled badge holders. 

     We parked adjacent to the Stables Tearooms where we indulged in a coffee and an Eccles Cake before seeking out the railway. I realised something was amiss when I found that whereas the children's playgrounds, the Hall, the Tearooms and the walled garden were well signposted, there were no signs indicating the whereabouts or even the existence of the railway. Undaunted, I pressed on and a friendly local inhabitant pointed me in the right direction where I found High Hall North Station, beside the southern edge of the walled garden. The rails were rust-encrusted suggesting they had not been used for some time.

    Further inspection confirmed that the trackbed was in need of more than a little TLC.

    The trackbed looked well-trodden and so I ventured South, attempting to match my stride to the spacings of the sleepers which in places were the only firm ground amid the mud.After a short, shallow cutting.......

    ..... the track emerged into a small clearing where it encountered another section of the railway looping off through the trees. Following my original track to the right ..................

    ........... I soon came across the railway's stock shed, securely padlocked against intrusion (and prying eyes).

     The sidings and shed were adjacent to the line's Main Station, Haigh hall South. Where once again neglect of the trackbed was evidence - the grass burying the track in places.

    The condition of the sign beside the platform suggested the line had not been used during the previous summer season (and that the price rise had not been sufficient to keep the railway alive).

    A further notice attached to a waste bin confirmed the closure of the railway but suggested there might be an alternative available.

    I 'continued past the station' on my walk along the trackbed looking in vain for the 'signage board'. The line ran for a short distance on a low embankment beside the main path leading to the hall...

    ...... before crossing another path and plunging back into the woodland.

    The setting for the railway is very picturesque, winding as it does between the trees.

    However, it's clear that in places the trackbed needs some attention such as here where there has been some minor subsidence and misalignment.

     Although it's not clear from this photo, to the left is a series of ornamental pools and a stream which meanders through the trees beside the railway.

    Before long, I once more encountered the other section of track looping out of the trees to my left.

     Following the right had track ..........

    ...... I very soon arrived back at my starting point and explored other features of the park. The hall itself, which has a fine view over the town of Wigan.

    The park seems to be popular with dog walkers and with families ............

     .... particularly as there is plenty of playground equipment on which the children can burn off their excess energy.

    It's disappointing that the railway does not seem to be functioning, particularly given the setting through which it travels. An email from the estate indicates that it will be re-opening during 2013 following some repairs (see comments below)


    The railway did indeed re-open in 2013 and is now running at weekends and Bank Holidays between 11.00am and 4.00pm. - see

    Wednesday, 10 October 2012

    West Lancashire Light Railway

    Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-0 Montalban at Delph

    In a nutshell

    Gauge:      2'

    Length:    430 yd

    Opened:   1967


    West Lancashire Light Railway
    Station Road
    Hesketh Bank
    Nr Preston
    PR4 6SP

    View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map

    Tel.      01772 815881


    Date of visit:  7 October 2012


    Key Facts

    • The railway was established in 1967 by a group of six schoolboys who were also members of the Narrow Gauge Railway Society
    • The aim of the railway was (and still is) to preserve industrial narrow gauge railway items
    • The site for the railway is the edge of an abandoned claypit for Alty's Brickworks, adjacent to the railway yard for the former West Lancashire Light Railway's (WLLR) station at Hesketh Bank. The original WLLR was a standard gauge line running from Preston to Southport.
    • Originally, the coaches on the railway were from the pier railway at Southport. These have now been replaced by coaches built at the railway.
    • At the time of writing the line owns or has direct access to 30 locomotives - 16 diesel, 3 petrol, 1 petrol/diesel, 1 battery electric, 1 overhead electric and 8 steam in various stages of repair and operability
    • The line is well laid out with a station area (Becconshall) and loco/stock sheds and sidings. The trackbed is L-shaped, running through trees beside the former claypit to the further terminus called Delph
    • The railway runs on Sundays and Bank Holidays from April to the end of October with various galas and special events through the year



    Approximate route of the railway (not to scale)


    My Impressions

    They say that first impressions are lasting impressions and my immediate impression was very favourable. The cream and red painted corrugated iron station building very much encapsulates the atmosphere of a narrow gauge light railway and the railway curves tantalisingly off round one of the engine sheds and into the trees in the distance. The whole layout for the railway put me in mind of one of those large scale micro model railways which are found in exhibitions.
    View along the platform at Becconsall Station
    The end of the platform at Becconsall, looking along the line towards Willow Tree Halt
    As this was a gala day, there was plenty to see. All the railway's operating steam locos were in evidence on passenger duty
    Ex-quarry Hunslet 0-4-0 Irish Mail on her last day before boiler re-fitting
    Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-0 Montalban about to take on water
    Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-0 Utrillas pauses after arriving with a passenger train
    Kerr Stuart 0-6-0 Joffre being oiled up before assuming her duties
    and throughout the day a succession of diesel and petrol locos chugged from behind the sheds with an assortment of goods wagons.
    Motor Rail 40HP Diesel takes a goods train from the yard to the main line

    Picking up the token
    Heading off towards Delph
    Motor Rail 60hp Diesel waits to run round its train at Delph
    Ruston & Hornsby diesels 20hp , Tawd, with 30hp Dame Vera Duckworth await the all clear at Delph
     After exploring the line on foot, I boarded one of the line's two ex-Southport Pier passenger coaches at the main station Becconsall, behind Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-0 Montalbahn, and we set off for for Delph.
    Coupling Montalban to the passenger train at Becconsall
    Looking back along the line at Willow Tree Halt towards Becconsall
    The line's two O&K 0-4-0s at Delph. Utrillas about to depart for Becconsall
     After browsing through the secondhand railway magazines, watching the models in the engine shed......
    16mm scale railway with steam and battery locos
    009 quarry railway
     .... and admiring the full-size  exhibits in the car park, I departed from this fascinating piece of living history.
    Vintage Austin 7 and steam roller in the station car park
    The railway has developed since its humble beginnings in 1967. The locos and stock are well cared-for by a team of volunteers which includes most of the original group of schoolboys. The booking office includes a small shop of souvenirs, sweets and also serves up tea and coffee. There are plenty of picnic tables in the station area and the modestly priced ticket allows for unlimited trips along the line. There are plans to extend the line, but the ultimate length is restricted by the usable land which is available. To my mind, the relatively short length of the railway actually increases its interest as there is very little time to wait between trains, meaning there is always something happening.

    If ever you are travelling up or down the M6 on a Sunday, then it would be well worth your while to make a small detour to pop in to see the modest little railway and soak up some of the history which it represents.


    (Apologies about the mis-spelling of Montalban!)

    Wednesday, 26 September 2012

    The Lea Line (Alan Keef Ltd)

    In a nutshell

    Gauge:        2' and 3'6"

    Length:      200 yd

    Opened:    1968


    Alan Keef Ltd
    Lea Line,
    Nr Ross-on-Wye
    HR9 7LQ

    View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map


    Date of visit:  22 September 2012


    Key Facts

      • Alan Keef Ltd. is family firm which constructs railway items from 10¼" to 3' 6" gauge and occasionally builds items for standard gauge railways
      • Their main customers are industrial railways and railways for the leisure industry
      • They are now manufacturers of MotorRail Simplex locomotives and industrial monorail equipment
      • Each year they hold an open day (usually in September) when they open their doors to show the public what they are doing and usually provide train rides around their grounds.
      • In addition to stock for conventional narrow gauge railways, they have constructed replicas of tje Listowel & Ballybunion Railway monorail rack, locomotive and coaches.


        On open days the company's test track is used for passenger rides. This crosses the forecourt in front of the workshops and then curves around to the back.


        My Impressions

        It was pleasing to see so many people had travelled to the workshops. While indulging in a cup of tea and a piece of homemade cake we watched the Hunslet replica of a Kerr Stuart Wren class Jennie (from the Amerton Railway) pottering about the yard with its toast-rack coach.

        I then wandered into the workshop to see some of the current projects on display. This rebuild of the Ruislip Lido Railway's bo-bo diesel loco Bayhurst caught my eye - an impressively chunky loco for a 12" gauge railway!

        Towards the back of the workshop was the chassis for the Welsh Highland Railway's iconic 2-6-2 loco Russell, awaiting its major overhaul.

        Its boiler was sitting outside in the yard.

        There were several other projects on display but my attention was distracted by the stalls of some railway booksellers where I found some quite obscure titles to add to my already bulging library. After perusing the railway preservation stands, I explored the yard. I can't resist poking about in neglected corners, though actually there weren't many of these on the site where everythign seems to have a purpose or oozes potential.

        I was intrigued by what looked like the chassis for some 3 foot gauge rolling stock - tempting enough to start my own preservation society - if only I had the funds!

        By this time, Jennie had been joined by her sister engine, the vertical boilered -4-0 Paddy, also from Amerton so I hopped aboard the coach and took a trip around the yard.

        We were very fortunate with the weather but I must say that the visit was well worthwhile. The entrance fee was modest but the opportunity to see a railway engineering workshop and its ongoing projects made this more than justifiable. The company's Open Day coincides with the Perrygrove Railway's annual gala and so, given this 15" gauge railway's proximity a visit to the two attractions makes for a great day out in a very attractive part of the world.


        Hopewell Colliery Museum

        In a nutshell

        Gauge:        2' (non passenger carrying)

        Length:      unknown

        Opened:     1823 (as a museum in 1997)


        Prosper Lane
        Lacinda Coalway
        GL16 7EL

        View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map

        Tel.        01594 810706 


        Date of visit: 22 September 2012


        Key Facts

        • The Hopewell mine is linked to the Phoenix mine underground but are worked as separate pits
        • The mines are worked as 'free-mines'. The Free Miners have mined coal for over 700 years unhindered anywhere in in the Forest of Dean by royal decree.
        • These are now the only full-time mines operating in the forest 
        • During the winter-months (October - March) the mines are worked using traditional methods of pick and shovel but they operate as a Museum in the summer months.
        • Visitors to the Hopewell mine walk through some of the mine workings to see exhibits of mining equipment and techniques.
        • The coal is extracted from the mines in railway tubs hauled by cable.


        My Impressions

        Unfortunately, the museum had closed for the winter on the day I visited, it seems that the museum opens during the summer school holiday season. However, as one of the miners was present, working on a mechanical coal loader, I was able to take a few photos and discuss the mining operations (and the state of the economy) with him.

        Normally, I only include accounts of visits to passenger-carrying narrow gauge railways in this blog, but as this museum provides an insight into one of the last remaining operational mines of its type, I feel it deserves specific mention.

         The first thing to catch the eye on the edge of the car park is the pithead winding wheel

        ..... and the pithead gantry ........

        ....... together with its portable hand-winch and a coal tub.

        Beside the car park is the rope-hauled incline down to an adit shrouded in trees.

        This wasn't operating while I was there but it is clear that this is one of the means by which coal is extracted from the mine. The mechanical loader on the other side of the car park suggests that during the winter months, the car park becomes a coal yard for the mine.

        Talking to the miner who was repairing the loader, he told me that although the coal is of very good quality, it is presently very difficult to make a living from mining the coal alone, and hence the miners have to diversify into other trades. However, there is a determination to keep the tradition alive and hopefully there will be another generation of free miners to assure the future of this piece of industrial history.

        I intend to revisit the museum during the next season and hopefully fill in some of the blanks.

        For more information see: