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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

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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

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      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:

      Monday, 24 September 2012

      Perrygrove Railway

      In a nutshell

      Gauge:    15"

      Length:   ¾ mile

      Opened:  1 August 1996


      Perrygrove Farm
      Perrygrove Road
      GL16 8QB

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      Date of visit:  19 September 2012


      Key Facts

      • The entrance ticket includes unlimited train rides
      • The site includes indoor and outdoor play areas for children plus woodland walks and picnic areas
      • The railway is open during school holidays and at weekends through the year and usually runs steam-hauled trains
      • Perrygrove holds The Heywood Collection of historical rolling stock and replicas of early minimum gauge railway artefacts 
      • The railway's locomotives include a replica of the Eaton Railway's Ursula
      • The railway makes imaginative use of the site to zig-zag up the hillside, providing a challenging route for locomotives and their drivers to show their capabilities
      • The site of the railway is a former farm on the edge of the Forest of Dean. One of the stations on the line (Oakiron) is named after an iron ore mine, the shaft of which existed on the farm.
      • The railway owns three steam locomotives (one of which is an articulated Garret) and three internal combustion powered locomotives.
      • NOTE: Dogs are not allowed on the site.


      From the main terminus there is a long straight beside a meadow followed by a slight drop to the Rookwood loop which then climbs to Rockwood Station where there is a passing loop.  The line now snakes through the trees to Heywood Halt, followed by a climb of 1:30 before the line emerges from the trees above the Perrygrove loco sheds and works. The line then curves back on itself before another 1:30 gradient to Oakiron, the site of a former iron ore mine, ¾ of a mile from Perrygrove. There are plans to extend the line a further ¼ of a mile.

      Plan of the railway (not to scale)

      My Impressions

      My immediate impression as we parked the car and approached the main buildings was, "What a lovely setting for a railway." To reach Coleford, we had driven through the Wye Valley past Symonds Yat and through part of the Forest of Dean. We were on a day trip but I couldn't help feeling that this part of the world would make a great holiday destination.

      After buying our all inclusive tickets, we passed through the café (which provides drinks, sandwiches and cakes) .............

      .......... and out into the picnic area which is adjacent to the main platform and carriage shed (which doubles as an under-cover picnic area).

      I was impressed by the way everything has been organised and laid-out, including the indoor and outdoor play areas for children. But of course, I was here for the railway.

      Before boarding the train, I explored the carriage shed where some of the railway's historical exhibits are housed.
      A replica of Sir Arthur Heywood's dynamometer car
      Replica of an open wagon from the Duffield Bank Railway
      Replica of the dining car from the Duffield Bank Railway which included a kitchen
      Duffield Bank Railway replica First Class open coach
       In addition to the rolling stock, there were panels and contemporary photographs of some of Sir Arthur Heywood's  early 15" 'minimum gauge' railways.

       As it was the annual gala weekend, there were also some visiting exhibits such as this rather fine model of a minimum gauge estate railway.

      After watching some of the gala day trains come and go .........
      Spirit of Adventure 0-6-0 with one of the replica Eaton Railway saloons
      2-6-2 Fox, a visitor from the Kirklees Light Railway on a passenger train
      0-6-0 Ursula, a replica of one of Heywood's locomotives which ran on the Eaton Railway on a goods train
      We then climbed aboard one of the passenger coaches (made by Alan Keef) and departed for the upper terminus hauled by the line's 0-4 + 4-0 K1 Garratt loco.
      Entering Rockwood Station from the loop
      Passing 2-6-2T Lydia on her way down with a goods train
      Climbing through the woods between Rockwood and Heywood Halt
      Emerging from the trees above the line's engine sheds and workshops
      Rounding the loop on the approach to Oakiron
      Oakiron Station
      Our loco running round its train
      Descending towards the woodland above the farm
      Approaching Rockwood, we see Spirit of Adventure with a train of Eaton Railway stock approaching from Perrygorve
      Passing Spirit of Adventure at Rockwood
      Entering Perrygrove Station
      The train at Perrygrove Station
      I then spent a while exploring the site, getting some lineside shots. One of the benefits of the zig-zag route of the railway is that it's easily possible to take several shots of the same train by taking a short-cut through the woods.
      Visiting KLR loco Fox steaming up the gradient towards Heywood Halt
      And then down again through the woodland
      Eaton Railway replica, Ursula, steams into Oakiron station with a goods train ......
      Where her train was shunted .......
      ......... by the Lister diesel ......
      ..........which was based for the day at the station ......
      .... meanwhile the Eaton Railway replica guards van was shunted to the rear of the train.
      Spirit of Adventure on an Eaton Railways replica train above the line's engine sheds
      A moment of calm in the woodland near Heywood Halt
       Before leaving, there was an opportunity to take a few shots of the railway's locomotives as they simmered in the sunshine.
      Ursula - a replica of an Eaton Railway locomotive
      0-6-0 Spirit of Adventure - built by the Exmoor Steam Railway.
      2-6-2 Lydia - built by Alan Keef Ltd.
      ex-Bush Mill Railway (Tasmania) 0-4-0+0-4-0 K1 Garratt replica
      Hunslet diesel - Jubilee
      Simplex diesel - Workhorse - the line's original locomotive

       The Perrygrove Railway is the epitome of minimum gauge railways in the UK. It balances attractions for younger members of the family with a a pleasant environment and exhibits of interest to railway buffs. The more I have come to learn about Sir Arthur Heywood, his railways and his legacy, the more I've come to admire this little railway and the other 15" gauge railways around the country. My visit to this railway has fuelled my interest in finding out more and putting my visits to other minimum gauge railways into context.


       For more about Sir Arthur Heywood and minimum gauge railways see:



      The Duffield Bank and Eaton Railways by Howard Clayton - Oakwood Press

       Heywood's Minimum Gauge Railways (reprint of Sir Arthur Heywood's original 1898 booklet) - Turntable Publications

      Sir Arthur Heywood and the fifteen inch Gauge Railway by M.Smithers - Plateway Press

      Fifteen Inch Gauge Railways: Their History, Equipment and Operation by David Moseley & Peter van Zeller - David & Charles Publishers