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Saturday, 23 February 2013

Windmill Farm Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:       15"

Length:      ½ mile (one mile round trip)

Opened:    1997

Location:  

THE WINDMILL ANIMAL FARM
Red Cat Lane,
Burscough,
Lancashire.
L40 1UQ


View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map

 
Tel.:      01704 892282
 

Date of visit:   23 February 2013

 

Key Facts

  • The railway was set up in 1997 by Austin Moss to store and run his collection of 15" historic locomotives and rolling stock
  • The collection includes stock from the 15" Fairbourne Railway, the Lakeside Railway at Southport, the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, Bressingham Gardens, Liverpool Garden Festival and Dudley Zoo.
  • The farm site includes children's play areas, a cafe and livestock exhibits
  • Trains run during weekends during the winter and daily during the summer


Route


View Windmill Farm Railway in a larger map

 

My Impressions

Having paid my entry fee to the farm, I made my way to the railway, passing through the animal sheds, the cafe and the children's playground.

The loco and carriage sheds are adjacent to the animal barn and a window gives a glimpse of some of the railway's collection of stock - principally the Lakeside Railway locomotives from Southport - though in the background can be seen the railway's Pullman coach which was scratchbuilt on the premises.

The sheds connect directly to the line's main station which boasts its own trainshed.

Our loco for this journey was a Bo-Bo diesel which had formerly run on the railway at Dudley Zoo. As this was the midday train service the coaches were rapidly filled with enthusiastic children and their parents

Once all the passengers had found their seats, the train departed, initially winding its way through the fields past the windmill which gives the farm its name, and then through the fields.

After negotiating a couple of reverse curves the line approached its destination, passing the now disused junction for the balloon loop.

Taking the left hand branch, we skirted the lake, getting a view of the Lakeside Station building across the water.

When we arrived at the station, the loco ran round the train and there was a fifteen minute stop while the children took the opportunity to play in the playgound. In the summer, this would make a pleasant spot for a picnic, but with the occasional flurry of snow in the air, no one seemed interested using the picnic benches.

I took the opportunity to discuss the railway with the driver and guard, and view the photos and information in the station building about various other 15" gauge railways with which the railway has some relationship. I was interested to see some photos of Haigh Hall Railway when it was operational.

I understand there have been some discussions about the Windmill Farm Railway taking over some of the operation and maintenance of the Haigh Hall Railway, but at present there is no firm news on this.

I was also interested in seeing some pictures of Blacolvesley which was the only internal combustion powered locomotive to be constructed by Bassett Lowke and ran on the Blakesley Hall Railway. I believe it is now preserved at the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway.

What I find really fascinating is tracing the history of 15" 'minimum gauge' gauge railways in this country, from their original promotion by Sir Arthur Heywood in the late 1800s to the present day (see A Minimum Gauge Railway Chronology). Sir Arthur was almost obsessed with investigating, demonstrating and promoting what he considered to be the minimum viable gauge for a commercially successful railway. Whilst he had the opportunity to construct only one other railway (the Eaton Hall Railway) in addition to his own, the gauge was adopted by many of the more successful community and leisure railways (eg the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch, the Ravenglass & Eskdale and the Fairbourne Railway).

 There was also an interesting panel explaining the origin of the station building which had formerly been a signal cabin on the Great Western Railway near Bristol.


When we re-boarded the train, I was fortunate to be offered a seat in the guards van, which gave me a great view of the locomotive as we made our return journey.

Before long we once more returned to the main station, where we de-trained and the passengers made their way back to the delights of the farm.

Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to look over some of the line's collection of stock, including what looked like a replica of one of the original Heywood minimum gauge carriages.

I was then invited to view the railway's other stock in the sheds, which includes the 2-8-2 diesel hydraulic loco, Konigswinter, which up until this time has handled much of the railway's summer traffic.

In addition I was able to admire the recently restored former Fairbourne Railway 2-4-2 Guest loco Katie, which is intended to come back into operation this summer (an excuse for a return visit, maybe?). It seems Katie will be returning to Fairbourne in May 2013 for guest appearance (sorry about the pun!) at its steam gala.

The former Fairbourne Lister diesel, Whippet Quick, was also in evidence ......

.... as were the former Southport Lakeside diesel electric locos, Princess Anne, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and City of London.

Another loco which greatly intrigued me was what must be the most minimal of all, an 0-4-0 (or maybe a 2-2-0) vehicle powered by what looks like a recycled lawnmower engine.

The sheds also house a fascinating collection of rolling stock from various sources in various stages of restoration.

Having visited several 15" gauge railways over the past year I am rapidly coming to see their historical significance and the fascination which this gauge holds for those who are determined to preserve and to promote its continued existence. I am determined to re-visit this railway during the summer, particularly during their gala weekend when I assume much of the stock will be on show and operational. (eg see http://homepage.ntlworld.com/chrismansfield/windmill/ ). In the meantime, if you are ever in the vicinity, I would strongly urge you to visit the railway - maybe coinciding it with a visit to Martin Mere, which is less than a mile down the road, or a visit to the West Lancs Light Railway which is about fifteen minutes' drive away. I really feel that Narrow Gauge Railway collections such as this need to be supported and nurtured to ensure that this important part of our industrial and leisure heritage is preserved and further developed.

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