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Thursday, 11 August 2016

Morwellham Quay - Copper Mine Tramway

In a nutshell

Gauge:         2'

Length:       Approx ¾ mile overall

Opened:     Originally mid 19th century
                   Visitor tramway - early 1970s


Morwellham Quay
PL19 8JL
United Kingdom

Tel.:        01822 832766 


Date of visit:     9 June 2015


Key Facts

  • Morwellham Quay was established in at least 1105 and remained important as a harbour well into the 19th century when it became the biggest exporter of copper in the British Empire with vessels of up to 300 tonnes using the quays.
  • The George and Charlotte copper mine through which the railway runs was opened in 1718 when it was known as the Providence Mine.  The George and Charlotte Mine is first mentioned in documentary sources from 1775.
  • The tramway runs 460 metres into the Deep Adit of the mine and passed an underground waterwheel which was used to pump water out of the lower levels of the mine 350 feet below.
  • In addition to copper and arsenic, the mine yielded a number of rare minerals including the largest known crystals of childrenite in the world.
  • Between 1862 and 1867 the mine reached its peak production, but it closed in 1868. It was reopened from 1869 to 1871. 
  • In the early 1970s, a new access to Footway Shaft was created to allow the narrow gauge tramway to be constructed. The railway travels for over 480 metres into the mine.
  • The railway follows the entrance to Deep Adit, just above the River Tamar, and extends past Whim Shaft, an internal shaft, the bottom of Crosscourse Shaft, and past Ley's Shaft towards Downs Shaft.
  • This adit was the main water drain for the mine and also the principal means of access for materials.
  • The adit roof is approximately 2 metres high and 1.8 metres wide. 
  • In 1985/86 the 'New Quay Drive' railway tunnel excavation (through virgin rock) connected the side of Deep Adit (at a point approximately 200 metres from the portal) to a new railway tunnel portal, via Engine Shaft thereby making a balloon loop for the railway.
  • The railway uses battery powered locomotives and specially built 'carriages' for the visitors.



My Impressions

After parking and making my way through the ticket office and shop for the Morwellham Quay site, I made my way down towards the quays and the main exhibits

The site itself looked very interesting but I was anxious to make my way directly to the Mine Tramway as I heard it can become very busy at peak times. After passing through the main village, I headed upwards behind the white buildings on the right to the Mine Tramway station.

A small queue was forming and we had to wait as a party of French schoolchildren were pre-booked on to first train.

Before long another train pulled into the station ......

.... and before boarding there was a brief opportunity to admire the one of the BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) which would be our motive power for the journey underground.

We were ushered aboard the passenger coaches and given safety instructions. I managed to secure a place directly behind the loco - an advantage of getting there promptly and waiting .....

....... and before long we were off. The first quarter of a mile or so of track took us alongside the River Tamar which we glimpsed from time to time through the trees and bushes which lined the railway ......

..... and then we reached the entrance to the mine itself - which looked quite unprepossessing and utilitarian.

 The train wound its way through various galleries and tunnels where clearances were quite tight - which explains the cage-like structure surrounding each carriage.

At intervals we stopped and our driver informed us about the history and working practices in the mine.

 The conditions were harsh and much of the work was done by hand. It seems hard to believe that, at one point, this mine and those surrounding it were the most productive in the whole of the British Empire.

After negotiating a few more twists and turns, we came to what was, for me, the highlight of the tour .... the underground waterwheel.

Not easy to photograph through the grille of the carriage roof, the waterwheel, which has been restored to working-order, was used to pump water from the lower chambers of the mine, which extended up to 350 feet below us.

We then set forth one more ........

..... until, ultimately, daylight was seen once more.

We emerged into outside world and made our way to a run round loop, ........

..... which gave us some tantalising glimpses of yet more industrial archaeological sites beside the river.

The loco ran around its train ......

 ..... and we then made our way back up the valley ....

.....  passing en route, the entrance to the mine which we used previously.

We now retraced our tracks .....

...... before arriving at the station once more.

 There was time to watch the loco run round its train .....

..... before it made ready for the next batch of visitors.

There was time for me to visit a few more of the exhibits .....

.... including the house which had been used for the filming of the TV documentary about the Edwardian Farm.

I was very impressed with the mine tramway. It afforded us with the opportunity to venture into the workings of a real copper mine and gain some idea of the sorts of conditions in which this important ore was extracted during the Victorian era.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit - not only to the railway - but also to the whole site - and the corned beef hash which I enjoyed in the café
was also something to savour.


Saturday, 6 August 2016

Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:          2'

Length:         3 miles (4.8km)

Opened:       20 November 1919 - closed 1969 (for commercial traffic)
                     Reopened 1968 (first preservation train)



Tel:       01525 373888


Date of visit:     31 July 2016


Key Facts

  • The railway was built just after the First World War to link the Double Arches sand quarries with the mainline railway south of the town at Grovebury sidings. 
  • It was constructed using surplus equipment from the War Department.
  • Two Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T locomotives were originally used on the line but they were unable to cope with the sharp radius curves in the railway and so were sold in 1921. 
  • It then became one of the first railways in Britain entirely operated by internal combustion locomotives (mostly Motor Rail / Simplex locos).
  • After WWII, most of the sand traffic was handled by road vehicles and so the railway declined. It closed to commercial traffic in 1969.
  • It was immediately taken over by a Preservation Group which had started running trains along the tracks in 1968
  • The present terminus, Page's Park, was where sand trains waited in sidings before crossing the road to the washers and transhipment sidings for the mainline railway
  • The route now passes through housing estates which were built in the 1970s before striking out into open country, passing some of the now disused sand quarries on the way
  • The line terminates at Stonehenge Works where the line's workshops are based. Beside the station is the brickworks after which the station takes its name
  • The railway houses one of the largest collections of narrow gauge locomotives in the country - and recently ran a train headed by sixteen of their internal-combustion powered locomotives.



My Impressions

Having never been to Leighton Buzzard before, I was pleasantly surprised by the location of the main terminus for the railway, being situated at the edge of a park. The first thing I noticed was the impressive, recently opened main building - very grand for a preservation railway.

After buying my ticket and browsing through the secondhand railway books, I made my way to the platform for the first train of the day.

Our locomotive was one of the line's O&K 0-6-0WT locos, Elf. She was being made ready before departure.

 I boarded one of the open-sided bogie coaches and before long we were chugging along the line. After skirting Page's Park ......

..... we very soon started making our way through various housing estates, which must make this railway fairly unique in the UK. We then crossed one of the many level crossings on the route - Stanbridge Road.

At  Leedon Loop, the driver exchanged tokens .......

....... before we once more passed through housing estates and level crossings.

On reaching the edge of the town we passed over Vandyke Road.....

.... after which the line took an abrupt right turn. While pausing for the guards to reboard the train we could admire the recently landscaped wild flower meadow .....

..... before running alongside Vandyke Road and out into the countryside.

After a mile or so we reached the Redland Brickworks ......

.... before rolling into the line's terminus - Stonehenge Works.

Here there were opportunities to view some of the exhibits and browse the exhibition showing the history of the railway and its connection to the World War I Light Railways.

 After watching the loco take on water .....

and run round its train ....

..... I boarded once more for departure.

Passing the wildflower meadow once more, we re-entered the outskirts of the town .......

...... passed the spur showing one of the branches to a former sand quarry .......

...... before passing Beaudesert (an Alan Keef diesel) on a Down train at Leedon Loop.

We ultimately steamed back into Page's Park station to terminate our journey.

After watching Elf run round her train ......

..... receive some ongoing maintenance ....

 ..... before departing once more, .....

..... I partook of an excellent lunch of omelet and chips in the cafe and then wandered around the engine sheds where Chaloner (a de Winton vertical boilered loco) was on show .....

...... together with some of the line's other locos - another O&K 0-6-0 and a Baldwin tank.

 After another visit to the bookshop, I was able to watch the departure of Beaudesert, before hitting the road back to Cheshire.

This is a remarkable little railway with an interesting history. I would like to revisit when it holds one of its galas to view some of the line's Simplex locos 'in steam'. Presumably, in a couple of years' time, when it reaches its 50th anniversary, there will be a special event or two. Well worth a return visit.