Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

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Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway


Ravenglass Locos-07 - geograph.org.uk - 862194.jpg
River Mite at Dalegarth Station
Gauge: 15 inches
Location: 54°21’18"N, 3°24’29"W
Website: ravenglass-railway.co.uk

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is a 15-inch minimum gauge heritage railway in Cumberland. Its line is 7 miles long, running from Ravenglass to Dalegarth Station near Boot in Eskdale. At Ravenglass the line ends at Ravenglass railway station on the main line (the coast line). The railway is owned by a private company and supported by a preservation society.

The line

Dalegarth Station with the Lady Wakefield
The River Esk on the turntable at Ravenglass

The line runs up Eskdale from Ravenglass near the coast to Dalegarth amongst the fells. Intermediate stations and halts are at Muncaster Mill, Miteside, Murthwaite Halt, Irton Road, The Green, Fisherground Halt and Beckfoot. The oldest locomotive is River Irt, parts of which date from 1894, while the newest is the diesel-hydraulic Douglas Ferreira, built in 2005.

The line is known locally as La'al Ratty and its 3-foot gauge predecessor as Owd Ratty.[1]

Nearby attractions include: the Roman Bath House at Ravenglass; the Hardknott Roman Fort, known to the Romans as Mediobogdum, at the foot of Hardknott Pass; the watermills at Boot and Muncaster; and Muncaster Castle, the home of the Pennington family since 1208.


The River Irt at Dalegarth

Original railway

The original Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway was a 3-ft gauge line opened on 24 May 1875 to transport hematite iron ore from mines around Boot to the Furness Railway standard gauge line at Ravenglass.[2][3]

There has been dispute about the gauge. It is shown as 3 feet in records but is quoted as 2-foot 9 inches in some books such as the ABC of Narrow Gauge Railways.[4] This figure was believed for many years until the present company discovered a sleeper from before the line closed, with spacings between holes made by track spikes confirming the gauge was the wider one. The confusion probably stems from the fact that the line was built under the condition that it was "of a gauge not less than 2' 9" ".[1]

Passengers were permitted from 1876 and were carried until November 1908.[1][2] It was the first public narrow-gauge railway in England.[2] The line was declared bankrupt in 1897 although it operated for many years afterwards.[2] In 1905, a passenger train was derailed at Murthwaite due to a combination of a defective locomotive and defective track.[5] It was forced to close in April 1913, due to decline in demand for iron ore and small volumes of passengers in summer.[2]

Bassett-Lowke era

In 1915 Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke and Robert Proctor-Mitchell, two model makers, converted the line to the 15-inch gauge that it is today. The first train operated over the regauged line on August 28, 1915.[1] By 1917, the entire line had been converted and trains were running along the whole length. Initially, services were operated using the Bassett-Lowke-built, to-scale 4-4-2 Sans Pareil. Rolling stock was augmented by Sir Arthur Heywood's Duffield Bank line, following Sir Arthur's death in 1916. These included the 0-8-0 locomotive Muriel, whose frames and running gear were rebuilt as River Irt.

As well as passengers, the line transported granite between Beckfoot Quarry and Murthwaite crushing plant. From Murthwaite to Ravenglass the track ran as dual gauge for a time, with standard gauge track straddling the 15-inch gauge rails. A diesel locomotive was obtained in 1929 to work this section and details are in Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway locomotives. The line carried much of the goods and produce for the valley. By the mid-1920s, the line had been extended to its present terminus at Dalegarth Station. Passenger trains did not run during Second World War.

Keswick Granite

Following the war, the line was purchased by Keswick Granite Company, but the quarries closed in 1953. They sold the railway in 1960.


Locals and railway enthusiasts formed Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Preservation Society to save the line, with financial backing by others. The structure, the railway owned and operated by private company, with the backing of the preservation society, is still in place.

Despite construction of the 2-8-2 locomotive River Esk in 1923 and the rebuilding of Muriel into the 0-8-2 River Irt in 1927, the line was short of motive power. To allow for an expanded timetable, the preservation society raised funds to build a third steam locomotive. River Mite (2-8-2) entered service in 1967 and, although owned by the society, has been on permanent loan to the company ever since.

In the early 1970s it became apparent that, with passengers rising, another locomotive was required. This time the company constructed the locomotive itself. Northern Rock (2-6-2) was complete in time for centenary celebrations in 1976. A further addition was made in 1980 when the company constructed the B-B diesel locomotive Lady Wakefield.

Other significant locomotives include Bonnie Dundee, built in 1900 as a 2-foot-gauge tank locomotive before being donated to the R&ER by a member and converted to 15-inch-gauge, later converted again from tank to tender configuration; Synolda, a twin to the original 15-inch loco Sans Pareil, built in 1912, saved from Belle Vue Zoo in 1978 and now in the railway museum; Shelagh of Eskdale, a 4-6-4 diesel built in 1969 incorporating parts of the Heywood loco Ella; Perkins, a rebuilt 0-4-4 diesel locomotive, which started as a quarry shunter before being rebuilt into the steam-outlined Passenger Tractor and then again in 1984 into its current guise; Douglas Ferreira, a B-B diesel loco constructed in 2005 and named after the general manager of the R&ER from 1961 to 1994.

Since the 1960s, the railway has improved and visitors have increased. Between 1961 and 1994, Douglas Ferreira was the general manager and he is one of the people who have left the biggest legacy on the Ratty. Today, there are 120,000 passengers each year with up to 16 trains daily in summer. Trains run most of the year; the railway is only closed in January.

Gilbert's Cutting

After passing Spout House Farm the line reaches Gilbert's Cutting. Until 1964, trains were forced to follow a sharp curve along a contour in order to avoid steep gradients. However, after several thousands of tons of granite had been dug out, a new 230-yard cutting was opened by Colin Gilbert, thus ending the squealing noise the trains had made negotiating this part of the line until that year.

Present operations

Today, the railway is a popular visitor attraction in the Lake District, with the majority of its annual passenger numbers coming during the summer months. The entire single journey takes 40 minutes from end-to-end. Passengers can choose between open and covered seating, with some saloon coaches being fitted with heaters for the winter months. Disabled passengers and cycles can also be conveyed by the trains. The locomotives are ⅓ scale models of mainline locomotives and are air-braked at 50 psi.[6] There are over a hundred regular volunteers that help with the running of the railways, which include guarding the trains, carriage shunting and selling tickets at the major intermediate stations along the route.

Signalling system

The railway uses the Radio Control Train Order signalling system. Outside Ravenglass station, the line is single track with passing loops at Miteside, Irton Road and Fisherground. Trains operate by radio communication between drivers and at Ravenglass signal box. At passing loops and the terminus station, drivers contact the controller, using "RANDER" reporting numbers (even numbers for up trains, and odd for down), to indicate that the train is within the loop and is clear of the preceding single track. To leave the loop, the driver contacts control to gain authorisation to enter the next single track section. No semaphore signals are used outside Ravenglass station. Points at passing loops are weighted with direction indicators, meaning that no human intervention is required and the points reset themselves automatically after the passage of a train when entering the points from a trailing direction when the points are set for the other rail line.

Elements of the operation were used by British Rail to cut costs on remote lines. What became known as Radio Electronic Token Block signalling shared features with the Ratty, such as centralised control, automatic points at loops, and on-train equipment rather than fixed equipment at remote locations.

On peak days in the summer months, two trains depart each end of the line each hour. Capacity on the railway allows for a service run at 20-minute intervals.

Stations of the R&ER

Station Distance
Ravenglass 0 The main terminus and the headquarters of the railway company. It houses the railway museum, managerial offices and rolling stock maintenance facilities.
There is a turntable at the western extremity of the station's platforms, which doubles as the datum for mileage markers on the line. Ravenglass houses two locomotive sheds, on the southern side of the track, and a carriage shed on the northern side. There is a carriage & wagon workshop beyond Platform 1, opposite the signalbox. The Turntable Café is situated on Platform 1. The car park has spaces for 100 cars, as well as coaches. There are holiday accommodation facilities for weekly use, which consist of the Pullman camping coaches 135 Elmira and 137 Maid of Kent, and a holiday bungalow, the Hilton Cottage.
Muncaster Mill 1 mile Adjacent to an historic corn mill, it is unmanned station (formerly known as simply as Muncaster)
Miteside Halt 1¾ miles Accessible only from a footpath that passes along Miterdale, at the foot of Muncaster Fell. The station shelter is the wooden hull of an old boat, the third such structure at the Halt.
Murthwaite Halt 2¾ miles Only accessible from a footpath.
Irton Road 4¼ miles Approximately halfway along the line. It was formerly known as Hollowstones, after the adjacent farm. There is a passing loop within the station and, consequently, two platforms. It has three sidings which branch off from the "up" loop - two of which run into a small shed, and the third of which is used for ballast and log traffic. There is a station building, which dates from 1875.
The Green 4¾ miles Also known as 'Eskdale Green' and formerly known as 'King of Prussia' after a local pub, then Eskdale Green. The name has changed between Eskdale Green and The Green several times. Has recently received a new picnic area.
Fisherground Halt 5½ miles Accessible by a public footpath, adjacent to Fisherground campsite. Just East of Fisherground loop.
Beckfoot 6½ miles Setting down is permitted only from trains travelling from Ravenglass, and picking up is permitted only on trains to Ravenglass.
Dalegarth for Boot 7 miles The eastern terminus of the railway. It was formerly known as Eskdale (Dalegarth).
There are two platforms and a turntable. The facilities at this station include Fellbites Café and the Scafell Gift Shop. A water supply to platform 1 allows topping up of the steam locomotive's tenders.

Locomotive collection

Name Livery Arrival Type Wheels Builder Built Status Location
3 River Irt Mid Green 1917 Steam 0-8-2 Sir Arthur Heywood 1894 In service N/A
7 River Esk Blackberry Black 1923 Steam 2-8-2 Davey Paxman & Co. 1923 Overhaul stalled Engine shed
9 River Mite Indian Red 1966 Steam 2-8-2 Clarkson & Sons 1966 In service N/A
10 Northern Rock Muscat Green 1976 Steam 2-6-2 R&ER 1976 In service N/A
11 Bonnie Dundee Bronze Green 1976 Steam 0-4-2 Kerr Stuart 1900 Stored, unserviceable Engine shed
N/A Synolda NGR Blue 1978 Steam 4-4-2 Bassett-Lowke 1912 Operational Workshop
N/A The Flower of the Forest NER Green 1992 Steam 0-2-2 R&ER 1985 Stored, unserviceable Carriage shed
6 Katie Green 1982 Steam 0-4-0T Sir Arthur Heywood 1896 Stored, incomplete Off-site
ICL 1 Bunny Green 1922 Petrol-Mechanical B-2 Francis Theakston 1922 Stored, unserviceable Carriage shed
ICL 5 Quarryman Green 1927 Petrol-Mechanical 4w Muir-Hill 1927 Stored Irton Road
ICL 4 Perkins Yellow 1929 Diesel-Mechanical 4w-4 Muir-Hill 1929 Overhaul underway C&W works
ICL 7 Shelagh of Eskdale Two-tone Green 1969 Diesel-Mechanical 4-6-4 Severn-Lamb 1969 Awaiting new PU Headshunt
ICL 8 Lady Wakefield BR Green 1980 Diesel-Mechanical B-B R&ER 1980 In service N/A
N/A Greenbat Green 1982 Battery-Electric 4w Greenwood & Batley 1957 Stored, unserviceable Headshunt
ICL 9 Cyril Green 1985 Diesel-Mechanical 4w R A Lister 1932 Station shunter N/A
ICL 10 Les Green 1999 Diesel-Mechanical 4w R A Lister 1960 Workshop pilot N/A
ICL 11 Douglas Ferreira Indian Red 2005 Diesel-Hydraulic B-B TMA Engineering 2005 In traffic N/A

The operational passenger stock of the railway currently comprises:

  • 7 20-seat heated saloons (102; 110; 111; 113-115; 136)
  • 2 18-seat heated saloons (106; 107)
  • 1 14-seat heated brake saloon (112)
  • 3 20-seat saloons (119; 121; 122)
  • 2 14-seat brake saloons (104; 120)
  • 1 16-seat brake saloon (103)
  • 1 22-seat heated maxi brake saloon (133)
  • 1 20-seat heated maxi special saloon (130)
  • 1 17-seat heated disabled saloon (118)
  • 2 19-seat disabled saloons (123; 137)
  • 7 20-seat semi-opens (101; 108; 109; 116; 117; 124; 125)
  • 3 20-seat disabled semi-opens (127-129)
  • 9 20-seat opens (166; 169-469; 170-370; 387)
  • 4 18-seat brake opens (271; 371; 199; 287)

The permanent way department currently utilises nine four-wheeled flat wagons, eight of which have removable tops for ballast carrying, a four-wheeled railbender wagon, a bogie man-rider wagon, two bogie flat wagons, a utilities van and a mess saloon coach (105).[7]

The line in fiction

The Arlesdale Railway in The Railway Series by the Rev W Awdry is based on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.[8] In Small Railway Engines (1967), Awdry relates part of a holiday he spent visiting the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway with the Rev E R Boston; the two appear in the book as the Thin Clergyman and the Fat Clergyman, respectively. The Arlesdale Railway was also the focus point in Jock the New Engine, with an incident that was inspired by an accident that happened on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, when Perkins crashed in the back of the shed, and with cameos in other books.[9]

The fictional railway's locomotives are each based on Ravenglass locomotives: Bert, Rex, Mike and Jock are the steam locomotives River Irt, River Esk, River Mite and Northern Rock, while Frank, Sigrid of Arlesdale and Blister 1 & 2 are the Ravengalss's Perkins, Shelagh of Eskdale and Cyril.[8] The Arlesdale Railway stations are also visibly based on the Ravenglass ones: Arlesburgh is Ravenglass, Ffarquhar Road is Muncaster Mill, Marthwaite is Irton Road, Arlesdale Green is Eskdale Green and Arlesdale is Dalegarth.[8]

The line features in The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams; the canine protagonists evade the force of paratroopers searching for them by riding from Eskdale to Ravenglass on an empty train.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Van Zeller, Peter (December 2008). "100 years since the end of the 'Owd Ratty'". The Railway Magazine 154 (1,292): 39–40. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Whitehouse, Patrick and Snell, John (1984). Narrow gauge railways of the British Isles. David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-0196-9. 
  3. Davies, W.J.K. (1981) [1968]. "Inception of the Railway". The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. David & Charles. pp. 13–22. ISBN 0-7153-9224-7. 
  4. Ian Allan ABC of Narrow Gauge Railways, c. 1960, pp. 49-50
  5. Earnshaw, Alan (1989). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 5. Penryn: Atlantic Books. p. 5. ISBN 0-906899-35-4. 
  6. Andersen, Eliot; Jenner, David.. The Ratty Album Volume 3. pp. 3. 
  7. van Zeller, Peter and Higginson, Martin (2006). Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Stockbook (4th Edition). Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Preservation Society. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Awdry, Wilbert and George (1987). The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-96348-8. 
  9. Wilcock, David, respectively. The Rev Wilbert Awdry - Thomas the Tank Engine's Creator - Dies at 85, obituary in Steam Railway dated June 1997 online at pegnsean.net (accessed 13 April 2008)