Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway with some friends. We started out early from Carlisle, conveniently timing things to catch one of the services currently operated by top and tail Class 37s from DRS on top of Mk2f stock, all supplied by DRS but operated on behalf of Northern.
The Ravenglass and Eskdale or ‘La’l Ratty’ in Cumbrian is a 7 mile, 15″ gauge line down in one of highly scenic southern parts of West Cumberland. While it’s relatively close to Sellafield, the large nuclear plant doesn’t intrude into the vista much and is quickly lost from sight once your journey up the Esk Valley to Dalegarth commences.
The station at Lakeside adjoins the Network Rail Station and it’s a tidy, welcoming place with friendly and professional staff.
They combine this professionalism with a laid back and homely approach, personified by this lovely Labrador working as s ‘firedog’!
The Ratty was built in 1875, originally to 3′ gauge for slate extraction but was converted to 15″ gauge shortly before the (not very) Great War and has operated as such ever since. In the post-WW2 era, the line became much more widely known, partly due to characters in the Rev Awdry’s books.
The 15″ gauge locomotives are beautifully engineered representations of full-size locomotives although they are distinctive in their own right – they are not replicas of full size main line machines, but are proportioned in a way that if scaled up to main line size they would look perfectly at home.
This is readily apparent from our host engine on the day, River Irt.
The journey up the Esk Valley and back was scenic in spite of the indifferent weather and it was apparent that River Irt was earning her keep in full. The engine was having to work hard with a heavy trailing load – the train was full and there wasn’t a great deal to differentiate, sound-wise with a full size machine.
It’s a special feature of the line that the locomotives are all fitted with whistles formerly fitted to main line machines – River Irt’s appeared to be a Southern ‘Bulleid’ type as carried by ‘Merchant Navy’ and ‘West Country’ class machines.
‘River Mite’ carried a ‘Stanier’ type as carried by the likes of Duchess of Sutherland or Scots Guardsman on the main line.
‘Northern Rock’, also in steam that day carries a ‘Chime’ whistle, carried I believe by a Gresley A4 in a previous life.
Here’s ‘Northern Rock’ awaiting her sister’s return just outside Ravenglass on our way back.
The line is surprisingly intensive in its operation; there were three steam and one diesel locomotive in operation during our visit with two stops at passing loops to meet other trains on route. The route is controlled by Radio Electronic Block Signalling as used on the West Highland since 1985 and operates on pretty much similar principles.
Even with that, when the full service is in operation on the busiest days, I suspect the signallers really earn their crust!
One thing particularly impressed me on the Ratty (although pretty much everything did); that was the superb track and infrastructure (trackwork anorak warning!) and it’s clear that the railway has a first class PW department. The track although ‘only’ 15 inch gauge is laid with flat bottom rail on vinyl coated timber sleepers, secured with pandrol fastenings. The track itself is well ballasted and maintained. The ride, even on jointed rail was commendably smooth and the formation one of the tidiest and best kept I’ve seen on ANY railway.
I know a guy in Lincolnshire who’d love it! 😉
All too quickly it was time to catch the train back to The Citadel, but again we timed it for one of the 37- hauled services, so a fitting end to the day.
We had a great time at Ravenglass. Our hosts certainly know how to run a scenic railway; one that Cumbrians are justifiably very proud of.
Although the line is miniature, the engineering on display is impressive and the line has its own engineering shops where it still produces locomotives not only for its own use but even for railways elsewhere including Japan!
I highly recommend you pay them a visit. You can find out more here if you are interested.
These folks deserve support for their superb efforts and I’ll be creating a permanent link from this blog in due course.
Meantime, do pay La’l Ratty a visit if you get the chance. There’s far more to this place than a short blog entry can even think of covering.
Leave any preconceptions you might have about a narrow gauge miniature railway at home. This may well be miniature and narrow gauge but looks very much like a busy secondary main line with a friendly ‘branch line’ vibe. Very dog-friendly too as River Mite’s ‘fireman’ will testify! 😊
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