Fictional locations in The Railway Series
There are many fictional locations in The Railway Series of books by Rev. W. Awdry and his son Christopher. This is a summary of the locations as they appear in The Railway Series books. Follow the links to the slightly different perspective of the television series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.
The Island of Sodor is the fictional island in the Irish Sea created by Rev. Awdry as the setting for his Railway Series books. It is situated between the Isle of Man and the mainland at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria. The capital is Suddery, although the largest town is now Tidmouth.
Arlesburgh is a town standing on either side of the River Arle estuary. There are two railway stations in the town, the main one being Arlesburgh West on the North Western Railway which is the terminus of Duck's branch line. This is also the terminus of the Arlesdale Railway, and was once served by the Mid Sodor Railway. The other station is Arlesburgh Bridge Street, which is served only by trains on the Arlesdale Railway.
The town is a popular tourist destination on Sodor, largely because of the Arlesdale Railway. It is also an ancient port which once boasted a steamer service to Douglas, Isle of Man, which was operated by the Mid Sodor Railway. Arlesburgh West station near the harbour was first opened in 1916. Although it more or less closed in 1947, as the mineral traffic for which it had largely been built had dried up, it was reopened in 1968 by the Fat Controller to transport ballast from the hills.
It was here that Bulgy the Double Decker Bus stole Duck and Oliver's passengers. It was also here that the troublesome truck S.C. Ruffey or Scruffey was destroyed.
The NWR engine sheds at Arlesburgh are home to Duck, Oliver and sometimes Donald or Douglas.
On some early maps of Sodor including ones drawn by the Rev. Awdry himself Arlesburgh is spelt Arlsburgh. This spelling is also shown in an illustration of a Sudrian signpost in the story Thomas in Trouble from the book Toby the Tram Engine. The signpost also seems to imply that Arlesburgh is closer to Ffarquhar than is shown on the maps.
Arlesdale is the name of the River Arle valley and is the home of the Arlesdale Railway which runs from Arlesburgh at the mouth of the river to Arlesdale village itself.
Arlesdale village should not be confused with the nearby village of Arlesdale Green where the former Mid Sodor Railway had its main works and engine sheds.
Ballahoo is most notable for its tunnels on the main line of the North Western Railway of which there are two. The first was constructed in 1915 and, due to poor construction, partially collapsed. This left the tunnel in two sections.
The second tunnel was cut in 1922, when Henry the Green Engine stopped in the first tunnel and refused to come out. As it was impossible to move him, the Fat Director decided instead to cut a new bore. When Henry was finally removed, both tunnels remained in service. As a result of these events, the tunnels are nicknamed "Henry's Tunnel".
The only book in which the tunnels have played a significant role was The Three Railway Engines, the first book in The Railway Series, published in 1945. Although in the book the illustrations of the tunnel show that it has two bores throughout the two stories in which the tunnel is featured.
Ballahoo itself is a dormitory town for Barrow-in-Furness. It has a station served by a joint NWR/National Rail service from Barrow, and is on the Norramby branch.
The small town or village of Ballaswein just north of Harwick is the most northerly settlement on Sodor.
Barrow Central railway station
Barrow Central is the mainland terminus for the North Western Railway and is connected to the fictional Island of Sodor by a bridge to Vicarstown. In reality, Barrow Central is the mainland station of Barrow-in-Furness but has no connection to the Island of Walney (the island that was 'replaced' by Rev. Awdry to make room for Sodor) via Vickerstown.
Brendam is a town and a major port on the Island of Sodor.
The Railway Series version of Brendam is a medium-sized port, inspired by Par, Cornwall. It is at the end of Edward's branch line. It is shunted by Bill and Ben, the mischievous tank engine twins belonging to Sodor China Clay. The main source of traffic is china clay, and the waste heaps from the claypits apparently spoils a pleasant view.
As well as goods traffic, Sodor China Clay occasionally hosts days when rail enthusiasts may look around. Bill and Ben particularly enjoy the attention these visitors give them.
BoCo the Diesel Engine, Donald and Douglas work here, as well as Edward himself. Gordon the Big Engine once ended up here by accident, and Thomas the Tank Engine was temporarily based on the branch line for a short period.
The full name for Cronk is Cronk-ny-Braaid - The Hill in the Valley - so called because the town was built on a curious rocky outcrop in the middle of the valley leading to the heart of the island. This highly-defensive arrangement resulted in Cronk developing into a fortified town, and a castle (now ruined) was built here in the 12th century.
Cronk is roughly half-way along the mainline between Vicarstown and Tidmouth and is a stopping point for express trains. Just to the west is the magnificent viaduct where Gordon lost his dome (see Duck and the Diesel Engine).
A few miles to the north of Cronk are the ruins of Cronk Abbey and a public school. The school and Abbey are served by Abbey Station on the NWR's Peel Godred branch line.
Crosby, located between Knapford and Wellsworth, is a small seaside town famed for its fresh air. It is named after a remarkable stone cross, dating from the 11th century that is to be found in the churchyard. (In The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, the Rev. Awdry describes the cross in some detail and notes that a more complete description of the carvings on the cross may be found in the church's guidebook.)
It was at Crosby that Duck crashed into a barber's shop.
Crovan's "Gate" is a narrow gap in the hills that is the only practicable route from the east into the interior of the island. A famous victory in Sodor's history occurred here when the heavily-outnumbered King made use of the narrow pass to hold off an invading army until reinforcements could arrive. The gap has since been widened by road and railway builders. The name Crovan's Gate now also applies to a town which has grown up to serve the railway works and former quarries and mines in the area.
Crovan's Gate is served by two railways. It is the terminus of the Skarloey Railway and a station on the main line of the North Western Railway. It is also the location of the North Western Railway's extensive works. Just east of Crovan's Gate the NWR's Ballahoo and Norramby branch leaves the main line; this line was at one time part of the Sodor & Mainland Railway. The NWR's express train from Tidmouth to Barrow calls at Crovan's Gate.
The NWR works are possibly the best-equipped steam locomotive works in the British Isles, and are capable of undertaking any repair, overhaul or restoration job for any locomotive on the Island. They have also played a major role in the construction of new engines for the Arlesdale and Skarloey Railways. The Fat Controller has also recently been looking into the possibility of manufacturing components for engines on heritage railways.
Culdee Fell is the name of the mountain that dominates the centre of the Island of Sodor. It's name means: "The Mountain of the Companion of God"
The Devil's Back (ancient name Dreeym-y-Deighan) is a bleak ridge on Culdee Fell traversed by the Culdee Fell Railway (CFR). It is the last passing loop on the CFR before the Summit Station and is a wild, windy and inhospitable place. If the winds are more than light, it is normal practice for CFR passenger trains to stop here rather than continuing to Summit.
Dryaw began as a worker village for the staff of A.W.Dry, a company working on reclaiming this area of tidal land from the sea. Gradually a village grew up around the workers' homes, increasingly so as more land was drained and cultivated.
On the maps of Sodor drawn to accompany the Railway Series, Dryaw is shown to have two stations: one for passengers, and one on the goods-only Knapford Harbour line. The latter, according to the Awdry family's "histories" of Sodor, was the original station. Dryaw "Goods" station is, ironically, in the middle of the village and better equipped than the current passenger station, which is just an unmanned halt some distance from the village, although the provision of a large car-park there implies good commuter traffic. The villagers of Dryaw however often save themselves the walk to the passenger station (and possibly the fare of a ticket) by hitching a ride in the Guards Van of goods trains headed to Ffarquhar or Knapford Harbour, particularly on Market Days.
The name is an anagram of "Awdry" which is the 'real' backstory to the name – in the context of the books however it could be derived from the firm A.W.Dry, or the phrase 'Dry out', as this was among the first land to be reclaimed from the sea by the company's labours.
According to the research into Sodor's history by the Rev. Awdry, Elsbridge was the terminus of one of Sodor's first railways the Knapford and Elsbridge Light Railway that was later extended from Knapford to Tidmouth. When this railway became part of the North Western Railway the line was extended past Elsbridge to Ffarquhar.
The name "Elsbridge" first appeared on a sketch map drawn by Rev. W. Awdry to illustrate the story in which Thomas the Tank Engine and Bertie the Bus have a race. The name comes from the town of Elsworth, where the Rev. Awdry was vicar at the time.
- Main Article: Ffarquhar
The town of Ffarquhar is the terminus of Thomas's branch line.
Gordon's Hill is the nickname for the steep gradient on the NWR mainline between Wellsworth and Maron stations. Over a distance of five miles, the line climbs some 280ft to reach Maron Station - a ruling gradient of 1-in-75 that continues to be a severe test for locomotives on the NWR.
Gordon's Hill got its name after Gordon got stuck hauling a goods train and Edward had to push from behind. It is a place where a bank engine is often required to help trains up the hill. A further risk is that of runaway trains if there is insufficient braking power.
When the railway was first built, this already difficult stretch of track was made more treacherous by strong winds. The line now runs up an avenue of trees, which were planted to reduce this problem. However, this does mean that in autumn there can be the additional hazard of slippery leaves on the line, as James once discovered.
Gordon's Hill was first introduced in the story "Edward and Gordon" in The Three Railway Engines, the first book in The Railway Series, and it has also featured as a prominent location in the TV series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.
Interestingly, there is a real place in London called Gordon Hill, although it seems likely that this is a coincidence.
Hackenbeck is a small hamlet just to the west of Ffarquhar and is served by a halt on Thomas's branch line. It was just outside the Hackenbeck tunnel that Thomas got stuck in the snow and was rescued by Terence the Tractor.
Hackenbeck originated as a location on the Rev Awdry's Ffarquhar branch model railway.
The fact that the tunnel is between Hackenbeck and Elsbridge contradicts the illustrations in the story Thomas and Bertie in the book Tank Engine Thomas Again which shows the tunnel being just outside Ffarquhar station.
Harwick is a small fishing port in the far north west of the Island that has a ferry connection to the town of Ramsey on the Isle of Man.
The Arlesburgh or Little Western Branch of the NWR was at one time going to be extended here but nothing came of these plans.
On some maps of Sodor a railway line has been shown running east from Harwick towards the lake known as Loey Machan. This is the only remainder of earlier railway proposals to connect Harwick with Cronk via Peel Godred. Track was laid as far as the village of Cregwir before funds ran out. The line was only ever used as a horse-drawn freight line between Cregwir's quarries and the port at Harwick and was abandoned by World War II, with the rails being removed thereafter as part of the wartime drive for metals.
On at least two of the Reverend Awdry's early hand-drawn maps of the Island, the above-mentioned line is not shown. Instead there is a short narrow gauge line from Harwick to the village/town of Ballaswein a few miles to the north. Given that this line was never mentioned in the The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, in favour of the line to Cregwir, it might have been an idea Wilbert and George toyed with but eventually abandoned. However, this line also appears on the map of Sodor that features as the endpapers of the later book The Railway Series - The Complete Collection.
The Reagby family hold the Viscountcy and Barony of Harwick.
Haultraugh is a small seaside resort roughly half way along the Little Western branch line. The railway station consists of an island platform where trains on the mostly single track line can pass. It was here that Donald's duck Dilly made her home.
Kellsthorpe Road station is the junction of the NWR main line with the Kirk Ronan branch. The station is in between the two towns of Kellsthorpe and Rolf's Castle, and is inconveniently sited several miles from either.
King 'Orry's Bridge
King 'Orry's Bridge crosses the River Ab just south of Peel Godred. It is a bridge of medieval construction named after King Orry who won a famous victory nearby. Nowadays, road traffic uses a modern bridge built alongside, and King Orry's Bridge is in the care of The Sodor Island Trust. The Mid Sodor Railway had its eastern terminus here after abandoning plans to have a station in the centre of Peel Godred.
Killdane, originally Keeill-y-Deighan ("the Church of the Devil") after the circle of standing stones on the hill above the village, is the junction for the Peel Godred Branch of the NWR.
Kirk Machan (pronounced 'Matshan') is a village at the foot of Culdee Fell, that grew up around the 11th century church dedicated to St Machan, an Irish monk who lived as a hermit in a cave on the mountain. The cave is still a place of pilgrimage.
Kirk Machan station is on the North Western Railway's Peel Godred Branch. It is the headquarters of the Culdee Fell Railway, and is the location of the CFR's running sheds and maintenance depot. Exchange sidings are sited to the north, where CFR rolling stock may be transferred to standard gauge wagons for the journey to the NWR Works at Crovan's Gate. (Culdee was pictured here being transferred, on return from his overhaul, in the book Mountain Engines).
Kirk Ronan, named after the church of St Ronan, was the terminus of the Sodor & Mainland Railway, the first standard gauge railway on the Island. Originally just a fishing port, with the coming of the railway, the town developed considerably.
Knapford is a small town at the estuary of the River Els just south of Tidmouth.
Knapford Station is the junction for the North Western Railway's main line and Thomas the Tank Engine's branch line there is also a goods only station at Knapford Harbour where Percy the Small Engine works.
Some maps of the island show the main line terminating at the junction though tie in books by the Awdry's state that the terminus or big station is Tidmouth. Also on some maps Knapford does look the larger town whereas the Rev Awdry stated in the book The Island of Sodor - its People, History and Railways that it is a smaller dormitory town of Tidmouth.
According to the Rev Awdry's "research" into Sodor's history there have been 2 previous stations at Knapford both south of the River Els whereas the present one is north of it.
Early books in the series stated that the Express Train pulled by Gordon the Big Engine did not stop at Knapford but this is contradicted in some later ones by Christopher Awdry.
The name "Knapford" first appeared on a sketch map drawn by Rev. W. Awdry to illustrate the story in which Thomas the Tank Engine and Bertie the Bus have a race. The name comes from the parish of Knapwell, where Awdry was vicar.
The village of Maron has distinct 'old' and 'new' areas. The more modern village has grown up around the station, which is at the summit of Gordon's Hill, while the older houses are built onto the steep hillside on terraces, among lanes far too narrow for motor traffic.
The station is a compulsory stop for all 'Down' (westbound) unfitted or loose-coupled goods trains, so that the wagon brakes may be pinned down before the descent of Gordon's Hill. Bank engines, after assisting 'Up' trains to climb the hill, stop and reverse over the trailing crossover at the station to attain the Down line for the run back to Wellsworth.
Norramby is an attractive seaside residential town on the south-eastern coast of the Island. It is the terminus for the joint NWR/National Rail suburban service from Barrow Central Station on the mainland. On some maps the town's name is spelt Normanby. Historically the name comes from the sole Norman invasion of Sodor which landed here, an unsuccessful attempt which was routed by King Godred Crovan at the pass into the island interior now bearing his name (Crovan's Gate) - the Normans retreated to the bay where they'd made landfall, only to find their fleet had been set on fire by Sudrians during the battle.
The town gave its name to the Norramby family who have been Lieutenant Governors of the island and were given the title Earl of Sodor although the holders of which are usually referred to as Dukes by Sudrians.
Peel Godred is the terminus (for passenger workings) of the Peel Godred Branch of the NWR. It is a walled town, sited in the middle of the northern half of the island, and is the main depot for "The Sodor Regiment".
A mile or so beyond Peel Godred is the Sodor Aluminium Company's works, a major employer in the area, and a source of much needed revenue to the railways of the Island.
Next to the works is a hydroelectric power station.
Rolf's Castle is a small town whose castle began as a fortified church. The town has a railway station on the NWR's Kirk Ronan branch.
The "city" of Suddery although a small town is in fact the capital of Sodor and was at one time the seat of the Bishop of Sodor.
The NWR's main line bypasses Suddery as it climbs Gordon's Hill just to the north but there is a station on Edward's branch line.
Toryreck is a village with a station on the Ffarquhar branch of the NWR.
It is here that the goods only line to Knapford harbour diverges from the main branch line. This line was the original route to the main-line junction at Knapford, but was later realigned to serve the harbour, with a new connection from the main line joining the old formation at Toryreck Junction, just south of the station.
Toryreck used to be A.W.Dry's headquarters during the company's scheme to reclaim parts of the surrounding valley from the sea, and developed as a centre for lead mining - though the lead veins have been worked out there are still rail lines in use at the old mines , the old workings now being used to mine Uranium.
- Main Article: Tidmouth
The borough of Tidmouth is the largest town on Sodor, situated on the River Tid estuary. The headquarters of the North Western Railway are now here.
Ulfstead is a small town located almost in the centre of the island not far from Ffarquhar. At one time there were plans for the NWR Ffarquhar branch to be extended here. Ulfstead Castle is the seat of the Duke or Earl of Sodor. The former Mid Sodor Railway once considered connecting it via a branchline from their station at Ulfstead Road, but the expenditure of building their line through the Cas-Ny-Hawin valley forced the abandonment of the project.
Vicarstown is situated on the east coast of Sodor and is joined to the mainland via a bridge across the Walney Channel. It was the original site for the headquarters of the North Western Railway before they were relocated at Tidmouth.
Wellsworth lies near the coast at the northern end of a peninsula close to the island's former capital of Suddery. Near the village is a large hospital which serves as the main hospital for the entire island. The sheds at Wellsworth are home to both Edward the Blue Engine and BoCo the Diesel Engine who operate the branch line. Due to this Wellsworth is often called Edward's station in the books.
At one time the vicar of Wellsworth was the Rev Charles Laxey. Coincidentally, his son is now the vicar of the parish. As a result, Wellsworth vicarage is the home of Trevor the Traction Engine.
Wellsworth railway station is on the main line of the North Western Railway and serves as a junction for the Brendam Bay branch line. Although most trains run only between Wellsworth and Brendam some commence and finish at the big station at Tidmouth. The express train usually pulled by Gordon the Big Engine does not stop at Wellsworth, although it was once accidentally sent down the branch.
The line from Brendam to Wellsworth is one of Sodor's oldest and was at first known as the Wellsworth & Suddery Railway which was extended in the early part of the 20th century to Knapford to connect with other railways to become part of the NWR.
Wellsworth is known as Edward's Station in the television series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.