Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

From TrainSpottingWorld, for Rail fans everywhere
Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway
Ravenglass Eskdale Rly 1981.jpg
Ravenglass station, summer 1981. Left to right are River Esk, River Mite, and railcar Silver Jubilee
Place Cumbria
Terminus Ravenglass
Commercial Operations
Name Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway
Gauge 3 ft (914 mm)
Preserved Operations
Operated by Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Co. Ltd.
Stations 9
Length 7 miles
Gauge 1 ft 3 in (381 mm)
Commercial History
Opened 1875
Closed 1960
Preservation History
1960 Saved by the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Preservation Society and reopened owned by the R&ER Co. Ltd.
1977 New Radio Control System unveiled.
Dalegarth Station near Boot, with Ravenglass-built diesel loco Lady Wakefield
River Esk, with her driver, Peter van Zeller, on the turntable at Ravenglass station

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is a heritage railway in Cumbria, England. The 7 mile long line runs from Ravenglass to Dalegarth near Boot in the valley of Eskdale, in the Western Lake District. At Ravenglass, the line connects with Ravenglass for Eskdale railway station on the Cumbrian Coast Line. Intermediate stations and halts are located at Muncaster Mill, Miteside Halt, Murthwaite Halt, Irton Road, Eskdale Green, Fisherground Halt and Beckfoot. The railway is owned by a private company and is supported by a Preservation Society. The oldest locomotive is the River Irt, a Heywood-designed engine dating from 1894.

The line is affectionately known locally as "La'al Ratty", Cumbrian dialect for "little narrow way".

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


A 3' gauge line was opened on 24th May, 1875 for the transportation of haematite iron ore from mines around Boot village at Gill Force, Nab Gill and Ban Garth to the Furness Railway's standard gauge line at Ravenglass. Passengers were permitted to be carried from 1876, although the line's use remained primarily industrial, with two steam locomotives, Nabb Gill and Devon, Manning Wardle 0-6-0 tank engines, working a "one engine in steam" policy.. The line was declared bankrupt in 1897 although it still operated until it was eventually forced to close in April 1913, due to the decline in demand for iron ore and unsustainably small volumes of passenger traffic in the short summer season.

In 1915, WJ Bassett-Lowke and RP Mitchell, two well-known model makers of the day, took over the line and began converting it to the 15 in (381 mm) gauge that it is today. By 1917, the entire line had been converted and trains were running along the whole length again. Initially, services were operated from Ravenglass to Muncaster Mill using the Bassett-Lowke-built, to-scale 4-4-2 Sans Pareil. Rolling stock was augmented by additions from Sir Arthur Heywood's Duffield Bank Railway line, following Sir Arthur's death in 1916. These additions included the 0-8-0 locomotive Muriel, whose frames and running gear were later rebuilt as River Irt. As well as passenger traffic, the line was used to transport granite between Beckfoot Quarry and the Murthwaite crushing plant. From Murthwaite to Ravenglass the track ran as dual gauge for a time, with standard gauge track straddling the far smaller 15" gauge rails. The line also 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, following short periods of termination at Boot station, the ex-3' gauge terminus; Beckfoot and Dalegarth Cottages.

Passenger trains did not run during World War II. Following the war, the line was purchased by Keswick Granite Company, but the quarries were closed in 1953. With the railway up for sale, 1960 was to be the last season that passenger traffic would run. Locals and railway enthusiasts formed The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Preservation Society in a successful effort to save the line, with financial backing provided by others. The resulting structure, with the railway owned and operated by private company, with the continued backing of the Preservation Society, is still in place to this day.

Despite the construction of the 2-8-2 engine River Esk in 1923 and the rebuilding of Muriel into the 0-8-2 River Irt in 1927, following its salvation the line was chronically short of useable motive power. To allow for an expanded timetable, the Preservation Society raised funds for the construction of a third steam locomotive. River Mite (2-8-2) entered service in 1967 and, although still owned by the Society, has been on permanent loan to the Company ever since.

In the early 1970s it became apparent that, with passenger numbers ever rising, another locomotive was required. This time the Company decided to construct the new engine in-house. Northern Rock (2-6-2) was completed in time for the railway's centenery celebrations in 1976. A further addition to the stock roster was made in 1980 when the Company constructed the B-B diesel-hydraulic locomotive Lady Wakefield, named after the wife of the company director, Lord Wavell Wakefield of Kendal.

Other significant locomotives on the line today include: Bonnie Dundee, originally built in 1900 as a 2' gauge Dougal Drummond tank engine for Dundee gas works before being donated to the R&ER by a Preservation Society member, Ian Fraser, and then converted to 15" gauge, later being converted again from tank to tender configuration; Synolda, a twin to the original 15" gauge loco Sans Pareil, built in 1912, saved from the Belle View Zoo in 1978 and now resident in the railway museum; Shelagh of Eskdale, a 4-6-4 diesel locomotive built in 1969 incorporating some parts of the Heywood loco Ella; Perkins, a much rebuilt 4w-4 diesel engine, which started life as a quarry shunter before being rebuilt into the steam-outlined Passenger Tractor and then again in 1984 into its current guise and Douglas Ferreira, a second B-B diesel-hydraulic loco constructed in 2005 at TMA Engineering of Birmingham and named after the General Manager of the R&ER from 1961 to 1994. This latter loco is the second to be owned by the Preservation Society.

In the last forty years, the railway has significantly improved and visitor numbers have increased substantially. Between 1961 and 1994, Douglas Ferreira was the General Manager of the line, and he is thought to be one of the people who have left the biggest legacy on the Ratty. Today, there are over 120,000 passengers each year with up to 18 passenger trains daily in the high summer season from each terminus. Trains run throughout most of the year, with only January being a 'closed' month.

A significant benefit of membership of the Preservation Society is free travel on the railway (1/4 fare applies at special events and Public Holidays), membership is £16 and a link to their web site can be found below. Many members of the society choose to volunteer in all manner of ways - as guards, out on the track, publicising the railway and maintaining the locos and stock.

Train operations

The Railway utilises an innovative (in the UK) method of train operations, known as Radio Control Train Order. Outside of the environs of Ravenglass station, the line is single track with passing loops at Miteside, Irton Road and Fisherground. Trains on the line operate using a system based on the use of radio communication between drivers and control (based at Ravenglass signal box). At passing loops and the terminus station, drivers must contact the controller, using their unique "RANDER" reporting numbers (even numbers for Up trains ex-Ravenglass, and odd for Down) to confirm that the train is safely within the confines of the loop and is clear of the preceding single track section. To leave the loop, the driver must again contact control to leave the loop and re-enter the next single section. No fixed signals are used outside of Ravenglass station. Points at the passing loops are spring loaded with direction indicators, meaning that no human intervention (other than checking points are correctly set using the indicators before entering and after leaving the loop) is required.

Certain elements of the Ravenglass method of train operation were subsequently utilised by British Rail in their scheme to cut costs on remote lines. What eventually became known as Radio Electronic Token Block signalling shared several features with the "Ratty" system, such as centralised control, spring loaded points at loops, and reliance upon on-train equipment rather than expensive fixed equipment at remote locations.

The Line


It is a seven mile journey from Ravenglass on the Cumbrian Coast to Dalegarth for Boot, at the foot of England's highest mountains, the Scafells. Over the course of the route we travel through two of Lakeland's loveliest valleys, Miterdale and Eskdale, run along the base of Muncaster Fell and climb over 120 feet up some harsh gradients, from sea level at the railway's start point.

There are two main platforms at Ravenglass, the central one being unused because of the railway's "doors on one side only" policy, which aims to reduce the number of incidents involving children falling from moving trains by providing fewer opportunities for this to happen. As Platform 2 is on the "off-side" of the stock (the side without doors or openings), it is now mainly used to stable locos or coaching stock. All three platform roads end in the turntable, which dates from the mid 1920s. The station throat, with its scissors crossover, is surrounded by the 1960s signalbox, with a 29-lever frame, to the left and the railway's C&W workshops and joinery on the right. Passing the Pullman camping coaches Elmira and Maid of Kent which sit next to the site of the old granite tippler gangtry, we then draw onto the overbridge above the village main road. Next we have the mess block and five-road carriage shed on the left. The opposite side of the railway holds the 1875-dated engine shed and paint shop, which was formerly the diesel shed. There is now a long headshunt for holding the railway's permanent way stock which runs alongside the main line up until we reach the first quarter milepost at Raven Villa, and this marks the end of station limits of Ravenglass, as we pass the outer home signal. This is the first point of contact between driver and controller in the signalbox, as a radio message is sent informing the controller of the train's clearance from Ravenglass, and entry into the first single-line section.

The next stretch is a sharp descent down onto Barrow Marsh, the estuary of the River Mite. This is one of the railway's steepest gradients and can prove troublesome if coming in the other direction with a heavy train after a standing start at Muncaster Mill station. Over Big Knob Bridge at the foot of the bank, we now are down almost to sea level. Oystercatchers can be seen during the spring and summer, indeed, they even lay their eggs in the middle of the track, camoflaging them in the ballast. Three-quarters of a mile out of Ravenglass and we reach the first overbridge, Black Bridge, used by the farmer to move his sheep from one side of the line to the other. The driver will now look back for the "tip" from the guard for the upcoming station stop. If we are given a "right away" signal, then we can go straight through, providing that there is no-one on the platform and get a good run at the upcoming incline. The first milepost is shadowed by the A595 roadbridge, as the engine whistles upon passing under it, and we have arrived at Muncaster Mill station, site of the former water mill. The mill is now a private dwelling and no longer open to the public. There is a farm crossing at the far end of the platform and once we are safely clear of this, the driver can open the regulator to give the engine more steam and thus more speed to get us up the approaching bank.

Curving right, we pass over Mill Race, the leat feeding the wheel at the Mill and we are now working our way up the steep gradient through Mill Wood. On the right, you must look out for red squirrels near the feeders - a team of R&ER volunteers work all year round to make sure that the reds are fed and looked after. Our next port of call is Miteside Halt, which is seldom used. A footpath crosses the line here to the nearby Miteside House, and the station is unusual as it has the bow of a boat as its shelter. This is tradition and is the third of its kind to serve this purpose here. Radio contact is established with Ravenglass again as we pass the Report Board for Miteside Loop, and the driver requests "the road" on to Irton Road, into the second single-line section. We come around the reverse curve into the deforested clearing, getting excellent views of Muncaster Fell above and we plunge into the loop. Climbing out of the loop and into the trees again, we cross Katie Caddy bridge and pass the second milepost, whistling as we approach the footpath crossing at Wet Cutting, aptly named because of its ever-saturated ditches.

Next we come to one of the wonders of the railway, the ruins of Murthwaite Crushing Plant, nestled in the undergrowth and abandoned for nearly 50 years now. The tunnel for crushed stone remains, as does the embankment for roughly-cut granite. A siding is still here and it is used as a store for the permanent way department. Passing the two and a half milepost, we then come to the short but severe gradient at the top end of the siding, over the points and cresting the summit at Murthwaite Oak, a massive and ancient tree which towers above the line. The next long straight, passing the site of Murthwaite Quarry, ends in a right hand bend, upon which Murthwaite Halt sit situated, the ruins on the farmhouse close by on the left of the line. After the brief respite from climbing, we now wet north-east past Coronation Street and the third milepost into Horsefalls Wood, a continuous half-mile climb alongside the River Mite, for the most part on a ledge sixty foot above the river and valley floor. Towards the end of the gradient we swing around the reverse bends of Rock Point, before summiting the hill at Walk Mill Summit, named after the now-derelict building hidden in the trees nearby. This is the site of the railway's steepest incline, a short stretch of 1-in-40 for Up trains to tackle, before decending to Big Stone on a 1-in-51,, crossing over the trail hounds route on the way, before beginning the long and gradual climb along Irton Levels towards the line's halfway point. The plantations on either side of the line are home to saddleback pigs, herdwick sheep and various breeds of cows.

The ruined sides of the line's second Black Bridge stand either side of the line before we cross the farm lane at Tom's Crossing and reach the report board for Irton Road station, which is just ahead. We have come four miles in twenty minutes and are now inside the village of Eskdale Green, nestled at the eastern end of Muncaster Fell. We have lost the River Mite as it heads north-east towards Upper Miterdale. The loop at Irton Road is lengthy and incorporates the station inside of it. The bridge to Hollowstones farm crosses the line in the middle of the loop. There are sidings here into a small shed for storing stock on the car park side of the line. Proceeding over the beck which marks the boundary between Irton and Muncaster parishes, we descend south-east towards the vale of the River Esk, along the stretch known as Randlehow and then crossing another footpath at Long Yocking, curving away 90 degrees to the left around the house of the same name before entering the Chicken Run. The River Esk is not far away as we come around the final bend into Eskdale Green station, with its public level crossing at the western end of the platform. The station building here was constructed by volunteers in the late 1960s. Under the main valley road at the far end of the station, we come to Hollin How Bank, formerly a 1-in-36 climb out of the village, it has now been slightly levelled in 1-in-43. The fifth milepost is at the summit of the grade, and we pass under another bridge, which carries a lane and footpath to the house at Hollin How. Hollin How summit affords excellent views up the valley to Harter Fell, Green Crag and Hardknott. We cross over the farm track and bridleway from Fisherground farm at Fisherground Crossing before rounding Fisherground bottom corner and pulling up into Fisherground Loop, five and a half miles from Ravenglass. The large campsite is visible through the trees as we come out of the loop and into the sharp right hand bend past the water tower, fed from Ban Garth mine (which is now no more) on the hillside and into Fisherground Halt, which is one of the busiest stations in the summer season.

The next landmark is the farm lane crossing the line via a bridge at Spout House Curve, and we head on at the foot of the ridge known as Hollinghead towards one of the great masterpieces in the railway's engineering, Gilbert's Cutting, opened not long after preservation. This deviation cuts out the reverse curves around Hollinghead Bluff and we emerge on the other side with both the main valley road and River Esk in view at the sixth milepost. Beckfoot Smithy is passed on the left as the driver looks back for the "tip" for the penultimate station at the top of the bank. Passengers watch in awe as Beckfoot quarry flashes by, no longer obscured from view by vegetation. Road and rail run side by side for the next mile as we pass through Beckfoot halt and the Stanley Ghyll guest house. The final level crossing at Beckfoot is forded and we now run alongside the Lonnin to Dalegarth Cottages up Beckfoot Bank, under the trees. This final struggle can prove tricky in bad conditions and the drivers are glad when they reach the top and pass Dalegarth Cottages at the site of the former Gill Force junction, the original main line heading up above the village of Boot behind the cottages. The railway now follows the former goods branch to Gill Force mine, passing the interim terminus outside the cottages before crossing Whillan Beck, a tributary to the River Esk and the points to the siding at Dalegarth before pulling into one of the two platforms, ending in a turntable. We have reached Dalegarth for Boot after a forty minute journey and the train crew removes the loco from the train and turns it for the return journey down the line.

Stock list

No. Name Livery Locomotive type Wheel Arrangement Builder Year built Year acquired Owner Status
3 River Irt Mid Green Steam 0-8-2 Sir Arthur Heywood 1894 1917 R&ER Co. Ltd. In traffic
7 River Esk Blackberry Black Steam 2-8-2 Davey Paxman & Co. 1923 1923 R&ER Co. Ltd. In traffic
9 River Mite Indian Red Steam 2-8-2 Clarkson & Sons 1966 1966 R&ER Preservation Society Ltd. Under overhaul
10 Northern Rock Muscat Green Steam 2-6-2 Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway 1976 1976 R&ER Co. Ltd. In traffic
11 Bonnie Dundee Bronze Green Steam 0-4-2 Kerr Stuart 1900 1982 R&ER Co. Ltd. Stored unservicable (used as fire tender)
N/A Synolda NGR Blue Steam 4-4-2 Bassett-Lowke 1912 1980 R&ER Co. Ltd. Stored operable
N/A The Flower of the Forest NER Green Steam 0-2-2T Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway 1985 1992 R&ER Co. Ltd. Stored unservicable
6 Katie Heywood Green Steam 0-4-0T Sir Arthur Heywood 1894 1916-1919; c.1985 R&ER Heritage Group (part of the R&ERPS) Undergoing restoration
ICL 1 ICL No. 1, Bunny Green Internal Combustion Bo-2 Francis Theakston 1922 1922 R&ER Co. Ltd. Undergoing restoration
ICL 4 Perkins Yellow Diesel 4w-4 Muir-Hill 1929 1929 R&ER Co. Ltd. In traffic (p-way duties)
ICL 5 Quarryman Fordson Green Internal Combustion 4w Muir-Hill 1927 1927 R&ER Co. Ltd. (maintained by MLG) Stored operable
ICL 7 Shelagh of Eskdale Two-tone Green Diesel 4-6-4 Severn-Lamb 1969 1969 R&ER Co. Ltd. In traffic
ICL 8 Lady Wakefield DRS Blue Diesel B-B Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway 1980 1980 R&ER Co. Ltd. Undergoing rebuild
ICL 9 Cyril Unlined Green Diesel 4w R.A. Lister 1932 c.1980 Murthwaite Loco Group In traffic (station pilot)
N/A Greenbat Dark Green Battery-Electric 4w Greenwood & Batley 1957 1982 R&ER Co. Ltd. Stored unservicable
N/A Blacolvesley Malachite Green Petrol 4-4-4 Bassett-Lowke 1911 1994 Bob Tebb Stored operable
ICL 10 Les Dark Green Diesel 4w R.A. Lister 1960 c.2000 Private Owner In traffic (workshops pilot)
ICL 11 Douglas Ferreira Indian Red Diesel B-B TMA Engineering 2005 2005 R&ER Preservation Society Ltd. In traffic


The line in fiction

The Arlesdale Railway in The Railway Series by Rev. W. Awdry is based on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.

See also

External links

Railway museums and heritage railways in England


Amerton • Appleby Frodingham • Avon Valley • Battlefield Line • Bideford and Instow • Bluebell • Bodmin and Wenford • Bowes • Bredgar and Wormshill • Bristol Harbour • Bure Valley • Cambrian (Society) • Cambrian (Trust) • Chasewater • Chinnor and Princes Risborough • Cholsey and Wallingford • Churnet Valley • Cleethorpes Coast • Colne Valley • Dartmoor • Dean Forest • Derwent Valley • East Kent • East Lancashire • East Somerset • Ecclesbourne Valley • Eden Valley • Elsecar • Embsay and Bolton Abbey • Epping Ongar • Foxfield • Gloucestershire Warwickshire • Great Central • Great Whipsnade • Helston • Hythe Pier • Isle of Wight • Keighley and Worth Valley • Kent and East Sussex • Kirklees Light • Lakeside and Haverthwaite • Lappa Valley • Launceston • Lavender Line • Leighton Buzzard • Llewellyn's Miniature • Lincolnshire Wolds • Lynton and Barnstaple • Mid-Hants "Watercress" Line • Mid-Norfolk • Mid-Suffolk • Middleton • Midland • Nene Valley • North Gloucestershire • North Norfolk • North Tyneside • North Yorkshire Moors • Northampton & Lamport • Northamptonshire Ironstone • Paignton and Dartmouth • Peak Rail • Perrygrove • Plym Valley • Ravenglass and Eskdale • Ribble • Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch • Rudyard Lake • Rushden, Higham & Wellingborough • Seaton Tramway • Severn Valley • Sittingbourne & Kemsley • South Devon • South Tynedale • Spa Valley • Steeple Grange • Swanage • Swindon and Cricklade • Tanfield • Telford • Volk's Electric • Weardale • Wells and Walsingham • Wensleydale • West Somerset • Wisbech and March "Bramleyline" • Yaxham

Centres and Museums:

Barrow Hill Engine Shed • Birmingham Museum • Bressingham Steam Museum • Buckinghamshire Centre • Coventry Centre • Darlington Centre and Museum • Didcot Centre • East Anglian Museum • Mangapps Museum • Moseley Trust • National Museum, York • Rutland Museum • Shildon Museum • Swindon Steam Museum • The Railway Age, Crewe • Walthamstow Pump House

Heritage Railways:

England • Scotland • Wales • Northern Ireland • Isle of Man • Channel Islands