Sodor (fictional island)

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A map of the Island of Sodor showing the Railway system (click to enlarge).

Sodor is a fictional island in the Irish Sea used as the setting for The Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry, and later used in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends television series.

The name and location were chosen by the Rev. W. Awdry, an Anglican clergyman, while on a visit to the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man constitutes the Church of England diocese of Sodor and Man, though the name Sodor is of historical significance only and there is no Island of Sodor. Awdry sited Sodor in the Irish Sea, between the Isle of Man and Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.

Geography of Sodor

Sodor is usually shown as much larger than Man. It is often shown as roughly diamond-shaped, 62 miles wide east to west and 51 miles long north to south. Its northwest coast is separated from the Isle of Man by a sea strait called the Sudrian Sea, four miles wide. Its northeast edge overrides and replaces the real Walney Island.

The place names on Sodor are mostly a mixture of Manx and Norse. The island's language is Sudric, though like Manx, this is falling out of use. It has various small industrial sites, including a prosperous stone quarry served by the island's railway. Its highest mountain is Culdee Fell, which was modelled on Snowdon: the ridge of Devil's Back copies the Clogwyn ridge on Snowdon. The summit is reached by the Culdee Fell Railway, which is based on the Snowdon Mountain Railway in Wales.

The ancient capital of Sodor is the 'city' of Suddery but Tidmouth has grown to be the largest town on the island. One of the more famous settlements on Sodor is Ffarquhar, the terminus of Thomas the Tank Engine's Branch Line.

All of the other settlements on the island are described in Locations on the Island of Sodor, while the six railway lines from The Railway Series are described below.

Inspiration and Creation

The need for consistency in the locations for The Railway Series necessitated the creation of a suitable location. Awdry required a setting for his books that would be within Great Britain, but would be sufficiently isolated from the rest of British Railways to allow him to do as he wished with the location.

Inspiration came on a visit to the Diocese of Sodor and Man. Awdry noted that while there is an Isle of Man, there was no similar Island of Sodor. A large island would meet the criteria he required, giving him the isolation from changes to the British railway system while giving him somewhere that people could believe in.

He and his brother George worked out the history, geography, industry and language of Sodor between them. Inspiration came from various sources. Dryaw was an anagram of Awdry. Elsbridge was named after Wilbert's parish of Elsworth. Some place names were Sudric equivalents of those in the real world (for instance, Skarloey was the Sudric version of the Welsh Talyllyn.) By the time they had finished, they knew more about Sodor than would ever be used in the actual Railway Series stories.

Their abridged notes were published in 1987 in a book entitled The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways .

The Railways of Sodor

According to "research" conducted by the Rev. W Awdry, a government-sponsored amalgamation of the standard gauge railways in the Island occurred in 1914 to build a strategic railway for coastal defence called the North Western Railway. The railways concerned were:

  • The Sodor & Mainland Railway (1853-1901) which ran from Ballahoo to Kirk Ronan.
  • The Tidmouth, Knapford & Elsbridge Railway (1883-1914) from Tidmouth to Elsbridge (the railway was known as the Knapford & Elsbridge Railway until 1908 when line extended to Tidmouth)
  • The Wellsworth & Suddery Railway (1870-1914), which ran from Crosby to Brendam, with an extension from Crosby to Knapford in 1912 to amalgamate with the Tidmouth, Knapford & Elsbridge Railway.

The North Western Railway has had running rights into Barrow Central Station since the agreement with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1925. There is a Schertzer Rolling Lift Bridge of 120ft span and double track over the Walney Channel, designed by Topham Hatt and erected in 1915. The NWR built its headquarters at Vicarstown in 1915, but the administrative offices were relocated to Tidmouth in 1926. Until the construction of the Jubilee Road Bridge in 1977, the NWR had rights for a car-ferry and worked an intensive and profitable service. British Rail had running powers over the Bridge to operate the joint NWR/BR suburban service from Barrow to Norramby.

On through or express trains, engines from the NWR are detached at Barrow and "Other Railway" engines take over. Since 1925 the NWR has also had its own loco shed, turntable and servicing facility here. There is also a joint goods yard for exchange traffic.

When the railways in the United Kingdom were nationalised the North Western Railway became the North Western Region of British Railways. It was allowed to keep a large degree of independence from the rest of the network, which is why steam traction was preserved. The other railways on the island were not affected by the nationalisation. Since privatisation, the railway has again become the North Western Railway Company and, unlike most post-privatisation train companies, is responsible not just for the running of the freight and passenger operations, but also for the maintenance of the track and infrastructure of the railway.

The current railway system

The Island of Sodor Railway in the style of Harry Beck (click to enlarge).

All of the railway lines created in The Railway Series have their own pages with information on routes and the stations served.

  • The North Western Railway is the main railway company featured in the book. It controls the mainline railway and lots of the branch lines on the island and is often referred to as The Fat Controller's Railway.
Vicarstown to Norramby, via Ballahoo
Ballahoo to Crovan's Gate
Kellsthorpe Road to Kirk Ronan

The Island as portrayed on screen

The Island of Sodor in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends television series differs significantly from that in the books. Wilbert and George Awdry's notes have largely been ignored. This version of Sodor appears considerably larger, and has far more industry. It does not appear to be connected to the Mainland.

In the movie Thomas and the Magic Railroad Sodor was a magical land that could only be accessed via a Magic Railroad or by using mysterious "gold dust".

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Island of Sodor
Railways: North WesternSkarloeyArlesdaleCuldee FellMid SodorSodor & Mainland"Other"

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