A Story of Three Gauges

2017 April 19-20

Railway Context Cumbrian Visit Day One Day Two Maps Walk Thank You Read Me

Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway stretches for almost 7 miles (11⅓ Km) from Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast to the interesting village of Boot. The 15in gauge line traverses attractive landscape as it wends its way ever further into the mountains of the Lake District.

The little train, known locally as "T' La'al Ratty",
is about to depart from the Dalegarth terminus at Boot
for the 7-mile journey to Ravenglass.
Motive power is "River Mite", a 2-8-2.

I had come to the end of a walking holiday and the weather encouraged me to delve into a spot of ferro-equinology. This was especially apt since, while I had visited the 15in "Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway", its northern relative, the 15in "Ravenglass and Eskdale", being at the other end of England, was usually out of geographic reach. So now was an opportunity not to be missed.

These web pages recount my experiences and I hope you will find these pages interesting. This is what I have lined up for you. Do enjoy your browse!

Enjoy your browse!

Historical Background & Context

There are two main incarnations of the "Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway". One is the 3ft gauge line. The other is the subsequent 15in reborn railway. Despite financial challenges, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway has survived to become the attractive tourist experience and local transport facility it is today.

Owd Ratty - 3ft Gauge

1875 & 1876. The Haematite deposits near the village of Boot in Eskdale were seen as commercially interesting, so in May 1875 a 3ft gauge railway was built to bring the iron ore to Ravenglass for onward shipment. In November 1876, a passenger service was started for the - at the time - remote communities in Eskdale. Motive power on the line was originally provided by two Manning Wardle 0-6-0T side tank locos. These were introduced in 1875 and 1876 and named "Devon" and "Nabb Gill", respectively.

Owd Ratty
The above outline appears on the Ravenglass and Dalegarth Station nameplates.
The outline of the 0-6-0T appears to be reasonably correct. However, the two original four-wheel passenger coaches (one 1st class, the other 2nd class) were actually longer, having three, not two, passenger compartments.

The following are among several links to postcard and model views of Owd Ratty.

1908 to 1913. The passenger service survived until 1908; by that time, despite tourism, the passenger revenue failed to cover the costs of bringing the line up to passenger safety standards. Two of the three Haematite sources also ceased, so the railway closed entirely in April 1913. So much for "Owd Ratty" which is Cumbrian dialect for "Old Railway".

T' La'al Ratty - 15in Gauge

1915. The abandoned 3ft gauge railway was taken over, in 1915, by a Mr Bassett-Lowke and a business partner. They regauged the line from 3ft to 15 in.. The initial idea was for a test bed for the 15in gauge locomotives that Mr Bassett-Lowke was building. First trains on the regauged line ran in 1915, August 28. The whole regauged length of 7 miles to Boot was opened in 1917. The line was to become a popular tourist attraction, particularly associated with the 1920s.

1929. From 1929 to 1953, Ravenglass to Murthwaite was, for mining purposes, also dual gauged with standard gauge access from Ravenglass to Murthwaite; Murthwaite became the transhipment point for the granite brought by the 15in line from a quarry opened in 1922 at Beckfoot. Standard gauge motive power was provided by "Rom River" (Kerr Stuart 4421), a 1929 vintage diesel mechanical locomotive, now preserved at the Foxfield Railway.

1961. Financial difficulties closed the whole of the "Ravenglass and Eskdale" (R&ER) line in 1960, only for it to be reopened a year later by the "The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Preservation Society". Since then, the "R&ER" never looked back, apart from unavoidable disruption by Covid-19. The present line is often called "T' La'al Ratty", which is Cumbrian dialect for "The Little Railway".

R&ER - Some General Links

Before we go on, here are some general links to "Things Ratty".

Don't miss the pictures and narrative for Days One and Two of my stay in Boot!

Cumbrian - Language and Accent

Here is a very modest taster of the Cumbrian dialect. The present day "Cumbrian" is not to be confused with "Cumbric", a Celtic language which died out in the 12th Century. Of course, a dialect is more than an accent; a dialect also has some of its own words and spellings.

ratty         railway, rail track
owd         old
t'         the
la'al         little
trod         track
beck         stream

My Two-Day Visit to the R.& E.R.

There were two days, based at the YHA in Boot. Two days on which the weather encouraged sightseeing rather than venturing into the mountains. The first day was local at Boot. The second day concentrated on the R&ER.

Day One. On the first full day in Boot we made use of the misty weather by exploring Boot, including aspects associated with "Owd Ratty" and "T' La'al Ratty. I looked at the comings and goings at the present Dalegarth terminus and investigated the remnants of the quarry line with its bridge over the River Esk.

Day Two. On the second full day in Boot - my "add-on" day - I travelled the length of the R&ER and enjoyed the photo opportunities. I also visited the old Roman Bath House at Ravenglass. The R&ER museum at Ravenglass was still being renovated and so unfortunately had not reopened before the end of my few days' stay in Boot.

Thank You

Thank you to all those in CLOG who arranged our away break in 2017 from April 13 to 19 in Ambleside and in Eskdale. We started with a few days in Ambleside and ended with a few more days in Boot in Eskdale. I managed to stay on an extra full day - April 20. We all had a good time and managed quite nicely with the weather - sometimes sun, sometimes "Lakeland mist". We saw several aspects of "The Lakes": mountains, lakes, railways, history! Thank you to those who led walks and arranged events. Thank you all for your good company.