Published: 27th January 2015
R&ER – or La'al Ratty as it is colloquially known – originally opened as a 3ft gauge railway (Owd Ratty!) carrying its first goods traffic in May 1875 with passenger services following from November 1876. In 1915 conversion to 15in gauge commenced (covering Ravenglass to Muncaster Mill) with regauging of the full line completed in 1917.
The centrepiece of the year of celebrations of the railway as a 15in gauge line is an August 28-31 birthday party. Three visiting locomotives have so far been announced: Bassett Lowke-built ‘Little Giant’ 4-4-2 Count Louis (Evesham Vale Light Railway), Cannon Iron Foundries 4-4-2 No.1 Sutton Belle (Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway) and Alan Keef Ltd 2-6-2T Lydia (Perrygrove Railway). Additional guests could be added.
Vintage bunting adorning the stations and celebratory cupcakes available in the cafes should help set the mood for a weekend of nostalgia and steam!
A special feature for the birthday weekend will be much-cherished (but rarely seen in steam) Ratty resident 1912-built ‘Little Giant’ Synolda operating in company with younger brother, Count Louis. The pair will work six trains each day (each carrying 60 passengers) top-and-tail between Ravenglass and Muncaster Mill, the section over which the first 15in gauge trains ran in 1915. Ravenglass departures will be at 09.50, 11.40, 13.00, 13.40, 15.40 and 17.20 with the journey lasting around 15-20 minutes. On arrival at Muncaster Mill trains will immediately set off back to Ravenglass. Visitors can then board a scheduled service to Dalegarth if they wish.
This experience is bookable in advance as part of a day ticket, costing £20 for adults and £10 for children aged 5-15 which covers all-day travel on full-line services and a seat on the special gala train. Ticket holders will also receive a commemorative badge, an Edmondson memento ticket and can enter an exclusive prize draw to try to win a day on the footplate of a loco.
Synolda was built for the Sand Hutton Railway in 1912 by Bassett-Lowke. Rescued from Belle Vue Zoo in 1978 it was restored to working order by apprentice engineers from BNFL Sellafield, but is too light for everyday R&ER use. Count Louis and Synolda are similar to the Bassett-Lowke 4-4-2 Sans Pareil which hauled the inaugural train to Muncaster Mill in 1915.
Conversion of the R&ER to 15in gauge was undertaken by Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke, thus completing a neat century-old historic circle, and Robert Proctor-Mitchell, the pair having acquired the line on behalf of Narrow Gauge Railways Limited. Synolda carries the royal blue livery of that company.
The August event will have the added attraction of newly-resurrected Heywood 0-4-0T Katie. This locomotive was built at Sir Arthur Heywood's Duffield Bank works in Derby to run on the Duke of Westminster's private railway at Eaton Hall in Cheshire. Katie was built in 1896 for the opening of the line, followed by 0-6-0Ts Shelagh in 1904 and Ursula in 1916. When Ursula arrived Katie was sold to the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway where it ran until just after WW1. Subsequently sold to the Southport Miniature Railway in 1922 and the following year sold on to the Fairbourne Railway, she ran until about 1926.
Theoretically Katie was scrapped, although her chassis was used under a wagon until that was also scrapped. The bare frames were dumped in sand dunes behind Fairbourne station until recovery in the 1980s by Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Preservation Society volunteers, who commenced a project to revive the loco. The partially completed loco frames and boiler went to Station Road Steam Ltd’s Metheringham, Lincolnshire premises last year for her revival from dereliction to be completed.
The line’s new museum at Ravenglass is set to open in early summer with further special events including guided walks and Behind the Scenes Photography Days.
Guided walks, led by Eskdale ranger, Chris Berry, will include a historic circular walk to Beckfoot, then back along the old line to Boot. Another walk will head to Girder Bridge to visit the old iron works, returning across the stepping stones at St Catherine’s Church. These walks will be available on Saturday 29, Sunday 30 and Monday 31 August. They are free of charge, although donations to the Ravenglass Museum would be appreciated.
Behind the Scenes Photography Days on May 19 and September 1 starting in Ravenglass at 08.30 with a safety briefing preceding access to the engine shed include a seven-mile guided walk up the line. The guide will offer insights into the history of the Railway as well as pointing out locations for the best photographs of passing trains. The experiences will end at Dalegarth in time to return on the 15.50 train to Ravenglass. The day, costing £40 per person (bookable in advance) ends around 16.30 and requires an average level of fitness. Suitable clothing must be worn and participants must be aged over 16 years. The price includes a packed lunch comprising ham or cheese sandwich, bottle of water, crisps and a piece of fruit.
The 15in gauge line’s terminus is right beside the main line station, meaning access by rail from Lancaster and Morecambe, Grange-over-Sands, Windermere, Preston, Carlisle and Oxenholme, the Lake District etc. is straightforward. Regular Northern trains travel on the scenic Cumbrian Coast Line between Carlisle, Whitehaven and Barrow calling at Ravenglass every day except Sunday. Through tickets (for normal R&ER operating dates) can also offer savings with £4.00 off the normal combined adult fair, £2.00 off the child fare with even greater savings for railcard holders.