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The Lake District’s Only Narrow Gauge Railway
The 7 mile 15” gauge La’al Ratty, as the railway is known locally, is also the oldest
and longest railway in the Lake District, although the only other one is the 3½ mile
Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway.
1873 - The nominally independent Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway was authorised by
an Act of Parliament to build a railway of not less than 2’ 9” gauge from Boot to
Ravenglass where it joined the Whitehaven and Furness Railway.
The railway was originally built to the unusual 3’ 0” gauge. Only one other railway
in Britain, the Southwold Railway in Suffolk used the same gauge.
1875 - The first iron ore from the mines above Boot was carried.
1876 - The line opened to passenger traffic.
1877 - Railway company declared bankrupt, receiver appointed to run the railway.
1880 - Receiver acquired branch from Beckfoot to new mines at Gill Force.
1882 - Whitehaven Ore Mines Company failed following sharp drop in iron ore price.
1908 - Railway deemed unsafe to operate a passenger service. New Eskdale Railway
Company formed in an attempt to revive the line.
1912 - Nab Gill mines flooded.
1913 - 3’ 0” gauge Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway closed.
1915 - Miniature railway engineer, W.J. Bassett-Lowke had formed a company to build
15” gauge steam locomotives for use in parks and pleasure grounds. When he heard
of the Ratty’s demise, he saw an opportunity to run a much longer miniature railway
than was previously possible. After a visit, he obtained a lease on the railway and
started work on re-gauging it. The 15” gauge railway began carrying passengers as
far as Muncaster Mill the same year.
1917 - Re-gauging completed to Boot despite the Great War raging.
The final steep gradient to Boot proved to be too severe for the 15” gauge locomotives
and the line had to be shortened to Beckfoot. However, the line was soon extended
over the old mineral branch to Gill Force, eventually reaching the current terminus
beyond Dalegarth Cottages where the branch meets the Valley Road.
1920s - An all year service was provided but the winter service proved to be unprofitable
and ceased in 1927/8.
1939 - All passenger services were suspended for the duration of World War II.
1946 - Passenger services recommenced.
1948 - The railway was sold to the Keswick Granite Company but after 5 years the
Beckfoot quarry was closed due to stiff competition.
1953 - The railway needed to survive on passenger traffic alone but visitor numbers
were insufficient to make it viable.
1958 - the railway was inevitably offered for sale. After 2 years there were no potential
buyers apart from a scrap merchant.
1960 - It was announced that after the running season the railway would be auctioned,
either as a whole or piecemeal. Fortunately, there were some, upon hearing this announcement,
that were not prepared to see the railway disappear. Advertisements and letters started
to appear in national and local newspapers and an action group was formed in Furness
with the purpose of saving the railway. What was to become the Ravenglass and Eskdale
Preservation Society was formed and donations were collected from far and wide. By
the time of the auction, the funds were far below the expected asking price. However,
Colin Gilbert, a stockbroker and Sir Wavell Wakefield MP, who included Ullswater
Steamers in his business interests, came to the rescue. They had both been interested
in the railway for some time and seeing the enthusiasm of the Preservation Society,
provided the balance to secure purchase and as much again in working capital. The
railway was purchased for £12,000 and a new operating company was formed with Mr
Gilbert as chairman.
1968 - Following the death of Colin Gilbert, Lord Wakefield acquired his business
interest and took on the role of Chairman of the company. To this day, the Wakefield
family still owns the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.
2005 - New station and visitor centre opened at Dalegarth.
By train - R&ER Ravenglass station is adjacent to the national rail station on the
Cumbrian Coast line from Carlisle to Barrow in Furness. Through tickets can be purchased
from any staffed station or on the train. It is recommended to allow 30 minutes between
main line and R&ER trains at Ravenglass.
By car - There is parking available at Ravenglass and Dalegarth stations. Ravenglass
is just off the A595, Dalegarth is on an unclassified road near Boot, look out for
brown tourist information signs. Refer to the map above for locations and postcodes.
The map below shows the location of all the stations and Halts on the Ravenglass
and Eskdale Railway, click on any of the markers to see the station name and postcode
(where known). Use the zoom and pan tools to explore the map.
Attractions and Facilities
Facilities are concentrated at the termini, here’s what else there is along the route:
Ravenglass - Railway Museum, The Ratty Arms pub, Jan’s Café, gift shop, toilets,
Muncaster Mill Halt (Request stop) - Barrow Marsh nearby, home to a variety of wading
Miteside Halt (Request stop) - tiny halt with unusual upturned boat shelter, starting
point for Wainwright’s ‘Walks from Ratty’.
Murthwaite Halt (Request stop) - remains of granite crushing plant and quarry
Irton Road - Main crossing point, the line’s only station with original building
dating from 1876, western end of Eskdale Green village, 2 more Wainwright walks.
The Green - Eastern end of Eskdale Green village, George IV pub. (The station and
pub were called the ‘King of Prussia’ but the names were changed during WW1)
Fisherground Loop and Halt - Campsite
Beckfoot Halt (Request stop) - Wainwright’s ‘Walk from Ratty’ exploring the fells
and Blea Tarn.
Dalegarth for Boot - Boot village with two pubs, Cycle hire, walks, Scafell Gift
Shop, Fellbites Eatery, toilets, car park.
A daily service is in operation from April to October and at Christmas and several
winter weekends, click on the timetable image under links below for details.
Steam and diesel traction is used, the locomotives usually used on passenger trains
are as follows:
Heywood 0-8-2 ‘River Irt’ built in 1894 (the oldest working 15” gauge locomotive
in the world).
Greenly 2-8-2 ‘River Esk’ built in 1923 by Davey Paxman.
Clarksons 2-8-2 ‘River Mite’ completed in 1967
2-6-2 ‘Northern Rock’ designed by Ian Smith and built by the Ravenglass and Eskdale
Railway, commissioned in 1976.
B-B Diesel ‘Lady Wakefield’ built by the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway and commissioned
Perkins B-B diesel, ‘Douglas Ferreira’ commissioned in 2005.
Heathcotes 4-6-4 diesel ‘Shelagh of Eskdale’ completed in 1969 (not in service at
Bassett-Lowke 4-4-2 ‘Synolda’ built in 1912. This locomotive was rescued from Belle
Vue Zoo in 1978 and is essentially identical to the first 15" gauge locomotives that
worked on the railway during and after the First World War. It is not in regular
service and can usually be found in the museum.
Trains consist of a mixture of open, open sided and fully enclosed bogie carriages
to suit all weather conditions.
Since the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Co Ltd has been in the hands of the Wakefield
family, the railway has become one of the top visitor attractions in the Lake district.
Extensive work has been carried out on the locomotives, track and buildings including
the completely new station and visitor centre at Dalegarth.
Although keen on standard gauge heritage diesels, I am not a fan of narrow gauge
diesels so when visiting the R&ER in April 2010, I planned to take the 2nd train
after we arrived which, according to the timetable, would be steam hauled.
We travelled from Carlisle along the picturesque Cumbrian Coast Line by Northern
Rail class 156 to Ravenglass. Taking the second train gave us plenty of time to look
around the museum and at ‘Northern Rock’ and ‘Shelagh of Eskdale’ which were standing
outside the engineering workshop awaiting maintenance.
We stopped off at Jan’s Café and sampled the delightful home baking. The adjacent
main line station building was acquired by Lord Wakefield and transformed into a
public house called ‘The Ratty Arms’. We didn’t get time to pop in but it’s in a
When our train arrived, B-B Diesel ‘Lady Wakefield’ was in charge, shortly afterwards
the 2-8-2 steam locomotive ‘River Esk’ arrived on an engineering train. I hoped the
locomotives were going to be swapped over so that our train would be steam hauled
as planned but the diesel ran round the train, refuelled and was coupled to the front.
I didn’t let it spoil my day though, the 40 minute journey through spectacular countryside
and sleepy villages to the new station at Dalegarth for Boot was very enjoyable.
On the way, we passed two trains that were heading back to Ravenglass, hauled by
2-8-2 ‘River Mite’ and B-B diesel ‘Douglas Ferreira’, the newest locomotive on the
Dalegarth station and visitor centre is in a beautiful location with views of England’s
highest mountains. The station is well equipped with facilities including the Scafell
Gift Shop and the Fellbites Eatery. Cycle hire is available, alternatively this is
an excellent starting point for walks. Unfortunately, we only had 20 minutes there
as we had to get on the next train to Ravenglass in order to catch the Northern Rail
train back to Carlisle. I would recommend spending longer at Dalegarth if you can.
It is recommended to allow 30 minutes between R&ER and main line trains at Ravenglass,
La’al Ratty was running late so we had about 5 minutes but we just about made it.
With all it’s history, delightful little trains and stunning views, a visit to the
Ravenglass and Eskdale railway is a must if you find yourself anywhere near the Lake
I like little railways like this, having seen the 15” gauge Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch
railway in Kent before, I had an idea of what to expect and La’al Ratty did not disappoint.
The terrain that the railway threads through is outstanding, the views from the railway
and at Dalegarth are the icing on the cake.
The only improvement I would like to see is the diesels being used for maintenance
work and using only steam engines on the passenger trains.