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Introduction | Route and Stations | Owd Ratty | La'al Ratty | Rolling Stock
The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway takes in a total of nine stations, the intermediate ones available only by request1, on its seven-mile journey along the valleys and hillsides to reach Eskdale (Dalegarth) station. Despite the small size of the trains the line still takes in several steep gradients, climbing up to 200 feet above sea level at the end of the line. This Entry looks at both the route the line takes and the stations it stops at along the way.
Ravenglass sits on the estuaries of three rivers: the Esk, which occupies a valley to the south and gives its name to Eskdale; the Mite, which the railway runs alongside for the first four miles of its journey; and the Irt, which runs up a valley between Ravenglass and Drigg. Once upon a time, Ravenglass was a small village that was very much landlocked, with a small but busy port operating from the seashore nearby. However, a combination of erosion and silting up due to the presence of the three rivers has brought the tidal estuaries right up to the town's doorstep. This has led to the loss of all but 500 metres of the town's Main Street, which originally ran right across where the estuaries of the Esk and Mite now stand.
While the town was granted a market charter in 1208, its history dates back a lot further, with the Roman fort Glannaventa having being established on the site circa 130 AD. While the sea has since started to erode the Roman site, the bath house on Walls Drive remains the tallest Roman building in Britain. Slightly further inland lies Muncaster Castle, a building constructed gradually over the centuries, having been based on a 14th-Century pele called Agricola's Tower, which itself was built on a site originally housing Roman defences. The castle is easily reached by road via the A595, and is a kilometre away on foot from Muncaster Mill station.
As the railway was originally built to transfer iron ore from the hillsides onto larger trains by the coast, Ravenglass station sits next to the mainline station on the Cumbrian Coast line. In fact, some of the station's buildings were originally part of the mainline station, having been bought for the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway by Lord Wakefield after the death of the previous manager, Colin Gilbert, in 1968. The station's pub, the Ratty Arms, originally housed the British Rail station's waiting rooms, but was converted in 1974 and now serves all the things you would expect from a rural pub. The station also has a ticket office, gift shop, tea room/diner, a couple of Pullman coaches to provide accommodation, and a museum with exhibits detailing the railway's history.
Since the days of the original three-foot gauge railway the station has been drastically rebuilt, but it still retains the look of an old rural station. This is thanks to various bits and pieces being added to the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway after they become redundant in mainline stations elsewhere on the west coast of Cumbria. The footbridge over the turntable at the end of the line comes from the disused Coniston station, the platform seats hail from Seascale, and the awnings over some of the platforms were taken from Millom. While the station's original novelty semaphore signals were removed in the 1920s, they have since been reinstated, and the old-style railway signals are now used to control the running of trains inside the station. The station has three platforms, and the tracks leading out of the station run over a bridge crossing the road into Ravenglass before passing the train sheds.
After having left Ravenglass, the line quickly becomes single track and descends into Barrow Marsh to run alongside the River Mite. The marsh is generally as you'd expect - green and wet - and the mainline can be seen crossing the Mite estuary to the north-west. The line around here has occasionally flooded, with the water covering the line right up to Muncaster Mill. Here, the line passes underneath the A595 to reach the single platform halt, right next to the water mill. Due to the fact that the mill was once very much commercially active, a short rusted siding runs off from the line here. Nowadays, the mill is simply a building of historical interest - but it is now a private house, so please don't give in to the tempting urge to wander around its gardens!
Miteside and Murthwaite
After Muncaster Mill, the line climbs above the mill run via a 1 in 42 gradient, heading out of the flood plain to reach Mill Wood. After a couple of bends the line reaches the Miteside Loop, the first of three passing places on the line. At these passing places, one train is scheduled to wait while the other arrives and draws past, giving tourists yet another chance to get their cameras out. At the western end of the loop lies Miteside Halt, a small request halt which serves the nearby hamlet of the same name. The upturned boat by the side of the line, which marks the halt, echoes the old wooden boat used as a shelter there during the railway's early years as a passenger line.
Next, the line runs along the base of Muncaster Fell, following the cheapest land available at the time the railway was built. On the way, trains pass the site of the old Murthwaite Crusher Plant (see the Entry on La'al Ratty for more details), which is just visible through the trees on the south side of the tracks. Next, the line reaches Murthwaite Halt, which serves the nearby Murthwaite Farm and is located where a loop once existed to serve the crusher plant; the buildings here are now used for storage. Having run uphill all the way from Muncaster, the line now rounds a large crag known as Rock Point before reaching a temporary peak at Walk Mill Summit, which is named after the ruins of a fulling mill2 that once sat next to the River Mite. Finally, the line reaches the end of Muncaster Fell, dipping down into the valley towards Irton Road station and leaving the River Mite behind.
Irton Road and The Green
As the line approaches Irton Road, it travels through the fields between Eskdale and Miterdale while providing a view up Miterdale to Scafell, the second highest mountain in England. Located next to a small road that crosses over the line, the Irton Road is effectively the halfway point between Ravenglass and Dalegarth. The station has a couple of platforms and a stone shelter/booking office, but the rusty rails leading off the line and across the car park are proof that the station was also used as a siding for loading timber during the period before World War Two. From Irton Road, the line follows a tributary of the River Esk southwards to reach Long Yocking How, where it makes a drastic turn back towards the east to take it into The Green station.
The Green serves Eskdale Green village and the nearby Outward Bound School, but is otherwise quite a simple station which sits underneath the main road up towards Hardknott Pass. It is possible to walk from The Green up to the boggy marshes of Blea Tarn, and then down again to reach Fisherground, Beckfoot or Boot, following which you can take the train back again. A longer walk is also available in the shape of Muncaster Fell, following which the train can be caught back from Muncaster Mill station.
From The Green, the line climbs up to the edge of the Eskdale valley, passing through the trees on the northern side of the valley, while skirting around the edge of Fisherground Farm and its associated campsite. The line's third passing place also acts as a request stop for the campsite, and is situated near to a water tank fed by a stream running down the hillside from Blea Tarn from which trains running towards Ravenglass can take on water. Before the original three-foot gauge railway arrived here, an old rope-driven inclined railway headed up the hillside from Fisherground to reach the iron workings near the top of the fell.
Gilbert's Cutting and Beckfoot
After passing Spout House Farm the line reaches Gilbert's Cutting. Until 1964, trains were forced to follow a sharp curve along a contour in order to avoid steep gradients. However, after several thousands of tons of granite had been dug out, a new 210-metre cutting was opened by Colin Gilbert, thus ending the squealing noise the trains had made negotiating this part of the line until that year. Ironically, the cutting from which so much Eskdale granite was removed lies just a short way away from Beckfoot Quarry, a main source of income for the line up until its closure in 1949. Thirteen separate tracks once ran from the railway up to the quarry face, leaving the line about halfway between Gilbert's Cutting and Beckfoot.
Having run on a ledge between the hillside and the main road up the valley, the line now reaches Beckfoot halt next to Stanley Ghyll House. In order to limit the weight the train has to carry up the incline towards Dalegarth station, passengers are not allowed to join the train here on the way towards Dalegarth, but it is possible to alight as it returns down the valley. As the line continues through Beckfoot woods, it runs alongside the route of the old three-foot gauge railway behind the mining cottages, now marked as the 'three-foot way'. This provides a relatively easy walk along the edge of the valley and ends by the mill in Boot.
The line now begins a final uphill struggle along a 1 in 38 gradient, passing in front of the mining cottages and between high dry stone walls before crossing over a metal bridge over Whillan Beck to reach Eskdale (Dalegarth) station3. As mentioned in the Entry on 'Owd Ratty', the line into Dalegarth station follows the route of the Gill Force tramway that used to serve the iron mines on the other side of the valley. Being situated at the end of the line, Dalegarth station has a turntable similar to the one at Ravenglass, and thus has two platforms, one of which will almost always be full during the peak season. The station has had extensive work done and now has a large tea room, ticket office, and gift shop as well as toilets, a picnic area and a car park.
The station lies only 30 minutes' walk at most from the various attractions of Boot village, which include Burnmoor Inn, Boot Inn, an art gallery, the watermill at Eskdale Mill, St Catherine's Church, Gill Force waterfall and, for those who are willing to walk further up the valley, The Woolpack Inn at the base of Hardknott Pass. Walkers can venture further afield from here, as there are many possible walks from Dalegarth either back down towards Ravenglass or up and over the fells. However, the most common way to spend time in Eskdale is to simply sit down with a cup of tea and wait for the next train home.