Monthly Archives: May 2019

The Cavan and Leitrim Railway – Ballinamore to Ballyconnell

Ballinamore to Ballyconnell

NB: A flavour of the Cavan and Leitrim Railway can be obtained by visiting the preservation line and museum at Dromod. The relevant details are as follows:




Cavan and Leitrim Railway, Station House, Station Road, Dromod, Co. Leitrim, N41 R504,
Ireland.     Phone: +353 71 963-8599.


We re-start our journey at Ballinamore Railway Station which warrants a good few pages in Patrick Flanagan’s book. [1: p129-135]

Buildings in the yard included “the slaughterhouse (at the Belturbet end on the down side) and a gashouse. The gashouse equipment lasted until the advent of electricity in the 1920s. Behind the up platform was a green corrugated-iron structure, erected in 1920-22, which housed the loco offices. On the Belturbet side of it stood the permanent-way store, office and shed for the rail cycle; beyond were the permanent-way workshops which existed from 1890 to about 1930. In front of the loco offices were the four roads leading to the works and running shed and, farthest away, the 8,000-gallon water tank, sand store and coaling stage. For many years there was a barn-like coal shed beside the tank but it was removed in the 1930s. Up till that time coaling was carried out by means of 1-cwt baskets which were swung by the coalman up on to the engine foot-plates through the back cab doors, the engine crew completing the delivery into the bunkers.” [1: p131-133]

The station layout from about 1894 onwards. Prior to the major alteration of the station in that year, the only route between the loco-yard and goods-yard was via the Cannaboe level-crossing. Until that work was done the tramway loop was too short as it was entirely within the station site. [1: p 132]

Flanagan continues:

“The works consisted of a two-road carriage and wagon shop (nearer the loco offices) with a similar running shed-cum-fitting shop. However, the former did not run the whole length of the building, the well-stocked stores being accommociated behind. The fitting shops were behind the running shed and thus the complete length was taken up by the locomotive department. Although small, the C&L shops undertook the heaviest jobs and were well equipped. The machinery in independent days included a wheel lathe, a planing machine, drilling machines, another lathe, a punching machine, a shears and a grindstone. Other invaluable facilities were a wheel-drop and a hydraulic pump for testing boilers. The wagon shops had saws, a mortising machine and a timber-boring machine. Power for the works was provided by a vertically-boilered steam engine with 2.25 ins line shafting. The last of many such replacements, a boiler was fitted to this engine in the early 1920s and survived until about 1950, when electric power was introduced.” [1: p133]

As can be seen on Flanagan’s sketch plan above, between the loco-works and the Belrurbet running road was the carriage shed erected by Rogers at a cost of £160. Flanagan says that It was similar to that at Dromod, though extending over two roads. On his skecth it appears to encompass three roads, one of which was accessed via the turntable. This is because it was first decided to lengthen it in 1894 but, instead, the very rarely-used shed from Arigna was transferred and placed alongside the original, a third road being laid which was reached via the turntable. “Both carriage sheds were removed in the late 1930s and the three sidings slowly became part of a wilderness. At the end, the only building down there was an iron shack — ‘The Longford Arms’ — used as a messroom by the permanent-way gangs.” [1: p133]

Also off the turntable was the short gashouse road which was used at rare intervals to bring retorts in or out but otherwise held the accident crane.

Between the gashouse and the back of the shops there was a steel plate mounted on a large stone base. “This was for retyring engine wheels and was in-stalled in 1894, coming from A. J. Taylor of Strabane. Although there was talk of obtaining a special crane for retyring purposes, it was, in fact, the accident crane (so conveniently placed) which was always used.” [1: p 133]

Flanagan continues his description of the station site:

“The main water reservoir was situated at the back of the shops and was known as ‘the dam’. It had a capacity of 35,000 gallons and was supplied originally from a well by a steam pump, Later, the water came from Corgar, and about 1938, when the Ballinamore well had received attention, the pump came into use once more. It was operated from the works’ engine boiler but the town water supply was laid on as an auxiliary source. The pump was used to fill the ‘dam’ as well as the engine-shed tank until 1949 when an electric pump was provided. In earlier days another tank existed at the tramway loop points on the Dromod side of the gates. Near the dam was the works sawmill, a late installation purchased in 1918 at a cost of £10 8s 4d to make sleepers from local timber.

The 24-ft turntable was at the side of the wagon shops. Up to 1894 it had been sited on the loco roads which diverged from the main line just inside the gates, but in that year the layout in Ballinamore was drastically remodelled and assumed the form it had till the closure. The difficulty with the original layout was that if the platform roads were blocked there was no way of getting an engine from the shed to the goods yard. Various suggestions were offered in solution, one calling for a third road between the platforms. The plan finally adopted and approved by the Board of Trade was for the laying of a new loop round past the old site of the turntable and passing between the end of the up platform and the shops to join the running line again. The economical board ordered that the siding points from Adoon be used in the new layout. Until then, too, the tramway loop points had been inside the station gates, making things extremely cramped; now the loop was extended out towards Tully. The big job did much to relieve congestion and from 1894 on there was plenty of room to manoeuvre.

The goods facilities were also improved in 1894. From the beginning there had been a store at the Belturbet end of the down platform and, like all the others, it had a canopy extending over the store road opposite the central doors. Some time after the opening it was extended at the Dromod end by closing up the window and building a corrugated-iron annexe. The new store was specially for the ale and beer traffic of Macardle, Moore & Company of Dundalk, and survived until the end, although for a long time it had been in general use. At the end of the store road were the wagon weighbridge and the weighbridge house. Despite a great fuss made by Mr Lawder in 1906-7 the C&L never had a cart weighbridge at Ballinamore.” [1: p134-135]

Flanagan finishes his description of the station site by highlighting the two earliest sidings beside the store and a third road opposite. He goes on to say:

“Near the store was the cattle bank and in 1894 this was extended to a point near the crane. Shortly afterwards a new line was installed parallel to the store road and, with the others, was later extended for some distance past the store. One, the ‘middle road’, was lengthened in 1902 and had a narrow wooden platform, for washing wagons, built alongside. The final development was in 1919, when a new unloading bank and siding were built at a cost of £176. The crane lasted until the closure, being an 1895 replacement of the original. Opposite the sheds, on the Killeshandra road, were the C&L houses. They were of two types, in two blocks. Numbered and 9-15, the latter group was the larger.” [1: p135]

We noted that there is a plan to create a Greenway along the full length of the Cavan & Leitrim Railway from Mohill to Belturbet. The notes written about those proposals describe the length of the line. The plans for the Greenway from Ballinamore to Ballyconnell are as follows:

The section starts “at the former St Felims College and Railway station at the northern end of the town, now the subject of a discussion regarding its future. Ahead, there are numerous cuttings and embankments to overcome the challenges of the drumlin landscape with cut stone 3 arch masonry bridges at Drumcullion, Aughawillan and Killyran. The alignment has significant merit because it is shorter than the main road between Ballinamore and Ballyconnell and at least 6.5kms shorter than the canal route. The landscape would be charactised by many low lying small fields, woodland, bogland all in the shadow of Sliabh an Iarainn first and then Sliabh Rushen mountain in Co Cavan. At Kildorragh, 2 kms from the town is the site of an old water tank, still in place. Originally, Ballinamore station got its water from a local well which proved unreliable. The station needed about 15,000 gals of water per day and in 1908 a steam operated pumphouse was build at Lake Bolgonard which pumped to a large tank on the high ground at Kildorragh where it then gravity flowed to the tank at Ballinamore station until 1938. The expanded width of the old railway cutting at Kildorragh is a result of quarrying here in the early years to provide ballast for the railway track. Similarly at Ballyheady and Stradermott on the Drumshanbo branch line, a conspicuous open space is all that remains of former track side quarries which were used to providing rail ballast.

The Greenway crosses the river Blackwater just inside the Cavan County boundary on a fine cut stone arch bridge with a second smaller arch presumably to accommodate a local landowner. All of the route (16 kms ) within County Cavan is in the UNESCO recognised Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. A Geopark is an area with outstanding geological, archaeological, ecological and cultural heritage. Further ahead is approx 1.5km of asphale paved public road which serves as a qwuiet access road approaching the former Templeport Railway station. The former station house is now refurbished and extended serving as a Resource Centre. The adjacent stone build goods store is intact and the outline of a large land take around the station can be observed. This accommodated sidings used primarily for the Ballymagovern Fair. In the early years, livestock and coal destined for Belfast were the main traffic commodities on the line. Ballymagovern Fair, like Mohill was a major event and occurred on May 23rd and Nov 23rd annually. Up to 100 wagon loads of livestock were traded at each fair and a cattle bank for unloading special trains was provided at the station for this purpose. The Fair declined rapidly in the 1920’s following the political division of the state in 1922. Bawnboy village is situated approx 4 kms from Templeport. This is the location of the Bawnboy Workshouse, a large Victorian structure dating from 1852. Recent studies have been undertaken to identify a viable future for this large building as a local amenity.

Leaving Templeport, approx 3 kms ahead is Ballyheady and the Greenway then follows the Shannon Erne Waterway canal bank for approx 5 km into Ballyconnell marina. Ballyconnell is on the border with Co Fermanagh.” [2]

This description of the Greenway route we have just read highlights key things on the way but by no means provides the detail that we are looking for!

Flanagan is a help in the first instance. He introduces us to the next part of the journey: “Leaving Ballinamore, the line fell slightly and then, out by the outer home signal, swept round to the right, passing on the up side a covered concrete water tank at Kildorough (16.75 miles). The tank was fed from a spring and supplied the occupants of the company houses with drinking water (from a tap at the back of the works), being used till after the Amalgamation. From here, the line undulated mostly at 1:45, with a summit at 17.25 miles where, on the down side, was the Corgar water tank. The line then fell and rose at 1:39 to reach Corgar gates, where it began to climb at 1:44 to a summit, one mile past which was Garadice Halt (19.5 miles). This was another place which had its proposed name rejected — it was originally to be called Aughawillin. Garadice had its buildings and platform on the down side. In addition, the halt, for many years, had a short down-facing siding which was installed for the opening and was lengthened from four to six wagon-lengths in 1889. It was rarely used, however, and was removed about 1940 after an incident in which a train nearly came to grief. A resident had found a way of opening the points and he was won’t to use a platelayer’s trolley to take in the hay. This was done in Sunday’s and all went well until one day the points were forgotten and left set for the siding. The first train on Monday morning nearly came off the road, and after investigation it was decided to remove the siding.” [1: p135-136]The C&L continued from Ballinamore station (marked with the green flag) and within a short distance curved round from a Northeasterly trajectory to travel in a predominently more easterly direction.The OS Map extract shows that the line required a number of cuttings in order not to have to take a more meandering path. [3]

From Ballinamore Station site for just over 2 miles to Corgar Crossing, part of the new greenway was given planning permission in February 2017. The next few images are stills from a drone video of the proposed route which follows the line of the C&L. The video was prepared  and uploaded by Desmond Wisley. [4]The old railway rote can be identified roughlynin nthge centre of this image as a dual line of trees head for the piece of land between Lough Bolganard and Lough Corgar. [4]Closer to the two lakes, the line of the railway is much clearer and thge crossing keeper’s cottage can just be picked out. [4]Nearer still but thus time cloise to ground level. [4]A view of the level-crossing location between the two lakes. The line from Ballinamore entered the picture from the right, just above the lake in this image and curved down towards the bottom left where the crossing keeper’s cottage can be seen. [4]Looking back from the crossing at Corgar towards Ballinamore.An overhead view of Corgar Crossing looking ahead towards Ballyconnell. [4]The line ahead. It passes the crossing-keeper’s cottage at Corgar and runs across the North side of Lough Corgar as it heads for Ballyconnell.The line ahead across the north side of Lough Corgar. [4]The old line continued across the north side of Lough Drumlonan and then crossed a minor road before curving to the North. The area where the crossing used to be is heavily wooded and it is impossible to be sure of the actual line of the old railway at that point. [5]The 1940s OS Map suggests that the line was alternatively in cutting and on embankment as it curved its way on. [3]The immediate area around Garadice Station is the next point at which access to the old line is relatively easy. [3]Blue marks the roads and pink the route if the old C&L line. The old Garadice Station building is still visible to the top right of the image.The line of the C&L approaching Garadice Station from the Southwest.The road crossed the C&L close to Garadice Station. The bridge parapets can still be seen either side of the road.The old station access road is on the right of this Google Street view picture. This area is heavily wooded and without entering private property a picture of the old station building is unlikely to be obtained.Along the line to the East of Garadice. This picture shows the team responsible for the lifting of the permanent way in 1959. [7]

The run to the next halt at Killyran was all of two miles. Flanagan says: “The section to Killyran was mostly downhill, although the halt itself was atop a short 1:46 bank at 21.5 miles. It did not date from the opening; a siding was proposed (for `Killerane’) in October 1887 and it was agreed in January 1888 that not more than £2 was to be spent laying down gravel on either side of the line. Trains then stopped and a low platform on the up side of the gatehouse was later provided. A shelter was asked for in 1893 and was erected five years later, but the place was to remain without goods facilities of any form.” [1: p136]

But we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. The next point where the route of the old railway is accessible is the first road to the East of Garadice station which is shown below in a close-up from the wider satellite image above. The location is on the right side of the OS Map extract above.This Google Streetview picture is taken at the apex of the hairpin bend on the road in the above image. The C&L followed the approximate line of the verge/hedge alongside the arm of the road on the right of the photograph, and crossed the road at the hairpin bend.The line continued East-northeast across the border between Co. Leitrim and Co. Cavan. It then swung round to the North and entered Killyran Halt/Station. [5]

Killyran Halt appears on the adjacent closer satellite image just below the lower of the two roads (blue) shown crossing the line (pink). [5] The old line passed through the site of the Halt as shown , just a little to the West of the access road shown on the adjacent satellite image. Its  line is shown approximately in the picture immediately below, which looks from the Crossing location back down the route of the line towards Ballinamore.

The monochrome image here shows the halt building at Killyran. The line itself is not visible in the image.

Bill Gerty includes this image ina  story he tells about the first 17 years or so of his life in this part of the world. [8] He says: “I remember going to Killyran for the very first time when my father took me up there on the crossbar of a cycle which he must have borrowed from someone. He did not stop there with me but left me to play with Ernest who was three years older than me. Apart from Ernest the only other person there at that time was Grandfather Gerty. He was quite old and not very tall with white hair and a white moustache and had a walking stick. The only words he ever spoke to me was “don’t touch that” referring to me fiddling about with a bicycle leaning against the wall. Ernest was digging a big hole in the garden and filling it with water, he tried to get me to help him but I was far more interested in a clockwork engine that he had in the kitchen. Looking back I think now that everyone else had gone off to a 12th July parade. It was while we were playing in the garden that this great monster came along puffing smoke and steam everywhere. It was the first time that I saw a steam train and I stood there frozen to the ground. This was the very first of very many encounters that I was to have with steam trains.” [9]Killyran: the view back towards Ballinamore in the 21st century.

Later Bill Gerty says: “There were now nine of us living in the little railway house, Grannie, Uncle Eddie, Auntie Louie, Ernest and the six of us – Vera, Maisie, John, Muriel, baby George and myself. The station had just three rooms and a kitchen, all the boys slept in one room and the girls in another room upstairs. The small room downstairs next to the kitchen was kept just to put anyone in who might be sick, otherwise it was used as a storage room. There was no gas, electric or running water. A turf or wood fire had to be lit every day in the big grate in the kitchen. All the cooking was done on this including the food for hens, ducks, turkeys and usually one pig. Although Killyran was just a small station it had quite a bit of land all around it. Outside buildings included a turf shed, goat house, chicken and hen house, one pig house and a cow-shed which could house up to three cows.” [10]

After the Crossing at Killyran the line headed a short distance North to a road-over bridge, no more than a couple of hundred yards ahead. The road to the left of this image climbs relatively steeply to a junction where it is joined by another road also climbing relatively steeply over the C&L line.This view looks back down that second road towards the East. The bridge parapets can easily be picked out.This view shows the same road, looking in a westerly direction towards the road junction. Again, the bridge parapets can easily be seen.Bill Gerty’s sketch of the bridge at Killyran which forms the cover picture of his short book. [11]

Bill Gerty comments: “One of the jobs we had to do each evening was to walk down the railway embankment to the railway bridge, which was about two hundred yards from the station. The bridge had three arches and under the left hand arch there was a small well, this was our only drinking water supply. … We carried a white enamel bucket of water each back home which were placed on a couple of stools in the kitchen. Edna used to arrive at the station every evening also to collect water and have a chat with Louie. Most of Grannie’s time was spent looking after John, Maisie, Muriel and George. Aunt Louie done nearly all the baking and cooking. Uncle Eddie worked on W. Goodwins farm, at this time a short journey away. My other uncle John was married to Auntie Sarah who lived in a little cottage, with their daughter Edna, just the other side of the school on the Boley road. Uncle John was a ganger on the railway and was responsible for looking after a section of railway about three miles either side of Killyran Station along with another man called Bertie White.” [11]

Bill Gerty continues to tell his story:

“Trains ran past our station six times each day except on cattle fair days when special trains were put on. The first train ran from Ballinamore to Belturbet around nine each morning and returned at eleven, then one at midday, one at four which returned at seven in the evening. Auntie Louie was the station halt master who issued all the tickets, was responsible for keeping books, stock of tickets, the waiting room, closing and opening the gates across the road. As the station was just a halt, trains had to be flagged down, red flag to stop and green to carry on. There was also a lamp for night work using same colours. The cash for all tickets sold on a daily basis had to be put in a leather bag which had a brass plate on it with the name of the station, Killyran stamped on it. There was a book with all the daily tickets sold recorded in it and this was strapped together with the cash bag and sent daily to head station Ballinamore, it would be returned on the same day. As the trains only stopped when requested, you had to take the cash bag and book out on the platform where the guard would be positioned between the guards van and the carriage, usually hanging on by one arm, you then had to approach the moving train and hand the guard the cash bag. The trains were supposed to slow down at this point but sometimes they forget and this became a hair raising experience, if you were not in the correct position (if there was one) there was a danger of being pulled into the train.” [12]

“Everything revolved around the train and the railway. For this work, Auntie Louie got a rent free house and quite a bit of land about three or four acres in all and three shillings (old money) per week. People arrived for the trains carrying all sorts of things chickens, eggs, horse harness etc.. Some got their tickets and went into the waiting room while others just came in and sat down in our house. We always had to make sure that as far as possible no chickens, ducks, turkeys or any of our goats were near the line when a train approached, for this reason our two goats were tied on long ropes where their grazing area was changed on a daily basis when we milked them.” [12]

“At the back of the station we had a turf shed, goat house, chicken house, cow byre and pigsty. There was a big garden to the right of the house where we grew cabbage, onions, beetroot, strawberries etc., there were two apple trees and various fruit bushes. On the front of the house there were two gardens in one, we grew peas and beans only and in the other one we planted our early potatoes. A piece of land just below the station was called the Blackpiece, I think this was because of the colour of the soil. We used this land for hay making although we did grow wheat on it one season.” [12]

“On the downward side of the station there was some more land near the railway bridge over the Blackwater river this was also used for hay making, in all we could make enough hay to feed all our animals over the winter. As there were no trains on a Sunday we let our animals graze these areas up to the end of April. Ernest and me done all the garden work around the station, until Ernest got a job on the railway, then it was John’s turn to work with me. Eddie helped when he could at that time he was still working on Goodwin’s farm, later on he had a job on the railway but he had to live away from home, he done all the buying and selling of the animals.” [12]

“As the family grew Eddie was spending more and more time at home, the gardens around the house were not able to supply enough food so we had to grow a field of potatoes on Fees land also a field of oats. Our supply of turf also came from his peat bog.” [12]

Beyond Killyran and its road bridge the line crossed the River Blackwater a short distance further North, and as it did so turned once again towards the Northeast and passing Lough Killywillin on its North side.The old line passed to the Southeast side of Lough Templeport and then turned relatively sharply towards the Southeast. As the line turned through a relatively tight curve it approached Bawnboy Road Station which can be picked out just to the East of Lough Temple port on the satellite image below.Bawnboy Road was intended to become a junction station on the C&L. However, partition prevented that happening as the intended branch headed North from the East end of the station to Maguiresbridge. The first two monochrome  images immediately below show Bawnboy Road Station in the 1950s. The train, in both cases, is heading for Belturbet. [13][14]

Flanagan says: “Beyond Killyran the line was again level to Bawnboy Road (23 miles). This was a Class 3 station (allowance £60), and although always a block post it was not at first a crossing place. The idea of making it one was first discussed in November 1887, but it was noted that it would be ‘most difficult though possible’. The original platform with the red-brick building was on the down side and a narrow up platform was added in 1897, when a crossing loop was installed. The naming of the station caused much hard thought at first. In July 1887 it was decided that `Templeport station nameplates (were) to have the words “for Bawnboy and Swanlinbar” in smaller letters’. The following month a letter was received from the clerk of Bawnboy Union stating that the name should be `Bawnboy Road’ and it was agreed that, if not too late, the nameplates should be altered. But too late it was, and the station opened as `Templeport’. The actual name adopted and used till the 1930s (on the nameplates anyway) was ‘Bawnboy Road & Templeport’ and the station did not get its proper name until GSR days. The goods facilities consisted of a store and a loop with a very short loading bank.” [1: p136]

In the monochrome image above a train is seen approaching the station from Ballinamore,  In the adjacent image the station is seen as part of a view looking across the road crossing towards Ballyconnell. [16]After 1897, the layout at Bawnboy Road Station consisted of three loops, one on top of the other; this was somewhat simplified by the removal of one loop about 1950. There was a small water tank beside the store served by a hand-pump, which went out of use when the heavy Ballymagovern Fair traffic died away. The signalling history of the station was complicated, and though at one stage there were no signals at all, in latter days there were two ground frames — at the gates and near the store. [1: p137]

In 1891 Bawnboy, had no signals at all. It was suggested that two should be bought cheaply from the GNR or MGWR and, later, the place was well signalled, including a real oddity in its down starting signal. This was basically a disc on a long rod about four feet from the ground, having a horizontal signal arm fixed just below the lamp. When ‘off’, the arm was not visible to the driver, as it had swung through 90 degrees. [13]I think that this is the best image that I have found of Bawnboy Road Railway Station (c) Phil3105 on the forum ‘Irish Railway Modeller’. [17]Bawnboy Road Station Building in 21st Century. It was in use as a community centre for many years after the closure of the line. The centre has now been extended and the old station building has been refurbished, © Kenneth Allen . [15]Facing West, the extended community centre in the 21st century, (c) Ciaran Cooney. The main platform was directly in front of the camera with the road to Ballinamore extending back beyond the community centre extension. [21]Bawnboy Road Station Good Shed in 2009. As can be seen on the sketch plan of the station above, this sat to the West of the main passenger building.The location of the level-crossing is confirmed by the concrete gate post which now supports the field gate but which once carried the crossing gate on the east side of the road at the end of the station yard.Facing East beyond the level crossing, the road ahead towards Ballyconnell. [20]

Flanagan continues his description of the C&L: “The pleasantly-wooded section beyond Bawnboy was again fairly level and was just short of two miles in length. The next halt, Ballyheady (24.75 miles), was also the subject of a name controversy; but in this case the board made a quick decision between ‘Bellaheady’ and ‘Ballyheady’ and picked the wrong one! Just before the down platform was an up facing siding which ran back into Ballyheady Ballast Pit, which provided the C&L with its ballast at various times. The siding, originally laid in 1891, lasted until the closure, although long out of use. High on a bank behind the platform was the signal for the station gates.” [1: p137]

There appears to be little evidence of the woods referred to by Flanagan. They certainly do not appear on the satellite image above. The next point at which access to the line is easy is at the road-crossing with the modern R205, shown below.Looking back towards Bawnboy Road. The crossing keeper’s cottage at the R205 has been modernised and enlarged. The old railway approached the R205 on the immediate right of the extension.The way ahead is of the right side of the boundary hedge.The satellite image above shows the route of the line passing to the north side of the Woodford Milling plant, following the R205 on its southside for a short distance before switching its allegiance to the Woodford River/Ballinamore Canal.The OS Map extract confirms the route, although what is now a milling plant was, in the 1940s, a small wood close to Bellaheady Bridge. [3]The Station referred to by Flanagan above as Ballyheady is named Smithy Station on the 1940s OS Map. [3]The station cottage sits charmingly alongslde what was the route of the C&L. Turning through 180 degress to look at the route ahead gains nothing as there is a densely wooded area immeidately t then right of this image, through which the old line’s route travels. It can however be picked out easily on the satellite image below.The route of the C&L follows the Canal/River for a distance, turning to the north as the alignment of the canal also does so. The satellite image (5 images above) shows this route and it is picked up once again on the image immediately below. It is the left side of this image which means the most to us now as it shows the old line approaching Ballyconnell. The little town sits at the third point in from the left at th top of the image.Ballyconnell lay just over two and a half miles from Ballyheady. The station was always a block-post and a crossing-place. It was approached on a right-hand curve after the line had crossed the Woodford River, canalized as part of the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell canal. The adjacent image is taken from the Woodford River Bridge looking towards Ballyconnell Station. [24]

Flanagan continues his description: “The main buildings were just east of the station gates; in latter days they were the only ones to retain the large clock over the entrance to the booking-hall. There were no buildings on the timber up platform, which did, however, boast a 7,000-gallon water tank supplied by the Atlas Foundry, Belfast. Beyond this platform, to the east, was the yard ground frame which, from about 1914, was covered by a ramshackle ‘cabin’. There was another ground frame at the station gates. Opposite the cabin was a water column, just past which were the trailing points giving access to the goods yard. The latter was very simply laid out, consisting of one siding which opened out into a second line, parallel to the running road. There was a release crossover near the siding stoppers. The northernmost line served the goods store and cattle bank, the latter having another siding of its own. Immediately in front of the goods yard points was the 1:76 Ballyconnell bank which was very convenient for gravity shunting. The Ballyconnell water supply was originally by windmill and one, the last on the C&L, survived until about 1932, when an engine and chain were used to pull it down. The windmill was at first placed in the goods yard but in 1907, when the supply was poor, a new one was erected 200 yards from the station at the Woodford River bridge. At the same time an oil-engine pump was installed and later became solely responsible for the supply.” [1: p138]
The satellite image below shows the location of the old Woodford River Bridge and the station.The station was just to the south-east of the road.

The Ballyconnell station site in 2009, viewed from just north of the location of the level-crossing. The station buildings can still be seen just left of centre and the goods shed faces them across what was the station yard.Ciaran Cooney showed an adventurous spirit when he took this picture of the railside of the Station building. He says: “Ballyconnell as viewed from the railway side of the station, where the platforms where once sited. The goods yard is beyond the station building, and the former water tower is on the right. This view is looking towards Belturbet,” (c) Ciaran Cooney. [22]

We  read some of Bill Gerty’s words earlier in this post. His personal story continues with his role at Ballyconnell Station:

“Ernest came home one night and said that he had been transferred to Mohill station. He would now have to get lodgings away from home but he could get home on Saturday night as there were no trains running on Sundays, except on special occasions. He told me that there would be a job at Ballyconnell for a lad porter and that I should apply for it, I spoke to Eddie about this and he said that I should take it if I could. He could manage the work at home, there was always neighbours to help if he needed them as he often went out of his way to help them. He was also thinking about the one pound a week he got from Ernest which would no longer be available, it does not seem a lot of money these days but it went a long way in nineteen-forty-four.” [18]

“I went to Ballyconnell and got an interview with Mr Wells the station master and a few days later received a letter to say that I had got the job and that could start work on the following Monday morning. I had an old pair of overalls which I duly washed and although there were a few patches on them at least they were clean it would not be long before I was given a proper uniform. … I arrived at work on the Monday in good time and was introduced to Frank McKiernan who would be over me, I was told by Mr Wells that my hours would be nine until six for six days with Sundays off and the pay would be one pound and ten shillings per week, with this money I would be able to give Uncle Eddie one pound and have ten shillings for myself. The rest of that day was spent with Frank who showed me all the jobs that I would be doing but most of them we would be working together.” [18]

“Bob Wells has a wife who is a school teacher and two young girls, they also have a little dog called Rex. Bob’s mother also lives with them in the station house and I am told by Frank that she is a bit of an old battle axe, I also find out that there are other jobs that I shall be expected to do for the family. They have quite a lot of land around the station enough in fact to be able to keep one cow and also grow some potatoes. My job in the morning, before the first train arrives, is to go and feed the cow in the cowshed and clean her out and the same each evening before I went home, the old battle-axe did the milking. It was just my luck that I arrived there in the Spring so the ground had to be prepared and the potatoes planted in ­between other jobs. We only had four trains each day to look after, one up and one down in the morning and the same each evening. This may not seem a lot but each time a train arrived we had six to eight wagons to take off the train and usually the same number to go out.” [18]

“The line linked the Great Northern on one side and the Dublin line on the other side. Nearly all the goods coming into Ballyconnell and going out again came and went by rail, at that time there were only three lorries in the area, Ennis the milling company had one and he used the railway every day. Richardson’s the biggest store in Ballyconnell also had a lorry and all their goods arrived by rail. The other lorry was owned by the Magee family, they collected eggs and poultry from all around the country and they arrived at the station every morning and we had to have wagons ready for them. The eggs are packed in boxes of one gross and as Magee is usually late and has to rush into the station office to do the paperwork, it is left to Frank and me to load the eggs. One morning he left the lorry too far away from the wagon and I tried to get it a bit nearer which resulted in several cases flying into the wagon, the wagon has a label on it [EGGS HANDLE WITH CARE] I think on that day it should have said [SCRAMBLED EGGS].” [18]

12T (2-4-2T) at Ballyconnell in 1947. [18]

Bill Gerty continues to tell of his time at Ballyconnell Station:

“All the goods that came by rail had to be removed from the wagons and stored in the goods store with the exception of grain and flour, all these sacks had to be counted and checked against the invoice. All spirits and beers had to be weighed carefully because it was not uncommon for some of these to have some of the contents removed on their journey to us. All the wagons that we sent out daily had to be in the correct order for the train to pick them up, in other words a wagon for the next station up the line would have to be the last one on the end of the train.” [18]

“All trains going through our station carried passengers as well as goods. We did not have a shunting engine in our yard so for this Frank and me had to put our backs to the wagons and push them into the correct position. There were six side lines in the yard and Frank showed how all the trap switches and stop blocks worked, as we operated all the signals in the cabin I was also shown how these worked. The phone was not as we know it today, it was a little handle that you turned depending on which station you wanted to call, it could be one, two, two and half, or three turns. When a train was due the station that it left would ring us and it was time for me to go and shut the gates across the main road. I then had to stand on the platform and assist the passengers from their carriages, first class got priority. The engine driver carried a device called a staff, he could not leave the station until I took this from him and took it to the office where Bob would change the brass ticket in it allowing him to proceed to the next station. Wagons coming off the train for us had to be released by Frank and me, we had no such thing as a shunting pole so we had to stand in-between the wagon, which had only one buffer in the middle with a chain either side, release the chains unlock the catches over the buffer and undo the vacuum. This operation was much more dangerous when a wagon had to be coupled up because you had to stand in-between the wagons which were moving in order to drop the catch hook, all this I might add without gloves. Another dangerous operation was when a wagon was released from an engine up a gradient down to our store instead of the engine pushing it down the driver would give it a quick shunt and we had to stand on the side of the wagon with one foot on the brake lever ready to stop it at the store, sometimes this was a bit of guess work depending on how fast the engine pushed it off, too fast and you went flying past the store into the stop blocks to be hurled off the side of the wagon, or sometimes you stood on the brake only to find that this did not work. I often wonder what today’s health and safety department would think about such actions.” [18]

“Cattle fairs were held in most towns once each month and extra trains would be required to take the cattle to various parts of the country. On such occasions there would be a train going to Killyran around the time that I was due to leave work, and as I knew all the engine drivers I used to sling my bicycle up on the tender and ride home on the engine, so I knew how to open the throttle and how to apply the brakes. When it was our fair day we had an engine all day in our yard to shunt the wagons, this was on the eighteenth of each month, on such days the engine driver and fireman would walk into town to have a few drinks at lunchtime so Frank and me took it in turns to have a ride up and down the yard if there were no cattle coming in to be put in wagons.” [18]

“We had a chap who came in daily with a donkey and cart and took small parcels to be delivered into town, the donkey was that used to coming into our yard that he quite often arrived without his owner while he was chatting along the road somewhere. On Friday of each week I was given a list of money to be collected from the bank some in notes and some in silver and pence the list was handed over in the bank and the cashier put the money in a paper bag and handed it back to me.” [18]

“It was my job to look after all the paraffin lamps that were used on the station and this included walking out to the home and outer signals some distance away, filling the lamps up, trimming the wicks and cleaning the glass. The outer signals were quite high up and if it was a windy day you could use a whole box of matches trying to light the lamp. One of my favourite jobs was walking down to the Woodford River where we had a building which housed a pumping engine this had to be started up in order to pump water up to the water tank at the station for the engines.” [18]

“Bob was very keen on having a nice station so flower gardening was given over to a lot of our time in the Spring and Summer months. We got some old lorry tyres which we cut one side off filled them with earth and put them along the platforms, they were planted up and the sides of the tyres were whitewashed they looked a real picture. Apart from these we had some lovely roses, banks of Dahlias, Gladioli and rows of Sweet Peas along the walls, the end result was that we won best kept station on the line which made Bob strut about like a peacock, although he never lifted a finger to do any of the work. It was just the same when Frank and me stopped late in the evenings to make hay to feed his cow he would just stand and watch.” [18]

“My lunch was always the same, two slices of bread and butter nothing else, I had a tin which held tea and sugar enough for two cups per day one lunch time and one in the afternoon I handed this to the old lady who used to make my tea daily. If I had no sugar which often happened she would never put any in for me, inconsiderate I thought for all the work that I did for them, not to worry, what she did not know there was usually a big bag of sugar in the store and with careful manipulation it was possible to get some out without much difficulty.” [18]

“I had been measured up for my uniform and was very pleased when it arrived along with a letter and a ticket for me to go to Dublin for a medical. I had never been to Dublin but Ernest had when he went for his medical. As I was going past Mullingar where he worked I arranged to stop off on the way back, which was on a Saturday, and spend the weekend with him. “You must have some fish and chips when you get to Dublin”, “What the hell is chips!” I said having never had fish and chips.” [18]

We complete this post with a few pictures of Ballyconnell Station when it was in use as a railway station and just after closure in 1959.Above, August 1959 at Ballyconnell Station. The rails and sleepers have already been removed, (c) Roger Joanes. The water tank still sits on its plinth. [23]

The view from the crossing gates some years before. [24]

This is followed by a view from the Belturbet end of the station. [24]




  1. Patrick J. Flanagan; The Cavan & Leitrim Railway; Pan Books, London, 1972.
  2., accessed on 24th May 2019.
  3., accessed on 22nd May 2019.
  4., accessed on 27th May 2019.
  5., accessed on 27th May 2019.
  6., accessed on 27th May 2019.
  7. John Christopher & Campbell McCutcheon; Bradshaw’s Guide The Railways of Ireland: Volume 8; Amberley Publishing, 2015.
  8. Bill Gerty; Water under the Railway Bridge;, accessed on 28th May 2019.
  9., accessed on 28th May 2019.
  10., accessed on 28th May 2019.
  11., accessed on 28th May 2019.
  12., accessed on 28th May 2019.
  13., accessed on 29th May 2019.
  14., accessed on 29th May 2019.
  15., accessed on 29th May 2019.
  16., accessed on 29th May 2019.
  17., accessed on 29th May 2019.
  18., accessed on 28th May 2019.
  19., accessed on 29th May 2019.
  20., accessed on 29th May 2019.
  21., accessed on 29th May 2019.
  22., accessed on 29th May 2019.
  23., accessed on 29th May 2019.
  24., accessed on 29th May 2019.

The Cavan and Leitrim Railway – Mohill to Ballinamore

Mohill to Ballinamore

We re-start our journey at Mohill Railway Station which is to the South of the little town. This is the likely long-term terminus of the preservation railway of the Cavan & Leitrim Railway, Station Road, Dromod, Leitrim, Ireland. Email:  Tel: 00353-71-9638599.

Mohill (Irish: Maothail) or Maothail Manachain, is named for St. Manachan, who founded the Monastery of Mohill-Manchan there c. 500-538AD. Some sources and folklore say the shrine of Manchan was kept at Monastery of Mohill-Manchan, before being moved to Lemanaghan in county Offaly for some unrecorded reason. The Monastery was taken over by Augustinians in the 13th century and was later closed in the 16th century, after the time of King Henry VIII. The site of the church is now occupied by a Church of Ireland church and graveyard. [4]

Ownership of the town passed to the Crofton family during the plantations and areas around the town were owned by the Clements family (Lord Leitrim), who built the nearby Lough Rynn estate and was also the owner of what is now Áras an Uachtaráin. Mohill Poor Law Union was formed 12 September 1839 and covered an area of 215 square miles (560 km2). The population falling within the union at the 1831 census had been 66,858. The new workhouse, built in 1840-42, occupied a 6-acre site and was designed to accommodate 700 inmates. During the great famine, Anthony Trollope wrote a voyeuristic narrative on Mohill in his novel The Macdermots of Ballycloran, an early work. [4][5:p51-52]

Hyde Street is named after Rev Arthur Hyde, grandfather of Douglas Hyde, first President of Ireland, who spent part of his childhood in the town. Through at least the 19th and 20th centuries, an impressive number of annual fairs were held at Mohill (14 each year!).[4][6:(1819: p405] Back in 1925, Mohill town had population of 755 people, and contained 29 houses licensed to sell alcohol. [4][7:p33]

“Mohill railway station opened on 24 October 1887 and finally closed on 1 April 1959. [8] It was a Class 2 station and had two timber platforms, with buildings (similar to those at Dromod) on the down side. Although aways a staff station, it was not a crossing-place as the loop was not long enough. The up platform had a small shelter and, at the Dromod end, a water tank. The first tank dated from the opening but was replaced in 1892 by one from Arigna. In 1920, it was joined by a tank originally placed in Ballyduff but which had been used in the building of the Arigna Valley Railway. A third tank on a concrete base was installed just inside the goods yard in 1927, bringing the total capacity to 1,000 gallons. There were never any water facilities on the down platform and thus engines of down trains had to go across the road for water. Up to 1921, the water was hand-pumped, but an oil-engined pump was then provided; in turn, in the 1930s, it was superseded by the town supply.” [1:p127]

“Goods facilities were poor at first, although a store was built for the opening and a crane, by Manisty of Dundalk, was added in 1890. Originally, there was only the single store road but a short siding was laid at the back of the station-house in 1890 and another parallel to the store road, in 1896. All were considerably lengthened at later dates. The station was signalled from two ground frames, one at the gates and the other at the Dromod end of the loop; both had wooden protective shelters until about 1925.” [1:p127]

Mohill Station in 21st Century, screened from Station Road by trees and undergrowth. There are pictures in the last post in this series of the station as it is in 2019. The building which appears to be a garage in the front of the picture is actually a small corrugated waiting shelter which sat on the platform furthest from the main station building.

A Video of the use of the station building in 2017. [11]

Three stations are ahead of us before we reach Ballinamore – Adoon, Fenagh and Lauderdale. The route to Ballinamore is set aside in the Local Development Plan as a Greenway. The Greenway is intended to run from Mohill to Belturbet along the route of the Cavan & Leitrim Railway. [13]

The route is 41 kms (26 miles ) long and consists of three sections:

Section 1. Mohill – Fenagh – Ballinamore, 15 kms
Section 2. Ballinamore – Templeport – Ballyconnell, 16 kms
Section 3. Ballyconnell – Belturbet. 10 kms. [13]

Almost the entire route remains intact and the ground is remarkably level due to a series of cuttings, embankments and bridges. It provides access to a rich variety of local landscapes including bogs, drumlins, woodland, lake and canal side views, working farms and the UN recognised Marble Arch Caves Geopark in Co Cavan. Much of the route is in the foothills of the Sliabh an Iarainn and Sliabh Rushen mountains. [13]

The project is inspired by the significant increase in cycling and walking activity in recent years and the unsuitability of the local roads. Also, the opportunity to become a more attractive tourist destination. Similar initiatives in rural Ireland have transformed local economies by providing significant opportunities for area enterprises and employment. [13]

The first section begins at Mohill close to the former railway station. The Loc Rynn amenity is about 4 km away and has developed a variety of outdoor facilities in activity tourism along with formal gardens and woodland. Mohill station was an important station because in addition to the passenger traffic, the town hosted two great fairs on February 25th and October 19th annually. At its peak in 1945, 106 wagon loads of livestock were handled at Mohill.

After leaving the town at 3.2 km distant is Gortfada Road, the first of eight level crossings before Ballinamore where the former stone built Victorian era station house is still in use. This is the case at almost all the level crossings. Adoon is over 7 km from Mohill, the site of a former ‘Halt’ and served Cloone village approx 4 kms away. The landscape is predominantly flat but the route follows a very slight uphill gradient which continues to Fenagh with several curves along the way to navigate the drumlin landscape. The landscape is very rural with a variety of pastureland, woodland, bogs, streams and lakes.

About 10 kms from Mohill is the former Fenagh station. Fenagh area has some of the most significant ecclesiastical heritage sites in the North West as well as Megalitic and pre-Christian sites. … Fenagh is also a summit point on the Greenway in that the overall gradients start to fall towards Ballinamore. At Lauderdale, the gradient is falling at 1 :47 over almost a kilometre on the approach to the canal bridge, the Dromod bound coal trains would have been working near their limit getting to Fenagh! Lauderdale crossing is approx 1 km from the newly refurbished Glenview Folk museum at Aughoo Bridge. Approaching Ballinamore, the canal bridge is now removed so the Greenway would follow the new canal side walk along the Shannon Erne Waterway for approx 3 kms before entering Ballinamore Marina at the south end of the town. [13]

In the image below we cross Station Road and head North though Mohill.This book is an excellent photographic record of the line in the 1950s. It is published in the series ‘Irish Railway Photographers’. The image on the front cover defines the value of the book. It is a record of a line which wandered its way through a remote rural area. In the cover picture, the postman waits with his bicycle, and the farmer demonstrates as much patience as the donkey pulling his cart, while class FN1 2-4-2T No. 12L departs northwards from Mohill Railway Station. The author says that “This is a vignette of a more leisurely, but long vanished, way of life; postmen now drive vans and farmers have long-since traded-in their donkeys for tractors!” (c) Anthony Burges [2: front cover & p21]Looking North across the level-crossing from Mohill Station in 1950, (c) H.C. Casserley. [12]This view looks North from the station site in Mohill. Ciaran Cooney writes: “The small level crossing at the north end of Mohill Station has been totally obliterated by road widening, and the garage seen here has been extended much since railway days. The former line continued straight ahead between the cream-coloured house on the left and the garage on the right, the latter has since been demolished and replaced by a Centra store.” The store is visible on the satellite image below and in the pohotgraph from Google Streetview, also below. [10]Mohill in 1911. [9]Mohill on the 1940s OS Map (GSGS One-inch). [3]Google Streetview picture looking North across the location of the level-crossing at the North end of Mohill Railway Station site in 2009.The approximate line of the old railway passes under the Centra store ind towards the back of the new property  to its left before continuing on behind the fire-station (just off the picture to the left).

Immediately beyond the crossing, “There was a stiff climb at 1:57 past Hill Street gates and then a reverse curve.” [1:p127]The approximate route of the old line (above) approaching Hill Street level-crossing is shown in pink. The crossing-keeper’s cottage is still present in this 2009 image.

The reverse curve referred to above is visible on the 2009 satellite image adjacent to this text. The old line can easily picked out from above. Just fater the reverse curves were passed the line crossed Water Street which was a minor country lane.

The first picture below looks back from Water Street along the line towards Mohill Station. The second image looks forward along the line towards the North.The planned green-lane follows the route of the old railway. The local development plan protects the route of the line! [13]

The fact that the line is protected gives us a very clear indication of its actual route. The adjacent satellite image shows the length of the old line North of Water Street. For a time it runs parallel to the R202 road running North out of Mohill. It then curves away towards the Northeast.

Thelp line was initially only on a very slight grade along this length but as it turned to the Northeast the grade steepened to 1:36 before the line reached Gortfada Crossing a little over 7 miles from Dromod.

From February 1888 to January 1901, “market trains stopped at Gortfada, although the name Rosharry was always used. Just under half a mile farther on the line reached the actual Rosharry gates, and trains called here from 1901 until December 31st, 1920, by which time it had been decided that receipts did not justify the stop. At both Gortfada and Rosharry trains used simply to stop at the house, as there was no platform at either place.” [1:p128]

Both level-crossings are shown on Google Streetview images below, and appear on the satellite image immediately below these notes. Gortfada appears in the bottom left of the image and Rosharry, close to the top right, as the line begins to curve back towards a northerly alignment. North of Rosharry Crossing the line curved sinously through the landscape. It rose to a peak at the 9 milepost, then dipped and rose sharply to enter Adoon Halt just over 10 miles from Dromod at a gradient of 1:40. [1:p128]

The satellite images and maps below show the alignment of the railway through the landscape.


Gortfada Crossing in 2009. This view looks back towards Mohill.Gortfada Crossing, once again in 2009, looking forward to Rosharry Crossing. The crossing keeper’s cottage is still standing.Rosharry Crossing looking back towards Mohill in 2009. The Keeper’s Cottage still stands and the approximate line of the railway is shown on this Google Streetview image. The keeper’s cottages were of a standard design along the line.Rosharry Crossing, above, also in 2009, but this time looking on towards Ballinamore.

Rosharry Crossing appears at the bottom of the adjacent satellite image.

The line heads north then northeast before crossing the minor road shown on the satellite image below. The subsequent 1940s OS Map shows that road as leading nowhere. It has since become a tarmacked lane, as shown in the image below the OS Map.


A view, above, from the main road to the South, showing the approximate alignment of the railway as it crosses what on the OS Map was a short length of tarmacked road which is now tarmacked for some distance to the North.

The line continued through open country crossing one farm access road at an un-gated crossing (shown on the adjacent satellite image) while singing gentle round from a northeasterly to a northwesterly trajectory and then reversing back towards the North once again.

The route to Adoon was through open countryside and

Adoon had a shelter on the platform on the up side. “The halt-keeper’s house was 135 yards on the Dromod side at the gates, but it was not feasible to have the platform there on account of the gradient. In December 1887, the stationmistress complained about the bad road from the house to the halt and it was reported that her husband declined to let her carry out the traffic work for the small pay proposed. (The C&L invariably referred to the women halt-keepers as stationmistresses. They earnedone shilling a week for issuing tickets and got five per cent commission on receipts, as well as a free house.) In the halts, the booking-office, with its ticket window and drawer, was situated in the house and not the shelter. Receipts were sent to the controlling station in locked leather money-bags, of which there was one for each halt with its name inscribed on a brass plate.” [1: p128]

In the 1940s, a telephone was installed and Adoon was used for a while as a temporary block post (see 1: p172-174); otherwise it was never a staff station, “although there was a proposal at the start to cross trains using the long siding then there. (Construction trains were, in fact, so crossed.) The siding was little used and was removed in 1894. Afterwards, however, the need for a new one grew and an up facing siding was brought into use in July 1902. It ran in behind the passenger shelter and was protected by a trap point; it was comparatively little used in latter days.” [1:p128]

Adoon halt was just to the North of the road junction highlighted on the adjacent satellite image. Two monochrome images are shown below which give a good impression of the spartan nature of the station site.

The crossing-keeper’s cottage is not visible in either of the contemporary black and white images but it still remains a little to the south of the station site. It can just be picked out within the pink oval on the adjacent image.

Pictures showing the cottage in the 21st century are below the monochrome images. It is difficult to relate the modern images to the older 1950s images. It appears that there has been some local regrading of the site.

Adoon Halt in February 1959, (c) James P. O’Dea. [14] Adoon Halt in April 1959, (c) James P. O’Dea. [15]The Crossing Keeper’s Cottage in June 2009. It has been extended across the old railway line, the approximate course of which is shown in pink. The halt is behind the photographer. The view shown looks back towards Mohill.Looking ahead through the site of the station towards Ballinamore. There has been some revision to levels in the vicinity of the level-crossing and the station. The main road, to the left, remains in roughly the position it was during the life of the railway line.At the time that the railway was active the road on the right of the colour picture immediately above this OS Map was merely a farm access road. By 2009, the road had become a through road running East to the North side of Lough Adoon. [3]

Ahead, the railway curved round to the Northeast again and crossed another minor road at a gated crossing where the keeper’s cottage still remains. Unfortunately the camera used for the Google Streetview images had pick up an un-noticed bit of tree branch while running along this narrow lane. The pictures of the keeper’s cottage are not worth including in this post.

After the Crossing the old line curved back round to the North once again as shown in the satellite image below.Short-lived, of course, as the route of the line through the countryside was sinuous. One author attributes this to the glacial drumlins  which covered the area after the last ice age! [2]The OS Map from the 1940 picks up the sinuous nature of the line. There are hardly any straight sections on the run from Adoon to Fenagh Station.

The adjacent OS Maps highlight a number of level-crossings along the route. Two at Dunavinally and one in the run towards Fenagh Station.

The first of these locations is picked out on the satellite image below. The Eastern length of the old lane which resulted in the more southerly of these two crossings is no longer used as a roadway. The farmer has chosen to use the old C&L formation to access the national road network instead.

The road layout is marked in blue on the satellite image, with the old lane marked by a dotted blue line. The railway route is marked in pink. The first picture below the satellite image shows the old rail formation in used as a farm access route.

This picture was taken at Location ‘1’ above, looking back towards Adoon. It shows the diverted farm access track using the C&L formation.The route of the rail line ahead. It is not too far now to Fenagh.The line continues on, past Lough Drumroosk.The crossing closer to Fenagh is shown on the satellite image below. It is in the townland of Cornafostra. The view of that crossing point below was taken in June 2009 and shows the crossing-keeper’s cottage in a rather delapidated state.

The line curved to the Northeast and then swung back towards the North close as it entered Fenagh Station.

Fenagh was nearly 13 miles from Dromod. The route there from Adoon had maximum graidents of 1:39 and 1:47.

“The halt had the agethouse, shelter and platfrom on the up side; there was a short up, trailing siding. At Fenagh (as at Kiltubrid, Ballyheady and Garadice) the shleter was fitted in 1888 as a lock-up good store. The only incident recorded here was the overturning of a covered wagon with four tons of goods in December 1913 by a sudden gust of wind. The C&L had considered the installation of Mr Stott’s anemometers in December 1887 but did not, in fact, do so, and and was never unlucky enough to suffer the storm damage of the Lough Swilly or West Clare lines.” [1:p128-129]

The area was the site of the battle of Fidhnacha in 1094. [16][17]

Fenagh Abbey is one of the oldest monastic sites in Ireland, believed to date back to the earliest period of Celtic monasticism. The founder was St. Caillín, thought to have arrived in Fenagh from Dunmore in County Galway in the 5th century (according to the Book of Fenagh). The Abbey had a monastic school, and was celbrated across Europe for its divinity school. [16][18].

The crossing in Cornafostra. The line ran in the foreground, to the east of the old cottage.Fenagh: the old road layout and the route of the railway are shown in blue and pink respectively. The old crossing keeper’s cottage features in a renovated state on the left of the image. The picture is taken looking just a little to the West of North!The station house at Fenagh while the C&L was still in use. [19] A view of the extended station house/crossing keeper’s cottage in the 21st century. [20]

Looking back (above) through Fenagh Station site South towards Adoon. The approximate alignment of the C&L is shown in pink and the old road alignment in blue.

Those colurs are maintained on the adjacent satellite image which emphasizes just how far Fenagh Station was fro the village

“Leaving Fenagh, the line fell at 1:63 and then, after a rise at 1:60, descended the formidable Lawderdale bank. There was a long half-mile fall at 1:47, and the going was really tough for up trains, especially laden coal specials. Lawderdale Halt was at 14.25 miles and had the usual facilities on the down side. An added attraction of the place was the syringa bush, in a white-washed stone base, which Mr Lawder planted on the platform in 1903. The C&L name for the halt was ‘Lawderdale’, although CIE sometimes used ‘Lauderdale’; in fact, both were incorrect, Drumrane being the proper name. However, the C&L never even considered this and the halt was named ‘Aghoo Bridge’ in the early plans. [1:p129]

“Just at the Dromod end of the platform there was a down, facing siding which lasted until about 1940. It was installed in 1887-8 at a cost of £42 10s at the request of Mr Lawder, who guaranteed 100 tons of traffic a year. In the early days there was a weigh-bridge (jointly paid for by the C&L and James Ormsby) but all traces of it have long since disappeared.” [1:p129]

The first picture below shows a view looking back in a southerly direction from the level-crossing location at Lawderdale Station. The crossing keeper’s cottage it still in place and it has been modernized and extended. The old platform face is also still visible. It is easy to locate the old C&L in the landscape.

Looking North, in the second image below, the line curved away to the Northeast before then swinging back to the North.

Lawderdale Station looking South.The same location, looking North.

Half a mile past Lawderdale, the line crossed the ill-fated Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal over a single-span girder bridge. Sadly, I have been unable to find any photographic record of this structure.

The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal was built to link the rivers Shannon and Erne.

Work on the canal began in 1846, after four years of planning. It was a huge project. At one stage, 7,000 men were working on the canal. Construction took sixteen years and the canal finally opened in 1860. However, during the years it took to build the canal, another form of transport had taken over. Railways had become the most popular way to transport goods. This was a blow for the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. It closed after just nine years. During that time it carried only eight boats – less than one a year! [21]

“In 1887 the Cavan and Leitrim Railway … opened. … This railway system served the same area as the waterway; however, it is clear that by the time the railway was being constructed the waterway was well and truly out of use, as indicated by the construction of very low bridges over the channel, indicating a level of confidence that there would not be a need to raise them. ” [22]

Recently, the canal has had a new lease of life. It re-opened in 1994 and is now a tourist attraction. It was renamed the Shannon-Erne Waterway. These days, cruisers and barges are a regular sight on the canal! [21]The line ran alongside the R204 for a distance north of the canal.

After the C&L crossed the canal there was a “rise of 1:40 followed immediately by a descent at 1:35, after which the line curved right on an embankment and then, in company with the tramway which swung up on the left, passed Tully level-crossing. A left-hand curve brought the line, falling at 1:87 into Ballinamore station.” [1: p129] By this stage we have travelled 16.25 mikes from Dromod.Mainline and tramway (branch-line) ran in parallel into Ballinamore Station. A tramway loop opened out on the left and the three roads together crossed Cannaboe level-crossing and entered the station site which is marked above with a green flag.The 1940s OS Map of Ballinamore. [3]

Patrick Flanagan describes Ballinamore Station as follows:

“As at all the other main stations, the buildings were on the down side. Built at a cost of £11,8001, they were extensive and comprised traffic manager’s, booking and stationmaster’s offices, at well as waiting- and store-rooms and the agent’s accommodation. Outside the waiting-room was the brass station bell (provided in 1897). Immediately on the Dromod side of the building was the tramway bay platform with its own release loop outside. Opposite was the up platform which had a small shelter. The platforms were connected by a footbridge made by Manisty in 1890 and warning notices were attached. The original notices had disappeared by the 1920s but the GSR later affixed standard bi-lingual plates.

Baiiinamore, too, had a refreshment-room. The question of providing one was considered as early as November 1888, and although the board’s reaction was favourable it was ‘very dis-tinctly remarked that neither here nor hereafter (would) a licence be allowed’. A room was opened, the catering being done by a Ballinamore hotelier. It closed in 1891 and the service was not again provided until 1898, when the shelter on the up platform was used. But it, too, had a very short life and closed about 1902, later becoming an oil store.

The station was graded as Class i (allowance £85) and was unusual in boasting two signal cabins, one near the loco yard and the other at Cannaboe gates. They dated from the early 1890s and one lasted until 1956. The station signalling was then completely overhauled and a ground frame at the Dromod end of the tramway platform replaced the cabin at the gates. A second frame was installed on the site of the old yard cabin.

The signalling arrangements were interesting, being by far the most elaborate on the section. But the C&L never had a signalman — the job of making the roads fell to the guards or shunters who, at the end, at any rate, also had to open the gates for trains off the tramway.” [1: p130]

There were suggestions made in the early 20th century that the two cabins/ground frames should be replaced by one elevated central cabin. This, however, never came to pass.Ballinamore Station: the view from the footbridge South towards Dromod and Agrina. [23]Ballinamore Railway Station in the 1920s (above). [24]

The adjacent image shows a busy scene at Ballinamore. [27]

Below, 4-4-0T 4L in front of the pair of Cork Blackrock 2-4-2Ts 21st March 1959. Formerly named ‘Violet’, 4L dated from the opening of the line in 1887. [29]

In this image, the station footbridge just intrudes on the left and the station building at Ballinamore can be seen beyond the loco.Narrow Gauge Loco On Goods Train At Ballinamore In 1951, the shed roads can be seen behind the Loco. [25]Ballinamore Shed. [26]The shed roads at Ballinamore once again. [28]Three locomotives on shed on the Cavan and Leitrim Railway. No 4 is Robert Stephenson and Hawthorn 2615 1887 4-4-0T No 4 VIOLET Withdrawn in 1959 and cut up at Dromond in 1960. No 10L is Neilson, Reid & Co. No. 5561 of 1900;2-4-2 tank. Ex CB&PR. In service till closure 1959. The other cannot easily be identified. [30]C&L locos numbers 1 and 3L, 3L “Lady Edith” like many an Irishman emigrated to America and is now preserved at the Pine Creek Railroad, it hasn’t steamed in some time, (c) John Wiltshire 1955. [32]Ballinamore station after closure. The picture was taken on 25th August 1959, (c) Roger Joanes. [31]


  1. Patrick J. Flanagan; The Cavan & Leitrim Railway; Pan Books, London, 1972.
  2. Anthony Burges; Smoke Amidst the Drumlins – The Cavan and Leitrim in the 1950s; Colourpoint, Newtonards, County Down, 2006, 2010. (The picture in the text is of the front cover of the book and is taken from, accessed on 21st May 2019.)
  3., accessed on 22nd May 2019.
  4., accessed on 22nd May 2019.
  5. Suzanne Keen; Victorian Renovations of the Novel: Narrative Annexes and the Boundaries of Representation. Volume 15 of Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture (reprint, revised ed.). Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  6. Longman; Traveller’s New Guide Through Ireland, Containing a New and Accurate Description of the Roads (digitized from original in Lyon Public Library ed.); Longman, 2011 (1819).
  7. Irish Free State (1925); Intoxicating Liquor Commission Report (Report); Reports of Committees. The Stationery Office., accessed on 22nd May 2019.
  8., accessed on 21st May 2019.
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  16.,_County_Leitrim, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  17. Dennis Walsh, Dennis; O’Rourke Family Genealogy and History; (1996–2010);, accessed 24th May 2019.
  18. Michael A. Costello; Coleman, Ambrose; Flood, William Henry Grattan; De annatis Hiberniae: a calendar of the first fruits’ fees levied on papal appointments to benefices in Ireland A.D. 1400 to 1535;  Tempest, Dundalk,1909 (PDF);, accessed on 24th May 2019.
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N Gauge Railway Modelling!

There was a time when I would have been satisfied with almost anything in N Gauge. The hobby was served by a very limited number of Ready-to-Run manufacturers and the kit industry was often based around relatively coarse white metal kits or relatively poor resin kits. Those resin models even seemed to bend a little with age. 

It is a different world now. With modern homes being so much smaller and space at a premium, N Gauge is the new 00!

Model quality is high and standards are still rising. Modelling techniques have improved so much that it is at times difficult to tell the difference between N and 0, let alone 00.

The space available in N Gauge, together with the quality of models available mean that there has never been a better time to switch to N Gauge from other gauges/scales!

Just a few examples ……

1. The N Gauge Society Journal 3/19, p92. ….

The journal carried this picture of a sleepy scene of the goods yard at Wrenton with cattle waiting on the dock to be loaded. ‘Wrenton’ [1][2] is Roger Beckwith’s superb layout which was featured, along with an article about how he built the outstanding building models, in N Gauge Society Journal 4/18. … Are you sure that this is N Gauge?

Roger Beckwith has supplied a monochrome version of the same picture below. …. Is it really N Gauge?

2. N Gauge Society Journal 3/19 (back cover)

This picture comes from the back cover of the Society Journal and features the Ableton Vale Layout. [3][4]

3. The Derwent Valley Railway

The Derwent Valley Railway is a might-have-been railway connecting the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midland Junction Railway to the Dore and Chinley line between Rowsley and Grindleford, following the course of the Derwent River past the Chatsworth estate. [5]

4. Stamford East

Robin Fox has this model on the exhibition circuit. [6]

5. Ashburton

A few photographs of Ashburton made (in N Gauge) by John Birkett-Smith which appeared in BRM Magazine. The layout also featured on the front cover of N Gauge Society Journal 6/19. [7]

6. Bridgford

A view of ‘Bridgford’ by Alistair Knox at the Warrington Show. [8] This image and those following immediately come from the N Gauge Society website. 

7. Wickwar

The layout ‘Wickwar’ by the Farnham & District Model Railway Club, taken at the Fareham show October 2017 using a mobile phone (Samsung Galaxy 6). [8]

8. Melton Mowbray

The Northern’ at Melton Mowbray, created by John Spence and Steve Weston. [12]

9. Shirebrook

Added at the request of a member on RMWeb. These three pictures are taken with permission from a flickr page. [13]

10. Blueball Summit

Also added at the request of someone on RMWeb. The video was made in September 2016 and is available on YouTube. [14]

Blueball Summit’s buildings are also exceptional. there are a few pictures below. [14]

11. Buildings

I find it really hard to believe that many of these models (both full layouts and individual buildings) are not at least 00-gauge models, (if not modelled in larger scales). Here are a few examples of the quality of buildings now being scratch-built in N Gauge. The first comes from ‘Wrenton’.The Red Lion in Wrenton, by Roger Beckwith. [10]Marylebone Railway Station modelled in N Gauge by Mark Eaton. This picture was included in the N Gauge Society Journal 1/19. [11]5 different images of structures on Bluebell Summit made by Andy Stroud. [14]

12. Hereford in N Gauge

Just not got as far as I could have done with my own model of Hereford Station in N Gauge. But here are a few pictures of my father-in-law’s work. The quality of my photography does not match the quality of the modelling! [11] My father-in-law, David built the model of the station building at Hereford and the two large goods sheds. The back scene, smaller buildings on the layout and the station footbridge are my own work.


  1. Wrenton:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  2. Wrenton:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  3. Ambleton Vale:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  4. Ambleton Vale:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  5. The Derwent Valley:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  6. Stamford East:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  7. Ashburton:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  8. Bridgford:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  9. Wickwar:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  10. Wrenton:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  11. Marylebone: N Gauge Society Journal 1/19.
  12. Melton Mowbray:, accessed on 24th May 2019.
  13., accessed on 11th June 2019.
  14., accessed on 11th June 2019.





The Cavan and Leitrim Railway – Dromod to Mohill

Dromod to Mohill

Before we consider starting this armchair journey in this blog, the Huntley Archives have provided a video of the journey out of Dromod station. [3]

Dromod Station was across the yard from the mainline station. That station was off to the left of the sketch plan underneath the satellite image below.The station plan drawn by Patrick Flanagan. [1:p125]A short walk across the station yard from what is now the CIE station building brought potential passengers to the C&L station. This picture shows the station in 1959. When the railway was taken over by the Great Southern in 1925, booking facilities were transferred to the main line station, located behind the photographer. No tickets were sold here from 1925 until the station was restored by preservationists in the mid-1990s, (c) Hamish Stevenson. [7: p7]A view of the station at Dromod in the 1950s. The first road to the left in the foreground led to the engine shed and water tank. The siding beyond this originally served the carriage shed which was removed in the 1930s. The track on which the photographer is standing acted as a run-round loop for the single platform in the centre of the picture beside the main buildings The goods store and cattle-loading bank are on the right of the picture, (c) T.K. Widd. [7:p7]On 28th may 1953, 2-4-2T No. 121 simmers outside Dromod’s single road engine shed. The C&L continually had problems with sourcing water along its route. At Dromod, the problem was that the supply at the station was contaminated by minerals which damaged the locomotives’ boilers. After preservation, water now has to be brought to site in a preserved fire tender, (c) Neil Sprinks. [7:p8]Excellent picture of the Dromod Station building renovated in recent years. [8]

The last post in this series had a number of other photos of the old station.

As the OS Map shows, the Cavan & Leitrim (C&L) set off North out of the station at Dromod and curved away to the East.

It is interesting to note on the adjacent extract from the 6″ OS Map, that there were two abattoirs close to the station. I wonder kind of smells might have been experienced by travellers waiting at the station. The present CIE line is shown in yellow below, the route of the C&L is shown in pink.A train from Ballinamore rounds the curve before entering Dromod station, © O’Dea Collection. [4]Looking back towards Dromod Station from the Level Crossing on the L1600 road in the easel 21st century. The pink line is an approximation to the line of the railway which actually curves round to the left.The crossing keeper’s cottage is now in private hands. This view is taken from the L1600. The approximate route of the line is shown by the pink line. Dromod is away to the right and the line heads on towards Mohill to the left. It runs alongsidea minor road as it travels East.The road and railway run parallel for some distance, turning to the northeast.This Google Streetview image shows the point where road and rail diverge slightly for a relatively short distance as seen on the satellite image above. The satellite images in these posts about the C&L are Google images with the route of the line super-imposed on them by [5]The old line continued on the South side of the road and crossed the road between Drumgildra and Bornacoola at level.The crossing keeper’s cottage still stands (above). This view looks back from the road in a westerly direction towards Dromod. The route of the old line is marked in ‘pink’. The view is nothing but undergrowth in the Easterly direction.

The adjacent image shows the location of the first station along the line – Derreen Station. The line has turned to the Northeast and runs straight for some distance before entering the Station complex. Derreen Station was about 2.5 miles from Dromod.Derreen Station: Locomotive No.6T pauses at the station on 24th March 1959 in the last week of the line’s operational existence with the afternoon train from Ballinamore to Dromod. The station building was on the Northwest side of the line. [7: p10]The station building stills stands, reasonably well camouflaged from the road. This view (above) from the North shows both the road and station building in the 21st century, The line ran behind the building in the photograph. Google Earth’s definition at this location is not great but the building can just be picked out among the pixels on the adjacent small satellite image!

The adjacent 1940s OS Map extract (GSGS One-inch) shows the location of the station and the route of the line ahead. In a relatively short distance it turns almost due North.

The photograph below is taken at the point where road and rail use to converge, South of  Drumard Lough on the OS Map and central to the satellite image below. The farm access road travels along the formation of the C&L at this point.

Ahead, road and old rail route diverge. The road heads away towards Rinn Lough to the East, the railway headed North. Flanagan describes the line out of Dromod as far as Mohill like this: “Leaving the station, the line took a long sweep to the north-west [actually the North-east] past Clooncolry gates. The section to Derreen (2.5 miles) undulated through poor boggy land, the only gradients of note being two short stretches of 1:41 and one of 1:60. The halt at Derreen was typical of the ‘flag stations’ in having a halt-keeper’s cottage and small passenger shelter on a low stone-faced (down side) platform. However, the shelter was not erected until about 1900 and, at the start, facilities were very primitive indeed; in August 1888, when passengers complained of the lack of a shelter, the only concession made was to improve the method of access — till then, two planks across a ditch! The halt was at first to be named ‘Lough Rhyn’ as the road which the line crossed there did, in fact, lead to Lough Rinn. Continuing, the line was more or less level all the way to Mohill, although there was a short fall from Derreen at 1:49. On the way, the line crossed Tawnaghmore Bog and passed Clooncahir, where trains stopped on demand for Mr Digges on way to meetings, before entering Mohill (5.75 miles). This is a sizeable town and the only place of importance in the region.” [1: p126-127]Clooncahir appears at the top of the adjacent OS Map extract. The line continues only a short distance further North, sinuously curveing firat towatrds the East and then back towards the North, before entering the village of Mohill.

The station at Mohill was sited on the South side of the village, adjacent to the road which approached the village from Rinn Lough. After curving to the East, the line crossed an access road on the level. No gates were provided at this location. It can be seen north of Clooncahir as the main road and the old railway came a little closer together.

From this point, as we have noted, the line curved North and entered Mohill Station.

Mohill Station still stands. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage describes it like this: A “detached three-bay two-storey triple-pile former railway station, with five-bay single-storey block to north end and return to rear, built c.1885 by the Cavan and Leitrim Railway. … Pitched slate roofs with brick chimney-stacks, round terracotta chimney pots and ridge cresting. Red brick walls with yellow and blue-grey brick dressings and eaves course. Segmental-headed openings with yellow-brick hood mouldings and timber sash windows. Timber double doors in north block flanked by glazing. Corrugated-iron outbuilding to east with decorative bargeboards and finials. Snecked stone goods shed with pitched slate roof to north, now in use as a builders’ providers premises.” [9]Looking back down the line towards Clooncahir.Looking forward towards Mohill.One of the reasons why Mohill was so important to the network was that it had a reliable and uncontaminated water supply. Rather than risk the water at Dromod, most services were detained at Mohill to enable the locomotives to top up their tanks. 4-4-0T No. 3 pauses for replenishment at Mohill on a train bound for Dromod in 1956, (c) Patrick Flanagan. [7: p12]

The North point on both of the next maps of Mohill Station is to the right of the image. The second image was drawn by Patrick Flanagan. [6]Mohill Railway Station in the years before the closure of the line. [10]Looking South into the station area from the level-crossing at the North end of the station site.From a similar position in the 21st century.A composite ‘then and now’ image produced by Reverb Studios. [11]

These next five pictures were taken of Mohill Station on 15th May 2019 by ‘dannyboy‘ on the N Gauge Forum and are included with permission. [6]This picture shows the platform and station frontage on 15th May 2019. The picture is taekn from the north end of the platform. [6]This picture shows the forecourt side of the station building, taken from the north end as well. [6] Four images of Mohill Good Shed taken a number of years earlier. [6]


  1. Patrick J. Flanagan; The Cavan & Leitrim Railway; Pan Books, London, 1972.
  2. The Irish OSM Community Map;, accessed on 9th May 2019.
  3.; Film 96365, accessed on 10th May 2019.
  4.”Leitrim+(County)”, accessed on 9th May 2019.
  5., accessed on 6th May 2019.
  6., accessed on 16th May 2019.
  7. Tom Ferris & Patrick Flanagan; The Cavan & Leitrim Railway – The last Decade – An Irish Railway Pictorial; Midland Publishing Ltd., Leicester, 1997.
  8., accessed on 19th May 2019.
  9., accessed on 19th May 2019.
  10., accessed on 19th May 2019.
  11., accessed on 19th May.

The Railways of Orkney – Part 3

This is my final post about the railways of Orkney, I think. ……………

Since returning from the Orkneys, I have received a copy of Wilfred F. Simms book, “The Railways of Orkney.” It was published in 1996 and appears to be out-of-print. This copy came via an on-line sales site that we all know.

Simms’ book is a short A5-sized book and simply typeset. It is a mine of information on the railways of Orkney. Before we look as some of the historic built railways it is worth noting that Orkney had its own plans for a public railway as early as 1876 – The Kirkwall to Stromness Railway. John Buchanan assessed the feasibility of the line and advised that 3’0″ gauge should be adopted, “as in the Isle of Man, and that the ‘proposed line would commence at Kirkwall at or near The Ayre on the Peeries Sea and follow the course of the highway by Finstown and Stenness and terminate at or near the present Steamboat Quay at Stromness’. Route length would have been 14.5 miles and the line would present ‘no engineering difficulty’, intermediate stations would have been at Finstown and Stenness. Total cost of the line was estimated at £50,000.” [1: p28] it did not get built!

More recently, in 1977 a local businessman, Ronald Spiers imported a standard gauge steam loco from Scotland intending to create a tourist line near Kirkwall. Various difficul;ties arose and after time spent languishing in a field  near Kirkwall the loco was returned to Scotland. {1: p28]

A. Industrial Railways

Simms focusses first, in his book, on the industrial railways of Orkney which include a Herring Railway, lighthouse railways, shipbreaking railways and quarry railways

Herring Railways

Herring were, for a period of time, very significant to the economy of Orkney. ” Railways were often associated with the herring fishing and curing industry in both Shetland and Scandinavia: but only one such system is definitely recorded for Orkney. It is possible that narrow gauge railways were used in other Orkney fishing stations but only at Papa Steinway do actual relics remain to this day in the form of piers, sheds, railway track and trucks.” [1:p4]

The largest centre of the industry was Stromness. It became so by 1898 but was abandoned by the fleet within ten years. It may have used narrow gauge track during that time but rails were often used solely as guideways along which to roll herring barrels rather than as a railway with trucks. This practice occurred on Papa Stronsay as can be seen in one of the three sepia images below.

“Stronsay and Papa Stronsay had extensive gutting and curing sheds and new piers were  constructedto allow larger boats to berth: these ports remained the most important of the Orkney centre right up into the 1930s when the introduction of factory techniques, larger boats, depletion of stocks, and ultimately the Second World War stopped North Sea fishing.” [1:p4]

On Papa Stronsay the original stone “Bountifur pier with its wooden extension was laid with 1’8″ gauge track and a number of small four-wheel wood-framed hand-propelled trucks used to transport the fish from the moored boats to the curing sheds. A further three lightweight metal piers were constructed on the south shore to the east of the stone pier using a mixture oMf old rails and girders: these linked with a second area of curing and gutting sheds.” [1:p4]The herring fleet at Papa Stronsay! [2]The pier at Papa Stronsay, notice the stacks of Herring Barrels. [2] Workers roll barrels of salted herring down the pier to a waiting ship. [2]The rails on the quay leading to the pier, note the people at work preparing the herring and the stacks of barrels again. [2]Later in the history of the industry a calmer image from the 1930s! [3]

Lighthouse Railways

It is interesting to note that there were a number of short railways associated with the work of the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners.

Stromness Service Depot built it’s own gasworks in 1904 and installed 2’6″ gauge track of a length of 70 yards to facilitate the movement of coal by small hand-worked trucks into its store on the west side of the pier. Later, it installed a 25 yard section of standard gauge track to assist in moving large buoys on a single flat four-wheeled truck. [1: p5]The narrow gauge track at Stromness referred to above. [4]

Sule Skerry is one of a pair of small islands which lie 30 miles to the west of Orkney mainland. A lighthouse was built, commencing in 1892 and in 1894 a 2’6″ gauge inclined railway was installed between the lighthouse and the two possible landing places on the rock. A small haulage engine was installed close to the lighthouse tower so that a cable could be used to operate the two sections of the railway. Usage was dependent on prevailing weather and tides. Simms says that, “a single four-wheeled truck was used to transport heavy stores. … The railway appears to have continued in intermittent use until the 1970s. The tower has since been converted to an automatic light and all deliveries of materials are made by helicopter. The derelict railway remains in-situ slowly corroding away in the salt spray.” [1: p5]A landing at Sule Skerry, the railway track and wagon are visible in the image. [5]

Copinsay is a small island east of the Orkney mainland. Construction of a light house on this island started in 1914. Construction materials were brought by steamers and unloaded via a pier built for the purpose at the west end of the island. A railway of about three-quarters of a mile in length was installed which took supplies from the low western shores to the high cliff-top location of the lighthouse on the eastern cliffs. Steam winches were used to haul flat trucks from the pier to the construction site.The line is now long-gone and the island is a bird sanctuary. However, the course of the old railway can still be picked out as a grassy track running up the spine of the island. [1: p6] This image shows the route of the railway up from the low western area of the island in 2009, (c) Richard Evans. [6]

The Mail Boat Railway North Ronaldsay

North Ronaldsay pier is the only pier which was served by a permanent standard gauge railway. A 100 yard line linked the pier to the boat storage yard and was in use until sometime in the 1960s. [1: p6]North Ronaldsay Pier in 2007. The railway can be seen set into the pier surface. [7]

The Shipbreaking Industry

In 1924, Cox and Danks, Lyness, Hoy purchased  28 of the German naval vessels which were part of the scuttled German High Seas Fleet. The raising of these vessels would at the time been one of the worlds greatest salvage feats. In the winter of 1924, a fully equipped breakers yard was established.The Hindenburg heeling over to starboard on the first attempt at raising her in 1926. She appears to be alongside a pier and a railway is visible in the foreground. [8]The sheer scale of this operation is unimaginable without the photographic evidence! [9]

Simms says: “Little is known of the railway system in use at this time: although sections of both 2’0″ and 4’8.5″ gauge remained in-situ at the former naval base. What is clear is that at least one steam locomotive was in use on the 4’8.5″ gauge lines throughout Cox and Ranks tenure of the base.” [1: p7] When the battle cruiser Moltke was being dismantled alongside the pier, the existing standard gauge railway on the pier was “diverted by piles onto the ships hull and laid along its length. A steam locomotive hauled a small crane onto the hull and openings were cut through which heavy machinery was removed. This system was then applied in the case of the ships, Bremse, Seydlitz and Kaiser.” [1: p7]

In 1931, the Allow Company, later known as Metal Industries, Lyness, bought out Cox and Danksand continued operating from the old naval base. “It is known that the steam locomotive was still in operation in 1937 when the Friedrich der Grosse was towed south for scrap.” [1: p7] In 1939 ship-raising was abandoned as the naval base became operational once again.

Stone Quarries

Many of the stone quarries in Orkney were used for road stone and had short lengths of narrow gauge track installed to assist with moving materials from the working face to the crushing plant.

Orkney County Council Quarry Lines were generally worked on an ad-hoc basis with track and equipment being moved as required. “At all sites lightweight 2’0” gauge ‘Jubilee’ type was used with wagon turntables rather than points. Track was moved along the working dace as work progressed, and the loaded trucks pushed to the foot of a cable-operated incline leading to the crushing plant. … By the mid-1960s this system still operated in Cursiter Quarry on  Mainland, and Lythes Quarry on South Walls (Hoy).” [1: p8] Records indicate that this system was also used in the past at a number of different quarries on Mainland (Chinglebraes,Harray, Orpjir, St. Ola, Springfield and Work well) and at North School Quarry on Stronsay.

Private Quarry Lines were established at Quoys Quarry near Linkness at the northern end of Hoy and at the Witter Quarry west of The Ayre (connecting South Walls with the rest of Hoy).

B. Contractor’s Railways

Lyness Naval Base, Hoy  had been recognised as strategically important well before the outbreak of the first world war but it was not until late 1914 that work was commenced at the site. The contractor was Baldry, Yerbergh & Hutchinson. One of their sub-contractors, the Glasgow firm, Kinnear & Moodie, installed a railway to transport stone from a quarry to the main wharf construction site. This is likely to be the first locomotive-worked rail system in Orkney. It operated from 1914 to around 1920 when work on the base was suspended.

The railway was 2’0″ gauge and used two or three small German-built tank locos rated at 20hp. They brought a series of small skip wagons from the quarry.

In 1917, a standard gauge railway was installed “to assist in construction of both the main wharf and RN Fuel Depot facility by either another of the contractors … or … by the Admiralty itself. … Evidence shows large wooden-bodied side-tipping wagons in use at the base.” [1: p9]

Two standard gauge steam locomotives were operating on the site until 1920 when the operation was scaled back and abandoned. The two track gauges were probably used by Cox & Danks and definitely during WW2.

The Underground Oil Storage Tanks, Wee Fea, Hoy were situated above and behind the naval base. The need for these tanks was recognised in 1926 but construction did not start until 1938. It was September 1942 before the first storage tank was completed and August 1943 before all six were finished. [1: p10] The images below show the surface evidence of the tanks.The first image above  highlights how well disguised the oil tanks in the hillside at Wee Fea were. [10]

The second image (adjacent) shows a ventilation shaft. [10]

The third image, below, shows the main entrance route into the tunnels and tanks as it appears in the 21st century. [10]

Further below are some internal images, more of which can be seen on the Canmore (National Record of the Historic Envionment) website. [10]Spoil was removed using a 2’6″ gauge railway. Good quality rock was transported by road to assist in the construction of the Golden Wharf in Lyness. Substandard spoil was disposed of on the hillside. Two diesel locomotives were recorded as working in the project.”Eventually the railway exceeded a mile in length, and ran partway round the hillside (virtually on the 400′ contour) by means of a substantial embankment: connecting the two main adits and quarrying sites.” [1: p10] The following images show some of the interior of the underground site.

The Burray-Hunda Causeway strengthened and enlarged the natural causeway between Burry and Hunda. Initially it had been intended to use clay to undertake this work. Storms proved how inadequate this would be and as a result a 2’0″ railway was constructed from the site of the causeway to a suitable quarry on Burray. This railway was lengthened as required during the work. “‘Jubilee’ type side-tipping trucks were filled at the quarry by a Ruston-Bucyrus digger and hauled to site by small diesel locomotives, of which two were recorded in use at this location.” [1: p11]This causeway became part of an inner submarine defence stretching from Flotta via the Calf of Flotta and Hunda to Burray. A removable boom linked the Calf of Flotta to Hunda. This was perceived as necessary after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in 1939.The Hunda Causeway seen from Burray. [11]

The Churchill Barriers were the considered long-term response to the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in 1939. The blocking ships clearly failed to prevent the access by the U-47 submarine and better defences were required.  11th May 1940 saw the start of work on the barriers when an advance party of men and equipment arrived and were conveyed by barges to Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm to set up temporary camps and construct piers. Mobilisation took time and it was not until August 1941 that construction of Barriers 1,2 and 3 (as shown on the adjacent satellite image) commenced.

Simms says:

“The magnitude of the project is not so easy to appreciate today as we now live in an era where gigantic machines can gouge out undersea tunnels: but at its time the building of the barriers was an enormous (and somewhat unproven) project. Much of the initial work was carried out using fairly simple equipments and an enormous amount of muscle power.

Wartime restrictions and the deployment of many of the contractor’s men on other projects left them very short of able-bodied men and the decision was taken to send Italian prisoners of war to the islands to assist in building the barriers – which from then on became known as causeways so as not to breach the Geneva convention. Most of the Italians had been captured in North Africa and the climatic change must have been quite a shock. … At the height of the construction period in mid-1943 about 200 contractors and 550 Italians were employed on the four causeways. The prisoners finally left the islands in Spring 1945.

Records show that the construction of the barriers used 24 cranes, 58 locomotives of 2’0″ and 3’0″ gauges, 260 wagons and 10 miles of railways. The number of locomotives quoted seems excessive and subject to some doubt when one considers that at their maximum the railways only extended to slightly over four route miles. Extensive research by railway societies and others has only resulted in about fifteen locomotives being positively identified. Many of the steam locomotives came from reservoir construction projects in the United Kingdom, some of the diesels (after overhaul and conversion from metre gauge) from the Balfour Beatty Kut Barrage contract in Iraq.

The construction method chosen was to lay barriers of stone rubble or stone in wire mesh baskets (bolsters) until water level was reached and then cement blocks were placed along either side of the rock barrier to prevent the tide from sweeping over the causeway itself. The primary construction phase was carried out by end or side tipping from railway trucks, end tipping by lorries and dumper trucks, or by use of the aerial cableways constructed across each barrier which could accurately place both rock and blocks. The barrier foundations used more than a quarter of a million tons of rock and stone, and the causeways on top used over 50000 blocks of concrete. Total length of the barriers constructed is about 11/2 miles, in places over water 59 feet deep.” [1: p12]

2’0″ gauge railways were used to remove overburden and waste at the quarries. 3’0″ gauge was used for the ‘mainlines’ which transported rock and concrete blocks. Standard or broad gauge was used for the cranes in the block yards and on the causeways.

Causeway No. 1 was completed by April 1943. Work started at the northern end. Lorries were used for delivery of quarried stone. Rail was used, both standard gauge and 3ft gauge, to link the blockyard to the West of the causeway to the causeway work site. The standard gauge was used by the stream cranes. The 3ft gauge lines were used both to bring material to the block making area and to transport completed blocks to the causeway. The block yard on the mainland closed in June 1944. [1: p13] On Lamb Holm, materials were landed at the new pier and a large quarry was excavated to the East. The quarry made use of 2ft gauge lines and a 3ft gauge line ran from the quarry “in a westerly direction past the head of Barrier No. 2 and around the island edge (past the contractor’s power station) to the south end of No. 1 barrier, it’s cableway and blockyard.” [1: p14]

Lamb Holm blockyard was established in March 1943, standard gauge track was used for the steam cranes and 3’0″ gauge served the whole complex. The yard closed after 15 months of use.

Causeway No. 2 linked Lamb Holm with Glimps Holm. It was just over 2000ft long. As elsewhere, 2’0″ gauge lines were used to remove quarry overburden with tracks being moved as required. A 3’0″ gauge line linked the new pier (constructed in 1940) with first the quarry and then the base of the cableway. Later the line was extended onto the causeway to allow wagons to be end-tipped. Earthworks for the line are still visible.Glimps Holm: a view West along the railway track bed towards the quarry, taken in 1987. [1: p16]

Simms says that ” owing to the island’s isolation, it is highly probable that diesel rather than steam locomotives were used. The railway operated from mid-1940 until October 1942.” [1: p14] By October 1942, the quality of the rock from the quarry had deteriorated and it was decided to source stone for the barrier from Lamb Holm.

Causeway No. 3 linked Glimps Holm with Burray, a distance of around 1400ft. It was effectively complete in May 1943. The most extensive railway network was to be found on Burray.

A new pier was constructed near Ward Point and a large quarry opened close to it. A blockyard was established below a workers camp at Warebanks in September 1942. A 3’0″ gauge railway was installed from the pier to Warebanks and onto barrier No. 3. The railway was then extended towards Northfield at North Links to obtain sand for the blockyard.

Simms commented in 1996: “Substantial relics of the line’s earthworks remain, including a deep cutting near Ward Point quarry … and the base of a locomotive shed just west of the A961.” [1: p23]The north of Burray. Ward Point quarry is to the left of the image on the coast. As far as I can tell, the red line shown on the satellite image below is the approximate line of the 3’0″ railway on the north coast of Burray.There was a further Causeway on south side of Burray, linking it with South Ronaldsay.Sketch plans of the railways on Burray and Lamb Holm. [18]

Causeway No. 4 – work on this causeway did not start until July 1942 and it was built by May 1943. It was about 2000ft long. Work started at the north end on Burray where the contractor’s power station and blockyard were situated. A 3’0″ guage railway was laid from Burray Village Pier via a reversal to the blockyard which sat above Sea Taing and Housebreck quarry (where 2’0″ gauge lines were in use). Standard gauge tracks were used for the steam cranes. The blockyard closed in June 1944.

At the South end of the causeway, Balfour beatty sublet the work to Willian Tawse & Co., a Perth based firm. Rock from the quarry on Eastside proved unsatisfactory and a new quarry was opened up at Hoxa to the West of St. Margaret’s Hope. Road vehicles brought the stone to a loading point at Carra Point. “A twin track 3’0″ gauge railway was extended forwards onto the causeway in the direction of Burray as work progressed: rapid progress was made.” [1: p23] Diesel locomotives were employed here. No relics remain at this site. Interestingly sand has built up so much on the eastern side of the barrier that it is impossible to believe that there was ever open water there. The amount involved is actually staggering! As can be seen below.The view of the newly developed sand dunes from Google Streetview, taken from the south end of the causeway!The view from the North end in 2014.

C. Military Railways

The Army was very limited in its use of railways in Orkney. Use was limited to 2’0″ lines linking storage huts at Muckle Rysa Camp on Hoy and at Houton and Stromness Camps on Mainland. There was also an inclined railway at Scad Head Battery on Hoy. [1: p24] This was “a self-acting incline about 900 yards long to serve a gun battery at Scad Head half way along the totally unpopulated section of the north-east coast of Hoy. The line ran from a camp set on top of a hill to the emplacement on the clifftop below, but it has been removed so effectively that even its gauge is now in doubt.” [18]WW2 Army building Muckle Rysa. [12]WW2 Engine House, Muckle Rysa. [13] Two images from Houton Battery on Mainland. [14]Stromness Army Camp during WW2. [15]

The Royal Airforce deployed balloons during World War 1 for observation purposes around Scapa Flow. During World War 2, unmanned barrage balloons were introduced to force enemy planes to fly higher or to damage and bring down aircraft. [1:p24]

“To defend the naval anchorage at Scapa, a special Squadron was created. The advance party arrived in Orkney in January 1940 and headquarters set up on Ore Hill above Lyness. Balloons were flown from sites on Hoy, Flotta, Fara and from trawlers moored in the Flow. [16] A second Squadron was formed in summer 1940.” [1: p24]

Ore Hill Balloon Depot, Hoy had a 40″ gauge man-powered railway to assist with moving gas cylinders which made use of a home-built wood-bodied flat wagon.

Rinningill Hydrogen Gas Factory, had a 2’0″ gauge railway installed on a newly constructed steel pier on Ore Bay which ran to an inland storage area reached by a steep incline. Eventually this small network included the factory and reach about 250 yards in extent. Simms says that in 1991, parts of the line were still visible . The pier was, by that time, in a dangerous state.

Fara Balloon Sites – Fara provided a natural protection to Lyness and was ideal for the deployment of barrage balloons. There were 6 balloon site on the island and a 2’0″ gauge railway was installed around a lot of the coastland of the island to service those sites. Gas was shipped from the Rinnigill Factory to Fara Pier and moved round the island on small flat four-wheeled trucks by a 20hp Ruston &Hornsby diesel locomotive.

Flotta Balloon Sites – at the advent of the war, Flotta was heavily fortified and used as a huge camp with an adjacent storage and supply base. A 2’0″ gauge railway was installed on the island which linked the older stone fishing pier to the new concrete ferry pier and to the base storage areas. The length was probably no more than 150yds. “By 1990, only a few corroded rails along the shore and an upturned metal truck chassis complete with wheels and axle-boxes remained, just below the high-tide mark Southwest of the fishing pier.” [1: p26] There are a few images below which show a narrow gauge line on the old pier at Flotta. [17]Loading cattle onto the Hoy Head, (c) K Desmond. [17]In this family photo, a car is being loaded from the pier onto the Hoy Head. The tracks remain visible in the pier surface. [17]Railway tracks are prominent in this picture. [17]Protective railings have now appeared on the pier. The railway is still prominent. [17]

The Royal Navy – feverishly mounted preparations in WW1 to protect Scapa Flow from enemy attack as soon as the decision had been made to make Scapa Flow the Grand Fleet Base. However, supply problems and other issues left the fleet waiting to move into their new base until April 1919 which was months after the signing of the Armistice in November 1918. This meant that almost as soon as the fleet had finally moved into its base, it went to a peace-time footing and much of the infrastructure was sold off or removed.

Lyness Naval Base – the first section of the base to become operational was the refueling facility which was completed in 1917. The remainder remained in contractor’s hands through beyond the end of the War.

” in 1936 a start was made on extensively modernising the base, new wharves were built and William Arrol & Co. constructed underground tanks on Wea Fea whilst Balfour Beatty had the contract for the surface tanks located behind the pump house. … At the start of the Second World War only 400ft of the part completed quay was ready for use and this was taken over by the Boom Defence Depot. During the War the Flow became the main base for the British Home Fleet. The quay, locally known as Golden Wharf on account of both the high cost and the lengthy period of construction was not completed until Spring 1944″. [1: p26-27]

The standard gauge railway system was deemed to have lain derelict since the Great War. In fact it had been used by Cox and Danks and later by Metal Industries. It was relaid and extended for use by the travelling cranes required for laying and recovering anti-submarine booms. Much of the track still existing at Lyness in the 1990s was from this period and the date 1937 could be seen stamped on some of the pointwork. [1: p27]

Four steam cranes were used during the War. In 1945, the base was ‘moth-balled’ and finally closed in 1956.

Lyness Torpedo Depot was established on the North side of Ore Bay in the late 1930s. Some 2’0″ gauge track was pressed into service to serve the assembly factory and later extended to the storage areas on the West. Much of the track remains but there is no record of what locomotives were used on the system [1: p27]2’0″ gauge track in evidence at Lyness on the North side of Ore Bay.Standard gauge track in evidence at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre.

And finally. …

D. Scapa Flow Visitor Centre

The visitor centre was closed when we visited in May 2019. Pictures in my earlier posts show a little of what exists at the site (see previous posts in this series:; and

A short 100 metre length of metre-gauge track was constructed at the Visitor Centre in 1992. The gauge was chosen for the locomotive owned by the Centre rather for historical accuracy.

There are a number of railway exhibits at the Visitor Centre which is awaiting major works funded by Heritage Scotland. These include: [1: p29-31]

  1. A Ruston and Hornsby Diesel Mechanical Locomotive, originally owned by the Royal Navy. 30hp, 1000mm gauge and weight 4 tons.
  2. A Ruston and Hornsby Diesel Mechanical Locomotive, originally owned by the War Department. 20hp, 2’0″ gauge and weight 3 tons.
  3. A Wingrove & Rogers Battery-Electric Locomotive, originally owned by the Royal Navy. 2’6″ gauge and weight 7 tons.
  4. A Cowans Sheldon Steam Crane, originally owned by the Royal Navy. Standard gauge (a bogie steam travelling crane).
  5. 2 no. Harrison & Cammell Flat Trucks
  6. 4 No. miscellaneous railway trucks – three at 2’0″ gauge and one at standard gauge.


  1. Wilfred F. Simms; The Railways of Orkney; Self-published, printed by Gadds, Worthing, 1996.
  2., accessed on 14th May 2019.
  3., accessed on 14th May 2019.
  4., accessed on 1st May 2019.
  5., accessed on 14th May 2019.
  6., accessed on 14th May 2019.
  7., accessed on 14th May 2019.
  8., accessed on 14th May 2019.
  9., accessed on 14th May 2019.
  10., accessed on 14th May 2019.
  11., accessed on 14th May 2019.
  12., accessed on 18th May 2019.
  13., accessed on 18th May 2019.
  14., accessed on 18th May 2019.
  15., accessed on 18th May 2019.
  16., accessed on 18th May 2019.
  17., accessed on 18th May 2019.
  18., accessed on 25th April 2019.





The Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway and the Nesscliffe MoD Training Area and Depot – Part 1

Someone who read my post on the Bicester Military Railway challenged me to look at the railway(s) which used to serve Nesscliffe Training Area. This first post traces the life of the old branch-line which served the area and was taken over by the military. A further post should follow which looks at the military sites themselves. Apologies for the length of the title!

As I have undertaken this research I have become increasingly aware of the complex railway and tramway arrangements in the area to the West of Llanymynech which  is probably best left to another occasion rather than seeking to cover it as part of this post.

The Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway

The old Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway (S&MLR) was commandeered by the military to allow the creation of a major armaments storage facility at Nesscliffe. The main length of the old railway is highlighted in the overlay on Google Maps below. [1]

The S&MLR was often referred to at ‘The Potts Line’. It ran from Shrewsbury, England to Llanymynech, Wales, with a branch to Criggion. [2]The S&MLR opened in 1911. The company ran the reconstructed Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway which continued to be owned by the Shropshire Railways Company, and was one of the Colonel Stephens Railways. It lost its passenger services in 1933, although some limited bank holiday services for tourists continued until 1937. [2]

The terminus of the line was at Shrewsbury Abbey station not at Shrewsbury railway station. This was because the joint operators, Great Western Railway (GWR) and the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) refused to let the smaller company have access to mainline services. After the railway closed Shrewsbury Abbey was retained as an oil depot siding connected to a stub of the Severn Valley branch. The site finally closed in 1988. A new road in the area has been named “Old Potts Way” as a reminder of what was known as ‘The Potts Railway’. [2]

A number of the stations shown in the adjacent diagram were added after the closure of the original Potteries, Shrewsbury & North Wales Railway. [2]

The Potteries, Shrewsbury & North Wales Railway

The original Potteries, Shrewsbury & North Wales Railway Company opened in 1866. Wikipedia says that it obtained “notoriety as the most expensive non-metropolitan railway then built, but was never constructed between Shrewsbury and the Potteries. The line rapidly became very run down as a result of low revenues and poor maintainace and was closed for safety reasons in June 1880, becoming one of the few railways to close in Victorian times. Attempts to re-open the line were made in the late 1880s and the 1890s by the Shropshire Railways who took over the property but these failed. After years of lying derelict, it re-opened as the Shropshire & Mongomery Light Railway in 1911.” [3]

John Speller confirms this but widens the information on the line, placing in the context of a wider network: “The Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway (PS&NWR) or “Potts” for short was an over-ambitious plan to build a line connecting the quarries at Nantmawr and Criggion via Shrewsbury to Market Drayton and then via the North Staffordshire Railway to Stoke-on-Trent and the Potteries. The line was built through extremely difficult terrain and at the time was the most expensive railway outside London ever built. The Shrewsbury to Market Drayton section was never completed. Since the Great Western and London & North Western Railways refused to allow the Potts to use their station at Shrewsbury General, the company had its own station at Shrewsbury Abbey, just to the south-east of the main line station. The line opened in 1866. Only a small section of the line was in Wales, the rest being in Shropshire. The section from Llanymynech to Potteries Junction, Shrewsbury was originally double tracked. The line was strongly supported by the North Staffordshire Railway who had visions of eventually obtaining access to North-West Wales, although this would have involved even heavier engineering work through the mountains. The line was poorly maintained and suffered several bankruptcies.” [4]

“The section north-west of Llanymynech was taken over by Cambrian Railways in 1900, and subsequently passed to the Great Western Railway in 1922. Passenger service ended in 1951, and most freight in 1964, but freight traffic on part of the line lingered until 1988. Part of the line reopened in 2009 as a heritage railway under the auspices of the Cambrian Heritage Railways Trust.” [4] The GWR route-map immediately above shows the Western part of the PS&NWR from Llanymynech to Llangynog which became a Cambrian and then Great Western railway.

“The eastern section remained fallow until 1911 when it was taken over by Colonel Stephens as the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Light Railway. Passenger service ceased in 1933. After abandonment by Stephens the line was taken over by the War Department in 1941, who ran it until closure in 1961.” [4]

The story is filled out a little by BBC Shropshire: “Whoever had the idea of building a railway line connecting Shrewsbury with the small village of Llanymynech, near Oswestry, wasn’t a business genius. Yet despite this, the Potts Line, as it became known, was used – on and off – for nearly a century before it finally fell into obscurity. How any of the owners ever expected to make a profit from this venture is a mystery: For a start the line didn’t go near any population centres other than Shrewsbury, and its stations were located in the middle of nowhere. For its whole life the Potts Line teetered on the brink of financial ruin, making the odd trip into the abyss. And the constant battle with the elements, especially the River Severn, didn’t help.” [6]

“Various plans had been considered for a railway between Shrewsbury and Llanymynech, but it was only when the Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway became involved in the 1860s that plans began to take shape. The venture, funded by the North Staffordshire Railway, created the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway – hence the nickname The Potts Line – with the idea of transporting minerals from Llanymynech, as well as carrying passengers. Unfortunately, these plans suffered a blow early in the project, when the company was refused permission to run its trains into Shrewsbury General Station: The line would have to work in isolation from the rest of the railway network.” [6]

“A terminus was built at Abbey Foregate, opposite Shrewsbury’s Abbey Church, standing on the site of the former monastery’s refectory.  Passengers arriving at the station were greeted by the sight of the 14th Century refectory pulpit, fenced off at the edge of the platform.” [6]

It and the platform are still there, and the area once occupied by the station is part of a car park.

The adjacent image shows the pulpit in 2009, (c) John S Turner. [7]Train at Shrewsbury Abbey in 1870 behind a Bury, Curtis and Kennedy 0-4-2 locomotive built for the LNWR in 1847. [4]

There are a good range of pictures of the old station on the Shrewsbury Railway Heritage Trust site. [9] Here are a few as tempters!With the Abbey in the background, the old station building looks rather forelorn. Just behind the photographer the station platform rose to be more accessible for the unloading of goods. [9]The ramp is clearly visible in this photo. [9]Looking South (above) along the platform in the 1980s. [9]

The adjacent image is probably from soon after the turn of the 20th century and shows station and Abbey together. [15]

The image below is taken from much closer to the station throat and probably shows the station in the 1950s when the station was in use by the military. [15]

The station in use before closure in 1961. [9]The renovated building in the 21st century is shown above. [10]

Another view of the station is use is shown in the adjacent image. [6]

The double track railway line left Shrewsbury in a south-easterly direction, with a station at West Meole Brace before heading out into the countryside into lightly-populated farm land and land subject to periodic heavy flooding. Its largest engineering feat was the twin track viaduct over the Severn at Shrawardine. The line first opened on 13 August 1866 and according to the Shrewsbury Chronicle, large numbers of passengers turned up at Abbey Foregate Station to try out the new service, and got out at the other end determined to explore Llanymynech. Many walked up Llanymynech Hill, but others ‘sought sport in the River Vyrnwy, as well-filled baskets testified’. Unfortunately for the Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway, the novelty wore off quickly, and passengers numbers soon dwindled. Within a few months of opening, the railway was in deep financial trouble. Debt collectors turned up at Abbey Foregate and seized a train. After rapid negotiations the train was allowed to leave, but only with a bailiff on board. After sitting in a stationary coach for a few minutes, the bailiff stuck his head out of the window – to see the rest of the train disappear into the distance! He was later told a coupling chain had broken by accident, leaving his coach behind. A likely tale?” [6]This picture comes from the Colonel Stephens website. It seems to be a flight of fancy when the accompanying text about locomotives is read. Although, the engine is one of the ex-LSWR ‘Ilfracombe Goods’ engines, the scene still has a sense of optimism and cleanliness which both seem to have been in short supply throughout the life of the line: “The railway ordered two new engines, 0-6-2 T, named ‘Pyramus’ and ‘Thisbe’. These were not a success, and were sold to the Government in 1916. The mainstay of the Railway then became three Ex LSWR ‘Ilfracombe Goods’ there were several oddities. The first loco was the minute 2-2-2 tank engine Gazelle, which served an inspection loco and then as a service loco on the Criggion branch. A Manning Wardle ‘Morous’ and an ancient 0-4-2ST ‘Severn’ (initially ‘Hecate’) of uncertain vintage completed the early roster. Three Terrier locomotives came in the 1920s but fell by the wayside in that decade and finally three ex LNWR ‘Coal Engines’ came from the LMS. A Ford railmotor set completed the roster.” [18]A ex-GWR ‘Dean Goods’ running as WD 190 as requisitioned by the War Department on shed. Note the old watertank which suggests that this picture was taken in the early days of M0D control. Thanks to Paul Moxon for these notes on this picture. [19]

As can be seen on the map below, for the first few miles the Shrewsbury and Welshpool Railway and the PS&NWR ran parallel and close to each other and Rea Brook . [8]“The company’s finances went from bad to worse, and on 21 December 1866, all services on the railway line ceased, while some of its assets were sold off. It was another two years before a train ran on the line again but services had to be reduced even further and the railway made into a single line, to cut running costs. Despite these economies, the company still found the cash to build a new branch line from Kinnerley to Criggion, with the aim of picking up revenue by transporting stone from the quarry at the foot of the Breiddon Hills.” [6] It was also intended to carry passengers, but the facilities were primitive. Apart from Melverley, all the buildings and platforms were made of timber. The branch had to cross the River Severn and it did so on a rickety timber viaduct.

“While the branch at Criggion was opened in 1871, a second branch was added between Llanymynech and Nantmawr the following year. This branch, which crossed the Cambrian Railway Company’s tracks at Llanymynech, allowed the Potts Line to take on extra freight traffic – limestone from the quarries at Nantmawr.” [6]

Despite the additional revenue, the PotteriesS&NWR continued to deteriorate. All possible economies were made, fares were even cut to encourage more passengers, but to no avail. In 1877 the company went into receivership. By 1880 the condition of the track had become so poor that a 25mph speed limit was imposed right along the line. Later that year the line closed completely. The Oswestry-based Cambrian Railway Company bought the section of the line between Llanymynech and the quarries at Nantmawr, re-opening it in 1886.

The rest of the line remained dormant until 1890, when a new company, Shropshire Railways “took over the line between Llanymynech and Shrewsbury, relaying the track. Unfortunately the cost of these line repairs ate up most of the new company’s budget and it went into receivership shortly after re-opening the line.” [6]

“For the third time in its short history, the owners of the Potts Line had gone bust, and it was to be another 17 years before trains ran along it again. All but abandoned, the station buildings and other structures, which hadn’t been in the best condition anyway, deteriorated still further, and in 1902 the wooden viaduct over the Severn at Melverley collapsed into the river.” [6]

Colonel Stephens built two lines in Shropshire: “The narrow gauge mineral railway linking the mine at Snailbeach with Pontesbury, which he took over in 1923, and the Potts Line.” [6]

“With the backing of local councils, Stephens formed the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway company in 1907, and work began to clear the overgrown track. Once again the sleepers were replaced, the Melverley Viaduct was rebuilt and the line re-opened on April 13, 1911. But the newly-re-opened railway was hardly a success story. Traffic remained at a low level – hardly surprising given the fact that the stations were miles from anywhere, but Stephens was at least able to keep costs low with his collection of bizarre second-hand locomotives and carriages.” [6]

The strangest of all was called Gazelle, although its nickname, ‘the Coffee Pot’ was more descriptive. It is believed to have been the smallest locomotive ever operated on a standard gauge railway in Britain. Experimental rolling stock was the norm for the Potts Line. Economies in the 1920s saw the introduction of Ford railcars which were deeply unpopular with passengers because of the noise made by the pressed steel wheels. Then there was the double-decker tram bought by Stephens from London County Council. He modified this to run behind Gazelle by removing the top deck and the stairs. Gazelle and the tram are shown in the two small pictures above and the larger picture below. [6][18]‘Gazelle’ The one locomotive that says it all about Col. Stephens and the S&MLR. [18]

A BBC article says: “Money became tighter than ever in the 1920s as the line struggled to keep going. … All passenger traffic on the Criggion branch line ceased beyond Melverley, because once again the viaduct was inspected and considered unsafe. the S&MLR closed completely in November 1933.” [6] The BBC’s suggestion of complete closure is challenged by others. It was passenger services that ended in 1933: freight traffic continued, including on the Criggion branch (weak bridge and all), until the Army takeover. One source below mentions this.The station track layout in Shrewsbury in the 1920s. [15]The station in the 1870s. [41: p25]

In June 1941, the War Department requisitioned the line from Shrewsbury to Llanymynech, and established a vast ammunition storage dump at a secret depot in Kinnerley. There were more than 200 huge storage sheds, camouflaged and decked out with turfed roofs and each was served by a railway siding. The line was busier during the war years than it had ever been. Before long, as many as 12 locomotives – including the Gazelle ‘Coffee Pot’ – were in steam at the same time.

The War Department spared no expense in maintaining the line and its structures. It improved facilities all along the line, including building major new sidings at Hookagate, where the Potts Line joined the main line from Shrewsbury to Welshpool, and completely rebuilding the viaduct across the Severn at Shrawardine. All this renewed activity on the main part of the line allowed stone to be carried from Criggion again, although Melverley viaduct was yet again declared unsafe in 1945. Only trains hauled by Shrewsbury-built Sentinel light locomotives were allowed to use the line until the bridge was rebuilt in 1947 by the Great Western Railway. This is the bridge that remains today. [6]

Shortly after the end of the war, the Severn floods were so bad they reached the top of the embankment at Shrawardine, and a bridge over a stream at Maesbrook was washed away, stranding a locomotive at Llanymynech. In 1959 the War Department closed its last depot and stone traffic by rail from the Criggion quarry ceased. The following year the line was returned to civilian status, to be operated by British Railways. But the writing was on the wall for the branch line and operations were run down. The last scheduled train from Shrewsbury to Llanymynech ran on 26 February 1960 and three days later the line closed. [6]

In the same year, BR removed all the track apart from sidings at Shrewsbury and today little remains of the Potts Line. The site of Llanymynech station is now a coal yard and the station at Criggion is split into two houses. Hardly anything remains of the Criggion branch line, and the stations at Llandrinio Road and Crew Green, which had wooden platforms, are completely gone.

The most substantial remains of the Potts Line are at Kinnerley, where most of the ammunition storage buildings – and even the rails running through them – still survive as shelters for livestock. There are also considerable remains of the Potts Line in and around Shrewsbury, especially at Abbey Foregate station.

Much of the trackbed was used as the base for Shrewsbury’s inner ring road, called Old Potts Way. The platforms of the station are still there, and an attempt to demolish the Potts Line station building, was eventually turned down by the local council in 2003.

In October 2008, Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council pledged £113,000 to help build a heritage centre in the old station building. The Shrewsbury Railway Heritage Trust applied for match-funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the building has been refurbished.The refurbished station building in July 2018. It sits boarded up awaiting a new life.

The adjacent image shows the terminus and the Abbey viewed from the station platform in around 1910, (c) F.E. Fox-Davies. [15]

The line from Abbey Foregate to Llanymynech and Criggion

The buffers were immediately behind the dwarf wall in the image immediately above. The road in the picture is Abbey Foregate. This station must not be confused with the station that was called Abbey Foregate. That station was to the south-east of Shrewsbury station, to the east of Severn Bridge Junction, on what is today the Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton Line. Despite its name, the nearest road was Underdale Road, not Abbey Foregate! [11]Our line is shown in blue on the Railway Clearing House Junction Diagram from 1912. [12]

As we have noted above the line followed closely that of the Shrewsbury and Welshpool Railway as it left Shrewsbury. By 1955 the OS Map no longer shows two separate railway lines over the length to the north of Meole Brace (see below) even though the lines were running in parallel still.The layout of the station tracks can be seen on the OS 1:10,560, 1949-1968 series maps as in the adjacent image. The maps in this area were published in 1954. [13]

Leaving the station, the line curved westwards and shown on the map below. It crossed Rocke Street/Reabrooke Avenue which was at that time a pedestrian underpass.

The line then bridged two railways. The first was the GWR to Worcester, the second, the Shrewsbury to Hereford line.Looking back towards the station from the location of Rocke Street underpass.Looking ahead along the line towards the West.This 1954 map shows the two lines running parallel under the A5191, Hereford Road. [13]Looking East from Hereford Road showing the line of the old railway curving in under the road bridge.Looking West along the route of the line from the same bridge.The two lines to the West of the A5191 before the B4380 bridge. The signal box on the map above is visible in the centre of the image, as is the fence dividing the two lines and in the right foreground the link between the two lines. This picture appears to have been taken from the footbridge visible in the next picture. [16]This image shows the link between the two lines and the footbridge beyond. [41: p16]The two lines continue to run next to each other through Meole Brace Station. [13]Before reaching Meole Brace Station the two lines passed under the B4380. This picture looks back towards Shrewsbury.Looking ahead towards Meole Brace Station.

Meole Brace Railway Station opened in 1866 and closed in 1933. [14] The station facilities were very limited and the station only served the S&MLR. There was a wooden shed for passenger accommodation with a roof that sloped away from the platform. There was no canopy on the station building, although the passengers could use Stanley Lane bridge for shelter. Alongside the wooden building was a grounded wagon body which probably performed the function of the small goods shed. There were no sidings and no room for trains to pass.An Aberystwyth bound train passes the site of Meole Brace station, heading away from the camera. The main line here was opened as the Shrewsbury and Welshpool Railway in 1862. It was operated by the London & North Western Railway from the outset and then jointly with the Great Western Railway. Meole Brace station served the erstwhile Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway which ran parallel to the Shrewsbury & Welshpool (to the left of this view – under a separate span of the bridge) for about 2 miles.  The station here, an all wooden structure, probably of single carriage length, was located to the left (out of shot in this view) mostly under the Stanley Lane overbridge. The Shrewsbury and Welshpool line now forms part of the Cambrian main line from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth/Pwllheli. In this view, ‘Cambrian’ unit No. 158830 is operating the 11:30 service from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, ©  John Lucas. [17]Looking back towards Shrewsbury from the Stanley Lane Overbridge. The Meole Brace station building was tucked under the bridge in the approximate location of the tree which is in the centre of this image.Also taken from Stanley Lane, the route of line can be seen heading Southwest alongside the present line to Aberystwyth.The two lines were still running next to each other as can be seen in the monochrome image above and on the OS Map. The Stanley Lane bridge is just visible to the top-right of this map extract. Two other roads cross the line on this map extract, one under (Washford Road) and one over (Longden Road) the line. [13]Washford Road underbridge, taken from the Northwest and showing the modern bridge carrying the live line and behind it an abutment from the old line.From the South East the abutments of the old line loom large and show that at one time there was a two track line running over the metal bridge.Longden Road bridge is newly reconstructed in the early 21st century. This view looks back towards Shrewsbury. The view immediately below looks Southwest along Longden Lane and shows the remains of what was the older bridge parapets.The view ahead shows the modern railway crossing over the A5 on a newly constricted bridge. The old line still ran parallel at this point but it would never have had a bridge as it was long-gone before the modern A5 was built!Longden Road runs parallel to the route of the line as it crosses the A5 and affords a good view of the modern line as well.

After the overbridge at Longden Road, the two lines took separate courses. The S&MLR diverted southwards and rose, past the site of two old quarries, to cross the Aberystwyth line on a skew bridge as shown on the map extract below.A 1930s guidebook to the line describes this section of the line as follows: “The gradient stiffens and climbing up through a charming belt of woodland the railway crosses the Welshpool line, and continues high up above the surrounding country to Hanwood.” [23]The next station on the line was Edgebold Station, sited just to the Southeast of the A488. [13]Edgebold station building was typical of most on the line, of timber construction with a roof sloping away from the platform face. It was sited on the North side of the line. The locomotive in this picture is most likely to be an ex-LNWR engine. There were goods facilities at the station which came off the line to the East of the station platform and ran behind the station building. [15]The line crossed the A488 via an overbridge. It had been on embankment for some time. The station location was among the trees at the centre of this image which is taken from the Southwest.This image taken from the Northeast shows the remaining abutment of the overbridge.The railway ran in cutting through passed Thieves Lane and on towards the B4386, Horton Lane.

The 1930s guidebook to the line says: “A straight run from Edgebold and Cruckton Halt is reached at a point where the line is carried over the Shrewsbury and Westbury main road. From here the gradient descends to Ford Station. Close by are the villages of Crossgates and Ford: Crossgates situate in a pleasant udulating country with woods here and there dipping down to the Severn. Ford lies about half-a-mile from the river, and is but a small village, though within its broad parochial bounds are many lovely nooks and delectable habitations of all degrees. The church, which stands picturesquely upon a high knoll, is an interesting and beautiful little building of red sandstone and dates back to the twelfth century.” [23]The location of the Thieves’ Lane Bridge can just be made out on the satellite image south of the woodland at the centre of the image. Thieves’ Lane can be picked out entering the image from the right but is lost after crossing the line of the railway.The railway passed close to Horton Lodge, by this time back on embankment and crossed Horton Lane via an overbridge. [13]The bridge abutments are visible in this picture taken from the Southwest. To the Northwest of the bridge, the embankment has been removed over a short distance.The line continued in a straight northwesterly direction, alternating between bing in cutting and on embankment. On its way it crossed a minor road at level at approximately the location shown below.It continued from here on embankment passed Fairfield House, shown on the map extract above, before crossing the A458 on an overbridge and entering Ford & Crossgates Station. The A458 road has been realigned relatively recently. The 1930s guide says: “At Ford the railway crosses the Shrewsbury and Welshpool road, and in a mile two goes over the Severn, affording views to the traveller of a magnificent bend in the river, backed by a big belt of woodland which runs sheer up from its right bank.” [23] The adjacent image shows that the staion had slightly better facilities than those encountered along the line so far. The timber structure has a peaked roof and appears to be more substantially built and the platform in made of dressed stone and designed to accommodate longer trains! [20]While searching the internet, I came across this computer generated image of the station which picks out the old bridge over the A458 and the grounded van body as well as the passing loop which was present at this station. The image was produced by Sketchupdezine (@sketchupdzine) and can be seen on facebook at [21]This closer extract from the OS Map shows both the loop and a small siding. There are no obvious signs of the railway and its overbridge where it once crossed the A458. However, just to the Northwest of that bridge a country lane passed under the old railway. Tha cane be seem at the top left of the map extract. [13]The picture above is taken from the South and shows the minor road passing under the old railway bridge in 2009.

The line continues to the Northwest and eventually begins to run alongside the River Severn as shown on the adjacent map extract. [13]

The River Severn snakes round and the line crossed it on a major structure which can be seen on the next map extract. This bridge was in the form shown on the picture below.

Sharwardine Bridge was, says the guide book, “a massive structure, and was erected at [great] expense. A pair of double lines of wrought iron girders [were] carrled over the river deep down [in] its bed on four sets of stone buttresses, and three sets of three each of iron cylindrical pillars, making it the most pretentious bridge on the whole length of the railway.” [23]Sharwardine Bridge in 1903, © F.E. Fox-Davies. [41: p33]The Railway Bridge across river Severn (1954). The river crossing of the River Severn by the former Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway is shown above. Taken during RCTS (Railway Correspondence & Travel Society) on 25th April 1954. The bridge was long ago dismantled, ©Ken Brockway. [22]

The same bridge is shown in this smaller image. [6]The bridge location (above) in the early 21st century.

The line continued only a short distance northwest before entering Sharwardine Station which, like Ford & Crossgates also had a passing loop and small siding. These can be picked out on the adjacent map excerpt. [13]

The station had a long stone-faced platform but a smaller station building than the one at Ford & Crossgates.  The adjacent image comes from the early 1900s. [15]

“Shrawardine derives its name from ‘Shire-reeve-weodine’, thus marking it as the residence of the Saxon sheriffs before the Norman Conquest. The church contains little of interest, apart from a Norman font.” [23]

The line continued in a northwesterly direction as illustrated on the map extracts adjacent and below.

The next road crossed was close to Pentre and can be seen on the third of these three maps excerpts.

Tell-tale signs exist on the satellite image above which show that the area north and west of the river was used for more than farming. Remnants of old railways exist in the form of their trackbed. We will come back to this area in a future post. Sharwardine station was in the bottom right of this satellite image at the location shown below – just after the first run of trees northwest of the River Severn.From this point to Pentre and beyond the line of the railway has been tarmacked as shown below.Looking back along the line of the railway towards Sharwardine. Nesscliffe and Pentre Station was to the right of the line between the access road and the railway.Looking ahead (above) to the northwest. There is a strong clue as to the use of the land in the bottom left of this picture.

The adjacent image makes the status of the land much clearer!Looking towards Kinnerley from Pentre in 2019, (c) Bill Lloyd‎, Disused Railway Lines of Britain. [26]The line north of Pentre. The Nesscliffe and Pentre Railway Station can just be made out in the bottom right of the OS Map extract. [13]The line passed through Edgerley Halt and on to Kinnerley Junction Station. [13]Again, north of Pentre, there are telltale signs on the satellite image of the past use of the land.

Just before reaching Kinnerley Station the line passed under a minor road. The bridge pilasters still exist today but the line of the railway has been filled in.The station bridge from the North in 2010. The station bridge from the South in 2010. Interestingly, although the bridge has been filled there remains a weight restriction. This must call into the question the quality of the infill work! Kinnerley Station road bridge, looking back towards Pentre in 2010. The cutting has been filled in and the bridge parapets replaced with wooden fencing. The route of the S&MLR is shown by the red line.Kinnerley Station was the junction station on the S&MLR. One line continued to the West to Llanymynech and the other, South towards Criggion [13]

The adjacent sketch  plan shows the track layout in the area of the station and on the branch-line. [15]

The adjacent picture shows the station looking West towards the junction. [15]

The image directly below shows the engine shed and water tower at Kinnerley in 1955. [15]

The adjacent image looks back towards Shrewsbury through the station at Kinnerley. The nearby road bridge can be seen at the end of the platform. The image below is similar. [24]This excellent picture of Kinnerley Station is taken from the Colonel Stephens Society Website. [25]Another two pictures of the engine shed at Kinnerley. [25][15]

The images immediately below are more recent. They show the engine shed and water tower in the 1990s (c) Ken Owen [15]

Further below are more recent images of the site taken in 2019, (c) Bill Lloyd‎, Disused Railway Lines of Britain. [26]

Like other stations on the line, Kinnerley station was opened in 1866 and closed in 1933. [27]. It was a mile from Kinnerley village and served as the engineering headquarters of the railway. Engine sheds and repair shops were provided, and the station site covered some acres of ground. All trains started and finished from Kinnerley. It was the working centre of the system. [23]The water tower in 2019, (c) Bill Lloyd‎, Disused Railway Lines of Britain. [26]Corrugated iron building on the station platform, (c) Bill Lloyd‎, Disused Railway Lines of Britain. [26]Kinnerley Station with the junction visible in the background. [25]Kinnerley Junction. [28]The location of Kinnerley Junction in 2019, (c) Bill Lloyd‎, Disused Railway Lines of Britain. [26]

Kinnerley to Llanymynech and beyond

The line from Kinnerley to Llanymynech travels in a straight west-northwesterly direction along the Vyrnwy Valley [23] through Wern Las Halt and Maesbrook Station before eventually turning South into Llanymynech station.There is no sign of the presence of the railway at location 1 in the satellite image above. All evidence of the bridge over the railway shown on this OS Map extract has long-gone. [13]Wern Lea Halt is shown on this map extract to the east of the minor road. The route of the line is shown below looking back towards Kinnerley. Google Streetview also provides a view looking ahead along the line to the West. The location (‘2’ above) of these two pictures is at the extreme right of the map extract below.The line continues west by northwest towards Maesbrook Station. [13]Maesbrook Station is at location ‘3’ on the satellite image above. It is shown on the OS Map excerpt at the right side of the image. [13]

The adjacent image shows the approach to the station from Kinnerley. The crossing-keeper’s house dwarfs the station building. The road ahead is crossed at grade. [15]

The next image (adjacent) shows the station during World War 2. The picture is taken looking back through the station towards Kinnerley. [15]Maesbrook station and crossing-keeper’s house in 1911, © F.E. Fox-Davies. [41: p36]Maesbrook station in 2009, showing the old platform face and station building. This picture looks back towards Kinnerley.The old station yard at Maesbrook which was on the South side of the line. This view looks to the East from the road, back towards Kinnerley.The next minor road was crossed at level. The Crossing-keeper’s cottage remains in place as the satellite image above shows. The Crossing keeper’s Cottage sits next to the minor road. The railway ran to the left of the cottage back towards Kinnerley.Taken at the same location looking West the line passed through the modern gate and on to the right of the avenue of trees.

Then next road encountered was the B4398, close to Llwyntidmon Mill not long after the line had crossed the River Morda This is location ‘4’ on the satellite image further above.The bridge is shown here looking from the Southwest.The Google Streetview image shows the route of the old line looking back towards Maesbrook. As can be seen the line has been filled in.And forward towards Llanymynech. The line travelled to the left of the buildings visible through the trees.The bridges along this length made provision for a double-track railway. This picture was taken in September 1955, © WEH-LYN collection. [41: p37]The location that we have just looked at appears on the right side of the OS Map extract above. The next road encountered was only a matter of a few hundred metres ahead close to the small hamlet of Llwyntidmon. [13]The view from the South showing the line looking back towards Llwyntimon Mill.From a similar position looking West towards Llanymynech.Llanymynech Station served as a double junction – the S&MLR arrived from the East and left towards the West, and the Cambrian Railways line serving Welshpool and Oswestry, ran roughly North-South to the East of the Village centre. [13] The layout of the lines is highlighted schematically on the satellite image below. The S&MLR in red and the Cambrian in green. the River servern flowed just to the South of the Village and can be made out on the OS Map above.Llanymynech Station became an important junction station. The village was not significant in itself but its location was defined by geography as a hub point for local mineral extraction and later industrialisation. The Cambrian Mountains at this point are made of limestone, with numerous river valleys making extraction of ores relatively easy to the point where they congregate towards the main markets in England, at Llanymynech. [29]

“The country around Llanymynech is hilly and romantic. and almonds with minerals: a large quantity of limestone is quarried, some of which is burnt into lime. Copper ore is als found here,  and [two centuries ago] valuable lead mines were In operation. The great hill called ‘Llanymynech’, which is a prominent feature, rises to a height of nearly 900 feet, and is celebrated for the beautiful and extensive views obtained from its summit. Offa’s Dyke, the historical boundary line between England and Wales, may be traced for some distance along the hill. … There is a cave on the hill known as Ogof, or the Giant’s Grave, which is supposed to have been formed by the Romans. who it is known wonted several copper, lead, and silver mines in the neighbourhood.” [23]

From the early Britons through to the Romans, Llanymynech lay on the route from the mines to the market towns of both Shropshire and Northwest England. The Weston Branch of the Ellesmere Canal from Frankton Junction, had been similarly constructed for this purpose in 1796. [29] It can be seen on the OS Map extract centred on Llanymynech village above. The village was in both the counties of Montgomery and Salop. [23]A view of Llanymynech station seen looking north from the road overbridge in the 1920s. The S&MLR platforms and station building can be seen to the right with the S&MLR curving away towards Kinnerley in the central distance. [33]The approach to Llanymynech station, © John Keylock collection. [41: p38]A similar view from the road overbridge in 2016. There is now a housing estate extending over what was the line of the S&MLR. The adjacent sketch map shows the site of the depot for the line at Llanymynech. [15]

Something of the complexity of the railways in the immediate vicinity of Llanymynech can be gauged from the OS Map extract below. The dismantled railway prominent towards the top of the extract is the former Llanfyllin Branch which crossed the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway which became the S&MLR, also dismantled in 1954 and visible on the left of the extract. The layout of these lines is highlighted on the older 1876 OS Map below.Travelling North from the canal the line passed Carreghofa Hall and crossed the Afon Tanat before it approached Blodwell Junction which can be seen in the monochrome image below.

Given the complexity of the various railways and tramways in the area to the West of Llanymynech, this area would warrant a separate investigation and is really beyond the scope of this post.

Nonetheless, for the sake of completeness, it may be helpful to complete the length of the line to the quarry at Nantmawr which was the target of those who planned the full length of the line in those early years.

Perhaps over this length you will be satisfied with  the extracts from the OS Maps with the hope that a further study can be undertaken in the future.

Given the aim of this and subsequent posts to provide details of the line which served the Nesscliffe area close to Kinnerley, and then the extent of the military railways in the area, this seems to me to be reasonable.

Blodwell Junction railway station was a station in Llanyblodwel, Shropshire, England. The station opened on 18 April 1870 as Llanyblodwel before being renamed in 1904. The station closed to passengers on 15 January 1951 and closed completely on 6 January 1964. There is no trace of the station today. [30]

The tracks remained in use to serve Nantmawr Quarry until 1984 when the entire line was closed by British Rail and the line was left in situ from Blodwell Junction to near Oswestry. The line has since been cleared and is now under the co-ownership of both the Cambrian Heritage Railway and the recently-reformed Tanat Valley Light Railway.

Blodwell Junction was the point at which the S&MLR met the Tanat Valley Light Railway. It is shown in the adjacent image in 1962. The picture Illustrates well the rudimentary nature of the facilities provided on the Potts line. Image © copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License. [4]

The railway clearing house diagram shows both the S&MLR (in green) and the Tanat Valley Light Railway (in orange).

The Tanat Valley Light Railway opened in 1904 and created the Junctions at Blodwell.

Grace’s Guide affirms that: “Part of the line, from Blodwell to Nantmawr, survived for many years as something of a forgotten part of the national network.” [5]

These two OS Map extracts  from 1954 get us to Nantmawr. [13] Which is only a very short distance North of Blodwell Junction.These maps of Nantmawr Quarry are taken from the Oswestry Borderland Heritage website. [32]

The line to Blodwell was by the Oswestry-based Cambrian Railway Society during 2004, and efforts are under way to re-open the line as a heritage railway. [5] The Tanat Valley Light Railway Society now operates at the station location. [31]

Kinnerley to CriggionIn the image above, a short train heads away from Kinnerley along the Criggion branch line. [34]

At Kinnerley, the branch to Criggion heads South from the West end of the station complex. It is about 6 miles long. The stations were Chapel Lane, Melverley, Crew Green, Llandrinio and Criggion.

The line’s guide book says: “The Criggion section, which was constructed mainly for obtaining access to the valuable stone quarries on the Breidden, was not opened for traffic for some time after the trains had recommenced running on the line between Shrewsbury and Llanymynech. The great wooden bridge which carried the railway over the Severn at Melverley had long ago disappeared, having been swept sway by the floods, and the clearing of the line and the building of a new bridge cost some £8,000, in addition to £32,000 spent on the renovation of the main line.” [23]

The line headed South, crossing a number of small drainage brooks streams or channels. [13]

The first road encountered was  Northeast of Melverley Green. It was a minor road which the line crossed, as suggested by the adjacent OS Map, at a height above the road. There is no sign of this being the case in the 21st century. [13] This suggests that there may have been an at-grade crossing at this location rather than a bridge over the road.

The picture below shows Chapel Lane, the location of the likely road crossing, the red line shows the route of the old line heading South from Kinnerley. The picture is taken from the East.The first station on the line, according to the guide book [23] was at Melverley. It can be seen on the adjacent OS Map extract from 1954. There was, however, actually a small station halt at Chapel Lane, which is the narrow lane in the picture above.

I believe that the ‘portrait’ shaped  photograph immediately below is taken from a vantage point along the line North of Melverley. It illustrates the bucholic nature of the line and was taken in the 1930s and is part of the archives at the Tate Gallery, (c) John Piper [38]

Melverley Station is shown in the landscape photograph below, I believe the image is taken from the South and from the road over-bridge. [34]

The road bridge is shown in the second, third and fourth landscape images below and the station building can be seen beyond. [15]

In 2010, nothing is visible of the station or bridge. The bridge has been removed.

The station and bridge with an army railcar on a railtour in 1958. The bridge had a weight restriction and was demolished soon after the railway was closed, © A.M. Davies. [41: p55]The brick-arched road bridge at Melverley was unusual. None of the arches had the same dimensions, © A.M. Davies collection. [41: p55]South of Melverley the line curved towards the West, and it did so it crossed the River Severn.

We have noted already that the original bridge over the River Severn fell into disrepair and was wached away by floods. When renovating the line Colonel Stephens had to construct a replacement bridge.The first Melverley Bridge! [36]

The Colonel Stephens Society Website says: [36]

“Melverley Bridge was always the Achilles heel of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire and its predecessor companies. The Potteries Shrewsbury and North Wales’ deeply eccentric creator Richard France had crossed the Severn twice, his tortuous approaches to his quarries; and would have built another at Shrewsbury if he hadn’t run out of cash. He built a robust iron structure at Shrawardine but the branch to the Criggion quarry (in the Breidden hills) was far more cheaply built, the river being crossed by a far less substantial structure near Melverley, after which it came to be named. Like most railway bridges built in this part of the world at the time, the bridge was economically built of timber with 7 long 38ft spans, making it technically a viaduct. The spans were timber trusses sitting directly on timber piles, a common enough railway structure at the time and very similar in general form to some of Brunel’s near contemporary viaducts (described by his assistant Peter Margery as ‘Type C‘). The viaduct, like Brunel’s, looked spindly but such viaducts lasted in use for fifty years and more. However, perhaps crucially, type C viaducts were used for crossing tidal creeks only, whereas France intended the Melverley Bridge to resist the Severn’s fearsome winter flow.

The Breidden branch to Criggion quarries had been opened with, or even before, the main line in 1865/66 for mineral traffic and a limited traffic operated over its single line. By May 1870 the company felt it was ready to be opened for passengers but there was long correspondence and at least two inspections before Colonel Rich reluctantly agreed to this in his report of 17 June 1871. Although the bridge was reported by Rich as of ‘sufficient strength’ it is characteristic of all timber bridges that they need much care and maintenance. It was usual to replace main timbers about every eight years and timber bridges were usually replaced by iron in the 1880s after a life of 20-30 years. Unfortunately maintenance was notable by its absence on the bankrupt Potts so although still virtually new by railway standards the bridge was in dire trouble by 1880. Following a complaint by a Worcester doctor taking water samples from the river below on 24 April, the BoT notified the Potts Board but Albert Judd, their GM, reported the bridge satisfactory. On the basis of this they responded to the BoT on 26 May, who were very sceptical following some earlier incidents on the Potts, and ordered an inspection of the whole railway by Colonel Rich. He inspected and reported on 9 June and, no doubt properly horrified by what he saw, recommended that it was unsafe to carry traffic. He described the bridge (which he named as Crewe Green bridge) thus

‘…constructed entirely of wood, which is so much decayed that two of the tripod booms have given way. These have been supported in a temporary manner but every boom is more or less rotten and the decking and the longitudinals, which carry the rails, are quite rotten. This bridge is about 1 foot out of level and about 1 foot out of line. The Company work traffic on the Briedden Branch with a small contractors engine that weighs about 16 tons but I do not consider this Bridge safe for traffic.’

That was it. The Railway shut the Branch to passengers from Wednesday 16th June, but goods which were still scheduled continued to operate on Wednesdays and Saturdays. However In the light of further criticisms contained in the Rich’s report and the costs involved the directors closed the whole railway to all traffic on 22 June 1880. The bridge no doubt saw a certain amount of pedestrian traffic in the next few years but further deterioration set in and latterly only the most adventurous must have attempted this. France’s bridge finally seems to have been swept away by the Severn at the turn of the 20th century.”

Melverley Bridge in the 1930s. [34]The Colonel Stephens structure, which was built in Edwardian times. [36]

The Colonel Stephens Society again: [36]

“The new crossing was again a simple structure and now consisted of 8 openings, with 2 centre spans of about 37’0” over the river, 2 land spans one on each side of 37’0” and 27’ 0” respectively, and 4 flood openings, 2 on each side each of about 20’0″ span. The 2 land spans and 2 river spans consisted of plate main girders and cross girders, the flood openings being of 2, 12” x 12” timbers on top of one another. Opening for mineral traffic with the branch on 21st February 1912 it may have looked spindly but it proved cheap and serviceable. Something in excess of 1 ¼ million tons of roadstone passed over it uneventfully in the next 25 years or so.

By 1939 however the S&MLR was in a terminal state with no passenger services, little general goods and only one serviceable locomotive. If the enterprise was to have any future it could only be rescued by an upturn in the Criggion roadstone traffic. And the quarry was turning to lorries for all its local needs. Of the average of 61,000 tons produced, 35,000 was for local consumption of which only 2,700 went by rail ,with 17,000 rail borne to the wider world. This was not enough but it was the only thing keeping the line going and the River Severn was about to strike again.

Extraordinarily cold nights followed by a thaw in January 1940 brought disaster: The beginning of January was mainly dry and very cold with frosty nights.

On the 20th, the early morning temperature was 15.8 ºF (- 9°C) and the temperature during the day only reached 27.68 ºF (- 2.4°C). The next day, a very cold night over most of the country, minima were between Minus 2.2 ºF (- 19°C) and minus 7.6 ºF (-21°C) in many places, including Ambleside (Cumbria), Canterbury (Kent) and Hereford. At Rhayader on the Severn’s sister river, the Wye, the temperature fell below minus 9.4 ºF (-23°C). After a brief milder interlude, persistent rain, much of it freezing, gave nearly 1.1 inches (28mm) on the 27th. This released ice flows into the River Severn in spate and these pressed against the piles of the bridge, which was so damaged on the 27th that all Criggion branch traffic ceased.”

War time repairs were poor and the bridge was again in real trouble after the end of the Second World War. the bridge was assessed and it was determined that repair was not feasible and replacement was required. The S&MR could not finance the work but by July 1947 they persuaded the Ministry of Transport not only to accord the replacement of the bridge high priority at a time of material shortages but to loan the company the cash to do it! By this time, of course, the GWR knew that the newly nationalised railways would have to pay the bill. The new structure built in 1948. [36]Another slightly more comtemporary view of the bridge. [37]

After closure of the railway in 1960, the bridge was handed to the local authority and it now serves as a road bridge.The satellite image above clearly shows the old route of the railway and the use made of both the old railway formation and Melverley Bridge by the 1962 road improvement.The point at which the road joins the route of the old railway.Melverley Bridge in 2010! Road and railway route diverge. The red line shows the railway formation heading westwards towards Criggion. The next significant point on the line is Criggion Bridge which can be seen to the left of this map extract. At this point the old railway crossed the B4393 at a level-crossing. There was a small halt and a siding. to the West of the road.Looking back towards Melverley along the route of the line.Looking forward along the line to Criggion.It is then only a short distance to the terminus in Criggion Village. That can be seen to the bottom left of this extract. The picture above is taken from the North and shows Criggion Station location. The line originally crossed the narrow lane behind the what was the station building and continued into the brickworks and quarry to the West, as shown in the map extract below. The station opened in 1872 and closed in 1932. The brick-built station house has been enlarged and extended and now forms two private residences as shown above. [39] The station is shown in the monochrome image above when in use in the 1920s. [15] The picture immediately below was taken, probably at a similar time. [40] Both of these pictures fail to show the station house which was on the north side of the line. It is just picked up in the top left of the second image below and showen effectively on bthe picture below that.Criggion station dated 5th August 1935 showing a Ford Railcar set at the platform on a summer excursion from Kinnerley, (c) Roger Carpenter. [15]Criggion Station in 1958. [41: p57]

This OS Map extract shows the brickyard and quarry at Criggion in 1954.

The satellite image sows the same location in the 21st century (2010). The quarrying operations appear to have expanded significantly. A large part of the hill has gone!









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  23. Handbook to the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway, Livesey Ltd, Shrewsbury.
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  41. Peter Johnson; An Illustrated History of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway; OPC (Ian Allan), Hersham, 2008.

Caithness Double-Track Narrow Gauge Line

Did you know? Perhaps you did, but I certainly did not!

There is a long length of metre gauge double track railway in Caithness!

Perhaps a more significant question might be what the longest thing ever to travel on a railway is. Do you know?

I think, today, that I have just discovered the answer and it is to be found in the same place in Caithness in Scotland.

If you don’t know, have a guess before reading on.

Let’s talk about the first question first. A double-track narrow-gauge line in Caithness. Are you serious? Yes, Caithness in Scotland. That’s the one. Still think I have made this up. Perhaps the two maps below will help to persuade you. They show the full length of the line.OK. So there is a map with this line on. Where exactly is it?

Just north of Wick, near where the Burn of Lyth outfalls into Sinclair’s Bay and it been there for around 41 years!

What other evidence is there for this line? Just check the references below and look on Google Earth![1][2][3][4]Google Earth shows the full length of the line!Yes, it really is a railway. It is shown here in 2014 with track relaying in progress! © Tom Hankinson. [5]

At the mid-point of the beach which borders Sinclair’s Bay, says Tom Hankinson, “there’s a major industrial plant called Subsea 7. There’s a dead straight rail line from it stretching over four and a half miles inland, and I’d had no idea of its purpose. When we crossed it the rails seemed to have been lifted, but they were obviously still working on the track’s bed, with diggers and other heavy equipment laced ready for work. Fortunately an explanation was offered by a tiny plaque on the bridge that crosses the track. It’s a manufacturing plant for underwater pipeline clusters.” [5]

The next image is taken within the factory site.Two parallel metre-gauge tracks.

The site is owned by the company Subsea 7. They have this to say about the facility: “Established in 1978, Subsea 7’s Pipeline Bundle Fabrication Site is located 6 miles north of the town of Wick, Caithness in the far North of Scotland. This unique site runs 7.8km inland, covers a total area in excess of 300,000m² and has a sheltered bay in which to launch the Pipeline Bundles.” [6]

The site is geographically situated to service the West of Shetland fields, North and Norwegian Seas. The site is 7,800 metres  in length with a total area of over 300,000m². It can produce lengths of pipeline up to 7.7km long. There are four construction tracks providing a total capacity of almost 28km for pipeline bundles and associated work.

Subsea 7 goes on to say that a pipeline bundle integrates the required flow lines, water injection, gas lift and control systems necessary for any subsea development and assembles
them within a steel carrier pipe. At each end of the pipeline, the structures, manifolds, incorporating equipment and valves, designed specifically to the requirements of the field, are attached. The fully tested system is then launched and transported to the location using the Controlled Depth Tow Method. Once installed no trenching or rock dumping is required.” [6]

There is a total of 50,000m² of pipe storage areas. The main line pipe storage area is serviced by two 10t Goliath Cranes. There are also a number of dedicated areas for the storage of project materials and consumables including, the main store and dedicated satellite stores where smaller items are contained.

The site has three Fabrication Shops utilised for the welding/fabrication of pipeline bundles. Fabrication Shops 1 and 2 contain dedicated overhead cranes. All of the facilities contain production firing lines with Fabrication Shop 2 serviced with a total of 5 firing lines which can be used simultaneously. Pipe in pipe assemblies are regularly assembled from this facility.
Fabrication Shop No. 1: 133m x 15m
Fabrication Shop No. 2: 120m x 15m
Fabrication Shop No. 3: 90m x 10m

The site has four separate railway tracks, which total 27,200m, on which dedicated
bogies run. These are used for the movement of pipes and pipeline bundles.
Track 1 length: 7,700m
Track 2 length: 7,700m
Track 3 length: 6,000m
Track 4 length: 5,800m.

“In order to move the completed Bundles from land to sea, a 240m launch way is installed to assist them on their journey to their offshore destination. The Wick site is fully equipped with vehicles/plant/heavy lift pipe layer side booms and only limited equipment is hired in as required.” [6]

The railway uses the most unusual motive power for a railway: a pair of ocean-going tugs. The pipe sections are taken to Georgemas Junction by rail, and then taken by road to the fabrication site. The pipeline is assembled on bogies and each long section is towed along the railway and into the sea, where a third tug is hitched to the other end of the pipe toprovide stability as the pipe is towed out to sea. [4]

Ian Budd explains: “This isn’t a railway in the normal sense. It’s purpose is the fabrication and launching of incredibly long sections of pipeline, manufactured by Subsea 7, for use by the oil industry under the sea. There are no carriages, locomotives or wagons, just tracks and bogies, traction being provided by a tug at launch time with a 125 tonne Capstan winch at the landward end of each of the long tracks to control back tension. The normal, metre gauge, railway tracks end at the edge of the beach, the pipeline ‘train’ crosses a recovery pit into which the bogies on which it has been rolling are released for recovery. The ‘train’ completes its journey into the water on a 240m ‘slipway’ which is like a railway track but with built-in guide rollers.” He has written an excellent short