Monthly Archives: Sep 2021

The Forest of Dean Tramways and Railways – An Addendum:

In this addendum to the articles already written about the Forest of Dean, we take a general look at the Forest through the eyes of Humphrey Household. 

While on holiday in the Forest of Dean in September 2021, I picked up a secondhand copy of “Gloucestershire Railways in the Twenties” by Humphrey Household. [1]  It consists of a review of the development of the railways in Gloucestershire supported by a series of photographs which were predominantly taken in the 1920s by Humphrey Household. The photos are a significant resource. The text of the book is well-written. Its final two chapters were of real interest to me.


The two chapters are entitled “Leckhampton Quarries” and “The Forest of Dean.” I have covered the first of these two chapters elsewhere. The second provides some interesting comments and photographs relating to the Forest.

Household had been fascinated by the Forest of Dean from an early age but did not start to photograph the Forest railways until the late 1940s. Nevertheless, his photographs from that time are illuminating. The first four photographs show the Lydney docks/canal, one, from April 1948, shows one of the coal shipping hoists on a length of the canal. He notes that the wagon turntable on the rail approach bore the date 1873. (p126) Two photographs (p125) were taken in August 1948 and show, first, the canal entrance and then the inner gates and basin with the Alma of Bristol moored. The fourth photograph is undated but shows the loading of coal and a little of the layout of tracks above the coal hoist.

Household also provides photographs of the route of the Bullo Pill Tramway. He notes that “after leaving the Riverside and passing the Bullo Cross Inn it followed a meandering course close to the contour, sometimes on a low embankment, always maintaining a gentle gradient for horses returning with empty wagons. But between Servernside and the valley of the Bideford Brook which the tramway followed from Lower Soudley through Ruspidge to Cinderford, there lay a ridge which had to be pierced. There had been plenty of canal runnels before then, but that at The Haie, 1,100 yards long, was certainly one of the earliest to be driven for a railway.” (p127). [2]

Household comments that “in 1826 a new company, the Forest of Dean Railway, was formed to take over the tramway and complete the wet dock. … The Bullo line, still remembered as the ‘dramroad’, was remarkably simple in operation. The wagons, carrying a ton or two at a time, proceeded at no ‘faster rate than a Horse could walk’, and when two met, the loaded one had right of way, the other perforce returning to the nearest turnout. Through the tunnel, wherein none might ‘carry or use a lighted torch’, the wagons passed in groups, the driver of the rearmost distinguishing it with the branch of a tree and blowing a horn when he emerged at the further end.” (p127-130)

The operation was straightforward. The new tramway company halved the tolls charged for coal and completed the wet dock, enlarging the wharves at the same time. The use of steam locomotives was considered but rejected because of the alignment of the route and the size of the bore of Hair Hill Tunnel. However the arrival of the broad gauge running from Gloucester to Chepstow in 1851 changed things. The Forest of Dean Railway sold out to the South Wales company and Brunel decided to convert the tramway so as to be able to accept steam locomotives. A series of six photographs taken by Household in April 1952 show different part of the alignment of the Bullo Pill Tramway.

Household also mentions an abortive attempt to construct a third tramway midway between the other two. The intended route ran between Purton Pill and Foxes Bridge (on the Littledean-Coleford road – the B4266). He says that “the prospectus bore the grandiose title of the Purton ‘Steam Carriage Road’. [3] Construction began, and at Viney Hill above Blakeney part of the formation can be seen leading in s south-easterly direction from beside the A48 Lydney road, and nearer Purton there is a completed arch intended to carry the railway over the Blakeney-Purton road.” (p130) Household provides two further photographs (p134) to illustrate the two locations that he mentions. Grace’s Guide provides a photograph of the three-span arched viaduct to which, I think, Household refers. It remains today sitting over the road between Purton and Etloe. [4]


  1. Humphrey Household; Gloucestershire Railways in the Twenties; Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., Gloucester, 1984 (reprinted 1986) ….  the relevant chapter can be found from p124 onwards.
  2. This line and its tunnel are covered in an article which can be found at:
  3. The National Archive holds records associated with this proposed line which can be accessed at Kew. The relevant details can be found on the following links:, accessed on 17th September 2021., accessed on 17th September 2021. Further details are available on Grace’s Guide,, accessed on 17th September 2021.
  4., accessed on 17th September 2021.

The Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad – An Addendum:

The Leckhampton Quarries …

In this addendum to the previous four articles about the Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad we return to the head of the line and to the quarries on Leckhampton Hill.

While on holiday in the Forest of Dean in September 2021, I picked up a secondhand copy of “Gloucestershire Railways in the Twenties” by Humphrey Household. [1] It consists of a review of the development of the railways in Gloucestershire supported by a series of photographs which were predominantly taken in the 1920s by Humphrey Household. The photos are a significant resource. The text of the book is well-written. Its final two chapters were of real interest to me.

The chapters are entitled “Leckhampton Quarries” and “The Forest of Dean.” The second of these two chapters warrants discussion elsewhere. The first provides some significant additional material relating to the Tramroad (or should it be called a tramway?) and some important and delightful pictures showing the quarries, their transport links and construction work in the 1920s.

Interestingly, Household highlights the way in which Cheltenham’s street layout has been significantly influenced by the presence of the tramway. He points to the shape or alignment of “Queen’s Road from Lansdown, where the branch left the Gloucester-Cheltenham tramway line close to the Midland Railway station; the triangular Westall Green in Tivoli, so shaped to accommodate sidings and a depot; the narrow Norwood Street running at a curious angle to meet the Leckhampton Road; a length of sunken pavement on the west side of that road which had been a shallow cutting to ease the gradient; the yard at the foot of the hill where caravans were later built.” (p95-96)

Accompanying the text are a series of photographs taken in both 1911 and 1923 and show the tramway at work. It is clear from the pictures that by 1923 the condition of the tramway was deteriorating and was no longer in constant use. Household comments: “from my very early years the tramways were an unceasing source of interest. From the upper windows of a house in The Park, I could see Top Incline, and the rare occasions when I spotted it in use caused considerable excitement! Bottom Incline was secluded in a privacy jealously preserved … But the steep public footpath alongside the … Middle Incline was one we often used; it emerged amid the junctions on the rough plateau whence Top Incline ascended with awe-inspiring abruptness.” (p97)

Household goes on to express his delight as a young boy when invited, on occasional weekday visits, by a friendly quarryman to ride in a wagon of a horse-drawn train. And once even to being allowed to ride up the incline! An early case of ‘joy-riding’, says Household.

In this chapter, Household provides a relatively detailed description of the operation of the line and each of the inclines. The 1911 photographs were taken by his father, those of 1923, by Household himself.

Household reflects on the fact that by 1923 the tramway had reached very much the end of its value to the quarries. This happened because in the closing months of 1922, a new standard-gauge railway line was constructed. His keen interest in railway matters led to him photographing extensively the progress of the work. His records show that ,”during the two years before the railway and its associated works were finished, [he] took well over a hundred photographs. … Fortunately [he] recorded details on the leaves of the album when [he] mounted the pictures.” (p101)

The new works were prompted by the formation of a new company “to exploit the resources of Leckhampton Hill, primarily in the production of lime, and a prospectus issued in July 1922 enthusiastically stressed the great quantity of stone that was easily accessible and the substantial profit expected to accrue from large scale extraction.” (p101-102)

A single photograph is reproduced below.It was taken in 1924 and illustrates the magnitude of the change which took place in the early 1920s.

Leckhampton Hill: the lime kilns and the standard gauge railway built 1922-1924. Almost the whole course of the line can be traced in this photograph: the incline, the bridge carrying Daisy Bank Road, the passing loop, the incline foot, the track curving from it past Southfield Farm to the level crossing of Sandy Lane (whose white gate posts are just visible between two groups of treetops), the grey line of cutting stretching almost to Charlton Kings GWR station. To the left of the kilns are the winding drum used to lower tip wagons while the embankment was being built, and the shed covering the machinery at the head of the old tramway’s Middle Incline.” (p102)

Household goes on to say that

The steepness of the ascent from the Leckhampton Road, and the impossibility of making connection with the main railways through the built up area of the town, meant that an entirely new route had to be found, and the promoters decided on a line some one-and-a-quarter miles long descending to the Great Western’s Banbury & Cheltenham Railway at Charlton Kings, part of which was to be a cable-worked incline two-thirds of a mile in length to overcome a fall of nearly 400 feet.” (p102)

Household provides details of the kind of contractor’s wagons used on the project and details of the process of building the necessary embankment for the new line, complemented by his own photographs. The contractors were Caffin & Co. of London and they made extensive use of manual labour supported by a government loan to the project to support local employment.

The construction of the embankment took the best part of a year! While this work was progressing slowly a cutting was being excavated between Sandy Lane and Charlton Kings GWR station. Household provides pictures of the Ruston steam navy at work and of the contractor’s locomotive, 0-6-0ST Fashoda, built by Manning Wardle & Co. of Leeds in 1898. He also provides a detailed commentary on the works as they progressed. Fascinating photographs back up the text of the chapter.

As part of the work, “A footbridge had to be built for a field path close to the junction at Charlton Kings, and an overbridge to carry Daisy Bank Road across the track just over half way up. Both were formed of steel girders between abutments of neat stone walling.” (p110)

It may also be of interest to note that the new incline was not to be a simple self-acting incline. Power was required, “supplied by an eighty horse-power electric motor geared to the winding drum, and electricity was generated by a plant installed at Southfield Farm. Here,” says Household, “there were duplicate sets, each consisting of a Sandycroft 440 volt, 262 ampere alternator driven by s four-cylinder Premier Gas Engine developing 250 to 300 horse-power, fed by a Crosslet suction gas plant. Transformers stepped up the voltage to 2,200 for transmission to the top of the hill where it was reduced before being distributed via the switchboard to the winding motor, the lighting circuits and the fans at the kilns.” (p114-116)

The new kilns, 4 in number, were 77ft tall and became dominant features on the hill. They were “supplied by Priest Furnaces and erected on a stone-revetted platform so that lime could be fed by gravity into railway wagons alongside, and the kilns themselves were also fed by gravity from narrow gauge tip-trucks run out across a bridge from the quarry gallery.” (p116)

A 0-4-0ST locomotive Lightmoor built by Peckett & Co. in 1902 was purchased by the company to work between the foot of the new incline and the sidings which had been constructed at Charlton Kings.

Household reports that, while blasting had long been practised in the quarries it had been on a small scale, the need both to produce construction stone and much smaller pieces for burning meant that blasting was vastly increased. He notes that, “thunderous reverberations disturbed the town and were particularly distressing to the well-to-do and influential inhabitants. … When to the annoyance there was added the danger of windows broken by concussion and flying fragments, complaints were voiced in the local press, an action committee was formed, and there was threat of an application for an injunction.” (p123)

In fact, the project was foundering anyway, profit projections had not been realised, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. The national treasury appointed receivers and ultimately work ceased in November 1926, only a couple of years after completion of the incline, kilns and infrastructure.

The project had cost £270,000. At auction, in August 1927, only £8,000 was raised when material and plant was sold. Ultimately, the town council was able to buy the land at a very cheap price and the Hill became an open space available to all!


  1. Humphrey Household; Gloucestershire Railways in the Twenties; Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., Gloucester, 1984 (reprinted 1986) …. the relevant chapters can be found from p93 onwards.

Railways in Iran – An Addendum.

Two shortish items in one post!

Firstly, the recollections of a locomotive driver and fireman on his time in Iran in the early 1940s. And, secondly, a short note about the involvement of the GWR in sourcing oil-fired locos for us in Iran in the 1930s.

1. Vic Cripps in Iran

During World War II a vital role was played by the Army’s railway operating units in theatres of war in the Middle East and Europe. A sapper in the Royal Engineers, Vic Cripps, shared his recollections via Paul Joyce in the November 2000 edition of BackTrack magazine. [1]

The featured image is one carried in the BackTrack article and shows two WD 2-8-0 locomotives passing in the gentler foot hills of the Iranian mountains.

Vic Cripps spent time in the early 1940s in Iran. His memories of that time are related in the journal by Paul Joyce. [1] After being ordered to Malaya and Singapore and a long sea journey, he arrived off the coast of Singapore just as the island was falling to the Japanese in February 1942. His orders were changed and he was sent to Ceylon before being transferred to Iran. His roles while in Iran centred on the Trans-Persian Railway, later the Trans-Iranian Railway. The railway was operated by the Royal Engineers alongside local staff.

The Persian system was operated by two Railway Operating Companies. The northern section from Derood to Tehran was in the hands of Vic’s, … the 153rd, whilst southwards to the Gulf was by the 190th. Both their respective lines were then further broken down into four working sections. A Sergeant Major was based at each of the latter, whilst  the Staff Sergeant would oversee the whole of the areas.” (p644)

Vic was based at Qum and remembered a fine commanding officer who had been a railway controller in pre-war times, Colonel Brash. He says that as the Sergeants were all ex-railway men, “familiarity was the norm, first names, not titles of rank, being used when solving a problem.” (p644)

Paul Joyce continues:

The ground troops were the 10th Indian Division, which had a mixture of Sikhs and Gurkhas within its ranks. This was to be one of the first Colonial Divisions to have Indian officers in command. Most trains would have eight of these Indian soldiers with their rifles riding on them as guards, mainly to keep the Kurds at bay.

The accommodation at Qum was purpose-built in the local traditional way. A large hole was dug into which soil, straw and water were added, then thoroughly mixed. The ‘gunge’ was then slopped between wooden planks and left to dry, before being cut into blocks. The roofs were of wooden slats covered in mud and when the snow came, natives had the job of sweeping them before the weight became too great for the structure to stand. Qum had a locomotive depot and so when working trains forwards a new locomotive would come onto the train. Most workings were to Ahwaz, which necessitated staying overnight in the primitive shack-like building provided for that purpose. There were no canteens, so crews took 24 hours-worth of rations with them. Their only help would be a friendly call to awaken, one hour before they were due to go back on duty.” (p644) The picture below shows a typical billet  in Iran in 1942. The primitive roof is clearly visible. (p644)


“The Trans-Persian locomotives consisted of some powerful 54,400lb Beyer Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4s for working the northern section from Tehran to the Caspian Sea. Also supplied by Beyer, Peacock were some 2-8-0s, while added to these were 77 Swedish and German 2-8-0, 2-10-0 and 2-8-2 locomotives. Unfortunately by the time the British Army had arrived most were unserviceable, having been thrashed to pieces. With no engineering background, so to speak, the Persians had never been able to maintain and overhaul them properly. The British troops at Tehran came into contact with one serviceable Beyer Garratt; based at Tehran shed, it was, for most of the unit, their first experience with one of these large complicated engines. Just like a Midland Compound, to the uninitiated, a driver was never too sure whether it was in forward or reverse gear when he opened the regulator. At least once, Vic recalled rumours of part of this long locomotive with some of its wheels hanging over a wrongly-set turntable!” (p644)

Vic remembered dramatic scenery, high mountain ranges with deep ravines, a ruling grade of 1 in 67 and substantial structures. He particularly noted two sections of the line both of 10 miles in length: “the first had eighteen tunnels, constituting 41% of its length, whilst the second had twenty, equalling 50%. At one point the line was lifted 157ft by a spiral of two loops, both 2 miles in length, which at one point were 328 yards apart in a straight line but in railway terms were ten times that distance.” (p645)

One surprising comment relates to the availability of water. Vic remembers there being no problems accessing good clean water. In previous articles in this series about Iran, I have noted a concern expressed about using steam on the route. The lack of easily available water supplies was considered to be a significant factor in the decision to use diesel power on the line after US forces took over the management of the line from the British Army.

Paul Joyce recounts Vic’s memories: “Water for the engines was never a problem, fortunately. Most of the mountains towering high above the line were per manently covered in snow and everywhere were streams descending with pure water, as there was no vegetation this high up. At frequent intervals some streams were culverted with concrete sides and diverted to pass adjacent to the track. Alongside were stationed Merryweather pumps; it was just a case of putting the basket (the large filter at the end of the hose) into the water, inserting the output hose into the tender tank, then firing the pump and just waiting while a couple of thousand gallons were taken on.” (p645)

Vic also commented that the steam engines being oil-fired made his job as a fireman on some of the strenuous climbs so much easier, even more so on the descents, although the WD Stanier locomotive benefited from a small amount of steam in the cylinders on a descent so to avoid knocking echoing around the valleys! Vic could not remember any of the locomotives having been coal-fired when first in the country.

One of Vic’s surprises was the large number of Polish troops carried southwards on the line having escaped the German advance across Poland, only to be detained by the Russians. Eventually they joined Polish units active with British forces in the North African Campaign.

Good quality British open wagons were used for a lot of the traffic and suffered undertaking such arduous journeys in rakes that were not continuously braked. Their lifespan was as a result relatively short.

The standard freight locomotives were WD Staniier 8F 2-8-0s. 50 were supplied from stock by the LMS, others were supplied new by the North British Locomotive Company and Beyer, Peacock and Company. In all, 143 of these locomotives served in Iran. The bulk of these locos arrived in 1942.

In addition to the WD 2-8-0s, Vic remembered firing a number of fine German engines. He also remembered a number of problems with the Kurds sabotaging locomotives. Sabotage could include placing oil on the rails of the mainline, or splitting air brake pipes. On one occasion when Kurds slit a train’s air pipes, “all seemed well to the crew as they departed northwards. Unfortunately the line entered a series of sharp curves … and as the train started to snake around the bends, so the pipes opened up, causing the train to block the single running line.” (p646)

During its time in Iran, the 153rd Railway Operating Company did not lose a single man to enemy action, disease was the greatest threat. “Such were the dangers of infections that Vic’s pay book recorded 30 preventative injections!” (p646)

As we discovered in earlier articles in this series about the railways of Iran, the United States of America replaced the British on the southern section of the line. As a result, Vic was transferred out of country and then prepared to join the campaign in the South of Europe.

2. The GWR and Iran

Also in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 11, in an article by Michael Rutherford, [2] there is a short section about the GWR and Iran.

While reflecting on Swindon’s involvement with oil-fired locos, Rutherford says: “the next step in Swindon’s oil-fired steam saga was an unusual one. During the late 1920s and 1930, Reza Shah the ruler of Persia, decided that a railway was needed from Persian-owned ports on the Arabian Gulf to the Caspian Sea: Bandar Shahpur on the Gulf and Bandar Shar on the Caspian. … The Shah became impatient with slow progress on the work and cancelled the original contract. A new one was agreed with a Scandinavian consortium in April 1933 in which work was to be completed by May 1939. There were many sub-contractors including British ones and the line was completed ahead of schedule, resulting in extensions and branches being authorised. … The first locomotive orders for the new (1933) contract, rather than being supervised by conventional consulting engineers, were put in the hands of the GWR and C. B. Collett’s Outdoor Assistant (ie in charge of locomotive running), F. C. Hall was sent out to Persia in 1933 as an adviser to the Persian government.

Locomotive specifications were drawn up by Hall firstly for five 2-8-0s (delivered in 1934) and then for four massive 4-8-2/2-8-4T Garratts (delivered in 1936). All were oil-fired and detailed design and construction was carried out by Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester.” [3]

It seems that Collett was able to position the GWR as a expert in the supply and ordering of locomotives without having a great deal of effective departmental experience in oil-fired locos. F.C. Hall’s involvement as a consultant resulted in the GWR design office gaining its first experience of oil-burning equipment. Rutherford cites this as a significant factor (alongside others) which led to the GWR ameliorating its agnostic stance on the use of oil.


  1. Paul Joyce; Memories of the Royal Engineers Railway Operating Corps: 1939-46; in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 11, November 2000, p643-646.
  2. Michael Rutherford; Crisis? What Crisis?Coal, Oil and Austerity; in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 11, November 2000, p665-673.
  3. Locomotives for Iran; in Great Western Railway Magazine Vol. 48, May 1936, p225.

The Micklehurst Loop once more. …….

Extract from EAW010807 (c) BritainfromAbove

While on holiday in September 2021, I was reading older copies of the magazine BackTrack from the turn of the millennium, from, at that time, Atlantic Publishers. (More recent editions are published by Pendragon Publishing.)

Volume 14 No. 3, March 2000 included an article by Jeffrey Wells [1] about the Micklehurst Loop (p142ff). Wells highlighted the congestion which led to the development of the LNWR line between Huddersfield and Stalybridge which was opened in 1849. The single-line ‘Nicholson Tunnel’ was the first impediment to the free flow of traffic. This was rectified with the construction by 1870 of the ‘Nelson Tunnel’. “Both tunnels were in use by 24th April 1871 following a period extending from the previous February when only the ‘Nelson Tunnel’ was in use during repairs to the ‘Nicholson Tunnel’.” ( p142)

Wells goes on to explain that ongoing problems with congestion between Stalybridge and Diggle led to alleviating alternatives being considered. Quadrupling of the line was ruled out on grounds of inadequate space.

The LNWR first addressed the length of line to the West of Stalybridge when it opened (in 1876) a line from Heaton Norris to Guide Bridge. It then decided that the construction of an alleviating relief line between Stalybridge and Diggle was the only feasible solution to congestion. The Act authorising the construction of the relief line received authorisation on 3rd July 1879. The route was in two parts – Railway No. 1 was the Hooley Hill Line “which left Denton Junction and joined the MSLR at Dukinfield Junction and Railway No. 2, the Micklehurst Loop Line stretching from Diggle to Stalybridge.” (p143)

Later, the LNWR opened its Stalybridge Junction Railway (1st August 1893) which provided a first link from Heaton Norris to Stalybridge.

The cost of the Micklehurst Loop was estimated at £213,000. The successful tender from Messrs. Taylor and Thomson of Manchester was £177,949 8s 2d. The work was completed and the line opened on 1st May 1886.

Wells talks of three utilities being connected to the Loop. …

The first was a 3ft gauge tramway which served the construction of high level reservoirs. Exchange sidings and the tramway were completed in 1908, “six contractor’s locomotives plied between the sidings at Roaches and a suitable stopping place short of the site.” (p146)

The second was the allocation, in 1916, of 26 acres of land between Stalybridge and Mossley for the construction of a power station. The plant finally opened in January 1927 and Millbrook Sidings were enlarged to accommodate a number of sidings. In addition, “In the 1930s the coal was moved from the sidings by a conveyor which passed under the line. This was later followed by an overhead steel-braced conveyor which stood on tall concrete piers.” (p146) In the summer of 2021 part of the conveyor structure remains standing as does the cavernous goods she’d which graced the sidings. In 2021, the sidings area at Millbrook was heavily overgrown with substantial trees having colonised the site. Plans were afoot for redevelopment of the area and some clearance and regrading had taken place.

The final utility which Wells points out was connected to the Loop was Mossley Corporation Gas Works. “The Works had its own internal rail layout and a complement of small standard gauge locomotives.” (p146) Movements in and out of the site were controlled by Friesland Gas Sidings signal box.

Some excellent monochrome photographs accompany the article, one of which is included here.

This excellent black and white study shows a Fowler 0-8-0 7F tender locomotive proceeding tender first towards Stalybridge. The caption above misidentifies the location. The goods shed visible on the right of the image is actually Micklehurst goods shed. It remains visible today on the site of a pallet works which occupies the old railway sidings. Two of these large goods sheds remain standing, this at Micklehurst and the one referred to in the caption above at Millbrook. As noted by Wells, the Millbrook shed was in a parlous state in 2021.

The article is also accompanied by two diagrammatic representations of the Loop line and the other lines referred to in the text. One of these maps is included here.

In a letter to BackTrack magazine carried in the June 2000 edition Vernon Heron points out that the reservoir tramway shown meeting the Loop line North of the Gas Works actually served exchange sidings near to half a mile South of the Gas Works. [2]

To finish his article, Wells points out that the Loop line suffered a gradual demise with passenger stations closing in the years prior to the end of the Great War. Rumours of final closure attended every significant maintenance problem on the line as the condition of the line’s brick bridges and viaducts began to deteriorate. The last train was to run on Sunday 30th October 1966 with the line gradually being dismantled in the following ten years. The final portion closed when Hartshead Power Station closed. That portion was dismantled in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Jeffrey Wells completed his study of the line in the next edition of the magazine with a short series of pictures of Diggle Station which stood at the Western end of the Standedge tunnels. [3]


  1. Jeffrey Wells; The Micklehurst Loop Line; in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 3, Atlantic Transport Publishers, March 2000, p142ff.
  2. Vernon Heron; The Micklehurst Loop; in Readers’ Forum in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 6, Atlantic Transport Publishers, June 2000, p370.
  3. Jeffrey Wells; Through the Lens at Diggle; in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 4, Atlantic Transport Publishers, April 2000, p235ff.

Holiday Reading Again!

Two more books which are worth taking with you on holiday.

Chris Arnot; Small Island by Little Train; ISBN 978-0-7495-7849-7.

Tom Chesshyre; Slow Trains to Venice; ISBN 978-1-78783-299-2.

The first of these two books, by Chris Arnot, is the story of a meandering journey round some of the narrow-gauge railways of the UK. It is published by the AA in hardback. The dust jacket says: “From stalwart little locomotives of topographical necessity to the maverick engines of one man’s whimsy. Britain’s narrow-gauge steam trains run on tracks a world apart from it regimented mainlines. They were built to carry anything from slate to milk churns, and go where mainline trains could not go – around sharp bends, up steep gradients, or rolling downhill for miles all the way to the sea. And they have not just survived against the odds, but thrived.”

Chris Arnot has been a freelance journalist and Author for around 30 years, writing for the Guardian on everything from arts and travel to education and social issues. His material has also appeared in most of the other broadsheets and he has written a number of books of his own. In this book he provides a delightful, gently observed commentary on his own journeys along narrow-gauge lines around the UK. The most northerly line he visits is the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway in Lanarkshire, the most southerly, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. Five chapters cover lines in Wales. A short chapter covers a day visit to Graham Lee’s amazing private 2ft/2ft 6 inch dual gauge line, the Statfold Barn Railway, with his extensive collection of narrow-gauge locomotives.

Two long-lost favourites warrant a chapter each – the Leek and Manifold Railway and the Lynton and Barnstaple. As do the South Tyndale Railway, the Bure Valley Railway (Wroxham to Aylsham in Norfolk) and the Southwold Railway.

The Bure Valley Railway is in private ownership and now returns a significant profit. The Southwold Railway continues to look forward to a day when a line can be relaid between Southwold and Halesworth but has managed to create Steamworks, a Visitor Centre building with cafe, shop, toilets, museum and engine shed, a 7¼ inch gauge miniature railway plus 11 chains of three foot gauge track, including a run parallel and close to the site of the original track as it approached Southwold Station. [1]

Map of the Southwold Railway drawn by John Bennett. [2]

Arnot comments: it is easy to think “that the UK is becoming more uniform. But trundling around its more remote parts has proved to be a way of reminding myself that … This small island was anything but uniform. It remained a place of infinite variety, and its contrasts, from Devil’s Bridge to Dungeness, Wroxham to Ravenglass, were best savoured through the window of a sedately paced narrow-gauge railway.” (p251)

Arnot further reflects: “I’d seen a desire to get close to those [narrow-gauge] engines among many who’d visited these railways, and not just among those old enough to remember when steam trains ran on the main line. … [I] met people of all ages and both sexes who’d become fascinated by a precious part of our history. And while I may have sometimes cursed the lengthy journeys to visit those lines, I’d revelled in meeting most of their passengers as well as the volunteers and indeed the paid staff who kept them running. … Just as enjoyable had been sitting back to savour the scenery beyond the windows confirmation that, when viewed from a little train, this small island still has breathtaking variations in landscape, a marked contrast to the corporate and municipal uniformity that has taken hold of large parts of our towns and cities. But then, unlike so many of our towns and cities, rural landscapes have remained largely unscathed. … And those parts of the landscape that were ‘scathed’, particularly by mining, have largely blended back into their natural surroundings, adding layers of fascinating industrial history in the process. Those contrasts in landscape … struck me forcibly. … Were we still on the same small island?

In the second of these two books, Tom Chesshyre heads abroad, seeking to wander his way through Europe to Venice with his route dictated by whim and the availability of trains. This ends up being a 4,000 mile adventure. “Escaping the rat race for a few happy weeks, … [he] indulges in the freedom of the tracks. From France ( dogged by rail-worker strikes), through Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, he travels as far east as Odessa by the Black Sea in Ukraine.” He then heads back, “via Hungary, the Balkans and Austria. Along the way Tom enjoys many an encounter, befriending fellow travellers as well as a conductor or two.”

Simon Calder (The Independent) says that Tom, “relishes the joys of slow travel and seizes every opportunity that a journey presents: drifting as a flaneur in Lille, following in the tracks of James Joyce in a literary exploration of Ljubljana, cosseted in luxury on a trans-Ukranian express, all decorated with a wealth of detail and intrigue.”

I enjoyed his humourous reflections on his encounters. I found the manifest nationalism (if that is the right word) of some countries enlightening. Most of all, however, I found that I discovered a sense of freedom in following his meandering tale. An entirely appropriate thing while on holiday myself!

And finally. …. One short section of the book took me back to a holiday in Slovenia quite a few years ago. We were staying in Bled, not far from Lake Bled which Tom Chesshyre missed out on. We travelled a few times to Ljubljana. On one of those occasions, we found our way to the Railway Museum of Slovenian Railways which Tom Chesshyre also stumbles across. We arrived at the gates of the museum, which happened to be open even though the museum seemed closed, and decided to try our luck and ambled in. After a short while, we came across someone who invited us to wander round the whole site. We managed to get through every door that we tried but we did not get chance to speak to the Professor!

Some reflections on Slovenia can be found at:


  1., accessed on 8th September 2021.
  2., accessed on 8th September 2021.