Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Groudle Glen Railway - The beginnings of an 09 project

The Groudle Glen Railway has always been a fascination of mine since visiting the railway as a small boy in 1993. I can remember walking through the gates to the Glen and wondering our way through the wooded valley to Lhen Coan station. A magical place with a small stream running through the middle and sunlight streaming through the gaps in the trees. The first sight of the railway or first indication a railway existed was a small puff of smoke rising high through the trees

Brief History of the Line 

The Groudle Glen Railway dates back to the 1890's when the true narrow gauge railway was built to cater for a holiday population whose ideals were short walks and the taking of bracing sea airs.

In the late 1890's local entrepreneur Richard Maltby Broadbent obtained a lease on the land surrounding the Groudle river from the Howstrake Estate. The area was developed as an attraction for visitors. In 1893 the Groudle Hotel was completed and the Manx Electric Railway officially opened as far as Groudle in September of the same year. The Glen was developed with rustic bridges over tumbling streams. A rocky inlet in the cliffs was dammed and closed off with sea lions and polar bears being introduced. The construction of a two foot gauge railway from the upper part of the Glen at Lhen Coan to the new zoo atttractions began. The line was built using entirely local labour during the winter of 1895-1896. A steam locomotive 'Sea Lion' and three passenger coaches arrived for the opening of the new railway on the 23rd of May 1896. The new railway was an immediate success, so much so that extra coaches and a second steam locomotive 'Polar Bear' were acquired in 1905.

Following the first world war the two steam locomotives were replaced for a short period by battery electric locomotives. The battery locomotives proved unsuccessful and the steam locomotives were overhauled and returned to service. Following the second world war the railway re-opened with only 'Polar Bear' operating as far as the headland. The line to the terminus at Sea Lion Rocks was unsafe and the zoo had closed. The railway continued operating summer seasons up until 1962.

The following years saw the removal of the two steam locomotives and the remains of the coaches. The buildings were demolished and the rails removed, the line became overgrown and forgotten.


In 1982, the Isle of Man Supporters Association launched a plan to restore the line and work began clearing twenty years worth of undergrowth that had reclaimed the trackbed. In time for December 1983 a short section from the old lime kiln to the headland had been re-built and the railway commenced its operation. Gradually the line was relaid to the glen terminus of Lhen Coan and a station was created at the headland with run-round facilities. The railway was officially re-opened on 23 May 1986 by Carolyn Rawson as part of the Manx Heritage Year. The most significant event at this time was the return of the original steam locomotive "Sea Lion" in September 1987. By 1991 the decision had been made to excavate the final section of the line from the headland loop to the former terminus at Sea Lion Rocks and the run-round loop was lifted at the end of the 1991 season when the major earthworks began to relay the original section to the outer terminus.

The extension, recreating the line to its original three quarter-mile length was duly opened on 23 July 1992, and this was followed in 1993 with the opening of the distinctive Swiss-style station canopy at Lhen Coan. It was during this year that "Polar Bear" also returned to the glen for a visit. It was a time of great change for the line, with many improvements being introduced by the volunteers. Visiting locomotives were a feature in 1995 (Chaloner andRishra) and in 1998 as part of the Steam 125 event marking the anniversary of the island's main railway. Planning permission was granted in 1999 for the volunteers to erect a replacement station building at Sea Lion Rocks and by the summer of 2000 work was well in hand. The station building opened the following year but it was in 2003 that the interior of the station was completed and since this time it has proved to be the major draw to the railway, aside from the unique steam locomotives. The station and surrounding area have since received much attention as ongoing projects and the development of the site has also revived interest in the amazing zoo that once drew in the crowds, the remains of which are still viewable from the station site.

A selection of photographs taken in August 2010

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