The Weardale Railway
This unique railway is an 18 mile heritage line which runs from a connection with the main railway network at Bishop Auckland in County Durham to Eastgate. It steams its way through the Weardale Area of Outstanding Beauty.
A seasonal service of heritage passenger trains operates at the moment over the 16 mile section between Stanhope and Bishop Auckland. A subsidiary of the Weardale Railway Trust sorts out the timetable.. Click Here to find out more
Weardale Railway Limited is a holding company which operates the trains with assistance from the volunteers of the Weardale Railway Trust.
The history of the Weardale Railway
The Weardale Railway is a single track railway with stops at Bishop Auckland, Witton-le-Wear, Wolsingham, Frosterley and Stanhope.
It originally ran from Bishop Auckland to Wearhead in County Durham, a distance of 25 miles. Built in the nineteenth century to carry limestone from Eastgate-in-Weardale, it provided passenger services to Weardale. Passenger services stopped in 1953, leaving only freight services to Eastgate until 1992.
After the quarry’s owner Lafarge moved to road transport in 1993, the line was threatened with closure by British Rail (BR), and it was taken over by a group of enthusiasts. This railway line is one of the longest preserved standard gauge heritage railways in Great Britain.
The headquarters of the railway are at Stanhope station, other stations are at Frosterley, Wolsingham, Witton le Wear and Bishop Auckland.
Riding First Class
A throwback to the glorious age of steam this quirky train service is run entirely by volunteers. Although Less well known than the Grosmont to Pickering steam railway in Yorkshire, it is just as much fun!
When I was there last it was a rare and glorious summer day in August. A few smiley passengers were happy sharing our journey but the train was hardly crowded.
These were mainly the over 60’s, the under 6’s and those in charge of them! Chugging along in the Pullman carriage with its huge plush armchair seats I’m pretty sure this has got to be the only rail journey in the country where you can travel first class for £2.50!
There was no fat controller in sight (the face of capitalism for the under 5’s) but a very friendly Inspector who I strongly suspect may double up as Father Christmas for the Christmas Santa ride. I expected Skimbleshanks the railway cat (T.S. Elliot) to come down the line at any moment!
Our locomotive was called Wilbert, who is apparently a character in the Thomas the Tank engine stories. In it’s first incarnation however, Wilbert the engine is of the Hunslet design of the War Department’s “Austerity” tank and was produced to assist in the invasion of Europe.
The Weardale Way
We did try to walk some of the Weardale Way which runs alongside the railway line. We did assume that this route would be well signposted. It wasn’t. I think we managed about 50 yards of the actual route before losing our way into some fields. We then encountered a few bulls. We left the fields pronto. Next we seem to be on private paths and spiky fences were in the way.
We even ran into a dangerous sludge lagoon! Have you ever heard of anyone going for a walk on a sunny day and running into a sludge lagoon? In the end, it was more of a Way-off-the-Weardale-Way walk. I think we will take a map next time.
We came across some other interesting signs on our ramblings too. One said ‘FAC private fishing.’ I’m not sure what FAC is. Another sign at the station declared the pronouncements of the ‘Movement Authority.’ Who are they when they’re at home?
A final highlight of the day was when we encountered an amazing example of a Panther Cap (Amanita Pantherina.) This mushroom is large, rare and poisonous. You do not want to put this into your omelette under any circumstances…
I loved my day on the Weardale Railway. It is so nice to board a train and feel really welcomed by the lovely enthusiastic staff who run things here. The Travelling hat enjoyed it too..
More North East fun at High Force – the highest waterfall in England