Small gauges in the Peak District
Steeple Grange and Rudyard Lake
13 May 2001  
Back Contact Geoff Jack drifts down towards Leadhills station
This was a trip to a couple of lesser lines, different in their own way, but with something in common. The common elements are gauge - both railways are constructed to relatively slim proportions - and trackbed. The Steeple Grange Light Railway is, unusually, 1'6" gauge, and uses ex-industrial rolling stock. It is constructed on the bed of the strangely-named "Killer Branch" off the Cromford and High Peak line near Wirksworth, and offers rides to the general public. Several locomotives are based there - best known is the former Horwich works shunter, ZM32, but this loco and another were away from the site, and our motive power was "Lizzie". This loco was built at Clay Cross, from parts supplied by Lister, and is powered by a
Geoff’s Rail Diaries
Ford Escort engine. Due to Lizzie's being somewhat underpowered, passenger accommodation was limited to a four- seater wagon - and rides were free! Needless to say, we "had a go". A rather attractive locomotive shed was under construction - the design and materials being subject to national park scrutiny and approval. "There are one or two interesting 1'6" steam locomotives around" I suggested to our driver. "Look at those doorways into the shed", he replied, "why do you think they are so much taller than our locomotives?". Clearly the Steeple Grange Light Railway will go a long way, so to speak... Link: Steeple Grange Light Railway
At the end of the line "Lizzie" and train at the Steeple Grange Light Railway The end of the line, Steeple Grange Middleton Top Middleton Top engine house The shed, Steeple Grange Light Railway
Just over 30 years ago, I had visited, with friends, the remains of the Cromford and High Peak Railway. This remarkable line had closed in 1967, and the scene at Middleton top was one of disuse and dereliction. Today the C&HPR is a walking and cycling route, and there is a National Trust visitor centre at Middleton top. The ancient winding engine, built in 1825, is still in existence, and is operated from time to time using compressed air, the boilers being beyond repair. A solitary wagon, on a short length of track, serves as a reminder of the route's original purpose.
We had a pleasant drive across the southern Peak District, passing en route the restored station at Hulme End, terminus of the Leek and Manifold, but time was getting short, so we continued via Leek to Rudyard Lake. The lake, strictly a reservoir, was built as a canal feeder. The North Staffs Railway's Churnet Valley route ran along its eastern shore, and the Rudyard Lake Miniature Railway is built on the trackbed, to 10¼" gauge. The term "Miniature Railway" may conjure up, for many, an image of rather small replicas of standard gauge classes, with a short line going nowhere much. This railway is quite the opposite - a very pleasant run, long enough for a useable (and well used)
intermediate station, properly timetabled service, and locomotives which, being based on narrow gauge prototypes, are large enough for the driver to ride inside the cab. And what beautiful locomotives they are! Working loco today was "Merlin", which arrived on the railway just a month previously; sister loco "Rudyard Lake" was kindly pushed out of the shed for photographs. Both were built in the Exmoor Steam Railway's workshops - clearly they know how to build locomotives. And that was it - time for home after an excellent day out. The Steeple Grange Railway is well worth an hour of anyone's time - a very friendly setup. Similarly, the Rudyard Lake Railway is much more then just another miniature railway - equally friendly, with locos that take some beating. Link: Rudyard Lake Steam Railway
The wizard in the woods - Merlin runs round Merlin and train stand at the end of the line Merlin stands outside the shed River Churnet