The privately owned Millerbeck Light Railway is situated in the grounds of Millerbeck House, in the Lakeland village of Staveley-in-Cartmel, just a few minutes from Newby Bridge, and a quarter of a mile south of Lake Windermere and the National Trust property of Fell Foot Park in Cumbria. Although normally only the private home of the owners, they and their friends, do open the railway to the general public on an occasional basis throughout the year. Often called ‘Lakeland’s Best Kept Secret ‘, this stunning and well respected railway is well worth a visit!
The Millerbeck Light Railway runs through meadows and woodlands, crossing the Miller Beck several times as it twists and turns on varying ‘gradients’ of up to 1 in 50 during its journey of around a mile. Construction was started in 1985 by the then owner Arthur Bailey and a group of three local friends, as a private railway to a track gauge measurement between the rails of 7.25 inch. This is one of several gauges for miniature railways, ranging from 3.5 inch to 18 inch gauge, but 7.25 inch gauge is regarded as the most practical of the smaller gauges, where a person can actually sit ‘in’ as opposed to ‘on’ both the carriages and locomotives.
This railway is modelled as a ‘narrow gauge’ railway, with differing sizes of steam, diesel or electric locomotives, similar to the ‘small railways of Wales’ that ran in the quarries and mines. However the gauge does not prevent miniature models of ‘standard gauge’ (4ft 8.5 inch) main line locos running also. Their scale of build just makes them look smaller!
In 1990 the Railway hosted the 7.25 inch gauge Society’s A.G.M. with over 50 locomotives visiting from all over Europe, but not all on the track at the same time! This was repeated in 2005 under the present ownership with around 70 engines arriving. Usually the railway likes to run 4 or 5 passenger trains at a time, giving visitors a long ride of about 12 to 15 minutes around the track, but you will sometimes see goods trains running too.
Maintaining the Railway
A railway requires constant maintenance of the track, signals, bridges and buildings, as well as the rolling stock and locomotives. M.L.R. is run by the owners and a group of ‘friends’, mowing grass, levelling track, oiling points, repairing & painting. There are signalmen, station staff, yard masters, drivers and guards all enjoying the camaraderie of running a small railway and of course, just sitting back and enjoying the view, smells and sounds of running this ‘little piece of fairyland’.
In 2001 the house and grounds where put up for sale with the likely event of the railway being ripped up and abandoned. Luckily Arnold & Judith Gorse, with their daughter Laura, bought the estate, so the railway can once more enjoy a certain future. Not everybody is an engineer or owns their own loco, but each contributes in their own way, usually on Sundays throughout the year.
In 2011, the adjacent 2 acre woodland came up for auction, having not changed ownership for well over 100 years. The Gorse’s, despite considerable opposition, managed to secure the wood for posterity so that its ancient beauty can be appreciated by all.
(Please note: The woodlands will remain closed to the public until we can afford to have them checked for safety as, although beautiful, they have not been managed for many generations!)
New infrastructure is in process of construction currently. A complete new signaling system has commenced to replace the worn out technology which has been added to for more than 20 years. The new Signal Box itself has been built and underground trucking has been laid to provide a route for the labyrinth of cables and compressed air piping which is needed to control the points and signals over the five acres.
The new signal control will allow us, once again, to be able to follow each train as it travels our very complicated tracks as we drive at the mercy of the signal man in charge.
A new Turntable is being built after the rust has attacked the old one severely. Our in-house volunteers tackling this precise job with gusto.
Although the railway is part of the private home of Millerbeck House, it depends solely on the good will of the owners and their volunteer friends. If you feel you might could to be part of this extraordinary team do have a chat when you visit.