You’d better grab a cuppa for this one.
Back in Victorian times the Isle of Man was the place for the English to go for their holidays. As a result lots of beautiful buildings were built and tourist attractions created. One hundred and twenty years ago, this month, an electric railway was opened.
At that time the terminus was at Groudle.
One entrepreneur opened a hotel at Groudle and developed various attractions, including rustic walks through the Glen to the little beach and the rocks beyond.
There was a dance floor, music, rides, fortune tellers and stalls, as well as a pretty water wheel.
To add to all of this he also opened a miniature railway.
Initially, there were two steam engines - “Sea Lion” and “Polar Bear”. At its peak the Groudle Glen Railway carried 100,000 passengers each year.
The train ran out to the rocks by the sea where there was a tea room and a small zoo, the highlights being, funnily enough, sea lions and two polar bears, hence the names of the steam engines. There was a high footbridge built over the water, so people could watch and feed the sea lions.
Unfortunately, World War One caused the railway to be closed for a few years. When it reopened in 1920 the sea lions returned to the zoo, but there were no more polar bears. At that time they also introduced some new fangled electric locomotives, also called “Sea Lion” and “Polar Bear”. (The one below is a replica.)
They weren’t terribly successful, so the old steam engines were reintroduced in the early 1930s.
Once again the railway closed due to war and was reopened again in 1950. The railway had suffered while it was closed and only “Polar Bear'” was used once the line reopened. “Sea Lion” was stripped for spares and just left to rot. The railway was troubled from then on, as the engine aged and vandals damaged things. Finally in the early 60s the line closed. Ohhhhhh!
“Polar Bear” and some spares were sold for 25 pounds and eventually what remained of “Sea Lion” left the island. The station and track bed was left to rot away and get overgrown.
But, all was not lost!!!
A trusty band of enthusiasts formed a group in 1982 and decided to try and get things up and running again. They did lots of work on the overgrown track bed and were lucky enough in 1983 to buy a complete miniature railway, including two diesel locos, “Dolphin” and “Walrus”, from England.
“Sea Lion” also returned to the island that year and the first trains ran just before Christmas.
In the last 30 years the group of volunteers have done wonders.
“Sea Lion” was fully restored, commencing on the island and then being finished as an apprentice training project in the Lakes District.
Carriages were restored and built.
The station has been rebuilt.
New workshops were built.
A new Tea Rooms at Sea Lion Rocks has been built and staffed.
No, there is no zoo or polar bears. There are just a few small reminders of what had been there in the past.
All new signage has been put in place.
The track needs constant maintenance.
As does the rolling stock.
The highlight for the railway each year is the Santa train. Heaps of kids ride on the train and Santa’s helpers provide each with a Christmas gift. Apparently it is hugely successful and now they have also introduced Easter trains.
The railway celebrated it centenary a few years ago and “Polar Bear” came to visit. It is still going strong in England, which is great to hear. It won’t be coming home permanently, though.
It is truly amazing what has been achieved in the time since the decision was made to try and get the railway up and running again. Even if we had visited on our previous travels to the island we would not have seen as much as we did this year.
We were chatting to a couple of the volunteers and it was interesting that their day jobs are quite “white collar”, rather different to getting dirty with steam trains. There are about thirty people involved and they run the railway each Sunday all day and on Wednesday evenings during the summer months. Quite a commitment from them all.
They are also starting to restore another engine, which will be named “Brown Bear'”. (Visitors could take brown bear cubs for a walk at the original zoo.)
As you can probably gather, despite not being a train buff by any means, this was one of the highlights of our visit to the island. It will definitely be somewhere we will visit next time we are on the Isle of Man.
By the way, there is also a miniature railway at Laxey Mine and one at the Wildlife Park. That is in addition to the government owned one that runs down the south of the island all the time. We’ll have to check out the others in the future as well