All aboard for railway birthday bash

Bright sunshine and blue skies were the perfect backdrop for steam puffing from trains as a north Northumberland attraction celebrated its silver anniversary.

On Tuesday, Heatherslaw Light Railway marked 25 years since it first opened on land at Ford and Etal Estates.

Lord James Joicey and railway director Paul Smith celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Heatherslaw Light Railway.

Lord James Joicey and railway director Paul Smith celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Heatherslaw Light Railway.

There was an extra 10am train ride for special guests before both steam locomotives ran alternatively throughout the day.

Adding to the poignancy was the fact that it was one of the last journeys for steam engine Lady Augusta, which retires from service at the close of the summer season. Bunty will continue to work next season, while guests on Tuesday were able to see a new diesel, yet to be named.

The ticket office and yard had been decorated with bunting for the occasion and there also a special cake.

Lord James Joicey, director of Ford and Etal Estates, the landowner of Heatherslaw, said: “It started on a bit of a wing and a prayer, but 25 years on we are astonished at its success and the people its brought into this area.

“It’s absolutely magnificent and I take my hat off to the team here at Heatherslaw Light Railway for all that they have done in 25 years they have been here.”

The Heatherslaw Light Railway was the brainchild of Neville Smith, an engineer who harboured the ambition of building a passenger-carrying railway in 15-inch narrow gauge, which coincided with the late Lord Joicey looking for a project to enhance tourism on Ford and Etal Estates.

Lady Augusta was commissioned from the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, while the diesel locomotive Clive and the six original coaches were manufactured on site by Neville and his business partner Sid Ford.

The station at Heatherslaw is built on the site of the old Ford and Etal sawmill, which was damaged by fire in the mid 1980s before being moved to a new site at Letham Hill.

The site was cleared and the team worked every weekend for six months to enable the railway to start running in the summer of 1989.

The original track was one-and-a-quarter miles long and cut directly across the Letham Haugh to Etal village. The track was later lengthened to its present length of two-and-a-quarter miles in the winter of 2003/4 and now follows the course of the River Till around the outside of the Letham Haugh.

Neville’s son Paul took over in a temporary management position in late August 2008. On September 1, the railway was struck by the biggest flood on record, devastating the site and only the turntable at Etal Station wasn’t submerged.

The efforts and hard work of all the team got the railway back on track and Paul took over as railway director on a permanent basis in February 2009 after his father passed away.