This isn’t the quickest way to travel between Douglas to Ramsey, but it is by far the best fun.
The 17 mile line between Douglas, Laxey and Ramsey was built between 1893-1899 to capitalise on the tourist boom with increasing numbers of visitors arriving to the island. It runs through some of the best scenery in the island, particularly to the north of Laxey. There are many small unmanned halts serving remote sections of the line.
It runs along double track with power from overhead wires, using the original power car and open trailers. Views are better from the open trailers but they can be a bit nippy on windy days. In the height of the summer the pollen disturbed from grasses along the line can play havoc with hay fever sufferers too… Be warned the tramcars are not designed for people with disabilities and it can be quite a climb in and out of them.
The line opened as far as Groudle Glen in 1893, which was increasingly being marketed as a tourist attraction with hotel, pleasure grounds, narrow gauge “railway”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/man/transport/groudleglen/index.html and a zoo with polar bears and sea lions.
Approval was given by Tynwald to the Douglas and Laxey Coast Electric Tramway Company, who later became the Isle of Man Tramways and Electric Power Company, to extend the line as far as Laxey. It reached here in 1894. The Lady Isabella Wheel was a major tourist attraction, along with the newly developed Glen Gardens. The building of the “Snaefell Mountain Railway”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/man/transport/snaefell/index.html the following year attracted even more visitors.
Approval to extend to Ramsey was granted in 1897 and the line reached here in 1899. The construction, and especially the electrical installations, stretched the companies finances and it was £150,000 in debt. The company was liquidated in 1902, and the assets were bought by a syndicate of business men from Manchester to form the Manx Electric Railway Company. They built car and goods shed at Laxey and ordered new trailers and goods vehicles.
Traffic numbers fell during the First World War and the refreshment room at Laxey was destroyed by fire in 1917 and never rebuilt. Numbers increased again after the war but a disastrous fire in the Laxey car shed in 1930 destroyed several power cars, trailers and other rolling stock.
After the Second World War, the railway was struggling financially. Power cars and trailers needed replacing as well as track. Tourist numbers to the island were falling. By the end of 1955, the directors notified Tynwald they would not be operating the following year and were wanting to sell the company. Tynwald agreed to buy and nationalise the company and invested heavily in track renewal. There were plans to close the section between Laxey and Ramsey in the mid 1970s after the mail contract was lost, but they were restarted after public outcry.
The steam railway from Douglas to Port Erin and the Manx Electric Railway were amalgamated to form the Isle of Man Railways in 1978. Both railways were marketed jointly. In 1986 the two railways came under the control of the Department of Tourism and Transport, now the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure. In 1993 the railways celebrated the ‘Year of Railways’ which was a hugely successful event and placed the Isle of Man railway heritage firmly on the map.
The southern terminus is at Derby Castle at the end of the promenade and is shared with the Horse trams. The rustic wooden ticket office dates from 1899. Just beyond are the sheds and workshops.
The line climbs steeply following the A11 to Onchan Head and the site of the Howstrake holiday camp, with the eroding remains of a concrete shelter on the seaward side. There are views down to Port Groudle and Sea Lion Rocks.
Groudle Glen Station is the first stopping point and is the interchange for the Groudle Glen Railway. The large wooden shelter used to have a ticket office, but is now unmanned. Like many of the smaller halts, it also has a post box, dating from the time the railway held the contract for the collection of mail from all the stations and halts along the line.
The railways swings round a tight curve over the Groudle Glen viaduct and through the Groudle Glen woodlands.
The line now picks up the A2 and runs through agricultural land to Baldrine with its small wooden shelter with hanging baskets and tubs of flowers.
Beyond the line runs along the flat plateau above the coast with views down to Garwick and Laxey Bays. Fairy Cottage and South Cave are tiny halts serving the settlements to the south of Laxey.
The line now makes a large curve around the deep Laxey valley past the car sheds and the substation providing power for both the Manx Electric railway and the Snaefell Railway. The splendid four arch Glen Roy viaduct carries the railway across the stream far below with massive stone building of the flour mills building.
Laxey is the busiest intermediate station on the line and also the interchange for the Snaefell Mountain railway. The rustic wood building is the ticket office for both.
The line swings round the head of the valley with views down to Valley Gardens which was the site of the washing floors for the Great Laxey Lead mines, with the recently restored Lady Evelyn waterwheel which powered the Snaefell mines further up the valley. This is also the terminus for the Great Laxey Mines Tramway.
The line now begins to climb steeply up the far side of the valley. Beyond Minorca, there are views down to Lower Laxey.
The line now runs along the open hillside with views dropping down to the sea. The stretch above Bulgham Bay is particularly impressive as the line runs along a ledge cut out of the hillside. The best views are on the journey from Ramsey, as the tram is closer to the cliff face. Beyond is Dhoon Glen with its small wooden shelter and the starting point for the popular walk down the glen.
After Glen Mona, the line swings away from the road round the top of the wooded Ballaglass Glen. Again this is another popular walk accessed either from Ballaglass or Cornaa halts
The line now picks up the A15 and there are views across to Maughold Head and the lighthouse. On the far horizon is England with off shore wind farms. Inland there are views across to the mass of North Barrule.
After Port Lewaigue there are views across Ramsey Bay and up the flat northern part of the island, with its low eroding cliffs. There is a view of Ramsey Bay with the pier and harbour mouth. The line drops down through Ballure and across Ballure viaduct to reach the terminus at Ramsey.
A superb run and one I never get tired of.
There is more information and lots of pictures about heritage transport “”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/man/transport/index.html