Dartmoor Railway history

History of Dartmoor

Dartmoor conjures up plenty of different things to many people. Many think of ponies and cream teas, others imagine vast tracts of wilderness and marsh. To those who know it, the 'moor' is 368 square miles of intrigue and fascination but be warned, it's a moreish place and once you have fallen under the magic of 'Old Dartymoor' you will never want to leave it.

Ancient Dartmoor

Over the past 12 centuries man has hunted, farmed, mined, quarried and existed on and around Dartmoor. From the early Mesolithic hunter gatherers to the present 'moorman', people have left their marks on its landscape. Dartmoor has been described as the 'last wilderness' and often when walking deep in that 'wilderness' it is easy to imagine that you are the first to set foot on its virgin soil. Don't even go there, just stop and take a good look and it's guaranteed that within eyesight will be the mark of someone who’s being there before you.

Tin mining

It may be a solitary standing stone on the horizon, built by the 'Men of Bronze' or it may be a small heap of stones left there by the old tinners, but somewhere in the ranges there will be something. Every tor, mire, stream, gully, wood or valley will have a name, although many of them won't be on the modern map and lots have been lost in the mists of time but they will all have a name showing evidence of the presence of man.  Therefore if a person has been associated with the area for so long it is inevitable that there has been a wealth of tradition, archaeology, history, folklore and legend left for us to explore today.


History of the line

The route of the Dartmoor Railway is part of what was once the London South Western Railway main line from the capital to Cornwall. It opened as a through route in the late 1800s. When many of the lines in the South West were demolished in the sixties, this stretch was kept open to transport ballast from Meldon Quarry for use on all parts of the British Railways Southern Region.

Meldon Quarry and the part of the line from Coleford Junction to the Quarry were sold as a result to Aggregate Industries whom together with the local County Council, Dartmoor National Park and RMS Locotec decided on the concept of the Dartmoor Railway. The idea was to create a Community Railway that would allow visitors to access and enjoy the National Park without using a car.


Heritage services are available between Meldon Quarry and Okehampton which stretch to Sampford Courtenay, Bow or the DR/Network Railway boundary on particular event days. The stations at North Tawton and Bow are shut to the public. Both stations are privately owned and do not have public access. In the spring of 2013 the heritage service was stopped by the Dartmoor Railway CIC but a limited service has lately been resumed. This is now operated by Dartmoor Railway Supporters Association and Granite Line Ltd.

The heritage services use a range of rolling stock such as a Class 205 "Thumper" unit restored to its original livery and number. Services are also operated with diesel locomotives in push-pull trains and top and tail mode with a selection of coaching and ex-EMU stock. Steam hauled services have also worked from time to time.


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