IT ISN'T exactly hidden but is without doubt treasured by many, Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway has won the hearts of young and old with its charming steam trains and stunning landscape. Fondly known as L'al Ratty, it even provided inspiration for the creator of Thomas the Tank engine, W Awdry. The railway was originally built way back in 1873; commercially opening on May 24, 1875. Its main purpose was to transport iron ore that was being mined in the hills above the village of Boot, down to Ravenglass where it could be transferred on to the Furness Railway's mainline to Barrow. The railway was also open to passenger traffic and was built to the narrow gauge of three feet (between the rails), which made the railway the first public narrow gauge railway in England. In 1915 miniature railway engineer and prolific model makers WJ Bassett-Lowke and R Proctor-Mitchell acquired the line for testing their little locomotives. By 1946 ownership of the line had transferred to the Keswick Granite Company, which in 1953 decided to cease quarrying operations. It was announced that the 1960 season would be its last with the railway to be sold by auction. Apparently, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Preservation Society was formed by enthusiasts looking to take it over but hopes were not high. However, Colin Gilbert, a midlands stockbroker, and local landowner, Sir Wavell Wakefield, stepped in on auction day with the balance of the purchase price, £12,000, and the railway became theirs.

From March, Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway hosts a wealth of family-friendly activities.