The Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway, Leadhills
Officially, the Leadhills & Wanlockhead Railway is Britain’s highest narrow gauge adhesion railway reaching almost 1500 feet above sea level. It runs from Leadhills to Glengonnar near Wanlockhead which is Scotland's highest village. Unofficially, it's an incredibly dinky big little railway whose charm lies in the incongruity of a brightly painted Trumpton-esque train chugging its way through a particularly bleak part of Scotland. That and the delightfully slow pointlessness of the journey.
At Leadhills there’s a lovely little station covered in signs reclaimed from defunct railways. Inside the shop there are things to delight serious trainspotters and for the amateurs, Thomas the Tank Engine toys and Ivor the Engine fudge. There are only two stops on the line (two ends, basically) and the journey from Leadhills to Glengonnar takes roughly 10 minutes, running every 40 minutes or so. It’s not far and you could probably walk it quicker but that’s not the point. Travelling at such a leisurely pace is so relaxing, and there's plenty of time to enjoy the (lack of) scenery. It’s beautiful in a strange, rugged way. Due to the altitude and exposure nothing really grows apart from heather and gorse and there's nothing else here apart from fragments of the old lead mines that gave the railway its original raison d'etre.
For the journey itself pick one of the carriages that has closed windows and doors. It can get bracing up here, even in summer. We visited in July and bravely travelled in an open carriage, with our jackets on and hoods up. At the end of the line the track stops abruptly in what appears to be the middle of nowhere. Actually it's the invisible line between South Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway. A modern border dispute characteristic of the Wild West is stopping its extension all the way into Wanlockhead. Instead you need to “detrain” and walk along the track bed past sheep droppings and rabbit carcasses. Once there you can refuel in Scotland’s highest pub, The Wanlockhead Inn, or try gold panning at the Lead Mining Museum which also has a decent cafe.
The railway was built in 1900 by the Caledonian Railway Company to ferry the lead in them thar Leadhills to central Scotland. The leadmines closed in the 1930s but passenger traffic continued until 1938. In 1983 a group of enthusiasts took on a project to build a narrow gauge tourist railway. Using reclaimed bits and pieces from former train lines (the signal box was once part of the West Highland Line) they built the station from scratch and have been extending it ever since.
The ticket covers travel all day so you can shuttle back and forth all you like. When we visited, plenty of visitors did. It was so much fun the kids wouldn’t get out of the carriage. The railway is run by volunteers – if you become a member you can get to drive the train. It runs at weekends (including Bank Holidays) from Easter until the end of October so catch it while you can.
Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway photos
More of Anne's Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway photos
How to get there
The Leadhills & Wanlockhead Railway, The Station, Leadhills, South Lanarkshire, ML12 6XP.
Leadhills & Wanlockhead are in the Lowther Hills on the B797, between Clydesdale (M74) and Nithsdale (A76). Access from the M74 is via Junction 13 (Abington) and the B797, or Junction 14 (Elvanfoot) and the A702 / B7040. Access from Nithsdale is via the A76 (Dumfries to Sanquhar) and the B797 to Leadhills. From the M74 follow signs to the Museum of Lead Mining, then Leadhills. In Leadhills look for a turn-off (signposted) to the railway.