Tanfield Railway

I have driven by this single track line on many occasions but until last weekend I had never stopped.  This has now been rectified; the plan had been to walk from Causey Arch to East Tanfield and back but then I was distracted by Twizell.  In steam, sounding and smelling glorious, I was a schoolboy again – all I lacked, apart from age reversal, was a dark blue gabardine mac (with belt), grey shorts, school cap, hand knitted jumper, Clarks sandals, long grey socks (with red striped tops) pen, paper, Ian Allan Combine and a Kodak Brownie.  Sadly, I left that all behind a ‘few’ years back but, you get the impression that some of those responsible for running this railway did not – good for them!

Twizell ... Twizell ... Twizell ... The Thin Controller... Twizell ... Twizell ... Twizell ...

As a one time railway enthusiast I left this first visit disgracefully long, for this is no ordinary line – this is the oldest railway in the world.  This extract is from their website:

From the mid 1600 onwards waggonways and the Tyneside coal industry became linked so closely that they were known throughout the rest of Britain as ‘Tyneside Roads’. A network of lines linked collieries on both sides of the Tyne to the river.

It is no coincidence that the North East was the area where waggonways took greatest hold, because canal building was impossible due to deep valleys and steep hills. What set the rail systems of Tyneside apart from all others was its use of the flanged wheel – a key element of the modern railway as we know it.

When the Tanfield Railway – or waggonway as it was known at the time – was built in 1725, it was a revelation. Its massive engineering was unlike anything else in its era, or even since the Roman Empire. It was a triumph of engineering over nature, a clear signal that a new industrial age was upon the world, and that railways would play a massive part.

First laid down more than a quarter of a century before the first railway officially sanctioned by government, over 75 years before the first steam locomotive and a whole 100 years earlier than the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the Tanfield Railway is the world’s oldest railway. We will be the first railway to celebrate our tri-centenary in 2025.



  1. Tish Farrell · December 22

    Brilliant, Robin. Lovely time slip. You and me both in Clarks sandals, and gaberdine mac (mine was brown) and sniffing steam engines. A very happy festive season to you and yours.

    • northumbrianlight · December 22

      Many thanks, Tish – A blessed generation weren’t we 🙂
      And, all the very best to you and yours this Christmas and throughout 2017.

      • Tish Farrell · December 22

        I think you’re right. We were blessed. It feels like that somehow. A big Xmas hug to you and Mrs Robin.

      • Tish Farrell · December 22

        I think you’re right. We were blessed. It feels like that somehow. A big Xmas hug to you and Mrs Robin.

  2. Cate Franklyn · December 22

    Wonderful old train and fantastic bit of railway history. Another great post, Robin.

    • northumbrianlight · December 22

      Many thanks Cate – have a great NY Christmas and all the very best for 2017.

      • Cate Franklyn · December 22

        Thank you, and a Very Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year to you and yours😊

  3. J.D. Riso · December 22

    The photos are so nostalgic. The time was finally right for you to pay a visit to this venerable railway. Thanks for the time warp, Robin. And the happiest of holidays to you. 🎅

    • northumbrianlight · December 22

      I think it was Julie – likewise, have a great holiday and all the very best for next year (pleased to see the return of the purple bunny).

      • J.D. Riso · December 23

        You reminded me, so I brought it back. 😉

  4. Kari Jeppesen · December 22

    …so great Robin!!…

    • northumbrianlight · December 23

      Many thanks Kari – have a great Christmas and all the best for 2017

  5. socialbridge · December 22

    Oh my … what a history – both rail and personal!

    • northumbrianlight · December 23

      Thanks Jean – in the austere 1950s that was a kind of classless uniform. Look at any film of kids at railway stations from that time and I am everywhere 😉
      All the very best to you, yours and Stan this Christmas and in 2017.

      • socialbridge · December 23

        The ‘I am everywhere’ is a great way of putting it.
        Hope Christmas is good for you too and that 2017 is full of health, peace and creativity, not to speak of golf!

  6. sustainabilitea · December 23

    Glad you finally made it and thanks for sharing the lovely shots. Merry Christmas!


    • northumbrianlight · December 23

      Many thanks Janet and all the best to you and yours this Christmas and throughout 2017, Robin.

  7. Pit · December 23

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed this post a lot. 🙂
    Marry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you,

    • northumbrianlight · December 23

      Thanks Pit glad you enjoyed it – I still think these Geordies missed a trick not building canals 😉 Have a great Christmas and 2017, all the best, Robin

      • Pit · December 24

        You have a point there! 😉

  8. restlessjo · December 23

    It’s a while since I was there, in more ways than one. Merry Christmas, Robin 🙂

    • northumbrianlight · December 24

      Thanks Jo and all the best to you and yours for Christmas – many happy wanderings for 2017.

  9. cyclemasterron · January 22

    Great post and love the B&W shots. I visited Tanfield many years ago and this reminds me I must go back again.Ron

  10. Barrie @ railwayblogger · March 5

    Your Black and White photos are very atmospheric. Hope you get to enjoy another heritage railway very soon.

    • northumbrianlight · March 5

      Many thanks for your generous comment Barrie – coming from someone with a lifetime on the railways, it is much appreciated. I am thoroughly enjoying RailwayBlogger – I am sure it will inspire other heritage railway visits. I must get back to Whitby – I was thwarted by a suspended service on our last visit 😦

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