Moorland tramways

In a regional context the most distinctive feature of Rossendale quarries was the extensive network of narrow gauge moorland tramways. They were part of a particular style of quarrying, linking distant moorland tramways directly to the main railway lines in the valley bottom, eg. the longest individual system is over 11 miles long, and the maximum height attained over the moortops is 465m (1526ft)

Composite map showing extent of moorland tramways and their inclines on an OS based map of 1913
Loco James on 'Race-Lowe' a long straight stretch of the Cloughfold to Cragg Tramway










The quarry industry became uneconomic around the time of the First World War, and since then most of the tracks have been lifted. However Rossendale’s interesting moorland tramways have probably attracted more attention than the quarries themselves. They appeal to local historians, railway enthusiasts, but also the general walker – the track-beds often remain as rights of way and make for superb upland walking. Many of the ‘Valley of Stone’ heritage walks make use of them as the best link routes between the quarries.

The moorland tramways have a fascination all of their own with miles of sharp twists and turns, following the contours. Although their earthworks are relatively light they remain interesting feats of engineering.

Inside the largest quarries eg. Cragg Quarry a vast network of temporary tipping tracks covered a large portion of the workings for the disposal of waste and overburden. Some of these temporary rail tracks were an engineering feat in their own right, with huge trestles being built to carry the tracks over the top of the main railway system to the site of the tips.

Regionally, our neighbouring areas in Northern England have good examples of quarrying eg. West Yorkshire, Lancaster, Merseyside, Peak District, - but nothing like the moorland tramway network of Rossendale. The slate quarrying area of Wales has superb tramway links, but the Rossendale examples are more reminiscent of the ironstone tramways around the head of Rosedale in the North York Moors.

Printer icon