The Groudle Glen Railway was a true narrow gauge railway, built in the late Victorian era, catering for a holiday population whose ideals were short walks and the taking of bracing sea airs.
With the opening of the Manx Electric Railway line to Laxey, ever increasing numbers visited Groudle (approx. two miles from Douglas) a Glen with rustic paths and bridges leading to a coastal headland. A rocky inlet in the cliffs was dammed and closed off, with sea lions and polar bears being introduced. The construction of a two foot gauge railway from the upper part of the Glen at Lhen Coan to the Zoo attractions at Sea Lion Rocks was begun. Three passenger coaches and a steam locomotive named Sea Lion (built by W G. Bagnall Ltd. of Castle Engine Works, Stafford) arrived in time for an opening on the 23rd May, 1896.
The new railway was an immediate success, so much so that extra coaching stock and a further steam locomotive named Polar Bear (also of Bagnall's, Stafford) were acquired. Following the First World War (the railway being closed during this period) the two steam locos went into retirement being replaced by two battery-electric locomotives. However, after only six years service, the battery-electric locos were worn out and the original steam locomotives were overhauled and returned to service. The railway having closed down for the Second World War, resumed services in 1950 with only Polar Bear six coaches. A landslip had also rendered the line unsafe between the Headland and the terminus at Sea Lion Rocks, so this section did not reopen; the zoo animals which had been released during the War were not replaced. The railway continued operations for the majority of summer seasons up to 1962, but despite considerable efforts the following year Polar Bear refused to hold steam, the line closed.
In 1967 / 1968 the two steam locomotives and the remains of some of the coaches were acquired by different parties. The rails were taken up and scrapped in 1973/1974 and the railway buildings were eventually demolished. Since then, Polar Bear has been restored and today can be seen at the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum, West Sussex while the semi-derelict remains of Sea Lion were until recently at Loughborough.
A plan to restore the railway was launched in May 1982 by the Isle of Man Steam Railway Supporters' Association. Following 18 months of clearing the site and with purchase of railway equipment from Dodington House, Chipping Sodbury in Avon, a section of the original railway line from Lhen Coan to the Headland was re-laid. The railway was reopened for public passenger trains in May 1986 using diesel locomotives (built by Hunslet Engine Co. Ltd. of Leeds in 1952) appropriately named Dolphin and Walrus and two coaches. Agreement was reached for the return of the original steam locomotive Sea Lion, and following a two and a half year restoration programme to working order by the Instructors and apprentices of the BNFL Training Centre at Sellafield in Cumbria, Sea Lion officially returned to service in October 1987.
Since then trains have been hauled by Sea Lion on summer Sundays and Bank Holidays as well as other special occasions such as the popular Santa Trains with the diesel locomotives in use on the Wednesday evening services in July and August. In May, 1994, a further steam loco (built by Andrew Barclay & Sons Co. Ltd. in 1925 and now owned by a GGR volunteer), named Jack, entered service on the line.
In May, 1992, three final section of line from the Headland to the railway's original terminus at Sea Lion Rocks was reopened and in April 1993, the rebuilding of the Swiss type chalet canopy building at Lhen Coan (a feature in many old photographs of the railway) was completed. 1993 also saw the return of the railway's other original steam loco Polar Bear and three replica Groudle coaches on loan for a month, from the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum.
All work in the restoration and operation of the railway is carried out by volunteers who, have received assistance in many forms from local firms, companies and individuals. Your assistance in this continued restoration in the form of donations and voluntary work would be most appreciated and for further information please see their website www.ggr.org.uk.