Bird Haunts and Nature Memories/Chapter 11


THERE was nothing in Bradshaw, nor anything on the railway ticket to Port Carlisle, to suggest peculiar means of locomotion; we noted that we had to change at Drumburgh, that was all. But when we alighted at that busy junction, there was the dandy, with its locomotive skewed across the metals, gazing with equine contemplation at its rival on the Silloth line. The dandy is a survival—a railway carriage drawn by a horse, but distinctly a railway carriage and not a tram. In general shape, colour, and wheels. as also in its windows, door, ventilator. and even door handle, it is a railway carriage, and its inscription—"Port Carlisle. N.B.R. No. I."—suggests its antiquity; was it the first coach built by the North British?

But there is something more than ordinary railway rolling-stock about the dandy, for at either end is a wide driving seat with a neatly curved splash-board, whilst along the sides the ordinary double step is transformed into a row of seats; above all is the power, the patient horse, ready to pull this strange conveyance along the two and a half miles of normal gauge line to Port Carlisle. The dandy was built for a horse, not the horse adapted to the dandy.

There were four passengers for the terminus, and one for the porterless station of Glasson, where "the Trains [with a capital T] call when required to take up and set down Passengers," as we read in Bradshaw. What constitutes a Train, and why the capital? The dictionary states: "A continuous line or series of carriages on a railway coupled together with the engine." That hardly applies to the dandy; but, wait, there is another of the several definitions which may apply. "That which is drawn or dragged along or after, as the hinder part of a beast," seems suitable, if we consider that the dandy is inseparable, figuratively speaking, from the horse. Granting that a horse is a "beast," there was nothing beastly about our placid tractor, nothing fiery or untamed even—and we congratulate the editor of Bradshaw: when at work dandy and horse are one, a train.

After all we did not stop at Glasson on the outward journey; the passenger neatly skipped from his seat beside the engineer on to the lonely platform; the engine preferred to keep on the move. On the return journey, a few days later, the dandy was full inside, for it was market day at Carlisle. When we reached Glasson there was a crowd of perhaps half a dozen waiting on the platform, and whilst the driver attended to the receipt of fares the engine left the metals and browsed contentedly on the bank. Perhaps there were a couple of dozen passengers in all, inside and out, but in summer there are at times so many as fifty; the overflow sits with the heavy luggage on the top. With our light loads the horse alternately trotted and cantered, keeping well in the centre of the four-foot way, and striding over points without striking a shoe against the metals. It knew its work and acted as if it had an easy job, for the gradients, if any, are of little moment.

From information culled from a communicative fellow passenger, and from that man of many parts—engineer, fireman, guard, station-master, ticket collector, pointsman, and porter—I gathered as we slid smoothly over the well-known lines that the Port Carlisle Railway is about fifty years old. Immediately we left Drumburgh we ran into the bed of an old canal, and along this bed

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travelled until we reached the Port, where empty locks open upon the derelict and silted harbour. Three miles lower down the Solway the Caledonian viaduct crosses, and it was the construction of this railway that finally shattered the hopes of Port Carlisle; shipping to the port was obstructed. The old sandstone quay is weathered and crumbling; it is already cut off from the land, and the redshank whistles as it paddles in the mud of the boatless harbour. No old salts, red and weathered as the sandstone, lean on the rope-covered bollards to watch the flatmen transfer their cargoes to the schooners, for flats, ships, and ancient sailors have departed for ever; it is Port in name only. The heron can catch dabs in the gutters on the marsh a few yards from the railway, but the screaming gull finds no fisherman's offal to reward his scrutiny of the harbour.

Port Carlisle boasts that theirs is the last dandy, the last one-horse railway; but rumour has it that another survives at the other extremity of England—in far Cornwall. Possibly, but does it also combine railroad and canal? The day of the dandy, however, is drawing to a close. Even as we passed on our speedy journey we saw signals lying ready to be put up, sleepers being replaced, and safety rails laid at the worst curves. Within three months other work will be found for the horse, and the dandy will cease its diurnal trips; an engine and carriage, perhaps a train, will ply between Drumburgh and Port Carlisle; the summer visitors to Solway shore must do without their dandy. Probably it will stand, wheelless, beside its old canal bed to serve as a shelter for platelayers, and the passing tourist will remark: "What a funny old carriage!" As we travelled down the line the platelayers at work cracked jokes with the driver; to them the dandy was amusing. To some of us there is pathos in the passing of the dandy.