Mike Pratt’s Memories

Mike with his parents, sister and aunt at the railway cottage (click for larger images)

Memories of the now abandoned Smardale railway cottages

I was particularly struck by the picture of the coal train in your November 2020 newsletter. By my reckoning it was passing the two now abandoned railway cottages. They hold particular significance as I holidayed in the left one as you face it every year from the mid fifties to the late sixties. Every August my Mam, Dad and two sisters spent two weeks staying there and I can honestly say that they were among the happiest days of my life. The line was still in use for the first few years and we always got a wave from the drivers.

The cottage was rented by one of my uncles from the local railway company and it was used not just by my family but other aunts and uncles too. I remember being told that it was originally a quarrymens cottage which makes sense considering the proximity of the quarry.

My father could not drive so we always got a lift from one of his work mates. We would get as far as Friars Bottom Farm near Newbiggin and we’re always warmly welcomed by the owners Mr and Mrs Ousby who provided the milk and eggs. There was a shop in the village incidentally called Pratts! From then on it was on foot with two weeks luggage for a good half hour walk some of which was along the track which in the early days could be hairy.

The cottage itself had two bedrooms. Downstairs was a living area with a range for which there was always ample coal. There was a small kitchen and a pantry. The toilet was outside at the back which consisted of a wooden bench with a hole and a strategically placed bucket. As you will appreciate the one definite down side especially at night. The light was provided by paraffin lamps and drinking water was from a spring that ran down the field and attached to a tap near the boundary wall of the other cottage.

We never strayed far – sometimes a walk to Ravenstonedale for a drink in the Black Swan or the farmer would give us a lift to Kirkby Stephen. A walk to the viaduct was a daily occurrence and I never tired of its grandeur.

Thoroughly magical and as vivid as it was sixty years ago