One weekend we decided to travel to Saltaire to take a ride on the oldest functioning funicular railway in the United Kingdom. Getting there by public transport was relatively easy, Saltaire having a railway station on the Airedale line with links to Leeds, Bradford and Skipton.
Leaving the station by a short flight of stone steps we turned left onto Victoria Road passing the historic Salts Mill on our way. Saltaire has had UNESCO world heritage status since 2009 and will be the subject of a future trip. Arriving at a pedestrian footbridge we crossed both the River Aire and the Leeds Liverpool canal where we paused briefly to admire the brightly coloured narrow boats tied up alongside the towpath.
The path leads into the English Heritage listed Roberts Park which was opened in 1871 by Sir Titus Salt. The Shipley Glen Tramway bottom station is easily accessible just across the park being signposted from Higher Coach Road.
The tramway is only open from 12.00 noon during weekends and public holidays, further details of which can be found on its website here. We bought single tickets costing £1 each.
The bottom station ticket office contains a small shop and has some interesting displays of old food packaging including biscuit tins and chocolate boxes for visitors to look at whilst waiting to board the tram. Adjacent to the bottom station is a small museum which recently re-opened after extensive refurbishment.
We took the first journey of the day, managing to sit on the front seats giving us an uninterrupted view through the steeply wooded glen. The tramway opened in 1895 and was built to carry people up the steep slope to a fairground and wooden toboggan ride which has been closed for some time. Originally the tramway was powered by a gas engine but since 1920 it has run on electricity.
Reaching the top station, this ticket office sells traditional boiled sweets and humbugs in glass jars which are then weighed out at the counter as used to be the case in bygone days.
Leaving the tramway along Prod Lane, a modern housing estate has been built over what had once been the original fairground. Next to the former fairground we came across an old country pub called the Old Glen House with a tearoom next door.
Continuing a little further up the lane we arrived at the broad expanse of Bracken Hall Green an exposed hilly outcrop on Baildon Moor where a stiff wind was blowing. A short walk across the moorland brought us to a car parking area and the Bracken Hall Countryside Visitor Centre.
The visitor centre, formerly operated by Bradford Council, is now run by a team of volunteers known as the friends of Bracken Hall. The centre has been downsized but still contains historic memorabilia relating to the Shipley Glen tramway and old fairground in addition to a small exhibition on the local flora and fauna. The volunteer staff were very enthusiastic and showed us a clip of some old black and white footage of the tramway crammed with people, enjoying a day out riding up the tramway and having fun at the fairground in 1912.
Leaving the visitor centre we retraced our steps back to the tramway but instead of returning downhill on the old funicular, we decided to walk down the steep path running alongside it which didn’t take us very long. We then felt it was time to find a cafe in the village centre for tea and cakes before returning home by train. A visit to the tramway can easily be combined with a visit to the local Salts Mill and a canal side walk.
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