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Sodor (fictional island)

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Title: Sodor (fictional island)  
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Subject: Rack railway, Fictional country, Culdees, Thomas & Friends, Diocese of Sodor and Man, Sodor, List of fictional countries, Gordon the Big Engine, Edward the Blue Engine, James the Red Engine
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Sodor (fictional island)

Sodor is a fictional island in Cumbria in the Irish Sea located in England used as the setting for The Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry, and later used in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends television series.

Inspiration and creation

The need for consistency in the locations for The Railway Series necessitated the creation of a suitable location. The Rev. Awdry required a setting for his books that would be within Great Britain,Rule[›] but would be sufficiently isolated from the rest of British Railways to allow him to do as he wished with the location.

Inspiration came on a visit to the Diocese of Sodor and Man[1] in 1950. Awdry noted that while there was an Isle of Man, there was no similar Island of Sodor. A large island would meet the criteria he required, giving him the isolation from changes to the British railway system while giving him somewhere that people could believe in.

Between them, Awdry and his younger brother George worked out Sodor's history, geography, industry and language ("Sudric"). Inspiration came from various sources. Dryaw was an anagram of Awdry. Elsbridge was named after Wilbert's parish of Elsworth. Some place names were Sudric equivalents or near-equivalents of those in the real world (for instance, Skarloey was the rough Sudric equivalent of the Welsh Talyllyn). By the time they had finished, they knew more about Sodor than would ever be used in the actual Railway Series stories.

Their abridged notes were published in 1987 in a book entitled The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways.


The bishop of the Isle of Man is known as Bishop of "Sodor and Man". This is because the Isle of Man was part of the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, which included the Hebrides, known in Old Norse as the Suðreyjar,[2] (anglicised as "The Sudreys"[1]) i.e. "Southern Isles" in contradistinction to Norðreyjar ("The Nordreys"[1]), or the "Northern Isles", i.e. Orkney and Shetland. The Sudreys became "Sodor",[1] which was fossilised in the name of the Diocese, long after it ceased to have any authority over the Scottish Islands. After the Reformation, the Church of England took the name for itself.

Thus there is no Island of Sodor; rather, the fictional island takes its name from an archipelago.

Awdry was intrigued to find that although the Bishop had the title "Sodor and Man", he had only Man for his diocese. "Everybody knew that there was an Isle of Man, but we decided to 'discover' another island – the Island of Sodor – and so give the poor deprived Bishop the other half of his diocese!" (Rev. W. Awdry)[1] Hence Awdry sited Sodor in the Irish Sea, between the Isle of Man and Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.[1]


The historical language of Sodor is "Sudric", a language similar to Manx and, like Manx, is falling out of use.[3] The differences between Manx and Sudric are not enough to prevent the two communities understanding one another.[4]

A lot of the place names on Sodor are clearly based on Manx forms, but often the nouns are inverted to match English word order. Some of the locations have quasi-Manx names, e.g. Killdane, which comes from "Keeill-y-Deighan" (Church of the Devil),[5] hills are called Knock and Cronk,[3] while "Nagh Beurla", means "I speak no English",[4] a distortion of the Manx. The names of some of the 'historical' characters – used in the background but not appearing in the stories – were taken from locations on the Isle of Man, such as Sir Crosby Marown (Crosby being a small village in the parish of Marown) and Harold Regaby.[1]


Sodor is usually shown as much larger than the Isle of Man. The island is roughly diamond-shaped, 62 miles (100 km) wide east to west and 51 miles (82 km) long north to south. Its north-west coast is separated from the Isle of Man by a sea strait called the Sudrian Sea, four miles (6 km) wide. Its north-east edge overrides and replaces the real Walney Island.

The place names on Sodor are mostly a mixture of Manx and Norse. Its highest mountain is Culdee Fell, which was modelled on Snowdon: the ridge of Devil's Back copies the Clogwyn ridge on Snowdon. The summit is reached by the Culdee Fell Railway, which is based on the Snowdon Mountain Railway in Wales.

The capital and administrative centre of Sodor is the 'city' of Suddery but Tidmouth has grown to be the largest town on the island. One of the more famous settlements on Sodor is Ffarquhar, the terminus of Thomas the Tank Engine's Branch Line.

All of the other settlements on the island are described in Locations on the Island of Sodor, while the six railway lines from The Railway Series are described below.


The railways of Sodor include both standard gauge and narrow gauge railways. The first few stories concerned standard gauge engines including Thomas the Tank Engine. Stories set in the narrow gauge railways soon followed.

The standard gauge railway system consists of a main line and several branch lines. They are linked to and interoperable with each other and the mainland system, so the standard gauge engines are able to visit London for example under their own power. In the story Gordon Goes Foreign several of the engines recount their stories of working in London when they were younger, and later in the same story Gordon pulls a train of mainland rolling stock to London. In the story The Fat Controller's Engines several of the famous engines visit London, and run on the mainland permanent way to get there.

There are three narrow gauge railways, each isolated from the other two so the question of interoperability (or even whether they are all of the same narrow gauge) does not arise, and would be in any case limited as one of them, the Culdee Fell Railway, is a rack railway. Movements of rolling stock (particularly engines) to and from the narrow gauge railways is achieved by transporting them on flat cars on the standard gauge system, for example when Rheneas is sent away for repairs in a flashback in the story Skarloey Remembers and later returned in the story Gallant Old Engine.

Each of the three narrow gauge railways is linked to the standard gauge system at an interchange station:


Most of the known history concerning the railways on the Island of Sodor has been determined through "research"[6] conducted by the Rev. W Awdry.

The first railway on the island, dating from 1806, was a horse-worked plateway from Cros-ny-Cuirn to Balladwail[6], a port south-east of Crovan's Gate, which is no longer rail-connected. Pack horses were used to bring copper ore from a mine in the mountains down to Cros-ny-Cuirn, where it was loaded into wagons for the journey to the port. In 1820, the Crovan's Gate Mining Company extended the line up the valley to the mine by building a series of five inclined planes. At the same time, the rest of the 1806 line was rebuilt with fish-belly edge rail. The line continued in use until the Skarloey Railway was built, after which it was abandoned, although the overgrown remains can still be seen to this day. A government-sponsored amalgamation of the standard gauge railways in the Island occurred in 1914 to build a strategic railway for coastal defence called the North Western Railway. The railways concerned were:

  • The Sodor & Mainland Railway (1853–1901) which ran from Ballahoo to Kirk Ronan.
  • The Tidmouth, Knapford & Elsbridge Railway (1883–1914) from Tidmouth to Elsbridge (the railway was known as the Knapford & Elsbridge Railway until 1908 when line extended to Tidmouth)
  • The Wellsworth & Suddery Railway (1870–1914), which ran from Crosby to Brendam, with an extension from Crosby to Knapford in 1912 to amalgamate with the Tidmouth, Knapford & Elsbridge Railway.

The North Western Railway has had running rights into Barrow Central Station since the agreement with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1925. There is a Scherzer rolling lift bridge of 120 ft (37 m) span and double track over the Walney Channel, designed by Topham Hatt and erected in 1915. The NWR built its headquarters at Vicarstown in 1915, but the administrative offices were relocated to Tidmouth in 1926. Until the construction of the Jubilee Road Bridge in 1977, the NWR had rights for a car-ferry and worked an intensive and profitable service. British Rail had running powers over the Bridge to operate the joint NWR/BR suburban service from Barrow to Norramby.

On through or express trains, engines from the NWR are detached at Barrow and "Other Railway" engines take over. Since 1925 the NWR has also had its own loco shed, turntable and servicing facility here. There is also a joint goods yard for exchange traffic.

When the railways in the United Kingdom were nationalised the North Western Railway became the North Western Region of British Railways. It was allowed to keep a large degree of independence from the rest of the network, which is why steam traction was preserved. The other railways on the island were not affected by the nationalisation. Since privatisation, the railway has again become the North Western Railway Company and, unlike most post-privatisation train companies, is responsible not just for the running of the freight and passenger operations, but also for the maintenance of the track and infrastructure of the railway.

Current system (passenger)

All of the railway lines created in The Railway Series have their own pages with information on routes and the stations served.

On screen portrayal

The Island of Sodor in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends television series differs significantly from that in the books. Wilbert and George Awdry's notes have been largely ignored. The television version of Sodor appears larger and has more industry, also the connection to the British mainland is not there (visiting locos arrive at the docks).

In the movie Thomas and the Magic Railroad the Island was portrayed differently. Sodor was a magical land that that was supported by a magical railway line called The Magic Railroad. Without the Magic Railroad the island would vanish of the face of the Earth, meaning you can only travel via The Magic Railroad or Gold Dust.


^ Rule:  In The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, Awdry explained how Sodor was politically part of the United Kingdom. While the Isle of Man had retained Home Rule, since the 15th century Sodor had been attached to the Duchy of Lancaster and is therefore part of England, although this has not been allowed to disturb the Sudrian's independent way of life.


Further reading

  • Timpson, Trevor (4 July 2011). "Where is Sodor, home of Thomas the Tank Engine?". BBC News website. Retrieved on 4 July 2011.

External links

  • The Mapping of Sodor
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