The Swallowdale Railway was envisaged in 1932 for the transportation of copper ore from the newly opened Gulch copper mine operated by SADMC at High Topps (Cumbria) down to the lakeside quay at Horseshoe Cove. From there the ore is transferred to sea-going vessels for onward shipment.
The mine itself resulted from initial gold prospecting operations which were unsuccessful but which revealed a rich seam of high quality copper ore.
The line is built to a gauge of 1 foot 11.5 inches and provides a limited passenger service from the riverside town of Beckfoot on the Amazon estuary, up over the fells to the beautifully picturesque valley of Swallowdale. A major visitor attraction here is Peter Duck's Cave.
From Swallowdale the line drops back down to sea level at Horseshoe Cove. Passenger trains then reverse and climb back up to Swallowdale and thence to High Topps via a steeply graded branch line.
Train services are operated by SdR steam locomotives, assisted by SADMC battery electric mining locomotives on the severe inclines of Swainson Bank and Great Wall Bank.
Gradients vary between 1 in 25 from Beckfoot up to Four Firs, and ultimately 1 in 14 on Great Wall Bank up to the summit of the line near the Gulch Copper Mine.