The name derives from Ulf who came to Sodor in 1067. As Thorkell's trusted lieutenant, Jarl Ogmund gave him charge of this strong point which guards the approach to Peel Godred. He had built a castle here by 1070. Ulf boasted that he would hold it against all comers until the lake ran dry. He was a jovial man with a perpetual thirst. His thirst was really for ale; but his men, in jest, called the lake Chybbyr Ulf - Ulf's Well - and the name stuck.
Ulf's Castle defied all efforts of the Scots to take it, until their expulsion in 1078. Subsequent attempts by the Lords of Mann and the Roundheads to seize the castle also ended in failure, with the latter group being unable to get their artillery in to range. In 1404, the Castle was given to Sir Arnold de Normanby, 1st Earl of Sodor, by King Henry IV and was the seat of the Earls until 1965. The Mansion where the Earl lived was sold, while the Castle itself was presented to the Sodor Island Trust. The Earl now lives in a comfortable house on the outskirts of the town.
With abundant water-power available and with sheep on the surrounding hills, Ulfstead has for centuries been famous for fine cloth. In the 1820’s there were no less than 60 small mills in the valleys west and southwest of Ulfstead. Now there are but two large mills, but the total output has barely declined. Waterwheels and steam engines have been replaced by electricity. The remaining mills now house a variety of industries, some still related to cloth, but most are more closely linked with wood-working, engineering, or electronics.
Adequate transport has always been a problem. The River Els was made navigable for small boats and a transhipment wharf was built at Elsbridge. A branch line from the Mid Sodor Railway at Ulfstead Road was hoped for and strongly urged by the Earl, but proved to be impracticable. An extension from Ffarquhar was proposed in the 1920’s, but by then a revolution in road transport was getting under way and Sodor Roadways has been able to offer a more flexible service than the North Western Railway ever could. Through connections for both passengers and freight are provided between Peel Godred, Ulfstead, Ffarquhar and beyond, while their Circular Tours in Summer have put Ulfstead once more on the Visiting Industry’s map.
The town lies in the valley hemmed in between the lake and the Castle. Further expansion has had to be up the hillsides and great care is taken to ensure that the character of the place remains unspoilt.
There is much to do and see in Ulfstead. Many visitors come for the day and stay for a week. The best hotel is The Castle (the Earl’s former Mansion), but its prices are correspondingly high. For those with shallower purses, either The Raven or The Norramby Arms are recommended, where the service is equally good while offering fewer frills.
Ulfstead first appeared in the television series in the third series and appeared again in the fifth series. Unlike in the Railway Series, the town has a rail connection provided by Toby's Branch Line. As the village itself is set deep within the mountains, it is susceptible to being snowed in. Once, Harold had to drop hot food and drinks for the villagers.
- Ulfstead is depicted differently in the fifth series from its appearance in the third series. Changes include:
- The station disappears.
- The southern side of the town is replaced by a river.
- The church disappears.
- Wooden Railway (discontinued)