Take two steam enthusiasts
It has to be the best day out in Wales – a trip on the historic narrow gauge Talyllyn* Railway, setting out from Tywyn on the west coast and meandering up the hills to Nant Gwernol. The line was built in 1864 when the McConnell brothers of Manchester decided to branch out from cotton spinning into slate mining. The railway brought in supplies for the miners, and later carried a few passengers between the various valley communities. But mostly it delivered slate wagons which, from the railhead in Nant Gwernol, were winched on cables up mind-boggling inclines to the the heights of the slate quarry, and thence returned laden with slate for export from the port of Aberdovey.
As a preserved line, Talyllyn is the world pioneer. The Preservation Society was set up in 1951, and ever since has run with the help of passionate volunteers who have supported the small corps of paid staff. One of the early volunteers was the Reverend W V Awdry who wrote the Thomas the Tank Engine books, still much loved by children big and small. But Thomas apart who cannot fail to fall in love with a locomotive that looks like this? It’s an original Victorian engine too.
For our first trip on the line we had booked to go on the special Victorian Train Experience, a four-hour potter on an original period train which departed Tywyn Wharf at 11.15 am and aimed to return around 3.20 pm in time for a cream tea in the station restaurant. Our guide, David Leech (seen here in his guard’s uniform) informed us that we would spend that time “wombling around” on the line, fitting in between scheduled services which we would have to give way to at various points. He also explained that the train would stop in several scenic locations so we could get out and photograph it. This also included having the train reverse a mile or so back down the track so we could position ourselves on, or above bridges and catch it on the return, steaming at us for all it was worth.
It was all extremely silly, but thus enormous fun. And we didn’t even mind that it kept pouring with rain. We shared our carriage with a retired British Rail signal man and his wife, and a young extant signal man with his mate. For the first leg of the trip David Leech sat with us telling us daft anecdotes – Tales of the Talyllyn Railway. He had once been the railway’s traffic manager as well as being a life-long volunteer.
The entire Talyllyn enterprise is infused with the most enormous goodwill, humour and enthusiasm. It embraced us from the moment of our departure, and went on hugging round us as we rattled up into the hills to Dolgoch Falls and beyond. At Abergynolwyn we stopped for lunch in the Quarryman’s Tea Rooms where we were warmly welcomed by the serving staff who were dressed in Victorian costume while managing to not look naff.
After lunch we had to wait on Abergynolwyn Station while another train came through so the platform was crowded with waiting passengers just like a main-line railway – the difference being the palpable excitement was all for the train ride itself rather than the destination. While we waited, and rain pummelled the platform roof, the Station Master told us jokes.
All this and the beautiful Welsh landscapes. A steaming good day all round.
Taking on water at Dolgoch Falls
End of the line at Nant Gwernol and the incline ahead; the slate trucks were winched up and down here to and from the Bryn Eglwys quarry. Sometimes the winch cable broke.
Looking down on Abergynolwyn village from the train. It began as a slate miners’ community in the 1860s.
Our driver taking a break while we wait for another train to pass on the line.
Heading back to Tywyn. The Brynglas crossing.
At Brynglas Station, and behind the slate fence, is the Talyllyn Railway’s Memorial Garden. The ashes of supporters may be interred here. Those attending the funeral service get go there by train. What a send off.
* ‘ll’ in Welsh is roughly pronounced ‘cl’
copyright 2016 Tish Farrell