Once we Shropshire folk had a very scenic Great Western Railway line that ran along the banks of the River Severn, including passing along the wooded slopes of the Ironbridge Gorge, now a World Heritage site. Just north of Ironbridge there was a branch line to Much Wenlock and South Wales far beyond. Much of the Severn Valley line has gone now, and that also goes for our Much Wenlock branch that once served the limestone quarries and livestock farmers. Mostly all that remains are stretches of track bed that have been overhauled to create walking and cycling routes. But we do still have a working section – the Severn Valley Railway, which is run as a heritage attraction from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster in Worcester where you can also connect with the mainline system. As their strap line claims ‘it’s a great day out.’ And for someone who still remembers travelling in steam trains as a matter of course (visions of Crewe Station where family outings to North Wales began) I still have pangs of nostalgia whenever I’m around a steam locomotive stoking up.
Last week the Severn Valley Railway had a fit of the Sleepy Hollows: witches, ghouls and other scary entities popping up all over the place; ghosties wiffling off platform lampposts, skellies rising from station gardens, mega cobwebs and evil pumpkin faces. There was even a huge red devil to give you the willies if you were thinking of catching the train from Kidderminster. It was schools’ half-term holiday of course, so there were plenty of kids ready to go in for some serial screaming at Bewdley Station’s gruesome set pieces. It all added to the fun of trundling along on a steam train. We spent the whole day doing it – up and down the 16 mile line – Bridgnorth, Hampton Loade, Highley, Arley, Bewdley, Kidderminister, and back to Bridgnorth in time for tea.
Here’s a gallery of things we saw on the way, mostly through the train window – a very flooded River Severn for one, and also a most surprising sight in rural Worcestershire. But you’ll have to wait till the end for that.
And last but not least in the way of motley scenes and sightings on the Severn Valey Railway: elephants at Bewdley Safari Park.
Ghosts of travellers past, or reflections from across the track? I truly cannot say.
This week’s Thursday’s Special cue is WAITING. Paula’s stunning piece of graffiti made me think about trains, and how, as a child, I seemed to spend a lot of time waiting for them, and mostly on Crewe Station. Anyone who knows about the history of railways will know that Crewe is the railway junction, gateway to the north-west of England, and one of the world’s first railway stations (completed in 1837). Being a country child, I used to find it all a bit alarming: shunting, clanking, whistles, whooshing, hissing, porters, trolleys, oil, iron, coal, steam, strangers…
By contrast, the Severn Valley Railway, seems like a dream, although all the same ingredients are there – relics of the age of steam. Strange to think that this includes me too.
Here’s another portrait from our Victorian day out on the Talyllyn Railway in June. Looking at their website this morning I see they’ve got a very special trip coming up next month – The Halloween Steam and Scream. Oh what a hoot. I think I want to go. It’s my birthday too. There will be a choice of two Steam and Scream trains departing from Tywyn station at 5.15 and 7.15 on several October nights including the 31st. Everyone can dress up as ghouls, goblins and witches; there are prizes for the best carved pumpkin lantern, and you can book a feast at the railway cafe.
Join us for a fun spooky evening train ride along the Talyllyn Railway to the haunted woods at Dolgoch, says the blurb. Those woods are pretty spooky in broad daylight, but on a dark autumn night in the Welsh hills…Watch out for the Hessian Horseman and his Celtic brother. Yikes! And double yikes!
Now please visit Paula at Lost in Translation for more B & W Sunday portraits.
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