Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Wow! The Vale of Rheidol - probably the best narrow gauge line in UK

Arriva Trains Wales have re-introduced their 'Club 55' tickets this autumn; travel anywhere on their network for £19 return (£18 with a senior railcard and even cheaper booked on line). Peter De La and I went to Aberystwyth today, catching the 07:46 from Wilmslow to Shrewsbury. From there the mid-Wales line took us via Welshpool and Machynlleth (where the train divided for Pwlhelli or Aberystwyth) to our destination arriving 11:25.

Here's our itinerary for the day:

Green = Ariiva Wales train (club 55)
Purple = Vale of Rheidol train

Wilmslow dep
Shrewsbury arr
Shrewsbury dep
Aberystwyth arr
Aberystwyth dep
Devil’s Bridge arr
Devil’s Bridge dep
Aberystwyth arr
Aberystwyth dep
Shrewsbury arr
Shrewsbury dep
Wilmslow arr

As ever, click on the picture for a bigger image

Aberdovey seen from our train across the salt marshes of the Dovey estuary 

Our train, on arrival at Aberystwyth station

We went to Aberystwyth to travel on the Vale of Rheidol Railway, and it was just fantastic. I'd no idea it would be this good - the scenery starts off quite tame on the lowlands inland from the sea at Aberystwyth, but commences a spirited climb up the side of the deepening valley all the way up to Devil's Bridge. The line clings to the high valley side, many hundreds of feet above the river as it twists and turns its way up for an hour.

But before that, we discovered the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway.

The Cliff Railway bottom station

The down going car helps to pull up the up going car

The top station

The view from the top over the town

Looking north, a Coastguard radar head 

 We head back down to the town

Aberystwyth seems a prosperous well kept town, unlike many Welsh coastal resorts which are feeling the pinch financially

We walked back through the town for a fish & chip lunch opposite the railway station. The terminus for the Vale of Rheidol Railway is right next to the Network Rail station and we were there in plenty of time for the afternoon departure at 14:00.

Our locomotive, No.8, 'Lywelyn', arrives at Aberystwyth with the train from Devil's Bridge. She was built by the Great Western Railway at Swindon in 1923, hence her rather nice GWR colour scheme. The big ugly arrangement in front of her right hand tank is a steam-driven air pump for the train's air brakes.

The coaches are all enclosed, except for this one with open sides and marshaled immediately behind the locomotive

At Nantyronen the loco took water. The fireman can be seen 'putting the bag in' in this view from our coach through the loco cab windows.

The line climbs steeply for many miles up the side of the Vale of Rheidol. It is the most spectacular railway I have travelled on, and Red Kites and Buzzards soar out from the valley sides out over the Rheidol river.

Not only is the line steep, it has tight turns and in places passes through woodland which makes the track damp. Several times during this long climb our loco 'lost her feet' as she slipped on the greasy rail.

Nearing the top at Devil's Bridge, and now well above the valley

This plate shows that the loco was rebuilt in 1996 at Pant by the Brecon Mountain Railway workshops

No.8 at Devil's Bridge gets some well earned attention from her crew after her one hour climb up from the coast

No.8's footplate

While Peter went for a walk, so did I; to find the local pub in Devil's Bridge, some distance from the station. I enjoyed this rather nice pint of Evan Evans CWRW bitter.

The train stayed at Devil's Bridge for an hour before returning down the valley at 16:00

On the journey down, our open coach was now at the back of the train, giving us views back along the line

And looking forward on sharp curves, the loco at the head of the train could be seen

Cwm Rheidol Reservoir is about 1/3 of the way down the 12 mile line from Devil's Bridge

Capel Bangor passing loop

The lower 1/3 of the railway near the coast is relatively flat compared to the steep climbs of the inland 2/3

The train arrived back in Aberystwyth at 17:00, in plenty of time for us to catch the Arriva Wales train to Shrewsbury. Here we approach Dovey Junction where the line from Pwlhelli and the Cambrian Coast comes in from the north to join ours.

At Shrewsbury we caught another ATW train home to Wilmslow, arriving there at 20:40. While waiting for that train at Shrewsbury this Network Rail 'Sandite' train arrived. We are just beginning the leaf fall season, and this train traverses the network at night blasting the rails with a substance which removes the slippery leaf residue. Might it make more sense to cut back the lineside vegetation as the railway did decades ago to not only negate the need for such expensive measures as this but also to allow the passengers a view of the passing countryside rather than have them travel in an almost perpetual green tunnel? The Vale of Rheidol Railway does it so much better, with tree-free unobstructed views across the valley.

By the way, I asked the driver's permission before taking this flash picture of the locomotive.

So we arrived back at Wilmslow almost 13 hours after we left. What a super day!

Here are some videos of the railway:

No.8, working hard, loses her feet

The arrival at Devil's Bridge:

The the last couple of miles back into Abersytwyth videoed from this excellent railway:


No comments:

Post a Comment