Saturday, 19 September 2015

WALES: CANALS, STEAM & HERITAGE, with Ffestiniog Travel

There have been several rail, tram, and canal experiences in North Wales that have long been on my 'to do' list, and some I've done but were so good I have wanted to repeat them. When I discovered this Ffestiniog Travel holiday it ticked so many of those boxes that I decided it had to be done. The itinerary included:
  • Chester tour by foot, followed by a canal tour with afternoon tea
  • Great Orme Tramway
  • Penrhyn Castle
  • Steam trip on Snowdon Mountain Railway
  • National Slate Museum
  • Llanberis Lake Railway
  • Caernarfon Castle
  • Ffestiniog Railway
  • Llechwedd Slate Caverns
  • Welsh Highland Railway
  • Vale of Rheidol Railway
  • Talyllyn Railway including workshop and shed tour
  • Elan Valley coach tour, the dam systems and the estate
  • Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, including workshop and shed tour
  • Llangollen Railway, including the new Corwen extension
  • Llangollen Canal lunch trip on a narrow boat including crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
  • Erddig Hall
Holiday route map

On Monday 7th September the sun shone, and my wife Chris and I enjoyed a lunch in the garden of the Railway Inn, Mobberley before I boarded the Mid Cheshire Line train from Mobberley station to Chester for a two-night stay in the Queen's Hotel.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Chester 'General' station as seen from my hotel bedroom window 

The stylish landings in the hotel 

The hotel front. My room is on the second floor immediately above the entrance, with one of its two windows open. The group met for the first time on Monday evening for a meal in the hotel with our tour guide, Dan. 

Tuesday afternoon trip on the Shropshire Union Canal, with high tea served on board. Right to left are John B, Maggie, Allan, Tour Guide Dan, Susie, David, Catherine, John, Jim. 

Our boat is bi-directional, with a rudder and a propellor at both ends so it can travel in either direction with equal ease 

 On Wednesday we travelled by train from Chester to Llandudno where our mini-coach picked us up to transfer us to the Great Orme Tramway station. This 29 seater coach, with driver Dai, was to be our between-trains and train - hotel transport for the entire holiday.

There was a bit of a queue for the Orme Tram, but tour guide Dan stood in the line for us while we enjoyed a coffee in the cafe; just one advantage of a guided holiday!

Our tram arrives at the base station from the mountain 

We boarded and set off, initially though the narrow streets of Llandudno. The trams are cable-hauled, each tram firmly attached to the cable, and the slot between the rails which houses the traction cable can be seen in the picture. 

The journey to the summit is made in two halves, one tram taking passengers half way up, whereupon they transfer to the second tram which takes them to the summit. Each 'half' has a passing loop, and here is the one for the lower section as we pass a descending tram. 

Approaching the half way station 

At the half way station we changed trams for the upper section of the line. Here, we set off for the summit. 

The upper section passing loop 

Passing the descending tram in the upper loop. The trolley poles on the tram's roofs were used for telegraph communication from tram to the winding drum operator via an overhead wire. This has now been superseded by an induction loop radio system. 

Approaching the summit station

Looking west along the coast

Great Orme summit

St. Tudno's churchyard on the eastern flank of the Orme

Yours truly, at the Great Orme summit trig point

Looking east from the summit, with the half way station just left of centre

Looking west from the summit, a quarry in the foreground with Llanfairfechan  

Descending from the summit

At the halfway station is the winding gear for the traction cables for both the upper and lower section of the tramway

The tram we will board for the lower station approaching the half way station

Llandudno bay seen from the descending tram

Next stop was Penrhyn Castle, near Bangor

Penrhyn was built in the early 1800s by the Pennant family, the money coming from Jamaican sugar plantations and local slate mining. Here is the railway museum at Penrhyn. 

Quarry Hunslet locomotive 'Charles'. This locomotive, together with classmates 'Linda' and 'Blanche' worked the railway system of the Penrhyn slate quarries taking the slate to Port Dinorwic for trans shipment. 'Linda' and 'Blanche' are today resident on the Ffestiniog Railway which we will visit later in this holiday, while 'Charles' resides here in the Penrhyn museum.

The view from 'Charles' footplate

Yours truly posing on 'Charles'

Interestingly, both injectors are mounted on the driver's side rather than one each for the driver and fireman, as is normal locomotive practice

'Charles' stephenson link valve gear, mounted between the frames

'Kettering Furnaces No.3' used to work ironstone trains in Leicestershire

'Beckton No.1' worked in the gas works of that name

'Hawarden' worked at John Summers Globe Ironworks, Stalybridge until 1964

'Hawarden's cab, scumble-finished internally

'Vesta' also worked at John Summers, near Chester, until 1963

Inside 'Vesta's cab

'Fire Queen' is an unusual locomotive, having no frames. The wheels are attached directly to the boiler, rather like a traction engine. She worked at the Padarn quarry.

'Haydock' worked at Haydock Foundry until 1963

'Watkin' is a vertical-boilered engine used in the Penmaenmawr quarries

The view from the castle entrance

On our way to our next hotel, in Llanberis, we made a brief stop at this place

Probably the longest BR totem sign ever!

Our hotel in Llanberis, the Royal Victoria, with our mini coach outside

First port of call on Thursday morning was the National Slate Museum, just down the road from the hotel. Here Quarry Hunslet 'Elidir', the locomotive that will later haul our train on the Llanberis Lake Railway, is prepared for her day's work.

Slate Museum entrance

A demonstration of slate splitting and trimming in the museum. When this chap cuts out the Welsh Dragons in slate (one is visible on the bench in the background, he does it freehand, with no template. He says; "I just look at the wife in the morning...."

Preparing to trim the slate with a knife

Click on this picture to enlarge it and you can see the names for the various sizes of slate

This little Quarry Hunslet is not in working order

Inside this slate edifice is a water wheel which used to power machinery in the workshops

It's a suspension high breast shot wheel, not unlike the Great Wheel at Quarry Bank Mill

After the slate museum we took a ride on the Llanberis lake Railway

Snowdon, as seen from our train. This was our afternoon destination so there was some concern at the cloud forming beyond the summit

'Elidir' runs round our train at Llanberis terminal station

After starting at the Slate Museum station before running round at Llanberis terminal, we head back towards the lake

Keeping an eye on Snowdon

Some of our group look out across the lake from the train

The lake and Snowdon from the train

This inclined plane carried slate waggons up and down the hill

Looking towards the Llanberis Pass from the train

'Elidir' at Llanberis Terminal station, where we left the train to cross the road to the Snowdon Mountain Rilway

Almost all trains up Snowden are diesel powered these days with modern coaches carrying 74 passengers, but a few trains a day are still steam powered. 'Snowdon Lily' is the luxury coach on the railway having only 34 seats and therefore a more spacious interior. 'Snowdon Lily' was built in 2013 to the design of the original coaches on the railway, and uses the underframe and bogies of coach 2. 

Our locomotive is 'Enid', No.2, the oldest on the Railway. No.1, L.A.D.A.S, was lost in an accident on the opening day, 6th April 1896 when it derailed and fell over a precipice near the summit. After this the rack was modified with a 'gripper rail' to hold the loco and coach to the track and the railway has been accident free ever since.

Our train ready to leave Llanberis for Snowdon summit. The coach is not coupled to the locomotive as it is always being pushed uphill so can't run away. Neither can it be dragged away if the locomotive derails and runs away, and each coach has rack pinions and overspeed brakes so it can stop safely even if the locomotive runs away.

The locomotive works hard all the way up the mountain; the steepest gradient is 1 in 5.5 and this occurs at several places.

Here are some videos of this fantastic steam trip up Snowdon. Click on any link to run the video:

Steam up Snowdon 1

Steam up Snowdon 2

Steam up Snowdon 3

A diesel passes our steam train in a loop on Snowdon

'Wyddfa' departs Llanberis with a train for the summit

'Enid' with the bag in (taking water) at Halfway station

A descending diesel train passes us in one of the three passing loops on the railway

The diesel train continues down the line, showing it's modern 74 seater coach

We continue towards the summit, with no let up in gradient for the hard-working locomotive

A view down into the Llanberis pass

Looking across to the far side of the pass

It was somewhere near here where No.1 was lost in the opening day accident

'Enid' at Clogwyn 

as the sign says, 2256 feet above sea level

We climb ever higher above the Llanberis Pass.....

Almost at the summit

'Enid's cab, viewed at the summit. Where are the gauge glasses?
Norah points out a feature of the motion to Jim

Ah! There are the gauge glasses, halfway down the boiler instead of on the boiler backplate as usual. They are not on the backplate as the varying steep gradients would render them unreadable there. 

'Enid's motion and valve gear

View from the summit back down the way we've come from Llanberis. There's some haze below the visible inversion layer due the high pressure system that's given us fine weather for the last few days. The inversion can be seen as a line between the light blue sky above the inversion, and the darker sky (just above the level of the peaks) below it. 

The inversion prevents vertical air movement below the inversion layer, hence dust in the atmosphere is trapped below the inversion layer leading to hazy conditions and that darker air. 

When flying on such days out of Manchester Barton the visibility is a few miles at best until one bursts through the inversion layer, like emerging from a bowl of soup. Suddenly, visibility is almost unlimited, with the peaks of the Lake District and those of North Wales sticking up through the inversion and seemingly near enough to touch.

Majestic scenery

Crib Goch ridge

Y Lliwedd ridge above Llyn Llydaw

Yours truly, having just descended (backwards and on all fours) the steep steps from the windy summit cairn at the top of the picture. The summit is about 50 feet above the cafe.

Our train at summit station, ready to return to Llanberis

Another view of the route down to Llanberis

This new summit cafe was built a few ago to replace the somewhat austere and ugly former summit building 

The Snowdon locomotives are unusual in that the cylinders face forwards driving the connecting rods via a rocking lever. The connecting rod attaches to the rocking lever at a point part way down the latter, thus effectively 'gearing down' the drive so making it easier for the locomotive to climb steep gradients, albeit at the expense of speed. With a maximum speed, up or down the mountain, of 5 mph, speed isn't an issue anyway!

A plate on 'Enid' explains where she got her name

Llanberis Pass seen on the way down

The plume of steam escaping sideways from behind the cab roof is evidence of the locomotive braking. Running downhill the cylinders are isolated from the boiler and are used to slow the train by allowing atmospheric air into them though the exhaust port (the loco is running backwards, but in forward gear), to get compressed (so slowing the locomotive). This heats up the cylinders due to the compression, so cooling water is admitted with the air. The cooling water turns to steam due to the heat of compression, and the compressed air and associated steam are released to atmosphere from a dedicated exhaust on the back of the cab. That's what's visible in this picture. 

our spacious luxury carriage - a contrast to the sardine-like seating in the standard coaches (ours has 34 seats, they have 74). Left side, front to back, is Jenny, tour guide Dan, Norah and Jim. Right side front to back; Alan, Maggie, Allan, John B, Susie.

Getting down to the tree line now

The waterfall just above Llanberis station

Steam locomotive 'Wyddfa' with the only other 'heritage' coach, 'Snowdon Mountain Goat'. There are three operational steam locomotives at present on the railway, 'Enid', 'Wyddfa', and 'Padarn'.

'Wyddfa' sets off up the mountain watched by Allan and John B.

Interestingly, when the 'Snowdon Mountain Tramway and Hotels Company' was formed to build the railway, the inaugural meeting was in the Queens Hotel, Chester, where we stayed on the first two nights of this holiday. And the hotel the company owned was the Royal Victoria (their title, of 'Hotels' in the plural referred to the proposed hotel to be built on the summit of Snowdon as well as the Royal Victoria).

A set of locomotive wheels on display at Llanberis showing the two rack pinions 180 degrees out of phase (for smooth power transfer to the rack), the flanged wheels which are free to rotate on the axle (so only the pinions drive the locomotive, not the wheels), and the gear wheel which engages with the overspeed brake. The track, rack, and gripper rails can also be seen. The grooved brake drums (one each side of the pinions) have been removed for clarity of viewing.

Dinner in the hotel on Thursday night was the best of the entire holiday; a carvery of probably the most succulent Welsh lamb I have ever tasted, and they were very generous with the helpings! It's just a pity that the single rooms in the Royal Victoria are tiny.

Friday began with a visit to Caernarfon. Here, Dan watches his charges board our coach fro a trip to Porthmadog and the Ffestiniog Railway.

On arrival at Porthmadog, Hunslets Linda and Blanche were preparing to leave for Dinas via the Welsh Highland Railway to support a narrow gauge festival being held there. These are the the two sister engines to 'Charles', who we met at Penryn museum a few days ago, all three having spent their working lives at the slate quarry there.

'Linda' gets a bit of TLC

Ready for the 'off'

Our train bound for Blaenau Ffestiniog with Double Fairlei locomotive Earl of Merioneth in charge. The Earl is a relatively new locomotive, having been built by the Ffestiniog Railway in 1979 at Boston Lodge works, largely to the design of  1879 'Merddin Emrys', the first locomotive built at Boston Lodge.

Off we go in our reserved coach across the Cob. Alan and Allan in the foreground.

Snowdon as seen from our train across the cob. Odd to think we were up there yesterday.

A wider view from the Cob. And it's yet another lovely day!

The 'Earl' whistles furiously at sheep on the line! (Click on the picture for a clearer view of the errant woolies).

The 'Earl' at Blaenau

Another view of the 'Earl' at Blaenau 

Our driver, Dai, waits at Blaenau in our mini coach for the next leg of our tour

This is rare! Not only is it not raining at Blaenau, but the sun is shining! Alan, Allen, and Maggie at the 'Bridge' cafe which put on an excellent buffet lunch for us. It was a nice day so the four of us ate outside in the sunshine. The others seemed happy to stay indoors.

After lunch Dai drove us to the Llechwedd Slate Caverns. This cable-hauled railway, the steepest in Britain, took us 300 feet underground.

In the caverns

Our guide explained what life was like as a slate miner (hellish, short, and well paid) while lighting effects highlighted aspects of life underground

One of the subterranean tunnels

Slate trucks on the human-powered mine railway

A slate cavern working

Machinery underground was pretty basic

We had descended to lower levels in the mine by steps, and this 72 step staircase would take us back up to the 300 foot level

An underground lake. It was absolutely clear, the bottom perfectly visible making it difficult to estimate the depth.

Back in the day, the men worked with hand tools by candle light

South Caernarvonshire Creameries use the mine to age Cheddar Cheeses

Another slate cavern

Our guide explains how it took 12 hours, hanging by a chain, using a hand tool, to drill a hole in the rock deep enough to place explosives in. And all in candle light. With no toilet facilities, either. 

Back on the surface our guide demonstrated slate splitting....

....And trimming with the special knife

Allan, John B, Susie, John, Nora, David and Catherine, and tour guide Dan in the slate workshop. It was here I won a piece of dressed slate by being the first to answer the question "how many miles of tunnel were there in the mine". The answer was 25.

Friday finished with a coach transfer back to our Llanberis hotel.

Saturday morning dawned dull, and we boarded Dai's coach for the short trip to Caernarfon for a ride on the Welsh Highland Railway. The castle as a backdrop, with Jim centre stage, and Allan and Dan on the left.

Our reserved coach on the WHR. Maggie is front left with Jim and Norah, John B and Susie, and Dan behind her. John is front right, with Alan, Allan, Jenny and Sheila behind him.

'Linda' at Dinas, among many other of the smaller Ffestiniog engines at the gala there....

You don't expect to see a 'Southern' locomotive in the top left hand corner of Wales. This is Lyd, trying to hide behind the footbridge. She was built at Boston Lodge over 15 years, and first steamed in 2010. She is based on the Lynton & Barnstaple locomotive 'Lew'.

Our Manchester built ex-South African Railways Garratt locomotive picks up her skirts and 'makes progress' inland and uphill beyond Dinas.

There's probably no other locomotive than these ex-South African British built Garratts that could provide steam motive power for economically long trains on this heavily graded and curvy route. 

At Beddgelert we cross with the Garratt-hauled Porthmadog to Caernarfon train

Ready for the 'right away'

She retains her South African Railways plate

Not the most attractive of steam locos, but ideal for this job

Entering the tunnels at the Aberglaslyn Pass

The road through the pass. A much greater impact on the landscape than the railway, as is always the case. HS2 nimbys take note!

Just about to cross the Network Rail line near Porthmadog station

Here's a videos of the Welsh Highland trip. Click on the link to run the video:

Lunch was provided at Spooners Restaurant at the Ffestiniog Railway Porthmadog terminus. Here's my pint of Purple Moose bitter and (in the bag) a book on the Snowdon Mountain Railway from the station bookshop.

After lunch our coach took us to the main line station in Porthmadog where we caught a 158 DMU for Machynlleth. Here our train crosses the narrow gauge tracks of the WHR which, before lunch, brought us to Porthmadog. 

New bridge over the Mawddach Estuary at Penrhyndeudraeth recently built to replace an earlier structure  

Approaching Barmouth Bridge. My late father in law, a BR civil engineer, devised an affordable repair scheme for this bridge when attack by gribble worms threatened to bring about its closure, and with it the closure of the line.

Lovely Fairbourne

John looks out over Fairbourne's fair sands

Climbing to Friog and looking back to Fairbourne and Barmouth

Friog Cliffs. My Late father in law spent many a Sunday here overseeing securing the track bed against erosion, and dealing with loose rock that threatened to fall onto the railway.

Approaching the Dovey Estuary

The sands of Dovey

The railway here clings to the rocky northern edge of the estuary as it twists and turns and dives into and out of short tunnels

The tide is out

Looking across to the easier terrain of the south shore of Dovey, where the railway from Dovey Junction to Aberystwyth has an easier alignment 

John looking out at the Dovey 

Dovey Junction, where the line from Aberystwyth and ours from Pwllheli meet. With no road access, is this the most remote station in UK?  

Our Machynlleth hotel, the Wynnstay Arms

Sunday morning brought an early start as the Sunday trains to Aberystwyth run infrequently. We caught the 08:50, arriving 09:21, in plenty of time for our 10:30 Vale of Rheidol Railway departure for Devil's Bridge. Here we take the southern route from Dovey Junction, looking back to the bridge over the Dovey that carries the railway from Pwllheli we travelled yesterday. 

Following the south shore of the Dovey

Our train, on arrival at Aberystwyth station

A diesel shunter prepares to pull the stock out of the carriage road in the shed, while 'Prince of Wales', our steam locomotive, is prepared for service on the other road

'Prince of Wales', in Cambrian Railways un-lined black, backs down from the shed road

Aberffrwd Station, our first stop on the Vale of Rheidol Railway (VOR)

Norah and Dan look out over the tranquil lower stretches of the Rheidol valley 

On arrival at Devil's Bridge the locomotive is moved forward off its train. Here the loco crew check her over and give her 'Great Western' copper work a polish.

These trains are air braked, so the locomotive carries a steam-driven air pump in front of the right hand tank

Despite the railway's mere 1 foot 11 3/4 inch gauge, these locomotives are over 8 feet wide! 

After an hour at Devil's Bridge, 'Prince of Wales' heads her train back down the valley towards Aberystwyth

The lush Rheidol valley seen from the train

'Prince of Wales' back at Aberystwyth

Heading back to Machynlleth past sheep grazing on the Dovey salt marshes

The bridge bringing the Pwllheli line comes into view

I walked back from Machynlleth station to the hotel. Here's the town centre.

I'd booked a table in the hotel restaurant, and after one of the best sirloin steaks I have ever enjoyed I retired to the bar for a pint and a read of my book 

Monday morning dawned a bit grey. We caught a train to Tywyn to visit the Talyllyn Railway. 

'Douglas' was waiting at Wharf Station with her train. Those of us going on the shed tour at Pendre boarded the train for the short trip to that station while the rest of our party remained at Wharf.

On arrival at Pendre we got off and 'Douglas' propelled our now empty train back down to Wharf Station to form the 12:30 train, which we will board here at Pendre

The loco shed at Pendre

Our guide for the shed and workshop tour was no less a person than Chris Price, the railway's General Manager. Chris had just two weeks to go at Talyllyn before he moves to Yorkshire to take up the post of General Manager at the North York Moors Railway.

Chris takes us through the finer points of two of the railway's stalwarts, 'Dolgoch' and 'Talyllyn'

A closer look at 'Talyllyn'

Both these locomotives were built by Fletcher Jennings in Whitehaven, Cumberland. Recent research has revealed that this livery is almost certainly the one they would have been turned out in ex-works, though have never previously carried it in preservation (so that's from 1952!). 

Our group admiring the Fletcher Jennings pair

The railway's workshop; efficient chaos, as in all good workshops!

Chris pauses by a locomotive steam-driven braking air pump under construction

This wheel lathe has recently been acquired by the railway, and while we were there its concrete base in the workshop was being prepared

In another shed, the two Corris engines, the ones that kept the railway running in the very early days of preservation... 'Sir Haydn' and 'Edward Thomas'

The builder's plate on 'Edward Thomas'

Rear view of 'Edward Thomas'

Some of the railway's diesels

The 'Gricers' - the group who did the workshop and shed tour. Left to right John, Jim, John B, Chris Price, Allan, Dan

John B in the empty carriage shed (the stock from here is out on service trains)

Chris shows us the other carriage shed, which houses the vintage stock

As the 12:30 from Wharf arrived at Pendre, we climbed aboard to join the rest of our group. As we made our way up the line to Abergynolwyn we passed a train, in one of the passing loops, coming down the line.

Crossing the viaduct at Dolgoch

After a buffet lunch at Abergynolwyn station we set of back to Wharf. By now the rain had arrived.

Dolgoch falls from the viaduct

We were in the rear coach with views back along the line
Leaving Pendre for Wharf

Back at Wharf Station. This is the coach we travelled in both ways affording a good view of the locomotive outbound, and the line behind us inbound.

'Douglas's flight deck

'Douglas' ready for the 14:00 departure

Here are a couple of videos of our Talyllyn trip. Click on the links to run the videos:

From Tywyn our coach took us through Mid Wales, where we saw superb scenery and quite a few Red Kites, to Llandrindod Wells and the 'Metropole' hotel. Only one night here, unfortunately, as it was the best hotel of the holiday.

On Tuesday our coach took us to the Elan Valley for a tour of the dam system there. The Elan Valley system supplies all of the water for Birmingham.

This ancient (and now disused - replaced by the adjacent bridge) suspension bridge once led to a shanty town occupied by the construction gangs who built the dams and reservoirs.

Our Elan Valley guide boards our coach to give us a conducted tour of the reservoir and dam system

This is the lowest of the dams, Garreg Dhu. It doesn't look like a dam because the dam is actually submerged, and is within the arches of this bridge. Its purpose is to ensure that there is always enough water to the right (uphill side) of the dam to supply water to Birmingham; if the water level falls to expose the dam, no more water will flow out of the upstream reservoir. The water in the downstream reservoir (left of the dam, above) is 'compensation water'; water that is allowed to flow out of the reservoir system to ensure the river Elan continues to flow downstream of the reservoirs.

Above Garreg Dhu dam the water is available to be fed into the pipeline to Birmingham. This is the intake tower for the pipeline, which uses gravity to transport the water to its destination.

Pen Y Garreg, the next dam up in the Elan system

Our coach at Pen Y Garreg

Some information on the dam. Please click on the picture for a larger image.

The reservoir above Pen Y Garreg

'Dragon Island'

Pen Y Garreg reservoir and Dragon Island seen from the top dam, Craig Goch

Craig Goch, the top dam in the Elan system

The hydro-electric power plant at the base of Craig Coch dam

Another view of Craig Goch and the hydro station

Craig Goch reservoir

The River Elan just upstream of Graig Goch reservoir, the top of the dam system

An unusual feature of the Elan is its meandering course despite being, here, at a high level

The River Elan feeding into the top of Craig Goch reservoir

One of many Red Kites to be seen in the valley

In addition to the Elan dam system is the Claerwen Valley system. This was planned to comprise three dams, but was delayed by the two world wars. When it was completed in the early 1950s, technology had moved on and one dam was deemed capable of containing all the water in the system. Compensation water from Claerwen feeds into Caban Coch reservoir, but the main feed for Birmingham travels through a tunnel to Garreg Ddu reservoir, above the 'compensation' reservoir of Caban Coch. 

Following our Elan Valley tour our coach took us to Welshpool as we consumed our packed lunches (supplied by the Elan Visitor Centre) on the way. Our destination was Raven Square station in Welshpool, the current terminus of the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. Here, our locomotive takes on water having just arrived from Llanfair Caereinion, the terminus at the other end of the line. The W&LLR used to run beyond Raven Square through the streets of Welshpool to a terminus beside the main line railway station, but that section of the railway has long been lost.

This brings back memories - a Zillertalbahn coach from Austria. Chris and I travelled on that railway on our first 'Great Rail Journeys' holiday two years ago (click here to see that blog entry) and these coaches were donated by the Zillertalbahn Railway to the W&LLR in 1968.

Early autumn sunshine filters through the trees as our Locomotive, 'Countess', lifts us up the bank from Raven Square

In a coach reserved for our party, John takes in the splendid view, as do John B and Susie behind him

Once it has climbed up from Welshpool the railway undulates along the valley on it way to Llanfair Caereinion

the railway follows the valley of the River Banwy after its initial climb from Raven Square. The railway was originally built to serve the remote farms of the Banwy Valley, bringing in supplies and taking out produce in the days when the only alternative was horse and cart.  

For some distance the railway runs alongside the river

River Banwy glints in the late summer sunshine

The scenery on the W&LLR is gentler than that of most Welsh narrow gauge railways which gives it a different, but no less attractive, character

At Llanfair Caereinion we were given a tour of the W&LLR's sheds and workshop. Here, No.10 is undergoing a complete restoration

Click on this picture for a larger image to learn more about No.10

The boiler (minus smokebox) on the frames. The loco's motion is laid out centre right.

Here's the view from the other side

The workshop, complete with 'Black Lion' pub sign

Lurking at the back of the shed was 'Dougal', which originally worked at the Provan Gas Works in Glasgow. It's diminutive height enabled it to enter the retort houses at the works.

Jim admires Joan, built in 1927 for a sugar plantation in Antigua

Joan's builder's plate

'The Earl' is sister engine to 'Countess', the locomotive that is working our train today. They were built in 1902 at Beyer Peacock, Manchester, specifically for this railway.

'Earl' on shed

'Countess' runs around her train ready to take us back to Welshpool

Two of our party make their way to our reserved coach for the return journey

'Countess' ready to depart

Heading back down the valley

Crossing the River Banwy

The W&LLR has several road crossings, most of which, on the minor roads, are ungated. Here the fireman (firewoman?) dismounts the loco to see us safely across the road.

From Welshpool our coach took us to Llangollen, for the final hotel stay of our holiday.

Our Llangollen hotel, the 'Wild Pheasant'

The penultimate day of the holiday, Wednesday, began with a short run in our coach to the Llangollen Canal wharf in the town for a trip on the 'Thomas Telford' narrow boat.

Also departing from Llangollen wharf was a horse drawn narrow boat 

The horse drawn boat sets off towards the Horseshoe Falls...

....While 'Thomas Telford' set off the other way for a 5 mile trip ending with a crossing of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the River Dee. It's lunch time so a splash of wine and a cheese butty are in order! It was crowded and warm in the boat's cabin so I spent most of the time on the small external platform at the rear of the cabin.

This is 'Bryn Howell', a hotel by the cut

Our first view of the Aqueduct is between the trees above

From Trevor Basin we turn 90 degrees onto the aqueduct to cross the Dee Valley, which we have followed from Llangollen.

There is a towpath with a railing on the east side of the aqueduct

While the other side offers an unprotected drop of 120 feet to the river below

These holes indicate that Telford might have considered fitting railings to this side as well

Looking back to Trevor basin. Once across the viaduct, a double deck bus provided by the boat company took us back to Llangollen.

Llangollen station, where our trip on the Llangollen Railway began

The ex-Great Western Prairie Tank loco that was to haul our train

The token machine had broken for the section of line between Glyndyfrdwy and Carrog, so a pilotman had to act as 'human token' to allow our train to pass through the section. The pilotman, wearing a cap, above, has the required red 'Pilotman' armband on.  

The railway has recently been extended from Carrog to Corwen, and this was the first time I had ridden this new section

The line finishes at a temporary station just short of the town of Corwen (click on the above picture for a larger image) which shows the end of the line. One day it may be extended right into the town.

The train is propelled back from Corwen to Carrog, the loco pushing the coaches, as there is no run-round loop at the temporary terminus. The guard has a window in the end coach to keep a lookout during this operation, and the coach has high-visibility markings, and also has a windscreen wiper for the lookout window. On arrival at Carrog, the locomotive runs around the train and hauls it from there to Llangollen.

An internal view of the guard's lookout in the end coach. He has a brake handle and a hooter, as well as a handle to operate the window wiper.

Thursday was our last day, and our coach took us to Erddig Hall, a National Trust property, on the way back to Chester. Here our guide tells us something of the Hall's history (built on the proceeds of local coal mining).

The Hall's rear face

The sundial, which, allegedly, the servants had to rotate by one hour every time the clocks go forward or backward in spring and autumn

The stone-clad west (front) face of the Hall

The Yorkes of Erddig threw nothing away, hence this collection of old cars in the stable block...

...And these two motorcycles which are very much in need of a bit of TLC!

The boiler for the vertical steam engine which provided power for the Hall workshops. In the foreground is a single cylinder gas engine.

A closer view of the single cylinder vertical steam engine, which will need a great deal of work if it is ever to run again

After our Erddig Hall visit our coach ran us the few miles into Chester and this enjoyable holiday came to an end. I caught the 14:59 Mid Cheshire line train to Knutsford, then the 88 bus home from there. 

What an enjoyable couple of weeks! The highlight? There were many, but probably steam up Snowdon on a lovely day is the one that stands out.

I really must do something like this again next year.


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