On our third day in Wales, my son was adamant he wanted to go on a steam train again. With the Mrs happy to have a quiet day, and my daughter needing a quiet day (partying until 9pm takes it's toll on a 3-year-old), I was encouraged to take him to the nearest railway....
...which happened to be the Vale of Rheidol. I'd never visited this line from Aberystwyth to Devil's Bridge before so it was nice to get the opportunity, and I think it is a rather under-rated line, eclipsed by the better known railways further North. The powerful GWR-built 2-6-2T locos, based on the Davies & Metcalf locos that went before them, are beautifully turned out and attractive, despite their somewhat brutal appearance.
Interestingly the VoR is not really a preserved line, although it has changed hands several times it has never closed. British Rail continued to operate it until 1989, since when it has been privately owned and commercially operated - there are no volunteers, but it is a very professional tourist attraction. Not just the locos, but the carriages and stations are in excellent condition, and a new engine shed/workshop is under construction.
The upper half of the line is mostly on a 1 in 50 grade, which means that with a full train such as this, the loco is really having to work. (Although the VoR is not so famous amongst enthusiasts, the trains were at least as full if not more crowded than any of the lines we visited that week). At the top of the line Devil's Bridge station looks like it was designed to be modelled, an idyllic spot.
The next day we didn't visit a steam railway. Although we did take the Funicular railway up the cliff, which gave some spectacular views (as you can see by now the weather was unusually summery for this summer!), and some jolly nice ice-creams at the top!
Now as it happens the sat-nav plotted a route home that passed both Welshpool and Llanfair. Of course this was too good an opportunity to miss, so an early start on our last day saw us catching the first train of the day from Llanfair on the W&L.
Countess is another GWR engine that is far from typical! Along with "sister" loco The Earl, it was built by Beyer-Peacock, but the GWR couldn't resist adding Swindon-trademark safety valves and chimney. The W&L and VoR were built around the same time and have many similarities, but feel quite different. The modern W&L is very much the product of dedicated volunteers.
The line has quite sever gradients, including stretches at 1 in 30. The Hungarian coach we were travelling in had a rather useful balcony - a great place to watch the loco (and crew) working hard!
It wasn't planned that way, but visiting 4 narrow-gauge steam railways (and a funicular) in the space of 5 days made me a very happy man!
Just in case you want to see more pictures, click the picture below...
|Wales Holiday August 2012|