A Welsh interlude

Last weekend I had a thoroughly enjoyable time on a boys weekend away with a small group of friends at the Ffestiniog Railway’s Vintage Weekend.

I’d not been to the FR since 1992/3 for various reasons, and was interested to see the changes which had taken place. There was such a vast array of classic stock in use, from the Victorian era, as well as various other points in the line’s history in between then and now. A lot of these items are new builds (replicas), or items which have been brought back into service since I visited – or perhaps I forgot them from my last visit, which is entirely possible!

After a 6 hour journey up from Kent on the Friday we arrived on the Cob just as the last train was running into Porthmadog at twilight, which was a rather atmospheric thing to see – shame I was driving at the time, but it looked rather nice against the darkening sky. We then met up with the rest of our group at Port and promptly headed to Spooner’s for a pint (I LOVE Purple Moose beer).

They even had a special beer on tap in Spooners

Saturday was our day for riding on trains, we had a jam packed day having worked out how to get a ride behind pretty much everything that was in operation the night before. We arrived at Port to board carr 18 on the Victorian train hauled by Taliesin

Single Fairlie Taliesin waiting at Porthmadog station with the Victorian train

We rode this as far as Tan y Bwlch where we alighted and then caught the service train for a trip up to Blaneau and back as far as Minffordd behind a PQR Lady double header (Linda and Blanche). But before we departed Tan y Bwlch we were treated to a view of the gravity train making it’s first run of the day with a rather extensive collection of slate wagons.

Blanche and Linda passing Palmerston with the Victorian train at Minffordd.

When back at Minffordd we swapped Linda and Blanche for the only England loco in service at present, Palmerston, again with the Victorian train. This time we travelled as far as Tan y Bwlch. It was fantastic listening to the little England thrashing up through the woods around Plas Tan y Bwlch, where we made an unexpected stop at the request halt. When we arrived at Tan y Bwlch we stopped for some tea and then watched the arrival of Taliesin with the Colonel Stephens train. This was promptly shunted into the siding to clear the loop for two service trains to cross.

Taliesin with the Colonel Stephens era train in the siding at Tan y Bwlch

When the service trains had crossed we boarded the Colonel Stephens train to ride all the way back to Portmadog. We were quick off the mark and managed to secure the seats on the valley side of ‘bug box’ no.3! Riding in one of these is something I’ve always wanted to do, it wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but not as bad as I’ve heard people make out, and it’s definitely an experience I would love to repeat given the chance.

Our chariot!

On our return back to Port we boarded our last train of the day, Earl of Merioneth with a service train. This was nice as it was our first, and only, full trip from Porthmadog to Blaneau Ffestiniog and back of the weekend.

On our return leg from Bleaneau we shelled out an extra few pounds each to travel in the first class observation coach which was right next to the loco. The views we got on the return leg were great, emulating the conditions that the train we had chased over the cob the day previously must have experienced.

The view we had in the first class observation carr.

The closer we got towards Port the more the light fell, until we arrived in darkness – which made for some fun photographic conditions.

A bit of arty indulgence, Earl of Merioneth running across the Cob in the twilight with the last train of the day.

Ten hours of riding on trains in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day indeed – we were all tired, and repaired to our cottage for sustenance.

That sustenance was well needed too, on the Sunday we had a lot of walking planned as we were watching things from the line side. This was very interesting as it is something i’ve not really done before as a dedicated activity, more opportunistically, and it was very enjoyable.

We started off at Boston Lodge watching things being prepared for going out on the line for the day’s services. Earl of Merioneth, Linda, Blanche, Moelwyn and the two Simplexes were there, as was the Welsh Highland Railway’s NGG16 Garratt no. 87. It was great to get to wander around the opened areas of ‘Blodge’ and see the stock up close and personal.

WHR NGG16 Garratt brewing up for the day's operations.

'Racing diesel' Moelwyn and no. 87 on shed at Boston Lodge

David Lloyd George being readied for the day, the view of the Traeth from Boston Lodge is beautiful.

After leaving Boston Lodge we then went back to Porthmadog to watch the other end of operations. Seeing how WHR trains are marshalled in the sheds at Blodge, then formed and shunted into position at Port, and all the various loco moves that are required until the new WHR platform is built, was quite interesting, and a lot more involved than I had imagined.

Porthmadog makes for some interesting contrasts now, seeing an NGG16 running next to a bug box!

Whilst at Port we watched the two Simplexes run a train of historic goods wagons across the Britannia Bridge street section. This was great, and such a unique experience that’s only really possible in Porthmadog – a narrow gauge train running along the main road through the town!

One of the simplexes crossing Britannia Bridge running down the main road.

The next section of the day was spent wandering between Penrhyn and Rhiw Goch, seeing many different trains. Highlights were the longest gravity train to run since the beginning of World War Two, and ‘Spooner’s Boat’ also on a gravity run.

Penrhyn crossing, a great place to watch trains.

Another great place to watch trains, from Rhiw Goch loop. Here you can see Cei Mawr, the largest retaining wall in Europe.

Our Sunday ended with a stop over at Tan y Bwlch, where as soon as we pulled into the car park we realised there was a quadruple, yes QUADRUPLE, header waiting to depart with a down train to Porthmadog. It seems that Blanche and Earl of Merioneth were scheduled to run this train, but Merddin Emrys and David Lloyd George were also scheduled to run light engine back to Port soon before (or after, I forget which). So it seems the lot were coupled together… A most impressive sight indeed, which made for a speedy exit from the car on arrival!

We then wandered down to the very picturesque Tan y Bwlch bridge to watch trains crossing this, and that was the end of our Sunday. Another very enjoyable day.

Tan y Bwlch bridge - I've always wanted to stop here, it's such an elegant structure. Victorian engineering at it's prettiest.

On the Monday we parted ways and made our trips home, but some of us stopped off at the National Slate Museum in Llanberis, at the old Dinorwig quarries. I’ve admired this from the other side of Llyn Padarn when on climbing holidays, but never been in. It’s a fascinating place, but that’s a story for another blog post.

Up to our visit I had sworn that I’d never make a model of a Welsh line as I thought it had been done too often… However, I have been converted, and the thought has crossed my mind a couple of times as to how I could convert Isle Ornsay to being somewhere on the Welsh coast, but don’t worry, it’ll remain safely planted in Scotland!

If you want to see my photos from the event then take a look here. I’m in the process of creating a couple of videos and will add another post with these in due course.

Finally, and hopefully not too sycophantically, thanks to my friends for making it such an enjoyable experience, I think we shall have to repeat it next year for another FR/WHR special event!

And finally finally, If you ever need a holiday cottage in the area I can thoroughly recommend Clytiau Teg as a brilliant place to stay.

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