© Geoff’s Rail Diaries 2011
The national news media were proclaiming "misery for
commuters" when, in the middle of the heat wave, my friend
suggested a day out using a "North and Mid Wales Day Ranger"
- "Great value - £20 round trip - out via the Cambrian, up the
Ffestiniog, and back along the North Wales coast. We could
have a look at the Fairbourne on the way". The weather
forecast suggested much cooler weather in Wales, especially
along the coast, and it was unlikely that the 60mph limit
imposed on the main lines, due to the risk of rails distorting
in the heat, would affect the Cambrian lines....
We left Shrewsbury on the 9.36, which would split at
Machynlleth. Our portion would then travel as far as Barmouth.
Another train, a couple of hours later, would provide our
northbound connection for Porthmadog - hence the opportunity
for the Fairbourne break, my colleague's ulterior motive being
that he hadn't visited the railway since the regauging from 15" to
12¼", back in the mid-1980s.
A two-train service was in operation, with locomotives "Yeo" and
"Sherpa" in action. As their names suggest, the former is a
replica of the Lynton and Barnstaple loco, while "Sherpa" is a
half-scale Darjeeling Himalayan Railway 0-4-0ST. Having seen and
photographed both, there was time for refreshments...
...before joing the next northbound 158 to Porthmadog. The
main line station here is beside the Welsh Highland (Heritage)
Railway, where "Gelert", a rather nice Bagnall 0-4-2T (no. 3050
of 1953, ex- South Africa's Rustenburg platinum mines) was in
It is a fair walk from here to the Ffestiniog
Railway's station - we set off along the path
which runs beside the Tremadoc canal - the
trackbed of the old Gorseddau tramway, closed
over 100 years ago. Our train to Blaenau arrived
hauled by the Alco "Mountaineer", not, I have to
confess, my favourite locomotive on the
railway. My views were partly reversed by the
fine performance of this loco, which, apart
from one or two slight slips on pulling away, made a wonderful
sound as it hammered away up the gradient.
And so to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where, contrary to the usual
experience, the sun, hidden for much of the day behind ominous
looking clouds, was trying to shine. We were a bit concerned
about the number of passengers waiting for the main line
service, even more so when it arrived in the shape of a single
class 153. The capacity of these units is deceptive - all were
accommodated with room to spare.
We had left Blaenau a few minutes late, but arrived at "the
junction" in plenty of time for our penultimate homebound
working, which was formed of a two-car class 170 "Coradia",
whose performance was noticeably smoother and quieter than
our previous trains. A break of nearly an hour in Chester
provided an excuse for refreshments, before joining the
Shrewsbury train in its usual bay platform, for an uneventful run
home, where we arrived a minute of two early. What a good day
- and what a great change from the sweltering heat at home!
*No longer available - instead, try the “Ffestiniog Round Robin”
Fairbourne Steam Railway
Welsh Highland Heritage Railway