TALYLLYN RAILWAY

TAKE A STEP BACK IN TIME WITH THE TALYLLYN NARROW GAUGE RAILWAY

Do you want to take a sentimental journey to a bygone age? And would you like to be immersed in the authentic trappings and surroundings of an enchanting, vintage railway that was once part and parcel of the glorious age of steam?

Well, it's much easier than you think to be transported back in time to the Victorian era when steam-driven locomotives were at the height of their popularity, and travelling by train was at its peak.

At the Talyllyn Railway at Tywyn Wharf, about a 45 minute drive from Glyn-yr-Aur, you can experience first-hand the excitement and thrill of riding on refurbished steam rolling stock, some of which dates back to 1865.

Drawn by steam engines that first set out in the mid-19th century to carry slate to and from the Bryn Eglwys quarry at Abergwynolwyn, you can take the time to savour the beguiling scenery of the Fathew Valley, as the carriages slowly ascend the increasingly steep incline towards the eastern terminus of Nant Gwernol.

It isn't just the fact that this glorious narrow gauge railway weaves its way through some of the most enchanting and delightful countryside in all of Wales, that actually makes it so special.

There are indeed few fare-paying passengers that could feel short-changed by the captivating scenery, that lies in the shadow of legendary mountain, Cader Idris and in the lee of the equally scenic Tarren Hendre.

Most would surely feel the nominal tariff of £2.00 upwards (50p for 15s and under) would be well worth paying, to revel in the magical valley views of rich dense woodland and rolling green pastureland that stretches as far as the eye can see.

Again, what makes this particular light railway stand head and shoulders above the rest, is that it is the first ever heritage line to have been established in the world.

When the line's owner Sir Henry Hadyn Jones died in 1950, the prospects for the Talyllyn Railway looked anything but good. Run as a passenger service from the late 19th century, it seemed that it would be dismantled and left to go to rack and ruin.

The initial slate quarry side of operations had still run alongside the passenger service, but was forced to close a few years before Sir Henry's death as it had become an unviable concern. A serious rock fall in 1946, it seemed, would also precipitate the closure of the remaining part of the railway.

But, fortunately, catastrophe was averted when two famous people of the time heard of the railway's plight, and acted swiftly to prevent its untimely demise.

In a bid to preserve the line as a national treasure, biographer, Tom Rolt, who wrote about engineers such as Thomas Telford, was among a number of stalwart proponents who came forward to keep it operational.

Lifetime railway enthusiast and children's author, the Rev Wilbert Awdry, was also among the other notable supporters who rallied to the Talyllyn's cause and was eager to see it rescued and flourish.

Developing the new line
They, with an army of volunteers, set about acquiring new rolling stock in a bid to provide the public with leisure rides along the 7 1/4 miles of track.

A spokesperson for the Talyllyn Railway said: "Initially, the railway was in a very sorry state with one operable locomotive, in very poor condition, struggling to pull the trains along an overgrown and perilous track.

"Since 1951 great improvements have been made. Volunteer members of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society (TRPS) now provide most of the train crew and station staff required to operate the line. They also assist with maintenance work and many other activities.

"The track has been relaid, locomotives have been acquired and rebuilt, additional carriages have been constructed, a safe and flexible signalling system has been installed, and many other improvements needed to cater for the much increased number of passengers have been carried out."

It's perhaps hard to fathom just how old some of the rolling stock actually is at the Talyllyn, which still trundles purposefully along as it did some 140 years ago.

It bears testimony to the skill and dedication of volunteers and engineers over the years, that they were able to recondition all of the six locomotives now in use to an acceptable working standard.

One of the oldest locomotives, Dolgoch, originally built in 1866, was given the Herculean task of singlehandedly running the leisure service for the inaugural year of opening. A year later, in 1952, two more engines were bought that had come onto the market from the nearby Corris slate quarry works.

Since the worldwide demand for slate had experienced a dramatic decline, this unfortunate quarry had closed in 1948, and its own train stock had lain idle since.

Built in 1921 and weighing 9 1/4 tons, one of the newly acquired engines was named Edward Thomas in honour of a Talyllyn former manager. And the other, fabricated in 1878, was christened Sir Hadyn in homage to the line's recently deceased owner, Sir Henry Hadyn Jones.

The oldest engine, the Talyllyn, produced by Fletcher, Jennings & Co in 1864, was considered to be in too poor a condition to continue running at the re-opening.

However, not wanting to put it permanently in to sidings, work was carried out from 1957-1959 to make it fully fit for service. The 12 ton locomotive is now still in operation a mere 143 years later.

The two other remaining engines that joined the railway stable were Tom Rolt (named after the principal founder) and another dubbed Duncan.

Many painstaking hours were spent during the early 90s, at the railway's workshops, to piece together the hybrid,Tom Rolt. As an amalgamation of different machines, it was chiefly manufactured from a 1949 model that had been commissioned by the Irish Turf Board.

And last and by no means least, Duncan, who initially started out life as Douglas, was built at the end of the First World War to service the Airservice Construction Corps. Later, it worked for the RAF Railway in Southampton, and was then bought by Ableson & Co (Engineers) who presented as a gift to the railway in 1953.

In the last few years, the engine was assigned new duties and took on the persona of children's storybook character, Duncan - in a bid to capture the imagination of younger railway fans.

As a central character in the Skarloey Line children's saga, written by erstwhile railway supporter the Rev Wilbert Awdry - Duncan, replete with cartoon-style face, has now become a firm family favourite.

The engines, of course, weren't the only major buys by the new management team, and a variety of open and closed compartment carriages were collected in a bid to provide passengers with comfortable accommodation.

Such was the society's acquisitiveness, that it also built up a sizeable collection of steam railway memorabilia and components that are now housed in an adjoining railway museum.

At the outset of the new venture, many other narrow gauge railways around the country were also closing due to the overwhelming move towards diesel-fuelled engines.

The founding members felt it was vital that as much of the remaining rolling stock and items on these lines should also be preserved for future generations.

A spokesperson further explained: "The first step towards the formation of the collection was taken in 1952 when the Guiness Company agreed to donate and transport to Tywyn one of the most unusual over-type steam engines from its brewery in Dublin.

"In fact the locomotive did not arrive until 1956, and the museum's first exhibit was a length of the Talyllyn track (c 1865) which was laid along the hedge bounding Wharf Station - with some rails collapsing on the main line, however, this became too valuable to be spared and soon disappeared into the running track!"

Today the museum collection is housed in a new building, that was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and contains literally scores of railway memorabilia and artefacts. It was officially opened by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in the summer of 2006.

With many exhibits viewable online, people can now readily gain an indepth insight into railways that in spite of being long gone, are now not entirely erased from memory.

Moreover, access to the actual museum is free and visitors are encouraged to interact with the displays and climb in to the some of the locomotive cabins in a bid to 'virtually' drive them.

If you would like to know more about the exhibitions, then click on the following link www.ngrm.org.uk

Finally, the museum is said to hold over 1000 artefacts in trust, which have been gathered over the years from sources in Britain and Ireland. Around 500 of these are on permanent display and some are over 200 years old.

Special viewings can also be arranged of the items in storage. Contact the museum for more details - www.ngrm.org.uk

Strong links to Thomas the Tank Engine's creator

Perhaps one of the most exciting and distinguishing features of the all new improved Talyllyn Railway, is, as mentioned earlier, its long-standing associations with the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine, the Rev Wilbert Awdry.

Famed for his vivid portrayals of a mythical fleet of talking engines on the fantasy island of Sodor,it is perhaps a little known fact that he used many of his experiences at the Talyllyn as inspiration for a further series of stories.

As stated previously, the Talyllyn morphed into the Skarloey Line for this delightful selection of fables, where even its engines were adopted as characters.

One of the Talyllyn locomotives, Sir Hadyn, was given the alias of Sir Handel; and impressive steam engine, Edward Thomas took on the persona of Peter Sam.

Not only that another character, Duncan, who used to complain about his passengers, was also introduced as a leading personality. And inversely, with life now imitating art, the cheeky engine, as said earlier, has morphed from Douglas in to Duncan at the Talyllyn.

Any residual ill-feeling he may have once felt towards people in general, it is safe to surmise, is now long gone - (unless of course people give him renewed reasons to feel aggrieved).

Special children's days have also been set aside, when fun competitions and events are organised in a bid to celebrate the spirited character.

Indeed those wondering where Thomas the Tank Engine actually roams 'in person' in North Wales, need look no further than Llangollen, where he has been known to make many regular appearances at the local railway there.

Other miniature railways such as the one at Fairbourne and Barmouth have also incorporated characters from The Railway Series of children's books into their own fleets. But few can claim to have as many strong associations with the actual creator of those much-loved myths than the Talyllyn itself.

As president of the railway's preservation society for several years, the Rev Awdry actually bequeathed a whole raft of his own personal effects to the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum on his death in March 1997.

Among the items were his pipe rack, typewriter, desk, chair, glasses and books. And it would seem that by recreating the room he wrote in, his enduring legacy to the world of heritage railways is perhaps somehow immortalised and lives on.

From 1943 to 1972, in the myriad of studies he worked in, he developed and created the 26 books about Thomas and friends that would delight boys and girls the world over. They were eventually translated in to more than 12 different languages, including Welsh. At the last reckoning, well over 50 million copies were said to have been sold.

Interestingly, he also left a railway model he had created of Thomas' Branch Line which was supposed to run from the imaginary villages of Knapford to Ffarquhar, via Elsbridge. He began building the model over a series of months in the mid-60s, in a bedroom of his home that had been commandeered for this purpose. Parts of the model, however, had to be reconstructed before it was finally put on display.

Books happened by a lucky twist of fate.
And perhaps it's worth noting, at this juncture, that his initial stories about talking railway engines were not at all intended for public consumption.

Married a year before the Second World War broke out, he moved to the Midlands to take up a clerical post there.

When Britain became fully committed to ousting Hitler, Awdry's young son Christopher, was unfortunately struck down with the measles. In a bid to lift his spirits, Awdry built him a toy locomotive out of oddments around their home.

On presenting it to him, he told him fantasy tales about the supposed life of the engine and all of his imaginary friends.

So keen was his son on the tales of talking steam engines, he was forced to commit them to paper to iron out inconsistencies, and so that key characters and plot-lines were not forgotten.

At the war's end, Awdry's wife, Margaret, felt that there might be more mileage in these stories; and was delighted when a publisher wanted to transpose the expanding repertoire of tales in to print.

In 1945, the first ever book of the series was produced and entitled The Three Railway Engines; and its initial print run of 22,500 quickly sold out.

The subsequent hero of all of the tales, Thomas, did not actually appear until the second book, and then entertaining figures such as Gordon, and Sir Topham Hat, or the Fat Controller, became established as central characters.

Awdry's own love of railways was said to have been cultivated by his, father who himself had spent many years in the clergy.

Young Wilbert and his father reportedly spent many a happy hour by the GWR mainline, near their family home in Bath.

And some of the enduring catchphrases his characters would later repeat were first inspired listening to freight trains strain to negotiate the steep Box Hill near his home. As they climbed the steep gradient, he believed the trains were muttering: "I can do it, I can do it."

And as they neared the top, he believed they were spluttering out words such as: "I think I can, I think I can."

And years later, the Rev Awdry also passed on his enthusiasm for trains to his son Christopher, with whom he also spent several weeks of the year helping out at the Talyllyn.

He worked as a guard on occasion and was a committed and devoted supporter of the railway right up until his death.

From 1983 onwards, his son also added his own fictionalised accounts to the 26 railway series of stories. He went on to pen 14 more books about Thomas and his fleet of friends.

In the early 80s, the television rights were bought and the books were then turned into an animated show using live-action models.

Famous narrators of the 5-8 minute shows were Ringo Starr (former drummer of The Beatles) and Michael Angelis (who first shot to fame in the 70s as the 'far-out' Julian, the rabbit-loving, hippy brother of one of the Liverbirds - in the sit-com of the same name).

Christopher has also followed in his father's footsteps in more ways than one, and only recently stepped down as honorary president of the Talyllyn Railway. He has also helped out at many fundraising events.

At present, the railway is reported to be experiencing something of a lull in bookings, which it hopes, in time, it can easily reverse.

At its last annual general meeting, it was revealed passenger numbers were in slight decline, and it was felt the yearly tally of visitors (around 45,000 per year) could be much improved.

A spokesperson said it was felt because Tywyn was not as well known as other places in north and mid-Wales, it typically lost out on a lot of custom.

A renewed marketing campaign was said to be in development to ensure many more people would be galvanised in to making a visit.

A spokesperson added: "The TR is still very much the railway it always was - a rural byway where the pace of life is gentle. Passengers can have an unhurried journey along the beautiful and unspoilt Fathew Valley on original locomotives and carriages.

"We hope people will come to visit us and enjoy meeting our friendly volunteer staff."

Making that visit
So just what does the former slate quarry railway have to offer the modern day-tripper or tourist that perhaps others don't?

Well as alluded to before, it does have the undeniable honour of being the first ever heritage, narrow gauge railway to have been set up in the world.

But apart from a sublime 2 hours round trip, typically run at a relaxing 9 miles an hour, the Talyllyn Railway doesn't just want you to be a mere passenger.

It also offers visitors the chance to actually drive some of its six steam locomotives, or set of diesel engines, that it currently has in service.

Starting out from as little as £5.00, people can drive one of the diesel engines a short distance from Tywyn Wharf to the next stop at Pendre, where all the railway sheds and work shops are kept.

For the more princely sum of £55.00, would-be train drivers can actually drive a steam locomotive and some carriages to the mid-point of the railway at Brynglas. For health and safety reasons, no passengers are allowed on board.

However, for those with a burning desire to really fulfil their childhood dreams, the railway can be booked for a whole day of train driving and afternoon tea. At least three other willing guest passengers (more can travel by special arrangement) can also go along in this instance.

Be a train driver
The cost for this full day Footplate Experience is £450.00, and, for those who can afford, it allows people a real 'nuts and bolts' insight in to how a steam train actually runs.

When a guest driver arrives at the train station at 7.00am, he or she will be shown how to stoke the engine and create enough steam for the train to eventually set off.

How a steam train works
Perhaps the central nervous system of a steam engine is its furnace, where coal is typically burned. The smoke produced is then channelled via tubes in to the engine's boiler. The major task of the boiler is to then heat the water it contains, until a mass of steam is created. At very high pressures, the steam is then fed into the locomotive's pistons which have connections to its wheels. These pistons then help to propel the train forward. Normally, a few hours are needed to create the right sort of temperatures to create enough pressure and steam.

It is perhaps worth noting that by the early 1900s, steam engines on major railways were starting to reach speeds of up to 100 miles per hour - something that diesel engines did not manage until much, much later.

As the Talyllyn is a narrow gauge railway, at just 2ft 3 ins across, its speeds are deliberately much slower and are also kept relatively subdued so passengers have ample time to soak up the magnificent views.

More on Footplate Experience
Guest passengers will then be invited to board the train chosen after 9.00am, when the steam pressure has been allowed to build up to the correct level.

The outward journey starts from Pendre station and, under supervision, the guest driver takes the 7 mile journey to the end point at Nant Gwernol - which is expected to take about 50 minutes.

Water is taken on at Dolgoch Station and at the end of the first leg a refreshment break is taken at Abergynolwyn. Then a return journey is made. The engine is then 'coaled and watered', and a second round-trip is taken.

Lunch is provided, which includes sandwiches, cakes and coffee and tea, and the day is scheduled to finish at around 3.00pm.

To find out more about this initiative, click on the following link:

Taking that sentimental journey
Whether you actually want to drive a train, or just simply be a passenger, the Talyllyn promises to offer people a fully exhilarating ride.

What follows are more details about the journey and the stations along the way:

Tywyn Wharf
Wharf Station is the main terminus of the railway and actually started out life as a transhipment point for its nearby slate quarry. When passengers started to use the railway at the beginning of the 20th century, it was known as King's Station. But when the preservation society took over the management of the line, a new platform was built and the station building refurbished. A shop, cafe, the Buffer Stop Buffet, and toilet facilities are all located in the new development.

Pendre
On leaving the main terminus, the train starts to make its ascent towards it final destination. Much of the journey is a slow gradual climb through the Fathew Valley. It is interesting to note that Pendre was the original starting point of the quarry railway, and continues to be the location where all the train sheds and workshops are kept.

Rhydyronen
This station actually opened in 1867 and is now close to an adjoining caravan and camping park. It is said to make a good starting point for local mountain walks.

Brynglas
The scenery is said to be exceptional on leaving Rhydyronen and there are said to be excellent views on this section of trackway.

Dolgoch
After Brynglas station, six bends are followed and a small viaduct is crossed before the entrance into Dolgoch. Said to be a favourite stopping point for passengers, many typically alight here to take in the magnificent local waterfall, and also to ramble through the local woodland.

Abergynolwyn
This station has been extensively remodelled in recent years and has a tea room and adventure playground.

Nant Gwernol
The line to this point was opened in 1976 and follows the path previously taken by freight trains to the Bryn Eglwys slate quarry. There are also said to be excellent opportunities for walking in to the mountains from here. Passengers should check the timetables to make sure they are able to catch an appropriate return train back to Tywyn.

There are also lots of special events organised throughout the year at the Talyllyn such as a Victorian Days. See our Events 2007 link for more details or log on to www.talyllyn.co.uk/events/index.jsp

From April to September, there are typically four trains in service a day, and during the off-peak

season, two are usually run per day. For more details on the timetable click on this link

Or to find out more about the Talyllyn in general, go to the preservation society's homepage at www.talyllyn.co.uk

Directions: The Talyllyn Railway is located at Tywyn Wharf in Tywyn. From Glyn-yr-Aur, visitors should travel from the Coed-y-Brenin to Dolgellau. From there, they should follow the A493, via Penmaenpool, to reach Tywyn.