26th & 27th September 2015 - Forgotten Engines
Saturday 26th September 2015
No rush to get up this morning, plenty of time for a nice filling “full Welsh breakfast” and a saunter back though the town for the first train of the Vale of Rheidol Railway’s “Forgotten Engines” gala featuring four small locos, two of which were in service for the first time in 65 years. Three of the four locos were built by Hunslet and the fourth by Kerr Stuart, one of only two of its type in the world and they would be working trains between Aberystwyth and Capel Bangor whilst the lines resident 2-6-2Ts would be working the booked two return trips along the whole line to Devil’s Bridge.
Kerr Stuart “Sirdar” class “Diana” and Hunslet Small Quarry class “Margaret” were the motive power for the first train, quite possibly the first passenger train that either loco had ever worked and the first train of any sort that either loco had worked since 1950. Plenty of people had turned out for the occasion aided by the continuing bright sunny weather and plenty of cameras and phones were recording every detail. It would have been better for the photographs if the smaller of the two locos, “Margaret”, had been leading but it was the only loco fitted with a valve to operate the train brakes so it had to be coupled to the train; air for the brake system being provided by a compressor in a luggage van at one end of the train. In fact “Margaret” was booked to work all the trains to Capel Bangor in tandem with one of the other small locos so it would have a busy weekend.
It was a lovely journey to Capel Bangor in the open sided coach but the sheer number of people made it hard to get photos of the train and locos there but we did manage to get a shot of no. 9 arriving on the morning train to Devil’s Bridge. It had been our intention to catch this train as it was booked for no. 8 which was required for haulage but no. 9 was noted to be first off shed this morning so the trip to the end of the line would have to wait until this afternoon.
The return journey to Aberystwyth was interrupted by a prolonged wait on the approach to the level crossing at Llanbadarn; our first thought was that there might have been some sort of failure but with the mainline crossing the same road a matter of yards away it appeared that only one crossing could be closed at a time and the national network, naturally, took preference. We eventually arrived into the narrow gauge station at Aberystwyth at 11:28, two minutes before the 11:30 departure to Birmingham, a performance that we hoped would not be repeated tomorrow.
“Diana” and “Margaret” quickly ran round the train, reversing positions in the process to ensure that the latter was attached to the coaches, for another trip to Capel Bangor so with nothing pressing until no. 8 on the 14:00 departure it was as good a plan as any to have another round trip behind these two locos. There were no delays on the return journey this time round so there was over an hour to grab some lunch and soak up the atmosphere at Aberystwyth before making sure that we were in good time to grab a seat on the 14:00 as the good weather had attracted the crowds.
Although the trips behind the small engines had been enjoyable, the journey one the train started climbing beyond Capel Bangor was the highlight of the day. No. 8 is one of three 2-6-2T locos built for the line; they are powerful locomotives built for a specific purpose, very good at doing it and sound superb climbing up the steep gradients. Added entertainment was had on this journey from a dog belonging to a local couple who, rather than being overawed by this steam spewing monster, spent most of the climb standing on his rear paws, front paws resting on the side of the open coach and appearing to enjoy the “thrash” as much as any hardened “crank”.
There were 75 minutes to fill at the top so a quick walk along the road to see the famous falls seemed like a good idea but it was quite a long walk down a footpath to see the best bits and payment was needed to access them so that idea was ditched. It wasn’t so much that we were too tight to pay, more that there would only be time for a quick gawp before returning to the station for the last train back, more time was required to get sufficient value for the outlay.
Back at Devil’s Bridge station there was another loco in steam, Kerr Stuart “Wren” class no. 3114 though the only way of getting it “in the book” was to pay £5 for the privilege of driving it. Some people would say that is cheating but others would claim that if a loco moves with them on it then it counts….we’ll let people make their own minds up but would like to point out that neither of us drive trains for a living!
There was no “thrash” on the journey back down the hill though there were some great views across the valley and we got off at Capel Bangor for the last train of the day with the small locos as “Diana” had been changed for “Sybil Mary” for the afternoon trips. It was an interrupted journey back to Aberystwyth as the generator powering the compressor for the brakes stopped and had to be re-started a couple of times. The train stopped for a third time about a mile and a half from the terminus with more issues but these were resolved after a bit of fiddling around and we only arrived a few minutes late, thanks to the generous amount of time allowed to cover the four and a half miles from Capel Bangor.
The cloudless day ended with a stunning sunset across Cardigan Bay and it was well worth spending half an hour or so sitting on the beach opposite the hotel taking pictures as the sun sank towards the horizon before sampling the highly rated restaurant in Gwesty Cymru next door to the Belle Vue which was excellent.
Sunday 27th September 2015
Despite yesterday’s liberal use of the “red pen” there was still one loco outstanding, Hunslet “Port Class” no. 364 “Winifred” which had spent most of Saturday shunting wagons in the yard at Aberystwyth. It was “Winifred’s” turn for a couple of trips to Capel Bangor this morning along with “Margaret” so following another leisurely and filling breakfast it was down to the station for the 10:00 departure, hoping that it wouldn’t get held up on the return journey today.
“Winifred” was standing to one side when we arrived at the station, waiting for “Margaret” to couple to the train first but an indication that things might not be going to plan happened when “Sybil Mary” appeared instead, “Margaret” apparently having developed some leaking tubes after it’s exertions yesterday. As we had only had “Sybil Mary” for one single journey yesterday it was nice to get a chance for more haulage but “Margaret” of course was the bearer of the brake equipment meaning much fiddling with spanners, nuts and air hoses was taking place before departure. This was completed quite efficiently and the train only left 5 minutes late, chuffing alongside the River Rheidol in another morning of glorious sunshine complete with some red kite birds flying alongside the train at one point.
Proceedings were also enlivened along the way by the appearance of a classic Bentley car, formerly owned by the renowned railway photographer Ivo Peters and now in the care of “Winifred’s” owner. The car was well known for appearing in many of Ivo’s photographs and it appeared that it’s current owner was trying to replicate that with the added bonus of that he owned one of the locos on the train as well.
The two locos were quickly run round at Capel Bangor, a photograph was taken of no. 8 on the service to Devil’s Bridge then it was back to Aberystwyth where a pair of 158s shot past as the narrow gauge train approached Llanbadarn crossing so there was no prolonged stop here today. There was a whole six minutes available on arrival for the short walk to the mainline station so no danger of missing the 11:30 departure, the next one to Birmingham was two hours later.
The four car class 158 was fairly empty to start with and only started to fill up from Newtown, and even more so from Shrewsbury. A rather dubious cross-platform connection was made at Birmingham New Street onto a Pendolino, which was gratefully taken as the next fast train heading south had started from Edinburgh so would no doubt be wedged. One small issue though, this train was wedged as well with many people wearing Australian rugby shirts as their team had been playing at nearby Villa Park in the Rugby Union World Cup. However, we discovered that “one coach train syndrome” isn’t restricted to the UK or even Europe as we found the rear coach to be nearly empty after picking our way past numerous people standing in the vestibules wearing yellow jerseys though as Australia had won perhaps they were too happy to care whether they sat down or not.
Keywords: Vale of Rheidol Railway
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