Vale of Rheidol: Narrow Gauge in the GWR Style


1. Aberystwyth 5. The Long Flat
2. The GWR Style 6. Hard Climbing
3. At the Engine Shed 7. Tea at Devil's Bridge
4. On Our Way 8. Sunset on Rheidol Vale


Two: The GWR Style


The Vale of Rheidol's ticket agency was a small wood-frame building standing hard by the main Aberystwyth depot.  Though new, it was true to the VoR spirit-- none of line's preceding Aberystwyth stations had been much more than plain wood sheds either.  Inside, I found a small display of books and knickknacks, and one employee waiting behind the counter.  The first train of the day had long since gone up the hill, she informed me, but there were still seats available for the afternoon run.  I gladly paid out my fare.  Ticket safely in hand, I headed out to poke about the city until train time.

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Vale of Rheidol #8,
proud in her GWR
green, maneuvers
around her
cream carriages
in Aberystwyth
A bite of lunch and a walk along Aberystwyth's fine seaside promenade made for a pleasant hour.  Even so, by two I found myself strolling back toward the VoR yards to await the returning down train.  The smooth edge of the old Manchester and Milford platform provided a pleasant place to sit, and I laid down my bag, kicked out my feet, and enjoyed the heat of the bricks warmed by the afternoon sun.  My ears were cocked all the while for the first sounds of the returning engine, but the VoR surprised me.  With no audible warning, a bottle-green steam engine suddenly popped into view around the corner of the engine shed.  Charging forward at a goodly clip, it rushed on through the carriage yard.  Bobbing in its wake were four carriages, handsome in their livery of deep chocolate brown with a cream band along the window frames.  Bottle green on the engine, chocolate-and-cream on the passenger stock: the colors conveyed a message, as did the gold leaf lettering on locomotive itself: it spelled, unmistakably, "GREAT WESTERN."  And at the sight of it, a lump rose in my throat.


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#8 and driver
strike a pose while
passing around
their train in
To be sure, seeing GWR colors on a Vale of Rheidol train is no very remarkable thing.  Unlike the Talyllyn, which has always remained independent, the Rheidol was a subsidiary of the Great Western from 1922 until nationalization in 1948.  As for my reaction to those colors-- well,  the Great Western is a railway dear to my heart.  My novice encounter with British railroading came on GWR ground, on a cold December night in 1986 when I first strode under the soaring vaults of Paddington Station.  My first British train ride, too, was an all-GWR affair: a day trip from Paddington to Bath.  To this day, I remember the way the driver made our HST-125 get up and fly along Brunel's magnificent broad-gauge right-of-way.  My first conversation with a British railwayman was GWR again: seeing me photographing the power car of his train at Paddington, an HST driver climbed down from his cab and crossed the tracks to where I stood, to engage me in a bit of chat and pass the time of day.  I can't recall the substance of our talk, but I vividly remember how much trouble my Yank ears had understanding his accent-- he was a Swansea man!  This was all technically in the era of British Rail, of course, but I wasn't taken in by that fiction: it was still the Great Western, and from those days onward the Great Western has been my British railway.


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wf24.JPG (9213 bytes)
Shades of the
Great Western
in VoR's Aber-
ystwyth yards:
chocolate and
cream on a
summer carriage;
GWR initials on a
goods wagon
journal box.
Hence my joy when I saw Vale of Rheidol #8 entering Aberystwyth station.  I had known that the VoR's locomotives were Swindon-built, and that its carriages had been manufactured by GWR craftsmen.  But I had also understood that the Rheidol's Great Western identity had been firmly suppressed during the line's forty years in the wilderness under British Rail.  And yet here it was: instead of old photographs in books, I had before me the living item-- an authentic Great Western branch-line train of the 1930s, perfect in every detail.  This day I would turn back the clock, and ride a railway which had died-- on paper at least, if not in the heart-- two decades before I was born.  The who and the how of this miracle I would learn later: at that moment I was simply grateful, and most sensible of the privilege conferred.



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All materials, images, text and presentation copyright 1998 Erik Gray Ledbetter.  See Terms of Use.