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


Five: The Long Flat


Just west of Llanbadarn the clicking of the wheels rose abruptly to a roar, and the earth dropped out from under the carriage floor.   We were clattering over a low deck-and-girder trestle, crossing the Rheidol for the first and only time in our journey.  From here on out, all our travels would be along the south bank of the river.  Beyond the bridge the track meandered gently through broken pastureland, with meadows and woods succeeding one another outside my compartment window.  Even so, we were not yet free of the urban.  Grass and sheep gave way suddenly to macadam and loading docks as we steamed through a low-rise industrial estate (industrial park, in American English), built upon what was once the tiny railway halt of Glanrafon.  Funded by the Dyfed County Council, the estate embodies Wales's continuing struggle to foster a new economy of diversified light industry in place of the failing behemoths of mining, steelmaking and metalwork.  Such efforts have been only indifferently successful to date, but county and national governments continue to invest in them.  The alternative-- sustained unemployment and accelerating rural depopulation-- is too painful to contemplate.


The warehouses of Glanrafon soon faded behind, and we were back in a meadow world of sheep and new spring grass.  For a full mile or more the track rose hardly at all, and #8 maintained an easy stride across the long valley flats.  Off to the left the river played hide-and-seek with the train, here paralleling the roadbed, there meandering away across the valley floor.  After a long tangent through the meadowlands, a gentle curve brought us to the sometime halt at Capel Bangor.  Once a major online transshipment point, Capel Bangor boasted a frame station building, team track, weighbridge and passing siding.  Now there is little more than a signboard and a wide spot in the roadbed to mark what once was. 


After five miles of riding we had risen but 66 feet above sea level.  Yet now the mountains now loomed closer than before, and at last the grade began to rise in earnest.  Leaving the river behind, we began clawing our way up the southern flanks of the valley, fighting further up the hillside with each passing yard.  And now I began to hear our 2-6-2 really work for the first time.  From a soft chant, #8's exhaust now rose to a  horse, insistent bark.   As the note grew deeper, the vibration of it began to rattle in the floorboards of the carriage itself.  Soon I could literally feel the engine working right to my very boots.



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