Snowdon Mountain Railway


1. In Turner's Footsteps
2. Rack Engines
3. Spring Ascent
4. The High Ridge


One: In Turner's Footsteps


Throughout North Wales there broods a presence.  From Blaenau, from Porthmadog, from Bangor or from Caernarfon one can feel it in the background, tingling between one's shoulder-blades, or sometimes catch glimpses of it from the corner of one's eye: Snowdon, Yr Wyddfa, the highest mountain in all of Wales.  I had felt its pull throughout my sojourn in that country, and on our last full day in Wales, Samantha and I were ready to experience it first hand.  From Caernarfon we turned our car inland, and rambled along country lanes through rolling hills.  At length, the hills began to mount, and the lane plunged deeper into a valley.  A few corkscrew turns more, and suddenly the landscape opened up into one of the most breathtaking vistas I have ever seen.  Before us lay a wide, U-shaped valley.  Nestled in its gentle floor, a long gleaming lake.  On a crag of land protruding into the lake, a romantic, ruinous castle.  And above it all, brooding down on the verdant valley, the high vaults and crags of Snowdon itself.   Stung to the quick by the sheer beauty of it, I blurted out to Sam "my God, it looks just like a Turner painting!"  Moments later, I had the grace to blush-- this was Llanberis Lake, and if it looked like one of J.M.W. Turner's famous romantic landscapes, well, that's because it is one of his famous romantic landscapes, and has been reproduced and reprinted countless times.  Sometimes art anticipates life a little too faithfully.


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Engines simmer at
Snowdon Mountain
Railway's Llanberis
At the foot of Yr Wyddfa, not far from the lakeshore, we found a railway depot huddled in a rambling cluster of frame buildings.  From behind the station there issued a set of narrow-gauge rails, leading away to a long signal bridge and a wide engine shed.  Smoke drifted over the complex, wafting from a pair of steam tank engines simmering in the yards.  The sharp fumes from the engines' stacks swirled about in orange-brown trailers, giving the scene a nineteenth-century, industrial revolution feel.


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SMR engine and
carriage ready for
duty in the
Llanberis yards.
It was a steam railway yard, charming in and of itself but not much different from the others I had seen already in my travels. Yet the rails themselves were very different.  Within each line of track there nestled a knobbed, grease-stained third rail.  Even had I not known it in advance, that rail was enough to give the game away: this was a rack railway, a railway whose engines actually ratchet themselves up grades too steep for simple adhesion to conquer.  We had found the Llanberis terminal of the Snowdon Mountain Railway, the oldest and indeed the only rack railway in all of Britain.  In its cars, we would ascend high Snowdon itself.



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