Snowdon Mountain Railway


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


Three: Spring Ascent


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Signal bridge and
the outbound main
leading away up
the mountain.wm09.JPG (7303 bytes)

Another view of
Padarn, seen now
from the window
of our passing
When we reached the platform, Samantha and I found that our fellow passengers had already occupied nearly all the compartments in the carriage.  We finally found seats in the last compartment of the car, immediately in front of the diesel.  The guard went up and down the platform securing everyone inside, and then with a toot on his whistle signaled the engineer to depart.  The Hunslet opened up with a roar like a lusty newborn-- the engine seemed determined to make up in volume what it lacked in size.  Nudged along by the little beast, we lurched away from the platform and up the gentle hill beyond.  As we passed through the yards, we got a good ground-level look at Wyddfa and Padarn simmering quietly to themselves by the enginehouse.  I wished desperately that one or the other of those fine engines could have been powering our train-- that Hunslet's earsplitting roar had to be heard to be believed.  Still, it wouldn't do to grumble, and I settled in to enjoy the ascent.


Just beyond the enginehouse lay a lovely, park-like expanse of meadows and open woods.  On the left-hand side of the train a clear, fast-running mountain stream tumbled down a series of cataracts and falls.  The valley carved by the stream provided a convenient ramp up out of the Llanberis basin, and the SMR took full advantage, twisting and turning to stay with the cataract.  Here Sam and I got our first taste of real rack railroading.  As we entered the grove, the rails tilted up visibly in front of the car, and I found my weight shifting further and further back on the compartment bench.  Unease washed over me as we bit into the grade: trained as a brakeman on a traditional adhesion railway in the U.S., my body was more attuned to the motions of conventional railways, and every nerve was screaming that we traveling at an impossible angle up a catastrophically steep grade! Knowing that the rack was there to hold us firm was small comfort at first.  Yet familiarity breeds contentment if not contempt,  and after a moment I relaxed and began to enjoy the sensation.


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Passing the high
meadows on
Snowdon's flank.
At the top of the little valley the rails swept left through a sharp curve, and vaulted the stream on a fine stone viaduct.  Just beyond the bridge, the trees gave way to a windswept world of heather and high meadows.   We had climbed onto the spine of one of Snowdon's outflung spurs, a highway of stone which offered a natural avenue up towards toward the summit. To our right, the ground sloped gently away from the ridge to form a wide highland valley.  For millennia, our little companion stream had been transporting sediment down from Snowdon's peaks; over the centuries, it had laid a broad saddle of land between our ridge and the next.  Too dry and wind-swept for agriculture, this has always been grazing land. Sheep still dot the pastures, but the scattered cottages and barns we passed have all fallen into ruin: no one lives on this lonely plain any longer. 


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Light and fog at
play on Snowdon's
The gentle valley to the right provided a sharp contrast to the harsher view to the left. No broad alluvial fans here: instead, there was a chilling drop several hundred feet straight down into the Llanberis valley below.  On one hand, meadow; on the other, thin air.  The very contrast added a strange exhilaration to the trip.


Halfway up the ridge a tall knot of stone interrupted the smooth rise of the ridgeline, and the rails swerved rightward to clear the obstacle.  Just as we rounded the foot of the knob, the tracks split in two at a lonely passing loop and watering place called Hebron. Pulled up on the other track was yet another of SMR's centenarian steam engines, this one pushing a works flatcar laden with tools and rail.  An early-season maintenance crew had been at work out on the line, and had tied up in the passing loop to give us room to clear. After we sidled bye, gouts of steam shot up from the engine's stack as she and her crew followed us back up the hill to resume their interrupted chores.


Beyond Hebron the rails reared up again in one of the line's patented near-20% grades as we clawed our way back to the top of the ridgeline.   We had climbed almost halfway up the mountain now, and the dense fog which we had earlier seen whipping over the distant peaks now began to swirl directly across the rails.  With each passing foot the mist grew thicker.  At the last, we traveled in a cocoon of swirling white, which broke only occasionally to disclose a rocky and desolate landscape.  With one final hearty shove, the Hunslet pushed us up to a little concrete platform set hard by the rails.  We had arrived at Rocky Valley, the terminus for our Spring ascent.  Until the weather broke later in the season, the SMR could take us no further.



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