Talyllyn: The World's First Preserved Railway


1. A Gray Day at Tywyn 5. Changing Ends
2. The Honorable Rituals 6. Conversation at Abergynolwyn
3. An Iron Horse Indeed 7. Down Train
4. Ascent to Nant Gwernol


One: A Gray Day at Tywyn


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Talyllyn Railway #7 in the Welsh mountains at Nant Gwernol
I first made the acquaintance of the Talyllyn Railway on a gray April Friday.  My friend Samantha and I had arrived in Britain four days earlier, and spent the first part of our trip hiking the Pembrokshire Coast Trail in verdant and sun-drenched South Wales.  Now, however, we were in mid-Wales, driving on winding roads, past gray hills, under lowering skies-- to the stone-built market town of Machynlleth, over the Afon Dyfi on an arch bridge that dated back to Cromwell's time, then down the bank of the Dyfi estuary, from the mountains to the sea.  After reaching the coast at Aberdyfi, it was but a quick turn up along the sea to Tywyn-- and the Talyllyn.  


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Talyllyn #7, the
Tom Rolt, and
driver pose at
the end of track
at Tywyn.
On the outskirts of Tywyn town, a small sign pointed us to the left-- toward the Bay of Cardigan.  The side-road rose sharply, cresting some 50 yards later on a bridge over the main British Rail Cambrian Coast Line, whose tracks we had been paralleling since leaving Machynlleth.  And there, off to the left, tucked into a tiny bowl of land between the high road into Tywyn and the Cambrian Coast Line tracks paralleling it, lay the little Wharf terminus of the Talyllyn Railway.


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Talyllyn afternoon
train ready
for boarding at
Wharf Station.
Wharf Station was not prepossessing.  The station building was low, brick-fronted, utilitarian-- truthfully, a bit drab.  Yet a quick walk through the station doors, past the ticket-agent's window and out onto the platform unfolded a very different scene: spread out before me in a small bowl of land was a living train garden, a recreation in miniature of the classic Victorian country terminal.  Beneath my feet, a slate-edged platform; overhead, a gingerbreaded canopy.  Before me to the left and right, a tiny but functional narrow-gauge terminal yard, complete in every detail: a platform track, two passing sidings, a spur to a water-tower, and one weed-grown spur curving off to a long parallel with the Cambrian Coast Line right-of-way: the old slate interchange and transfer track.  And then there was the tunnel: just beyond the platform on the left the boarding track, spurs and passing tracks all ran abruptly together in a tangle of turnouts to form a single main line, which plunged immediately into a tunnel flanked by castellated masonry.  On closer inspect the "tunnel" proved to be a heavy masonry bridge, but the effect was still the same.  It was all that had been lacking to complete the impression of a model, rather than a real, railway. 


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The 14:05 Talyllyn
down train from
Nant Gwernol pulls
into the platform
at Tywyn Wharf.
I had hardly had time to take in the scene when a piercing whistle split the dampness of the air: in short order, a bright green tank engine, running in reverse, loomed out from under the tunnel-like bridge.  Clanking loudly over the turnouts, the engine brought its string of red-liveried carriages into the station.   In short order, the driver and fireman had the motive power-- #7, an 0-4-2T whose bright brass nameplate proclaimed it to be the Tom Rolt-- cut off from the string of carriages, and pulled into the pocket ready to run around the consist.  The 14:05 down train from Nant Gwernol had arrived-- and my trainspotting holiday was underway.   



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