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


Three: An Iron Horse Indeed


At 14:30 sharp we were off for Nant Gwernol.   With a piercing toot on the steam whistle, the driver opened the throttle on #7, and we lurched into motion, clanking over the points, into the tunnel, and on out through a long cut.  As we picked up speed, Sam and I discovered that to ride the Talyllyn was to ride an iron horse indeed.  The moment #7 dug in for the climb out of Wharf, the carriages began rocking with a gentle but firm forward and back, forward and back motion.  As the Tom Rolt hit its power strokes, it would leap ahead, stretching out the slack in the coupling chains connecting all the cars behind.  When the slack ran out, the carriages would jerk together with a good tug.  All the slack would then run in again-- until the bumpers ran together, and gave the cars a firm push apart!  The result was a kind of gentle oscillation in the carriages from front to back, quite unlike the more familiar side-to-side rocking of most railway cars.  All in all, it was uncommonly like riding an actual horse-- and sharpened my sense of being on a genuine Victorian railway.


frame.JPG (8488 bytes)
Interior of the
ground frame
cabin at Pendre.
Using these levers
the switchman can
control all the
turnouts and
signals in the
Pendre yard
complex.  Photo
courtesy of
Richard Huss.
After a few moments the cut through which we had been steaming suddenly widened.  Immediately there appeared a cluster of shop buildings, yard tracks, a ground frame (interlocking cabin), an impressive stone-built engine shed, and all the buildings and impedimenta of a working railway shop complex.  We had arrived at Pendre, the operating heart of the TR, and for most of the line's history, its chief passenger terminus.  Now, however, we made only a brief stop to change tokens, and then it was off, out of Tywyn, and up into the green, verdant valley of the Afon Fathew.


Leaving Pendre behind we clattered through open fields on a long tangent, startling ewes and their lambs right and left.  On either side of the right of way, the railway's property line was guarded by a most remarkable form of fencing-- tall slate slabs, set on end into the ground, their tops tied together with wire-- a kind of picket fence made all of gray stone.  As we entered the Afon Fathew valley proper the grade began to rise, and #7 soon settled in for the long steady work of pulling us up the valley's southern rim and on into the mountains ahead.  The afternoon sun painted sharp silhouettes of our carriages across the fields to our left, surmounted always by a tall diaphanous shadow: the footprint of the Tom Rolt's towering exhaust cloud.  From time to time we passed without pausing small rural halts (whistle stops) with good Welsh names like Rhydyronen and Brynglas-- relics of the time when the Talyllyn still provided essential transportation for the farming folk thereabouts.


At Brynglas the character of the line changed sharply.  Soon after passing the platform, we ducked through a small cut, and emerged on a shelf carved into the steepening shoulders of the hills to our right.  The pastures to the left became more wooded and closed in, changing to copses of trees, and finally dense forest.  Then with an abrupt rattle and clatter we were on a high bridge-- the Dolgoch viaduct, carrying the line high above the falls of the Nant Dolgoch, which poured down off the mountain shoulders to our right and on toward the Afon Fathew to our left and well below.  A sudden squeal signaled an application of the brakes, and we rumbled to a halt at Dolgoch Falls halt-- the halfway mark for our journey.



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