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

 

Four: Ascent to Nant Gwernol

 

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Pulling into
Dolgoch.  In
a moment, the
Tom Rolt will stop
at the water tank,
and guard Ben
Abbott will alight
to take the tickets
of the family
waiting at the
shelter.

 

Dolgoch was our watering stop, and again the crew wasted no time-- within moments of our halt, Chris was out on the pilot, pulling down the spout from a square water tank set high on a spindly iron frame.  While the engine crew replaced the water the Tom Rolt had consumed ascending this far our guard, Ben Abbott, alighted from his compartment just behind Samantha's and mine to take the tickets of a family of six who had been waiting patiently for the train at the platform shelter.  Dolgoch Falls are a beauty spot of some repute, and the TR has laid out a series of paths and nature walks from the station down to the cascades.  Patrons are encouraged to catch the morning train, detrain at Dolgoch to enjoy the falls and a picnic lunch, and then continue their journey to Nant Gwernol and return on "The Quarryman" in the afternoon.  It seems that on this day at least the railway had had takers on the offer.    

 

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Tom Rolt fights
the grade at
Milepost 6.75.

The watering stop was timely, for ahead lay the last and hardest leg of our journey: two and one-half miles of steeply graded track, in the course of which we would climb over 80 more feet above sea level.  Hardly had we left the platform when the Tom Rolt began straining hard to carry us up the sustained grades; when the incline steepened briefly to better than 1.3%, the column of steam from the 0-4-2's stack was a sight to behold.  The higher we climbed, the narrower grew the right-of-way on which we were travelling, until finally we were winding along a pronounced ledge, carved into the steep shoulders of Mynydd Tan-y-Coed, Foel Fach, and Foel Fawr by the railway's original grading gangs back in 1865.        

   

As we climbed along our ledge, the train passed beyond the headwaters of the Afon Fathew, and on into the watershed of the Afon Dysynni-- the lovely, fast-flowing stream which pours down from the Railway's namesake lake of Tal-y-llyn to the north, and on toward an outlet to the sea beyond Tywyn.  Once the Dysynni ran all the way to the sea straight down the Talyllyn's valley, but at some point a tremendous glacial moraine laid down at what is now Abergynolwyn diverted its course into the next valley to the north.  The Dysynni's abrupt diversion leaves the Talyllyn Railway in an odd situation: the train traverses a single continuous valley, but the valley is occupied by two wholly separate rivers.

 


Just as we passed the dry valley between the two watersheds, we paused briefly at a halt known on the railway's timetables as Abergynolwyn Station.  For 110 years, Abergynolwyn Station marked the uppermost limit of passenger service on the railway-- only slate wagons passed beyond to Nant Gwernol.  Since the town of Abergynolwyn is sited by the banks of the Dysynni on the valley floor far below, while the railway at this point is clinging hard to the mountain shoulders and fighting for every inch of altitude, there could be no question of locating a station in the town proper.  Instead, villagers faced a long walk south of town along a small tributary of the Dysynni and then high up to trackside if they wished to catch the steam cars to Tywyn.  Not until 1976 did the Railway open passenger service all the way to the end of track at Nant Gwernol-- and then only by obtaining a Parliamentary Order under the Light Railways Act to amend the Railway's original, restrictive charter!

 

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Negotiating the
reverse-curves at
the entrance to
the Nant Gwernol.
After our short pause at Abergynolwyn Station, we were off again: now no further stops remained before we reached the end of the line itself.  A few hundred yards beyond the station platform, the train snaked past a large wooden drum abandoned at the trackside to the left: all that remained of a winding house which once inched goods wagons down a steep inclined plain, and into the town of Abergynolwyn proper.  Just at this point, the track swung abruptly to the south, and plunged into the steep ravine of the Nant Gwernol.  A series of reverse curves bought us ever deeper into the gorge, and the mountains closed in on either hand.  Hemmed in now by the stone walls of the gorge, the Tom Rolt's exhaust blasts cracked sharply back, and filled our ears with the sound of a working steam locomotive fighting hard for altitude.  Finally, after a series of flange- squealing bends, we rounded a high spur of rock and emerged onto a slightly wider ledge, which proved just sufficient to hold a passing track and an adjacent platform.  As the train shuddered to a halt with a whoosh of braking air, an untoward silence fell.  We had arrived at Nant Gwernol.

 


 

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