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


Five: Changing Ends


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Talyllyn Railway
#7 strikes a
dramatic pose in
the Welsh
mountains at
Nant Gwernol


Nant Gwernol was silent, isolated, and more than a little forbidding.  It cannot always have been so: in the Talyllyn's heyday, the gorge must have bustled with noise, activity and clangor as heavily-loaded slate wagons were winched down inclined planes to Nant Gwernol, and then run out onto marshalling tracks for assembly into down trains to Wharf.  Now the great planeway up to Bryn Eglwys is largely overgrown, and second- or third-growth forest cloaks the mining scars which once must have marred the landscape.  No roads access the gorge, and the silence of the hills under the gray Welsh skies is almost eerie.  Our fellow passengers dropped their voices in unconscious sympathy with the quiet, and soon the only intruding sound was the quiet metallic panting of the Tom Rolt's air compressor, a bass counterpoint to our murmured conversations.


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Pulling forward
past the ground
Even after the hard work of the ascent, however, our driver and fireman had only a few moments of rest.  Following a brief pause pause to catch their breaths, these two busied themselves again, uncoupling the Tom Rolt from the front of our train, pulling forward to clear the points of the passing siding, and then backing down behind the train to change ends for the descent to Tywyn.  The engine and crew drifted past our carriages at the platform, then curved left and out of sight around a tall spur of rock; for a time, only an occasional muted "chuff" echoing across the valley provided evidence that they were still in the vicinity at all.  Yet soon increasingly frequent beats of exhaust and a sharp column of steam rising above the crest of the ridge signaled their return, and the #7 proudly rounded the curve, passed the ground frame (switch stand) at the end of the platform, and chuffed gently to a coupling with Carriage #16.  Having been in the rearmost seats of the train for the ascent, Samantha and I would now have the frontmost compartment for the return journey.


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Guard Ben Abbott
confers with the
engine crew before
departing for
Setting the coupling chains and joining the air hoses was but the work of a moment, and remounting our "Y Chwarelwr" signboard on the Tom Rolt's rear cab wall took less time still.  With the couplings set to rights, good air on the train, and steam pressure in the boiler, all was in readiness for our downhill run.  A quick conference occupied the driver, fireman and guard for a moment, and then the guard turned to warn all of us still standing on the platform that the time had come to reboard our carriages.  At 15:35 sharp the Tom Rolt's whistle shattered the stillness for the last time, while simultaneously steam shot out horizontally across the platform from the locomotive's cylinder valves.  Our driver had set his reversing lever, released the brakes, and cracked open the throttle: we were on our way back to Tywyn.



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