Have Bag, Will Travel
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Tag Archives: Talyllyn Railway
“Cenedl heb iaith, cenedi heb galon” – Welsh proverb (A nation without language is a nation without heart)
The following morning it was raining. Raining quite hard as it happened and this was much more like the Wales that I remembered from family holidays when I was a boy.
After breakfast it began to ease away and by nine o’clock I was able to leave the caravan and walk again to the seafront and take the cliff top walk once more to the war memorial and look out over the bay where things looked very different today as grey clouds filled the sky in all directions.
On the way back down I spoke to a man who was hoping for better weather because he was preparing to do some repairs and painting of his house and he told me how the properties are under continual assault from the weather and from the salt water and how much work that entails in keeping properties well maintained. Back home I like to paint my house every fifteen years or so, whether it needs it or not, but here he explained it is an annual chore.
By mid morning there was some improvement so we left the caravan and headed north towards the seaside town of Aberdovey on the opposite side of the estuary. I always like to go to Aberdovey because it is one of my favourite places in Wales.
A perfect seaside town with a sandy beach, a busy harbour, brightly painted houses and a small public park. Parents with children entertain themselves in the simple pursuit of crabbing because thankfully there are no amusement arcades, no tacky tourist trains and no furious fast food diners.
As we drove around the north shore of the estuary the weather started to change for the better and by the time we had found a parking spot and wandered off in the direction of the harbour the clouds were rapidly disappearing and the sun was beginning to shine.
After lunch at the Dovey Inn we spent some time in the charming streets away from the seafront and left and carried on to Towyn. Towyn is the terminus of the Talyllyn railway, which is just about my favourite narrow gauge railway in Wales but I didn’t mention this to my travelling companion because I was certain that having turned down the opportunity to take the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway just the previous day he was almost certain not to have had a Saint Paul on the road to Damascus type moment overnight and suddenly been converted into a steam railway enthusiast.
Instead we went to the seafront and sat and in the sunshine were content to sit and watch the sea and the boats before going to a supermarket for some supplies.
We had driven here along the coastal route so we choose now to return via the country so we headed inland towards the foothills of Cader Idris mountain range and Tal-y-lyn lake. If I was choosing to move house and live in Wales then this is where I would select, I prefer it to the north and the south, the countryside is green and gentle, the lakes are blue and serene and it is not nearly so busy.
Place names are hard to pronounce of course because trying to understand the Welsh language is like trying to crawl through a hawthorn bush without getting lacerated and as I called out the names of the villages as we drove through them and each one I got horribly wrong.
Since devolution the Welsh language fanatics have become rather like the French with their opposition to anything Anglo-Saxon and they have gone to a lot of trouble to replace as many words as possible and when they can revert them to Welsh.
When there is no Welsh word they just make one up. For example there is no Welsh word for microwave and (you will probably have to look this up because you won’t believe me) the word they made up is ‘popty-ping’. Almost as funny is the Welsh word for ironing which is smwddio, which is pronounced smoothio. It’s true. UCNMIP, which, as it happens, is not a Welsh word but simply means You Could Not Make It Up! (nad oeddech yn gallu ei wneud yn i fyny).
The weather continued to improve through late afternoon and after pie supper cooked in the popty-ping I made way once more to the sea and the pebble beach to wait patiently for a sunset that was preparing for a show in the west and as the sun dipped slowly down I wasn’t disappointed.
In my earlier posts I mentioned that I had visited Wales several times and this time I returned to an old favourite.
The picture above is Aberdovey in 1985 and this is Aberdovey today…
In 1968 I went on holiday to Aberdovey at Plas Pantiedal Holiday village near Aberdovey and one day we visited Lake Bala…
and almost fifty years later I have taken my grandchildren to the same place (well, almost)…
In 1985 it was my first holiday with my daughter, Sally …
and here we are again…
The beach at Aberdovey in 1976 playing boules with my brother, Richard…
and all of these years later my grandchildren playing on the same beach…
With my daughter, Sally in 1986…
And with my grandchildren, Molly, Patsy and William in 2015…
Finally with the full crew…
The following morning we checked each other to be doubly certain that we hadn’t been turned into vampires and then we threw back the curtains and there was a wonderful surprise – this morning it wasn’t raining.
For the first time in twenty-four hours we were able to leave the cottage without being driven back inside by a deluge of rain like the ice bucket challenge so we grasped the opportunityand drove west towards the coast with a first stop at Dolgoch Falls to take a train ride on the Talylynn Railway down to the coast at Towyn.
The Talyllyn Railway is a narrow-gauge preserved railway in Wales that runs for nearly sixteen miles from the town of Tywyn on the Mid-Wales coast to Nant Gwernol near the village of Abergynolwyn. The line was opened in 1866 to carry slate from the quarries at Bryn Eglwys to Tywyn, and was the first narrow gauge railway in Britain authorised by Act of Parliament to carry passengers using steam haulage.
The line remained open even after the quarry had closed for business, and on 14th May 1951 it became the first railway in the world to be preserved as a heritage railway by volunteers.
The Talyllyn Railway crops up in the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ books as the Skarloey Railway and most of the fictional locomotives are based on real-life equivalents. The author, Rev. W. Awdry, visited the line on a family holiday in the early days of preservation and became involved as a volunteer soon afterwards.
The preservation of the railway was also the inspiration for the 1953 film The Titfield Thunderbolt, an Ealing Studios comedy about a group of villagers attempting to run a service on a disused branch line after closure. The script writer for the film, had heard about the preservation of the railway and spent a day there in 1951 looking for stories and inspiration and some of the early exploits in preservation were incorporated into the film.
The cost of the short journey came as an enormous shock – £12.50 return, you can get a thousand mile Ryanair flight ticket for less than that but once at the booking office I was committed and my young grandson would never have forgiven me if I declined the purchase at this late stage. At least the children travelled for free.
So we took the twenty minute journey to the seaside as the engine effortlessly pulled the coaches down the side of the hill and steamed into the station.
With blue skies and sunshine we spent an hour or so on the beach, climbed rocks, collected seaweed and looked for marine life in the rock pools and the shallows. It was so nice we could have stayed longer but we didn’t want to miss the last train back because that would have meant a problem getting back to the cars stranded at Dolgoch Falls.
Actually, I confess to being a bit of a ‘stress head‘ in these situations and whilst I told everyone that it was the last train I kept the information to myself that there was one final one an hour or so later. Don’t tell them!
The railway engine had to work a lot harder on the return journey because shortly out of Towyn the track began to climb and made its way into the hills towards the old slate workings. Just like Thomas the Tank Engine its boiler was bubbling, its pistons were pumping and its fire box was fizzing as with puffy white mists of steam and thunder clouds of belching smoke it carried us ever upwards over bridges and viaducts before arriving exhausted back at the station.
As it pulled away towards Abergynolwyn we waved it goodbye and made our way back along a muddy track as the children amused themselves by jumping in the puddles to the car park.
It was mid afternoon but I wasn’t finished with Talylynn because I was on a mission to visit a site where I had last been in 1985 – Castell y Bere, a ruined castle just a short drive away. In 1985 I had my first holiday after the birth of my daughter, she was only three months old and I thought she might appreciate revisiting the site she wouldn’t be able to remember.
It was quite a difficult drive to the castle and there was a bit of moaning from my passengers and I began to worry that it might be a disappointment but we arrived eventually and made our way to the top of a rocky crag and the extensive ruins of the castle. It had once belonged to Edward I but in 1294 it was captured by Welsh forces and burnt to the ground. Edward never rebuilt it, maybe he hadn’t renewed his home insurance policy and he abandoned this once strategic position to concentrate instead on his new defensive ring of castles that he was busy building all along the coast.
The visit was declared a success, the children liked it, Sally was interested in my stories and recollections and as we left and drove back to the cottage the sun was still shining.
Have you ever been back somewhere to relive a memory?
It rained in Welshpool, it rained in Newtown, it rained in Llangurig and it rained in Aberystwyth when we reached the coast and the road swung south towards our destination. To our right the sea was grey and uninviting, lashed with spiteful squalls of stinging rain as wave after wave of dark clouds swept in from the Irish Sea and it was about now that I was forced to concede that we probably wouldn’t be having a barbeque this evening.
The road took us through the Georgian fishing port of Aberaeron which has a High Street and a harbour flanked by gaily coloured houses in a Mediterranean sort of way but even the pretty hues of the elegant buildings could do nothing to lift the gloom of the grey sky as great slabs of misery assaulted them continuously and robbed them of their natural vibrancy and leached them of their colour.
I have mentioned before that when I was younger and before cheap air flights holidays alternated between Norfolk on the east coast, Cornwall and Devon in the south west and occasionally Wales.
I seem to remember that we weren’t that keen on Wales because it always seemed to rain but in 1971 dad came across the Plas Panteidal Holiday Village near Aberdyfi (it was called Aberdovey then and Tywyn was Towyn) and we travelled there some time during the summer for our annual holiday.