Monday, 4 August 2014

The Welsh Tour Part I: The Ffestiniog Railway...

Hi all. Today, with a day off in prospect, Eddie had planned a big Welsh day out for us. The plan would take in two preserved railways, two main line connections and a bus connection, starting and ending in Porthmadog. The hefty timetable would begin around 9am and we would arrive back at around 6:30am after a no doubt tiring experience. So, at 8am, the race was on! First it was the car journey, leaving Llanuwchllyn for Porthmadog: a journey of around 50 minutes. I was feeling rough again, having been pretty much forced into a rather rich "3-Course Challenge" at Bala's "Plas yn Dre" last night. Having arrived at Porthmadog, we parked the car and then walked to the terminus station of the world famous Ffestiniog Railway. I had never been to the FR before and it has always been on my list and so, at last, I was pleased to tick it off. It was a wonderfully sunny morning and the harbour scene that greeted us at Porthmadog deserved a photo...
The station at Porthmadog is not only the home and terminus of the Ffestiniog Railway, but also the terminus of the massive Welsh Highland Railway, which comes in from Caernarfon on its 25-mile scenic run. The WHR, as you may have guessed, would be our return transport (another first for me!). Having purchased our FR tickets ready for the 10:10am departure for Blaenau Ffestiniog on the 13.5 mile line, there was nothing left to do but eat. Yes readers, despite being completely worse for wear from last nights 3-course exploits, I managed to try the FR's Full English Breakfast in the quaint 'Spooners Bar'. It was very nice...
Eddie was so much in shock that I had taken on such a breakfast after his bids to defeat me the previous evening with his 3-course challenge that he had to take a photo of me...
Having eaten the breakfast and watched one of the massive Garrett's depart with the 9:40am WHR train to Caernarfon (more on that later), I walked up to the far end of the newly remodelled Porthmadog platform with a view of steam on the horizon. Just then, a real FR gem arrived and I was so pleased. We must remember that this is the land of unusual engines, what with Garrett's and Double Fairlie's. A double Fairlie I hear you ask? A double Fairlie is a 0-4-4-0 with the driving wheels positioned on bogies in order to make the locomotive articulated. The Fairlie's carry side tanks for water with coal storage on top to feed their two separate fireboxes. Steam is delivered to the two 0-4-0 power bogies via flexible piping and the result gave an engine that basically provided the power of two 0-4-0's put together. After all the slate carrying, steeply graded FR originally used the George England 0-4-0s such as "Prince" and "Palmerston" for example, so the Fairlie's were a big development. The Fairlie design was arguably at its most successful here on the Ffestiniog Railway. The engine that would be hauling our train was "Merddin Emrys", an FR veteran built at the line's Boston Lodge works in 1879. I was so pleased that "Merddin Emrys" would be doing the job. The later FR Fairlie's are preservation builds and so, to me, "Merddin" is the real thing...
The locomotive waited outside the Porthmadog signalbox whilst the crew enjoyed their breakfast, before backing onto the train. The FR employs vacuum braking and the 1879 built Fairlie was soon coupled up and ready to go...
"Ready to Roll"
Though there were some original FR coaches at the head of the train, we decided to take our seats in a much more comfortable and modern FR carriage. We departed on time at 10:10am, crossing the cob and passing Boston Lodge works as we did so. Eddie was having a whale of a time...
"Our Guide for Today"
The FR winds its way up steep gradients, around tight curves, through narrow cuttings, dark tunnels and through wooded glades. It is so picturesque, its just beautiful. Meanwhile "Merddin Emrys" was working hard, dragging the lengthy train up the various hills. The FR in fact climbs so continuously that the return trains have the ability to come back down via gravity alone. We sat in the coach, motoring along at some good speed behind the Fairlie with a cup of tea on the table from the FR's very friendly buffet trolley staff...
"Wonderful Scenery on the FR"
After a very pleasant journey to the terminus station at Blaenau Ffestiniog, we alighted to admire "Merddin Emrys", but not before I banged my head on a low door brace! There was some light use of expletives I will admit. The Fairlie stood at the head of the train, admired by her many passengers in the morning sunshine...
A last look at 1879-built "Merddin Emrys", built at Boston Lodge Works...
It had been a very pleasant run on the FR but there wasn't a massive amount of time to hang around. Our main line connection with the Conwy Valley Line left at 11:45am following the 11:25am arrival of the Fairlie. Luckily the terminus station of the FR is dead opposite the main line platform! As the 0-4-4-0 ran round, we walked across the crossing to join the diesel unit already waiting in the quiet platform. And on to the next! Cheers guys... 

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