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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Vale of Rheidol Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:       1' 11¾" 

Length:      11¾ miles

Opened:     1902


        Vale of Rheidol Railway,
        Park Avenue,
        SY23 1PG

View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map  


Date of visit:     30 August 2012


Key Facts

  •  The main purpose for the railway when it was built was to carry timber and lead ore from workings along the Rheidol valley to the main line railway at Aberystwyth and to shipping.
  • With a decline in industries in the valley, the railway was soon promoted as a tourist attraction to picturesque Devil's Bridge with its three bridges and waterfall
  • The railway as absorbed into Cambrian Railways in 1913 and into the Great Western in 1922
  • There were plans to use electrically powered locomotives prior to its takeover by the Cambrian Railways using hydro-electricity from the River Rheidol
  • Under the Great Western, goods services were removed and the branch to the harbour dismantled
  • The railway was closed during World War II but re-opened in 1945 and was then transferred to the ownership of the newly nationalised British Railways
  • In 1968, the railway was re-routed to its present terminus alongside the abandoned platforms of the mainline railway. The former main line engine sheds were converted for use by the VoR.
  • For a while, the VoR Railway was the only steam hauled railway under the ownership of British Rail. The locos and rolling stock were painted in BR colours.
  • The line was sold off in 1989 and is now under the ownership of Peter Rampton and the Phyllis Rampton Narrow Gauge Railway Trust
  • The railway runs from Easter through to October, with some specials being run during the winter months (eg Santa specials)
  •  The railway does not have its own catering outlet at Aberystwyth but there are a couple of places to eat on the mainline station. There is a small cafe at Devil's Bridge Station and, as the train waits there for 30 minutes, there is time for a coffee and a snack.



My Impressions

It must be around 50 years ago I last rode on the Vale of Rheidol. My impressions then were that the start of the journey was a bit ordinary but once the train started the climb up the side of the valley it got a lot more interesting. Somehow, I had forgotten just how spectacular the journey was.

There was a generous sized car park at Aberystwyth beside the VoR station. What's more it is free and provides easy access to the station and also to the town. We bought our tickets but as there was around an hour before the train departed we had an opportunity to enjoy a leisurely coffee and a breakfast bun at the Wetherspoons in the main station building.

The line's Baguley/Drewry 0-6-0 diesel shunted the coaches for our train into the platform .........

....... while our loco, Swindon-built 2-6-2T No. 8 Llewellyn was being prepared .......

..... before backing on to its train.

 With a few toots on the whistle, the train steam off down the line, leaving the station yard behind.

After crossing the main road and the River Rheidol, the train passed through the suburbs and then the farmland of the lower valley, before eventually steaming into Capel Bangor. After a brief pause, we ventured forth once more.

We then started the early part of the climb towards Devil's Bridge ........

..... and entered woodland.

We paused briefly at Nantyronen to allow some walkers to disembark. As with all other stations and halts on the line, there is evidence of recent construction work - with a new platform, railings and a corrugated iron station shelter in the style of GWR buildings.

The climb now began in earnest, with the regulator open wide and impressive beats and the whistle echoing across the valley.

In recent years, the company has cleared some of the trees and undergrowth to allow increasingly impressive views of the valley and the river below.

About three quarters of the way up the valley, a view is gained of the Cwm Rheidol reservoir and the Rheidol Falls.

Above Rheidol Falls is a halt, which like all the other stations is getting a makeover. We paused briefly to allow a member of the railway staff to hop off, paintbrush and paint-pot in hand.

We then continued up the valley, with increasingly sharper curves and even more impressive views down into the valley.

Ultimately, we steamed into Devil's Bridge Station .........

..... where the train paused for around half an hour.

There was plenty to see and do. We decided not to explore the views of the waterfall and the three bridges, instead opting for a more leisurely cup of coffee and Welsh cakes in the combined cafe and shop. There was also a display of wood carving (with a chain -saw) and an opportunity to drive a Kerr Stuart Wren class loco for the princely sum of £5.00. As you can see, this particular young lady was none too impressed with her brother's passion on sounding the whistle at regular intervals.

After taking on water ...

..... our loco ran round its train

..... and then took the train on its descent down the valley.

This time, I decided to travel in the open coach at the rear of the train.

On the way down the valley we often saw Red Kites circling on the up-currents - but I was never quick enough with the camera to snap them.

Eventually, we re-crossed the river and hove back into the station at Aberystwyth......

 ........ where there was another opportunity to admire the loco as she ran round the train to take on more water in preparation for the afternoon service.

After travelling on Aberystwyth's cliff railway and grabbing some lunch in one of the small cafes off the main street .......

 ....we decided to drive the route up the valley in the afternoon. The Ordnance Survey map showed there were numerous footpaths along and up and down the valley and so we parked up and took one of the paths leading down to Rheidol Falls Halt, where we were in time to see the afternoon train making its way back down to Aberystwyth.

The locomotives are very powerful, well maintained and impressive in the way they tackle the steeply graded line. The 11¾ mile journey to my mind is about right for a half day excursion, though in future I would like to return and explore some of the footpaths, maybe taking more photos during the summer operating season when there are twice the number of train services up and down the valley.

I would also like to spend more time exploring the history of the railway, particularly the short-lived lineside industries of lead ore extraction and timber felling - and somewhere there must be some remains of the harbour branch.
 I am very glad that I have re-acquainted myself with this railway which has quite a unique feel about it - its locos are certainly very different from those found on the other railways in Wales - it's reassuring to see that they are now resplendent in their original GWR livery - though I think it would be interesting to see one in BR Blue - with the large double arrow in white on the side - the only steam locos ever to have sported this livery.


[In preparation] 

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