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Review: Talyllyn Railway

Attraction - Railway & Train

Gwynedd, Wales, United Kingdom

A lovely leisurely ride on a beautifully preserved narrow gauge steam railway

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2493 reviews

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  • March 2016
  • Family including children under 16

174 people found this review helpful

The Talyllyn Railway was originally built to carry slate from the hills above Abergynolwyn to the wharves at Tywyn. It was made famous as Skarloey’s railway by Rev Awdry in his Thomas the Tank engine books. The railway still preserves the feel of the 1950s and is a lovely ride up the Afon Fathew valley in Mid wales.

The railway was opened in 1866 and has an illustrious history. It was the first narrow gauge railway in Britain to carry passengers using steam locomotives. The line never closed and is the oldest narrow gauge railway still running in Britain, as well as the first of the narrow gauge railways to be preserved by volunteers. It still has its two original locos (Talyllyn and Dolgoch) as well as many of the original carriages. These two locos have been joined by Edward Thomas and Sir Hadyn from the nearby closed Corris Railway, Douglas and finally by Tom Rolt, built in the Talyllyn workshops.

Locos and coaches are in immaculate condition and provide a lovely leisurely trip up the valley to the terminus at Nant Gwernol. On the way back there is a 30 minute refreshment stop at Abergynolwyn. There is no sense of hurry. This is a railway to sit back and enjoy the scenery as you pass the small isolated farms scattered up the valley.

Most people begin the journey at Tywyn with its shop, cafe and very good museum. There is no road access to Nant Gwernol.

Slate was needed to roof the houses of the rapidly expanding cities of industrial Britain and the best roofing slate was found in North Wales. Originally slate was carried by pack horse or on sleds. At there peak the quarries at Bryn Eglwys employed over 300 men and so much slate was produced a new method of transport was needed. The Ffestiniog Railway was already using steam engines to carry slate and the Talyllyn soon followed. The line opened in 1866 and was soon running regular slate and passenger trains. Small halts served the isolated farms along the valley.

At the beginning of the C20th, the enterprise was not making money and the Bryn Eglwys quarries, Abergynolwyn Estate and village and the Talyllyn Railway were put up for sale. It was bought by the local MP, Sir Henry Hadyn Jones, who was concerned about the distress and problems caused if the quarry closed. Although demand for slate fell with the introduction of roofing tiles between the wars, the quarries struggled on until 1946 when a main rock fall led to their closure. The railway continued to run although on a very reduced service on 2 or 3 days a week, assuming there was a loco able to pull the train. The precarious condition of the railway meant, unlike the Vale of Rheidol Railway, it was not included in the 1947 Transport Act that nationalised Britain’s railways.

When Sir Hadyn died in 1950, a group of enthusiasts lead by the railway author Tom Rolt and Edward Thomas who had worked for the company for 53 years met with Sir Hadyn’s widow and the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society was formed to take over the railway. They set forward a plan to run the railway using volunteer labour and funded by membership fees and gifts. Tom Rolt was appointed General Manager. It was the first time anything like this had been tried and was the start of the narrow gauge railway preservation movement

The Society ran their first train in 1951 to Rhydyronen, as the track beyond was in too poor condition. Trains were run using Dolgoch, with help from two new locos from the Corris railway, renamed Sir Hadyn and Edward Thomas.

In 1953, the Territorial Army helped restore the track above Rhydyronen and another loco named Douglas arrived along with more coaches. In 1957, the BBC did a live broadcast from the railway and passenger numbers doubled. It was very much on the tourist map and passenger facilities were improved at Twywn and Abergynolwyn.

The original line ended at Abergynolwyn and there were two cable worked inclines to the quarries above Nant Gwernol. Landowners were traced and land bought to extend the line as a light railway to a new terminus at Nant Gwernol, which opened in 1976. A new loco, Tom Rolt, was built in the Society’s workshop at Pendre.

Most Passengers begin their journey at Tywyn Wharf Station, which is close to the main line station served by Arriva Trains. This was originally built as a slate transhipment point rather than a passenger station, which was at Pendre. When passenger services started from here at the beginning of the C20th, it was known as King’s Station and the King’s Cafe on the station still continues this name. It is an attractive brick building which has been extended to include a very good museum (separate review).

The line goes through a cutting and past a signal box to the workshops at Pendre. Locos not being used may be seen here. The line continues through the outskirts of Twywn with small industrial units and the fire station, before reaching the broad coastal plain. Beyond are the gentle grass covered slopes of the hills. This is very fertile farmland with bright green improved pastures with sleek looking cows and sheep.

In March there were primroses along the banks. Along the way are the tiny halts of Hendy, Fach Goch and Cynfal, built to serve farms. They are easy to miss as the hedges just get further away.

Rhydyronen is the first station, a large grassy area with lots of daffodils. It has a very rural feel with a small stone station building with ticket office and waiting area. This is a popular holiday area with several caravan parks, including one next to the station. This was a popular stopping off point fro Victorian visitors who got off here to walk to Caerffynon Farm where they would drink the waters from a local spring, said to have healing powers.

The line now begins to climb, past Tynllwyn Hen Halt. The coastal plain is left behind and bracken and heather begin to appear on the hillsides.

The railway runs along the north facing side of the valley with isolated farms scattered along the valley floor.

There is a brief stop at the signal box before Brynglas Station to swap tokens. There is a passing loop here. Beyond is ‘Tadpole Cutting’, which got its name from its tendency to flood after heavy rain. The valley is getting narrower and fences made from upright pieces of slate begin to line the track. The valley bottom is now much wetter in places and pasture is not as good. Mixed deciduous woodland is appearing on the hillsides.

Dolgoch station is reached over the 50’ viaduct over the Afon Dolgoch. Dolgoch Station was built for the Victorian tourists to visit the waterfalls. These are still as popular as ever. The station with its small stone building, is set among the trees. There is a signed walk to the waterfalls as well as a footpath down to a photo shot of the viaduct. Footpaths on either side of the valley lead up to a series of waterfalls.

Trains take on water here, using a modern water tank. The Victorian water tower which features in pictures of Skarloey’s Railway is here. It is only used for the Victorian train service as the fireman gets very wet.

Beyond Dolgoch is Quarry Siding Halt with another passing loop. There used to be a small quarry here which provided ballast for relaying the line in the 1950s.

The line continues to climb up the valley, along a ledge on the hillside. Hedges are replaced by stone walls. The settlement of Abergynolwyn can be seen in the valley bottom below. This was built to house quarry workers. They travelled up a steep incline from the village to the railway line and quarries. This was the preferred method of travel before a good road was built up the valley.

Abergynolwyn station was originally a wooden shelter and didn’t get a stone station building until 1938. The station was extended when the line was extended to Nant Gwernol and can now hold two trains at the same time. Set among the trees this must be the coldest spot on the line. The valley is narrow and the wind whistles along the platform. The tea room is a welcome place to shelter and warm up. Below the station is a children’s play area with wooden locos and shelter.

Beyond Abergynolwyn the railway turns into a narrow steep sided wooded valley. On the left hand side is the remains of the winding drum last used in 1947 which took trucks to and from Abergynolwyn village. There is also a siding with an old slate wagon. Beyond the station is a footpath up the incline used by the slate wagons.

This is a good run through lovely countryside. It is slow and sedate with quite small locos pulling up to six coaches and a guards van. There are information boards at each of the station and walks leaflets available from Tywyn and Abergynolwyn Stations. The walk to Dolgoch Falls is well worth doing.

The cakes in the King’s Cafe at Twywn come highly recommended and the museum there is excellent.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 1 Comment(s)

  • paul94
    over 2 years ago
    Excellent review, it is a wonderful way to experience the narrow gauge trains & they are always looking for volunteers of any age are always most welcome & greatly appreciated in a wide number of roles