Vale of Rheidol: Narrow Gauge in the GWR Style

 

1. Aberystwyth 5. The Long Flat
2. The GWR Style 6. Hard Climbing
3. At the Engine Shed 7. Tea at Devil's Bridge
4. On Our Way 8. Sunset on Rheidol Vale

 

One: Aberystwyth

 

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Sunday morning
Machynlleth-
Aberystwyth DMU
service boards at
Machynlleth.
The carriage floor of the Central Trains 156-class railcar was vibrating under my feet, and the pitch of the diesel engine under the floorboards had risen to an urgent throb-throb-throb.  Sunday is a day of scant services on Central Trains' Cambrian lines, but I had found a morning train that would carry me from the market town of Machynlleth down to Aberystwyth on the Bay of Cardigan by half past twelve.  Now we were on the last leg of the journey, and the train was working hard to surmount the double range of hills which gird Aberystwyth on the north and east.  In steam-engine days, this part of the line was a well-known "fireman's nightmare"-- the engines' stokers were hard pressed to shovel coal fast enough to keep up with their drivers' demands for steam.  Even in 1997, my diesel railcar still seemed to find the grade tough going.

 

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Arrival at
Aberystwyth
Station's platform
#3.
We crested the ridge nevertheless, and drifted the final mile down into Aberystwyth Station.  No mere seaside village, Aberystwyth is both a genuine city and a place close to the soul of Wales.  As home to the National Library of Wales, the city is custodian to the greatest single collection of Welsh- language literature in the world-- and thus in a very real way is the keeper of the collective memory of the Welsh people.  It is also a community of scholars in a land historically possessed of few institutions of higher learning: Aberystwyth's University College of Wales was initially supported in part by donations from Wales' working men and women, who dreamed of a better life through education for their children.

 

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Aberystwyth's
fine--and sadly
endangered--
GWR-built stone
headhouse
Aberystwyth Station proved to be a fitting gateway to this cultured city.  Upon stepping out of the train, I was  cheered by a fine and eclectic play of architecture.  Across the way, a wooden canopy spread sheltering arms above the old #4 platform; above my head, an ornamented iron canopy provided a finer, more airy protection to the #3 platform still in daily use.  At the end of the tracks stood a strikingly-proportioned stone-and-brick headhouse-- a 1924 addition, I later learned.  So harmonious and well-proportioned was the entire effect that I found myself thinking it the finest station of its size I had seen anywhere in Britain.

   

 
Sadly, Aberystwyth depot is also somewhat run down-- and its fate is very much in doubt.  The local council is debating proposals to transform the area into a shopping complex, and only some of the plans involve preservation of the fine stone headhouse.  No one proposes to save the train canopies.  The station's loss, if permitted, will be a tragedy of no small proportions-- one that the people of Aberystwyth will surely come bitterly to regret.  For the moment, however, the depot still offers its charms, and something rare and precious besides: the opportunity to make a cross-platform transfer to a narrow-gauge steam train.  Immediately opposite the #3 platform, two tracks of tiny rails laid precisely 1' 11.5" apart occupied an old standard-gauge station bay.  Down the way, I could see a compact yard filled with diminutive works wagons and wooden carriages drawn up in rakes.  Most of the tracks converged on a tall brick enginehouse, from which there issued an occasional loud clanging: someone was doing metalwork, and having a tough time of it.  I had found the 96-year-old Vale of Rheidol Railway, and it was very much open for business.

 


 

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