In 1975 I read an article about the Deviation in the Sunday Times. In those pre-Internet days I rang the contact number and asked if, over the Easter holidays, I could come and take part. Taking the train from Surrey, I finally arrived at Blaenau (via Crewe and Llandudno) and set off, as instructed, round the back of the power station and over the mountain.

Wearing my Belstaff jacket, PVC waterproof trousers and lugging my mother's Norwegian rucksack the trek seemed to go on forever. Finally, I crested the final hill and saw the old army hut at the end of the line.

I was met by Bunny, who handed me a shovel and told me to find some mud. We proceeded to a particularly large boulder upon which Bunny stuck some explosive, packed it down with my mud and lit the fuse. 'Start walking' he said, setting off briskly.

As the debris rained down I realised that I had passed the first test - I was a 'Deviationist'. I stayed up there for about ten days, during which we were visited by one of the regular weekend groups from Bristol and another from London.

During that visit I mainly worked, with Romulus and Remus, the pair of four wheel drive dump truck, on the footings for the station at Llyn Ystradau by the power station (the station that was never built, and is now a car park, when permission was given for the line to proceed to Blaenau). Particular memories are of the drain-destroying curries, the cheap beer in the hut, 'gravitating' down the line to catch the Sunday beer train - and staggering back up the line a few hours later.

The following year I returned with my then girlfriend for another stint. By then the Cornish tin miners where progressing well with the tunnel and we spent our time bringing out spoil and putting it through the shaker to make ballast. First thing each day we had to walk down to Dduallt to throw sheep over the sheep-proof fence to clear the line. By some miracle, we suspected aided and abetted by person or persons unknown, a handful of sheep appeared on the track every morning.

Each evening the miners would blast the tunnel - the shock waves making everything in the hut rattle - before one of us would accompany them into the tunnel to check that all the charges had gone off. I don't think we had heard of Health and Safety back then.

Happy memories of going to the pub in Blaenau in the back of a Land Rover pickup and walking down past Colonel Campbell's to the pubs in Maentrog, followed by the long walk back 'home' counting railway sleepers in the pitch black and hearing the expletives in the darkness as someone missed their step.

We returned to Porthmadog in 1977, the year the tunnel opened, although couldn't get a ride as it was booked solid, but I finally travelled the whole route in the 1983 - the 'Deviationists' hut long gone and most of my hard work buried under concrete.

Since then my visits to North Wales have been few and far between but I hope to ride the rails this summer and enjoy the Welsh Highland Railway - which was a footpath back then. I would be very interested in learning of any events celebrating the 'Deviationists' this year.

 

Bob Battersby first worked on the Deviation in 1975, and enjoyed it so much that he returned the following year!

 

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