In the summer of 1957 I was 14. Two or three years earlier I had discovered that there was more to railways than writing numbers in books! Apart from a great deal of fascinating history, I found out that there were lines not owned or operated by the all-encompassing British Railways.
In May 1957 an article titled 'The Barrister’s Toy Train' appeared in Picture Post magazine and in June of that year I read an article by G. Freeman Allen in one of the railway magazines on “The Festiniog Revival”. (I’ll use the anglicised names as that is what they then were).
This led me to hatch a plan. Having been youth hostelling on school trips I got out my YHA Handbook and discovered that there was a hostel at Festiniog and also that the one at Borth was midway between two other narrow gauge railways. With trepidation and expecting refusal I asked my parents if I could go off on a trip on my own for a few nights. Much to my surprise they were enthusiastic about the idea.
So in August 1957 I travelled by train from Manchester to North Wales. I remember the diesel railcar from Carnarvon to Portmadoc and the rising excitement of getting nearer to the Festiniog. At Dinas I was able to crane my neck to see what little was left there of the long-dead WHR.
I got to Harbour Station for the 2.30 train an on arrival there it was – Prince on a train of four green and white carriages. At that time it could only have been Prince as no other steam locomotive was operational. He was simmering gently on weedy track and a few intending passengers were wandering around the station. There was an atmosphere of relaxed anticipation and both Prince and his train were smart and polished (though looking very aged as well)
On time we departed for the slow trip to Penrhyndeudraeth (it took a little over half an hour). I remember the quickening beat from the locomotive and the very significant squeaks and rattles from the coach I was in. The coach rolled nearly as much as a ship at sea. Whether it was due to the state of the track or of the rolling stock I do not know.
Only too soon we reached out destination. I was leaving the train here to walk to Festiniog. At the last minute I had a bright idea and asked the train’s guard if it was all right to walk up the line. Of course he said it was. So off I trudged with my rucksack out onto the hillside section of line. I remember being a little frightened when my eye caught sight of a reptile in a crack in the wall. But it was only a lizard – not the adder I had feared. The railway tracks were all but invisible under the vegetation and walking was not easy. Because of this I decided to take to the road at a totally deserted Tan-y-Bwlch station and so ended my first visit to the Festiniog railway.
I made acquaintance with the line again for the Railway Society AGM’s in the following two years and the 1958 visit gave me the privilege of riding on the first train carrying paying passengers to Tan-y-Bwlch. I have, of course, visited the railway on many occasions since then!
|Chris Mullineux is a long standing member of the Ffestiniog Railway Society.|