I first visited the Ffestiniog as part of a family holiday in 1966. My father must have been feeling flush as we travelled in the observation car, which served as a splendid introduction to the railway.

A further family holiday in 1969 saw my first actual volunteering stint, filling wicker baskets with coal, and coaling and watering locomotives during their turn-rounds at Porthmadog. My subsequent filthy state when collected by my parents at the end of the day resulted in my having to be smuggled in via the rear exit of our hotel.

Paul with NG/G16 No.143 on the Welsh Highland Railway

By now my addiction to the railway was becoming apparent to my parents and it was suggested that I write to Mr Garraway, the General Manager, to see how I could get involved with the locomotives, which had become my wish.

I spent July and August 1970 as a cleaner, trainee and finally a fireman. Lots of shovelling and chopping up old sleepers for firewood.

I travelled by bus to Wales from Victoria Coach Station in London, and lodged in the Copper Kettle Cafť in Chapel Street. In six weeks I learnt a lot about the railway and life itself, discovering girls, drinking, smoking and swearing in no particular order. My mother commented on my return that I had grown up.

Towards the end of my stay I was approached and asked if I intended to return next year as it was felt I could be useful, and could become part of the temporary staff for the 1971 season. How could I refuse? 70 hours a week for four shillings (20p) an hour! I fired over 200 trains that year.

The following year the pay had risen to by six pence (2.5p) an hour. That was the visit on which I met the girl who would later become my wife, who was spending a week on the railway doing her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award.

Finally came the opportunity to train as a driver. Over 650 trips as a fireman were followed by a further 40 trips of driver training; freight trains hauling ballast, diesel turns and so on.

I was finally passed out to drive in 1982.

My service to the railway has been unbroken since 1970 and I try to achieve a visit, on average, every six weeks during the season, most years managing about 1,000 miles.

I have been asked which locomotive is my favourite. All of them. They are all different, all can be a challenge. All can be hugely rewarding. Each trip is different; load, weather, coal, a different mate. Thatís what makes it so interesting. Itís very much a team game.

Whatever the conditions or the firemanís ability, the success of your day or its failure is a joint responsibility. You need to make the best of what you have in order to achieve, thatís where the experience and knowledge comes in.

Whilst as the driver you are the boss, itís important not to dominate or be dominated by each other.

Both routes are different. The classic Ffestiniog, the birth of the narrow gauge, almost over-engineered for its original purpose as a horse tramway.

The Welsh Highland is what the narrow gauge transcended into around the world: light, almost mean, civil engineering works.

Both railways are superb in their own way, but with completely different personalities.

The Ffestiniog is mainly uphill in one direction and downhill in the other. The Welsh Highland, however, is a driverís railway with flat bits, steep bits, reverse curves and downhill bits - all in both directions. Throw in a couple of uphill starts with loaded trains on 1 in 40 gradients and you begin to understand what itís really all about.

One memory I have, which is very special, was enabling a blind lad to drive Prince all the way from Port to Blaenau and return.

I placed the engine on the train and stopped it for water, but he did the rest as I stood behind him telling him what to do. He made a very good job of it and it was all very humbling.


Paul Ingham has been volunteering on the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway since 1969, qualifying as a driver in 1982. While not driving ten coach trains between Caernarfon and Porthmadog, Paul works as a college lecturer, but still finds time to visit the railway regularly, driving over 1,000 miles a year.


Back to main page

Read The Adventures

Tell us your story...