Rain. Cold. A June Saturday more like one in late autumn. Were we downhearted? Never! Not when there are huge South African two-foot gauge Garretts to be pored over and photographed, and all that North Wales scenery.
The day didn’t get off to the liveliest of starts (4:30am on a Saturday – never thought there was such a time!) but once we were safely ensconced in our Pullman seats and our train was on its way from Tyseley (and I was on my second coffee), the world was coming into something like focus. It was an organised trip – run by Vintage Trains of Birmingham – up to visit the Welsh Highland Railway in North Wales: a narrow gauge line that will eventually run from Caernarfon to Porthmadog (and link up with the Ffestiniog Railway), via Dinas and Beddgelert. The trip was originally advertised as a chance to run all the way down from Dinas to Portmadog before the route officially opened; however, problems with the right of way towards the line’s terminus meant that we got no further than Hafod y Llyn – a run-around in the middle of the picturesque Glaslyn valley. No matter.
The power on the WHR is mostly provided by huge Garrett locomotives – built in Manchester for South African use – towering above the usual breed of UK narrow gauge. Hard to believe these monsters run on two-foot gauge – you think they’d fall off. Our special was double-headed by no.87 – just out of the restoration shop bearing a fetching livery of pale grey – and no.143 in shiny black. Apparently there’s a limit to the number of coaches these beasts are allowed to pull: twelve. Since Vintage Trains had commandeered virtually every item of WHR passenger stock except one – totalling thirteen carriages – extra motive power was required.
I didn’t hear anyone complaining.
There are spectacular views on this line – especially once you get above the trees. Mount Snowdon isn’t too far away – not that we saw it, what with the weather and other mountains blocking the view.
On the way back to Dinas, we had to leave no.143 behind – mechanical trouble – at the Rhyd Ddu station. Regulations or not, no.87 managed a steady 17-19 mph all the way back to Dinas (mind you – it was mostly downhill…).
Then it was a case of catching the hired coaches back to Llandudno Station, and our ride back to Tyseley (yes – that was steam-pulled too, since you ask: ex-GWR Castle class Earl of Mount Edgecumbe; best moment: leaving a Virgin Voyager unit standing, just outside Crewe!).
And did I mention the WHR also has a Pullman Car...
That's the way to travel.