As Easters go, 2019 was as good as it gets. Normally occurring earlier in the year and often prone to cold and rainy conditions, the weather could hardly have been better and the BLR carried over double the number of passengers this year over last. Perfect weather throughout was an enormous boon, plus the late Easter helped. On the Saturday and Sunday, the railway operated the more frequent two-train service, using the mid-way halt at Llangower as the passing loop, and given the numbers wanting to travel, this was just as well. The beach at Llangower was heaving with visitors too, all enjoying the unseasonable warmth of the air and water in the lake, the latter not normally kind to the senses. Indeed, lots of tickets from Llangower were sold for the trip to Llanuwchllyn or Bala and on occasions, visitors wanting tickets from Bala had to wait for the next service as several trains were completely full.
The traditional Easter Egg Hunt was well attended. The children taking part were remarkably quick to deal with the puzzle they had been set and reaped the chocolate rewards, possibly helped by a large Easter Bunny getting in on the fun at Llanuwchllyn.
As a small aside, one of the duties on the railway before any special weekend is to position the BLR brake van at the Bala terminus as a mobile ticket office, and it is always a relaxing trip for the crew which ambles up the line and then positions the van in the short siding. This year, motive power was courtesy of our newly arrived diesel, John Murphy, and being cabless, it was a delightful exercise in the sunshine along the lake.
While on the subject of Murphy, as that is surely how all will inevitably refer to her, she has been used for preliminary driver training, an experience described as ‘interesting’. The controls are different from our other more conventional older diesels as she has a multi-functional joystick as the main control. Where she does differ is that the transmission operates in a similar way to a car with Continuously Variable Transmission, in that one applies a set amount of throttle and in spite of the engine note remaining constant, the speed keeps increasing, thus needing more concentration. She also has a form of cruise control, something that will prove useful in the future and this facet is to be investigated further. A handbook would help.
The Penrhyn Coach is nearly complete. David Hale reports that the upholstered door panels are now permanently in place, the hat racks have been done and are in place although they will have to be removed again to allow the final coats of varnish on the interior. The grab handles alongside one of the doors has been fitted but the other one cannot be done until the carriage is moved to allow more space for access. As David says, it is nearly done and only the axle boxes are yet to arrive, these being made by the Lynton & Barnstaple railway.
Our annual Race the Train event, which took place on the 6th April, was won this year by the train, the victory being almost entirely the consequence of a very stiff easterly wind which hindered the paddle-boarders. One of the paddle-boarders, Mike, took the train to Pentrepiod Halt from where he joined the other contestants. This turned out to be a shrewd energy-conserving move as he was the first paddle-boarder across the finishing line. Irrespective of the winds, it was another most enjoyable event.
On the 15th of the month, we held the official opening of The BLR Heritage Centre, our collection of historic items and rolling stock which illustrates life in the working slate quarries. All assembled for the 11.00 opening and BLR Director, Dr David Gwyn, a renowned expert and author on local industrial history and archeology, spoke briefly of the opportunities for everyone to appreciate another fascinating aspect of life, after which the ceremonial ribbon was cut. Guests were then able to see what we have been doing and the whole exhibition received a lot of very favourable comments as it is aimed at all visitors, not just enthusiasts. The fact that it is not hampered by restrictions and cords drew much positive reaction, the whole idea being to increase knowledge and enthusiasm.
After the ceremony and time for inspection, the guests boarded the train for Bala before returning for lunch.
Dates for the diary are approaching rapidly.
At the end of May, the 25th to 27th will see the annual Model Railway Show in Bala, where over 30 layouts, mainly narrow gauge, will be operating, supported by numerous trade stands. One layout of note will be the T-scale model of the Forth Railway Bridge which measures over 30 feet long. What makes this show so popular is that there will be the usual free classic bus service from the show to the Bala terminus where visitors can travel to Llanuwchllyn for lunch, visit the Heritage Centre, plus the Festival of Transport in the adjoining field.
The annual Festival of Transport takes place next to Llanuwchllyn Station on the 26th and 27th and is organized by the Meirioneth Tractor Club. As in years past, there will be a big range and diversity of exhibits, from tractors, trucks, classic cars to country crafts and other entertainment, perhaps even topping last year’s deadly or should we say extremely accurate axe-throwing display. You may have seen it in films but being close to the action really heightens the appeal.
The 30th May is the date for the possibly unique event in the railway world called Jackets (no ties). After the last train of the day, our special service sets off for a run in the fading light along the lake to Bala and then stops at Llangower on the return leg. What makes it so special is that we then serve jacket potatoes, with all the trimmings (and dessert), which have been cooked to perfection in the locomotive’s smokebox. These baked potatoes are unique, wrapped as they are in two or three layers of foil, but the flavour is special, which is why this service is so popular. A BLR smokebox baked potato is like no other. Please look at our Special Events page for further details of this and all upcoming events.
Looking further ahead to June, the first Steam Gala of the year takes place on the 15th and 16th June, and it has just been confirmed that we will be welcoming the visiting loco Kerr Stuart ‘Joffre’ class 3014/1916 from the Apedale Valley Railway which has been loaned to the BLR courtesy of the Moseley Railway Trust. Huge thanks are due to stalwart BLR volunteer Russell Prince who made this possible.
And finally…… it is worth mentioning that this website news is as well as, and complementary to, the beautifully written and presented Llanuwchllyn Express, the quarterly magazine published by the Bala Lake Railway Society. Many members of the BLRS live hundreds of miles away but use the journal to keep abreast of what is happening on the railway from another viewpoint. Even if circumstances and/or geography prevent you from visiting North Wales, joining the Society keeps you in touch with everyday activities and helps the railway. For more information about joining, please see the Society page on this website or email the membership secretaries, Cathy and Martin Houghton.