August 2019 was a month to remember for the BLR. The summer (sic) weather was no less varied than usual but for the Bank Holiday Gala at the end of the month, it was perfect as it had been for a few days prior. The trains were packed all weekend and the Sunday proved to be the busiest August day on record. The passing loop at Llangower Halt witnessed our traditional ‘three-train-shunt’, two passenger workings plus the photographic freight all arriving (almost) simultaneously, the logistics of which were handled expertly without the signalman needing to cool off in the lake.
The overall passenger numbers for the month showed an increase over last year of no less than 3.5%. Our photo montage attempts to capture the wonderful atmosphere. Four locos were in steam and they were kept busy throughout. Double-heading with the pairings of Alice/Winifred and George B/Maid Marian was used on the first and last trains of the day, while at other times, one loco was employed on the photographic freight working with another on our ‘Driver for a Fiver’ service at Llanuwchllyn which was, as usual, very popular.
In preparation for the big weekend, some thoughtful rearrangements were carried out with loco stock not scheduled for use over the weekend being moved to the Heritage Centre, including diesel Chilmark and Holy War, still in a state of undress but her frames beautifully painted in readiness for reassembly. It certainly added to the appeal of the Heritage Centre.
One memorable aspect on one day of the weekend, which was an enormous bonus to the railway, was the sight of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight passing low along the lake. This had been organised by the Bala Lake Sailing Club, with which the railway has close associations, none more so than our annual ‘Race the Train’ event which is always great fun, with much vocal support and very well attended.
As an alternative viewpoint on the Gala, perennial volunteer, Bob Greenhalgh, usually to be found on the footplate whenever needed, commented on one day without a regulator in his grasp;
I had a great time manning the Maid Marian Locomotive Fund stand at the Gala. It was great to see the day from a non-footplate perspective as so much happens off the trains. Huge credit and mentions should go to the stall staff, the café staff (they are really brilliant) and to everyone who helped get the trains away on time. It shows there is more to the railway than the glamour jobs and something for everyone in which to participate and help. Of course, the super weather helped!
The BLR Trust is delighted to announce another major donation to the Bala extension project. Following on from what we mentioned last month about visitors finding the BLR a friendly and smiling place to visit, here is a heart-warming testimony.
A BLR Director was sitting outside the station café during August doing battle with a recalcitrant laptop when a gentleman appeared and engaged him in conversation. As many support more than one railway, our visitor mentioned his interest in fellow Great Little Trains of Wales Member, the Corris Railway, and their bold expansion plans. He was then invited to have a guided tour of the BLR loco shed and the Heritage Centre during which numerous salient points were highlighted and questions answered. Details about the BLR Trust’s plans to return to Bala Town were provided and the visitor’s gratitude for the courtesy and time spared was sincere.
A week later, an envelope arrived containing a donation of £12,000 for the Trust’s Bala extension project.
Under the heading of Rail Miscellany, we feature a couple of items about the area which, if nothing else, add to the character of the BLR.
The railway is widely known as The Lineside Line as we are most fortunate in having a B-road that tracks the track for almost all of the line’s length, thus affording numerous locations for great photography. However, there are other places along the line whose names are known only to our hard-working volunteers, these being unofficial but any reference to them is immediately understood. As compiled by General Manager, David Jones, and in no particular order, they are;
Culvert Quits is a culvert near the bottom of Dolfawr Bank east of Llanuwchllyn station and which needs regular checking and clearing. It is so named because one volunteer in the party would say at the end of the job, “Let’s call it quits”, so they did!
Brasso’s Cut is named after Alan Brassington who dug out a ditch between Flag Halt and Llangower that again needs attention after heavy rainfall. He perhaps did the majority of the work that day because the name stuck.
Durrant’s Drop acquired its soubriquet because of, predictably, a minor incident when volunteer Jonathan Durrant fell off the top of a culvert. No harm ensued but again, predictably, the occurrence is preserved for posterity.
Boathouse Bridge is to be found at the Bala end of the line and is where the line crosses the entrance to what was the ‘lagoon’ for the boathouse belonging to the hotel which is now owned by the John Lewis Partnership. Sadly, the ‘lagoon’ has become severely overgrown and the boathouse itself has fallen in to disrepair. Indeed, neither is even noticed these days as the unobstructed vista of the lake on the other side of the train is particularly attractive at this point in the journey.
Flag Halt is well known on the line but its history is of interest as the name has always been unofficially official. When the original standard-gauge railway was being constructed in the 19th century, one of the directors, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, happened to own a sizeable lodge called Glan Llyn on the north shore of the lake. The halt was built on the opposite shore for his use where it was the practice to raise a flag to signal to his staff to row across and collect Sir Watkin and/or his guests, although there is speculation as to how this was achieved if the prevailing wind was whistling up the lake. Glan Llyn Halt was always known in railway circles as Flag Halt and even the official GWR timetables of the period listed it thus.
Birley’s Crossing, a name resolutely refuted in certain quarters, is the new concrete crossing just to the east of the new Heritage Centre at Llanuwchllyn, built so that equipment not often in use can be stored out of the way thus liberating more parking space. The name, doubtless coined by resident humourists, came about because no sooner had the concrete set than a certain famous Bentley arrived to be photographed. In actual fact, the location is very appealing as it catches a train leaving or approaching Llanuwchllyn on dead straight track and with no herbaceous hindrances.
Our other entry this month concerns Llanuwchllyn’s pub, The Eagles, a deservedly popular establishment frequented by staff, volunteers, visitors and locals in equal measure. It is deservedly popular. Someone with an eagle eye noticed during the month that the pub is now offering, among its impressive list of local ales, a new addition called TPA, an innocuous-looking name until it was spied that it stands for Talyllyn Pale Ale. As The Great Little Trains of Wales group thrives on co-operation, the black marker was returned to its box.
And finally……. there was one particular day during the month when decidedly unfavourable weather stopped the C&W team from making progress with the refurbishment of the signal box. With the barge board lattice work exposed, the normally vociferous sparrows wisely decided to take shelter and put aside their usual squabbling. Volunteer Liz Partridge was very quick in capturing this delightful shot.