BLR News - June/July 2022 Edition


The Bala Lake Railway has done it again! Looking back, we have employed that phrase before but it is with pride and gratitude that the reason has come our way again.

Tripadvisor has (and not for the first time) awarded the BLR a Travellers’ Choice Award for excellence in service and customer satisfaction which is something for which the staff and volunteers can be justly proud. This has put an even bigger smile on our faces, reflecting as it does that the railway is in the top 10% of attractions worldwide.

Looking back at June, passenger numbers have been described as “very healthy” even if they were not quite as good as our bumper June last year, those being due to exceptional circumstances. But this June was still 39% up on 2019, the last ‘normal’ year before the pandemic struck thus the railway is more than holding its own against past patterns. During our running season, June and September are always regarded as special months in that they are not dependent on school holidays, hence many older people decide to spend days away with the weather, in the main, being favourable. The school holidays in July and August are susceptible to whether air travel is feasible or indeed possible in these uncertain periods. But all in all, it still bodes well for the railway which is ready to handle any number of visitors which may appear.

“Any publicity is good publicity”, so says the popular axiom and on the 5th July, ITV arrived at Llanuwchllyn to record a piece for their local evening programme. BLR Trust Chairman Julian Birley spent most of the day with the film crew, during which he outlined the plan for the line’s extension into Bala as well as highlighting the progress made so far. Whilst the Trust’s plans are not in the public eye every day, there is an enormous amount of hard work and activity behind the scenes with the attendant paperwork and meetings to make sure everything is just right. Rather than announce what might happen, it is far more constructive to declare what has been achieved.

Watch the ITV interview with Julian on the Bala Lake Railway Trust Facebook Page by clicking here.

Allied to the efforts of the Trust to build the extension into Bala, regular updates from Natural Resources Wales about the rebuilding of the Bala flood defences are appearing monthly, and we mention them in these pages because the restructuring of the flood defences will carry the track-bed of our extension into Bala.

The whole rebuilding exercise will last until the spring next year which gives an idea of the scale of the operation but NRW’s attention to detail is excellent. For example, stones from the old embankment are being re-used and their policy on tree replacement satisfies anyone with concerns in that field. For every tree necessarily removed, they are planting three more locally. As the halfway mark of the project has been reached, detail items like the replacement of benches have been addressed along with better access ramps for the footpaths when completed.

But from the Trust’s point of view, the most relevant aspect of the works programme is that during July, NRW will start the ‘construction of railway facilitation works within a section of the reservoir (sic) embankment. This is to accommodate possible future expansion of the Bala Lake Railway’.

For anyone wishing to be kept abreast of NRW’s progress, take a look at their website by clicking here.

Narrow Gauge World Magazine CoverThe Bala at 50 Celebrations have really caught the attentions of the heritage railway press. All the leading periodicals featured the BLR celebrations and the very well received photographic history Bala at 50, as well as the events that the railway has hosted to date. Steam Railway put on a multi-page spread along with a review of our Bala Lake Railway, The First 50 Years: 1972 – 2022 book earning a 5-star rating, high praise indeed, so deserved and a real credit to the team which produced it. Other features appeared in the Denbigh Free Press, Heritage Railways, Cambrian News and the latest arrival on the heritage railway scene, Trackside. On top of all this great coverage, Narrow Gauge World had a front-cover photo of visiting loco Jennie sporting her Golden Jubilee headboard. This initial event (with more to follow as you will read) has really put the BLR on the map, particularly as the photographic history of the line is proving so popular.

As we mentioned, the BLR is looking forward to hosting several other events during the summer and early autumn.

30th July Alice Day. This is our annual celebration where the famous artist and author Pauline Hazelwood spends the day reading from her delightful books on various locos in the BLR stable, and when she has a spare moment, she can be found sketching and painting on the platform at Llanuwchllyn. Her wonderful series of books appeal to children of all ages. Alas, this year, Alice herself will be in hiding as she is undergoing her 10-year major strip-down and rebuild, but her sisters will be around for everyone to admire.

4th, 11th and 18th August BBQ Specials. These evening runs along the line are always popular, particularly as the BBQ at Llangower on the return leg features the best of local Welsh catering. It is essential to book as tickets for these ‘specials’ get snapped up very quickly. Departure from Llanuwchllyn is at 18.15, thus watching the sun go down across the lake while enjoying a delicious supper is not to be missed.

Llangower sunset from a BBQ train

13th August BLR 50th Anniversary. This is part two of our half-century celebrations and will be the actual anniversary of the very first train which ran all those years ago from Llanuwchllyn to the then terminus at the little halt at Pentrepiod. As well as the regular blue timetable services to Bala, there will be recreations as closely as possible of the first train service to Pentrepiod and services to the subsequent temporary termini of Llangower and Pant-yr-Hen-Felin before the railway extended towards Bala. Tickets can be booked for any of these commemorative trains, and a rover ticket is available to travel on all four additional services.

27th – 29th August Steam Gala. This will be a special Steam Gala weekend to celebrate the railway’s 50th anniversary which will feature visiting engines, double-heading (and possibly treble-), demonstration freight trains, vintage bus connections and a host of other attractions. Whilst the BLR is widely known as ‘The Line-Side Line’ for its plethora of viewing locations, one of note is the passing loop at Llangower where there will be the opportunity to see two (and possibly more) trains passing, which will keep the signalman on his toes. But in the past, these passing operations have gone like clockwork and are quite a spectacle to watch – and photograph.

24th – 25th September The Great Little Trains/ Bala Model Railway Show in Bala. This is the first time since the pandemic that we have been able to host this popular show in Bala School which features some exquisite model layouts in a variety of scales plus some enticing trade stands which have the sort of appeal than nobody can resist! There will also be our usual free vintage bus to and from the station to the show. One possibility to consider is taking the train from Llanuwchllyn, a bus ride to the show and a later train back to your car. Whether planning a project or just re-kindling memories of yesteryear, this is an event not to be missed.

As with all these events, please check out the Events Page on this website as well as our Social Media outlets on Facebook and Twitter for the latest information and booking.

The Red Dragon Project, our ambitious plan to bring the railway back into Bala, is looking to recruit a fundraiser to help it to achieve its goal.

The Red Dragon project will bring real benefits to the local community.

The Trustees of the Bala Lake Railway Trust are busy working on the logistics of the project and are looking for someone with a passion for the local economy to help us raise further funds. The railway is not just for railway enthusiasts as it brings tourism to the area and the extension of the line (The Red Dragon Project) will bring additional trade directly into the centre of Bala.

We would like to further develop our engagement with the local community to help raise these much needed funds and we are looking for a someone who lives locally to join our small team to help us with the following:

  • Approach businesses, local authorities and individuals to secure funding.
  • Organise and help with fund raising activities such as sponsored or promotional events.
  • Recruit volunteers for fund raising events and co-ordinate their work.
  • Plan donation campaigns and events.
  • Write reports and press releases.

If you are interested in being part of this epic project, please contact Julian Birley on 07831-120564.

Maintenance is an all-encompassing word, largely describing what happens during the winter months when the railway is closed. But during the busy running season, our volunteers turn to other aspects that can be handled easily with no inconvenience to visitors.

One volunteer, Alan Jones, has been doing a superb job painting the signals. You may recall that we mentioned some of his early work last year but he is gradually working his way through all the prominent signals in Llanuwchllyn, and a great job he is doing.

New volunteer, John Andrews, has been busy giving all the picnic tables a fresh coat of varnish.

Dinah, a distinguished lady artist from Bala and great supporter of the railway, has taken home some of the old GWR signs, such as 'Keep Off The Rails', and is re-painting them to a very high standard.

And finally…… Dan Laidlaw’s partner, Caryl Williams, took this beautiful photo on the 23rd June of an oh-so-rare occurrence, a completely flat-calm, mill-pond Bala Lake / Llyn Tegid. Many commented that in many years of coming to Bala, this phenomenon had never before been seen.

Bala Lake perfectly still