Alice the little Welsh engine

 Croeso, welcome to the award winning Bala Lake Railway 
"Home of Alice the Little Welsh Engine"   

News from the Bala Lake Railway

December 2013 Update

December may be a month of temptation to wind down prematurely for the festivities, but not at Llanuwchllyn, where there was much activity.  Progress continued and projects needed finishing.

Carriage & Wagon

Padarn VanBy the time this is read, the Padarn Brakeman’s Van will be complete.  It has been a long running operation, (most things inevitably are in this context), and it represents a remarkable achievement for the C&W department.

Some of the passenger coaches are being refurbished in time for the start of the BLR 2014 season on 12th February.  The Guard’s Coach will receive a new side panel, and coach no. 4 is also being given some attention.

Work on the Penrhyn coal wagon will start after the timber has been delivered in mid-January.  Bearing in mind the relative size of this wagon when it is complete, a special space has been organised for its construction, as it will need a larger area than usual.


Work on this venerable lady progresses slowly but surely.  Recent activity has included the boring out of the eccentric straps and tinning them in readiness for white metalling.  This may not sound much to the uninitiated, but it is a time-consuming and intricate task.

Alice, Holy War and Maid Marian

Our three working steam locomotives have been stripped down, with boiler washing etc. in preparation for the yearly boiler inspection.  Bearing in mind the TLC that these locomotives enjoy, the inspection should be a mere formality.

2014 is going to be a good year!

November 2013 Update

As in any aspect of preservation, whether it be railways, aircraft, road vehicles or whatever, a project completion date verges on the fictitious, as there is always something else that merits attention.  Boats, however, are a different question, and the word ‘boat’ is frequently (and most appropriately) viewed acronymically as ‘bring on another thousand’.

Carriage & Wagon

 Work on the Padarn Brakeman’s Van is nearing completion.  The door, so intricately rebuilt as previously reported, is now fitted, and when this is read, will have been painted.  Likewise, the interior is now complete, and the glazing has been done in polycarbonate.  Shortly, the roofing canvas will be attached.

The C&W department have constructed a very neat wooden cover for the Royal passenger wagon, which is on loan from Penrhyn Castle.  While this special wagon (one of only three) lives in the warmth and dryness of the main loco shed, it was felt that a proper solid cover would be worthwhile for better protection, not least from the irreverent attentions of some yearly visitors, who find the loco shed an irresistible summer home!

Our third photo shows the daunting starting point for the reconstruction of Penrhyn Coal Wagon no. 1, and suitable timber is being sourced.  At the moment, the C&W team have a photo and some drawings to work from, but in view of their previous successes, we can look forward to a totally accurate recreation in due course.  Watch this space!


The main news this month about this venerable lady concerns the re-gauging of her wheels.  Initially, it was thought that the usual process of heating the wheels and tyres, then moving the tyres three-eights of an inch outwards would have been the logical solution.  But as Winifred was built in 1885, there was obvious concern about durability and possible damage.  Thus Boston Lodge suggested that making new axles would be a much better and risk-free option, as considerably less force is required to extract the old axles than in trying to move the heated tyres.  We hope to report soon that Winifred’s frames are reunited with her wheels again in the near future.

Permanent Way

The recent Working Weekend was a resounding success, and the decidedly onerous and time-consuming task of replacing 51 sleepers was completed.  This naturally included re-packing the ballast.  Time was also found for a serious session of tree clearance and branch pruning in the area around Llangower, the halfway stage on the line.

In readiness for the 2014 season, 250 new sleepers have just been delivered, most of which will have been fitted before the start of next year’s operations.


Since the last report, it has been decided that Chilmark’s ‘new’ engine will retain its pistons, but will be fitted with a brand new set of rings, rather than swap the ‘piston and ring’ sets from the old engine.  When this task is completed, and she is refitted with her recalibrated pump and injectors, she will be virtually ready for service.

There must be something about 3-cylinder diesels, as one diesel-minded volunteer has just acquired a similarly engined diesel car for aural comparison!

Alice, Holy War and Maid Marian

Mention should be made that these three characterful engines continue to provide perennial service, and are a constant delight to all who see, smell and ride behind them.  The thought of five Hunslets, including Winifred and George B, in steam is a wonderful prospect.  One day.


As the next news will be written next year, (how soon it comes round), herewith sincerest seasonal wishes to and from all concerned and involved with the Bala Lake Railway, management, volunteers, whoever.  Everyone matters, and everything is appreciated.

October 2013 Update

Roy Hardiman

It is sad to report that Roy Hardiman has resigned as Company Secretary and Director of the Bala Lake Railway after a 37 year association with the railway.

Roy was General Manager at Llanuwchllyn for many years.  His long-planned move to Blackpool has come about rather quickly, albeit after a lot of warning, as his house across the lake had been on the market for about a year.  But a buyer appeared in early October, and he has now headed north.  He will be greatly missed, and we wish him every success and happiness in his new home.

As a codicil to this, Roy will also be fondly remembered as half of the reason for the unofficial name for the railway’s main diesel shunter, (officially called Bob Davies) but referred to by everyone as ‘Trigger’.  She was bought originally as a test bed for the Yorkshire Engine Company, was owned by a volunteer and based at Llanuwchllyn, before being bought by the railway some years later.  Prior to acquiring her official name, she was always known as Roy and Roger’s engine, hence the delightfully endearing nickname!

Coaching Stock

The rake of passenger coaches is to receive some care and attention over the closed season.  Some side panels will be replaced with aluminium, and the repainting, which has already started, will greatly enhance their appearance for next year.


Rob Houghton reports that that Winifred’s frames have now been painted, and he is now endeavouring to align the spindles with the steam chests, a delicate operation.

Winifred's frames coming together

Padarn Van nearing completionHeritage Carriage and Wagon

The Padarn Brakeman’s Van is almost finished, as the accompanying photograph shows.  Polycarbonate windows have been fitted, and the glazing bars are being carefully painted.  The chassis ironwork is now resplendent in a topcoat of gloss black, and the floor is fully painted too.  The door is now complete, and will soon be fitted.  Roofing canvas will follow, but final completion is dependent on how quickly the new paint will dry properly in autumn temperatures and humidity.


The inexorable progress with Chilmark continues as ever, and since the last report, she has had her pistons removed in an effort to cure not only the interesting amount of oil smoke, but also an uncharacteristic lethargy in her performance.

Rob removed the pistons and cylinder heads, not as tedious an operation as it might sound, and new rings and gaskets are to be sourced.  Whether or not the ‘new’ pistons from the original, cracked engine will be used, is to be decided after very careful measurements have been taken.  Roger has his sights on a specialist to get the injectors and pump overhauled and recalibrated.  These improvements, when done, will certainly restore her sparkle.

The Maid Marian Locomotive Fund

Maid MarianThe agreement between the BLR and the Maid Marian Locomotive Fund has been re-signed, thus her continued presence on the railway is assured.

This ‘fund’ was set up years ago in order to purchase Maid Marian from the Dinorwic quarry.  After some enthusiastic fund-raising, this purchase went ahead, after which the locomotive spent some time in Bressingham and Llanberis, before arriving at Llanuwchllyn.

Originally, the agreement about Maid Marian’s use was on an annual basis, but about 20 years ago, this was changed to one of renewal every ten years. 

The ‘fund’ charges the BLR a small annual fee to cover expenses, while the railway continues to enjoy the use of her, as well as doing all the routine and essential maintenance.

September 2013 Update

For a small preserved railway with only three permanent staff, there is always a lot of activity taking place, and this is working hand in hand with the perennial enthusiasm of volunteers, who cover a myriad number of skills.

Heritage Rolling Stock

Oakeley Gunpowder VanOne weekend in mid-September was most noteworthy at Llanuwchllyn, as Julian Birley had been busy. The first fascinating item to appear (from Llanberis) is the a surviving gunpowder wagon from the Oakeley Quarry near Blaenau. (Incidentally, an excellent history of the quarry, named after the landowner, WE Oakeley, can be found on Wikipedia at This wagon was used for transporting explosives around the quarry when blasting for slate. While this almost unique piece of rolling stock (only one other exists) is complete and on display, it will join the queue for total restoration by the BLR Carriage and Wagon Department. Some remedial work needs to be done to the metalwork, followed by replacement of the interior protective wooden panelling. To compliment this singular new addition, a collection of genuine (empty) explosive boxes has been sourced.

While 'Alice' has her rake of restored slate wagons, thoughts have turned to what would suit 'Winifred' when she re-enters service. To this end, the Moseley Trust at Apedale, near Newcastle-under-Lyme, heard about what the BLR was trying to achieve, and has very kindly loaned their Penrhyn Quarrymen’s Coach ‘O’, which duly arrived the day after the gunpowder wagon. This four wheeled open coach, which is in remarkable original condition, was built at the Penrhyn Quarry workshops, and entered service on 30th December, 1905.

Other Acquisitions

Our good friends at the Llanberis Lake Railway have done a deal with the BLR whereby, in return for five restored Dinorwic slate wagons, they have kindly bequeathed an original bronze steam manifold for 'Alice'. This is such an intrinsic part of the ‘look’ of a quarry Hunslet that, when fitted, Alice’s allure will be greatly enhanced!

Dinorwic Saddle TankIn addition to the manifold, and arriving with the aforementioned gunpowder wagon, the BLR has acquired a riveted Hunslet saddle tank, which failed to sell at auction in 1969, when the Dinorwic quarry closed. This tank even has the original lot number painted on the side, as visible in the photo. Rob Houghton has done some inspired detective work on this item, and concludes that it is the original tank from Hunslet no. 492 / 1889 'Enid', which, incidentally, was renamed 'Red Damsel'. (By way of slight digression, 'Red Damsel' was later fitted with a cab, re-named 'Elidi'r, and operates today at Llanberis). Understandably after 44 years, the tank is not entirely watertight (sic), and will thus need some careful attention. But it is an original artefact, which will eventually take its place in the growing collection at Llanuwchllyn.

Padarn Brakeman’s Van

Padarn VanWork on the final stages of painting the Brakeman’s Van progresses well, and the wagon should receive its final top coat of Admiralty Grey soon. The accompanying photo shows the ingenious marriage of old and new wood for the single door, as mooted last month.

Driver Experience

Russell Prince reports that September was a busy month, and as this aspect is a new ‘product’ for the BLR, the results have been very pleasing. On the 13th of the month, Alan Taylor and his wife Linda came down from East Lancashire. Alan had specified 'Holy War/ as his choice, largely because he had a 5” scale model of her, and wanted to try his hand on the real thing. He was also not new to steam, as he has done driving courses on the East Lancs Railway.

Andy Kelly Driver ExperienceThree days later, Andy Kelly and his partner Jan arrived from Merseyside. It turned out that, professionally, they were more used to putting fires out, as they had both worked for the Fire Services! 'Holy War' was again in steam for this service, but 'Alice' was also in action, thus her movements were carefully planned so as to not disturb the driving course. Andy had a thoroughly memorable day, and Jan’s was made too when Julian invited her to take Alice’s regulator for a run up and down the loop at Llanuwchllyn. She was heard to comment later that she felt rather emotional, and stated that she was surprised actually to feel the power of the loco through the regulator. A new hobby, perhaps? Julian also arranged for her to ‘chase’ Andy while he was driving, and a photo shows her at one of the railways many scenic locations.

Andy wrote to us about his day:

To all volunteers at Bala Lake Railway,

Just a few words to express my gratitude for the truly memorable and magical time I had on my driver experience day. I can safely say it was the best birthday present I have ever received. The informal and friendly atmosphere made both Jan and myself feel relaxed right from the start and that really added to the enjoyment of the day.

Hands on is definitely the description I would use, from lighting the fire and polishing a bit of brass work whilst waiting for steam pressure to build, to backing Holy War away from the shed and onto the line to couple up the carriages.

Russell was a great teacher and I was amazed that I was at the controls all day as I didn't know what to expect and thought that it would be well into the day before I got to have a go. I even put Holy War back into the shed at the end of the day.

Thanks to Bobbi for the cups of tea,delicious lunch and afternoon cake, to Julian for allowing Jan to ride on the footplate of Alice and to Patrick for the lift in his car to various points along the line for a different video perspective of the trip.

Andy and Jan Kelly - Driver Experience

Thank you all again for a Day that I will never forget.

Best wishes,

Andy and Jan.

Incidentally, driving courses can now be booked for next year - possibly ideal as a ‘Christmas present with a difference’. Click here for more information.

August 2013 Update

August is a traditional holiday month, and the railway has been very busy indeed.  The (mostly) fine and dry weather brought a distinctly healthy increase in the number of visitors to the railway, which is renowned for its beautiful lakeside vistas.  Passenger numbers for last month were 19% up on August 2012. 

But much has been happening behind the scenes at Llanuchwllyn.

Padarn brake vanThe Padarn brake van is now all but complete, and the accompanying photo shows the almost finished article resplendent in primer coat.  The final colour will be rather similar, that is Admiralty Grey all over, and in an eggshell finish so as not to look too shiny!  The chassis metalwork will be painted in black.  Only the door remains to be finished, and as previously mentioned, the renewed lower section is requiring careful attention so as to blend seamlessly in to the restored upper section.

The restoration of Winifred continues.  The wheels are away being regauged, the three quarters of an inch difference being critical.  In the meantime, her frames are slowly being reconditioned.  The new frame stretcher for the rear coupling has now been cut by water jet, and will be fitted soon.  So, while she may look decidedly denuded in her currently boiler-less state, progress is nevertheless inexorable.

The carriage shed extension, where the rake of restored slate wagons is housed, now has a complete and painted wall and roof.  The timing could not have been better, as the work was done in fine and dry weather, thus is now ready before the effects of winter can interfere.

Chilmark, the restored Ruston & Hornsby diesel shunter, is still awaiting the installation of her air compressor.  But this is not a priority at the moment, and because of the increased traffic last month, the team has had more pressing commitments.  But this installation will be dealt with as the ‘season’ declines.

July 2013 Update

July was a good month for the railway, helped by the excellent weather which encouraged visitors from far afield to sample the lovely scenery.  There really is something special about a train ride where the view is not hampered by summer foliage.

Chilmark, the Ruston & Hornsby diesel, is having an air compressor fitted so that she can move the carriage stock.  Rob Houghton has been busy making up a suitable bracket on which to mount the pump, but adapting this to an old locomotive is time consuming and requires ingenuity.  But judging by the way he mounted an alternator, the pump will be mounted and working soon.

The ‘long’ gallery at the side of the carriage shed will shortly acquire a roof.  The framework has been in position for a while, but the roofing material has now arrived.  When complete, the gallery will provide proper cover for the rake (10 and counting) of Julian Birley’s restored slate wagons.

Winifred, the ex Penrhyn Hunslet that was repatriated last year, will shortly be sporting a brand new steel frame stretcher at the rear.  The material, in 1” thick sheet steel, is to be cut to shape by water-jet.  When finished, it will replace the original stretcher which has been repaired / welded so many times during Winifred’s long working life, the damage being the result of perennially clumsy shunting over decades.

The Padarn Brakeman’s Van is now fairly close to completion, as the photos show.  Starting with a pile of mostly rotten wood and a folder facetiously entitled ‘Heritage Firewood’, which contained drawings, sketches and photos of the similar example at Twywn, the team of volunteers set about the daunting task of restoration / rebuilding.

From the outset, it was imperative to use as much of the original wood as possible.  One photo clearly shows what is old and new, and also how new ends had to be grafted on to some of the uprights.  Sadly, the original boarding was beyond salvation, so new tongue and groove woodwork was specially machined to match.

By the time of reading, the body should be complete, apart from the door, roof and glazing.  The door survives, apart from the bottom which was rotten, and which is being rebuilt.  The roof will be the last item to be fitted, as the van body is an anything but spacious environment in which to work!

Enormous gratitude is due to not only Ian Whitson, but also Geoff Hodgkinson, who started the restoration by sorting out the chassis.  The photos show the remarkable results of their efforts.  Likewise, Keith and Patricia Dyer stayed at the railway for a week in July to work on the Van.  Such invaluable expertise is always greatly appreciated.  As Ian commented:  “Built in 1933, rebuilt in 2013, I wonder who will be working on it in another 80 years”?

13th July 2013 - David Shepherd downsizes!

David Shepherd on "Alice"David Shepherd, the world renowned wildlife artist, conservationist and loco owner, was accompanied by his wife, Avril, on their visit to the Bala Lake Railway on the 9th and 10th July, to sample the delights of a steam locomotive at the other end of the scale from his famous 9F, "Black Prince".

Julian Birley’s Quarry Hunslet, "Alice" was in steam alongside similar Hunslet "Maid Marian" which was hauling passengers on the scheduled services.  Five of Julian’s restored slate wagons were attached to "Alice", and David soon discovered just how light a touch is required to ease "Alice" into action.  Armed with the relevant token for the midway crossover in the hands of the railway’s Rob Houghton, David thrived under the ‘tutelage’ of Rob and Julian on the slightly crowded footplate, and thoroughly enjoyed himself during the 90 minute return trip along the lakeside. 

 Indeed, so did many holiday makers who had the bonus of seeing the passenger train and the ‘special’ cross at Llangower, the halfway point.  David returned to Llanuwchllyn sporting an enormous grin, but did comment graciously that "Alice" was “not the most comfortable locomotive” (sic) as there is no seat, (unlike "Black Prince") and perching on the rear rail of the footplate is not conducive to the overall comfort of one’s posterior.

 The Bala Team with David ShepherdThe following day, David and his wife were taken to see the fascinating National Slate Museum at Llanberis, and were shown round by the learned Dr. Dafydd Roberts.  Then it was on to Rhyd Ddu on the Welsh Highland Railway for a footplate ride down to Porthmadog in the capable hands of the line’s genial General Manager, Paul Lewin.

A busy 48 hours indeed, and grateful thanks were passed to all the team at the Bala Lake Railway.  "Alice" behaved perfectly, as did the weather, and David could not have asked for more (apart from a seat next time, owner please note).