Alice the little Welsh engine

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

Latest News from the Bala Lake Railway

December 2017 Update

2017 was another record year for the Bala Lake Railway, with overall numbers of passengers up by 5% over those of 2016, itself a record year for the railway. On top of that, much progress has happened with the Red Dragon Project, our ambitious plan to extend the railway into down-town Bala, details of which can be found on the BLR Trust website.

In December, thanks to the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, work on our extension to the carriage shed and development of an interpretation centre at Llanuwchllyn got under way, with track already laid and now being concreted, the framework being erected and, by the end of the month, the roof had been installed with only the brick and cladding sides to be completed, as can be seen towards the end of one of our videos below. As we have previously commented, this will give us a greatly increased amount of covered storage for our heritage rolling stock and carriage stock, as well as enhancing our ability to interpret and explain about our historic vehicles and allowing visitors to see what we are doing.

The main events in December were our Santa Specials, which were totally sold out long before the weekend and, this year, featured the magical ingredient so often missing, namely SNOW. It snowed heavily, and viewers of the BLR website station webcam were delighted that the Met Office had for once obliged. Visitors came from far and wide, in spite of the challenging conditions, from as far away as Ruthin, Wrexham and even Manchester. It is a credit to the local authorities that all of the main roads were passable with care. However, many who had booked seats erred on the side of caution and did not attend on the prescribed days, thus we laid on an additional day of Specials the following weekend to accommodate them, but sadly, by this time, the snow had rapidly disappeared.

In view of the rarity of snowfall at the correct moment, we round off the year with a montage of superb photos and videos which capture the magic of the occasion. The station webcam may have provided a flavour from the comfort (and warmth) of home, but for those who attended and indeed worked over that snowy weekend, there was nothing like it.

Santa in the snow  Santa's Annual Visit  Elf at Llanuwchllyn

Road to adventure  Llyn Tegid/Bala Lake in the snow  Llyn Tegid/Bala Lake in the snow

Alice in the snow  Alice in the snow  Alice in the snow alongside Llyn Tegin/Bala Lake

In conclusion, the management and staff of the BLR would like to wish everyone, volunteers, visitors and all who visit or help with the railway the very best for 2018. It is going to be a memorable year.

November 2017 Update

The passenger season has ended, activity on the Bala Lake Railway has slowed down and the pressure of everyday life has diminished dramatically. You might think that, but we would definitely comment otherwise!

The Halloween Specials were, as always, a resounding success and we send huge thanks to all the staff and volunteers who made them so. For once, the Santa Specials were blessed with snow, a lot of it, and next month we will show a pictorial. In the meantime, the BLR station webcam, as well as numerous ‘posts’, capture the atmosphere perfectly.

Around the Llanuwchllyn depot, the annual boiler inspections are progressing well, with nothing untoward about which to comment, and the inspector mentioned that the way our steam fleet was operated and maintained was to a very high standard, a tribute to Rob Houghton and his team.

Dan Laidlaw decided that the basement of the signal box needed clearing out, and, assisted by Bernard Allman, this exercise yielded a surprising amount of accumulated ‘stuff’. As the photos show, it is now clear and clean, and we hope to open it to visitors who will be able to see the inner workings and complex linkages of a ‘box and what goes on under the signal levers above. This may well be a ‘first’ for the BLR as we know of no other railways which can do the same.

Llanuwchllyn signalbox  Llanuwchllyn signalbox 

We are concentrating this month on all the other jobs and activities that need doing in the winter season. As already mentioned, a supply of fresh sleepers arrived and the team set about cutting them to size. These are of Azobe wood, with a very tight grain, which means they will give many years of life. However, they have to be cut to BLR size (i.e. in half) and the tightness of the grain does the chainsaw no favours, but Rob Houghton and Dan Laidlaw got into a production rhythm with Rob cutting the sleepers in half (when he was not changing the saw chain – he got through a few) and Dan piling them neatly on to the two refurbished bogie wagons (see C&W). He then drilled the spike holes with his home-made template.

Sleepers ready for processing at Llanuwchllyn  Sleepers ready loaded and ready to go

The Wednesday Gang and Working Weekends have achieved a huge improvement with much needed pruning and cutting of trees along the hillside on the approach to Pentrepiod Halt. As the photos show, it has opened up the vista and logs were cut and loaded into hopper wagons. Other members of the team attacked the vital task of shovelling mud and debris off the ballast, as well as checking and unblocking culverts. It sounds simplistic to describe it thus, but the amount of hard work and effort cannot be underestimated. Luckily, the usual atmosphere, along with copious amounts of tea and flapjacks, meant all involved garnered a great deal of satisfaction for a job very well done.

November working weekend  November working weekend

The framework for the Carriage Shed Extension has been erected, along with the track-work, which will give us much more covered space for rolling stock.

Julian Birley, BLR Director, commented; “Work is moving apace with the new Heritage Lottery funded carriage shed and interpretation centre at Llanuwchllyn. The ground and new track layout have been levelled and prepared for concreting, the main frame of the building is now up and it can really be appreciated quite what a dramatic improvement of the railway’s facilities this will be. To have an extra attraction for visitors to go and see locomotives and heritage rolling stock on display is going to be such a valuable asset, perpetuating as it does the understanding of the importance of narrow gauge railways to this area of North Wales”.

Heritage Lottery funded carriage shed and interpretation centre  Heritage Lottery funded carriage shed and interpretation centre

HLF logo

The Carriage & Wagon team of Rod Fairley, Geoff Hodgkinson and Bob Newton, ably assisted by James Parkinson, have had a busy month re-decking the two bogie flat wagons in readiness for the delivery of new sleepers, already mentioned. The old flooring was completely rotten and, in places, had already collapsed during last year’s sleeper replacement programme. Both wagons were carefully refurbished and re-painted, on one occasion in the carriage shed during a torrential downpour.

Bogie wagon refurbishment   Bogie wagon refurbishment

Elsewhere, Ben Nelson has been busy sprucing up the carriages and getting them ready for the Santa Specials, including decorations! The floors of some have been sanded and repainted, and this exercise will continue into the new year for completion before the season starts in earnest. Meanwhile, Brian Bennett has been busy getting Santa’s grotto ready for the man himself.

Coach ready for Santa's arrival  Coach ready for Santa's arrival

A long overdue visit to the Penrhyn Coach was made near the end of the month, and progress has been considerable, bearing in mind, as we continually state, that David Hale is building this magnum opus on his own.

Since our last update, the Coach is now a completed shell and will eventually be painted by Roger Hine, former BLR General Manager. You will recall that it was he who did the repainting of Winifred to such an exemplary standard, thus he was the logical choice for the Coach. To do that, the Coach will be moved to North Wales but this is many months away.

In the meantime, the Coach had to be moved off its axles to allow space above so that the roof could be finished. The ply-wood (always an odd number of plies) flooring is now in place, all edges being sealed with mastic, and the removable centre section for axle inspection is a deliciously tight fit. The flooring, an 18mm thick, black 13-ply composite, heated and pressed with phenolic bonding resin, (the reason it is so dense and heavy), has been accurately cut from 10ft x 5ft sheets. As fitted, the rough side is uppermost for grip, but smooth underneath for easy hose-cleaning in due course. All the pins securing inner side panels are to be sunk and filled for a perfectly smooth surface. There are 10 windows to be built which will involve hours of intricate work, and the glass is to be delivered during December.

Penrhyn Coach under construction  Penrhyn Coach under construction  Penrhyn Coach under construction  Penrhyn Coach under construction

It should be pointed out that the wood being used is Sapele which can have what is called a ‘reverse grain’, a visible curve in the grain in a straight piece of wood. This presents a cabinet maker with considerable extra work as a piece could only be planed one way from the middle outwards, not along the whole strip, and likewise from centre outwards in the other direction, otherwise a plane might catch the ‘lip’ of the grain, with frustrating consequences. Again, we highlight this sort of unbelievable detail with which David has been faced all through the build process.

The two doors will, when finished, have taken almost as long to build as the whole coach, such is the involved building process. The windows will be raised by a strong leather strap, as in carriages of old, but the frame has to fit perfectly into the door frame which has a gently curving outside aspect, the ‘tumblehome’. The top of the window frame is secured by an aluminium strip to allow the top to be removed, should the glass ever need to be replaced. All the outer edges have to be rounded off to dispel water, and the door seals will use intumescent strip. It is hoped to complete the droplights by Christmas, but it must be remembered that each door has to be moved by two people so planning and forethought are essential and time-consuming. The brake wheel, which will be fitted on the back wall inside the coach, is currently several pieces of wood, waiting to be turned. Everything is being done by hand.

Again, we cannot emphasise too strongly that David Hale alone is building this fabulous new piece of rolling stock, and if tragedy is the correct word, it is that probably 80% or more of his skills and detail will never be seen and appreciated because it will be covered up. It is we who are fortunate to be able to inspect the painstaking but fascinating progress.

Sir Bryn Terfel visits LlanuwchllynAnd finally……. it is not every day that we are able to entertain a noted, indeed legendary celebrity. During September, a special extra service train was laid on for the famous bass-baritone, Sir Bryn Terfel, and his film/recording crew who were making a special programme, to be broadcast on Christmas Day, called Taith Bryn Terfel – Gwlad y Gan 2, (Bryn Terfel’s Journey – Land of Song 2)

The train, steam-hauled, of course, set off for Llangower, containing as it did Sir Bryn and the whole compliment of the film crew. Three cameramen were on duty, one with the now obligatory drone, plus other assistants. Make a note of the timing; Channel S4C on Christmas Day at 21.00. (If you live outside Wales and have Sky TV, you can still find this in the depths of the channel listings).

Sir Bryn, whilst at Llanuwchllyn Station, discovered that it was the birthday of our delightful Café supervisor, Elin Mair. He immediately sang a rousing rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to her, a day she and all present will not forget.

Last but not least, the management, staff and all involved with the BLR would like to wish all our volunteers and particularly visitors the warmest wishes for the festive season and the coming year. 2018 is going to be quite a year.

 Llanuwchllyn station ready for Christmas

October 2017 Update

October 2017 was a month of success and innovation, and while the overall passenger numbers for the month were marginally down on the same month last year, we had exceeded the overall yearly total for 2016 by the 26th of the month, not forgetting that last year’s figures were a record high.

The long half-term break was a significant factor, as were the Halloween Specials which were very well patronised, 11% up on last year. Much favourable comment was received, a tribute indeed to the volunteers who not only run the trains but also the others who decorate and man the attractions along the line, particularly Flag Halt.

Halloween Train  Halloween Driver and Fireman

Flag Halt at Halloween

Initially, on-line bookings had looked disappointing, but we experienced a surge of families turning up ‘on the day’, which meant that the trains were virtually full. As always, an enormous thank-you is due to the staff and volunteers who made the Halloween Specials so successful.

The Red Dragon Project has been working away behind the scenes and was delighted to announce excellent news regarding the line which the railway will take in its quest to reach down-town Bala.

BLR Trust Chairman, Julian Birley, had already announced that the site for the new station building in Bala had been acquired, and now added that the Snowdonia National Park planning department has granted permission for demolishing the derelict warehouse in Aran Street, and for the clearing of the site. He commented further; “This immediate improvement to the area will send out the clear message that it is not a case of if but when the railway will arrive in Bala.”

Until recently, land negotiations had stalled with the Trust being unable to agree land values for the acquisition of land to link the new station to the foreshore. But after a realignment of the intended route, discussions with the Bala Rugby Club and a local farmer have produced an agreement in principle to purchase a strip of land along the very edge of the rugby field and a small piece of the adjacent field. This will put the railway within a very short distance of the proposed new town station.

Julian was ecstatic about the new developments. “We could not have asked for more support. It has been a delight to work with the Bala Rugby Club and the neighbouring farmer. We regard ourselves as a community asset, and working with other parts of the community fulfils our absolute aims and objectives. However, there is still much to do, not least the application for the Transport and Works Act Order from Parliament. We look to continue to work with the local community to bring this project to a successful conclusion, creating as it does great benefits for the local area.”

Further details of the extension project can be found at

Back at the railway’s Llanuwchllyn base, the Shed Extension has started apace with the footings for the extra part of the carriage shed being installed. The footings will support the skeletal frames for the new covered section, and will complement the extra track that has been installed.

On top of this work, two sidings have been re-laid with new sleepers, and indeed one has been moved slightly to ease the turnout. All the tracks have been very carefully aligned for total accuracy before they are permanently concreted in place. While this was happening, other minor items were remedied, but an interesting situation arose regarding the points which had been acquired from our friends at the Launceston Steam Railway. We had requested two right-hand points but one set kept puzzling us. One minute we were sure we had a right hand point, the next a left. It turned out to be half a left and half a right that had somehow been mixed up, but Rob Houghton addressed the problem with a delightfully-named Jim Crow clamp which reset the blade end of the point perfectly. We can only assume that there are two corresponding wrong halves still at Launceston!

Our yearly delivery of new sleepers arrived in good time for the continuation of track relaying, scheduled to start in January 2018. This is an on-going exercise and with the resources available, about a quarter of a mile is to be completely re-laid. Regular readers may recall the efforts reported at the beginning of the year, and again much use will be made of our special ballast-grading implements built in our workshops, one to spread the old ballast out of the way for sleeper replacement, and the second to replace the ballast. The age of the existing sleepers vary, and the arrival of fresh hardwood sleepers means that those taken out, which are less than 10 years old, can be re-used elsewhere on the line, and the remainder in sidings, assuming they are suitable, or if not satisfactory for the task, are scrapped.

A charter from Palé Hall Hotel took place on the 22nd October and in spite of 'Storm Brian' doing its best to dampen the day, it proved to be a very enjoyable and totally successful occasion.

The railway was delighted to host the birthday celebrations of Alan and Angela Harper, who own and have renovated the magnificent Palé Hall Hotel in Llandderfel, located a few miles to the east of Bala. The 40 guests arrived in a variety of cars at Llanuwchllyn and, in spite of the weather, embraced the occasion with great enthusiasm and indifference to the weather. Winifred and Alice, both open locos, were rostered for the occasion but the crews dismissed the inclement conditions and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, as did all the guests, no doubt looking forward to ‘smoke-box’ spuds and champagne on their return to Llanuwchllyn.

Pale Hall Hotel charter  Pale Hall Hotel charter  Pale Hall Hotel charter

Pale Hall Hotel charter  Pale Hall Hotel charter

 This unique charter showcased the railway perfectly and, in spite of driving rain, was an enormous success. It also resulted in some significant donations for the Bala extension project. Huge thanks are due to all and particularly the volunteers who gave up their weekend, some of whom journeyed from York, Leicester, Stoke and nearer. As was heard from all concerned; “Wouldn’t have missed it.”

The railway is into the season of the Wednesday Gang and Working Weekends, and before the track re-laying starts in earnest, the perennial chore of tree pruning started in mid-month. For those who have never joined one of our Wednesdays or Weekends, it is remarkable how much can be achieved and with such humour, not forgetting the obligatory tea and flapjacks. Bob Greenhalgh takes up the story of his mid-month visit.

“I was met at Llanuwchllyn by Mark and new volunteer Alan. As soon as General Manager David Jones arrived, Alan was ‘christened’ into the ‘tea ‘n flapjacks’ club. The weekend’s task was line-side clearing just this side of Pentre Piod Halt. Mark and Rob got busy with chainsaws, and David, Alan and I were in the middle feeding the chipper and trying to keep ahead of the chainsaw boys, hard work for three of us, but fortified by the usual copious amounts of tea and flapjacks (a BLR ritual), a good day’s work produced huge results, as the photos show. The severe pruning has made this section of the line much lighter and airy.”

For what is meant to be hard work, these working activities are also hugely enjoyable, so any extra help is always welcomed. Please get in contact with the railway for the next details.

Working weekend  Working weekend

News of our Locomotive Fleet falls into two categories. On the steam front, it is time for yearly boiler inspections. George B is to have her boiler inspection first, along with attention to the eccentric rods that caused problems earlier in the year. The other steam locos will follow in due course, but all the while leaving two totally serviceable for the Santa Specials, of which more later.

Our diesel locos seldom merit mention, and ‘Trigger’ continues without murmur after Dan Laidlaw’s extensive work earlier in the year. The completion was, by chance, perfect timing as Chilmark suffered a problem after she had rescued the train hauled by George B. A strange ‘knock under load’ developed after her noble rescue effort, but as ‘Trigger’ was back in harness, remedial action was deemed non-vital. However, volunteer Mike, a very experienced diesel engineer, has been looking into the problem, and as part of the investigation, removed all the three individual cylinder heads and cleaned everything. Other areas to be addressed will be the injector pump. But as the steam team is much more important, this mystery must wait and it may therefore be a while before Chilmark’s distinctive rumble is heard again, something that delights many, not least her owner. Anyway, she is in very capable hands.

And finally……. the Santa Specials are going to be nearly full if bookings to date are an indication. There is still time to reserve your tickets as space is available. But please remember that reservations must be done on-line.

Book for Santa'a Annual Visit

We finish with some inspiring photos of a party of young who, after a day in the countryside, decided that dinner in Llanuwchllyn Station would be the perfect end to a great day. Their dress code and appreciation were note-worthy. After dinner, they were given a carefully escorted tour around the loco shed, with no reports of oil on any attire.

Dinner at Llanuwchllyn

Dinner at Llanuwchllyn  Dinner at Llanuwchllyn 

September 2017 Update

After the huge success of the railway’s traditional August Bank Holiday four-day extravaganza, life has now returned to ‘normal’, if any railway activity can be termed thus. The BLR has been on a proverbial roll all year and passenger figures have been consistently better than those of the equivalent periods last year. Nevertheless, while attendance this month has been healthy, our numbers are down a little on September last year. However, we expect to be back in number-beating form in October as the Halloween trains on the 28th and the 31st should be well patronised. Preparations for the two traditional yearly events, Halloween and the Santa Specials in December, are well under way, to the extent that not only have posters, tickets etc. been printed for both, but our on-line booking service is available for Halloween and the Santa Specials too. Please do not leave it too late to get tickets as the Santa Specials, in particular, have been sold out every year for the last few years.

Our Locomotive Fleet is as busy as ever, with September having scheduled trains almost every day. After the beginning of October, the work-load is less and a deal of care and attention can be given to our hard-working fleet.

Of note during September, Alice has just returned from her trip to the West Lancashire Railway where she starred in their 50th Anniversary Gala. All railways of whatever gauge co-operate with others, particularly with the loan of locomotives, and we were delighted to send Alice up to their Hesketh Bank base.

Alice getting ready to depart for West Lancashire
"Alice" being loaded ready for her trip to West Lancashire

But what made it special for all concerned is that the founding members of the West Lancashire were among the group which managed to rescue Alice from where she lay forlorn, deserted and derelict in Dinorwic Quarry, high up on Australia Level. She had to be brought down very carefully by way of one of the inclines, which was a major undertaking, bearing in mind that she still weighed, even in her partially stripped condition, not far off her normal 6 tons.

You will recall that George B suffered what could have been a serious failure just prior to the Gala, but the quick reactions of the loco crew meant that an ingenious repair by our Chief Engineer could be carried out so that she was operational for the Gala. As a testament to the effectiveness of that repair, she is still being used for light duties, particularly on a couple of Driver Experience days, but she will not return to main scheduled duties until a proper repair to the slide valve linkages has been done over the winter. It does however show just how durable are these wonderful little Hunslet locos.

As the season begins to wind down, an annual weekly activity starts again with enthusiasm and humour (plus flapjacks), this being The Wednesday Gang. Throughout the winter, in weather fine or foul, this intrepid group gather every Wednesday to attack whatever task needs its attention. As we have reported in the past, these could be track maintenance, tree pruning, building renovation, let alone the constant work on locomotives, be they steam or diesel.

But for all necessities to be tackled, there is always scope for more Volunteers to swell the numbers of our invaluable, unsung group of heroes which rise to any occasion. One has recently been building platform seats and was operating the 16mm model layout over the Gala weekend. Over the past year, our loyal band has been on hand, to turn out even on weekends. Likewise, our new arrivals have discovered just how productive and rewarding an activity volunteering can be, in a nutshell, fun! For example, preparations for the Halloween Specials are well under way, (in this instance by someone working over a weekend with his wife), and most of the ‘effects’ for Halloween happen at Flag Halt, so any extra help will always be greatly appreciated. As we mentioned earlier, the ticket and poster aspect is under control, and the volunteer involved, who also drives trains as often as possible, (he of the flapjacks), is fitting this in around moving house and the accompanying serious renovation. Their loyalty is rewarded only by the satisfaction of working with a like-minded bunch in a delightful environment.

Together with the forthcoming Working Weekends, anything could be on the agenda, and it is the variety that is so appealing. If this sort of thing is up your street, please call the railway, as we would be delighted to hear from you and welcome you to the railway. 

August 2017 Update

August was another good month on the railway, with passenger numbers up again on the same period last year. But the highlight was the four-day Bank Holiday Steam Gala, passenger numbers for which were up by no less than 19% over last year’s Gala. What made this Gala so special was, in part, down to the amazing co-operation we received from within The Great Little Trains of Wales, as well as some pure genius on the part of our Chief Engineer, Rob Houghton, when confronted with a major crisis.

Winifred at Llangower

The Gala was to feature our five resident Hunslet locomotives, Alice, Winifred, Maid Marian, Holy War and the recently returned to service George B. As regular readers will recall from last month, the last-named suffered a crank problem, which could have been much worse but for the quick thinking and mechanical sympathy of the loco crew. She, and the train, were towed back to base where the offending wheelset was removed and dispatched to the Festiniog Railway’s Boston Lodge works for repair. Boston Lodge did a typically superb job in double quick time, and George B was back in steam on the Wednesday before the Gala. However, on her first scheduled trip that day, one of the eccentrics, the rods located within the frames and which operate the valves, decided to bend itself because of a partial seizure, and this in turn cracked the eccentric’s main big-end or journal. The train was duly rescued and the offending pieces dismantled. A fire was quickly lit in Alice and services were resumed in the afternoon.

Alice during the 2017 Gala

What followed was nothing short of a miracle of ingenuity, and the process would normally be expected to take days, if not weeks, to sort out. Rob Houghton immediately took off the aforementioned items and then repaired them by welding the cast iron pieces back together again, using special welding rods. Cast iron is in no way an easy metal to weld, but one aspect is that it cannot be quenched in water to cool down, so Rob had the stroke of genius to build up the fire slightly in one of the other locos on shed and then put the repaired eccentric, including the crack, in the firebox to cool down/anneal very slowly overnight, in exactly the same process as glass blowers. The result was totally successful and George B was able to return to light service in time to take part in the advertised triple-header on the Saturday evening, much to the surprise of those waiting aboard. She performed without fault over the entire weekend, albeit double-heading with other locos, and was used in the septuple-header on the Saturday evening, more of which later. Rob was his usual self-effacing self, but all who knew what he had achieved so quickly were frankly astonished and full of admiration.

George B heading a train up Dolfawr Bank

By way of digression, it worth mentioning that however good cast iron may be for some applications, like engine blocks etc. where strength to density ratios are high, this metal can have distinct disadvantages, and reading Dan Cruikshank’s explanation of the collapse of the cast iron railway bridge over the River Dee near Chester in May, 1847 will put the matter succinctly into perspective. His book is entitled; Bridges: Heroic Designs that Changed the World.

Servicing locomotices at Llanuwchllyn

Getting back to the Gala, the problem with George B meant the BLR was one Hunslet down for the weekend, but this is where the positive co-operation between all the narrow-gauge railways in Wales is so beneficial. The team of Howard Bowling, James Milner and General Manager, David Jones rapidly liaised with the Ffestiniog Railway, only to find General Manager, Paul Lewin, on holiday. However, his PA, Pauline Holloway, leaped into action, tracked Paul down and secured the loan of the National Trust owned Quarry Hunslet, Hugh Napier. The FR team dropped everything and got her ready in next to no time for transporting to Llanuwchllyn. We not only offer huge thanks to the FR, particularly Pauline, Phil Brown and Paul Lewin for the way they all immediately pulled together for our benefit, but also to BLR volunteer, James Milner, for similarly dropping everything, getting his special truck, complete with fitted 2 ft. track, to Dinas near Caernarfon and loading Hugh Napier, thus by the afternoon of that same day, Hugh Napier was delivered to the BLR so that the compliment of five Hunslets in steam over the weekend could be maintained. By way of returning the compliment, the BLR will be loaning most of our Hunslet locomotives to the Ffestiniog for their ‘Hunslet 125’ Gala next year.

Hugh Napier heads up a line of Quarry Hunslets

As always during a BLR Gala, a courtesy vintage bus service was on hand to take passengers from the Leisure Centre in Bala to the line’s station across the river and back again, and this service is always organised by Andrew Hayward. Together with colleagues Nigel and Paul, they were kept busy in their beautifully restored Leyland single-decker, although it was noticed that the lack of power steering was occasionally felt. Apart from the smart vintage bus, the team also brought to Llanuwchllyn a beautifully restored Morris type CV truck, next to which an elderly Morris Minor promptly appeared. It was also nice to see the famous Ivo Peters Bentley back in circulation after its lengthy engine rebuild. Other visitors to the station were a pair of 1960s Triumph sports cars, possibly part of a much larger club outing, judging by the number spotted in the area over the weekend.

Morris CV truck at the Bala Gala

Each BLR Gala features something original and unscheduled, and this year, there were two such events. The first was on the Saturday evening and featured seven locos coupled together. This spectacular line-up featured all the resident BLR Hunslets (five) plus visiting Hugh Napier, and added to the cavalcade was Triassic, the non-steaming 0-6-0 Peckett which lives at Llanuwchllyn. All seven moved slowly away from the station down to the bottom of the Dolfawr bank, then were uncoupled and returned to the station, including Triassic being towed by Holy War. The sight of all this history together was quite something, and probably unique.

Seven locomotives line up

In years gone by, there has been a bar-b-q next to the station, but this time, General Manager, David Jones, had an inspired idea and proposed a ‘Baked Potato Special’ at the end of Sunday’s operations, as a thank-you to the numerous volunteers who had come from far and wide to help over the weekend, but also to any members of the public who were asked to make a donation to the railway.

Quarry Hunslets at Llanuwchllyn

To this end, a couple of dozen baked potatoes were carefully wrapped in a double layer of foil and then placed in the smokeboxes of the last scheduled, double-headed train. On the train’s return, the spuds were removed from the smokeboxes, foil removed and devoured with butter, cheese and other items from the station café. For those who have not tasted a smokebox spud, there is no soot whatsoever, and the texture of the potato is superb and like no other. Repeated trials have shown that a return trip down the line, approximately nine miles, cooks the potatoes to perfection. To be seated around a picnic table on the platform eating loco-cooked potatoes in the twilight, with a simmering Hunslet close by - well, it does not get much better. Judging by comments from the uninitiated, this will become a feature of future events.

And finally…… we offer enormous thanks to the considerable number of volunteers who came to help over the weekend, some from long distance, including Jim Adams (again) plus Martin and Cathy Houghton (no relation to Rob) who run the Society Membership Register and who came over from Suffolk for the weekend. The furthest distance award goes to regular volunteers, Andy and Gill Best, who came down from Orkney. Howard Bowling again deserves mention as, apart from his efforts with securing Hugh Napier, he was heavily involved with arranging the timetable and rostering for the whole weekend. On top of that, he arrived a day early to get all the rolling stock ready and correctly positioned. Likewise, we offer again our sincere thanks for the wonderful help from all at the Ffestiniog Railway, Paul Lewin, Pauline Holloway, Phil Brown and the Boston Lodge team. Without everyone’s ‘positive waves’, our Gala might not have achieved quite so much.

We close with a more recent photo, captured by Martin Houghton, of the railway’s newly painted Not-So-Rapid Response Vehicle, which shows its capability to move innumerable people. All it needs now is a floorboard or two.

Pump Trolley in action


July 2017 Update

On the very last day of the month, we received exciting news from the Bala Lake Railway Trust about more progress with the extension into Bala Town.

After months of hard work, the Trust is delighted to announce that further land for the new Bala Town Station has been secured with the exchange of contracts for the derelict Plassey Garage, adjacent to Heol Aran (Aran Street). Together with the first purchase completed in February this year, it gives the Trust a substantial piece of land which will eventually be the site of the new station building.

Julian Birley, chairman of the Bala Lake Railway Trust, said

“Acquiring this second piece of land is a huge step towards the Trust’s ambition of extending the railway, as it means that we have now secured the site for the new station building which, crucially, is next to a large public car park. The purchase has been made possible thanks to the incredibly generous donation from a supporter who sees the tremendous potential and value in the project.

On a separate note, we are, once again, indebted to Lisa Williams for the immense amount of conveyancing and legal work she has undertaken on behalf of the Trust”.

For further details of this exciting development, please go to:

Bearing in mind the perennial flukiness of summer weather, the month of July showed that the railway enjoyed most respectable passenger numbers, although some weeks were better than others. Nevertheless, compared to the same period last year, our visitor numbers were up by a healthy 12%.

Within these figures are the upwards of 300 who came on the Alice Day on the 29th. Winifred was busy with the passenger trains, but Alice spent an enjoyable day (albeit under grey skies) attached to the yellow Royal Wagon, and shuttled delighted visitors up and down the track in front of the station, as the photographs show. But what really made the day was having the acclaimed artist and author, Pauline Hazelwood, in attendance. Pauline’s delightful books about the true stories of Alice, Winifred, plus her latest editions, Polar Bear and Peter Pan, proved a great success, with 50 being sold to children of all ages. One photograph shows Pauline reading to a couple of children who were totally absorbed in the story. As is known, Pauline not only does the beautiful and descriptive illustrations but also writes the stories as well. It is a testimony to her skill that these books are now sold widely and through a variety of outlets.

Pauline Hazelwood at her Alice Day  Alice on Alice Day

Locomotive News this month contains some news of engineering expertise and quick-witted sensitivity. The first concerned Winifred when a boiler tube developed a leak, which sounds like a lengthy problem. But Rob Houghton and his team leaped into action and replaced the faulty tube in just over a day, so that she was available for service without causing any scheduling headaches, a remarkable achievement.

The second occurrence could have developed into a major issue, but for the quick thinking and mechanical sympathy of the loco crew. General Manager David Jones takes up the tale.

“We had five operational quarry Hunslets in service for a couple of months, but that was until the crew on George B noticed a ‘knock’ which became more pronounced as they returned during the last trip of the day on the 20th. Rob Houghton and Chilmark were dispatched to assess the problem on the now stationary train, and found that the firemen’s side crank on the driving axle was floating loose. Fortunately, the crank is also ‘keyed’ on, which meant the rotational forces were still being taken, otherwise the damage might have been much more extensive. Chilmark brought George B and the train back to Llanuwchllyn at very slow speed.

Once dismantled, it could be seen that the crank had been a very poor fit on the axle, and it was probably damaged when the axle was renewed in the 1970s, with the crank being refitted on to the axle without any remedial work. The firm which had carried out the work for owner Alan White is no longer in business, hence we somehow suspect that any warranty might have expired! The axle has been sent to the Festiniog Railway at Boston Lodge, where the other crank will be removed, just in case it had suffered the same fate. Boston Lodge should be able to build up, re-machine and refit the cranks in time for George B to star in our August Bank Holiday Steam Gala."

While on the subject of locomotives, Diana and owner Phil Mason have been enjoying their nationwide tour of narrow-gauge railways so much, and together with changing personal circumstances, it has been agreed by mutual consent that Diana will not be returning to Llanuwchllyn for the time being. However, Phil’s Wickham Trolley, together with its unique single axle trailer, redolent of French metre-gauge practice, will remain at the BLR, thus we look forward to seeing Phil again in this part of Wales again soon.

We are delighted to announce that the Bala Lake Railway Trust has become the recipient of two replica quarrymen’s open coaches, donated by Barry Fitzpatrick. This hugely generous donation will join the other two similar coaches and, with the arrival next year of the replica of Lord Penrhyn’s Saloon, the Bala Lake Railway will be able to demonstrate an authentic Penrhyn passenger train behind Winifred. On special occasions, visitors will be able to experience a unique form of travel as these vehicles were bespoke to Penrhyn.

Work on the Penrhyn Saloon Coach progresses, but even greater care is being taken to avoid unnecessary mistakes, particularly in view of the restricted space available.

PQR coach brake wheelPQR coach doorDavid Hale reports; “The floor is now in place although I will need to remove temporarily one of the end panels to provide a cut-out for the brake operating mechanism – the ‘Ship’s Wheel’ – and we show a photograph of this fitted to the original coach in the Penrhyn Museum.

One of the doors has been hinged, and I am making adjustments to allow it to close properly. Although made, hanging the other door will have to wait until I move the carriage away from the house. I still need to make the drop-light windows, and hope to be ordering the timber shortly”.

Again, photographs do not do justice to what is being achieved in such a minimal space.

We commented last month about the refurbishment of our bogie coal wagons. This month, we show where the expertise went, as a delivery of 12 tons of coal was unloaded from a truck into three bogie wagons in a way that would make the Drax system look crude.

Having a truck driver familiar with the location helped, but the combination of Rob deftly directing operations together with Julian Birley gently inching Trigger and her wagons along was a delight for all to watch.

Spectator speculation was that the contents of the truck would be far too much for the wagons, but by carefully placing coal in parts of the three wagons, then repeating the task to fill other areas, followed by further skilled placement to balance it all, meant the whole delivery was evenly deposited into the wagons, and with very little coal, only a few of handfuls, dropped on the platform. Again, the photos cannot do justice to a remarkably slick operation.

Coal delivery at Llanuwchllyn  Coal delivery at Llanuwchllyn

And finally…….. details of our August Bank Holiday Steam Gala (25th to 28th) are now on this website, with tickets available for what will be a festival of fun and steam along the lake, widely regarded as one of the most scenic stretches of railway in Wales. Further details can be found on our Special Events page here

Pump Trolley in actionWe always welcome volunteers to the railway, and they are invariably keen to attack whatever needs doing, in whatever the weather. For our Alice Day, Judge Peter Heywood leaped into action, firstly doing the tedious task of shovelling ash from pits, followed by edging the grass on the far platform. By way of some levity, he also tested the railway’s latest creation, a hand trolley built by Dan Laidlaw and team on the chassis of an old tip wagon. Having a short throw crank means one’s hands are not flailing about, and it proved a popular mode of transport. With the fitment of floorboards and a brake, who knows where they will venture.

Lastly, visitors to the railway may have noticed that there is a small group of classic tractors sometimes in the yard, and regular readers will recall that they are pressed into service as well, particularly when track needs relaying. Recently, the heritage magazine, Tractor & Farming Heritage, published an article about the tractors and their owners who are all staff/volunteers. What struck all who read the piece was the final paragraph, closing as it did with the line; ‘The Bala Lake Railway is a gem of a place to work’. Enough said.

June 2017 Update

The railway received the following announcement from Trip Advisor just before the end of the month.

TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence“We are pleased to announce that the Bala Lake Railway has been recognised with a 2017 Certificate of Excellence, based on the consistently great reviews you have earned on Trip Advisor. Only select businesses receive a Certificate of Excellence”.

Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm, and this is testimony indeed to the positive attitude of the Management, Staff and Volunteers of the BLR.

Clean and tidy locomotive shedOne occurrence in June, perhaps only incidental for visitors but of major importance for those involved, was a veritable blitz on the loco shed, where movement has become slightly impaired by increasing numbers of locomotives and their ancillary bits and pieces. As the photos show, this is now a location of tidiness and order. Needless to say, after the immense effort on the part of Rob Houghton and his team, the word ‘mess’ is now an anathema, and anyone undoing their good work will meet with persecution, threats and other punishments, as well as funding considerable hospitality at the Eagles Inn in the village.

We showed last month a photo of track recently acquired form our friends at the Launceston Steam Railway in Cornwall. It had already been decided how the panels would be laid out, and on one of the hottest days of the year so far, Rob and Dan got to work grading the ground at the eastern end of the carriage shed, laying ballast and fitting all the pieces together. The photo from volunteer Andrew Coward does not do justice to the heat, but as he commented; “The boys just kept on going”. The extra track will be of great benefit for the movement of rolling stock, and, eventually, it is hoped to install an extra set of points off the main line, thus giving even further flexibility.

New track at Llanuwchllyn  New track at Llanuwchllyn

Our Locomotive fleet has been kept busy all month and minor jobs have been carried out. George B has been a big success but a problem with one of her cranks has necessitated attention in the (now immaculate) workshop. Holy War had her roof repainted, which may sound incidental, but this is necessary because of the soot she emits. Anyway, a shiny roof makes it more difficult for the soot to get a hold. Alice had her smokebox door repainted, and she looked perfect when she was loaded on to a truck for her brief ‘holiday by the sea’ on the North Norfolk Railway. Before eyebrows are raised, the standard gauge line had installed some 2 foot gauge track so that Alice could be a major attraction at their Festival of Transport. It is not the first time Alice has visited North Norfolk, as she enjoyed some dual gauge running in the yard at Weybourne a couple of years ago. On the basis of ‘Driver for a Fiver’, her visit was deemed to have been a spectacular success. As you read this, she will have returned home and be back in service along the lake.

TriggerOur diesel ‘maid-of-all-work’ Trigger has at last emerged from works and is now back in service, showing off her new coat of paint, including the impressive ‘wasp stripes’ front and rear, thus harmonising with our other heavy diesel, Chilmark, which also benefited from Dan Laidlaw’s careful paintwork. There are still a few minor improvements to be done on Trigger, but her reappearance is timely as trusty Chilmark, which has been used daily for months, is now due for a little ‘rest and remedials’, so to speak. Like any old lady, things happen from time to time.

The Carriage & Wagon Dept. is never without something that needs attention, and it was the bogie coal wagons that came under their eagle eye. Visitors may have noted that these aged but strongly-built wagons sit at the end of the station loop near the water tower, and it was found that the metal floors have become rather weak. Dan Laidlaw moved two of them so that new metal flooring could be installed.

Dan was also busy with one of the passenger carriages. The seats were re-upholstered in smart new vinyl, and this time in a fetching shade of blue. Other seats will be redone in due course.

We have mentioned the progress of the new station seat which Rod Fairley has been painting, treating and assembling. We show a photo of the finished article.

New platform seat

Dates for the Diary. We list some special attractions coming up soon:

29th July – Alice Day when our locomotive, Alice, together with Winifred, will be joined by famous author Pauline Hazelwood who wrote and illustrated the delightful books about these two locomotives. She will be signing copies of the books about Alice and Winifred, as well as other books in her increasing range of true stories about narrow-gauge locomotives.

3rd, 10th and 17th August are the dates of our Barbeque Trains. Bookings are now being taken, and further details are available on our Special Events page.

A note for next month is the August Bank Holiday Gala on 25th – 28th August, always an enormous event with a wide variety of attractions. We will be celebrating the first season of George B back in service. Again, check the website soon for further details.

Liz PartridgeAnd finally……… volunteers come and go, but one of ours has now gained a permanent position on another Welsh railway, something sadly we were never able to do. Liz Partridge is now full-time footplate crew on the Snowdon Mountain Railway and we wish her every success. As the photo shows, it is hard work but she clearly loves it. One never achieves dizzying heights in the world of narrow gauge railways, but on that line, she does at least have a daily chance.

We close with a beautiful photo of Winifred trundling home along Lake Bala with the last train of the day. As the owner commented; “This is the finest view in Wales”.

Finest view in Wales 

May 2017 Update

What a month! As you will read, May was month to remember, with the 50th anniversary of Maid Marian entering preservation, the Spring Bank Holiday event breaking records plus other achievements. Bearing in mind that the BLR has only three permanent staff, one comment at the end of the month was deemed particularly apt for inclusion here; “For a small railway, there is always a heck of a lot happening”.

To look at performance overall, passenger figures were up (yet) again on May last year, this time by 3%. Indeed, on one day, about which we will comment later, every carriage was used but still there were not enough seats.

Saturday, 6th May was the 50th anniversary to the day of the purchase of Maid Marian from Dinorwic Quarry by the Maid Marian Locomotive Fund (MMLF), and to commemorate the date, a special train to recreate the event was laid on for members of the Fund, which included half a dozen of the original members present half a century ago! Rob Houghton had finished his onerous tasks of getting her ready after her 10 year overhaul (after which she was promptly sent to Bressingham for their Gala at the end of April), and she had been beautifully repainted by Roger Hine, whom, you may recall, did such a superlative job on Winifred.

Maid Marian 50  Maid Marian 50  Maid Marian 50

The MMLF Special ran with a rake of slate wagons, exactly as 50 years ago, but this time fitted with seating planks and cushions, in deference to the age of the passengers! The train ran empty to Flag Halt for photographs and, once the members had boarded, thence to Llangower, where suitable logistics were employed to get Maid Marian on to the front of her train for the return trip. The special then returned to Llanuwchllyn, dropping its passengers off at Flag to be picked up by Holy War on the scheduled service train as it passed by. Back at Llanuwchllyn, there was the ceremonial cutting of a beautiful cake commemorating the special day, the cake having been made in the village.

Maid Marian 50

To round off the day perfectly, Maid Marian was used for the third scheduled service and then ‘top and tailed’ the last with Holy War.

The Volunteers’ Day on Sunday, 14th was very encouraging, and several commented on how welcoming they had found the occasion. Some had come from quite a distance. Indeed, some of those present signed up straight away, and it was encouraging to note the interest in guard duties.

Volunteer Recruitment Day  Volunteer Recruitment Day

This is an area where there has traditionally been quite a shortage, but due to a surge of interest last year, with several trainees passed out (qualified), volunteer guards have been to the fore of late, and every single turn throughout the whole of April and May has been covered by a volunteer guard, thus relieving BLR staff. Despite this increase, we would welcome further interest from any budding guards.

The Spring Bank Holiday Weekend saw the BLR staging our usual trio of activities, namely increased service frequency on the railway, the huge Vintage Vehicle show in the field next to the railway and the Model Railway exhibition in Bala. Vintage buses were on hand to shuttle rail passengers from Bala station to the exhibition, and visitors back at Llanuwchllyn had only to walk a few yards to enter the vehicle showground where upwards of 200 exhibits, ranging from tractors to cars, trucks, Land Rovers etc. filled the space around the main ring. Away from the fascinating display of machinery, other attractions included axe-throwing, (like last year, remarkably skilled), local crafts and delicious locally produced foods. The whole vehicle event had been organised by the Meirionnydd NVTEC, which co-ordinated the show, as always, to a very high order.

The Model Railway Show was well attended and equally well received. It is of note that there were several repeat exhibitors, such was the success last year. We even had one exhibitor who had come all the way from Ireland and who had an exquisite model of Llangollen station. He has promised to bring another layout of a local station next year.

N Gauge model of Llangollen at the Model Railway Show

Saturday passenger traffic on the railway was healthy, to say the least, but Sunday broke records and provided the highest figures ever for passengers on one day. In spite of attaching every coach available, and running services to the maximum capacity of the line, there was the regrettable situation where there was no room left on a couple of trains. We can only hope that those without seats will come back another day.

Bank Holiday Trains  Bank Holiday Trains

After the last train on Monday, every coach was coupled together to form our traditional end-of-weekend ‘special’, in this case a triple-headed train hauled by ‘The Three Little Red Engines’, George B, Alice and Maid Marian, which went down to Llangower and back. Tim Williams has published an excellent, if a trifle wobbly at times, (they were in the back of an enthusiastically driven Land Rover) 30 minute video of the trio on YouTube. We start our journey below 25 minutes into the video but do go and view the whole 30 minutes if you have time.


This will give a taster for what we plan to repeat for the August Steam Gala, (25th to 28th), but this time with passengers on board.

All the BLR Staff would like to express heartfelt thanks to all who helped make the whole weekend such a success, exhibitors, stewards, volunteers and, particularly, visitors.

Llaunuwchllyn water towerThe Carriage & Wagon efforts are now, in one instance, proudly on display at the end of the platform in Llanuwchllyn. The cover for the new, raised water tower is now in place, as depicted in the photo. Particular thanks are due to Ian Whitson and Geoff Hodgkinson for their cabinet-maker skills, as well as Bob Newton and Rod Fairley for getting it in place and secured. It so looks the part, and just remains to have the roof cover completed.

The Penrhyn Coach is progressing well and David Hale’s attention has turned to the carriage doors.

“Making the doors is quite a long process because of the fact that each has 10 double Penrhyn coach door in placemortices and tenons, plus the stiles, (the side members had to be profiled to the exact same curvature as the carriage sides), all having to be made before gluing together. Getting all the joints lined up when the glue has been applied was difficult, especially as the glue ‘goes off’ quickly, even in cool weather. Whilst the glue on the second frame was ‘going off’, I trimmed off the tenons on the first frame and planed everything to finish the frame to size. The second frame has now been done as well, so both frames are now ready for the external skins to be fitted. Then I can either hinge the first door, (remember that the carriage has been moved closer to the house), or get on with making the drop lights. Still a lot to do to the doors”!

We have included a photo of the first door in place which demonstrates the subtlest of curvature in the construction of the doors, again a testament to the detail and effort taken in getting this project absolutely right.

A final selection on the colour of the leather to be used for the seats, an elegant and tasteful dark blue, has now been made.

In connection with the Red Dragon Project, the BLR took delivery, during the month, of a consignment of rail and points, purchased from our friends at the Launceston Steam Railway in Cornwall.

Rail for the Red Dragon Project  Red Dragon Project rail

This track will be used to extend the carriage roads at the eastern end of the carriage shed, which, in due course, is to be extended. The new track layout will provide greatly increased flexibility in not only where and how coaches can be stored, but also provide easier access.

And finally……. while we take every opportunity to thank our loyal band of volunteers who help in myriad ways on the railway, and who come from all over the British Isles, we always welcome enquiries for volunteering of any type at any time. There is no need to wait until the next Volunteer Day to be announced. Just give us a call. It is as easy as that...

April 2017 Update

The railway really hit the ground running this year, and the reason why can be seen from a glance at the timetable. In March, there was one operational day, but April featured over 70% of days with a four train schedule. Staggered half term periods and a particularly late Easter meant we were able to capitalise on the leisure market. On top of that, the weather was definitely on our side, thus passenger numbers were distinctly healthy and most promising, being up by 13% for the year to the end of April.

George B

It is not every railway which can celebrate two half centuries at almost the same time, but we are doing so. The first happened on the 22nd April with the official introduction into scheduled service of George B. Alan White bought this locomotive over 50 years ago and, with his brother Frank, began a real labour-of-love with her restoration, starting initially in South Wales in decidedly cramped circumstances. As more space was needed, she was moved to Llanuwchllyn, and progress was slow as the brothers could only afford limited time on the project. But they systematically worked through various areas of the loco, until it came to the time when other expertise was required. Thus it was that Rob Houghton, BLR Chief Engineer, started dealing with some of the more technical aspects and, to cut a long story to a relevant size, she steamed and moved under her own power earlier this year. Her actual first appearance was a photo charter, during which she performed very well indeed, and all those taking part were totally delighted. Only minor adjustments were needed to get her ready for her ‘big day’ on the 22nd April.

George B

On hand were both Alan and Frank White, accompanied by Alan’s wife and son. Rob Houghton brought the gleaming loco into the platform, where BLR Chairman, Dr David Gwyn, said a few words of welcome in both Welsh and English, after which Alan ceremoniously revealed the loco’s nameplate and all was ready for the first train, probably the first revenue-earning run for George B in her life, and an historic day for the White family, half a century after the beginning of the project. Pride, like the sun, shone through. She will be in regular service throughout the year, another wonderful addition to the BLR fleet.

George B

But what of the other half century celebration?

We mentioned last month that Maid Marian was still in pieces, with bits removed and the boiler sitting on a flat wagon. The only person who seemed unconcerned about time ticking away was our Chief Engineer, Rob, whose job it was to get everything back where they should be. Her boiler passed its pressure test with flying colours, and she was fitted with new injectors. (It is a curious aspect of steam locos in that two can be outwardly similar but behave quite differently, and Maid Marian’s old injectors were always regarded as temperamental, whereas those of visually identical Holy War were always less ‘moody’). A new water tank is being constructed and will be fitted at the end of the season, but sooner, new dumb buffers are to be fitted.

Maid Marian at Bressingham

Apart from overseeing preparation of George B, Rob managed to get Maid Marian back together in record time (he has done a few Hunslets in his time) but also beat the half century deadline in that she had to be ready early to visit the Bressingham Gala at the end of April. When Maid Marian was purchased from the Dinorwic Quarry in 1967 by the Maid Marian Locomotive Fund for restoration, her first ‘posting’ was at Bressingham, thus it seemed wholly appropriate that she should commemorate that occasion by taking part in their Gala, and in original form, that of cab-less style, one that, it is intended, she will sport only for this season.

Maid Marian at Bressingham

Next year, she will wear her cab again, something that may find favour with engine crews only, such is the reputation for the Welsh brand of ‘liquid sunshine’. As this is written, she is on her way back to Llanuwchllyn for her own special day on the 6th May.

The Penrhyn Coach continues and the anticipation to see this magnum opus completed is growing. David Hale reports:

“Part of the floor to the carriage has been cut to size and fitted, but still has to be screwed in place. Pipers, who are making the seating, paid a visit on the 21st April to check that the mock-ups for the seat frames had been made to the correct size. A slight adjustment was needed, but after this, the mock-ups should be with the firm in Swindon which will be making the actual frames. Now that the sizes of the seats has been confirmed, I shall be able to cut and fit the remainder of the floor panels.

In the meantime, I have started work on the two doors for the carriage. Each door has ten mortises and their respective tenons. These have all been cut and fitted. The next task will be to profile the door stiles (vertical side members) and then the frameworks can be glued together”.

From a layman’s aspect, the intricate detail, which we will never see, can only be visualised and imagined. It should be remembered that the sides and doors of the carriage are curved, thus construction has to include another dimension!

The Carriage & Wagon Department is always kept busy with rolling stock improvements and building renovation tasks. But last month, by way of light relief, our newly acquired GWR bench has been receiving attention. As our photo shows, the cast iron end frames have been carefully painted by Rod Fairley.

GWR Bench

With regard to the Red Dragon Project, we report what has happened, and more is happening. After our grant of £38,500 for the loco shed, plus a supporter’s donation of £85,000 for further land purchase, we have just received a new cash donation which will be used to buy the derelict buildings on the site of which will be built the new Bala Terminus. But firstly, the buildings need to be demolished, and the whole operation has to be monitored for asbestos. After that has been satisfactorily done, the site will be landscaped, the concrete crushed and the whole area made to look harmonious rather than leaving the proverbial ‘bomb-site’. We cannot go further until further funds have been raised for the new buildings, hence we cannot leave the area looking a mess in the interim period. To this end, there is big momentum now to raise new funds, not only for the terminus but also for the obligatory Transport & Works Act Order, essential for any railway building, for which £85000 must be found, before any construction can happen. The dominos are really beginning to move.

And finally……. our Volunteers Day on the 14th May is now fully subscribed, and it will be a fascinating opportunity to learn what makes a railway ‘tick’. You will never know until you try, and you can volunteer at any time. We have volunteers from a wide spectrum of professions who never dreamed that railways could be such a fun and productive pastime, whatever their chosen occupation. Try it. You will neither forget it or regret it.

Last train of the day by the lake

March 2017 Update

We all know the old adage about London buses, nothing for a while then two arrive in quick succession. After last month’s announcement about the acquisition of land in Bala Town for the site of the Terminus Station, we are truly thrilled to make a second announcement under the heading; ‘Bala’s Dragon starts to breathe fire’.

The Bala Lake Railway’s plans to extend into Bala Town received another major boost at the end of March with the award of a Heritage Lottery Grant to enhance the covered accommodation for the locomotives and rolling stock.

Julian BirleyThe staff and volunteers at the BLR are celebrating the award of £38,500 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to extend and improve significantly the existing rolling stock accommodation at Llanuwchllyn Station. This is to cope with the current increasing demand and to protect the improved rolling stock which will accompany their ongoing plans for the new station in Bala. Speaking of the award, Project Leader Julian Birley BEM said:

This is superb news for the BLR and for the local area. In recent years, the team has been reaping the rewards of its hard work to provide more events and a better visitor experience, and the year-on-year growth in passenger numbers reflects that. However, the existing facilities have become increasingly overcrowded and do not allow us to expand, particularly taking into account the increasing collection of historic locomotives and rolling stock.

Toby WatkinsApart from larger and more secure accommodation for the rolling stock, the extended building will provide a much improved visitor experience through disabled access, as well as better interpretation of the heritage exhibits. A revised track layout, which will allow access from each end of the yard, will also provide better operational flexibility, which will be particularly useful during the increasingly popular programme of Gala events held each year. Heritage and Development Officer Toby Watkins, who secured this grant, explained:

While an improvement of the infrastructure at Llanuwchllyn Station is a necessary precursor to our expansion plans, the new building is also vital for the development of volunteer numbers and skills. Likewise, our developing activity programme requires suitable facilities, where visitors and groups can access our wide range of exhibits, in both Welsh and English, regardless of weather and physical ability. Without this grant, we would have had to wait years to begin this vital work. The HLF has been fantastic, providing us with valuable advice and guidance every step of the way, and it has been a pleasure working with them.

The new rolling stock accommodation is another project to be delivered as part of a portfolio of projects on which the BLR and the Trust will work together to deliver under the banner of ‘Prosiect Y Ddraig Goch/The Red Dragon Project’. These include a new engine shed, better passenger carriages, the extension and the new station in Bala itself, plus further enhancement of the heritage rolling stock which tells the story of the Welsh slate quarry railways. Describing The Red Dragon Project, Julian added:

This year has got us off to a flying start with this grant award from the HLF, and it endorses the incredible support from local residents and businesses all the way up to the Welsh Government for the Bala Lake Railway and its expansion plans. The first piece of land for the new station site in the town of Bala itself has been acquired.

As both a Director of the BLR and Chairman of the BLR Trust, Julian has been involved in complex negotiations for the funding and permissions necessary for the proposed expansion. Reacting to the extremely positive developments over recent months, he concluded:

A supporter watching our progress from over 200 miles away believes so strongly in the project that he has put up the entire purchase price of £85,000 for the next land purchase. This now gives the railway a strong presence in the town. It is well-known that, nationally, heritage railways contribute much to local economies. Now it really is the turn of Bala.

But life carries on. Under the heading of Locomotives, the 10-year strip and rebuild of Maid Marian continues under the expert eye of Chief Engineer, Rob Houghton, and while, to the untrained eye, the myriad pieces would present a bewildering task for most, Rob is confident, in his relaxed manner, that she will be ready on schedule. Please remember, she will reappear in her original ‘open’ format for this season only.

Maid Marian coming back together  Maid Marian coming back together

In the meantime, the serious attention that our trusty diesel, Trigger, has been undergoing, is nearing completion. Apart from being overdue for a large helping of TLC, Dan Laidlaw found that vibration from a broken engine mount had caused a crack in the frames, so it was a case of remove the engine to facilitate that repair, as well as attending to other items much more easily. She is now being put back together, and as Dan’s photos show, everything gets a fresh coat of paint, particularly the bits that are not normally visible.

 Trigger under repair  Trigger under repair  Trigger under repair

While accessibility permitted, the brakes were modified and improved, and new brake blocks were fitted. The massive drive chains were cleaned and adjusted, the air reservoir was sealed and repainted, and the aforementioned repaired subframe was painted.

Her reappearance into service will take the heat off Chilmark, which has been in almost daily use for months, but it will mean that the railway now has two heavy diesels at its disposal at any time.

Work on the Penrhyn Coach has started again after a break and much has been happening. David Hale, who is building this coach entirely on his own, reports:

“I started again last weekend and the immediate job is to get on with the doors. Because of the confined workspace, and the need to be able to hang and swing the doors open, I made a couple of timber skids to fit to the steel underframe to enable me to move it, giving me almost a metre between the carriage and the boundary fence. In time, it will of course be necessary to move it in the other direction next to the house to deal with the door on the other side.

I have at last found a source for suitable hinges. After trying a number of so-called specialist firms in various parts of the country, but to no avail, I finally found a place locally, in Yeovil, who could supply almost immediately!

The order for the impregnated plywood for the floor will be placed very soon, so that it can be loose-fitted in readiness for the seats. Pipers of Sparkford have visited to take final measurements for the seats, and I am expecting them to visit once more next week to try the seat frames in place”.

Again, we cannot reiterate too much just how much detail is going into the construction of this beautiful coach, and the cramped conditions in which it is being so carefully put together.

The Wednesday Gang, our regular band of volunteers, has been achieving a great deal this month, and in all conditions. More sections of track have been relaid with new sleepers, two of the crossings on the line have had their timbers replaced, the work on Boathouse Bridge has been completed for this year, although one day did necessitate jobs in the workshop, such was the amount of ‘liquid sunshine’.

Wednesday Gang - Boathouse Bridge  Wednesday Gang - Level Crossing

But one of the bigger achievements over the March Working Weekend has been the replacement of the entire platform fence at Llangower, the half-way halt on the line. The fence was delivered as a kit of parts, which included over 400 pickets, and with the horizontal rails pre-cut to size. In a fine piece of organisation, the team was put into four groups, the first setting out the panels and getting the spacing exact for the pickets (the upright timbers), the second fitting the pickets, with the third installing and completing anything else that was needed. The fourth team installed the fine new sign boards, all in all a finely executed operation.

Llangower new signs and fencing  Llangower new signs and fencing

But it must also be mentioned is that all the materials, posts, sign-boards etc. were purchased as the result of a wonderful donation from Ian Whitley. BLR Members will recall from an article in the Llanuwchllyn Express Members’ magazine that Ian had an adorable terrier called Pip who sadly passed away. Pip particularly loved visits to Llangower, where the lake, beach and plenty of sticks (and probably an inattentive duck or two) provided great enjoyment to him and his owner alike. In memory of Pip, Ian commissioned a painting of his pooch and sold the prints, the money raised being used to fund the new fence and signs. On the day of completion of the fence, Ian was invited to hammer in the last nail and to fix a small commemorative plaque in honour of his beloved terrier. To say that the railway is grateful for this touching generosity is an understatement. As a consequence, Llangower now takes on even greater significance.

And finally….. here are some important dates coming up.

Bressingham Gala AdvertWe have chronicled the restoration of Hunslet George B. Saturday, 22nd April is the day she enters service on the BLR, a day not to be missed. Please check our website for the latest information.

We have already mentioned that the 10-year inspection and overhaul of Maid Marian is nearing completion, and we expect her to be back in steam by Saturday, 6th May, which will be the 50th anniversary of her sale and rescue from Dinorwic Quarry.

The week before Maid Marian re-enters service at Llanuwchllyn, she is due to attend the Bressingham Steam Museum Heritage Steam Gala in Norfolk. Interestingly, Maid Marian has been at Bressingham before as she was one of the early fleet of 2ft gauge locomotives at the museum, running there between 1967 and 1971. Further details of this event can be found by clicking here.

No heritage railway can ever have too many volunteers. To this end, we remind all that our next Volunteer Day is taking place on Sunday, 14th May. Numbers of those registered to attend are healthy, some coming from a considerable distance. Distance is subjective, particularly with such spectacular scenery en route.

On a final note, even after a serious day’s work, our volunteers still want to help. At the end of one onerous day, (while tea and cakes were being prepared – naturally), the ‘Catoflat’, our bogie works wagon, and the small P-way generator wagon, were given a thorough clean and tidy while still on site. As one remarked; “We had time, it was needed so we did it”.

Wednesday Gang - Tidy up!!!

February 2017 Update

As usual during the winter months, there has been a continued hive of activity on the railway, with a great deal of continued work on the trackbed, as well as continuing maintenance and repairs on what is referred to as ‘Boathouse Bridge’ at the Bala end of the line. We also witnessed the first scheduled running of George B when she hauled her first photo charter at the beginning of the month. This was the very first time she had been in revenue earning form for half a century, and her first proper appearance since her lengthy restoration and overhaul. All photo charters are noteworthy, but the photos of the event on the 7th February capture the nature of the occasion perfectly.

George B photo charter George B photo charter George B photo charter

George B will be hauling her first passenger train this century on the 22nd April, and seats available to the public on this historic service can be booked online.

The Red Dragon Project made a most important announcement at the end of the month regarding the plan to extend the BLR back into down-town Bala. Contracts have now been exchanged for the purchase of the first tranche of land needed for the new station area in Bala, and this has been funded by generous donations from people all over the country, as well as by energetic fund-raising. While the next big hurdle to be surmounted is the crossing of the River Dee by a possible tramway method very similar to that of the Festiniog Railway in Porthmadog, and early indications are certainly favourable, this first major land acquisition is a major boost for all concerned, particularly those leading the quest. ‘Click here’ for a direct link to the Trust website which has more information.

Another working weekend took place on the 18th/19th and was well attended, including volunteers from other railways, Ashley Barrs coming across from the North Norfolk with his young son, Jack, to do some spirited work on changing sleepers at Llanuwchllyn. Saturday saw several track panels lifted in the station environs, and it is a credit to the enthusiasm of the team that all was back in place ready for the scheduled trains on the Sunday. There was relatively less pressure on the Sunday when sleepers were changed in the station run-round, as this presented no delays to the trains. Another volunteer, Jim Adams, was present over the weekend with his young son, and it is of note that both young boys were particularly enthusiastic in helping to prepare the locomotive early on Sunday morning. Grime, it seems, has perennial appeal.

Attention was also given, actually by the Wednesday Gang, to the aforementioned ‘Boathouse Bridge’. In earlier news updates last year, we reported that the main timbers of the bridge, those that carry the rails, were renewed, and since then, the side boarding has been renewed, in part so that anyone walking over the bridge, (legally or otherwise), can do so in safety. However, what became apparent after the winter gales, is that the relentless pounding of the bridge abutments by the waves has begun to erode the supports. To this end, a considerable amount of cement and rocks have been fixed in place to stop any further problems arising. Likewise, new steel beams are being fitted on the outboard side of the ‘walking’ area, with new brick supports underneath. As the photograph shows, it matters not what the weather, the job gets done.

Wenesday Gang in action at Boathouse Bridge Wenesday Gang in action at Boathouse Bridge Wenesday Gang in action at Boathouse Bridge

We refer to this location by the name of ‘Boathouse Bridge’ because there is still to be seen, albeit in derelict state, a boathouse which was once for the use of residents of the John Lewis Staff Hotel situated on the other side of the road. The area around the boathouse has since silted up because of lack of use over many years, and is usually almost dry these days. But the winter gales whistling up the lake have flooded the overgrown undergrowth quite a bit of late, as if in a vain attempt to recreate its former splendour.

Completed water tower coverThe Carriage & Wagon Department have been suffering from winter weather, as most of their tasks are currently outdoors. Nevertheless, we are delighted to show the almost complete cover for the newly raised water tower at the end of Llanuwchllyn Station, and this will be fitted as soon as possible.

Locomotives equal maintenance, and Maid Marian is still in pieces while she undergoes her 10 year overhaul. However, what looks like, to the untrained eye, an horrendous task was casually dismissed by Chief Engineer, Rob Houghton, as she will be up and running in a matter of weeks. Like jigsaw experts, he knows where the myriad bits should go, and the rest of the team are confident that she will be ready in time. As we mentioned previously, she is to be rebuilt in her original open form, thus it will be only for a few months that visitors and enthusiasts will be able to see her as she was during her latter years at Dinorwic Quarry. At the end of this season, she will have her full cab refitted, so please make a note to inspect her in this rarest of formats.

Likewise, our original trusty diesel, known to all by her nickname, Trigger, is also in dismantled state. She was overdue for a large bout of TLC, but after she had been stripped as necessary, she was found to have other issues, thus her engine has been removed for easier access. It will take a while for this locomotive to be back in service. But, thanks to the inspired work of our engineering team in fettling and constantly improving the larger of our two R&H diesels, Chilmark, there is never a problem and she has taken over Trigger’s mantle as main ‘yard-goat’ for the foreseeable future. Indeed, she has just been presented with a large headlight, originally from a rally car, which was demonstrated recently to remarkable effect. It looks remarkably effective. Instructions have been issued that said light is NOT to be used unless the engine is running!

Diana's new headboardDiana, our Kerr Stuart loco, is on her travels during the spring, and is at the Statfold Barn railway on the 25th of this month. Beamish will enjoy her company 6th to 9th April, followed by her return to the area for the Ffestiniog Quirks Gala at the end of the month. Lastly she visits the Apedale Gala in mid May.

Diana also celebrates an important birthday this year and it it great to see that an appropriate headboard, designed by Mark Freeman, has been cast for the event. As her owner, Phil Mason, says "The weight will also help with adhesion!".

And finally…….

Not counting the Wickham Trolley, a lengthy description of which can be seen in the ‘Locomotives’ section of the BLR website, there is one final locomotive on the BLR fleet.

Meirionnydd was the first locomotive on the Bala Lake Railway after its formation. She was built in 1973 by Severn Lamb in Stratford-on-Avon and is based on a Western Class standard gauge loco.

While she may not ‘fit’ into the quarry loco format, she has proved to be a most useful member of the fleet. She was re-engined in the 90s with a new Cummins diesel, notable for the fact that even after months of inactivity, the engine fires at the first turn of the key. In 2015, she underwent a thorough overhaul, which included being beautifully repainted by Dan Laidlaw. She is owned by the Meirionnydd Fund, in a similar way to Maid Marian who is owned by the Maid Marian Locomotive Fund.

Meirionnydd resting at Llanuwchllyn

As we mentioned in the December News, our next Volunteer Day will be held on the 14th May. The booking form for this important event is now available via the 'Volunteering' page of our website. It is essential to register for what will prove to be an inspirational day finding out about the many aspects of an heritage railway and all the fun and worthwhile activities that can be experienced.    

January 2017 Update

It is regularly reckoned, by those in the know, that the off-season of a railway is busier than when trains are running, and the Bala Lake Railway is a case in point. We start this new year with a round-up of what has been happening in Llanuwchllyn.

Under the heading of Carriage & Wagon, Ian Whitson reports that work has recommenced on the wooden frame which will be fitted to support the new, elevated water tank. As always, weather is an important factor with outside jobs of this nature. Likewise, David Hale reports that the Penrhyn Coach has now had a primer coat applied, and the doors will receive the same attention shortly. A seating/upholstery expert has visited the coach to take measurements, and samples of leather for this sumptuous appointment will follow soon.

Coach 7Coach 7 internal restorationThe repainting and revitalising of the carriage stock has started in earnest, and Ben Nelson has completed the first closed carriage, (no. 7, normally at the Llanuwchllyn end of the set, and which uniquely has an end window), including floor, sides and ceiling rubbed down and repainted, not forgetting the seat cushions and backs which have been removed and refitted, with replacements if necessary.

Two more carriages will receive his attention very soon, thus making the best of the time available. As Ben only has Tuesdays available for this exacting task, any offers of help will be gratefully appreciated.

While all this was happening, Dan Laidlaw has been very busy carrying out the mechanical inspections of the carriage stock, a task which includes the lifting of each carriage to check the bogies and the total maintenance of the running gear, a time-consuming job.

The Station Café and Shop have been getting a serious spring clean by Wendy Levy and Bobby Hine, in readiness for the early opening of the season on the 16th February, of which more later. When it comes to spring-cleaning, it is best to leave the ladies to it.

Maid Marian overhaulRob Houghton, our Chief Engineer, has been busy getting our Locomotives ready for their annual inspections, namely Alice, Diana and Holy War. All have completed and passed their cold boiler inspections, and we now await the same results for their steam tests. Rob is also looking after the 10 year overhaul of Maid Marian, which we have already mentioned, and he has started to remove the boiler tubes. The Maid Marian Locomotive Fund, which owns this locomotive, has decided to replace her water tank, after several irreparable leaks appeared in the existing one. Maid Marian's chassis has also been stripped down and, as can be seen from the accompanying photograph, there is still much work to be done.

But the big news this month is the Trackbed. In just over a week, (it took two last year), 45 lengths of track were lifted and 400 new sleepers (actually mainline Azobe sleepers cut in half) were put in place, with everything reaffixed. To prove all was well, our diesel, Chilmark, ventured over the freshly completed metals with a bogie flat wagon, on to which were piled the old sleepers. Apart from the numerous willing volunteers, including directors plus the General Manager, all getting cold and filthy, the onerous task was done with the usual jocular positive atmosphere (plus copious amounts of tea and flapjacks). Hopefully the photos speak for themselves.

Track relaying - January 2017     Track relaying - January 2017

Track relaying - January 2017     Driving home the final spike - Relay January 2017

Track relaying - January 2017     Track relaying - January 2017

Track relaying gang - January 2017

Mention should be made of the use of Rob’s tractor fitted with the railway’s ingenious home-made plough, which neatly gathers and then levels the ballast. Additionally, a 15 second film on Facebook by Dan Laidlaw, available by clicking here, shows how this bit of home-made ingenuity works to perfection.

January sees a change-over in the board of the railway, and we say goodbye to Roger Hine, erstwhile General Manager for many years. While Roger tendered his resignation a year ago, he agreed to remain on the board until a suitable replacement could be found. In the meantime, he intends to remain a valued volunteer, and his painting expertise, among numerous other talents, will be seen on Maid Marian and George B as they become ready during the season. The repainting of Winifred is testimony to his superlative talent for detail (and steady hand), but it is not widely known that he is not only a highly respected model maker but also a noted and very knowledgeable watch and clock restorer. Roger has given many years of his life to the BLR and he will be greatly missed, not least for his engineering eye and instinct. For example, it took but one leisurely glance from him and Rob at the replacement engine for our diesel, Chilmark, to prompt the laconic comment, “It’ll fit”, and this with the aid of nothing more than a tape measure! We wish him well for the future, and his visits to the railway will always enjoy a warm welcome.

Peter HeywoodWe are delighted to announce the appointment, as a Director of the BLR Company, His Honour Judge Peter Heywood, someone already known to the railway for his enthusiasm as well as his various activities on its behalf, not forgetting regularly enjoying driving courses on the line.

Judge Peter Heywood was born in Bangor in 1949, the son of a clergyman in the Bangor diocese. He was educated at the John Bright Grammar School in Llandudno, and turned down a place at Oxford in order to read law at Aberystwyth. After achieving LLB there, followed by LLM at City University, he became a barrister of Gray’s Inn in London, was appointed Recorder in 2003 and then a Circuit Judge in 2008. He is currently a Probation Liaison Judge, from which position he will be retiring in 2019.

Peter has been a lifelong railway enthusiast and enjoyed the singular distinction of cleaning, firing and driving Holy War in Dinorwic Quarry after doing his O'Levels in the 60s. He has fired on the Festiniog Railway, and has been a regular volunteer at Llanuwchllyn since 2015.

To conclude our explanation of how the names of our locomotives came about, we list the remainder of our ‘fleet’.

Holy War is named after a successful race horse; the stable being owned by the Dinorwic Quarry’s owner. When she arrived at Dinorwic, she originally was known simply as No. 3.

Holy War

Maid Marian was also named after a thoroughbred from the same stable, and was originally No. 5.

Maid Marian

George B was yet another to wear a name from the owner’s stable, but ‘she’ was previously named Wellington, this also being the name of one of the slate galleries at Dinorwic. Incidentally, one of the quarry’s first locos, a de Winton acquired in 1870, was also called Wellington.

George B

Our Lady Madcap, a Ruston & Hornsby diesel, was named in honour of the original steam Hunslet loco of the same name, which was thought to be lost (mostly scrapped) but is now actually being rebuilt by the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway with original pool spares and new frames. Our diesel is always ready to assist when needed.

Lady Madcap

Chilmark, our other R&H diesel, was ordered by the Air Ministry in 1939, and sent to work in the huge RAF underground ammunition silo, discretely located near the village of Chilmark in Wiltshire.


Last but not least, Diana, our resident Kerr Stuart, presents a problem. Her owner, Phil Mason, has researched as much as he possibly can about his cherished steed, but on the question of the origin of her name, he has had to admit that the details seem to be lost in the mists of time.

Diana with her owner Phil Mason

And finally, Important Dates are appearing already.

The railway will be open on Thursday, 16th February to offer a service for those on holiday from the few areas which have half-term earlier than the majority.

Likewise, George B’s first public outing will take place on Tuesday, 7th February. She will be the star of a David Williams Photo Charter, pulling a rake of slate wagons. As there are still a few places available, anyone interested should email the BLR and we will be happy to forward enquiries to David Williams.

View our news from previous years by clicking on the following links - 2016 2015 2014 2013