Old 06-04-2009, 09:04 AM   #1
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Default Welsh Highland Odyssey

The Welsh Highland is one of the greatest stories ever told in railway preservation. The line takes in spectacular scenery, the final section to be built took nearly 20 years to complete from the initial concept, it never made a profit, and the whole line was abandoned in 1937 only 14 years after opening.

Initial preservation attempts started in the mid 1960's, but negotiations to buy the trackbed from the Welsh Highland Railway liquidator stalled after the unfortunate death of that person. The Official Receiver who took over was not sympathetic to the preservationists - after all, railway preservation was still in its infancy and no one had even dreamed of a project this ambitious before.

By the early 80's the WHR volunteers had built a base on the outskirts of Porthmadog on the site of the old exchange sidings between the original WHR line and the Cambrian Railways standard gauge line. Later on in the 80's the local Council took an interest in helping them acquire part of the trackbed of the WHR - by now tourism was a major player in the local economy and the Ffestiniog Railway had proved that big engineering projects could be successfully undertaken by preservation organisations (it completed its extension to Blaneau Ffestiniog in 1982 bypassing a section that had been flooded by a reservoir)

At this point the Ffestiniog Railway purchased the whole WHR trackbed for reasons that I don't propose to detail here, but suffice to say that relations between the original WHR preservationists and the Ffestiniog in the late 80's/early 90's were strained.

Eventually, the Ffestiniog decided to rebuild the whole WHR line from Dinas Junction to Porthmadog and also extend it along the old standard gauge trackbed from Dinas Junction to Caernarfon. That was achieved in stages over the last 10 years or so, until now the line is physically complete all the way from Caernarfon to Porthmadog; trains are running from Caernarfon to just south of the Aberglaslyn Pass, and the final few miles (including a short street section) are expected to be opened for traffic later this year.

We visited the area for a week and spent several days photographing the WHR.

Although not covering all the line, I was specifically interested in 3 sections.

1) The area around Ryhd Ddu west of the summit of the line. This area is a valley, containing a lake, between mountains on both sides, with wide expansive views

Image © Stephen Dance
PhotoID: 286028
Photograph © Stephen Dance

Image © Stephen Dance
PhotoID: 286003
Photograph © Stephen Dance

Image © Stephen Dance
PhotoID: 286002
Photograph © Stephen Dance

Image © Stephen Dance
PhotoID: 286001
Photograph © Stephen Dance

If you visit, ensure you take a good pair of walking trousers and waterproof boots. I ended up thigh deep in mud on one leg while crossing a stream !

2) From the summit of the line down to Beddgelert. This 4.5 mile section is on a ruling gradient of 1 in 40. Originally to have been electrified, the gradients here were designed to be as steep as 1 in 18, but when finally built had to be eased to 1 in 40 to allow steam traction to be used. Parts of the original course of the line were built and still exist, but were never used. Much of this section is in thick forest which makes photography a challenge, but the sound of the ex South African NGG16 Beyer Garratts blasting up here is spine tingling

Image © Stephen Dance
PhotoID: 286006
Photograph © Stephen Dance

3) The Aberglaslyn Pass just south of Beddgelert. This is the most spectacular section of line with the railway tunnels burrowing through solid rock on a shelf above the tumbling river and the road on the other side surrounded by the almost sheer walls of the defile. There are fantastic viewpoints from the surrounding peaks which unfortunately I didn't have time to climb up this time, but access around the tunnel mouths is relatively easy

Image © Stephen Dance
PhotoID: 286004
Photograph © Stephen Dance

I include here 2 photos by a local photographer who kindly helped me with information about some of the best locations. His shots show what can be achieved if you are prepared to climb up above the pass

Image © Roger Dimmick
PhotoID: 286080
Photograph © Roger Dimmick

Image © Roger Dimmick
PhotoID: 286077
Photograph © Roger Dimmick

I can thoroughly recommend a visit to the WHR, and the Ffestiniog is next door as well - when the WHR is completed to Porthmadog the 2 railways will share a station.

Don't forget to visit the original WHR preservation base which is adjacent to the National Rail network station in Porthmadog. They have a short line which connects up to the WHR proper and run a collection of more traditional Welsh narrow gauge engines and rolling stock including the only surviving original WHR engine - Russell

Press here to see my pics on railpictures.net

More pics here D1059 on Flickr

Last edited by Wizzo; 06-04-2009 at 10:27 AM.
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Old 06-04-2009, 09:19 PM   #2
Join Date: Apr 2004
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Wonderful work Stephen...thanks also for the terrific backstory on this unique and very scenic railway.
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