When the Welsh Highland Railway reopened a few years ago, I put it in my mental 'Pending' file, thinking it would be just another of the LITTLE trains of Wales, nice to see but not to be compared with full-size steam engines.
I found out this week how wrong I was. A Manchester transport polymath of my acquaintance persuaded me and 25 others to join him on a circular tour of North Wales, including his beloved MV Balmoral making passage through the Menai Strait from Caernarfon to Llandudno. A foggy September morning saw us gather at Chester and Llandudno Junction, but by the time we reached Blaenau Ffestiniog, the sun was shining in a glorious cloudless sky. We transferred to the little Ffestiniog Railway train and rattled down to the coast on the old slate railway - a very pleasant ride.
But what a contrast awaited us in the station! In the opposite platform sat a HUGE bright red locomotive, a shiny red Beyer Garratt locomotive built for South African Railways at their Gorton works in Manchester in 1958. An amazing sight, and an amazing sound as we set off in the Pullman right behind the engine for our ride through the mountains. We moseyed across the lowlands but then we stormed up the steep and winding grades of the Aberglaslyn Pass to Beddgelert, then continued our long climb right up to Rhyd Ddu. The performance was like nothing else I have experienced in this country: I was smitten!
After rolling down to Caernarfon there was a two hour break until our next mode of transport approached the town pier. MV Balmoral looked fine in the afternoon sunshine and we joined the crowds on the open deck for a pretty ride through the strait and under the famous bridges. By the time we reached Beaumaris the sun had set and the wind had strengthened, but as we left the boat at Llandudno pier, we could reflect on an excellent and varied day.
© Peter Hewitt's Transport Pictures