To view all of the 22 images attached to this article click on the platform ticket machine above.
A signal and station board on the Llangollen Railway platform at Llangollen, Wales.
I first saw the village of Llangollen (clan-GOCK-lan) in 1986 while driving from Scotland to Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales. This charming little town is nestled in a beautiful valley astride the Afon Dyfrdwy, the River Dee. Passing through town on Highway A5 I caught sight of a railway station and tracks but it was too late in the trip to stop as I hurried to my destination.
That 60 second drive by in 1986 was all it took to convince me I must return and investigate the railway. Fast forward to 2005 and here's what I discovered in Llangollen.
A Brief History
Long before the railways blanketed England, Scotland, and Wales, canals and narrow boats supplied transportation between many cities in Britain. One such canal is the Shropshire Union Canal which reached Llangollen in 1835. Long narrow barges were pulled by horses along this extensive canal network which is only knee deep in places. Today you can board a horse-drawn narrowboat in Llangollen for a short ride west at a reasonable price or rent a narrowboat and become your own skipper cruising the waterway network. For the non-nervous there is also a trip across the 126 foot high Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the River Dee.
In 1861 the Vale of Llangollen Railway opened 5 1/4 miles east near Ruabon (roo-AH-bun) connecting with Llangollen. By 1865 line construction had reached Corwen, ten miles west of Llangollen. The final destination at Barmouth was attained about 1869.
Parts of this line were doubled in 1900 but by 1931 traffic was in decline. Dr. Beeching brought out his axe in 1968 ending service along the route.
A group of enthusiasts began revival of the line in 1972. Rebuilt in stages, 1981 saw the first mile of track operational. Track was extended west from Llangollen and the first passenger train in twenty years reached Berwyn in 1985. As the years passed volunteers laid track through the Berwyn tunnel to Glyndyfrdwy (you're on your own with this pronunciation) in 1992 then on to a final destination at Carrog in 1996. Future plans at that time called for an extension from Carrog west to Corwen.
Completion of this 2.5 miles of track between Carrog and Corwen is now within sight of Corwen East Station. Right-of-way and construction of a temporary platform has been estimated to cost £1.25 million. Although some invaluable grant funding has been obtained from the Welsh Assembly Government and Cyfenter, the Railway still needs to carry out additional fund raising. It is hoped to have the first train operating into Corwen by the end of 2014. The final phase, construction of a station at Corwen, remains a longer term objective.
A Tour of the Railway
Llangollen cannot be reached directly from today's British rail network. The closest station is located at Ruabon. There are frequent local bus connections between there and Llangollen. The bus stop is within half a block of the station and the journey takes about half an hour.
The bus will let you off near the bridge over the river at Llangollen in the center of town. It was a short walk to the local information kiosk where I located a suitable bed and breakfast within walking distance. After unloading my bag it was off to explore the station. Jessie, an 0-6-0ST locomotive was spotted running around her train at the east end switch below the bridge. After some photographs of her taking water, then re-connecting to her coaches, I purchased a ticket and boarded for the trip to Carrog.
The weather was perfect as several photos were taken from the coach window travelling west. The route follows the River Dee valley through Berwyn past the Chain Bridge and the Chain Bridge Hotel. Low rolling hills surround leafy green pastures full of grazing sheep along the route to Glyndyfrdwy. Glyndyfrdwy is easily identifiable by the footbridge over the line, signalbox, and Great Western semaphore signals.
Two and three quarter miles further along lies Carrog station and the end of the line at this time. Upon arrival a quick walk from the station up to a roadway overbridge above the track offers a great shot of the station with the train stopped at the platform. After a brief pause Jessie ran around her coaches once again and the train returned to Llangollen. The whole trip took about an hour and a half.
My day ended with an excellent steak bagette in a local pub near Parade Street.
Glanrafon Evangelical Church viewed from the Llangollen Railway platform across the River Dee.
The next day, Friday, I decided to walk to Berwyn for photographs, a distance of 1 3/4 miles each way. There is a walkway that parallels the Shropshire Union Canal (or Llangollen Canal if you prefer) with easy walking between Llangollen and Berwyn. You start by walking uphill from Llangollen village to Llangollen Wharf. Somehow it doesn't seem right to walk UP to a wharf. The canal follows the river valley as it is cut into the slope of the hills on the north side of the Dee above the town. Following the walk I arrived early enough in the morning to have coffee at the Chain Bridge Hotel then cross over the King Edward VII bridge to the station and photograph the first train of the day. To my disappointment a Carrog bound heritage DMU filled the camera viewfinder at 11:15. No steam trains on this particular day unfortunately. At 12:10 the DMU returned and offered a second shot. I chose a location trying to duplicate a photo that was most likely taken in the 1890s showing Berwyn station, platform, and King Edward VII bridge. Compare both photographs and you will notice a white washed house visible in the 1890 photo just above a rock wall that defines the position of a road. The house does not appear in the 2005 photo. All that remains of the house beside the highway today is the lower wall containing a doorway. This house wall is now a highway retaining wall but still contains the doorway, although boarded up. The woman on the platform in her period clothing is long since gone. She may be missed but her clothing style won't be.
The "Great Escape" at the entrance ramp to the Llangollen Railway station - Click to enlarge.
After trying to learn more about the 1890 photo I returned to Llangollen station for one last photo. The weather was still nice and warm so I sat on a platform bench waiting for the sun to drop lower and the light mellow into warmer tones. Being so self absorbed waiting for the sun I didn't notice the lack of people about. After taking the last photo I headed up the ramp to the bridge only to find myself locked in by huge, un-climbable, iron gate across the entrance. Panic cries for help caught one local fellows attention who helpfully ran off to a local pub to find someone to release me. He returned after 15 minutes without success. Did he stop for a quick pint, I wondered? In the meantime I plotted my "Great Escape". Leaning a wooden advertising sign next to the north stone wall I managed to climb to the top and shuffle my way along grasping onto the iron fence imbedded in the wall then jump to the street below upon reaching the end. Free at last I celebrated with a Guinness at a local pub.
Llangollen Railway Trust take note... you may want to consider this somewhat unsafe escape method next time you purchase liability insurance. *o)