I first visited the Vale of Rheidol Railway (Rheilffordd Cwm Rheidol) way back in 1975. It was my first taste of the Great Little Trains of Wales and I remember feeling a bit disappointed, at least to begin with.
I think this was for two reasons: Firstly, back then this was the last outpost of steam on British Rail and the engines looked very uncomfortable in their corporate blue livery, complete with the double headed arrow logo (as seen in this old postcard*).
Secondly, after leaving Aberystwyth, for the first five miles, the line is near enough level, and it didn't seem very dramatic.
All changed, of course, when we got past Capel Bangor and began the long 650ft (200m) climb up the side of the valley to Devil's Bridge. Here at last was the authentic narrow gauge experience despite the rather shabby and work-a-day appearance of the trains.
The railway was privatised in 1989 and is now owned by a charitable trust. They have done sterling work, renovating and improving the rolling stock and repainting them in their original Great Western Railway livery.
The stations have all been restored and shelters provided at the intermediate halts. The track side vegetation has been cut back opening up views that were hidden on my first visit.
Back then it was a fading out-dated part of the national network; now it is a glorious invocation of the days of narrow gauge steam.
For timetables, ticket prices, etc. please see the official site
* Copyright belongs to the successors of the defunct Photo Precision Limited, St Ives, Huntingdon whoever they may be. Answers on a postcard please ...
The line opened in 1902 primarily to carry lead ore and timber down to the harbour in Aberystwyth. However by the time the line was completed, the lead ore trade was already failing, finally ceasing during the Great War. The line increasingly came to rely on the growing tourist trade, but was never more than modestly successful.
In 1912 it was taken over by the Cambrian Railway which in turn was absorbed into the GWR on grouping in 1923. The GWR invested heavily in the line, providing three new locomotives and replacing all the carriages. At the time of writing (2017) two of these locos No. 8 Llywelyn and No. 1213 (9) Prince of Wales handle the vast bulk of the services, with No. 7 Owain Glyndwr undergoing a heavy overhaul.
There is also a diesel locomotive, No. 10. This is normally only used for maintenance trains and yard duties, but can be pressed into service on passenger trains should the need arise.
It was assembled in 1987 (shortly before privatisation) in the workshop of the Brecon Mountain Railway using parts obtained from Baguley-Drewry Ltd when that company went out of business.