Because the weather had been so appalingly bad it was difficult to imagine that it could possibly get any worse (unless the World had slipped of its axis overnight and Wales was now in the Caribbean hurricane belt) and inevitably (even the met office could have predicted this) there was some degree of improvement in the morning when Molly woke me at six o’clock and declared it time to get up. It was still unseasonally cold and the sky was cloudy and we needed the heating on in the cottage but at least it was white cloud and the only dampness was a bit of early morning sea mist.
It was still anorak weather when we left the cottage at about ten o’clock and set off back towards Aberystwyth and Devil’s Bridge with a plan to take a steam train journey. Things didn’t go smoothly because after ten minutes Molly realised that I had forgotten items that she considered essential for the journey (comfort blanket, teddy bear etc.) so we had to turn back to rectify the mistake. We had better luck at the second attempt and soon we were on our way.
Not far out of Cardigan there was a signpost to a local attraction which given all of the rain was a bit ironic – The Felinwynt Rainforest Centre. That was the last thing we needed so we drove straight by and back through Aberaeron, which on account of the fact that it wasn’t raining at the moment looked slightly more cheerful today. Although it was only a forty mile journey it seemed to take forever to get to Aberystwyth and it was nearly twelve o’clock when we took the turning to Devil’s Bridge and my heart dropped from my abdomen to my groin as it started to drizzle again.
As we drove towards the railway station the road began to climb and the scenery became dramatic with lush green meadows, rivers and lakes below, conifer woods on either side and Red Kite and Buzzards soaring majestically above the trees. It stopped raining but even so it was still overcast and gloomy when we pulled into the station car park, parked the car and joined all of the other people in dripping kagools and clutching umbrellas in anticipation and waiting for the twelve-thirty train.
The Vale of Rheidol Light Railway was authorised by Act of Parliament in August 1897 and at the time of building it was state of the art narrow gauge construction that passed through terrain where it would have been almost impossible to build a standard gauge line without prohibitive costs. The railway opened to the general public on 22nd December 1902.
In 1912 at the height of the line’s prosperity consideration was given to converting the line to electric traction, using hydro-electric power from the River Rheidol but control of the line passed to the Cambrian Railways and the plans were abandoned. In 1923 Cambrian Railways were themselves absorbed by the Great Western Railway and goods services were withdrawn completely. The winter passenger service was withdrawn in 1930, and the line closed completely from the end of the 1939 summer service for the duration of the Second World War.
Ownership of the line passed to British Railways in 1948, and it survived through threats of closure to become the last steam railway owned by British Rail until privatised in 1989. The railway is now a tourist attraction and owned by a charitable trust, who have renovated and improved the locomotives, rolling stock and track and the engines and carriages currently in use were built for the line by the Great Western Railway between 1923 and 1938.
We bought return tickets and because it was too cold for the open sided carriage at the rear found a seat in a covered compartment instead and sat back to enjoy the views as the gleaming red engine was coupled up and with a couple of shrill blasts of the whistle started off ponderously down the hillside. It was an hour’s journey there and another hour back so it was a bit of a problem when Molly declared that she didn’t like it after only five minutes or so and I had to spend the rest of the journey trying to keep her amused by pointing things out along the way (horses, sheep cows; any parent will understand) and by having our cheese sandwich picnic that I had prepared earlier.
Amazingly as the train clattered along the tracks towards the coast, pitching us from side to side and filling our lungs with smoke through the open window the weather began to improve and there were definite signs of blue sky above and ahead and by the time we arrived in Aberystwyth the sun was shining and the temperature had unexpectedly leapt several degrees.
We didn’t get to stay long in Aberystwyth however because there was only a half an hour turn around so we wandered through the station and onto the main street that looked positively cheerful in the sunshine and then went back to the train for the return journey which was pleasant but uneventful except for the moment when Molly nearly pulled the emergency chain as her inquisitive hands swept their mischievous way through the carriage. Luckily Jonathan was alert and saw the danger and was just in time to stop her.