Nearly 120 years ago, steam trains began rattling their way between the Montgomeryshire towns of Welshpool and Llanfair Caereinion carrying passengers and freight. Due to its tight curves and steep gradients, a 2 ft 6 in narrow gauge was chosen. Back then, the line wound its way from Llanfair Caereinion all the way through Welshpool to its terminus alongside the main-line station with barely a gap between the train and the buildings. It was quite a sight to see!
On 11th April 1903, The Montgomery and Radnor Echo reported:
“Since the opening for passenger traffic of the Welshpool and Llanfair Railway the line has been doing exceptionally well. On Monday (fair day) heavily laden trains ran throughout the day; indeed so numerous were the passengers that the coaches were packed, to use the expression of one who travelled by the line, like “sardines in a tin.” For the return trains to Llanfair in the evening, the services of the police had to be requisitioned to keep the crowd in order.”
Visit BFI Player to see Camwell Personal Film No. 62: Welshpool Raven Square Railway – a glimpse of a steam train making its way through the streets of Welshpool (there maybe restrictions for viewers outside of the UK).
In February 1931 the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway became a freight-only service with buses replacing the passenger service. Freight services remained until November 1956 when British Rail decided to close the line for good, but all was not lost…
A group of volunteers and enthusiasts came to the rescue. In 1963 they opened the western half of the line from Llanfair Caereinion to Castle Caereinion as a heritage railway. By 1971 the line had reached Sylfaen and by 1981 it had reached Welshpool. The line, however, could no longer reach its original terminus due to the development of the town, so the line now ends at Raven Square on the western edge of Welshpool.
Today the line is 9 miles long, running between Llanfair Caereinion and Welshpool, but it’s not an easy route. These little trains have to climb up to the summit of Golfa Bank, 650 ft above sea level, climbing 280 ft in 1.5 miles.
The Earl and The Countess, two original steam locomotives built in 1902 for the Llanfair & Welshpool Light Railway, still run on the line today, supplemented by other locomotives and rolling stock from around the world.
One Thursday in September, we made the short journey over the hills to the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway for a ride on a steam train. We started our journey at Llanfair Caereinion and treated ourselves to a table in the first-class carriage (complete with comfortable white leather armchairs). It was £59.95 for a table for two in first class which included a goody bag containing two bottles of traditional lemonade, 2 packs of biscuits and a guidebook.
There’s a bit of a height difference between the platform and the first-class carriage, so I had to heave myself up into the carriage. However, they did have a lift on hand to help raise passengers to the level of the carriage. Whilst the first-class carriage is not wheelchair accessible, other carriages are.
While it is only 9 miles from Llanfair Caereinion to Welshpool, the journey taken by the steam train is a leisurely one. There is plenty of time to take in the sights and surroundings. You’ll journey through the beautiful Mid Wales countryside and see farmland, river life, wildlife, a variety of wildflowers and more. The return journey from Llanfair Caereinion to Welshpool took us two hours in total, this included time at Welshpool’s Raven Square station.
After our trip, I spent some time on the platform at Llanfair Caereinion station taking photos and videos of the station and the train. After the train had departed on its final journey of the day, the duty manager, Bob Robinson, asked if we’d like to take a look in the signal box. Well, he didn’t have to ask me twice! He said I could pull three of the signal levers and he explained how it all worked. It was lovely of him to take time out of his day to tell us all about the railway. It really topped off a great day.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without visiting the gift shop. Some local jam, a few postcards and a pin badge later, we were ready to find a pub for some food.
The funny thing was, on our way to the pub we arrived at a level crossing just in time to see the locomotive going past!