Round the curve from Tymbark. Photo Michael Dembinski.
(Click photo to go to ‘On foot to Limanowa’ on W-wa Jeziorki blog.)
There is something special about a disused railway line. I remember exploring the Talyllyn Railway’s mineral extension in the mid 1960s. You passed a broken gate at Abergwynolwyn station and entered a magical land. Two lines of rails – undisturbed since they were laid in 1865 – ran parallel to each other, held in place only by moss and grass. The rail had originally been spiked to wooden sleepers, which had completely vanished, but some time ago the sleepers at the rail joints had been replaced with locally grown oak and were sometimes partly visible. The rail joints themselves were not fishplated, but the rail ends were held together in special cast iron chairs and kept in place with wooden keys. There was even some uncertainty as to what the rails were made of – wrought iron or steel?
The line skirted past ancient oaks just inside the edge of a wood on a shelf high above an ancient glacial valley. The vegetation was lush, moss covered any rocks lying along the trackbed. About one mile along the extension, just above the village of Abergwynolwyn, the shelf widened and the line forked. One line ran straight through a huge slate-built winding house. Here there was a cast iron turntable. Wagons full of coal or other supplies were once turned here and let down by gravity via a steep incline to the village below. As they ran down, they drew up empty wagons on a parallel track. The whole business was carried out without using any external source of power. A zero carbon footprint machine designed by the Victorians!
The other line by-passed the winding house and ran along on top of a slate reinforced embankment. A sharp curve brought it to the foot of the first of three inclines which raised the line to the level of the Bryn Eglwys Quarry – the raison d’être of the Talyllyn Railway. Here the line split into three sidings, which then joined up again, and then split into two tracks which once ran up the incline.
I know that there are some BTWT readers who will be able to see everything that I have described in their mind’s eye. I have tried to give an impression of the TR’s mineral extension as it was in the 1960s because nearly everything has now been swept away. The mineral extension existed in a time bubble only because the ownership of this section of line was not clear. When the TR obtained legal title, they ‘improved’ the mineral extension out of all recognition. The unique winding house above the village was demolished to give the line a straight run. The final curve was eased with dynamite. A new station at the foot of the first incline replaced the overgrown reception sidings. A short section of track – on the alignment of the original curve into the sidings – is all that remains of the old line.
These days these are few places left in Britain where rusty rails run through the undergrowth inviting the explorer’s attention. Some of my last explorations of North Wales narrow gauge railways took place deep underground where fragments of disused slate quarry tracks can still be found.
In Poland its a different picture. Parts of the railway network has been formally abandoned and the track has been lifted. Other lines have just been left in situ, with the power to the signals left switched on, in the hope of better times to come. Michael Dembinski of W-wa Jeziorki blog has been exploring some of the latter. Click on the pictures to read the articles on his blog.
The South-East spur at Czachowek. Photo Michael Dembinski.
(Click photo to go to ‘Another trip to Czachówek’ on W-wa Jeziorki blog.)
- Talyllyn Railway – the Abergwynolwyn winding house today