The words below are from Winter Song written by Alan Hull of the folk/rock band Lindisfarne and it featured on their 1970 debut album Nicely Out Of Tune
When winter’s shadowy fingers
First pursue you down the street
And your boots no longer lie
About the cold around your feet
Do you spare a thought for summer
Whose passage is complete
Whose memories lie in ruins
And whose ruins lie in heat
When winter comes howling in
Well winter certainly arrived in Mid Wales a few days ago! I travelled to Llanfair Caereinion on the evening of Thursday 7th December. Next morning there was a sprinkling of snow on the ground and the forecast was threatening more.
My task for the day was to rouse The Earl from hibernation and prepare the old gent for the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s Santa Special trains scheduled for the weekend.
Thankfully the water supply to the engine shed was not frozen and I set about filling the boiler. A little while after turning on the tap I became aware of cold wet droplets falling on my face. Was the hose leaking ? Had I not properly closed the divert valve resulting in water from the blower spraying out of the chimney ? None of those – snow was blowing in through the longitudinal smoke vent in the roof!
While the boiler was filling I checked the fusible and washout plugs and then cleaned the remains of the last fire from the grate. I had commenced laying the fire when Steve arrived. I had expected to be working on my own for most of the day and was delighted to be getting some invaluable assistance at this stage of the day.
Steve lit the fire and I popped the hose into the water tank and we retreated to the warmth of the mess room for a mug of tea.
Tea break over and it was time for some serious work. Steve set about cleaning the brass work and I washed down the paintwork on the inside of the cab. The smokebox was looking very tatty and so Steve went off in search of the heat resistant paint and a brush. On his return I wire-brushed the rust away and carefully worked the paint onto the metal, meanwhile, he got on with the oiling up.
After lunch the plan was to take The Earl and the carriages forming the Santa Special train to Cyfronydd and back to give them a run and check the line was all OK.
It was snowing as we left and we had a short pause at Tanllan to unload several bags of leaves that had been swept up from around the station area a couple of weeks previously.
Near Heniarth Bill and Dave waded into the stream to clear a build of debris from behind an old gate that prevents livestock from straying out of the field, under the railway line and onwards into the River Banwy. While they were busy doing doing that Steve had noticed a leak on the steam heating pressure gauge pipe.
The remainder of the trip was cold and miserable, but otherwise uneventful.
Unheated carriages was not going to be a popular feature so once we were back at Llanfair Richard was summoned from his nice warm workshop into the cold and gloomy engine shed to attend to the leaking pipe. After much discussion a tactical repair was effected and we knocked off for the night.
By now it was snowing heavily and the overnight weather forecast was grim. So grim that the General Manager and his deputy had decided to stay overnight in the hostel in case they could not get back to Llanfair in the morning. A little later eight of us adjourned to the Red Lion for dinner. When we emerged it was still snowing.
On Saturday morning everything was covered in snow. There was a sound of scrapping as a team battled to clear the snow off the platform.
After Santa’s Chariot had been delivered to Tanllan, Richard, Peter & myself were instructed to take Chattenden to Cyfronydd to clear the line and check that the points were not frozen.
It was cold and crisp with plenty of blue sky as we trundled alongside the River Banwy
At Mill Curves the trees that overhung the line were laden with snow.
The de-icing train at Cyfronydd.
Note the large cylinder of propane gas lashed to handrail behind the cab.
Clearing snow at the Castle Caereinion end of Cyfronydd loop.
Melting out the snow and ice from between the point blade and the stock rail.
A short video showing the snow and ice melting process.
With the line now fit to use we headed back to Llanfair.
Santa and his helpers at Tanllan depot. After the train leaves Llanfair Caereinion it pauses here to pick up the gent in the red suit and his posse of elves. They then meet each family group on the train and distribute gifts to the children.
The Earl runs round the train at Cyfronydd.
At the end of the day the carriages were left in the platform and The Earl was put back in the engine shed. I packed up my stuff and headed for home.
Next morning there was even more snow. Worse still the main road between Shrewsbury and Welshpool was blocked by fallen power cables. The railway’s Facebook page carried the following announcement:
ADVERSE WEATHER CONDITIONS
Due to very heavy snow in Mid Wales, we recommend you don’t travel to Llanfair for today’s Santa trains (Sunday 10 December). The police have advised only necessary travel, and the A458 is currently closed near Middletown, Shropshire
We will try to run a limited Santa service today, but we will also add extra seats to all three days next weekend (16-18 December) exclusively for those who were booked today.
If you are booked today and don’t come, please call us on 01938 810441 today or during the week to change your booking to next weekend. If you can’t make it then, we will offer a full refund.
A train service did run for the few hardly families that battled through the snow. The train set was reduced to two carriages top and tailed with The Earl at the Llanfair end and #17 at the other.
The whole W&LLR team put in a fantastic effort over the weekend to ensure that we were able to run trains. Whether you were shovelling snow, operating trains or manning the phones or just making tea many many thanks to all of you.
Trains will be running on 16th, 17th and 18th December.
If you would like to listen to Lindisfarne perform Winter Song click here