To Carmarthen - via Swansea and Barry

21 September 1985

6960 Raveningham Hall at CarmarthenIt is possible to travel by rail from Cardiff to Swansea via Barry - the old Barry Railway main line, in fact, now freight only from Barry to Bridgend. The Barry I refer to however is of course our well-known member, who organised the trip in September, on the weekend of Landore open day and the steam specials to Carmarthen. The visitors to the former never made it to the latter, so strictly speaking the title only applies to the society’s steam gricers! However.....

We left Shrewsbury at the unearthly (for the author) hour of 7.15, on the all stations to Newport. A 33 and coaches would have been about right for the 90-odd miles, so a 3-car DMU was a bit of a let-down! The wiser members, not being masochists, travelled in the unpowered centre car.

A fairly uneventful couple of hours passed as we made our laborious way down the "North and West", though I was surprised how many people were on the train when we got out at Newport. Even without the SRS contingent, something more than a 3-car was plainly called for! Worse was to follow, however, in the shape of the ‘125" we were to catch for Swansea. This train was bulging at the seams when it arrived, when it left it was heading for the Guinness Book of Records. Fortunately, a number of people got out at Cardiff, and I was lucky to get a seat for the rest of the journey.

It was on this part of the trip that I was introduced to the modern "high tech" gricer. It became evident mat most of our fellow travellers were railway enthusiasts when we passed Canton shed, where many began reciting loco numbers, apparently into their hands. Closer (not too close) inspection revealed that they were using miniature tape recorders, and would enter the numbers into books in a more leisurely fashion a few minutes later. An interesting argument developed a few rows back as we passed Port Talbot steel works. Gricer "a" informed gricer ‘b" that 37XXX. seen by the latter at Port Talbot, couldn’t have been as he, "a" had seen it on shed at Canton. I’m not sure how the problem was resolved, but it clearly raises important philosophical questions for number crunchers!’’

A little later we were on the approach to Swansea. Much of interest was in evidence as Landore sheds were passed, then a minute or so later we were at the station. The GWR-liveried DMU was operating the shed shuttle; behind it at the same platform stood the GWR 150 exhibition train. I photographed the former, and the loco - Raveningham Hall - and stock movements of the earlier steam run, then with an hour or so to kill before departure of our own trip, I joined several other members for refreshment in a hostelry conveniently sited opposite the station, with the added bonus of a special offer on draught Guinness.

The hour was now drawing nigh for our trip to Carmarthen, so we decided it was time to find our reserved seats. Some of these were in the centre of the train, the remainder were in the rear, where the aforementioned organiser set up an unofficial buffet.

An excellent run then followed. 6960 pulled steadily up the bank out of the station, past Landore again, then out to the west. Once clear of the summit, we really began to fly. We soon approached Llanelli, where a 47 could be seen waiting to join the main line, apparently off the central Wales, with a lengthy rake of passenger stock. I was quickly corrected by the better -informed members that it was probably a train off the South Wales main line, heading for Fishquard. If not required to call at Swansea, these trains now follow the formerly freight-only line from Briton Ferry, to Morlais Junction, Llangennech, before regaining the main line at Llandeilo junction.

Even better was to come as we ran along the very pleasant coastal stretch past Kidwelly and Ferryside, on the Towy estuary. The sharp roar from the exhaust, clearly audible, and the carriage wheels indicated that we were moving very quickly, and still accelerating until a mile or so from Myrtle Hill junction, where, after a final few seconds of full throttle, just to show there was some power in reserve, steam was shut off. The consensus among those who had been watching the mile posts, was that our maximum speed had been just short of 80mph! A few minutes later we arrived at Carmarthen where unfortunately it had begun to rain.

After a little more in the way of refreshment, I returned to the train. The loco was backing on to the (approx.) GWR liveried Mk I stock, having turned on the triangle. Society member Dave Giddens, with the SVR support crew, could be griced while assisting with operations (assuming one could read his number!)

The return to Swansea was very disappointing after our outward run. Little could be seen through the rain streaming down the outside of the windows, and the condensation on the inside. To make matters worse, we were stopped at Llanelli, and about a mile further on, by a DMU failure.

Worse was to follow, however. The failed DMU was apparently the stock for the 1615 Swansea – Chester, via Newport. We could in fact have used this service for our return journey to Shrewsbury, however the loco – hauled 1815 from Cardiff, connecting with the 1643 125 from Swansea, was a better prospect. Unfortunately the lack of performance from the DMU was to hold us up most of the way home.

Light relief was provided from Swansea by a totally inebriated elderly resident of Port Talbot, who was convinced that he was a second Caruso, and was determined to demonstrate this to everyone else. Sadly his efforts were not helped by his intoxication A number of SRS members were guilty of encouraging him to better efforts, partly for the benefit of those members who fortunately (!) had ringside seats.

On detraining at Fort Talbot, Caruso waved as though we were long lost friends. Our run home from Cardiff was to be double headed, in the company of a pair of 33s. As mentioned earlier, we were not helped by the train in front, and experienced delays at Abergavenny, and later at Marshbrook, where we had to stand for many minutes before we could complete our journey.

We finally arrived home a good bit later than the advertised 2015, nevertheless it had been an excellent day out, and our thanks must go to Barry along with our hopes that similar trips can be organised in the future.

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