Thursday, 27 April 2017

Quirks & Curiosities Off the Track

If you’re up for the Ffestiniog Railway's QnC2 you will be impressed and entertained by some amazing and eccentric contraptions; it’s a wonderful sort of Heath Robinson jamboree. My favourite is Spooner’s Boat – I just love the idea of losing momentum on The Cob, unfurling your sail and arriving carbon neutral at Harbour Station - no push, no sweat. 
Spooner's Boat (FR Photo)

As well as those on the track, there are lots of quirks and curiosities close to the track and here is a selection of some of my favourites.

On the big rock above Cob Records, overlooking the harbour, is a rock cannon – one of three alongside the railway. The others are by Tan y Bwlch Station and close to the entrance of the Moelwyn Tunnel. These were made by quarrymen for firing on special occasions, such as a royal visit, winning the war, big weddings and so on.  

All three have 17 holes, each about 5 inches deep. The holes were part filled with black powder and covered with stemming (crushed stones) through which a goose quill filled with powder acted as a detonator. Connecting the various holes was a line of goose fat embedded with more black powder. Light the touch fuse, stand well back and enjoy the show.

Ellie from Countryfile at the cannon
Too little stemming and the explosions would be damp squibs. Too tightly packed with stemming and the rock would be blasted to smithereens. There were many accidents.

At Blaenau, between the station and the shops, are some amazing slate sculptures which were installed 5 years ago. You can’t fail to miss the 7 ½ metre tall chisels, each made of 15,000 roofing slates and stacked at an angle of 30, the same angle at which the slate beds lie within the mountains.

The River of Slate is a mosaic in the pavement with the names of each of the 350 Welsh slate quarries carved into their own piece of slate. Each piece of slate is the colour that was extracted from that quarry. There are at least 50 shades of grey but also purples, greens and browns depending upon the geology. 

Just up the line from Tan y Bwlch are a couple of private halts with interesting houses. Coed y Bleiddiau is the old railway inspector’s house which has been leased by the FR to many interesting tenants including St John Philby, the father of Kim aka ‘Philby the Spy’. It’s being renovated by the Landmark Trust and should be available as a holiday cottage by the end of the year.

Yet further up the line is another private platform called Campbell’s. It was built for the eccentric Colonel who helped with the rebuilding of the line to Blaenau. In the 20 years he lived here he worked tirelessly to restore Plas y Dduallt, the old house which is currently up for sale. If you’d like to have a look inside, here’s a great little film.

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