Tuesday, 18 April 2017

VACANCY at Campbell’s Platform

A whistle blows – time to put the kettle on! Bubble… rumble… bubble… rumble… CLICK! The 'bubble' stops but the rumble gets louder. With mug in hand I walk outside and wave to the first train of the day from Porthmadog to Blaenau as it passes Campbell’s Platform.

Trains punctuate our days and mark the seasons. Winter is very quiet; when the ground goes to sleep, so do the trains, waking briefly for a festive fling after Christmas, and to raise children's spirits at half term. By Easter they are back in full swing, and it's time to tidy the platform and its tubs of primulas and daffodils – both ignored by sheep and goats. What’s wrong with them? Penstemon and wild geranium also resist the fate of most of the flowers we plant.

Pink… blue… pink… blue… and then yellow. Not flowers, but two, four, two, four and then six trains a day as the timetable ratchets up to carry ever more passengers in the run up to summer. The grass on the platform will need careful mowing; not in the sense that it's a bowling green, but because of the profusion of wild flowers. Bird's-foot trefoil, in particular, needs a high setting on the mower.

Summer passes all too soon, we’re back into the pink and blue phase of the timetable and then BANG! Doors slam and cameras, tripods and step ladders alight onto the platform carried by 50 or more enthusiasts – it’s the annual photographic charter. The boss man speaks into his walkie talkie: ‘OK Roger, fire her up!’ Roger does the necessary, clouds of steam rise above trees and the train swings into view at the start of Tank Curve. Frantic bursts of camera clicks capture the scene in a few thousand versions. ‘Sorry Roger, the light faded, can you do that again?’ Then winter is back and it’s quiet again. Will we get snow? Building and decorating the Colonel Campbell snowman is Sue’s speciality.

So far we have enjoyed thirteen cycles of the seasons since moving to Plas y Dduallt, the ancient house that comes with Campbell’s Platform, and a cottage known to the Deviationists as Dduallt Mess. However, our children have left home and it’s time for our next adventure – so the hunt is on for a new caretaker. Applicants should have a passion for old houses and steam trains.

The story of the restoration of the house and the building of the platform are nicely told in The Campbells Came by Rail, filmed by the BBC in 1974. Without the Colonel, there would be no Campbell’s Kingdom to inherit. We are the third family since then to have taken on the caretaker role of owning the house, and each has left its legacy. The Eatons were arty and left a four-poster bed with painted panels. The central panel is a portrait of the house with Moelwyn Bach behind and on either side are panels of voluptuous nudes. Guests say they dream well in that bed. The Lewis’s were both musical and practical. Sadly they didn’t leave their grand piano but they did leave central heating and tarmac on the drive.

Our legacy will be an improved landscape and the telling of the house's history. Through the Dating Old Welsh Houses project, we have had the beams dated to the trees being felled from 1559 in the old house and 1600 in the new house. The new house is the bit that you see from the footpath with the balcony and arrow slits below.

As part of the project we have also looked into the people who have lived in the house. It was the centre of a 600-acre farm which, in the 1841 census, had five dwellings housing 52 people including a railway foreman. In the 2011 census there were just five people living in two dwellings.

The house was built by the Lloyd family and the earliest will we have found is dated 1684. In the name of God Amen I Hugh Lloyd of Dduallt … gent being sicke in body but of good and perfect memory praised be god …. His possessions at probate listed the livestock which included the ‘nine and fifty goats’, descendants of which still entertain us with their antics as they roam their hereditary lands.

As for neighbours, the nearest house, half a mile down the line, has been empty for several years. This is the well-known former railway inspector’s house at Coed y Bleiddiau, the plot of land for which was once part of Dduallt farm. Happily, the Landmark Trust have set about restoring this house and soon there will be new occupants with which to share this paradise.

So, if you would like to apply for the post of caretaker at Campbell's, which comes with the house, please contact our estate agents Walter Lloyd Jones on 01341 422278.

If you'd like a flavour of what it's like to live in a historic house with a platform onto the Ffestiniog, this fantastic film was made by North Shore Productions:

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