Steam Gala at the Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway – Saturday 10 September 2022

I had such a lovely time at the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway in South Wales! I had been a member and volunteer there for many years until, around 10 years ago, I left as I had to focus on other things in my life at that time.

This is the first time since then I’ve paid a visit to the railway, and what a lovely day to visit! Not only was the weather glorious, but the Steam Gala was taking place with six different steam locomotives operating that day, including one of my favourite engines – a GWR Pannier Tank.

Not only was it lovely to smell the exhilharating combination of steam, coal smoke and engine oil, it was fab to see some people I’d not seen in 10 years.

It was also fantastic to see how much positive good work had been done in the intervening decade. The line has been extended, new station buildings erected, and the rolling stock was spruced up too. And seeing so many volunteers working in so many different roles, and so many youngsters too, was fantastic to see.

I spent a lot of the day chatting and catching up, as well as learning more about my digi-SLR. I even got some photos that I’m quite pleased with.

The landscape around the railway is very much an industrial one. There’s a branch line that curves round to Big Pit National Coal Museum. There’s plenty to do and see there including exhibitions, a shop and it’s even possible to take a trip underground to a coal seam in the cage that used to transport miners to the tunnels that led to the coal face. There are plenty of coal spoil heaps, or tips, around the area.

The mainline extends from the Whistle Inn to the north, down to Blaenavon High Level in the south. The main station, Furnace Sidings, is in between the two.

Furnace Sidings is named for the extensive ironworks that used to be in the area. Blaenavon Ironworks is a fantastic piece of industrial archeaology with blast furnaces and other structures of note preserved there.

The ironworks was crucial in developing the ability to use cheap low-grade, high-sulphur iron ores world wide. The basic iron process was developed by Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and Percy Gilchrist between 1877 and 1878.

The whole area around Blaneavon is a World Heritage Site, awarded by UNESCO for it’s importance to ‘the pre-eminence of South Wales as the world’s major producer or iron and coal in the 19th Century.’

Small though it currently is, the P&BR wends its way through this landscape, giving lovely views of the surrounding areas.

It was one of the delights of my visit to remember the rugged beauty of the landscape, all the more glorious in it’s late summer hues of gold, green and pinky-brown heather. I’ve never lost my love of trains, steam trains in particular, and my first visit to the P&BR was about the same time of year, but just before the end of August. I was then convinced to join as a member and the following weekend I spent a day helping to scrape the paint from an old carriage.

So, it was quite fitting I returned on a similar kind of day, at a similar time of year to renew my friendships, both with some of the railway people and friends of the railway, but also with the railway itself. Who knows what this will lead to … only time will tell!

That Late Summer Feeling

Heleniums, ©AngelaPorter | Artwyrd.com

Both warm, golden sunlight and a cool breeze flow in through my open windows. The combination ignites memories of the end of the school holidays and the pleasure of buying new pens, pencils, and colouring media ready for the new term. I remember trips to the local Woolworths, a department store chain now long gone from the UK, and a local stationer, which sadly closed just before the pandemic, to get these supplies, and a notebook of some kind to try them all out in.

I could barely wait to get home to try the supplies out in the notebook and the pleasure of writing and drawing. There were a couple of sets of encyclopaedias in the family home. No novels. No other reference books. Just encyclopaedias and a dictionary or two. I can remember flicking through one and finding an article about red squirrels. I delighted in carefully copying out the information about them in my best writing. Then I did my best to draw a squirrel with some acorns and foliage and added some simple colour. The same golden light flowed through the windows, and there was a gentle breeze through the open doors, just as I’m experiencing today.

The dappled light I associate with this time of year also brings back memories of reading a book about a boy and a dinosaur. The book’s title is long forgotten, but the memory of dappled light coming in through the car windows as the family returned from a day out at Southerndown is clear in my mind, as is how I went to lie on my bed and continued reading when we got home.

The balmy warmth always makes me feel like I need to nap, bringing back more autumn memories. I remember lying in bed, reading some murder mystery book, on a Saturday afternoon not long after my long-ago partner and I moved into this house, the house I still live in. Sunlight was coming in, warming the bedroom and along with a refreshing, cool breeze. I could hear the sound of a rugby match in the distance, where he was and wasn’t expected home until late that evening. So, I indulged myself that afternoon, cuddling up under the covers, safe, secure, and comforted, just like so many Saturday afternoons in childhood, and gently dozing off. And even now, in my late middle years, I still enjoy that comfort and safety and a nap, especially on these balmy days that presage the coming of autumn; “The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” as Keats wrote.

I’m focusing here on the happy parts of these memories, for they are what lift my heart at this time of year, and those feelings are ever-present.

My love of pens, paper, writing and drawing, reading and napping still remains, as well as of this time of year that leads to autumn.

There was a time when this time of year, the summer holidays ending, I’d be increasingly anxious and stressed about my return to school – as a teacher. But those days are now long enough ago that I just feel the excitement of the soon-changing seasons, the autumnal equinox, and the glorious fiery colours of nature preparing to sleep through the cold months.

It fascinates me how repeating a particular pattern of weather and time of year can bring up powerful memories that I never think about at other times. They trigger a journey into the recesses of my memory, and nowadays, only the good ones surface, mostly. Finally, however, the demons of the unpleasant ones have been put into demon jail, thanks to EMDR therapy; for that, I am very grateful.

It will be a while longer before summer’s dull, monotone greens start to be brightened with pops of the golden-fire colours of autumn. But I can feel the change in the air, and I long for it.

I hope that the feeling of autumn will ignite a sense of wanderlust in me, much as it did for both Bilbo and Frodo in JRR Tolkien’s writings. I do not intend to debate a dragon or cast a magic ring into Doom’s Fires. However, I hope it will encourage me to leave the sanctuary of my home a bit more often, local trips and visits particularly.

Small these journeys will be in terms of distance and time, but they will be the start of a long journey for me to work out how I can feel safe and calm in the big outside world in a way I never have. And preparing myself mentally and emotionally to do even the most minor thing takes some time; I have to practically sneak up on myself and just do it without thinking about it!

But there is no rush to start today, even if I had a burning urge to do so! I am waiting for a delivery, and the westward-moving clouds are gathering and filtering the gold and warmth from the mid-afternoon sunlight.

Until I and my schedule are ready, I can research to find places to visit close to me, both the familiar and unfamiliar. Then, I can practice hand lettering as I make a list in my ‘travel’ journal. Then I can try to find my set of multi-sided dice to roll to choose a destination as I can become overwhelmed by choice!  Though, to be kind to myself, I will give myself permission to re-roll if the original result overwhelms me. Or perhaps I should have some lists for how I’m feeling each day. Hmmm… this needs some thinking about!