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!