Tywyn-based Talyllyn Railway has enjoyed what general manager Stuart Williams described as the busiest weekend for five years, following the easing of Covid restrictions in Wales.
The railway continues to be careful in minimising risks in the continuing pandemic with trains divided into separated compartments. Tickets for each whole compartment are sold in advance to families or to those in a social bubble.
Billed as the ‘Awdry Extravaganza’, the weekend programme for August 14 and 15 was based around a celebration of the ‘Railway Series’ of books by the Reverend Wilbert Awry, creator of the famous Thomas the Tank Engine.
The Rev Awdry was an Anglican priest and railway enthusiast who became an enthusiastic member and volunteer guard on the Talyllyn Railway in 1952, just a year after it had become the world’s first preserved heritage railway.
His experiences on the Talyllyn inspired him to create the fictitious Skarloey Railway which became the subject of an additional series of children’s books within his ‘Railway Series’.
Skarloey Railway shared with the Talyllyn and its near neighbour the Corris Railway the distinction of being the only railways to run in the UK on a gauge of 2ft 3ins.
The Narrow Gauge Museum, housed at Tywyn Wharf Station, already has a reproduction exhibit of Awdry’s study where he wrote all of his famous ‘Railway Series’, with the original furniture and contents donated by his family.
The weekend included a once in a lifetime exhibition of the Rev. Awdry’s work including original artwork from the ‘Railway Series’. His own model railway layouts, called Ffarquhar Branch and Ulfstead Road, were displayed together for the first time in more than 20 years, along with some of the Rev Awdry’s own models of ‘Thomas’ and other locomotives that he used to illustrate his talks.
The exhibition was opened by the Bishop of Bangor, the Right Rev Andrew John, a frequent and very supportive visitor to the railway since taking up his post in 2008.
He then met other Talyllyn staff, volunteers and members of the public before joining one of the timetabled trains, running behind engines named for the occasion as Skarloey, Rhenas, Sir Handel and Peter Sam.
A special guest at several of the weekend events was popular TV presenter and railway historian Tim Dunn, who conducted interviews with staff and volunteers which were livestreamed over the Talyllyn Railway’s Facebook page.
Tim presented a reading of the Rev Awdry’s original ‘History of Sodor’ to a packed audience which was livestreamed to more than 200 people who had bought a virtual ticket, many of them being overseas.
Trains were all filled to the capacity allowed by social distancing. Adult visitors also enjoyed a three-day Beer, Cider and Gin Festival at Wharf Station featuring products from several local Welsh breweries and distilleries.
Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society chairman Jonathan Mann said: “The Awdry connection is something we are very proud of, and it takes us right back to our roots.
“We are very fortunate to have Wilbert Awdry’s study and many model railway items in the museum. The displays and layouts were viewed eagerly not just by members of the public, but also by members of the family whom we were delighted to welcome to the railway.
“After a very difficult period, it was really encouraging to see so many visitors enjoying themselves again in a more normal, but still careful, manner.”
Talyllyn Railway continues to operate following Covid guidelines issued by the Welsh Government. Pre-booking is advised as numbers are limited and only compartments may be booked for families or social bubbles.
Seats on the train are only available as ‘round trips’ and will all start and finish at Wharf Station. Masks continue to be required to be worn in indoor areas.
General manager Stuart Williams (left) with TV presenter Tim Dunn interviewing the event’s main organiser and ‘Awdry’ expert, Luke Ryan.
Photo Nathan Spence.
Bishop of Bangor, the Right Rev Andrew John in the permanent ‘Awdry Study’ exhibition.
Photo Jonathan Mann
Tywyn Wharf during the Awdry Extravaganza weekend.
Photo Karen Willans.
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