Gala special: Hunslet 125 highlights

The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway celebrated the 125th birthday of two of its popular steam locomotive fleet in style with a special three-day gala event, which brought together a large gathering of Hunslets, engaging them on a host of duties in what is a narrow gauge paradise. Gareth Evans reports.

A quarter of a century may have passed, but some of us can still remember it like yesterday. The Hunslet Hundred gala of 1993 has since served as a benchmark for all Ffestiniog Railway galas.

Hunslet 125, which took place over three days from June 22 this year, promised to go one better, with a fine line-up of charming Quarry Hunslets blended with the manufacturer’s products built for service in other parts of the globe.

At the event’s heart was a celebration of two popular locomotives affectionately known as the ‘Penrhyn Ladies’ – 2-4-0STTs Linda and Blanche, stalwarts of the Ffestiniog fleet since they arrived from Penrhyn Quarry in the 1960s.

Triple-header on the slate: Quarry Hunslets George B, Alice and Cloister head along the Mineral Line into Minffordd Station with a rake of slate wagons, making their way to Gwyndy Bank on June 23. ROGER DIMMICK

Among the diagrams operated by the pair was a special train on June 23 called ‘Ladies Day Out’, involving a double-headed run from Porthmadog to Caernarfon in the morning and then to Blaenau Ffestiniog in the afternoon – the full 40-mile railway.

It was no mean feat to assemble such an impressive array of visiting locomotives – including Alice (Bala Lake Railway); Chaka’s Kraal No.6 (North Gloucestershire Railway, Toddington); Cloister (Hampshire Narrow Gauge Railway Society); George B (Bala); Gwynedd (Bala); Holy War (Bala); Irish Mail (West Lancashire Railway); Jerry M (Hollycombe); Maid Marian (Bala); Margaret (Vale of Rheidol); Statfold and Trangkil No.4 (Statfold Barn Railway); Winifred (Bala); and Velinheli (Launceston Steam Railway).

Not to be forgotten was the presence of the Fairbourne Railway’s Beddgelert on a 2ft gauge wagon, helping to raise a healthy sum towards its overhaul.

The home fleet included Britomart, David Lloyd George, Hugh Napier, Lilla, Lyd, Myrddin Emrys and Prince.

Diesel traction was represented by popular Boston Lodge Works Hunslet shunter Harold, which took part in shunt-athon. First World War former petrol tractor Moelwyn and the chassis of under restoration Kerr Stuart No. 4415 were on display.

Helped by the warm, sunny weather, crowds were attracted to the gala, which was centred on Minffordd Yard, where attractions included ‘Driver for a fiver’ on a variety of locomotives throughout the three days.

Within the yard, Hunslet locomotives were variously engaged in shunting wagons around the complicated trackwork of what is a steeply-graded, narrow gauge paradise.

Demonstration freights ran on the southern end of the Welsh Highland Railway, hauled by visiting locomotives too large to fit the FR’s loading gauge – namely Trangkill No.4 and Chaka’s Kraal No.6.

An attraction in itself, which also helped relieve some of the pressure on the passenger trains at the lower reaches of the FR, was the frequent vintage bus service. Operated by Shrewsbury-based Regional Transport’s Routemaster, RMC1490, it followed a circular route linking Harbour Station, Minffordd Station and the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway. All in all, a cracking event.

Read more and view more images in Issue 244 of HR – on sale now!

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