It’s hard to believe we have reached the milestone of Adventures with Alfie Day 25. It began when a nervous grandfather was asked to take sole responsibility for a ten-month-old little child for a whole day. The task seemed daunting but Alfie and I both rose to the challenge. There is so much about life and the place where we live that I wanted to share with him and Fridays seemed to be as good a day as any. On our first Adventure we went to Cardiff on the train and visited the market and Café Zest. Without looking back I wondered, what were my highlights of our 25 Adventures? In no particular order I came up with the following …
- Visiting Merthyr on the train
- That funny little café in Pontypridd that looked like an old Hollywood cinema
- Castell Coch and Alfie chatting up the bride.
- The boat trip around Cardiff Bay
- Kids days in Techniquest.
- Meeting the Welsh Ladies’ Football Team and the promise of being a mascot when he is older.
- Finding a Wimpy in Caerphilly – that still amazes me!
- Breakfasts in Subway.
- The vast number of people Alfie has made smile.
- Buying Alfie his first ever Clarks Pie.
- Trips to Barry and meeting Dave Brown in McDonalds
- Sitting by the fire in St Fagan’s
- The Cardiff Centenary Walk
- … and maybe best of all meeting the Cardiff City Football Team.
Each week has been exciting and, I hope, a treasure for Alfie as he grows up. I hope he reads them when he is older and who knows when he has a family of his own, I am sure his own kids will love reading about his Adventures with his chubby old friend.
He already has his own little fan club of avid readers who eagerly await Fridays to see what the little fella has been up to.
Today, as a special 25th treat, we decided on a trip on the Brecon Mountain Railways. Like Castell Coch it’s a place we talk about often, advise visitors to enjoy, but rarely do ourselves. Things were about to change.
We had a quiet start to the morning and had a little rest before the A470 called and the road to Merthyr.
I had prepared his food for the day, changed a smelly nappy and smartened myself up before we left.
The drive up the road to Pant in Merthyr was clear with a mixture of cloud and sun, but very little traffic. We sang together for a while before Alfie had a little snooze!
It was a journey I knew well from my days of living in Gelligaer and the part time job I had in Merthyr Motor Auctions, when we struggled as a family trying to live on a teachers’ wage in the 1970s. I worked with my big brother who has always looked out for me. They were tough days.
I love Merthyr with its magnificent history and Pant and Dowlais in particular. This was where the Motor Auctions were and a real host of characters lived and worked there. I will never forget, Smokie and Old Jim.
I try and imagine the place full of factory chimneys and smoke during the time of the Iron Works. At one time it was one of the most famous places in the world. Hard to think that now, but the rows of ironworkers cottages all have their own story to tell. I wonder if there is such a thing as The Dowlais Local History Society? If there is, I might join.
We followed the brown signs and soon arrived at the Pant Station. We looked at each other and smiled. I knew what was in store, Alfie smiled because that’s what he does 24/7 or should I say 24/7/365
The Brecon Mountain Railway was conceived over 30 years ago when a search started to find a site to operate a steam tourist railway using various locomotives and equipment collected from Europe and further afield.
Merthyr Tydfil seemed ideal – located on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park with its beautiful mountain, lake and forest scenery. At one time it was the greatest iron-making town in the world and most of the earlier railways used iron rolled by its mills. It also witnessed in 1804 the trial run of the Trevithick locomotive – the first steam railway engine.
The site chosen was on the old abandoned Brecon and Merthyr Railway opened originally in 1859 and finally closed in 1964. This Railway fought its way through the Brecon Beacons using steep gradients and the Torpantau tunnel which at 1313-ft above sea level is the highest railway tunnel in Great Britain. The 5.5 miles stretch between Pant and Torpantau seemed suitable but difficulties were soon found. The scrap merchants had not only removed the track but also all the bridge girders and even the manhole covers. The ballast had been taken for road material and no buildings remained except for the shell of the signal box at Pontsticill and the station house, which was used as a sheep shelter. It was then discovered that the only part of the railway still in British Rail hands was one bridge abutment, which they readily agreed to sell! The remaining land had been sold off and it took between 5 and 20 years to obtain the rest from 12 different landowners.
At Pant the old station was not available so adjoining land was purchased for a deviation.
By 1978 the various planning and other consents had been obtained and construction started with the re-building of the Station House and conversion of the adjoining waiting room into a small workshop.
Then came a tin shed for storage and work started on the repair and replacement of the 7 bridges between Pant and Pontsticill. Track laying was commenced in 1979, but delayed for two months whilst a huge landslide was filled with a row of demolished terrace houses from Merthyr Tydfil.
Meanwhile the first carriage had been built at Pontsticill and “Sybil” – a small slate quarry engine from North Wales had been prepared to haul the train.
Track laying was completed late one summer evening in June 1980 and the railway opened to traffic the next day.
We found a place to park, left the puschair in the boot and started adventuring.
We made our way in and straightaway I thought… that’s a good sign.
I paid my dues; Alfie was free, and headed for Shunters the station teashop. Alfie has developed a healthy interest in teashops over the past 25 Fridays. He is learning well.
I had a pot of tea and we shared a toasted teacake. On his second piece Alfie found it was covered in jam and proceeded to remove all the jam first, followed by the teacake! Lunch would come later.
After enjoying this time together, we made our way up to the platform. As we did we had to pass the Railway workshops, full of heavy machinery.
There was a sign saying ‘Beware of heavy plant!’. I looked around expecting to see a 20-foot aspidistra or a 30 stone Peace Lily, till I realised what the sign actually meant. Alfie loved this and pointed excitedly at all the large machines. However, greater excitement was to follow. At the top of the ramp in the station waiting room, there was a huge model train display. Alfie was over the moon and spent a long time shouting ‘ Choo choo’ over and over again.
Why does very child in the world say Choo choo whenever you mention a train? I guess it shows the power and majesty of steam trains.
It was a great display and I even mumbled a few choo choos of my own, pretending to encourage Alfie. When Aunt Bes gets married I wonder if the Blessed Lady will let me build a train display in her room… I’ll choose the moment carefully!
We stopped looking only when excited chattering announced that the train was pulling into the station. What followed I will never, ever forget. As we walked on to the platform the train was just pulling in. Alfie’s mouth dropped open and his eyes widened and threatened to fall from their sockets. He was spellbound! I had him hooked; he will be a steam train lover all his life from this day on.
I was reminded of the old poem by Graeme King…
I’m a steam train, big and tough, Riding steel rails, hear me chuff; Running on my railroad track, Smoke is steaming from my stack.
Down the line my big wheels roll, Engineer puts in the coal, In my boiler, water’s poured, “TOOT!” the driver pulls the cord.
Every trip my friends are new, People wave when I come through; Always happy, never gruff. Up the hills I huff and puff.
Clickety-clack the wheels all sing, Part of history, I’m the King; Cross the land from east to west, Want to ride? Well, be my guest!
Nice clean carriages, painted new, Hear me whistle, just for you; Buy your tickets, climb inside, Let’s go for a steam train ride!
I made sure Alfie had not grazed his chin on the platform when his jaw dropped and after watching the engine uncouple and move to the front of the train we got on and waited for our journey to begin. We shared the carriage with a few other people, mostly retired by the look of them. Alfie continued to shout Choo choo! without stopping. We pulled away and passed some coal trucks heavily laden with their black cargo evoking memories of a bygone age.
We passed through some beautiful countryside before the reservoir at Taf Fechan came into view. As the train approaches Pontsticill Station the Reservoir Dam can be seen. The Reservoir was completed in 1927 and can hold 3,400 million gallons of water. The water flooded the vicarage and 15th Century Capel Taf Fechan, Bethlehem Congregational Chapel, some cottages, smallholdings and land belonging to eight farms. In times of drought the remains of some of these buildings appear above water level. On the valley floor below the dam a new water treatment works has been completed.
Soon the train passed, without stopping, through Pontsticill station. The original signal box could be seen alongside Station House. The grassed area to the right of the signal box was the site of the old turntable.
The journey now continued along the banks of the Taf Fechan Reservoir. On the left we saw the Merthyr Tydfil Sailing Club (Yes such a place does exist!) with its adjacent boat-park and at this point a deviation to the original railway alignment has been constructed to avoid the car park.
We journeyed on past Pontsticill station before reaching the terminus. The journey ends at the Northern end of the Reservoir and the locomotive runs round to the opposite end of the train for the return journey. It is not possible for passengers to alight at this temporary terminus. We could see that the track continues and next year the train will continue a further 1 1/2 miles to Torpantau, high in the Brecon Beacons. The company is, at present, constructing additional locomotives to cope with the severe gradients on this new section. When they open this new section, we will return.
On the return the train stops at Pontsticill Station for twenty minutes, enough time for a picnic overlooking the reservoir and buy a cup of tea from the café built from some old railway wagons. Alfie had his picture taken with the guard. I so wanted to try on his hat but lost my nerve at the wrong time.
We boarded the train and travelled the rest of the way back to Pant quietly reflecting on this marvellous little railway.
Pant Station meant only one thing for Alfie, another chance to look at the model railway. We spent ages there. He was well and truly transfixed.
The journey back to Cardiff was a long but happy one. Alfie didn’t or couldn’t sleep all the way back.
I reflected on the fact that in September, Alfie’s Adventures will change and become Alfie’s and Millie’s Adventures. His mum is changing her days in work and Alfie will visit us on a Tuesday, a day when he lady of the house is off work. I will miss these special days but hope including the lady of the house and Millie in our days will make them even more special. Trouble is the dear lady is not a pensioner so things might become a little more expensive.
Alfie and Millie visit Cath Kidston
Alfie and Millie visit TK Maxx
Alfie and Millie’s Adventures in British Home Stores…
I think my little buddy and I need to start planning now.