Tag Archives: Barry railway

Some days are diamonds….

I was called a ‘Chuffernutter’ today! I wasn’t sure if it was polite or not and I wasn’t sure if it was a complement or not. I smiled nervously as I gathered my thoughts!

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A few days ago my old buddy, Estate Agent Extraordinaire Mike Baker, asked me if I fancied a tour around the Barry Steam Train Depot in Barry. The answer I gave him was the same answer he would have got if he had asked a dying man who had just crawled across the Sahara Desert if he fancied a glass of water.

Having obtained a day pass from the lady of the house I got up very early and made my way down to Barry through the early morning rain. My instructions from Mike were to find Howes Garage near Barry Town Station and follow a map he had sent me.

I found the gate and rang Mike’s number… and as he was speaking an orange suited figure appeared from a distant building and I soon found the gates to paradise being opened. Mike looked like a real railway worker, nothing like the smooth Estate Agent I know!           Mike greeted me with a smile and a cheery handshake and welcomed me to the Barry Steam Shed. What followed reminded me of the old John Denver song, ‘Some days are diamonds, some days are stone…’

This was turning into a diamond day. It began with a tour of the shed when Mike introduced me to the trains and rolling stock and each piece was unique in its own way.

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Susan was a small steam train, one of only two of the kind built. The builder named them after his children, Susan and Timothy. Susan now lives in Barry; Mike was not certain of Timothy’s whereabouts.

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I climbed aboard and old DMU which is used for Santa Specials at Barry Island Station near Christmas.

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All the other pieces had wonderful stories attached to them and Mike told me about them like a master storyteller.

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This beast was once owned by the Channel Tunnel owners and was used to pull broken down engines out ion the tunnel. The equipment on the front can be pulled down to couple with French Trains.

 

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This fascinating vehicle is able to travel on road and rail. The wheels can be lifted to allow it to fit on a railway line.

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After the tour of the shed we had a cup of coffee and reminisced about the trains in the glory days.When we had finished our coffee others members of staff began to appear, one volunteer and one paid member od staff. I was introduced to them and as we were talking I looked across at Barry Town station. The 09:43 from Eastbrook was just pulling into Barry, the last stop before Barry Island. I must have had that certain look on my face because the guy asked me if I was a   ‘Chuffernutter?’

For a few moments I was not sure how to answer. I may have smiled nervously as I gathered my thoughts. I wasn’t sure if it was polite or not or if it was a complement or not.

I quickly deduced that a Chuffernutter was someone who loved trains. (Chuffer = Train and nutter = someone who loves something with a passion).

I am a Chuffernutter. It’s true! Guilty as charged.

We strolled back into the shed and I watched Mike as he was taking 1mm off a bolt to secure part of the line. He was using some kind of grinder and was going at it full speed and it looked pretty spectacular.

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As a volunteer for the day, I was assigned a few jobs. The first one was to help attach an O ring to the vacuum braking system on Susan, the only steam train in the shed. This we did with some difficulty, but eventually managed it after a number of trips to the tool box.

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We then tried (at least I just watched!) to repair an ancient battery/jump start charger. It was somewhat bigger than the one I use on my car. This one looked quite old a rusty and after a long period of huffing and sighing my co worker gave up and was trying to work out the cost of a new one under his breath.

What followed was unexpected and truly wonderful!

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Behind me one of the old trains burst into life. Thick diesel smoke began to fill the shed and the lads quickly opened all available doors to allow the fumes to escape. They must have noticed my worried look because I was told the smoke would run clear as the engine warmed up.

Then came the sweetest words I have heard for a long time. The answer must have been one he was expecting, because I was asked’ ‘Do you fancy a ride in the cab’

By the time he said you, I was up the steps and in the cab.

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Our trip was a short but complicated one. We were required to manoeuvre an old wagon to a different part of the yard to await the loading of some old sleepers. It necessitated a number of points changes, all expertly completed by Mike pulling on a range of levers.

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Sitting in the driver’s cab of this huge loco was just like a dream come true. My childhood ambition was to be a train driver. I am old now but the dream is still there. Today was getting pretty close to it! The sheer power of the loco was thrilling.

Sadly, as we pulled back into the shed, it was time for me to leave.

I had learnt some lessons…

I still dream of being a train driver…

Preserving these old locos and rolling stock is the work of loyal volunteers who work hard in unglamorous situations…

 

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But the most important lesson of the day….

I am a Chuffernutter…and proud of it!

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Michael… thank you!!

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10 reasons I like Barry…

The town of Barry does not always attract the best publicity. I have never lived there, but I attended the town’s Teacher Training College for three years in the late sixties and early seventies and still make frequent visits. I have family and friends who live there.

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There are many reasons for Barry’s decline over the past years. To my mind the main reason was Cardiff. For many years after county council reorganisation Barry found itself as part of South Glamorgan. It was at the time of Cardiff’s huge Bay regeneration programme and sadly all the county’s time, effort and cash was diverted into that project. It meant that towns like Barry were left to slowly decay. Thankfully in the past few years, especially since South Glamorgan was split and The Vale of Glamorgan was created, much effort has gone into lifting this lovely Welsh town out of the doldrums and giving it a bright new future.

I am alarmed that the Welsh Assembly government is thinking of giving Barry back to Cardiff. That must never happen.

I love Barry – here are ten good reasons why!

  1. Glamorgan College of Education

I attended The Glamorgan College of Education from September 1969 until June 1972. It was a brilliant three years. I left qualified to teach, something I enjoyed for the next almost 40 years. I think I learnt more in my first week of teaching than I did in three years in College, but it was still a great place to be and I am still in touch with a few of my student friends.

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I lived at home during those three years but often stayed with friends in the ‘dorms’. I remember there were three residences – two in the main old building. Morgannwg, (affectionately known as Forgy) was the name of the male dorm and Gwent was the girls’, but they also had a modern tower block, which went by the name of Hafren. Morgannwg and Gwent were Welsh county names and Hafren is the Welsh for Severn as in the River I think.

I remember are representing the college in table tennis and during one league match took a game off a former Welsh champion. One other thing was that the college football team were at one time coached by Mel Sutton, the Cardiff City midfield hard man. He used to give me a lift home after training and we became friends and for several years he gave me free tickets to all the Cardiff City home games.

I remember sitting in lectures and watching the old steam trains being transported off to new homes from the Barry Scrapyard. Barry is very hilly and the low loader lorries would strain every sinew, as they crawled up College Hill. Academically, all I remember are the Welsh lectures with John Bevan, who owned a Capri – he also gave me a lift to college quite often and an English lecturer called Cenwyn Thomas, who gave me two wonderful things – a great love of reading aloud and a love of the poems of William Wordsworth.

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As the thoughts come flooding back, I also remember the college PE lecturer, a great guy called Stevie Banks, whose cry of ‘Come on lads up the Butts!’ was a call to treck across several roads to the Buttrills playing fields, where we would learn how to become PE teachers. Steve was also an avid sailor and his cries of ‘Sail before Steam!’ could be heard regularly on the weekend in the waters around Barry.

The drama department was based in the old Drill Hall and we would wander down the hill to lectures. It’s a funeral home now.

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The old college is gone now and the old buildings are a nursing home. The old Maths department is a pub but I think the swimming pool still remains!

  1. Barry Island

I spent many happy hours in Barry Island as a child. My mum and dad would take us on the train from Llanishen Station to Barry Island on a regular basis. Most of the journeys were on steam trains. Unforgettable bliss!

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On the way, we would hold our breath after Grangetown Station, as the train would take one of two routes as it approached Penarth. The short way was via Cogan, Dinas Powys and Cadoxton and on to Barry, but the long way, which always brought groans from us kids, was through Penarth via Dingle Road, Alberta Place Halt, Swanbridge, Lavernock and Sully, before joining the main line near Cadoxton. I would give my right arm to be able to travel that line again on a steam train. Sadly houses have been build on the track bed in some places and so that dream will never become a reality and I will never have to learn to write with my left hand!! A few years ago I did walk the old line from Biglis Roundabout to Penarth Station. I had to sneak through a garden near Lavernock but an amazing amount of track bed is still left.

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The journey home would be made smelling of calamine lotion as we always got sunburnt and spent two days in agony every time. No sun cream or after sun gel in those days!

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Barry Island had and still has a magnificent beach; on our many visits, we always sat by number 5 on the sea wall and therefore never got lost despite the massive crowds, which went to the beach in those days. We have so many happy memories of sandcastles, candyfloss, toffee apples and chips.

If only the water was clearer it would be perfect!

  1. Memorial Hall                                                                                                                                             

Barry Memorial Hall (The Memo) is such a great building.

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The Memo Arts Centre is the largest multi-arts venue in the Vale of Glamorgan, and only cinema exhibitor in Barry. It is a vibrant and crucial hub for the local community and those living beyond, known as a friendly, accessible place, where users come to make, see and participate. Barry Memorial Hall was built at a cost of £23,000 with donations by Major Davies and his sisters totalling £10,000. It was originally opened in 1932/3 but was gutted by fire in 1943 and not rebuilt until 1957.

On the 11th November 2007, the Memorial Hall and Theatre marked its 75th anniversary with the rededication of the Hall of Memory and Cenotaph following extensive refurbishment. Over 2,000 visitors attended the celebration.

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The Memorial Hall and Theatre in Barry, has over its 75-year history, played a major part in the cultural lives of Barry residents and those further a field. It is situated near the Waterfront, it has a valued reputation for presenting a broad programme of professional theatre, music and dance events.

The entrance hall has an impressive reminder of all the men and women from the town who lost their lives in the two world wars.

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Stunning – a fitting memorial to our heroes!

  1. Barry Docks

The development of Barry began with the construction of the docks in the 1880s. Eight miles from Cardiff, it was one of the largest dock areas in the world at that time. It transformed the village with a then population of some 85 people.

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Millions of tons of coal were exported from the docks and hordes of day-trippers used the railways, built to carry coal, and enjoyed the sands of Barry Island.
David Davies the industrialist created The Barry Docks and Railway Company. He left an estate valued at nearly £405,000 when he died in 1890. A bronze statue of David Davies stands before the Dock Offices at Barry sculpted by Alfred Gilbert, who designed Eros’ statue in London.

The Dock Offices at Barry cost £59,000 to build. Constructed of red brick and Portland stone, a clock tower was added at an additional cost of £6,000. It has a ‘theme’ of the calendar. There are four floors – the seasons of the year; seven lights in the traceried fanlight window – days of the week. The porch has twelve panels – months of the year.
Within the building are 52 marble fireplaces – weeks of the year. The windows number 365 days, one for each day of the year. Each window has four panes of glass – weeks to a month. In the east and west walls of the entrance hall are two circular windows – Sun and Moon. The staircase, made of Portland stone, has 31 steps (days of the month) from ground to first and second floors and has an ornamental ironwork balustrade with circular foliage and fruit trails.

The trade through the docks fell steadily as the steam coal was replaced by oil as the major energy source in ships and factories.

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Today, it is very quiet and very few ships use the docks, but I love the history. The Dock Offices are now the headquarters of the Associated British Ports.

Not so long ago, I was given a ride on a ship from Cardiff to Barry and entering the docks with its rich history was a thrill for me.

  1. Porthkerry Park and Viaduct.

Porthkerry Park is another place that figures highly in my childhood and teenage years. As far as I can see Porthkerry Park has a Barry address and so is included here!

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Porthkerry Park is a large, public country park on the coast next to Barry. It has fields, extensive woodland and nature trails, cliff-top pathways, a pebble-stone beach and a small golf course. Architecturally, it is noted for its prominent viaduct that helped with the transportation for coal to the port of Barry in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the combination of green areas and the coastal location, the park is such a great place to visit and one I visited many times as a child and a teenager and indeed many times since. I remember many times having barbecues on the beach.

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On the northern side of the park is the site of the old village at Cwmcidi (meaning Valley of the Black Dog), which came into existence before the middle of the 13th century.

In 1622, Cwmcidi contained 5 houses bordering “Comkedye Street”, interspersed with a number of tofts (dwelling sites) plus three scattered dwellings. By 1812, there remained only three cottages and a farmhouse. The cottages were finally swept away in the 1840s when the area was landscaped by the Romilly family to form Porthkerry Park. The name – although slightly anglicised lives on in the area, in the form of a nearby public house, The Cwm Ciddy. It’s the place I took Boo when we got engaged.

The park is maintained by two rangers, one of whom has a residence at a quaint, old cottage along the main park road.

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  1. Cold Knap

Cold Knap is such a lovely place, but used to be a fantastic place when I was young. Nowadays, Cold Knap, sitting at the posh end of Barry is popular for its quiet, pebble beach with its fine views around to Porthkerry.

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It has a small lake, which is in the shape of a harp. It’s a lovely place to walk around.

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When I was young it was THE place to go but only for one reason – the open-air baths.

For many in and around South Wales, a day out at Barry’s Knap Lido, or, as it was known locally, ‘The Baths’, was the perfect place to while away the happy, lazy days of spring and summer – even when the sun didn’t shine.

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The pool was 120 yards long and 20 yards wide; the mostly-icy waters of Barry’s Knap Lido went from a toddler-safe few inches, to the seemingly bottomless deep end

The Knapsnak shop provided refreshments of the age; Cresta pop, Chipmunk crisps, pies and pasties and more – but the best thing of all was cups of OXO drink, which always warmed us up after a swim. There were some changing rooms, which you could use to get changed but theses were always packed out!

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Sadly, after being left to decay after it’s closure it was ultimately filled in . There is currently a petition to rebuild and reopen this iconic landmark. My signature was one of the first! 11 Knap Lido Filled In

  1. Romilly’s Tea Shop

Romilly’s is a fairly new teashop that has opened in Cold knap. It’s a great little place where you can get tea and other drinks served in   homely atmosphere. It has a very vintage feel about the place, which pleases my dear wife very much indeed.

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  1. Barry Town United

I became a Barry Town United supporter in the 2013-2014 season, largely as a result of my son’s interest. He has always had an affinity with the hard done by in society and what happened to Barry Town Football Club in 2013 was a disgrace.

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On 7 May 2013, Stuart Lovering, the owner of Barry Town inexplicably withdrew the team from the Welsh Football League against the will of the Barry Town Supporters Club, players and supporters, who were ready and willing to fulfil the remaining two fixtures of the season.

After the BTSC outlined their intentions to play again the following season, adopting the name of Barry Town United to emphasise their continuing unity and endeavour, a meeting of the FAW Council in Bettws y Coed June 2013 announced that they would not be allowed back into the league and instead would have to play “recreational football” henceforth. That meant this great club playing parks football.

This was a shocking decision by the inept FAW council, made up of life members, who appeared completely out of touch with the strength of local feeling. After significant public outcry, a second meeting was arranged for July 2013 in Caersws to hear new evidence as why the Barry Town Supporters Club should be able to continue at Welsh League level. At this second meeting, 15 of the FAW Councillors voted not even to discuss the club’s future, thus concluding the meeting within five minutes, a meeting that was held at considerable expense. It was an utter disgrace and brought shame on Welsh football. I wrote myself to every councillor and NOT ONE even had the decency to respond to me.

The outcomes of both meetings went against the recommendations of the FAW’s own Domestic Committee and legal team.

With their future unclear, the Barry team began their pre-season programme for 2013 with wins at Moreton and Elmore that same month, followed by a narrow 3-2 loss to Premiership newcomers Cardiff City, watched by a home crowd of 1,650 supporters on Saturday 27 July. Barry had remarkably led 2-1 at the break. This was my first taste of Barry Town United and I was hooked!

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On 9 August 2013, a High Court judge in Cardiff ruled in favour of Barry Town United, saying that the FAW had acted unlawfully in denying Barry their licence. Barry were entered back into the Welsh League, along with a reformed Llanelli club that also benefited from the High Court decision.

Gaz and I followed them for the rest of the season attending matches at home and away. We have discovered a unique but close band of supporters who care passionately about the club. They are an absolutely hilarious bunch and every match they have me laughing my head off! This year I am acting as apprentice to Barry’s own one-man version of The Barry Horns, Terry, a great old guy who plays the bugle. He entertains crowds at home and away. Barry were the best-supported team in Division 3 last season by a country mile. We sponsored players, supported the fundraising and tried to devise as many ways as we could of avoiding Terry the bugler, when he came round selling lotto tickets.

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Two things strike me about football at this level. The closeness of the fans, who look out for each other and send tweets of good luck to each other and the players and the fairness of the players. No drama queens, no fake dives, just honest, hard, genuine football, played by teams that just love playing football.

Barry Town United is a fan owed, fan run club and has brought back my love for the game big time! 2014 saw Barry Town United end up as Division 3 champions.

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  1. Barry Scrapyard

Barry Scrapyard is no more but when I was younger it was one of the most amazing places ever. As a young man and indeed as a much older man I loved climbing over the rusting engines. They came to Barry to die and to be cut up but Dai Woodham had other ideas!

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The story of the legendary scrapyard of Woodham Brothers at Barry is a truly remarkable one that involves so many sets of circumstances that would make a great novelist proud. The man who fostered the legend, Dai Woodham, became a name familiar with steam enthusiasts and preservationists alike. Dai entered into a contract with British Railways to buy their old redundant steam trains. On the 25th of March 1959, the first batch of engines was despatched to Barry.
Although the number of locomotives bought by Woodham’s was comparatively small at this stage, the size of the deliveries increased and between November 1960 and April 1961 alone, 40 locomotives were acquired from Swindon. Most but not all of these engines were scrapped soon after their arrival, but as the number of deliveries increased, additional storage was found at the low-level sidings adjacent to the oil terminal and also on sidings built on the site of the former West Pond which had been filled in as part of a land reclamation scheme. These additional sites were required for the number of Southern Region engines that Woodham’s began to purchase from mid-1964.

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During 1965, 65 locomotives arrived at the Barry scrapyard, however, in the first six-month period 28 engines were dismantled but cutting virtually ceased from the autumn onwards as the scrap men concentrated instead on breaking up yet more freight wagons and brake vans. Dai found these easier to dismantle than the old steam engines. He continued to purchase further locomotives until the end of steam in 1968 with many of the later deliveries being of the BR Standard designs.

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Altogether from 1959 until 1968, Woodham’s bought 297 locomotives, however by August 1968 only 217 remained at the Barry scrapyard. It was at this time that steam locomotive enthusiasts realised the potential that Dai Woodham’s yard presented to them – many classes had already become extinct but the main other source of steam engines for the future was to be this new phenomenon at Barry. The railway preservation boom began.

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There are many preserved lines now across the length and breadth of Britain and most of them owe Dai Woodham and Barry a great debt of gratitude.

10. Glamorgan Wartime Heritage Centre,

This great exhibition is situated at the Barry Island Station. Barry and the surrounding area has a rich and varied heritage that stems back to Roman times and beyond; certainly, the first evidence of Barry`s wartime history is the Roman ‘mansio’, a sort of latter day inn or hotel for Roman officials at the Knapp.

Barry`s war heritage spans to modern times, with the docks being used during the Middle East conflicts of the late 50s and early 60s.

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It is believed that during WW1 the first American troops to land in Britain, embarked at Barry, and during WW2 Barry became an important staging post for US Forces in preparation for the D-Day landings in Normandy………….such is the history of Barry at War.

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The Glamorgan Wartime Heritage Centre located at Barry Island Railway Station is usually open the second Sunday of the month, and Wednesday afternoons (2-4pm, Jan – Nov).

It’s well worth a visit.

Adventure is out there – The Wenvoe Tunnel

Adventure is out there!

Last Sunday I fulfilled a long held dream. For years I had wanted to walk the Wenvoe Tunnel.

This is a large tunnel running underneath Culverhouse Cross in Cardiff.  It is arrow-straight with a single air shaft halfway along.

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This map shows the route of the tunnel. The large buildings in the top left are Marks and Spencer and Tesco at Culverhouse Cross in Cardiff. The black line shows the extent of the tunnel.

The Barry Railway Company started work on the Wenvoe Tunnel in 1888. It was built to create a direct link down to Cadoxton and Barry Docks from the South Wales Valleys. The line was 18½-miles long from Trehafod into the docks in Barry. It is the same line that ran along Walnut Tree Viaduct near Tongwynlais. In 1898 the tunnel was completed and in full use.  It was, and still is, one of the longest tunnels in south Wales at 1867 yards, a shade over 1 mile long.  The tunnel was closed in 1964

Three intrepid explorers set off on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We were glad it was dry and sunny; the tunnel now suffers badly from flooding, with waters reaching a depth of four feet after heavy rainfall. A walk through in winter is not recommended.

Access to the tunnel is reached from Marks and Spencer car park at Culverhouse Cross Retail Park and we parked our car in the car park, actually just behind Tesco and headed off through some thick undergrowth and then down a steep bank.

 

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We then crossed over a fence and a small field and found ourselves in a pleasant meadow where grass and clover grew in abundance. We followed a winding path.  After less than five minutes we found our absolute hidden gem. Situated near one of the busiest road junctions in Wales is the mysterious entrance to the long disused tunnel.

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It was magical! We stood at the brim of a deep, oval cutting, the northern portal somewhere below.  A slippery slope led down to the flooded cutting and the old track bed, silent now for almost fifty years. Bright green weeds and algae were thriving in the still water.  One step in the mud and my legs almost disappeared from my knee down.

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We knew from other explorers that the fence was completely sound other than a missing spike above the lock, but one of the fence slats to the left of the gate is loose, and can be rotated around and we squeezed through with only a minimum of embarrassment.

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The excitement was almost unbearable. The tunnel is dead straight (with a gradual ascent from the north portal).  It is wide too, and in its day carried double track all the way. We entered excitedly, led by Gaz.

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Immediately you could see the south portal 1867 yards away just a tine chink of light. We could hear water dripping; otherwise all was silent in the magical world of The Wenvoe Tunnel.

 

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Walking through the tunnel was quite easy as a large water main runs the length of the tunnel and makes an excellent causeway to keep out of the damp.  The main supplies the town of Barry with its water.

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Except for the very southernmost portion of the tunnel, both walls and roof are neatly lined in brick.  There are no bulges, cave-ins or repairs evident.  The most striking features are the calcite and rust deposits that have formed on the walls; some are truly amazing.

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We made our way through stopping often to take photographs and be amazed at some of the sights there. We saw curtain stalactites forming on the curved walls, jet-black secretions and thick rust build-up, and some portions of the wall are completely encased in calcite.

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Along the edge of the tunnel are markers, each one marking the old measurement of chains. At the 46-chain mark, we came across a huge airshaft, which dominates the tunnel.

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It’s massive, almost the entire width of the tunnel.  Enough light spills down it to be able to turn all torches off whilst nearby, and directly below it a huge pile of assorted junk has built up.  We stopped here, amazed at what we saw. When I was young we used to look at the top, which used to stand near the Old Culverhouse Cross Roundabout near the old caravan park, but to be at the bottom and in the middle of the tunnel was magical.

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We pressed on and as we neared the southern end we noticed that our voices had begun to echo much less and we saw that the tunnel was not brick lined here but natural stone. The tunnel builders must have had to blow their way through the rock here. We guessed we were nearing the site of The Wenvoe Quarry. As we neared the end we saw that it again was brick lined.

An interesting and little known fact is that Royalty often spent the night in the tunnel if the royal train was in the area! During the Second World War especially, if the King and Queen were on a visit to the area in an effort to keep them safe in case of air raids during the night, the Royal Train was run into the tunnel and remained there until the morning. Guarding it was relatively easy, although they would have had to stop coal trains using it during that time.

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Looking back down the tunnel from the south portal.

 

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We stayed for a few minutes for a photo shoot before the long journey back along the pipe to the northern portal. The journey back seemed shorter although no less fascinating.

We reached our starting point tired but exhilarated. Gaz, Muzzy and I felt our expedition had been a great success

 

What a journey, what a thrill! The only thing missing was the thunder of a steam train thundering through with its precious cargo of black gold, but then somehow the magic, which came with the desolation and silence, might not have been there.

One story from the past is recorded:

I used to know an elderly gentleman who’d grown up in the 1920s in Ebbw Vale, and whose father was friendly with one of the signalmen who manned the Drope signal box near The Wenvoe Tunnel. On one visit he was able to walk into the tunnel and stand in one of the safety recesses in the wall while a locomotive thundered past. It was, he said, both the most exciting and the most frightening thing he’d ever done!

I hope this forgotten gem remains untouched and available for generations to come.Image

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