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  • Writer's pictureThe Rail Holiday Maker

Saving Wales

Updated: Jul 5, 2020

“My life changed in 1974 when I woke up an alcoholic.”

The older chap had boarded the Llangollen Steam Railway in Llangollen for our short afternoon trip to Carrog. He had never travelled on a heritage railway, but his friend is a member of the railway society and had given him a ticket.

The unassuming middle-aged woman, clearly a stranger but an enthusiastic regular of the line, had suggested that he take a seat on the right hand side for the views and towards the front of this front carriage to feel the power of the loco. They had started to talk.

The gentleman’s conversation turned to how he dealt with his alcoholism by finding the “Lord Jesus Christ”, followed by a long monologue featuring words like “sins”, “repent” and “meeting your maker”.

“My life changed with Thomas the Tank Engine,” the woman eventually replied. “Didn’t we all have our lives changed by Thomas the Tank Engine?”


It was a short response from the born again to a subject that wasn’t about him and his incredible journey away from the demon booze, accompanied by “the Lord Jesus Christ”.

The reformed alcoholic’s phone rang. It was his wife.

“I’ve just met a young lady called Polly. She is a sinner…….”

At the end of the phone call Polly diplomatically suggested that she had dealt with her bad sins her own way and that she would keep her not so bad sins, such as chocolate.

“When you aren’t working on the railway, what do you do?” asked the pious pensioner.

“I don’t work on the railway,” responded Polly.

“Well, when you aren’t volunteering on the railway, what do you do?”

“I’m not a volunteer. I just ride up and down. I’ve just bought some postcards of my beloved Foxcote Manor, number 7822. She is coming home to Llangollen next month. I will do anything for her. I’ve donated money to help her be repainted in Brunswick green,” explained Polly.


I was faced with two evangelists. One had saved himself through faith and there is nothing wrong with that, but with the zealous need to enforce a worldview on the rest of us “sinners”, based upon the superior knowledge of his own salvation. The other had saved herself through a love of steam trains and Foxcote Manor, 7822, in particular. One clearly had no interest in anyone else’s passion. The other worshipped a “false idol”, and worse still, an idol that thundered from the earth, snorting great smoke fuelled from a devilish furnace.

Llangollen is a pretty town in an even prettier spot in the valley of the River Dee and Llangollen Canal. Travelling westwards, leaving Llangollen behind there’s a short stop at Berwyn, with the oldest chain bridge in the world and Horseshoe Falls just a short walk away. The scenery then soon opens up on the right hand side. Next stop is Glyndyfrdwy, nestled between the Llantysilio and Berwyn mountain ranges and entwined with the story of Owain Glyndŵr, who from here announced himself Prince of Wales in 1400 and began a rebellion against English rule. With the extension to Corwen currently closed, journey’s end was the charming Carrog station, where what Polly described as “the matchbox loco” (it’s to do with the oblong shape of the tank) performed its popular stunt of uncoupling, running along the parallel line to reattach itself to the now opposite end of the carriages to perform the same journey in reverse.

The railway isn’t the only attraction here. A couple of miles out of town lies a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. It’s the tallest navigable aqueduct in the world and the longest in the UK, stretching majestically across the Dee Valley. For those comfortable with heights you can walk across the towpath, watching the narrowboats gently nudging across the “stream in the sky” or gazing across the near distance at the next engineering masterpiece, the Traphont Cefn railway viaduct.

As for me, this was a recce ahead of leading a German group around Wales. I would be back with them a month later to worship Polly’s false idol, Foxcote Manor, 7822, a big Great Western loco, a snorting, clanking beautiful beast. No offence to Mr Born Again. I’m glad he dealt with his demons, though it is a bore to be inflicted with someone’s own assumed and possibly unfounded moral superiority. So I stand with Polly on this one.

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