The first time I visited Llangollen (by car), you could still catch a train there and head east to Chester or Shrewsbury.
Those days have long gone: the Beeching Axe fell in these parts at the beginning of 1965. Freight trains from Ruabon continued to serve Llangollen Goods Yard until 1968, after which the track was quickly lifted all the way to Barmouth on the west coast of Wales.
A group of enthusiasts leased Llangollen Station and three miles of trackbed westwards, and when the station reopened to the public in 1975 sixty feet of track had been reinstated.
Subsequent developments were not unlike saving up pocket money to buy more track for a train set: Shell Oil offered a mile of redundant track, which enabled the Llangollen Railway Trust to lay three-quarters of mile to Pentrefelin and use the rest to construct sidings for the accumulating quantity of rolling stock.
Thereafter, once the Dee Bridge had been refurbished by the local council, the route steadily grew in length – firstly 1¾ miles to Berwyn (March 1986), then Deeside Halt (1990), Glyndyfrdwy (1993) and eventually Carrog, 7½ miles from Llangollen (1996).
Development has been slowed by a succession of misfortunes. The Llangollen Railway PLC experienced financial difficulties, not helped by the pandemic lockdowns, and went into receivership in March 2021. Services were taken over and resumed by the Llangollen Railway Trust from July 2021.
In recent years, the track has been reinstated to Corwen, ten miles from Llangollen, and a brand new Corwen Central station opened in June 2023 to replace the unusable original, so that services can resume to a commercially worthwhile destination: Llangollen Railway | Heritage Train Rides in the United Kingdom (llangollen-railway.co.uk).
The ride up and down the beautiful Dee Valley is a restful experience, whether on a 1950s diesel railcar or on a loco-hauled train which may include an observation car. There are refreshment rooms at Llangollen, Berwyn and Carrog.
While I savour the experience that a generation of enthusiasts has worked to recreate over decades between Llangollen and Corwen I can’t help regretting what was lost in the 1960s.
The Ordnance Survey map shows mile after mile of “dismantled railway” stretching through beautiful Welsh countryside between Ruabon and Morfa Mawddach, the junction for Barmouth.
Ten miles of trackbed is available to walkers on the Mawddach Trail between Dolgellau and Morfa Mawddach and the Bala Lake Railway runs narrow-gauge trains over a 4½-mile lakeside stretch but, because of the sacrifice of small sections to road improvements and building developments, the rest of the line is rendered useless and inaccessible.
It took only seven years to build this line as a commercial undertaking in the 1860s and even less time to dismantle it for scrap a century later. Safeguarding its integrity as an amenity would have been a simple administrative matter.
There was no way of computing social and environmental benefits in the 1960s, and we are the poorer for it.