Wings and Wheels Society.

A visit to Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway 21-5-2023.

Fellow Wings and Wheels Society members Rob, Rich, and Mike Smith, that we linked up with on the day, visited the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway, at approx 1400ft above sea level, for a special visiting engine from Preston, Furness Railway No20, built in 1863 by Sharp, Stewart and Co. The engine is the oldest UK standard gauge original locomotive now back in steam at 160 years old, yes that's correct, it's that old! This was my fourth visit to this excellent, friendly, heritage 3.5 mile long Railway, and I've never seen it on such a clear sunny warm day before, it was amazingly bright at such an altitude. But unknown to us later on the evening before our visit, having checked the railways web site early evening all was well with our plans! However the bad news to come was put up on the internet later in the evening when withdrawal of the loco No20 was confirmed, but at this point we were down the pub etc having happy days, and not looking at the internet either. So near the end of its first day of No20's operation on Saturday it developed a piston fault, the trustee,engineers, that stay with the engine on its travels tried to rectify this for Sundays roster and subsequent coal train days etc, but in the evening they found that their worst fears had come true, the end of one of its cylinders had a catastrophic failure with internal damage (see photos). So the above failure wasn't known to us and others until turning up on Sunday, and we must say that the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway really looked after us well and gave us a private shed tour and access to photograph No20 and chat to its crew, also they positioned No20 in a good place so you could get some good pictures before it was moved back to Preston for repair, so all was not lost. On Sunday in steam was recently restored NCB tank engine No1857 that provided us with lots of thrash and a good all round trip, dropping Mike off at the Big Pit for his visit down the mine. Meanwhile Rob and I finished our steep incline rides up and down the line, chatting to an old fellow Class 33 Diesel Basher in the process! So after all the excitement we planned to visit the Big Pit Museum and got ourselves booked on the final tour down into the bowels of the earth! Well what an experience it was and well worth it, having yet another private visit again! As it was just Me/Rob and a Miner as our guide. So we togged up with safety kit (and handed in all electronic devices to not make any sparks below) and went down in the winding lift cage to the first stop at 300ft underground in the rich coal seam. From this point the mine zig zags downwards 100's of feet deeper underground and has a total of 26 miles of tunnelling but some of this is flooded nowadays. We stared along one tunnel into the "Heart of Darkness" we were told this was 8 miles in length, our tour was about 50 minutes long, and at one point we turned our lamps out to see how pitch dark, darkness really is! We also saw the underground pit pony stables, the ponies, pre nationalisation, had a one way trip underground never seeing the light of day again in most cases. Also we were shown where, in the earlier days, pit children would be positioned in the mine to operate the underground vent doors to keep the airflow through the mine constant and safe, often doing a 12 hour shift with their father who would be hacking out a narrow seem of coal deep in the mine. On getting back up to the top of the mine shaft our eyes adjusted to the bright sunny day, we said our thanks to the Big Pit volunteers and museum staff for making our visit a special one. A great day out that we won't forget, many thanks to the Railway and the Big Pit Folks for a great day out. Cheers from Rob, Rich, and Mike.

Copyright of all pictures in this gallery belong to R Kelsey.