Freedom of Wales in June 1961

IMG_4743 (1)During this week 59 years ago my late father, Trefor David, embarked on a remarkable week-long tour of Wales from his home near Cheltenham Spa, using a Freedom of Wales ticket that cost him £5 and an Area 9 Runabout ticket, giving unlimited travel between Cheltenham, Newport and Hereford, for 25/- (£1.25).

Just as I have done on more recent rail travels around the UK and Europe, he kept a written record and a photo album of his journeys, most of which were by steam, and covering many routes that would very soon succumb to closure.

In transcribing his diary and scanning some of his photos it is interesting to see how many of the lines he travelled closed well before the infamous Beeching Report was published in March 1963, with the last day of the previous year (31 December 1962) looking like a particularly bleak day for the Principality’s railway network.

This is a record of a week spent on the railways of Wales in June 1961, when the objective was to travel over some of the railway byways while steam was still supreme. It was something of a farewell, and within three or four years many of the lines would be closed to all forms of traction.

Top photo: 2MT 2-6-0 46503 at Three Cocks Jn. on 9 June 1961 with the 9.02 from Hereford


IMG_47034MT 2-6-0 6341 at Cheltenham Spa (St. James) on 3 June 1961 with the 6.43am to Cardiff

The first of three separate expeditions began on Saturday, 3 June 1961 and involved travel on the 6.43am service from Cheltenham Spa (St. James) to Cardiff (General), a 3-car DMU from Cardiff to Neath then the 11.25 (SO) service from Neath (Riverside) to Brecon – a line with a minimal service.IMG_4754Class 3F 0-6-0PT 8766 at Neath (Riverside) on 3 June 1961 with the 11.25 (SO) to Brecon 

*Cheltenham Spa (St. James) closed on 3 January 1966; Neath Riverside-Brecon closed on 15 October 1962

This was followed by a trip over the Brecon & Merthyr on the 2.05pm from Brecon and alighting at Dowlais Top. The closed station at Dowlais (Central) and the sheds at Cae Harris and Merthyr were later visited on foot.IMG_4706Brecon station looking west on 3 June 1961 with Class 5700 0-6-0PT 3694

*Dowlais (Central)-Pant had closed on 6 May 1960;  Brecon-Dowlais Top closed to passengers on 31 December 1962

IMG_4816A view of Dowlais (Central) on 3 June 1961, just over a year after its closure to passengers 

Departure from Merthyr was on the 5.40pm to Abernant, and unusual formation consisting of 0-6-2T 5624 and one auto-trailer. From Abernant there was more footwork to Aberdare for a shed visit and then lodgings at the Black Lion pub.

*Merthyr-Abernant closed to passengers on 31 December 1962 

Saturday night in South Wales was necessary in order to catch the 11.03 Pontypridd to Barry via Wenvoe, a line used on Sundays only. The train consisted of 0-6-2T 6652 and seven non-corridor coaches, making a pleasant contrast to the DMUs already in operation on most valley services.

*Pontypridd-Barry via Wenvoe closed to passengers on 10 September 1962

At Barry there were the first 19 locomotives to be dumped in Dai Woodham’s yard. These included four 55xx class 2-6-2T locomotives, withdrawn after their short-lived workings on some of the Cardiff valleys services, and 0-6-0Ts 9491/2/9, only built in 1954/5.

IMG_4731 Trefor noted a total of ten locomotives at Pantyffynnon shed on the afternoon of 7 June 1961: 1615/51; 3713; 4279; 5247/8; 7718/65/85; 8785

This first expedition ended with a visit to Llantrisant by rail from Cardiff General and a visit to Tondu by bus. The 2.25pm from Cardiff to Llantrisant consisted of 2-6-2T 5188 and seven non-corridor coaches, but the 5.15pm from Bridgend to Cheltenham Spa (St. James) consisted of three 3-car DMUs.


IMG_47473MT Class 2251 0-6-0 2218 at Newport on 9 June 1961 with the 6.55pm to Brecon

The second part of the tour was a four-day trip to North and West Wales. On Monday, 5 June 1961 I again travelled to South Wales on the 6.43am from Cheltenham Spa (St. James) as far as Newport (High Street).

From Newport to Shrewsbury my train was hauled by 6028 “King George VI”, displaced from the West of England and working out of Canton shed. A 12-minute late departure from Hereford was transformed into a 4-minute early arrival at Shrewsbury.

My plan was to travel via Gobowen, Oswestry and Llanymynech to traverse the Llanfyllin branch. Alas, I alighted at Llanymynech to catch the branch train without realising that my own train worked through!

IMG_47143MT Class 2251 0-6-0 2294 awaits its next turn at Machynlleth shed on 5 June 1961

So Llanfyllin was not visited that day – or ever- by train. The consolation was an earlier train and shed visit at Machynlleth, before finding a bed at Barmouth.IMG_4716Class 7400 0-6-0PT 7405 at Barmouth on 5 June 1961 with the 5.48pm to Dolgellau

*Gobowen-Oswestry closed to passengers 7 November 1966; Oswestry-Llanymynech-Welshpool closed to passengers on 18 January 1965      

IMG_4755Standard Class 3MT 82033 with a freight train at Afon Wen on 6 June 1961

There then followed (Tuesday, 6 June 1961) a circular tour via Afon Wen, the North Wales Main Line and Chester to Barmouth. Shed visits were made at Bangor, Llandudno Junction and Rhyl, with Afon Wen to Bangor being covered by 2-car DMU, which partly explained a line of 2-6-2Ts dumped at Llandudno Junction.IMG_47177P ‘Royal Scot’ 4-6-0 46163 “Civil Service Rifleman” at Bangor on 6 June 1961 

*Afon Wen-Caernarfon closed on 7 December 1964; Caernarfon-Bangor closed to passengers on 5 January 1970

My train engine from Chester to Barmouth was 6357 with driver John Williams of Croes Newydd shed, who I photographed with his loco at Corwen (photo below).IMG_4746Driver John Williams attends to his loco, 4MT 2-6-0 6357, at Corwen on 6 June 1961 while working the 5.55pm Chester (General)-Barmouth

When I later sent him the photograph I got a got a nice letter in return and was told “You should have told me that you were interested – you could have come down on the engine!” Lodgings were again in Barmouth.

*Ruabon to Barmouth Junction (Morfa Mawddach) closed on 14 December 1964

My third leg of this expedition (Wednesday, 7 June 1961) was planned to cover the lengthy stretch from Aberystwyth to Carmarthen, followed by the twice-daily service from Llanelli to Pantyffynnon and back by the LNWR route to Swansea (Victoria).IMG_4724A first highlight of the day was the sight of an immaculate 7803 “Barcote Manor” at Dovey Junction on the up Cambrian Coast Express (photo above).IMG_47303F Class 5700 0-6-0PT 3719 at Llanelli on 7 June 1961 with the 4.50pm to Pantyffynnon

Shed visits were of the minor variety – Burry Port and Pantyffynnon, followed by Swansea East Dock and Upper Bank during an evening spent in Swansea.

*Aberystwyth-Carmarthen closed to passengers on 22 February 1965; Pontardulais-Swansea (Victoria) closed on 15 June 1964 

IMG_47356MT 4-6-0 1020 “County of Monmouth” receives attention at Neyland shed on 8 June 1961, together with 5MT 4-6-0 6833 “Calcot Grange” and 1019 “County of Merioneth” 

The final leg of this expedition (Thursday, 8 June 1961) involved the 8.00am from Swansea to Neyland; Neyland-Johnston-Milford Haven, then main line back to Newport and an unauthorised trip via Bristol (Temple Meads) back to Cheltenham Spa (Lansdown). Shed visits comprised Neyland, Milford Haven and Whitland.

*Neyland-Johnston closed to passengers on 15 June 1964


My third and final safari (Friday, 9 June 1961) started, like the previous two, on the 6.43am from Cheltenham Spa (St. James). On this occasion I alighted at Gloucester (Central) and took the 7.10am train to Hereford, followed by a memorable journey to Three Cocks Junction.

IMG_47512MT 2-6-0 46526 at Erwood (between Builth Wells and Three Cocks Jn.) on 9 June 1961

I then travelled on to Builth Road, returning to Talyllyn Junction and continuing to Fochriw. Alas, I was not able to include the section from Builth Road to Moat Lane Junction.

IMG_48222MT 2-6-0 46518 at Three Cocks Jn. on 9 June 1961 with the 10.25 Brecon-Hereford

From Fochriw I walked to Rhymney to visit the shed and later catch a DMU to Cardiff Queen Street. I then made a quick trip to Radyr and later another from Newport to Pontypool Road, before finally returning to Cheltenham on the 8.37pm from Newport.

IMG_4748An immaculate 7P Castle Class 4-6-0 5061 “Earl of Birkenhead” departs Newport on 9 June 1961 with the 5.25pm (FO) service from London Paddington to Swansea

Over the course of the week I had travelled a total of 1412¾ miles, of which 1084¼ had been steam-hauled.

*Gloucester Central-Hereford closed on 2 November 1964; Hereford-Three Cocks Junction-Builth Road-Talyllyn Junction-Fochriw all closed on 31 December 1962

Photo below shows 3MT Class 2252 0-6-0 3213 coming off Barmouth Bridge on 5 June 1961 with the 5.40pm Machynlleth-Pwllheli


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