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The Moel-y-Faen Tramway. On 15th October 2013, members Mike Hodgson and Richard Lewis made a trip to Llangollen to walk the Moel-y-Faen Tramway. The day started with a drive from their homes in Sheffield to Llangollen, and then to the top of the Horseshoe Pass (Bwlch-yr-Oernant) to have coffee at the Ponderosa Cafe before the walk. The following is Mike's report.

This line appears in the recent Oakwood Press title, Industrial Tramways of he Vale of Llangollen. In outline, the tramway was a slate-carrying line. Slate quarrying, especially of slab, started around the beginning of the 18th century, reaching a peak in about 1871, and is now confined to one quarry, Clogau (at grid reference SJ 185464). A plaque in the lobby of the Ponderosa Café provides the following outline of the story:

'The quarries are first mentioned in a lease of 1802 between the owner, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, and Messrs. Pulford & Houghland. They subsequently passed through the hands of several people and companies:

  • 1807: Mrs. Elizabeth Jones, and Messrs. Farr & Pickering.
  • 1821: John Coward.
  • 1840s: Alexander Reid, owner and partner of the Llangollen Flagstone Company with John Taylor & Sons.
  • 1869: Pentrefelin House, the focus of the Llangollen Flagstone Company, was occupied by Captain Paull and the Llangollen Slab & Slate Company.

'Decline of the Slate Industry. The heyday of slate production came in the latter half of the 19th century. Increased demand for slate was created by the growth of towns: with the introduction oif new building materials in the 19th century, demand for slate fell. From the 1950s, slate production had all but ceased in the Llangollen area. The Clogau Quarry, although going through periods of inaction, was still working on a small scale in 1984.'

Firstly to settle a name, I have always known this line as the Moel-y-Faen Tramway, as it starts at a quarry of the same name (SJ 186478) on the slopes of this mountain, and this name was used when I got to know the line in about 1960. The Oakwood book calls it 'Maesyrichen', a small hamlet below the big incline, while Denbighshire County Council calls it Llantysilio in an informative brochure produced quite recently – I'm not sure why.

The line crosses the A542, and is under the Ponderosa Cafe, appearing on the other side of the car park, and curving west to eventually re-cross this road. We walked this part and retraced our steps. Going back down the Horseshoe, and now going east and south, we parked and climbed steeply to reach the line. Now we made our way back up the trackbed to the the foot of the short incline from Clogau (Berwyn on the leaflet), and retraced our steps all the way to the top of, and then halfway down, the magnificent big incline. The bottom half is very steep, overgrown, and virtually impassable, so we followed a footpath leading back north-west to the road at the Britannia Inn. Apart from a field at the bottom of the big incline, and the embankment in the grounds of a private house as the line nears Pentre Felin, all the trackbed is accessible. At the canal, the lifting bridge, and the gantry over the canal have gone, but the mill is there (now the Motor Museum). Mike Hodgson.

Above: The Moel-y-Faen Tramway below the road just south of the Ponderosa Café. As with old railways in the Forest of Dean, the sheep have made a fine job of keeping the grass trim. This unprepossessing photograph provides little preparation for the scenic delights which follow, so read on! Mike Hodgson. (15th October 2013)

 
Above: A little further south from the picture above, the scenic splendours of the area reveal themselves. As can be seen, this is another one of those old railways which is incredibly flat and boring (joke). The figure in the photograph is Richard Lewis, our correspondent's companion for the day. 15th October 2013. (Mike Hodgson)
 
Above: Richard looks east from the old trackbed, about to take a photograph for his own collection. The road to the right of Richard's head is the A542 while, at the top right of the picture, the other end of the tramway runs to the right of the wood on the skyline. Mike Hodgson. (15th October 2013)
 
Left: Looking north west along the trackbed back towards the Ponderosa Café. The shallow cutting here may not look much, but this will all have been dug out from the rock with picks and spades – no mean undertaking in the days before mechanical diggers. 15th October 2013. (Mike Hodgson)
 
Above: The view from the trackbed over Horseshoe Pass on the A542. Provdied you get the right weather, few old railways or tramways can rival this route for its views. 15th October 2013. (Acknowledgement)
 
Right: This is the short incline below Clogau Quarry. Clearly, few pass this way other than the local sheep, but the impression of the shallow cutting hewn out of the rock is still clearly visible. 15th October 2013. (Mike Hodgson)
 
Above: At this point on a sharp curve to the left, the tramway passes through the site of a small former quarry. The mountainside ledge occupied by the tramway can be seen clearly: all this will have been created articifically by the navvies who built the line. 15th October 2013. (Mike Hodgson)