Britain IH Trip Day 2

Day 2 of my trip saw me visit the Great Orme Mines. This is a self guided tour through Bronze Age mine workings, only discovered because the area in question was due to be redeveloped as a car park 🙁

The passages in the mine are small, given their age this is to be expected, but the displays are good and explain the process well.

Nearby in the town of Llandudno is the Great Orme Tramway. I found free parking near the base terminus in Llandudno and took the tram to the summit. The tramway is cable hauled and in two sections with the control point and change over from the lower tram to the upper tram located at the Half Way station.

The tram climbs steeply right from the word go as it navigates the streets of Llandudno. At road junctions, the tram signals used to indicate whether or not the tram has permission to cross are identical to those in use on the Luas in Dublin.

Adjacent to the Summit station is the Summit Centre which is a tourist venture that could be found in any seaside resort, selling food and knick knacks.

The final port of call of the day was at the Conwy Valley railway museum. This site, which is located adjacent to Betws y Coed station, has both a small museum of railway artefacts (including a GNR(I) sign) and model railway displays. They also have a passenger carrying miniature railway and an electric tram (the latter is currently out of use due to storm damage).

Whilst traveling on the miniature railway, there was something of a minor incident when a young boy on board with his family decided to hop off the train whilst it was in motion. The driver brought the train to a complete stop whilst the boy’s embarrassed mother made him apologise to the driver for his behaviour!

I overnight in Telford before my final day visiting tomorrow as I make my way to Birmingham.

Britain IH Trip Day 1

First day of another IH roadtrip to Britain (before BREXIT kicks in and all that). This time, I took a red eye ferry to Holyhead (d. Dublin 0155, arrive Holyhead 0530). As it is an overnight, I booked a cabin on the ferry. This was more spacious that I had expected and was complete with own toilet/shower/whb.

I was woken by a cabin announcement that we would shortly be docking in Holyhead, so I left my cabin and made my way back to the reception desk to pick up my car keys.

First stop in Wales was at Blaenau Ffestiniog for breakfast. As I had a couple​ of hours to kill, I set my alarm and went for a snooze in the car.

I arrived at Llechwedd Slate Cavern about 0845 for the 0930 tour. After wandering around above ground for a while, I headed down to the Deep Mine Tour entrance. The Deep Mine Tour takes visitors into the mine by means of an inclined railway, which drops visitors off at an intermediate level. The tour through the mine is done well with audiovisual projections of historic characters onto the rock face in each chamber.

The tour is taken down to a lower level within the mine via 61 steps. The final point in the tour is adjacent to a flooded stope, where the water table is visible and the mine operators have developed a spectacular audiovisual presentation that is projected onto the rock above the water level which, with the echo in the chamber, makes for an impressive experience. The underground tour ends back at the carriage on the incline which is brought down to the lower level to allow for exit at the end of the underground experience.

Above ground the tour ends with a visit to the slate workshop where our guide (Catherine) showed us how slate was split.

For £10, a visit to Llechwedd Deep Mine Tour is definitely worth it.

My second trip of the day was to the nearby Festiniog Railway.* This is a preserved railway which took over the derelict Festiniog Railway Company and restored the line. As there was no provision in the company’s Act of Parliament to abandon the railway, the original company (formed in 1832) remains as the owner of the line, with this owned by the Ffestiniog Railway Trust. There is an Irish connection to Festiniog railway in that the majority of the investors in the company were Irish and the registered office of the company was 41 Dame Street, Dublin.

*The 1832 Act of Parliament setting up the company gave it the title “Festiniog Railway” (one ‘f’) whereas the town name has two ‘f’s.

Mapping Ireland’s Industrial Heritage

In the era of Googlemaps, there are various sites where others have drawn the former railway lines of Ireland as an overlay to Googlemaps, thereby creating a historic railway map of Ireland.

Such sites have their merit, however, as they use Google as their basemap and host for whatever mapping data they produce, this leaves such sites potentially exposed if Google withdraws the facility or introduces a charging regime if the advertising model that Google relies on fails.

As such, I decided to take a different route and acquire sufficient out of copyright OS maps and create my own base map. This has taken some time but I finally have a first draft of this.

Ireland Railway Map
Map of current and former railway lines in Ireland. Copyright Ewan Duffy 2017


In addition to the advantage of not relying on third parties for a base map, I can add additional features such as canals, mills, lighthouse etc. – in fact, any IH location can be added once a grid reference is determined.

It is my intention to make this the bedrock of this site going forward.

Chinese replica of the Titanic

At what point does it look like whinging? A Chinese theme park’s plans to include a full size replica of the Titanic has “relatives” of those who died on the original Titanic in 1912 upset.

At this remove from the original event, it is safe to say that there is no-one alive who remembered anyone who died on the Titanic, nor are there any survivors of the Titanic left alive. As such, the emoting (as reported by the BBC) that this is inappropriate is just whinging.

I remain with Jeremy Paxman in holding the view that they should have called it the Iceberg Quarter as without the iceberg, very few people would have heard of the Titanic.

Benson Report 1963

In Britain, they had Beeching, in Northern Ireland, they had Benson.

In 1963, the NI Government hired an accountant – Henry Benson – to carry out a review of the railway network in Northern Ireland to justify closing it down. Benson delivered and his recommendations would have left a Protestant railway for a Protestant people, with only the cross border line from Dublin, Belfast to Larne and Belfast to Bangor left open – none of which would be connected to the other. Conveniently, this arrangement would have left the railways primarily serving the Protestant areas of Northern Ireland only.

Benson Report Railways to remain
Benson Report Railways to remain

His recommendations were not fully acted on and the railway line to Derry was spared the axe (and remains to this day) along with the lines from Coleraine to Portrush, Bleach Green Junction to Antrim and the Lisburn to Antrim line (albeit temporarily closed). In addition, the lines in Belfast were joined up in two stages with the Bangor line reconnected to the Dublin line in 1976 and the Larne line being connected to both in Belfast in 1995.

NIR network 2017
NIR network 2017


Sometimes, the accountants lose!

The power of data

I have spent a lot of time recently on two projects, one of which is updating Access databases that hold all of my information in relation to Ireland’s industrial heritage. As part of this process, I broke all public railway lines known to have operated on the island of Ireland in date defined sections with the opening and closing date being the unique identifier. This dataset has allowed me to do a number of things, including using mapping software in my possession to generate a railway map of Ireland for any year 1834 to date quickly and reliably.

It also allowed me to determine the maximum extent of railways in Ireland (peaking at 3,450 miles in 1920) before decline set it.Length of Railways in Ireland by year

Length of Railways in Ireland by year

It has also corrected a misapprehension that I had in relation to the pace of line closures. Prior to carrying out this analysis, if I had been asked when was the peak year for closures of railway line in Ireland, I’d have answered 1963, based on nothing more than a personal belief built up over years of reading Irish railway history. It is also wrong. The peak year for railway closures on the island of Ireland was 1959 when some 335 miles (almost 10% of the railways to have ever operated) were closed.