Having survived the descent of Golfa Bank we arrived into Raven Square station on the edge of Welshpool. The line originally ran through the centre of Welshpool to meet up with the main line, but this extension was closed when the railway was originally shut by BR and no longer exists. Having seen photos I would think that it would also contravene goodness knows how many health and safety laws!
Once uncoupled from the carriages I reversed the engine under the water tower so the water we had boiled off during the outward journey could be replenished, and then there was another round of lubricating moving parts before we had a brief tea break (to replace the water we had sweated out during the outward journey). Once the tea break was over Bryony changed the points and signals to allow me to couple up to the other end of the carriages and once everyone was aboard we set off back up Golfa Bank.
Going up Golfa Bank is much easier than coming down, and it is the one place on the railway where you can really appreciate the power of the engine. You climb a short distance to an access road where you have to slow to 5mph, and then you open the regulator, fully. It takes a few seconds before the power becomes apparent but suddenly that distinctive noise of a steam engine working hard appears, smoke billows from the chimney and you feel the acceleration. It was brilliant!
All too soon we were pulling into the terminus at Llanfair Caereinion, and I had to stop the engine one last time. Given the length of the train and the positioning of the points you have to stop in just the right place otherwise you can't move the engine to the other end of the train. Fortunately there is a painted white mark on the platform and the trick is to stop the train with the line between the engine and the carriages. Having spent nearly three hours driving the engine I was better at stopping than I had been to start with but I wasn't particularly confident of getting it right. I slowed as I approached the platform and kept applying the vacuum brake in short bursts until I came to a dead stop with the white line just behind the cab of the engine. It wasn't until I stepped off the footplate that I realized how close to perfect I'd managed to line things up -- you can see the final position in the right hand photo above. Now I'm sure they were just being nice to me, but the station manager did mention that they had been examining some trainee drivers the previous week and not all of them had managed to stop as accurately against the line -- I call it a fluke or beginners luck. I certainly doubt I could repeat the feat! Once stopped there was time for a final photo.
I honestly can't remember the last time I had such a fun afternoon. Part of the enjoyment came from the friendly nature of everyone I met at the railway and I'd like to say thank you again to all of them. From the lady running the tea shop, to the kids shoveling coal as well as the driver, fireman, guard and station manager everyone made us both feel really welcome and ensured that I had a wonderful afternoon.
If you are ever in the area go have a relaxing ride along a wonderfully scenic railway, or if you prefer book yourself on a driver experience course and have an unforgettable afternoon.