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Fairlie Merddin Emrys

1. Getting to love Fairlies

Me hugging Livingston Thompson in June 2015

My love story with Fairlies has been long in the coming. It was certainly not love at first sight. There are two different aspects: interest and taste. In the case of the Fairlie these where opposite things for a long time. Yes, it was a historically significant type, so yes there was interest. And at the same time no, I found it weird, ungainly if not to say downright ugly.


I never paid much attention to the type in general and the Ffestiniog railways' still operational Fairlies in particular. Frankly, I did not pay much attention to the Welsh little railways at all (oh boy, what confession, I am redder than Merddin Emrys). That began to change when I found out that NGG16s were running on the Welsh Highland Railways and from that moment, being a Garratt addict, I was attracted to North Wales like a moth to a lamp. I visited Wales in 2009. Inevitably I started delving into the history and presence of the other Welsh railways and visited the Ffestiniog Railway while I was in Wales anyway. After all, there was no denying in the historical interest of the line and its Fairlies.


I met a first Fairlie in Blaenau Ffestiniog. That encounter was all but wholehearted nor intent. I passed the town on a daytrip and being there anyway I just could not resist stopping over and visiting its railway station. By sheer coincidence I stumbled upon the noon train:



My very first photo of any Fairlie. David Lloyd George pulling into overcast Blaenau Ffestiniog. 10 June 2009.

When I routinely took a string of 184 photos documenting its arrival, running round, taking water and consequent departure back down to Porthmadog something deep down in me changed. I came to appreciate its colour scheme, its apparent power for its size and the quiet, modest way it worked. It was like a person you've known about for some time and when meeting him for the first time he turns out to be modest but undeniably pleasant company.

I met a Fairlie for the second time in Porthmadog's Harbour Station a few days later. I had been "hunting" Garratt no 87 that day and having some time to spare before the next train through the Aberglaslyn Pass I ventured to Porthmadog.

David Lloyd George at the coal stage in Porthmadog. 13 June 2009.

By this time I had come to appreciate the little brave locos a little more and I really enjoyed the sight of them rolling around Porthmadog Harbour Station.


Merddin Emrys at the same day

I met a third Fairlie in York's National Railway Museum, but Livingston Thompson being displayed in a very obscure part of the great hall amidst far more interesting objects I could devote my time to I made only a few photos.

This loco is a concoction of parts of various other Fairlies. Its frame is Merddin Emrys original 1879 frame, the wheels and rods come from James Spooner.



I would have to wait another two years before my next encounter with a Fairlie. By 2011 my interest had sparked in all earest and I intently visited the Ffestiniog Railway to go and see them.

This photo says it all, one Garratt and three Fairlies in on shot. Where on this planet can you find this?
Boston Lodge works, 27 August 2011.

This time I travelled with the Ffestiniog Railway. The weather was awful. The heavens opened up the moment I shut the carriage door and it didn't stop pouring before I returned. But it was a great trip. Being condemned to the confines of my carriage I was forced to listen more than look to the locomotive. And what a joy it is to hear a Fairlie work hard on the uphill trials of the slippery rails. Especially leaving Tanyblwch was spectacular.

The Earl of Merioneth was the loco on duty.
Porthmadog, 27 August 2011.

I also had another brief encounter with Merddin Emrys when my down train crossed the up at Tanyblwch on the same day

Apart from a second and third meet with the very dead Livingston Thompson at the NRM in York this was the last sighting of a live Fairlie and my interest for the type slumbered for quite some time. By then I knew I wanted to model a Fairlie one day. I had come to like the type despite its odd appearance. In fact I had come to appreciate it. To cite Michael Portillo,


"it is a true engineering feat of the Victorian age,

with its wonderful and ingenious minds put to work

to solve problems that no one so far had dared to address".