The days of rail travel continue to hold a fascination for people across the world, and none more so than the age of steam.

Enthusiast and author Michael Clemens has tapped into this with his latest release, The Last Years of Steam Around North Wales, which contains a stunning collection of photos and information.

The 70-year-old said: "I was very lucky as a child and from a very early age would generally travel with my late father - C.N. ‘Jim’ Clemens 1922-1987 - on his journeys to record the railway network of Britain, from Penzance to the north of Scotland (as long as it did not conflict with school).

"A result over the years was that I also met his railway friends, and all the photographs in this book are taken by one of these old pals - R.E. James-Robertson.

"Robert Ellis James-Robertson - but always known to my father and me as Ellis - lived in Worcestershire from the mid-1950s until his death in April 2015.

"However, Ellis was born on July 8, 1922 and grew up in Swansea, moving at the age of 11 with his family to Pen-y-Bryn, Edern, Pwllheli, North Wales, and thus very well placed to photograph the railway scene revealed to us throughout this latest book."

Here Michael, who continues to visit North Wales regularly since first coming as a boy in 1955, shares a few highlights from across the region...


Ruabon. Image courtesy of Michael Clemens

Ruabon. Image courtesy of Michael Clemens


• A trip the author and his father in addition to Ellis travelled on was the SLS (Midland Area) ‘Last Passenger Train to Blaenau Festiniog’ that ran on Sunday, January 22 1961.

The tour started from here at Ruabon with pannier tanks Nos 4645 plus 8791, and the weather was foul.

Nearly 50 miles of single track and numerous signal boxes had to be specially opened for this double-headed special, and this was reflected in the cost of 17s 6d (8s 9d for the author aged nine using this ticket).


Ruabon. Image courtesy of Michael Clemens

Ruabon. Image courtesy of Michael Clemens


Despite being a Sunday, connections were made with service trains from both the Chester and Birmingham directions.

The nominally independent companies striking west of Ruabon (all worked by the GWR) - the Vale of Llangollen, the Llangollen & Corwen, the Corwen & Bala, and the Bala & Dolgelly - were able to get running powers through to Barmouth over the CR and it was all open throughout to the coast by the summer of 1869.

All four were eventually absorbed into the GWR and it provided that company with a means of competing against the LNWR (via Bangor and Afon Wen) from Merseyside.

The GWR were also able to siphon off most traffic from the coast north of Aberdovey away from the CR’s Whitchurch line, and hence even more trade taken from the LNWR.


Berwyn Halt to the west of Llangollen. Image courtesy of Michael Clemens

Berwyn Halt to the west of Llangollen. Image courtesy of Michael Clemens


• A very photogenic location, this is Berwyn Halt to the west of Llangollen. On the left is the River Dee and to the far right is the main A5 Holyhead road; these two, plus a minor road and the railway all confined together in a narrow valley.

No. 75020 is pulling away towards Corwen on September 8, 1963 with the 1.35pm through train from Chester to Barmouth.

Berwyn was demoted to ‘Halt’ status in 1954 and the railway closed totally at the end of 1964. But the line through Berwyn has been restored to working order by the heritage Llangollen Railway; they have also rebuilt the cantilevered platform extension (removed in the late 1950s) that used to be attached to the right side of the viaduct.


Dinorwic Slate Railway. Images courtesy of Michael Clemens

Dinorwic Slate Railway. Images courtesy of Michael Clemens


• Much of the steam locomotive fleet at Dinorwic Slate Railway was made up of four-wheeled locomotives with outside cylinders from the Hunslet Engine Co. of Leeds, the bulk to one basic design.

Unlike at Penrhyn, Dinorwic did not purchase many second-hand locomotives. Another difference from Penrhyn was additional boilers were purchased when heavy repairs were required.

The names of locomotives came from members of the Assheton-Smith family, their homes, their racehorses, their ships, and geographical locations.

The engines were identified by their names and George B (there had been a George in earlier years) plus another unidentified locomotive are believed seen in the late summer of 1961.


Along the along the Padarn Railway. Images courtesy of Michael Clemens

Along the along the Padarn Railway. Images courtesy of Michael Clemens


• The precise date is known for these three photographs along the Padarn Railway, it is Friday, September 1, 1961, the last train ran on October 27, 1961, and it officially closed on November 3, 1961.

The first shows a well loaded slate train from the road bridge at Pen-y-Llyn heading for Pens-Coins with Amalthæa at its head (this photograph was published in the February 1962 edition of Railway Magazine).

Amalthæa was the only 4ft.-gauge locomotive at work during Ellis’s visits. Until 1870 there was a level crossing at Pen-y-Llyn. To the left was once location of a corrugated iron shed that housed four carriages for the Workmen’s Train.

The second view is a mixture of empty slate and loaded coal wagons making their way back to Gilfach-Ddu, and again the bridge this is taken from was once a level crossing. A dog looks to be swimming in the Afon Rhythallt and has caught the guard’s attention.

Ahead of Amalthæa to the right are the remains of Pont-Rhythallt station, it had produced the most custom for the Workmen’s Trains. Barely visible even further ahead, the terraced housing marks the location of stables from the horse-worked early days.

The footbridge in the final photograph is just south of Bethel, Boyd was unable to find a reason for building so substantial a structure; it still exists today.


Llanberis branch. Image courtesy of Michael Clemens

Llanberis branch. Image courtesy of Michael Clemens


• Between Cwm-y-Glo and Llanberis the railway reaches Llyn Padarn and, for the short distance in this photograph, runs on an embankment with water on each side.

Although regular passenger services had ceased in 1930, excursion trains ran during the summer months, also, an all-year-round Saturdays-only market service was introduced in the mid-1930s until the Second World War.

The summer excursion service resumed after the Second World War in 1946 (but not the Saturday market service) and in the 1950s it even acquired a name, ‘The Snowdonian’.

The date this photograph was taken is believed to be August 30, 1961, and an unidentified LMS 2-6-4T is making its way back from Llanberis with ‘The Snowdonian’ made up of eight coaches.

The Padarn Railway ran along an embankment just above the waterline on the opposite side of Llyn Padarn, and in the distance cut into the mountainside is evidence of slate quarrying.


Harlech station. Image courtesy of Michael Clemens

Harlech station. Image courtesy of Michael Clemens


• A view of Harlech station plus its environs taken from Harlech Castle and dating from the spring of 1963.

Just pulling away is an unidentified 82xxx Class 3 2-6-2T with a long Barmouth-bound freight train that looks to be made up of two separate services each with their own brake van.

It is difficult to be 100 per cent certain at this distance but, it does appear the lamp code on the locomotive indicates this is a partially fitted freight service, in the middle of which are gunpowder vans from Cooke’s Explosives works at Penrhyndeudraeth.

When opened in 1867 there was a passing loop at Harlech but with only one platform on the down side, after the Grouping the GWR built a second on the up side.

The playing fields to the left are those of Ysgol Ardudwy, a secondary school that even today generates a considerable amount of business for the railway.

The open land above the playing fields is now a housing estate, and much of the goods yard area is nowadays occupied by a small industrial estate plus the Ysgol Tanycastell primary school.


The Last Years of Steam Around North Wales, by Michael Clemens

The Last Years of Steam Around North Wales, by Michael Clemens


• The Last Years of Steam Around North Wales, by Michael Clemens, is priced at £18, and available from most good book retailers.

In the 1950s and 60s, Michael and his late father lived in Worcestershire, but travelled all over Britain, filming many now long-closed railways and the steam locomotives that worked on them.

The film collection, the largest of its kind in the UK, has been released by the author on 40 videos starting in the 1990s.

Visit for more railway memorabilia.