FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Climbing into the clouds

Posted in Great Western, Nanu-Oya, Sri Lanka by folkestonejack on January 31, 2018

It would have been easy enough to believe that workmen had been hammering nails into the roof all night but I knew full well that it had been the rain. The BBC forecast is one of unmitigated doom for the next seven days – heavy rain, thunderstorms and the works. It was all too credible from what we could see on the ground and the reports in the local press about localised flooding in the Nuwara Eliya area (where we are currently staying). Some of the areas flooded have been experiencing a drought for the past few months, so our timing has been impeccable!

Station sign at Nanu-Oya

An early start ensured that we reached Nanu-Oya nice and early (7.30) and our train departed just a quarter of an hour later, rolling back to the station at Great Western. The name sounds as though it should have a railway connotation, though it actually comes from the nearby mountain. The conditions were also surprisingly good with blue skies and a little sun for our photographic efforts (a failed runpast, runpast and false departure) though things were slowed a little by the need for some impromptu repairs.

The usual pattern of setting off, rolling back and then departing for real continued today to allow us to work around the packed service trains into hill country. In that sense we only really left Great Western just after 10am. Thankfully, our train was not quite so much of a squeeze today with additional seating added to the crew compartment in the form of a station bench from Nanu-Oya (I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw the bench being lifted off the station, across the tracks and into the train!).

Extra seating for the train…. a station bench!

Our run up the line gave us the opportunity to take some photographs from the hillside, standing among the tea plants and looking out over the plantations. One of the spots, in the Kelani Valley Plantation (Glassaugh Estate), offered a stunning view of our train crossing a girder bridge over a waterfall with tea plantations on both sides. It was only a pity that I followed the water drainage channel on the way down rather than the much easier path and staircase! After we were done we headed back to Nanu-Oya, arriving at 1pm.

It’s not hard to see why many think the line is among the world’s most scenic with its views of the mountains, tea plantations and waterfalls. Most of the trains we passed in hill country were packed to standing with tourists rather than locals and tickets for seats in the reserved carriages disappear quickly during the peak holiday season. Our journey up the line might have been considerably slower but gave us ample opportunity to enjoy the scenery without those hassles and set foot in some of the equally lovely stations a little off the main tourist trail.

Class B2b no. 213 (1922) crosses a bridge over the Kelani Valley Plantation (Glassaugh Estate)

The station at Nanu-Oya is wonderfully atmospheric and well maintained, perhaps no wonder given its proximity to one of Sri Lanka’s top tourist attractions. It is a historic treasure trove with many features that can probably be traced back to its opening in 1885 such as the Tyer’s Electric Train Tablet system. Later additions include the turntable which dates to 1957 (a manufacturer’s plate shows that it was made by the Carlisle engineering firm of Cowans Sheldon and Co).

The entrance to the station has a marvelous wooden board listing the next trains due into the station, each with a little clock to indicate the time, and around the stations you can see signs that feel as though they come from a different age stating ‘partaking of meals brought from outside prohibited within‘ and ‘liquor served to railway passengers only’.

An invite to take a look in the signal box was most welcome and gave a wonderful illustration of how well the traditional signalling has been maintained across the network on a relatively restrained budget. I wouldn’t have thought the place out of keeping with a historic signal box on a preserved railway but here it was part of a functioning and busy main line! I was happy to give the team a little thank you for their time but I have a feeling it might be the most lucrative signal box on any network…

The view from the signal box at Nanu-Oya…

.. and how that appears in the track plan

Our afternoon gave us another opportunity to take a shot among the tea plantations before heading straight on to Ambewela, discovering in the process just how low the cloudbase is today. We had a moment or two to explore whilst we waited for a service train to overtake us, but since everything was shrouded in cloud didn’t want to stray too far. It seemed appropriate that one of the street leading up to the station was called World’s End Road! We set off again just after 4pm, reaching Pattipola, the highest station in Sri Lanka, a quarter of an hour later.

The cloud was even denser at Pattipola but that didn’t deter hordes of local children from turning up to see our steam locomotive – clearly not a frequent occurrence. Meanwhile, Bernd, our tour leader was seen disappearing into the fog armed with an umbrella trying to find a photo spot!

Despite the foggy conditions we still managed a shot of a token exchange, two runpasts at a semaphore signal beyond the station and another two runpasts at a tight spot in the forest beyond that. As the day came to an end the rain returned. On another day it might been the last straw, but given the severity of the forecasts I thought we’d all had a pretty lucky escape.