Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fairytale or Fact: The Wales 'Spectral Train' Mystery


By Jon Wyatt - Does our universe contain parallel worlds with many timelines and can these interact with our current world?

In the 1860's a writer called I.D. Fenton toured Wales, England, and collected local legends and many appeared in the British illustrated literary newspaper Once A Week. One of the more extraordinary tales, which was widely reprinted in regular newspapers, concerns a spectral train from some years in the future. This legend appeared in his long article called 'Beyond Gower's Land', and the excerpt reads:

“As a people, the Welsh are much given to superstition, and many are pointed out said to be endowed with the power of prophecy, or 'second sight'. One instance, which occurred not many years ago in the neighbourhood, is firmly believed in. A farmer and his friend had been enjoying a day's fishing on the Tav, an excellent trouting stream that runs past the old Abbey of Whitland. As evening drew on, the sport grew slack, and at last the trout gave up taking at all, so the sportsmen put up their tackle, said 'Good night', and departed on their several roads homeward. The farmer, however, liked a pipe, and was stopping with the intention of lighting his when he became conscious of an indescribable sensation; the air seemed full of sound, and yet was perfectly silent. As he stood perplexed, not to say alarmed, strange noises began to issue from the ground, the hill trembled beneath his feet, his pipe dropped from his hand, and he was on the point of running away, when a long whistling shriek, accompanied by the sound of a thousand wheels, burst from the hill-side close beside him: a number of horses feeding close by pricked up their ears and galloped wildly down the hill, jumping right into the bed of the Tav, where they stood panting and frightened until the strange sound died away in the distance.

“The farmer did not stay to pick up his pipe, but hurried home brimful of the wonderful event, and under considerable apprehension that some calamity was going to happen to him or his family.

“Some time afterwards the line of the South Wales Railway was surveyed and a tunnel at last completed, the mouth of which opened at the very spot from whence what was now explained as a spectral train had issued, and upon opening day the farmer and a crowd of country folk were upon the spot to witness the effect, which certainly exactly answered the description by him, even to the horses galloping into the Tav.

“A couple of old men now living at Pendine positively affirm that they saw a spirit train crossing the plain; but as the bill to enable a company to open a line from Tenby to Narberth has just passed, I fancy there is little chance of this prophecy being fulfilled, at least for many a year.” (Source: From the article 'Beyond Gower's Land' by ID Fenton, 'Once A Week' newspaper, Vol. XI, November 12, 1864, pp 577-8, found at https://archive.org/details/onceweek11londuoft)


The 'time slip' legend could be dismissed as a fairytale except for the fact it is actually supported by Wales railway history. Let's see how this legend was born.

The landmark Abbey of Whitland was founded by Cistercian monks in 1145 AD and it was a pilgrimage place for 400 years until dissolved by Henry VIII; the ruins – foundation stones and a wall - are visible today on a property just north of Whitland, Tove Valley, SW Wales. Whitland is the ancient market town where, it's said, Good Prince Howell convened the “first Welsh parliament” in 930 AD.

Whitland is in a farming district, mainly dairying; the River Taf or Tav flows nearby, and is renown for summer trout fly fishing; and there is a (junction) railway station. This is the place and the 'time slip hill' is two kms (1.25mi) east of town.

Isambard Brunel
The 'iron horse' came to Whitland when the South Wales Railway Company built a single line railway from Swansea to Haverfordwest in 1852-53. The brilliant engineer Isambard Brunel designed the project and when he reached east of Whitland for a reason unknown - perhaps a land acquisition roadblock - he diverted the track south west along a sweeping curve, and smack dab through the time-slip hill (see Google Maps). The passage through this hill is 125 yards long and it's called the Whitland (or Forest) Tunnel. The prophecy was coming to pass and would be fulfilled.

The time-slip hill has a large flat paddock on top, enough space to graze a herd of horses, and the Taf flows by one side, which, of course, chimes with the legend; all that is needed is a train to scare the horses and Wales railway history supplies one in spades.

When Brunel completed the project Haverfordwest hosted a grand celebration, which included a huge public breakfast, evening ball and fireworks, and to convey the many VIPs and guests to the event a special excursion train was laid on; it hauled 17 rail cars and carried perhaps 200 passengers. The “monster train” completed the inaugural run on the line on December 28, 1853—regular services began on February 2, 1854; so it was the first ever seen in Whitland.


The special train departed from Swansea at 8:40 am and took four hours to complete the 80 kms (50 mi) journey to the event; thousands of Welsh country folk turned out to see it and if the farmer and a crowd were waiting at the tunnel exit they were not out of place. The long train was due in at Whitland at 11:40 am and when it roared through the tunnel, the effect would have been extraordinary... and any horses on the hill would have no doubt stampeded wildly into the river. The prophecy, according to Fenton, was thus fulfilled and firmly believed in.

The “spirit train” sighting near Pendine may have been wishful thinking; the railway by passed the tiny fishing village and the closest station is Whitland 13 kms (8 mi) to the north.

Did the farmer perceive a parallel world? Perhaps only the Welsh fairy folk know and they're not saying.

Jon Wyatt - Carlton, AU - 2015 Copyright 1045 words

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