Cefn On/ Cefn Onn halt
An abandoned railway halt, north Cardiff
(Words/photos: Mike Slocombe, October 2004)
Hidden in a deep, dark, silent cutting and only accessible by foot, this tiny wayside stop was situated next to a one mile long tunnel that took the railway under Caerphilly Mountain.
The railway line was built by the Rhymney Railway in 1871 to provide a direct link into Cardiff for their 1858 Rhymney to Caerphilly line.
During the construction of the 2,000 yard tunnel, many Irish navvies came to the district. Such was the suspicion that Fenians (a secret Irish nationalist group) were lurking in their fold, that in October 1861, the group staying in Llanishen were guarded all night by armed police who expected insurrection.
Cefn Onn Halt was opened by the Great Western Railway to serve the a 160-acre wooded area known as Cefn-Onn Country Park (curiously, the halt was known as 'Cefn On Halt' until British Rail returned the missing letter 'n' back in the 1960s).
Created by Llanishen resident Mr Prosser, a former Manager of the Old Taff Vale Railway, the woodland valley park offers a rich selection of flora including beds of azaleas and rhododendrons, several varieties of magnolias, oaks and acers, Chinese Witch Hazel), flowering Mahonias, bamboo, conifers and unusual evergreens like Nothofagus, Eucalyptus niphophila (Snow Gum).
I regularly used the halt to commute to work in the late 70s and, latterly, found the station a convenient starting point for long, solitary walks up Cefn Onn Ridge and Caerphilly Mountain.
Waiting for the train was always a pleasant experience, as the secluded cutting was almost silent apart from the sound of a nearby brook, the wind in the trees and singing birds.
The imminent arrival of a train was always an exciting moment - you'd hear the distant rumble of the train entering the northern portal of the tunnel, with a deep 'whooshing' sound getting louder and louder before the train burst into the daylight, just 20m from your platform.
At this point you had to manically wave your arms around to get the driver to stop (a mission I was not always successful at).
Sadly, a thumping great motorway nearby has put paid to the tranquility of the scene, with the area now resonating to the endless roar of M4 traffic.
The station closed on Saturday, 27th September 1986, with a new station - and acres of new housing - springing up nearby.
Closure was initially scheduled for March that year, but was delayed after an objection was received from one person.
So the trains no longer stop at little Cefn Onn halt, and the tranquility of this once-obscure area has been lost forever.
This is my little tribute to this lost station.
Cefn Onn memories
In the late 1970s, I used to be one of just two passengers using the station to catch the morning train into Cardiff.
The station was a request stop, so it was essential to catch the attention of the driver as the train thundered out of the darkness of Caerphilly tunnel.
In the low light of a winter's morning, this could prove a tricky task, so I often used to bring a torch along and frantically wave it around.
Occasionally, the driver would see me too late and have to reverse back into the station, much to the annoyance of Valley passengers.
During the winter of 1977, the snow was so bad that I found myself stood waist high in a snowdrift waiting for the morning train. Needless to say, the driver failed to see me as he hurtled past my platform, and I got blasted with a covering of snow for my troubles!
Seeing this as a sign from above to go home, put my feet up and stay in the warm, I called in sick!
Because the halt was built to serve the nearby park, Cefn Onn was only accessible through the park or by a small, unmetalled footpath from Cefn Onn Road, some quarter of a mile distant.
The narrow path could get fairly muddy in the winter months and was pitch black at night (so the torch came in handy again!)
The down station platform was connected to the opposite platform (and Cefn Onn Parc) by a high wooden footbridge. This scene shows the gate leading to the sloped path to the down platform.
Autumnal view in 1984, looking down from the footbridge. By this time, the oil lamps had long gone and the only customer facilities provided on the bare platform was a short wooden bench.
There were no houses close to the station, and only a limited number of trains would stop there - several times I found myself being taken on an unwanted trip through Caerphilly tunnel when the driver forgot to stop.
Other times, the driver would park the wrong segment of the train at the station, leaving me to dash along the train carriages in double quick time to reach the platform in time.
Last train, Cefn Onn. Long exposure shot taken as the last train pulled out of the station (no-one got off as usual), its red tail lamp disappearing into the curve of the tunnel.
Cefn Onn halt finally closed in 1986, and was replaced by a new station some 500m down the line towards Cardiff. Called Thornhill and Lisvane (Lysfaen), the new station is better placed to serve the large new housing development in the area. (Photo: Oct 1999)
The small 'up' platform footbridge connected with a narrow path that led up to the footbridge and entrance to Cefn Onn Parc. The path quickly returned to nature after closure, and in mid-summer was impassable with thick growths of stinging nettles and blackberry bushes. (Photo: Dec 2004)
The tall wooden footbridge was supported by two stone piers and connected the two platforms via sloping paths. (Photo: May 2000)
Looking south from the Cardiff platform in 1991. The new Thornhill and Lisvane station is just out of view, past the second bridge in the distance.
Rail-level 1992 photo showing the two closed platforms and tunnel entrance.
A completely pointless sign warns that the bridge is a 'dangerous condition and unfit for public use'. I guess that'll be on account of the bridge already being removed!
Although the wooden planking on the bridge had been periodically replaced over the years, by the beginning of the nineties large chunks were missing and the gaping holes botched up with wire barriers.
Bridge piers, summer, 2000. Although the bridge decking has gone, the two stone piers remain in situ.
Walking Caerphilly Tunnel. Don't do this kids! On a bored Boxing Day whim, a friend and I decided to walk the mile long tunnel from Cefn Onn into Caerphilly.
We didn't have any torches. And it was very, very dark - and wet...
Worst of all, a great big freight train unexpectedly thundered through mid-tunnel and we had to scramble to find a workmen's arch to save ourselves from being squashed. It was scary stuff. And pretty damn stupid too!
I found this discarded station sign in bushes near the old halt. I wish I'd taken it home now as a memento! Note the (incorrect) English spelling of the name with just one 'n'.
By winter 2004, the old footbridge was slowly being absorbed by nature with the footpath from the old bridge completely inaccessible. Note the milepost in the foreground, indicating that the station is six miles from its Cardiff terminus.
Overgrown platform, December 2002. Both platforms are barely visible underneath all the vegetation and the southbound path down to the platforms has disappeared.
Some old Great Western Railway fencing remains in situ by the eastern side of the footbridge. (Photo: Dec 2004)
Nearly twenty years after closure, the station remains more or less intact, with both platforms in situ and the concrete footbridge base intact. (Photo: Dec 2005)
December 2006 updates
You can just about make out the old path down to the Cardiff platform.
I gamely tried to battle through the brambles, but gave up half way and elected to slide down the side onto the platform, a decision I lived to regret as I ended up with a handful of thorns.
Looking towards Lisvane and Llanishen station from the Cardiff platform (yes, I made it!).
The old footbridge on to the Caerphilly platform continues to disappear under vegetation.
Mile post on the Cardiff platform.
Looking towards Caerphilly tunnel.
The station continues its slow decline, with parts of the platform edge beginning to crumble away.
Ventilation shaft for the Caerphilly railway tunnel up on Graig Llanishen, approx 500m from tunnel entrance.
Detail from one of the five air vents needed to bring fresh air into the mile-long, single bore, double track tunnel below.
The replacement Lisvane and Llanishen station.