Coast to coast
Q2 2012 £4.00
Welcome to the Top Left Hand Corner of Wales, where train travel is just a little bit different. With the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways stretching for 40 miles across the Snowdonia National Park, you can experience the magnificent scenery while savouring the magic of train travel as it used to be, with gleaming steam engines, comfortable carriages, friendly staff and just a hint of magic. In these pages, we hope to give you a glimpse of what our two award-winning railways have to offer. Whether you are seven or seventy, there’s something for you. A picture may say a thousand words, but take our word for it—until you’ve experienced the combination of our unique railways and the stunning Welsh countryside, you haven’t lived. We guarantee it’ll leave an indelible impression. If we’ve whetted your appetite with this magazine, check out our website at the address shown on the back page.
Cover: The Aberglaslyn Pass by David Grosvenor.
Two little boys Â
Once upon a time, every small boy wanted to be an engine driver when they grew up. But with the demise of steam on the national network, much of the mystique and excitement has gone from the job. Luckily, there are still a few places where the stuff of dreams can be savoured. In fifteen yearsâ€™ time, where will these two be, we wonder?
Watching and waiting
It’s good to talk. The best thing about taking a break in the Top Left Hand Corner of Wales is the chance to spend some quality time with friends and family. Away from the pressures of everyday life, it’s easy to take a few moments to relax and share common interests, whether they be the views from the train window, catching a glimpse of rare wildlife, or the simple appreciation of engineering skills dating back 150 years.
Manod the world Â
Manod Quarry, high above Blaenau Ffestiniog offers the adventurous a uniquely-rewarding view . From here can be seen both ends of the 13 mile Ffestiniog Railway at once. Blaenau itself nestles on the right at the head of the valley, while in the centre, beneath the bulk of the Moelwyns, lies Tanygrisiau and Llyn Ystradau, the lower lake of the Ffestiniog pumped storage power station. In the distance lies Porthmadog and, beyond, the Irish Sea.
In its heyday, the harbour at Porthmadog was packed with sailing ships waiting to carry Blaenau Ffestiniog slate around the world.
And the next time you arrive at Porthmadog by train, there’ll be a little less sea to see. We’re spending over a million pounds to widen the 200 year old Cob embankment to make room for a completely remodelled Harbour Station.
Although those days are long gone, the harbour is still home to numerous pleasure craft and is also popular with fishermen and visitors simply relaxing The embankment will be twice as wide for over 250 and enjoying the ambience. metres, giving room for a second platform to be The inset picture shows Porthmadog Harbour at the built to accommodate Welsh Highland trains. peak of the slate traffic in the late 1870s. In those Scheduled for completion in time for the 2013 days, the Ffestiniog Railway extended along the season, this major construction project will allow us quays on both sides of the port. to offer a much-improved timetable with a convenient cross-platform interchange between Today, journey’s end is the historic Harbour Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland services. Station, opened to passengers in 1865.
Turning of the tide
Fit for a queen. Costing almost £200,000, Pullman observation carriage Glaslyn, with its comfortable armchairs and unique panoramic glass end section, is the flagship of the new Welsh Highland Railway. Along with our other Pullman saloon Bodysgallen, Glaslyn is almost certainly the most luxurious narrow gauge carriage in the world.
Completed at the railway’s own workshops in 2009, Glaslyn received the ultimate accolade in 2010 when it was named by Her Majesty the Queen after travelling in it with the Duke of Edinburgh. Today, you can ride in our royal carriage for a small supplementary fare. Go on, you know you want to...
You could go by car. But we reckon you’d be crazy if you did. There is no finer way to appreciate the majesty of the Snowdonia National Park than from one of our trains. And on a perfect summer’s day, the best place to be is in an open carriage, where you can not only enjoy an uninterrupted view, but can also savour the scent of pure mountain air. Yes, you could go by car, but why on earth would you want to?
Coming down the mountain
It’s all downhill on the Ffestiniog. At least in one direction. Built in the 1830s on a continuous gradient allowing loaded slate wagons to roll downhill to the sea at Porthmadog, empty wagons were originally hauled back up the mountain to the quarries by horses. When traffic grew to the point where the sturdy Welsh ponies couldn’t keep up with demand, the world’s first narrow gauge steam engines were introduced in 1863.
Demand for slate continued to grow until a still more powerful solution was required. This arrived in 1869 in the shape of Little Wonder, the first two foot gauge Double Fairlie. Here, its successor, David Lloyd George, heads downhill towards Penrhyndeudraeth. In the background can be seen Cei Mawr. At 62 feet high, the ‘big wall’ is the tallest dry stone embankment in Europe.
With no road access, Dduallt Halt on the Ffestiniog Railway between Tan y Bwlch and Tanygrisiau provides a text book definition of the middle of nowhere. On the right, Rhoslyn Cottage was once home to stationmaster and renowned Welsh bard Gwilym Deudraeth. On occasion he would indent for repairs in verse, at others he would engage in poetic competition with the Loco Superintendent William Williams. Dduallt (Black Hill) is one of those places in Welsh legend where, if you spend the night, you wake either as a madman or a poet.
From a window
While the vast majority of passengers on the Ffestiniog Railway choose to travel in the comfort of our fleet of modern carriages, those with a taste for history prefer to experience the more basic accommodation of our heritage stock. Back in the 1860s, the Ffestiniog introduced the first bogie carriages in the world and, remarkably, some of the originals are still in use today, having been lovingly-restored by craftsmen and women. Travellers will be relieved to learn that despite the lack of a corridor connection, our on-train staff take the opportunity to offer drinks and snacks served through the window whilst the train is standing at stations.
Porthmadog Harbour Station isn’t like any other. For a start, it’s the terminus of not one, but two narrow gauge railways. And with up to two dozen trains coming and going each day, it’s almost certainly the busiest narrow gauge railway station anywhere in the world.
On a typical spring morning, we see three steam locomotives in action. Single Fairlie Taliesin plays to the camera as it departs with a train for Blaenau Ffestiniog, while David Lloyd George shunts a train of slate wagons and Linda waits to prepare the next departure.
Ask most people to describe their idea of what a typical narrow gauge railway station looks like and theyâ€™ll come up with something pretty close to Nantmor Halt between Pont Croesor and Beddgelert on the Welsh Highland. Serving the tiny hamlet from which it takes its name, it is also popular with walkers exploring the Aberglaslyn Pass and the footpaths through picturesque Cwm Bychan. Surrounded by trees and seemingly miles away from the 21st Century, Nantmor offers travellers a tantalising glimpse of a less hurried age.
Sharp dressed man
As befits a railway with a history stretching back to 1832, The Ffestiniog is always keen to take a step or two back in time. Staff and volunteers always take a pride in their appearance, regardless of the period to which they are travelling. This shot was taken during Vintage Weekend in 2011. The staff may only date back to the late twentieth Century, but Merddin Emrys and its train of historic four-wheeled carriages predate most of them by over 100 years.
Back on the train Â
For 150 years, steam locomotives have been hauling trains between Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog. Originally the cargo was slates, bound for foreign shores. Today our trains carry hundreds of thousands of passengers from all over the world and our customer care needs to be second to none. That means that all our carriages are cleaned inside and out before each trip, allowing you to experience the magnificent Snowdonian scenery through clean windows. Here, the guard gives the tables in the observation car a final polish before boarding begins.
Remain in light
Blink and youâ€™ll miss it. Every inch of your journey on the Welsh Highland brings something new. From the stygian darkness of the tunnels; to shaded tree-lined cuttings; to the sunshine and big skies of the mountains, the view is ever-changing. As one of the massive Beyer-Garratt locomotives heads towards the Aberglaslyn Pass, it emerges from the dark of Goat Tunnel into the sunlit meadows beyond.
Between the sea and the fresh water of the Afon Glaslyn, one of the Ffestiniog Railway’s original four steam locomotives—the first narrow gauge engines in the world—crosses William Madocks’ mile-long Cob Embankment.
The road never came to fruition, but in the 21st Century, the Cob still carries trains on their way between the mountains of Snowdonia and the harbour at Porthmadog.
One of the delights of a visit to the Ffestiniog is the Completed in 1812, the Cob was designed with the chance to witness our recreations of scenes from dual purpose of reclaiming hundreds of acres of salt yesteryear. In this timeless scene, which could have marsh and to provide a route between London and been taken at almost any time in the last 150 years, Dublin allowing Irish MPs to reach Westminster Palmerston, built in South London in 1863, hauls a train of slate wagons across the great embankment. following the Act of Union.
Smoke on the water
Walking the dog Â
It’s a dog’s life. There’s something for everyone in the Top Left Hand Corner of Wales. It’s not only you and your family who can enjoy the sights, scents and sounds of Snowdonia from the comfort of one of our open carriages. So rather than leaving your faithful four -legged friend at home, why not take him with you?
A sight many thought would never be seen again. When Porthmadog Harbour was at its busiest in the 19th Century, the sight of slate wagons hauled by diminutive steam locomotives running through the streets was commonplace. After closure of the Ffestiniog Railway in 1946, the remaining tracks were lifted, but in 2010, the Welsh Highland returned to Porthmadog, allowing this scene from the past to be recreated, complete with Palmerston, one of the Railwayâ€™s original steam locomotives, dating back to 1863. Inset: Britannia Bridge seen in 1905.
Queen of the hill
When was the last time you looked forward to travelling by train? Anticipation grows as departure time approaches, but this is the Top Left Hand Corner of Wales, where you can step back to a less-hurried age and people always have the time to talk to you. Here, driver Chris Harrison waits for the right away on Linda, built in 1893 to haul slate and named after the daughter of the quarry owner, she arrived on the Ffestiniog in 1962 and is still going strong today. So strong, that with her sister, Blanche, the venerable old lady was awarded the Queen of the Hill trophy last year when the veteran pair beat all-comers in a timed run up the tough gradients of the Welsh Highland.
We never get the wrong type of snow here in the Top Left Hand Corner of Wales. And the best way to admire it is from the warmth and comfort of one of our trains. The view of Snowdonia from the Cob embankment has often been described as one of the finest vistas anywhere in the world. Each year, a growing number of discerning people take the chance to unwind after the hectic Christmas and New Year celebrations with a relaxing ride through the mountains complete with a glass of sherry and a mince pie or two. For us - and them - snow is just the icing on the cake.
Relaxing outside the pub on a warm summer’s afternoon is a quintessentially-British pleasure.
To the right, the Welsh Highland heads over Britannia Bridge on its way to Beddgelert, while on the left, an FR train has just arrived.
And if that pub offers the unique combination of Nestling between the two tracks, the old goods shed stunning views across the bay to Harlech Castle is now a welcoming pub and restaurant, named and the evocative scent of the sea with just a hint of steam, it just might be the best pub in the world. after the founding father of the railway, Charles Easton Spooner. Above the station are the offices of Since the reopening of the Ffestiniog Railway in the the world’s oldest railway company, formed by Act 1950s and the Welsh Highland in 2010, this of Parliament back in 1832. historic station has become the hub of a 40-mile network of two foot gauge steam railways stretching There are worse places to work, but surely few better to visit... from Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Blow by blow
While you’re relaxing over dinner after your day out on the railway, please spare a thought for the loco crew, whose long, hard day is still far from at an end. Double Fairlie David Lloyd George stands over the pit at Boston Lodge Works at the end of another day’s work. Built here in 1992, The Dave, as the loco is affectionately known, is the fourth engine of this unique class to have been built at the works. The first, Merddin Emrys, was completed in 1879 and is still in regular use today alongside its considerably younger siblings.
Ask anyone who works with steam engines and they’ll tell you that they all have moods and personalities; that they’re living things. Unlike a car, you cannot simply remove the key from a steam engine and walk away from it at night. It takes a lot of time and effort not only to prepare the loco for work, - four am starts are far from rare - but also to put it to bed each evening. One of the final jobs each day for the crew is to ‘blow down’ to clean the boiler before returning the locomotive to the shed. Only then can their minds turn to thoughts of food.
Twilight time There is a romance to railway stations, especially ones located in settings as unique as this. As the sun sets behind Moel y Gest, the welcoming lights of Porthmadog Harbour Station shine through the gathering mist. There has been a station on this site since January 6th, 1865, making it one of the oldest in the world that is still in regular use by passengers. More than 300,000 people passed through its doors in 2011 on their way to or from Caernarfon, Beddgelert, Tan y Bwlch and Blaenau Ffestiniog, making it one of the busiest stations on any railway of any gauge in North Wales.
TLC2 Design & Edit: Andrew Thomas Pictures: Gwynn Jones, Chris Parry, Steve Sedgwick, Andrew Thomas Published April 2012 by Ffes niog & Welsh Highland Railway Harbour Sta on, Porthmadog, Gwynedd LL49 9NF 01766 516024 www.festrail.co.uk ISSN 2047‐024X
With most of the 40 miles of the F&WHR being single track, a failsafe mechanism to prevent more than one train entering a sec on of railway at the same me is vital. Each driver must be in possession of the single line token before proceeding.
Token of time
This is the token machine at Minﬀordd Sta on containing the tokens for the sec on to Tan y Bwlch.
01766 516024 www.festrail.co.uk