Historic Caernarfon Adventure in the heart of Snowdonia
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The first snows of winter seen from the comfort of a Welsh Highland train near Beddgelert. Linda heads a train for Blaenau Ffestiniog. One of the finest views in the world - looking inland from the Cob Embankment at Porthmadog.
That’s Welsh for welcome. You don’t need to travel to the ends of the Earth to experience one of the world’s great railway journeys, there’s a couple waiting for you in the Top Left Hand Corner of Wales.
It’s just a 90-minute trip from North West England and the West Midlands, with the rest of the UK within easy reach by road or rail.
And for a small extra charge you can even relax in the splendour of one of our sumptuous First Class Pullman carriages. We know you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how comfortable, sociable and relaxing a trip with us is.
We’ve been in the business of looking after our passengers for more than 150 years so you know The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways stretch you’ll be getting the best experience possible. for 40 miles through the heart of the Snowdonia If you want to experience quality time with your National Park, allowing you to experience the family in a timeless way, we’re here to help. In the magnificent scenery in comfort whilst savouring the following pages you’ll find a wealth of information romance of gleaming steam engines and carriages. on what you can see and do during your visit. Add in helpful and friendly staff and you get more In the pages of this magazine, you’ll find than a hint of magic. descriptions of a number of fascinating places to A wide range of full or half day journeys is on offer; visit and great walks you can enjoy from our two kids go free; dogs and bikes are welcome; and all railways. We look forward to seeing you. trains feature buffet service at your seat.
You might notice a musical theme in the headlines in this copy of TLC and indeed the five previous editions. Can you identify them all? Some are easy, others rather more obscure. Check out your musical knowledge by listening to the Spotify playlists at www.festrail.co.uk/tlcplaylists.htm
Ride the new train
The sumptuous interior of Pullman observation car 150 features beautiful hardwoods from sustainable forests, stylish seats and concealed lighting. Top: Inside one of the new standard class super saloons
It's not often you get the chance to ride in a brand new train and even on the national railway network, such a thing is a rarity. But this year, we're rolling out a new luxury train on the Ffestiniog Railway, allowing you to enjoy a relaxing journey through the heart of Snowdonia in unparalleled comfort with fantastic service. With the opening of the Welsh Highland throughout in 2011, it became clear that the gleaming new WHR stock rather outshone the carriages of its older sister. But in 2016, all that is set to change. The Ffestiniog will not simply get a new carriage or two; it will get an entirely new train. New train key features: Easy access for all Hand crafted seats At your seat service A window at every seat Cool in summer, warm in winter Only the finest traditional materials used Corridor connection allows easy access to toilets In pride of place on the new train is the £250,000 luxury Pullman observation car 150 which builds on our expertise with Glaslyn, one of the Welsh Highland’s Pullman cars named by Her Majesty the Queen in 2010. Designed and built by our own skilled craftsmen, 150 will take to the tracks this spring, together with its companion service car 125, which will enable FR passengers to enjoy the levels of service already offered on Welsh Highland trains. Its unique design, incorporating the best of the old and new, features the largest possible windows offering unparalleled panoramic views of the beautiful landscape of Snowdonia. Along with the new observation car, four £100,000 standard class super saloons - offering what would be considered first class accommodation on most heritage railways - will form the core of the new train, which will eventually consist of ten carriages capable of running over the entire 40-mile route between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Caernarfon. ►
Above: The craftsmen behind the building our new carriages. Top: Seat detail.
◄ But the Welsh Highland hasn’t been forgotten, and a new carriage built to that line’s more generous clearances is already under way with more yet to come. We've built our own carriages since the dawn of the restoration era 60 years ago. The reason is simple: standard gauge heritage lines have an ample supply of ex-British Rail carriages awaiting restoration, but narrow gauge railways have no such luxury. There is no strategic reserve of narrow gauge stock and certainly none that meet the standards of comfort and safety demanded today. Since the Ffestiniog reopened for traffic in the 1950s, we have steadily introduced new carriages and their design has evolved over the years. We’ve been at the forefront of passenger carrying innovation for over 150 years and we are now one of the leading carriage makers in the UK. In a few years’ time the F&WHR will boast two sets of the larger WHR stock, two comprising the slightly smaller FR carriages and a third capable of operating on both lines.
And, rather than an appointment with the scrap man's torch, the old FR carriages replaced by the new builds are being refurbished and finding a new lease of life at other narrow gauge lines in the UK. Like its sister Pullman cars, 150 will eventually carry a name, yet to be decided. Watch this space...
Above: The sumptuous interior of the Welsh Highland Pullman observation car, Glaslyn. Below: The interior of a standard class super saloon. Opposite Top: Her Majesty the Queen names Glaslyn at Dinas in 2010.
Clinging precariously to the side of the valley, the builders of the Ffestiniog railway back in the 1830s turned to proven technology when it came to engineering a steady downhill gradient allow slate wagons to run down from the quarries to the sea by gravity. Rather than expensive bridges spanning dips in the terrain, they used the centuries-old technique of dry stone walling. Each rock is hand picked by expert craftsmen to offer a perfect fit and lock the structure together free from any form of cement. A good dry stone wall can last for centuries without expensive maintenance, as evidenced by the large number of original embankments still in use on the Ffestiniog Railway today. The largest, Cei Mawr, is the highest dry stone structure in Europe, towering 62 feet above the stream it crosses.
Princess of hearts Royal wedding fever isnâ€™t a new phenomenon. Over 150 years ago, when Princess Alexandra of Denmark married Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII, the nation was spellbound. He was 21 and she was 18. At the age of sixteen, Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia had been chosen as the future wife of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the heir apparent of Queen Victoria. They married eighteen months later in March 1863, the year her father became Christian IX of Denmark and her brother, George, became King of Greece. The Ffestiniog Railway - never one to miss an opportunity for publicity - took the decision to name its first two steam locomotives The Prince and The Princess after the royal couple.
Princess at Porthmadog around 1871.
Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863.
George England ran a factory in East London where some of the world's first narrow gauge steam locomotives were built. The first batch of four were delivered to the Ffestiniog in 1863 and early 1864, making it the first public narrow gauge railway in the world to introduce steam engines.
The Princess was named after Princess Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925) and later shortened to Princess in 1895 and she continued to work on the railway, becoming the last steam locomotive to operate on the line under the old company, working the last train on 1st August 1946.
This was despite warnings from railway luminaries A few years later when the Ffestiniog began to be such as Robert Stephenson that steam power could reopened by volunteers, Princess was mounted on never work successfully on such a small railway. a plinth in Blaenau Ffestiniog as a statement of intent that the railway would once again run its full But the FR proved the ‘experts’ wrong and, perhaps length – a goal finally achieved in 1982. most remarkably, 150 years later, four of the original engines survive, two of them in regular use. By then, Princess had received a much-needed coat of paint and given an honourable retirement in The first four engines were named The Princess, Spooner’s – the railway's pub at Porthmadog Mountaineer, The Prince and Palmerston and cost Harbour Station - where she remained on display £1,000 each. They were followed in 1867 by Welsh for more than 30 years before embarking on a Pony and Little Giant, two slightly larger versions of celebratory tour of the UK and Ireland in 2013. the same design costing a whole £3/10/4d more than their smaller siblings. This year the loco is paying a visit to London King’s Cross - only the second time she has returned to 150 years later we find Prince and Palmerston in her home town in more than 150 years. full working order on the railway for which they were built – another unique claim for the And there’s more to come - Welsh Pony is currently remarkable Ffestiniog Railway. being rebuilt for a return to steam in time for its 150th birthday in 2017. The Princess is truly a pioneering narrow gauge steam locomotive. Built by George England in East A mouth-watering prospect for fans of the world’s London, it was carried by rail from London to pioneering narrow gauge railway and its historic Caernarfon and then brought by road to the line on fleet of locomotives, with a unique chance to see a specially built cart drawn by ten horses. She three of its original engines in steam together for became the first locomotive to haul a train on the the first time in nearly a century. Ffestiniog Railway on Tuesday 4 August 1863. Princess at Boston Lodge in 2013.
Home Straight Approaching Porthmadog, a train headed by Linda and Prince passes the home semaphore signal, part of the award-winning Harbour Station signalling scheme implemented as part of a ÂŁ1.3 million rebuilding project. The mile-long Cob embankment was completed in 1811 and reclaimed a large expanse of the Glaslyn estuary. The result is a stunning choice of views - on your right lies a breath-taking panorama of the mountains of Snowdonia and on the left can be seen the wide variety of wildlife which populates the salt marsh. Beyond lies Cardigan Bay and, on the horizon, the imposing towers of Harlech Castle.
With the mountain tops wreathed in mist, Snowdonia truly lives up to its reputation as a magical land of wizards and dragons. Local legend has it that near here, Merlin watched the red dragon of Wales battle with the white dragon of England. Of course, it being a local legend, the red dragon won. Thatâ€™s not all mist, by the way. In the foreground are wisps of steam from the locomotive as it wends its way past the tranquil hamlet of Betws Garmon and the Afon Gwyrfai. When was the last time you enjoyed a view from a train like that? And we have another 39 miles of scenery like this waiting for you to enjoy. You might even see a dragon...
Back to the future
Blaenau Ffestiniog rose to fame as ’the town that roofed the world’. At the height of its importance, thousands of men toiled in more than a dozen quarries producing the sought-after blue slates whose journey to the four corners of the world started with a 13 mile run down to the harbour at Porthmadog on the Ffestiniog Railway.
The rugged landscape produced by the massive slate waste tips has been described as ‘magnificent desolation’ and, certainly in the rain, the gleaming man-made mountains towering over the town are impressive indeed.
But it wasn’t just slate that was quarried. The main picture on this page, taken from the Ffestiniog Railway across the tranquil Llyn Ystradau, part of the Tanygrisiau pumped storage power station, shows the hillside once home to the Brookes’ Granite Quarry. This was served by its own branch line from the Ffestiniog and, from here, granite setts were transported to Blaenau Ffestiniog for transhipment to London and North Western Railway standard gauge wagons and used to pave the streets of England, Scotland and Wales.
Today, the quarry is long-closed, with much of it submerged beneath the lake, but itâ€™s still possible to spot traces of the levels and inclines at low tide. Then, the route of the old Ffestiniog branch line to Brookesâ€™ can still be seen, as can the original route of the Ffestiniog and the mouth of the old Moelwyn Tunnel. It takes but a few years for nature to reclaim locations such as this and today it is hard to imagine the intense industrial activity that went on here a century ago.
Watching the river flow
Emerging from the Aberglaslyn Pass in high summer, a Welsh Highland train heads for Beddgelert with its 200 passengers enjoying the view from their comfortable seats. The Glaslyn looks tranquil in this shot, but in early spring when the snow melts on the mountain peaks of Snowdonia, it becomes a raging torrent - good news for the intrepid kayakers who take to the water. But for most of us, a dryer - and much warmer - way to enjoy the spectacle is from the comfort of a train, with a hot drink and a bacon sandwichâ€Ś
One of the many things you’ll notice about a trip on one of our trains is something different about your fellow passengers - they’re all smiling. Now that’s not something you’ll often see on the 0815 to London Bridge...
At Beddgelert in 2007
As any one who owns a steam engine will tell you, that was just the beginning. They are best kept in a shed and take a lot of looking after. When parts are needed you either have to make them yourself or pay a lot to get them made for you. James was not Whilst most young train enthusiasts would just daunted by all this and not only did he get Velinheli be dragging their parents down to the local toy shop steaming but also laid a line several hundred yards to buy a train set, James Evans had much grander long round the garden of the family home. ideas. He had discovered that a Quarry in North Wales was selling off the steam engines that were By the time he came to leave home, James had met used to move slate around. Nigel and Kay Bowman who were building up their own tourist railway at Launceston not far from They were compact things not much bigger than the James’ home. James packed up Velinheli and his average car and in 1962 it looked like they could be railway and moved it all there. This was over thirty had for a few hundred pounds. After some effort, years ago and Velinheli still lives at Launceston James succeeded in persuading his father to give today with James taking care of her. All those years him the cash and the work to return the loco to her of TLC have really paid off and she probably looks former glory began. better now than when she was new. James says Velinheli was chosen as she was ’the From time to time Velinheli can be seen in Wales as oldest and the prettiest’ She is now a very pretty well as at her home in Cornwall. Because she is so little red engine indeed, with a fine brass dome, light she was the first steam engine able to go over but no cab for the driver to stand in when it rains. the brand new Welsh Highland Railway in the heart Welshmen in the quarries were hardy folk, very of Snowdonia. Children from the school in the proud of their engines and looked after them as beautiful village of Beddgelert all came out to best they could with little in the way of equipment. welcome her and the new railway in 2007. Since James’ jubilation at agreeing a deal was followed by then she has visited on a number of occasions. the slight problem of how to get the 70 year old The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways wish engine 300 miles home to Cornwall. She weighs six to thank James Evans for generously allowing us tons so isn’t simply something that can simply be to share Velinheli with you in 2016. Paul Lewin popped onto the family trailer. This year Velinheli joins us as one of the stars of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways travelling roadshow and will be giving rides at the big flower shows at Shrewsbury and Southport.
Velinheli was the first of the ‘Alice Class’ of quarry Hunslets, which was originally known as the ‘Velin Class’ and took her name from Y Felinheli, the saltwater mill which exisited before the slate wharves were built at what later became Port Dinorwic.
Arrival in Cornwall
Back in 1964 I had purchased L T Catchpole's book about the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway (starting a lifelong obsession) and I was ranting about the destruction of that beautiful line when I was overheard by one of my school friends. He said "If you like steam engines I know of a quarry on my father's estate (!) which is full of old locomotives.” Aged 17, I wrote to the Dinorwic Quarry Company and asked if I and my younger brother Rupert could visit and see the locomotives.
Being a cautious man it took some effort but we eventually got him to make the trek north which, pre-motorway, took two days from Cornwall. Keen to strike a deal, and spoilt for choice, he ended up buying our two favourites for £700 the pair, almost 'buy one get one free'. We were offered Fire Queen for another £500 but didn’t quite pull that one off! There was a delay before Velinheli and Sybil left for Cornwall due to family circumstances, but on arrival we soon had Sybil in steam. Velinheli was a different story - totally worn out, with not a tight bolt or rivet on the whole engine, but the boiler was just serviceable, so I dismantled her down to the last loose rivet and rusted bolt.
Permission was granted and we went to North Wales by train (steam of course) and were given a private 'quarry tour' and since we were so thrilled with the quaint narrow gauge locomotives - of which six were still working - we were told we could Whilst rebuilding her of course, I had to build an buy one if we wanted! engine shed, two substantial bridges, a railway and a carriage for them to pull, all of which kept me, Sadly, all the future held for most of these locos in my father and a vintage tractor busy for ten years. those days was a visit from the scrap man, so we rushed home to try to persuade Dad, a trained We were so lucky to be in the right place at the engineer, that a narrow gauge railway round our right time, and have a father keen on steam and farm in Cornwall would be fun. with a bit of ready money! James Evans
James and his mother examine Velinheli at the quarry
In the garden in Cornwall
The way we were
Although the Welsh Highland is one of the newest railways in the UK, it has a fascinating history stretching back to 1863. Formed from a number of earlier lines, the Welsh Highland opened between Porthmadog and Dinas in 1923, but with underpowered engines, uncomfortable carriages and massive debt. It went into receivership in 1927 and closed completely after just 13 years in service. The tracks were lifted for scrap in the second world war and it looked very much as if the WHR story was over. But a group of enthusiasts had other ideas. Following the reopening of the Ffestiniog Railway to Blaenau Ffestiniog in 1982, they looked for other projects. Many of the same volunteers who worked on the Ffestiniog rebuild returned decades later to bring the Welsh Highland back to life and build the railway it always should have been. This time the financial foundations were secure, powerful locomotives obtained and modern carriages built to offer a reliable and comfortable service. The railway was even extended the three miles from Dinas to Caernarfon - something the old company had dreamt of but never achieved.
1928 Facing page: Bryn y Felin, at the head of the Aberglaslyn Pass, seen from a train in 2015 and from the same location in the closure years, complete with the original girder bridge which had to be replaced with a new one matching its appearance. Below: The start of the climb to Rhyd Ddu at Hafod y Llyn during closure and in 2014. Bottom: Beddgelert in 1924 with a dirt platform and basic carriages. Compare this scene with the one alongside, with a proper platform, passenger shelters and luxury Pullman carriages. The old water tower seen in the first photograph can be seen in the distance, directly above the childâ€™s head.
All along the watchtower
Caernarfon is the undisputed capital of the Welshspeaking world, with some 90 per cent of residents and 98 per cent of those aged between 10-14 speaking the language. The town has been an important port since Roman times, when it was known as Segontium and still features a thriving harbour and marina. The town walls, including eight towers and gateways, form a complete circuit around the old town and were completed in 1285. UNESCO has designated them ‘the finest examples of late 13th Century military architecture in Europe.’
Caernarfon Castle was constructed not only as a military stronghold but also as a seat of government and a royal palace. The castle's appearance is no architectural accident: it was designed to echo the walls of Constantinople, the imperial power of Rome and the dream castle of Welsh myth and legend.
Towering above the Welsh Highland Railway station at the mouth of the Afon Seiont, the fortress stands guard over the Menai Strait and the harbour. The town lost its railway station in 1970, but gained a new one when the Welsh Highland opened in 1997. Visitors to the town are spoiled for choice when it comes to pubs and restaurants, the oldest of which, The Black Boy Inn, has refreshed residents and visitors alike since the 16th Century. The town has hosted the National Eisteddfod on no fewer than seven occasions and features art galleries, a concert hall and cinema.
And when you add great shops and cafés to the mix, Caernarfon, with its easy access from the A55, makes a great base for a holiday in Snowdonia while also offering an unbeatable family day out by train on the Welsh Highland Railway from Beddgelert or Porthmadog.
Can you see the light?
Train travel these days can be anodyne; even boring. Shut away in hermetically-sealed boxes, you canâ€™t even open the windows.
Imagine then, a railway where you can experience the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside with the added spice of a hint of steam. On both our railways, we offer the more adventurous the chance to get back to nature in one of our open carriages.
On the Welsh Highland, the experience of travelling through the stygian darkness of the long tunnel before bursting into the daylight of the Aberglaslyn Pass should be on everyoneâ€™s list of things to do before they die. And should the weather prove too inclement, you can simply move into the adjacent heated carriages. But our advice is to stay put, grab a hot drink and soak up the atmosphere...
A view to a hill “Wonderful” “Stunning views” “Amazing journey ” “Amazing scenery ” “Loved the railway” “A Scenic Adventure” “A journey back in time” “Wonderful experience”
“Exceeded Expectations” “Best Heritage Railway in the UK” “Victorian weekend: simply fantastic” “A trip full of history and beautiful views” “Fantastic Trip - A Must See if in the Area” “Fantastic Scenic Narrow Gauge Railways”
Consistently voted the best heritage railways in Britain by TripAdvisor reviewers, with more than 1,000 five star reviews, the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland railways concentrate not on nuts, bolts and rivets, but on a somewhat more intangible asset - the stunning view from the carriage window. Our aim is to allow visitors to experience one of the most beautiful parts of the world from the comfort of some of the most advanced carriages available. Whilst we recognise the importance of our unique heritage in pioneering narrow gauge railways almost two centuries ago, weâ€™re still at the forefront of the development of tourist railways today. With 40 miles of glorious scenery gliding by, itâ€™s easy to forget the cares and pressures of 21st Century life and slip back into a less stressful age. At-seat buffet service, featuring freshly-cooked hot food on many trains, a fully-licenced bar, wheelchair access and on-train toilets all ensure a great day out for all.
The fact that our trains are hauled by the worldâ€™s most varied collection of motive power is simply the icing on the cake. Not only do we own the oldest narrow gauge steam engine in the world, we own the oldest four. We also run the most powerful two-foot gauge locomotives and completed building a brand new one in 2010. Oh, and we build our own carriages too, including the magnificent Pullman Observation Car Glaslyn, ridden in and named by Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 2011. If you fancy being treated like royalty whilst soaking up the magnificent views of the Snowdonia National Park, simply hop on a train at Caernarfon, Beddgelert, Porthmadog or Blaenau Ffestiniog and let the train take the strain. Kids go free and you can even bring the family dog along for the ride.
Around the lake
Llyn Cwellyn nestles at the foot of Snowdon. This crystal clear man-made lake not only supplies the inhabitants of Caernarfon with drinking water, but provides one of the most stunning locations in Snowdonia. And perhaps the best view of all is from the Welsh Highland train as it crosses the Gwyrfai Valley approaching Rhyd Ddu, offering a breathtaking view back along the length of the lake with the mountains tumbling down on either side.
Be Seeing You
Just a ten minute walk from Minffordd Station on the Ffestiniog Railway lies the enchanting village of Portmeirion - one of the worldâ€™s most iconic places. Created by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis in the 1920s to demonstrate how a beautiful location could be developed without spoiling it, this unique village is set on its own private peninsula on the southern shores of Snowdonia. It comprises some 50 unique buildings, the majority of which are used as hotel or self-catering accommodation and is surrounded by 70 acres of beautiful sub-tropical woodland gardens. You can visit for the day or linger in the magic of Portmeirion at any time of year with a stay at the luxurious Portmeirion Hotel. The village features several cafes including the Castell Deudraeth brasserie and the Hotel Portmeirion dining room itself. You can book online for both Castell Deudraeth and the Hotel at www.portmeirion-village.com
The rebuilding of the Welsh Highland Railway offers the chance to follow in the footsteps of the intrepid explorers of the 1920s. We look at what it was like almost 100 years ago and how to do it today...
Although the magnificent North Wales scenery seems a world away from the bustle of everyday life, it's more than possible to immerse yourself in its beauty for a day from as far away as London, while Manchester and the North West are within easy reach of the mountains.
On arrival in Porthmadog you have an hour to break your journey (check the timetable at www.festrail.co.uk as this can be shorter on high season days). There is a great café on the station itself and refreshments are also available on the onward Welsh Highland service.
Virgin Trains’ 0710 service from London Euston calls at Crewe just after 0830 and delivers you to Chester to join the Arriva service along the North Wales Coast to Llandudno Junction. Changing here, the train gets smaller, the pace slows and you get a taste of what's to come as the train winds its way along the Conwy valley and Snowdonia starts to unfold in all its glory.
The Welsh Highland is something different again. Leaving Porthmadog at 1405 (yellow timetable) there is a five mile run across land reclaimed from the sea 200 years ago, before the train threads its way through the Aberglaslyn Pass - voted Britain's most beautiful place by members of the National Trust.
There is a long climb up the western foothills of At Blaenau Ffestiniog the Arriva train and the Snowdon before reaching the summit of the line at Ffestiniog Railway steam service stand side by side. Rhyd Ddu. A climb rewarded by views of the Tickets for the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland train stunning Gwyrfai valley as the train drops down can be bought at the booking office on the platform towards Caernarfon and its station next to the or on the train, which has a buffet service on board. imposing world heritage site of Caernarfon castle. The line down to Porthmadog clings to the hillside A short walk across the Castle Square, Y Maes, high above the Vale of Ffestiniog and offers views allows you to board the 1645 Arriva 5C bus to out to the sea and the great castle at Harlech. Bangor station where you can catch the 1809 The last mile in to Porthmadog is said by many to service to London Euston, where you arrive at be the best mile of the journey as the train crosses 2143. Now that's what we call a grand day out… the huge sea wall known as The Cob which www.virgintrains.co.uk stretches right across the estuary and presents www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk an outstanding vista of Snowdonia inland. www.festrail.co.uk
Back in the 1920s, the Five Valleys Tour was an enterprise undertaken by energetic travellers between the wars. It was a publicity wheeze contrived by Evan R. Davies, the FR Chairman until 1934. The Five Valleys were those of the Conwy, Lledr, Dwyryd, Glaslyn and Gwyrfai, though that did less than justice, most notably to Afon Menai. The journey began at Llandudno where a splendid six-platformed overall-roofed station encouraged you with multicoloured posters to go on day trips to Rhyl, Chester, Liverpool, Betws y Coed, Holyhead for Ireland or indeed anywhere away from Llandudno. After all, the London Midland & Scottish Railway made a living from moving people, so they were keen to promote the Five Valleys Tour. The first leg took you to Llandudno Junction, with views of the celebrated Castle and walled town at Conway (as it was), then as now the finest walled town in Britain. You might have to change at the Junction and clamber onto another train to Tal y Cafn (for Bodnant Gardens, only a mile and a half up the hill), Llanrwst (for the fine bridge of 1636, erroneously attributed to Inigo Jones), Betws y Coed (for the Swallow Falls, two miles up the hill) and then the diminutive engine would strain itself hauling four or five coaches up the hill to Blaenau Festiniog (as it was) and if you stuck at Milepost 19, that was part of the fun. Having admired Dolwyddelan Castles (there were two), from the beauties of the Lledr Valley you entered the longest single track tunnel in Britain, with its screaming rails, to enter the waste tips of Blaenau Festiniog with the melodious sound of tinkling slate sliding down the heaps in the rain.
There, after a prolonged wait, you climbed onto an even shorter little train hauled by an asthmatic engine through the Aberglaslyn Pass. If little Effie needed to spend a penny, you held her out of the window. The next train slogged up the hill, with entrancing clouds of evil greasy yellow smoke and once over the summit, ran down ten miles to Dinas Junction. Here there was yet another change of train, commonly onto antique coaches left over from the Lancashire & Yorkshire or the London & North-Western Railways.
At Blaenau, you quickly crossed the North-Western Road to climb on the oddest little train you ever saw. Well, it was considered odd then, but we now consider it comparatively normal. You rode in a poky compartment in a carriage for an hour down the hill, stopping only to buy tea and postcards from Bessie Jones in her Welsh dress at Tan y Bwlch, until you arrived at Portmadoc (as it was).
So back through Carnarvon (as it was), with its notable (but never-completed) castle and town wall, to Bangor, with yet another change of train â€“ the next took you back to Llandudno Junction where you changed for the seventh and last time for the short trip back to Llandudno. This was considered a Grand Day Out, and hundreds of people did it every summer. â–ş
◄ Nowadays it is rather easier and our trains are far more comfortable with corridors, loos for little Effie and proper refreshments (including one of the best beers in Wales). The journey takes from 1000 (10 a.m.) until 1700 (5 p.m.) or 1800 (6 p.m.) so you can be back in time for your evening meal.
[a.1245] At Porthmadog Harbour Station, in Spooner’s Café, you may have either a snack or a proper meal. If you need another ticket for the journey to Caernarfon, buy it here. Now make your way to the Welsh Highland train on the opposite side of the platform. This is a rather bigger train with a much larger steam engine that quite dwarfs the FR locomotive. Again, there are refreshments and the opportunity to sample the wide range of freshly-cooked hot food on offer.
Llandudno Station has been refurbished under the supervision of the Railway Heritage Trust; three platforms have been given over to car parking. You can buy a through ticket to Porthmadog Harbour but not yet to Caernarfon; you may need to buy [d.1255 or 1405] According to the time of year, you another at Porthmadog (We would like one day to may travel either on the 1315 or the 1400 in some arrange with Arriva Trains and Arriva Buses for you comfort through the Aberglaslyn Pass, Beddgelert, to buy a single ticket at Llandudno for the trip). over Y Copa (the Summit) and downhill not just to [departs1008] The Arriva Class 150 twin-car train Dinas, but right to Caernarfon, arriving only a few trundles three times a day from Llandudno to hundred yards from the famous Castle. [a. 1510 or Blaenau Ffestiniog, dropping off masses of climbers 1620 according to the time of year]. with their gear at Betws y Coed. Unfortunately the railway from Caernarfon to [arrives 1130] At Blaenau station the standard Bangor shut forty years ago, so make your way 600 gauge slides in at one side, and on the other is the yards to the bus station on the other side of Y FR station with a respectable rainproof roof. Maes, the Castle Square. This is awkward for wheelchairs, but our staff will happily summon a [d.1135]The Ffestiniog train is commonly three taxi to take you to Bangor Station. Otherwise take times the length of the Class 150, and every seat the Arriva 5C bus to Bangor (every 30 minutes, has a view of the scenery. The train has takes half an hour). refreshments served by charming young folk, many of them volunteers. Peter Jarvis
Walking back to happiness
Part of the attraction of Snowdonia is its very remoteness, with magnificent walks allowing you to forget all the cares of daily life. But how to reach them? Luckily, we have a couple of railways that can help...
Snowdon dominates the skyline as a Welsh Highland train negotiates its way past Llyn y Gader, the start of the L么n Gwyrfai Trail.
An 18th century stone bridge across the Afon Cwm Du that once carried coach and horse traffic to Caernarfon
There are some fantastic walks around our two railways, the newest of which runs between Beddgelert and Rhyd Ddu, allowing you to let the train take the strain if you don't feel up to the full nine mile round trip.
and there is a footbridge to cross in Beddgelert Forest. If you don’t fancy walking both ways, you can easily create a circular route by using the Welsh Highland Railway to bring you back to your starting place.
The Lôn Gwyrfai trail is a multi-use recreational path created especially for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. It features wide and even paths with the occasional steep section. The path leads through a variety of landscapes offering fantastic views of the surrounding area.
The path starts directly opposite the entrance to station in Rhyd Ddu. The first part of the route takes you to Llyn y Gadair and along the causeway along which ran the tramway that transported slate from Gadair-wyllt Quarry.
The path from Rhyd Ddu to Llyn y Gadair is even and wide and suitable for some wheelchairs. The remainder of the path has some steep sections
Llyn y Gadair lake, and the Afon Gwyrfai river that flows out of it, sustains a wide variety of plants and wildlife of national importance, such as the Arctic Char, and Floating water-plantain.
Beautiful views of the surrounding area can be enjoyed from here. Snowdon and Yr Aran stand to the east, with Mynydd Mawr, Y Garn and Mynydd Drws y Coed to the west. The path then enters the beautiful conifer and broadleaved Beddgelert forest. The path climbs gradually towards Hafod Ruffydd Uchaf where you can take a breather on one of the benches and enjoy magnificent views of the surrounding mountains before descending to Beddgelert Forest Campsite past the WHR’s Meillionen Halt. The path then wanders in and out of the forest, offering beautiful views of the surrounding area, alternating with the cool stillness of the forest.
The path then emerges from the forest onto open farmland on the foothills of Moel Hebog, where a striking view of Moel y Dyniewyd can be enjoyed, before gradually descending towards Cwm Cloch. From Cwm Cloch the route follows the road down to Beddgelert, bearing right before the railway bridge to go to the car park near the Welsh Highland Railway Station in Beddgelert.
The Lôn Gwyrfai trail opened in 2014 and was part funded by the Communities and Nature Project, a £14.5m European-funded scheme led and managed by Natural Resources Wales. CAN aims to generate economic growth and sustainable jobs by capitalising on Wales’ landscape and wildlife.
What makes walking in Snowdonia so rewarding is the sheer number of hidden scenic splendours. Sometimes a short walk from a well-trodden path can lead you to magical places that take your breath away. Read on to discover one of those secret places...
My favourite walk is Hafod y Llyn, just along from Tan y Bwlch, the halfway station on the Ffestiniog Railway. As a teenager I often went swimming in this beautiful lake with my friends on hot summer days after a hard day's work on the steam engines. But the years slipped by and I couldn’t quite remember the precise location. Twenty years on I was delighted to be reacquainted with this tranquil spot surrounded by trees and the hillside, lily pads floating on the water; a small jetty set perfectly on the southern edge; and only the sounds of nature. On blue sky days it is hard to even believe this is in the UK. Simply sitting on the bench at the far end of the lake is enough to make your cares simply melt away.
Down at the bottom of the hill is Llyn Mair around which you can walk on an easy path (a free booklet with maps to guide you around the walks is available from the Station café). If you want to explore a little further then there are the gardens of Plas Tan y Bwlch house and footpaths leading further into the forest around the Ffestiniog Railway. The woodlands have the freshest air you will find anywhere in the UK.
One of the reasons that this is a site of special scientific interest is because of the lichens that grow in the forest. Some of them are very rare indeed and this is because they can only thrive in the cleanest of air conditions. With the prevailing wind bringing fresh air from the Atlantic in to this sheltered valley, those lichens have the perfect When my friends visit the railway I recommend that environment in which to grow. they take a trip from either end of the line and break their journey half way. There is a great café The 1005 service from Porthmadog Harbour station in the old railway goods shed which is ideal for is a good starting point. I like to take the train all lunch or afternoon tea. You can of course walk for the way to Blaenau Ffestiniog and then break my miles over the hills from here, but just ten minutes journey on the way back down arriving at Tan y away are three fantastic short walks. Bwlch in time for lunch at 1215. Then walking in the early afternoon before catching the half past The upper lake at Hafod y Llyn is accessed over the three train back to Porthmadog, but you can also station footbridge. Walk down the hill on the travel from Blaenau Ffestiniog if that suits your footpath from that station and you are in the travel plans better - just check the online timetable Meirionnydd Oak Woods. There are carvings and on our website www.festrail.co.uk sculptures set in a short trail each with reflecting a story of these ancient and rather special woodlands. Happy walking! Paul Lewin
In the summertime
Children welcome. We not only offer free travel for Both railways take part and offer free activities to children under 16, but during our peak summer make your visit truly memorable. service, we aim to add even more value to your visit Whether itâ€™s footplate rides at Porthmadog, making with a wide range of activities for kids of all ages. clay pots or meeting the scary Pirate Ricardo and his giant snake at Tan y Bwlch, thereâ€™s something for everyone throughout the summer.
The school summer holidays are the busiest time of year for our railways. Many families are on tight budgets but still need to keep the kids entertained. So to help you, we run a ‘Summer of Fun’ event each year. This features a series of free or low cost events such as footplate rides, face painting, pottery and much more. We will also have a playground at Tan y Bwlch and
another which we help to sponsor at Beddgelert on the WHR. And there’s plenty going on for mums and dads too, with old favourites such as Food on the Move and Jazz Trains. There’s a special section on our website at www.festrail.co.uk with a full calendar of events so you can plan your visit. Catch up with the latest news on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/festrail
LL55 3ES LL55 2YD LL49 9NF
Satnav: Blaenau Ffestiniog: Caernarfon: Porthmadog: r
Design, words & edit: Andrew Thomas Pictures: Roger Dimmick, FR Archive, Cﾄフﾄネin Munteanu, Peter Johnson, Chris Parry, Steve Sedgwick, Andrew Thomas, Dave Thurlow Published February 2016 by Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway, Harbour Station, Porthmadog, Gwynedd LL49 9NF
Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways
01766 516024 www.festrail.co.uk ISSN 2047-024X