The second part of my holiday took me to from South Wales to the north of the country.
The first day was spent on the Welsh Highland Railway. I’d ridden the line three years ago, when it was open as far as Rhyd-Ddu, just short of the summit of the line. It’s now extended beyond Beddgelert through the famous Aberglaslyn pass to Hafod-y-Llyn, just a few miles short of the ultimate destination of Porthmadog.
The climb from Waunfawr up to Rhyd-Dhu is spectacular enough, but the descent down to Beddgelert is even more spectacular, as the line twists and turns Swiss-fashion to lose height. The final section is the most spectacular of all, as the line heads through the steep-sided valley of Aberglaslyn pass, with it’s unlined rock tunnels. Decades ago, on a wet family holiday, we walked along this route, though the long-abandoned tunnels. Amazing to ride through them on a train.
The WHR has come in for some criticism for not making any attempt to recreate this spirit of the original undercapitalised Colonel Stevens line, instead building a modern tourist railway suitable for the needs of the 21st century, using powerful ex-South African Garrett locomotives rather than the underpowed tank engines of the original line. But I think what they’ve built is a magnificent achievement.
There’s no forward connection from Hafod-y-Llyn, which is a temporary terminus in the middle of nowhere. So you have to ride the train back through Aberglaslyn pass to Beddgelert, where there’s quite a long wait for the bus for Porthmadog. Still, there are far worse places to spend a couple of hours, in the midst of some spectacular scenery.
Next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the Queen’s Hotel, I headed off for Harbour Station for a ride on the famous Ffestiniog railway. This is one of the longest established preserved railways, celebrating more than 50 years in this form. The locomotive for the day was double Fairlie David Lloyd George, not technically a preserved locomotive at all, since it was built as recently as 1979, albeit to a 19th century design.
Then it was the scenic Conwy Valley line to Llandudno Junction. This is one of the most scenic routes on the National Rail network, and really deserves to promoted better as such. I’d love to see a timetable that makes sensible connections with the Ffestiniog at Blaunau, using heritage rolling stock with windows that open. Not neccessily using steam; I think some first generation diesels would do just as well.
Breaking the journey at Bettws-y-Coed was probably a mistake. It’s a beautiful setting, but the place is an appalling tourist trap, full of tacky gift shops selling nothing but tat, and restaurants serving chips with everything. It’s the sort of tasteless commercialism of which I’m sure that Ayn Rand would have approved.
If you’re based in the north-west, this makes an excellent two-day trip – although it I was doing it again I’d probably stay overnight in Beddgelert and get the bus to Porthmadog in the morning, then take a later train on the Ffestiniog.