Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, Wales
Some of my best family memories during my son’s growing-up years revolve around taking trains and visiting train and trolley museums.
As I wrote in ‘Bittersweet: Afternoon at the East Anglia Transport Museum’, Clive and I enjoyed taking his father to see (and ride) older vehicles in England. We also love travelling on more modern trains, especially the Eurostar between Paris and London
Wales has an interesting mix of modern trains and restored ‘little trains’.
The Great Little Trains of Wales
The Great Little Trains of Wales is a tourist initiative developed in the 1970’s to showcase and promote Wales’ narrow-gauge steam trains, along with its history and scenery.
These Welsh trains are ‘little’ because they used to carry slate from quarries to the sea, and had to go inside mines and confined spaces to collect their cargo.
Today there are ten railway lines included in the Great Little Trains of Wales. One is the Llanberis Lake Railway, which runs to and fro along the shores of Llyn Padarn, as we discovered on our Accidental Walk.
As with similar endeavours the world over, much of the success of Wales’ little trains is due to the dedication and support of volunteers.
Railway brochures encourage everyone to get involved, and many of the trains are driven by enthusiastic, silver-haired retirees.
The Ffestiniog Railway
Like many of Wales’ little trains, the Ffestiniog Railway in northwest Wales grew and declined with the slate industry.
The Ffestiniog line runs for 13.5 miles, starting at the coast in Porthmadog and gradually climbing through places with names like Minffordd, Penrhyn, and Tan-y-Bwlch.
The day we took this train was grey and damp, not great for walking but good for experiencing the mysterious, dreamy aspects of the Welsh countryside when it’s shrouded in clouds and fog.
The Ffestiniog Railway climbs through hills and forests, eventually ending in the mountains at the slate-quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
We loved the scenery on our train ride, and riding in the old carriages, complete with an attendant coming around with a nice cup of tea.
The little trains of Wales are popular with all ages. Our train was full, and we wished we had more time to take the recently-restored Welsh Highland Railway from Porthmadog to Caernarfon.
Seeing the little trains of Wales reminded me of ‘Travel,’ the poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, especially this stanza:
My heart is warm with the friends I make
And better friends I’ll be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.