Days Out: The Ffestiniog Railway, Wales

We recently visited Wales for a lovely autumnal break. One of the reasons we chose to holiday in the Snowdonia National Park was because as well as being beautiful, it is also the home of the Ffestiniog Railway.

The Ffestiniog Railway is a heritage narrow gauge railway located in Gwynedd. It is the world’s oldest narrow gauge railway with almost 200 years of history under its belt. It’s famous for its outstanding scenery, comfortable carriages and historic steam trains.

Days Out: The Ffestiniog Railway, Wales

There are several different steam train routes you can choose from, but we opted for the Mountain Spirit, which takes you from harbour town, Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog, famous for its slate mines. The round-trip journey takes around 3 and a half hours and includes a 40 minute stop at Blaenau Ffestiniog.

We’d booked our tickets online the day before our journey. On the day, we arrived in Porthmadog a little early, so we spent a happy hour exploring the town and having excellent fish and chips. Checking in for our train journey was easy, we just presented ourselves at the ticket desk and we were soon stood on the platform admiring the engines.

Days Out: The Ffestiniog Railway, Wales

We were asked to find seats to our liking, but to remember where they were so we could sit in them again on the return journey. I think this is a covid safety thing, which I don’t mind at all.

The Mountain Spirit route is a stunning 13 and a half mile journey through the Snowdonia National park. Departing from Porthmadog, the historic Ffestiniog steam trains climb over 700 feet from sea level into the mountains, through magnificent forests, and past glassy lakes and rugged waterfalls. It really is an incredible journey, especially when the autumn leaves are turning all shades of orange, brown and crimson.

Days Out: The Ffestiniog Railway, Wales

Our comfortable carriage was hauled by the David Lloyd George locomotive. This one of their unique Double Fairlie locomotives designed over 150 years ago to haul large trains on the steep gradients and sharp curves of the Ffestiniog line. All the Ffestiniog Railway Fairlies have been built in the workshops at Boston Lodge. The workshops there are just a short chug up the line from Porthmadog Station. Our loco for the day, the David Lloyd George was built there in 1992.

The three and a half hour round trip takes you on a stunning journey across the estuary along the Cob embankment, before climbing up the valley. Moving at a sedate pace through tiny Welsh villages before we entered the ancient wooded slopes of the valley side. Once the train passes through the picturesque Tan-y-Bwlch station, it leaves the woodlands behind and begins to climb the mountain. After rounding the famous spiral at Dduallt, you pass through a tunnel, and the train emerges beside the Llyn Ystradau reservoir and then the slate mines of Blaenau Ffestiniog are just a short chug away.

Days Out: The Ffestiniog Railway, Wales

It was a beautiful afternoon, which was enhanced by the helpful conductress who kept us informed about what to look for on our journey. Lakes, special buildings, waterfalls and interesting local stories really helped flesh out the afternoon. There was a guide book you can buy too, which we did as it was packed with information about the route and the Ffestiniog Railway itself.

Once you arrive in Blaenau Ffestiniog, there’s around 40 minutes to explore this slate town. There are a number of cafes nearby, so many decamped to enjoy a cup of tea. We grabbed a quick drink, admired the slate sculpture near the station, and then watched the David Lloyd George turn around at the station ready to pull the train home.

Watch double Fairlie locomotive David Lloyd George turning at Blaenau Ffestiniog Station.

Days Out: The Ffestiniog Railway, Wales

The journey home seemed much quicker, although it wasn’t. As we’d already enjoyed the views in one direction, we were able to anticipate them on the way back.

It was such a beautiful afternoon, and a great way to enjoy the Welsh scenery, especially at this time of the year. I’ve been on a lot of steam trains over the years, but this is probably my favourite. It was such a restful experience. It was an afternoon of scenery and serenity that will stay with me for a long time.

Tickets cost around £40 per person (at the time of writing). For more information or to buy tickets, visit the Ffestiniog Railway website.

Note: we paid for our tickets in full, I’ve just written about it because we loved it!

Days Out: West Somerset Railway

If we go away anywhere in the UK we always try to find a local heritage railway. Steam trains are a real favourite for the small boy and we are very happy to indulge him. This year part of our summer holiday was spent at Burnham on Sea in Somerset, so naturally we checked out the local steam train scene and settled on the West Somerset Railway. We were not disappointed.

West Somerset Railway

We travelled by car to Bishops Lydeard, parked up and bought our tickets at the bustling station. Children under 5 travel free and a day rover ticket for an adult is £18.50, which I think is great value, especially if you want to spend the day hopping on and off exploring the various stops and stations.

West Somerset Railway is the longest heritage railway in England and runs from Bishops Lydeard to Crowcombe Heathfield, Stogumber, Williton, Doniford Halt (request stop), Watchet, Washford, Blue Anchor, Dunster and finally Minehead, and back.

West Somerset Railway

The twenty mile journey from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead takes around 90 minutes and is a lovely, restful chug through pretty Somerset scenery. From the window you can spy the Quantock Hills as well as farms, pretty villages, historic buildings and the coastline, including the pretty harbour at Watchet.

Of course the real star of the railway are the trains themselves. On the way from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead we travelled on one of their diesel trains. West Somerset Railway generally run more steam trains than diesel, but we thought we’d try them both, on our return journey we came back by steam train. It’s always quite charming to see the soft puffs of steam stream by as we speed through the countryside.

West Somerset Railway

The diesel was a handsome engine and the heritage carriages were clean, comfortable and well maintained. The railway boasts ten stations, all of them well kept, attractive and bedecked with flowers. The steam train was equally comfortable, but had the added charm of being a steam train, with all the romance that steam travel conjures up (Brief Encounter anyone?).

We got off at Minehead, not really expecting to find anything but a slightly tacky seaside town, but we moved in the opposite direction to the throng and walked towards the pretty harbour, which is nestled under North Hill. We were hungry, so stopped off at The Old Ship Aground pub on the harbour. The pub was a brilliant discovery, serving an interesting menu of local, seasonal and very delicious food. Round the corner from the pub, at the back of the harbour is the Minehead Lifeboat Station, where we sheltered from the wind and rain and had a good look at the lifeboat and learned a bit about the work of the RNLI, which the boy particularly enjoyed. We were charmed by Minehead and we will be back.

West Somerset Railway

We raced back to Minehead Station to catch the steam train home, we were all tired from our walk and full from our fantastic lunch. We were glad of the comfort and warmth of the carriages and both boys dozed off while I enjoyed a bit of peace and some pretty Somerset scenery.

It was a really wonderful way to spend a rainy day, with over three hours of combined train travel time, beautiful English countryside and a proper heritage railway experience, all three of us woke up the next day wanting to do it all again.

Note: We paid for our tickets in full, this is just a  personal reminder of another one of our railway adventures.