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!

Saying goodbye to Brookside Miniature Railway

Over the past six years or so we’ve been making regular visits to Brookside Miniature Railway with our son. Several months ago we read their announcement on Facebook that after 38 years of service they would be closing.

Brookside Miniature Railway was located at Brookside Garden Centre in Poynton and it seems the new owners of the garden centre gave the railway notice to quit. The last day trains ran on the line was Sunday 2nd September 2018. We visited for one last time to ride the rails and say goodbye to this wonderful little railway.

Saying goodbye to Brookside Miniature Railway

Brookside Miniature Railway opened in 1980 and was a great place to visit if we wanted to do something fun, which needed next to no planning and could be done pretty cheaply. You could buy a ten ride ticket for £12 and the whole family could have a few rides for not much money.

The great thing about Brookside Miniature Railway was that the route was pretty interesting. It went through lots of tunnels, over bridges, alongside streams, around a vintage fun fair and through the grounds of the garden centre itself. There was always something new to look at, and each season through up new and interesting things to admire. The Santa Specials were also legendary, though we never managed to book on one – they really were that popular!

Saying goodbye to Brookside Miniature Railway

We did have my son’s fourth birthday party there, which was probably my favourite of all his birthday parties. Everyone had two rides of the train, party games and table heaving with party food. The kids loved it almost as much as the parents.

We were very lucky on the last day that we arrived later on in the afternoon. There were queues to get on the platform and queues to get on the trains. We had two last rides on the last two remaining trains. Ben and I stopped to watch the very last ride and wave them off; then we were given the chance to ride half way around the track on the Union Pacific Locomotive. We climbed aboard for its final journey to the shed for the night, before it finds a home at another miniature railway.

We got off and my son sobbed “I’m going to miss this place” and he’s not wrong. We’re going to miss it too. It’s been a regular part of our family fun times together. I bet thousands and thousands of people have enjoyed spending time on the greatest little railway in Cheshire these last 38 years.

Saying goodbye to Brookside Miniature Railway

Goodbye Brookside Miniature Railway, we’re missing you already! Thanks for all the wonderful memories.

Watch this video of one of the last trains to run at Brookside Miniature Railway –

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.

A Day Out with Thomas – East Lancashire Railway

On Sunday 5th October we took the small boy and his cousin to East Lancashire Railway for a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. We arrived bright and early in Bury, Greater Manchester, in time for the Fat Controller (or Sir Topham Hat if you like) to open up proceedings. The boys were a bit overwhelmed by their surroundings, so we took them for a fortifying hot chocolate and watched Thomas pull into the station and pick up his first load of passengers; much to their delighted amazement.

A Day Out with Thomas

Once the boys had settled we managed to grab some seats on James and have a ride up to Ramsbottom. Ramsbottom was a much smaller station than Bury and we’d heard that the troublesome trucks would be passing through. We didn’t have to wait long until Diesel pulled the trucks in. They were indeed troublesome. The boys enjoyed climbing in Diesel and having a good look at the trucks.

We had a quick picnic lunch and we heard that Percy would be coming in shortly to have a drink (see picture below), the boys were fascinated with this process and we talked about why steam engines needed lots of big drinks of water. Picnic over we clambered aboard Mavis and chugged back to Bury.

A Day Out with Thomas

In Bury we decided to get some (temporary) tattoos of Thomas to remind us of the day; then we joined the (long-ish) queue to catch a ride on Thomas. We queued for around half an hour, but took turns to take the boys into the gift shop and buy them a reminder of their day out with Thomas, so it didn’t feel like a horribly long wait.

Thomas once again pulled into the station and we found somewhere to stand in the carriages. t was a short journey, but it was long enough for the boys to have a memory they can enjoy for a long time to come. They also got certificates to show they’d been on Thomas the Tank Engine. They were delighted.

We took one last steam train ride up through Ramsbottom to Rawtenstall and back. Afterwards we finished off our picnic, watched the world go by and talked about our fabulous day out with Thomas.

A Day Out with Thomas

We bought a family ticket and it cost £44 which was we felt good value for a family day out; that’s just £11 per person and you can have as many train journeys as you want. They also have various Thomas themed free activities you can partake in on the day; including the temporary tattoos and free access to the Bury Transport Museum.

We would definitely have another day out with Thomas at East Lancashire Railway.

A Day Out with Thomas - East Lancashire Railway

Note: We paid for our tickets for our Day Out with Thomas at  East Lancashire Railway ourselves.

Days Out: Steam Trains & Tea at Woody Bay Station

Team HodgePodgeDays are currently on holiday in North Devon. With it being a holiday I’d not planned to do any blogging, and only put finger to iPad (the modern day pen to paper) if I felt suitably inspired. It transpires that today has been one of those interesting, somewhat inspiring days.

It started off, a day like any other, being bounced on bodily by the small boy at some unearthly hour. A sneaky peek around the curtains revealed it to be an overcast morning and a fairly unpromising looking day weather wise. We quickly decided to go for one of our pre-selected wet weather days out. A good hours drive from the cottage to Woody Bay Station near Lynton to enjoy a few steam train rides.

We arrived mid morning and in time for the second departure of the day. Woody Bay is a really pretty station nestled in the hills between Barnstaple and Lynton. The mile long track was restored and opened to the public in 2004 and there are plans afoot to extend the track further and hopefully in time bring back the Barnstaple and Lynton line in its entirety.

We purchased our tickets (£7.50 for a ride-all-day adult ticket, and children under 5 travel for free – hurray!) and watched the train chug into Woody Bay Station. We hopped on board and found our wooden third class seats. Our tickets were clipped by the guard and off we chugged to Killington Lane Station. We could get off and enjoy a country walk, but we chose not to as we’d miss all the action.

At Killington Lane we all got out and watched the engine uncouple from the carriages, chug around and couple itself to the front of the train ready for the return journey. We hopped aboard and sped back to Woody Bay for lunch.

Lunch was a massive and very pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting much if I’m honest, so we just ordered sandwiches from the station tea room. I went for a Brie and cranberry panini which came with a pile of beautifully dressed, interesting salad. The small boy had a child’s ham sandwich and the bigger boy had a ham and cheese panini. Lunch was excellent and we said we’d be back just to eat there next time we passed.

North Devon: Cream Tea & Steam Trains at Woody Bay Station

We had another ride on the train and came back for pudding. As we were in Devon we each had a massive, still warm, freshly baked scone with some excellent strawberry jam and a generous dollop of clotted cream. Replete, we toured the station shop and came away with a little model train for the small boy. We had one last train ride and then full of excitement and clotted cream we set off home. The sun once more peeping through the clouds.

The small boy is obsessed with trains, so we go on these kinds of days out quite a lot. I’ve ridden my fair share of steam trains in the last few years. I’m by no means an expert, but I really liked Woody Bay Station. I liked the set up, the attention to detail and the quality of everything from the tickets, to the posters at the station to the sandwiches in the buffet.

I think you’d struggle to fill a full day here with a small child or two, but with lunch and a bit of a walk it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon. It’s not horrifyingly expensive either. We will be back.

More information about Woody Bay Station can be found on their website.

Click here to find out more fun things to do in Devon!