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Author Topic: Little Trains in Wales  (Read 3190 times)
James Harrison
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« on: February 04, 2015, 12:48:48 pm »

I've had some good news this morning, so good in fact that I can start planning in earnest a little trip I've had in mind for the last year or so. 

A weekend in Wales, travelling on the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways.  They both start from Porthmadog, one runs down to the coast and the other up into Snowdonia.  We could do the one on the Saturday and the other on the Sunday. 

http://www.festrail.co.uk/index.htm

The Ffestiniog is a narrow gauge railway built to haul slate from quarries to the sea.  It was the first steam-powered narrow gauge line in the world, and a few of the original 1863-built locomotives are still at work on the line.  It closed in the 1940s and from the mid-1950s a determined preservation effort succeeded in restoring the full length of the route, including a major deviation where part of the trackbed had been flooded as part of a reservoir.   

The Welsh Highland is another narrow gauge line, built at the turn of the 20th Century to connect the small villages dotted around Snowdonia.  It closed in the 1930s and was scrapped entirely; it has only recently been fully rebuilt throughout and now runs impressive Beyer-Garrett type locomotives repatriated from Africa. 

I'm planning to go sometime in Summer; I've no specific date in mind yet so whenever suits the majority suits me. 

Who wants to come?
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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2015, 02:45:13 pm »

I'd definitely be interested, provided I can afford to do it. The only proviso for summer would be the August Bank holiday weekend to account for attending Weekend at the Asylum.
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James Harrison
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« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2015, 05:35:52 pm »

I wouldn't want to go quite so late in the season as August Bank Holiday; I'd prefer to visit before the schools break up for summer. 

As a place holder may I suggest the weekend 11 and 12 July?

I also note on the website that whilst the Ffestiniog has a fairly busy timetable, the WHR runs only two return journeys a day- leaving Porthmadog at 10.45AM to arrive Caernarfon 1.05PM, leaving there at 2.15 to get back to Porthmadog 4.30.  It might pay to do the WHR on the Saturday as it's a much longer trip.  We could then do the Ffestiniog on the Sunday morning/ early afternoon and get away at a reasonable time on the Sunday afternoon.   
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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2015, 07:28:29 pm »

I wouldn't want to go quite so late in the season as August Bank Holiday; I'd prefer to visit before the schools break up for summer. 

As a place holder may I suggest the weekend 11 and 12 July?

I also note on the website that whilst the Ffestiniog has a fairly busy timetable, the WHR runs only two return journeys a day- leaving Porthmadog at 10.45AM to arrive Caernarfon 1.05PM, leaving there at 2.15 to get back to Porthmadog 4.30.  It might pay to do the WHR on the Saturday as it's a much longer trip.  We could then do the Ffestiniog on the Sunday morning/ early afternoon and get away at a reasonable time on the Sunday afternoon.   

That sounds reasonable. Although my ability to attend could easily remain in the air for the foreseeable future.
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Corroded Alloy
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JacobTheunissen
« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2015, 11:07:16 pm »

I am interested. it would be lovely if we can make it.
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Hurricane Annie
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« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2015, 11:34:55 pm »

 I am jealous I am at the other end of the world.
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Miranda.T
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« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2015, 12:38:04 am »

It may also be worth noting that the railway has a Victorian weekend in October.

Yours,
Miranda.
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James Harrison
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« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2015, 08:52:30 am »

Cross-post from wasteofspacebook....

 -Weekend of 11/12 July is the confirmed date (just had my holiday request at work approved for the Friday before/ Monday afterward).

-My original intention was to drive there (and offer a lift to one other person with minimal luggage [old MG's don't have a large boot]), however that now looks increasingly unlikely so will be taking the train instead. I'll post which trains I'll be catching to get to Portmadoc and back later, if anyone wants to make a party of it.

-I don't know if people want to all try booking the same guesthouse or hotel?
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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2015, 09:10:00 am »

Good to know. I haven't booked a hotel yet, but consider me a hesitant attendee (pending my circumstances).

I'll probably be driving there (and my car has a decent sized boot) so I might be able to offer someone a lift if it's on my way so long as they put in for petrol.
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James Harrison
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« Reply #9 on: April 25, 2015, 10:14:55 am »

Looking at the train times, there is a train departing Birmingham New Street at 10.25 on the Friday morning which arrives in Porthmadog at 14.55 that afternoon.  (Didn't realise it would be 6 hours each way, for me, on the train  Shocked ). 

Coming back on the Monday there is a train leaving Porthmadog at 12.01 which gets into Birmingham at 16.30.
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James Harrison
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« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2015, 10:24:46 am »

Looking at the hotels, there's a Travelodge in the middle of Porthmadog less than a mile from the railway stations. 
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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2015, 03:04:14 pm »

Having looked at the costs I'm sure I'll be there, but won't be able to confirm properly (having booked a hotel etc.) until after I've been paid.
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Antipodean
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« Reply #12 on: April 28, 2015, 11:50:51 am »

The rest of will need pictures.

No Pictures! - then it did not happen
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James Harrison
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« Reply #13 on: April 28, 2015, 08:20:02 pm »

Hotel booked!- it's definitely happening!
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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #14 on: May 18, 2015, 06:34:08 pm »

Hotel booked! I'll be there!
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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #15 on: June 14, 2015, 09:46:30 pm »

This may seem like an odd request, but since I intend to be driving from my current base roundabout Sheffield to Porthmadog and I have never actually spent anything like the 3 hours plus the journey would take behind the wheel, I'm looking for some interesting diversions/detours that would allow me to break up the journey to and from home somewhat, largely for the sake of safety (both my own and anyone and everyone else on the road).

For perspective (and so you know where I'm heading for suggestions) my route, as things stand, is the Woodhead Pass (the A628 for anyone who's not local), skirting round the bottom side of Manchester and then taking the M56 towards Chester before following the A55 (nearly) to Conway and then turning south through Betws-y-Coed and from thence the A roads to Porthmadog itself. So far I'm considering stopping off in Chester for one trip, and taking a slight detour to Llandudno on the other but would appreciate any other suggestions as to how to spend my time.

*Please keep any suggested detours to within '40-ish' miles of the above route*
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henrietta Devereux
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« Reply #16 on: June 15, 2015, 06:04:00 pm »

Betws-y coed is interesting enough in itself. Several roads in that area are.

Please excuse me whilst I rush for the smelling salts and slow my pulse rate at the memory of towing a caravan to Beddgelert (another scenic tourist spot) whilst on coming traffic take the view that if they are stationary they are not liable. Without first having the courtesy to pull over to the side of the road.

Betwys has all the gifty shops one can wish for. Nice walks too.

Porthmadog is lovely. Very nice shops there. That is (more "was" nowadays) our local shopping centre when we lived in Barmouth.

You will be too far north for the pull in's we go to but we always have a mug of brown liquid and cholesterol special at the A5 roadside van. Not gourmet by Sheffield standards but they are delish. Top tip take sarnies. Too many north Welsh eateries are run by retired London business persons who think anyone can sell food and the punter ought to be grateful to them. Personally we never venture more than 10 miles beyond Welshpool nowadays.

On the way home; if you fancy a look at the sea, visit Llandanwg. Take the farm track uphill at the slate caverns for tea, cake and spectacular views. If you are drawn to the bright lights of the metropolis, Barmouth beach is unsurpassed. Stay the night B&B and go for a walk in the mountains next day. For a first has to be panorama walk.
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James Harrison
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« Reply #17 on: June 15, 2015, 07:19:38 pm »

I was rather looking forward myself to the drive to Porthmadog; my original plan was to pick up the A5 and follow that up to Snowdonia, then take the windy little roads own to Porthmadog itself.  For various boring reasons* that's now not going to happen and I have the fun of six hours on a train to get there instead. 

* All said boring reasons being mechanical maladies with my driveway ornament car.
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James Harrison
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« Reply #18 on: July 05, 2015, 10:43:33 am »

It's next weekend!  (Blimey that crept up on us didn't it?)

My proposal is to take the Welsh Highland Railway from Porthmadog to Caernarfon on the Saturday (as not only is it a longer journey but there are only two trains each way a day on it).  That one leaves Porthmadog at 10.45 and arrives at Caernarfon at 13.05.  We then have a little over an hour in Caernarfon before the return trip which leaves at 14.15 and arrives back in Portmadog at 16.30.  Cost of the return ticket for the full line is £35.80.     

We would then be free to take Sunday at our leisure; the Ffestiniog is a shorter railway with a more frequent service.  We could take the 11.35 from Porthmadog which gets into Blaenau Ffestiniog at 12.50, then spend a few hours there before coming back on the 15.05 departure and arrive back in Portmadog at 16.10. (Hence why I suggest the Ffestiniog for the Sunday as it makes for a more relaxing day out)... Cost of the return ticket is 21.50. 

All information for the above is taken from the railways' website www.festrail.co.uk
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James Harrison
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« Reply #19 on: July 13, 2015, 08:13:34 pm »

Three rings, and home.  My word, that was an outstanding little expedition.  There are 160+ photos of it all, so rather than post them all I'll just add a link to my Photobucket account*

(*other photo sharing sites are available.)

We visited three narrow gauge railways, clocked up a grand total of 80 miles travelled behind various steam locomotives and spent nine hours on trains (and that doesn't include the ten hours I spent getting there and back on the national network). 

On the Saturday we travelled from Portmadog on the Welsh Highland Railway, for a little over 25 miles through Snowdonia to Caernarfon.  The original railway was opened in stages between 1881 and 1922, spending a few years in between in a moribund condition, being re-routed at least once and regauged before opening throughout.  By that time the industries it was built to serve were in decline and the summer tourist traffic was firmly in the hands of motor busses.  It only carried passengers for ten years, and closed to all traffic in 1942.  It then lay half-forgotten until the late 1990s, when a determined effort saw it rebuilt in stages back to Porthmadog, which was reached a few years ago. 

It is a beautiful line.  From Porthmadog it runs up the Abergynolwyn pass, with a ruling gradient of 1 in 50 and in places of 1 in 40.  This is difficult terrain to walk through, let alone run a train, and it is easy to see why the preserved line uses powerful 2-6-2-2-6-2 garrett locomotives repatriated from South Africa- the original line used locomotives from the Ffestiniog Railway and I cannot imagine how they coped, although granted traffic loads were so light back then that trains ran to only two carriages and a brake van. 

Once out of the pass the line runs through the foothills of Snowdonia, skirting around Snowdon itself.  The scenery is bleak and awe-inspiring here as the train is surrounded on all sides by almost impassable terrain. 

The line then drops into a valley and runs down a long but gentle gradient to Dinas, the terminus of the original route.  Here are the loco workshops for the railway, where a third South African locomotive (an NG15 2-8-2) is being restored.  From Dinas the route follows the former London & North Western Railway standard gauge route into Caernarfon, terminating yards from Caernarfon Castle. 

The train takes two and a half hours to make the trip in each direction and spends a little over an hour in Caernarfon.  Personally I found the day hard going; it's a round trip of six and a half hours at least and by about the five hour mark I was, not exactly bored, but worn out and wanting to be back in Porthmadog.  Not a reflection upon the Railway in the slightest this, just the limitations of my endurance. 

So; onto Sunday.  This time we went to Blaenau Ffestiniog via the Ffestiniog Railway.  This is a shorter railway (13 miles) with a correspondingly shorter ride (an hour and a quarter each way), but is no less impressive.  From Porthmadog the line first runs along a sea wall, then makes a 90-degree turn to run inland and up the valley. 

The gradients and the turns one this route are as fierce as on the Welsh Highland, and the train is constantly groaning and shrieking as the wheels squeel against the rails on the curves.  From Porthmadog as far as Ddault the line is exceptionally picturesque, and runs on almost a sheer ledge.  On one side, a cliff face.  On the other, a straight drop down anything from 50 to 200 feet (I would estimate).  The Ffestiniog, on special occasions, runs an original slate train through from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog- the original operation of the route being to use gravity to pull the loaded wagons down to the port and horses to pull the empties back up.  I have always wanted to ride what they term the 'Gravity train', but having seen the terrain the line runs through that ambition has been sorely checked!

When the line reaches Ddault there is perhaps the most impressive feat of civil engineering yet accomplished on a preserved railway.  By the time the preservationists reached this point, in the mid-1960s, the trackbed of the original route had been lost.  A hydro-electric power station had been built, and its reservoir had flooded the trackbed.  As a result, the line now makes a 360-degree turn on leaving Ddault, climbing a fierce gradient and crossing over itself, then running through a cutting and tunnel blasted out of rock to pick up the original route again a mile or so further toward Blaenau Ffestiniog.  Much of the original line can still be traced from the train; from Ddault the line first ran on an earth embankment (still extant), then on a stone escarpment (still extant) and into a tunnel (still extant).  I was expecting from this point on to find the route obliterated, but instead the reservoir was almost drained and so I was able to see the (usually flooded out) tunnel and trackbed almost to the point where the new track rejoins it. 

From Ddault onwards the scenery becomes more industrial; heaps of slate and abandoned quarries are visible as the train runs along the back streets of Blaenau Ffestiniog.  It comes to an end at the site of the former Great Western Railway station; there is an interchange with the Conwy Valley Line, which also terminates here. 

We had planned to stay a few hours in Blaenau Ffestiniog, but as the weather was inclement we instead decided to go back to Porthmadog on the train we came up on.  This gave us an extra few hours in Portmadog to visit the third preserved railway in the town, the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway. 

Boring bit of railway preservation politics here.  When the first serious efforts were made to rescue the Welsh Highland in the 1960s, a preservation group was formed which tracked down, bought and restored the original stock of the railway.  Whilst doing this it bought a short stretch of the old line in Portmadog from which to act as a base whilst it raised funds to buy more of the trackbed and extend the line further.  Meanwhile the Ffestiniog Railway completed its project to rebuild from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog.  What happened next is boring, rooted in legality and the courts.  The upshot is however that the Ffestinog Railway bought the entire trackbed of the Welsh Highland and announced that they would rebuild the line themselves, working down to Porthmadog from Caernarfon.  (In effect, the original preservation society had been gazumped).  An arrangement has happily since been reached that the Ffestiniog operate the Welsh Highland using new rolling stock whilst the original preservation group have rebuilt a short branch off of it and run the original WHR rolling stock.  The two meet at a junction just outside town, so there is still the opportunity to run original WHR trains along the new line. 

What it lacks in length (it is only a mile long) it more than makes up for in character.  There is a very interesting museum and workshop halfway along the line and on gala days (such as there was over the weekend) an impressive timetable of passenger and demonstration freight trains. 

Would I do it again?  Yes, whole heartedly.  I would probably make a few changes to the itinery (I would take the WHR only as far as Snowdon Ranger, and the Ffestiniog only to Ddault, and I would then spend more time exploring the walks you can access from the lines). 

Photos are still uploading to Photobucket* (*see caveat above) so I'll post the link to the gallery there as soon as I can. 

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James Harrison
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« Reply #20 on: July 13, 2015, 08:29:19 pm »

Well, it finally uploaded just shy of 200 photographs, so here is a photographic record of the 2015 Grand Summer Expedition: 

http://s149.photobucket.com/user/masgtai/library/The%202015%20Grand%20Summer%20Expedition

Andy (MAASF) brought along his Brownie box camera and a 'proper' photographic film camera, so he may digitise and share some of his photographs too when he has them developed. 
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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #21 on: July 13, 2015, 10:10:51 pm »

I certainly will. I should have all 4 of my 35mm films developed by the weekend and uploaded some time early next week. The pictures from my brownie might take a bit longer depending on how quickly I can find somewhere to get them developed and printed.
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Serrac
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« Reply #22 on: July 14, 2015, 12:21:51 am »

The pictures from my brownie might take a bit longer depending on how quickly I can find somewhere to get them developed and printed.

You mean to say you don't develop your own films ??

It isn't very difficult to do as long as the chemicals are to hand.

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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #23 on: July 14, 2015, 08:36:14 am »

The pictures from my brownie might take a bit longer depending on how quickly I can find somewhere to get them developed and printed.

You mean to say you don't develop your own films ??

It isn't very difficult to do as long as the chemicals are to hand.


No I don't, although I have been tempted to. I know my grandfather (the previous owner of the brownie) did develop his own films on occasion. The main difficultly I find myself with would be in blocking the bathroom window so as to use it as a darkroom. But even if I did develop the film (I have a book on photography which details the basic method), I'd still need an enlarger and the right paper to make prints. All of which (not to mention the cost of the chemicals themselves) is rather a large outlay when I'm not entirely sure if the camera works properly (it's been sat in the attic for years and using it this weekend was more an exercise in curiosity than anything after I found film was still available for it).
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Serrac
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« Reply #24 on: July 14, 2015, 09:35:54 am »

The main difficultly I find myself with would be in blocking the bathroom window so as to use it as a darkroom. But even if I did develop the film (I have a book on photography which details the basic method), I'd still need an enlarger and the right paper to make prints. All of which (not to mention the cost of the chemicals themselves) is rather a large outlay


To develop film, you don't need a darkroom, just a tank & changing bag - The negatives can then be scanned, manipulated, and then printed (either inkjet or lightjet). As for chemicals, they need not be expensive (D76, £1.79. 250ml fixer, £3.96). This is assuming you are using B&W film of course.

If you're stuck for processing options, try: http://www.ag-photolab.co.uk/
and for B&W film, I'd suggest: https://www.ilfordlab.com/ (ag can also do B&W).
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