Craig Amess charts the rise, decline and hard-earned rebirth of the Ffestiniog Railway – and enjoys the treats in store on this and the adjoining Welsh Highland Railway this Christmas.
The picturesque Ffestiniog Railway is one of the most popular visitor attractions in North Wales – and no wonder, for its immaculately maintained locomotives and rolling stock run through a magical landscape of coastline, mountains, rivers and woodland, stopping at scenic stations along the way on its journey from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The beautifully preserved Porthmadog station, where trains from the Welsh Highland Railway also arrive and depart, has every facility the visitor could wish for, including a well-stocked souvenir shop, an excellent cafe/restaurant and a popular bar opening on to the main platform itself.
December sees the return of the ever-popular Santa Specials taking passengers on the Welsh Highland Railway from Porthmadog through the Aberglaslyn Pass to Beddgelert. Starting on the weekend of December 8-9, they will continue each weekend until Christmas, departing at 11am and 2.15pm.
Tickets will be available only by calling the booking office on 01766 516070, and cost £19 per person first class, £14.50 third class and children under two years £3. Each child will receive a gift from Santa and his elves, and there will be photo opportunities at Beddgelert as Christmas carols fill the air. On the return journey to Porthmadog, parents will be served mince pies and a glass of sherry.
The Christmas festivities will continue on December 27and 29, when first-class travel on a WHR steam train will be offered from Caernarfon to Rhyd Ddu in a luxury Pullman carriage. Tea and coffee will be served on the ascent to Rhyd Ddu, and on the return passengers will be served afternoon tea at their seats, including smoked salmon, home-cooked ham and mustard and roast beef with horseradish sauce, followed by a selection of cakes. Vegetarian options will also be available.
Bookings at £56.85 per person can be made online but strictly before noon on Christmas Eve.
The Ffestiniog Railway will be open over the festive period, between December 26 and 31
The story of the oldest narrow gauge railway in the world began towards the end of the 18th century when William Alexander Madocks acquired land in a remote area of north-west Wales that led to the creation of a new harbour on the Glaslyn estuary at PortMadoc. Workmen were housed in a building called Boston Lodge as Madocks was the MP for Boston, Lincolnshire.
At that time, high up in the mountains around Blaenau Ffestiniog, slate deposits were being extracted and moved by pack animals and farm carts down to the River Dwyryd to be loaded into river boats, and then transferred to sailing ships – an inefficient and long-winded process.
For the full article and to view more images, see the December edition of Modelling – available now!
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