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Travel & Holidays in later life


Llanberis Lake Railway at the foot of Mount SnowdonThe top Welsh tourist attraction is not a Historic Castle or a Stately Home - but an old-time industrial railway line that was closed in 1946, doomed to rust and oblivion, until brought back for holiday use by volunteer groups of steam-railway fans. 

Built 1836, the line hauled slate from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog on a 13-mile journey down to Porthmadog Harbour.

The Ffestiniog Railway is typical of a number of 19th century mineral lines which also carried passengers until the traffic was captured by buses, and the slate trade declined. 

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Members of the Great Little Trains group are: Ffestinog Railway, Welsh Highland Railway, Vale of Rheidol Railway, Llanberis Lake Railway, Welshpool & Llanfair Railway, Bala Lake Railway, Talyllyn Railway, Brecon Mountain Railway. Snowdon Mountain Railway is not a member.

A Discount Card  costing 10 cuts an adult's fare by 20% valid for one full return journey on each of  the Great Little Trains during the season in which the ticket is bought. The main season is from late March until October. 

You can buy tickets in advance from The Great Little Trains of Wales, LLR, Dept GLTW, Wharf Station, Tywyn, Gwynedd LL36 9EY. Tel: 01654 710472.  Information by email from info@greatlittle

For more information, contact North Wales Tourism, 77 Conwy Road, Colwyn Bay LL29 7LN. Tel: 01492-531731. Bed bookings: 08705-168-767. Web:

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Postwar, after the official demise of the Ffestiniog Railway, a long section of track was flooded as part of a hydro-electric project. Railway stations and halts began to crumble as weed took over. It seemed the end of a chapter in the industrial history of Wales.
Snowdon Mountain Railway
But then railway buffs bought the line and its rolling-stock and set to work at holidays and at weekends, restoring the Ffestiniog to new life.

Even to people who are not dedicated railfans, there is enormous pleasure from riding in a 19th century carriage, with an engine up front puffing steam.

With my family, I took this narrow gauge journey into nostalgia - beginning with the Ffestiniog, and then getting hooked on the other little railways that have followed the Ffestiniog pattern.

Management of the lines is professional. But most of the day-to-day operation is tackled by volunteers who cheerfully give up holiday time to serve as guards, ticket collectors or buffet attendants.

It's all part of a rapidly-expanding general interest in "industrial archaeology". Industrial relics can be just as fascinating to holidaymakers as an ancient castle or church.

One of the top attractions is the slate mine formerly served by the Ffestiniog Railway. The underground workings of Llechwedd Slate Caverns are open to visitors, who take a half-mile trip by miners' tramway into a level that was first quarried in 1846.

Different lighting techniques are used to bring out the natural beauty of the rock, and the original atmosphere of the mine is recaptured. Tourists can watch slate being split in the mill, and even try it themselves.

Routing yourself around the Little Railways is an ideal way of seeing the scenic variety of Wales: beaches and mountains, lakes and valleys. Among the man-made sightseeing highlights are superb castles at Harlech, Conwy and Caernarfon. The Italian-style Portmeirion village is worth half a day.

Ffestiniog Railway gives you stunning views. The rack-and-pinion Snowdon Mountain Railway saves you the long hike to the 3560-ft peak. Close by is the Llanberis Lake Railway, with vintage steam locomotives that chuff along the shore of Lake Padarn. 

Other North Wales steam lines - each with its individual character - are at Llangollen (home of an annual July five-day International Music Eisteddfod), Bala Lake, Fairbourne near Barmouth, Talyllyn (from Tywyn on Cardigan Bay), and a short distance on the Welsh Highland Railway from Porthmadog. 

In the first-class carriage of a Welsh Highland narrow-guage trainAn ongoing project aims to complete a link via Beddgelert to a longer stretch of line through to Caernarfon. With a cross-town link at Portmadog, the Welsh Highland Railway will then be virtually merged with the Ffestiniog Railway.

By car, bus or scheduled rail, only an hour or two's travel separates each of the little railways of North Wale

A typical car-touring circuit could include overnight stopovers in Tywyn, Porthmadog, Llanberis and Llandudno. If you want one convenient central location for reaching any of the railways, try Dolgellau.

Adding a different line to your collection each day, there is still time left over for visiting ancient market towns, or for walking in the hills.

Mountain views are not always guaranteed! I recall climbing a peak in Snowdonia, amid a mist that blanketed everything.

Then, dramatically, the clouds briefly rolled away, and we marvelled at the spectacular series of peaks and ridges, bathed in sparkling sunshine. Those few unforgettable minutes were well worth all the energy output, and initial disappointment.

The entire Snowdon National park area gives great pleasure to mountain lovers of all grades - from those who just enjoy hard walking along well-marked trails, to those who prefer tough scrambling or roped mountain climbing. If economy is the keynote, the Snowdon region is ringed with Youth Hostels and economy-priced b&bs.

For a wider range of North Wales accommodation, try the cheerful entertainment resorts like Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl or Prestatyn. They all have good beach and sports facilities for children and adults. The bays are thickly lined with chalet and caravan parks.

In quieter style, the North Wales coastline offers several smaller resorts, from Pensarn and Abergele to Rhos-on- Sea, Penmaenmawr and Llanfairfechan.

Llyn Nantlle - one of the smaller lakes of Snowdonia What to do of an evening? Mostly, Wales is rather quiet, except for the sound of male voice choirs practising. But there is traditional entertainment at the major seaside resorts.

For something different, try a Welsh folk-song evening linked with a traditional Welsh meal or medieval banquet. The harp music alone can make the journey worthwhile. Heavenly!

Here are more ideas on where to go in Wales

CARDIFF - great to visit any time

CARDIGAN - Self-catering along the Heritage Coast

LLEYN PENINSULA - Go walking around the Edge of Wales

SWANSEA - On the Dylan Thomas trail around the Gower peninsula 

TENBY - along  Pembroke's coastline

WALES ALONG THE A5 - Follow the historic highway for great sightseeing

WELSH RAREBITS - for a taster of Wales

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Collins Rambler's Guide: Snowdonia and North Wales by Richard Sale - Covers many of the beautiful and dramatic walking areas which can also be reached by the steam trains.

The Festiniog Railway from 1950 - The fascinating story of how a group of steam-railway enthusiasts restored the derelict line, including the building of a tunnel.  

Narrow Gauge Railways of North Wales by Andrew Wilson - Covers all of the steam railway lines

Favourite Welsh Choirs - A compilation on CD of top choirs in full voice, featuring the well-loved traditional songs.

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