A trip to Porthmadog isn’t complete without a ride on a steam train! There’s the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways, as well as the similarly named Welsh Highland Heritage Railway. On our recent trip, Mum & I chose the Ffestiniog Railway which departs from Porthmadog Harbour Station. I’d wanted to go on it for years, so this was my chance.
Opening in 1836, the Ffestiniog Railway is the oldest surviving independent railway company in the world. Connecting the slate quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog with the harbour of Porthmadog, it was originally horse-drawn, but the horses couldn’t pull the slate fast enough. So, in 1863 steam locomotives were introduced to the line with passenger services beginning a couple of years later. Three of the original steam locomotives and carriages (which are over 150 years old!) are still in operation today. Why not take a step back in time and enjoy a journey up into the Snowdonia mountains? I know we did!
The day before our trip on this delightful heritage railway the weather was wet and miserable. We watched as a train departed Porthmadog Harbour Station heading for Blaenau Ffestiniog and hoped the clouds would lift by the following morning, else there wouldn’t be much to see with such low clouds. We were in luck… By the morning of our departure, the clouds had lifted and the sunshine we’d had for most of the summer had returned.
With it being a beautiful August day, we arrived at Porthmadog early in order to collect our tickets from the ticket office and choose our carriage. We were in luck and had our choice of carriages, but they soon began to fill up. Third-class and first-class fares are available. We chose third-class but were still able to find a comfortable carriage and sit at a table.
We were soon on our way, ascending through Snowdonia to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The scenery is spectacular as the train climbs and winds its way from the harbour, looking down to the luscious valleys, rivers and lakes, and up at the spectacular waterfalls and the rugged mountains and forests. At one point the railway track spirals around itself as it climbs higher into the mountains. This is North Wales landscape at its finest, a sight which is a must-see.
Blaenau Ffestiniog is a former slate-quarrying town and used to be known as the ‘slate capital of the world’. These days it’s a thriving tourist destination with Zip World, Llechwedd Slate Caverns, mountain biking trails, walking trails and shops. You can stop on the train and take the return journey or enjoy what Blaenau Ffestiniog has to offer and return on a later train.
The train really filled up for the return journey. It was great to be able to see the locomotive as we went through tight corners and the scenery is just fantastic. Food and drink are available on the train or there’s plenty of choice of eateries at either end of the line.
Back in Porthmadog, you’ll find the harbour and shops or head to the nearby Black Rock Sands (an open, wide beach which you can drive onto) or up the road to Criccieth (and its beach and castle).
I’d wanted to go on the Ffestiniog Railway since I was a kid, so it was wonderful to be able to take the trip on a perfect, sunny day this summer. Now I just need to plan another weekend up there to take a ride on the Welsh Highland Railway!