NORTH WALES - The Exmoor Extroverts 2016
A series of photographs and report showing our recent trip to North Wales

Llanberis Lake Railway train at Gilfach Ddu

Train the party used at Llanberis terminus

North Wales/Bala Lake Railway engine (named 'War Hero') being photographed by coach

North Wales/Bala Lake Railway engine 'running round its train' at Bala station

Coach party on train to Snowdon Summit

N Wales/Ffestiniog Railway train at Blaenau Ffestiniog

North Wales/Llangollen Railway train leaving Carrog

Caernarfon station.

Caernarfon Castle

Heritage Railways of North Wales by Derek Coe

On railway tracks of gauges both standard and narrow and in travelling from sea-level to 3,494ft and river valley to mountain pass, this was a holiday to remember.
Based at Caernarfon’s Celtic Royal Hotel, a guided tour of this interesting walled town on the Menai Strait was an integral part of the itinerary. Of particular note within the walls of the 13th century castle was a ‘Weeping Window’ of poppies, part of the earlier display at the Tower of London. With the benefit of autumn sunshine for a goodly part of the five days, the programme of visits began and ended on sections of the erstwhile Ruabon to Barmouth railway line. Closed by British Railways in stages up to 1968, part of the track-bed has subsequently been taken over by two volunteer-staffed heritage railways – the standard gauge Llangollen Railway at its eastern end and the narrow gauge Bala Lake Railway near to the centre. The former has, over a number of years, extended its length and in 2016 operates from Llangollen station for fifteen miles to the edge of Corwen. Steam-hauled, this railway follows the route of the winding and scenic River Dee. Also running beside water and through equally attractive countryside was the Bala Lake Railway. Here, in a special train just for the ‘Exmoor Extroverts’, the party was conveyed the nine miles from Llanuwchllyn to Bala and back in carriages pulled by a diminutive blue engine with highly polished brass-work.

The longest railway journey of the visit was on the penultimate day when the narrow gauge Welsh Highland Railway took 2½ hours to cover the thirty miles between Caernarfon and Porthmadog. Travelling along behind a steam engine that had begun its working life on a railway in the Cape Region of South Africa, the train journeyed through spectacular scenery in the foothills of the Snowdon Range before plunging through a series of tunnels in the Aberglaslyn Pass. Ironically, from the train it was possible to see the summit of Snowdon whereas on the previous day, when the party was actually at the summit station of the Snowdon Mountain Railway, it had not been possible to see anything for the top was shrouded in cloud. Despite the disappointment of a lack of views from the summit, the journey up and back on the steeply inclined (maximum 1-in-5½) rack railway was itself an experience, along with the birthday cake at the summit, not to be missed.

Earlier in that day, Llanberis had provided a wealth of different opportunities for its West Country visitors. Some had elected to spend time at the ‘Electric Mountain’ (Dinorwig Power Station deep inside Elidir Mountain), others had travelled on the narrow gauge railway alongside Llanberis Lake or had climbed the hillside of Coed Dinorwig within the Padarn Country Park to look down on the lake and almost everyone had visited the very informative Welsh Slate Museum at Gilfach Ddu. Slate was the theme of another narrow gauge railway journey, this time from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog by way of the Ffestiniog Railway [FR]. The twenty-seven return miles along the route of the 19th century horse-drawn (up) or gravity (down) railway built to carry slate from the quarries at 700ft above sea level to the sea-port was another fascinating journey. Of added interest for the railway enthusiasts in the party was the FR’s double-ended Fairlie steam engine that hauled the train. Along the way was a further unique feature, that of the spiral (to gain height) at Dduallt.

The unanimous opinion as the journey back to Somerset drew towards its close was that it had been an exceptional holiday in all senses of the word. There was an enthusiastic endorsement of the thanks expressed by Lesley to Sue and to Sharlie for their planning and organisation and to Ian for his driving. This was both in the forward direction and in reverse for a z-bend under a railway bridge on a country road near to Betws-y-Coed defeated even his accomplished skills at manoeuvring his lengthy vehicle through narrow gaps and with no place to turn, we had to return the way we had come!