Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

Jul/Aug 2019: Riding the Rails of England & Wales

Great Little Trains

If 'eating on trains' was the first sub-plot in this summer 2019 adventure, the second was 'smaller-scale rail'. Great Little Trains of Wales is actually a marketing initiative dating from 1970, for the promotion of eleven narrow-gauge heritage railways located in that part of the United Kingdom. As our trip moved into a new phase, we arranged to sample two closely related members of that marketing alliance.

The third feature on this page isn't an operator of 'great little trains', but something unique in the UK: the country's only street-running funicular.

Welsh Highland Railway

The present-day Welsh Highland Railway only dates from as recently as 2011, being a restored and extended version of a previous operation that ran its last passenger train in 1936. The extensions comprised the final 2.5 miles into central Caernarfon at one end and the so-called Porthmadog cross-town link at the other, which gave the line access to the Ffestiniog Railway's Harbour Station. (The Ffestiniog Railway took over the restoration project from an enthusiast group in 1990 and is now the owner and operator of the WHR.) Just like the original line, the current railway uses a narrow gauge of just under 2 feet.

We made a day trip to Caernarfon from Porthmadog (25 miles each way) on Thursday 01 August, allowing nearly four hours at the destination.

Ffestiniog Railway

The Ffestiniog Railway Company, based in Porthmadog, is believed to be the oldest surviving railway company in the world - but not the oldest operational railway. The original purpose of the line was to facilitate the transport of slate from the mines of Blaenau Ffestiniog to the sea. The original operations closed in 1946 and passenger services would not resume along a fully reinstated line until 1982. The current line incorporates the UK's only example of a railway spiral. Known as the Great Deviation, this was required in order to ensure that the reopened line would avoid a new hydro-electric scheme.

We made a day trip to Blaenau Ffestiniog from Porthmadog (13.5 miles each way) on Friday 02 August, once again allowing nearly four hours at the destination.

Great Orme Tramway

Opened in 1902, the Great Orme Tramway provides a seasonal service transporting passengers (mainly holidaymakers and tourists) between the North Wales resort of Llandudno and the summit of the Great Orme headland. As such, it has become a significant tourist attraction in its own right.

The tramway is at first sight outwardly similar to the celebrated cable cars of San Francisco; mechanically, however, the two are completely different. In the Californian system, the drivers can choose to move or not by gripping or releasing  a constantly moving cable under the street. The Llandudno installation is a funicular: each car is permanently connected to a "twin" by a fixed cable and the two always move in concert, one ascending and the other descending. The two cars move when the cable moves and stop when it stops. (Actually there are two independent funiculars at Llandudno: passengers complete their journey by changing at an intermediate station.)


Choose a starting point:

Welsh Highland Railway
Ffestiniog Railway
Great Orme Tramway

Linked reports from same trip:
  24hr dining train-fest
  Other trip highlights