The Historic Ffestiniog Railway starts beside the harbour in Porthmadog, climbing from sea level to over 700ft on its journey through the mountainous Snowdonia National Park and going round the UK’s only railway spiral. Passing lakes and waterfalls, forest and farmland as they steam through the picturesque Vale of Ffestinog, the little trains reach their destination – the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, set amidst rugged scenery dominated by the historic remains of the slate industry. Steam engines have been running here for over 150 years and include the quirky ‘push me, pull you’ Double Fairlie locomotives with a chimney at each end!
The Wales Coast Path turns inland along both sides of the Vale of Ffestiniog so, by using the train, it is possible to walk from Tan y Bwlch station down to Penrhyn through the wooded slopes of this valley. There are lovely views and a hidden lake along the way. Download the Coast Path app to guide you. www.walescoastpath.gov.uk
Coed y Bleiddiau translates as ‘Wood of the Wolves’, and it is said that the last wolf in Wales was killed here five hundred years ago; a willow sculpture of a wolf nearby acts as a memorial.
Next to Porthmadog harbour, in the last surviving slate shed, The Maritime Museum charts the area’s shipbuilding history with maps and model ships. (£2, www.porthmadogmaritimemuseum.org.uk) INSIDER TIP: Why not try crab-lining off the harbour at Porthmadog – its simple and free!
Seaside Portmeirion is a Mediterranean-influenced village, created by visionary architect Sir Clough Williams Ellis: a corner of the Italian Riviera in North Wales! The amazing buildings are a cascade of colours – pink, white, turquoise, ochre – and architectural features – arches, domes and fountains – surrounded by woodland, sandy beaches, even palm trees. Open daily most of the year. www.portmeirion-village.com
Plas Tan y Bwlch is a magnificent mansion, built for Victorian quarry owners and surrounded by a superb 13-acre garden with plants collected from all over the temperate world. The grounds are open all year and the summer tearoom serves sandwiches and cakes. From Tan y Bwlch station, it is roughly a half hour stroll through woodland to the house. www.plastanybwlch.com
There are stunning panoramas as you leave Porthmadog station and cross the Cob, the two-centuries-old sea wall that created the town: to one side are Ballast Island and a tidal inlet of Cardigan Bay; on the other side mountains beckon, with Snowdon, Cnicht and the Moelwyns making an impressive backdrop..
On the rails
There are at-seat licensed, refreshments on the train and a licensed café at Tan y Bwlch station, which is open during train service hours. Spooner’s restaurant and bar at Porthmadog Harbour Station is open daily 9am – 9pm, serving full breakfasts, light meals, takeaway boxes and local Purple Moose beers.
Off the rails
Visit Isallt coffee shop, right above Blaenau Ffestiniog station, for slow-brewed coffee, homemade cakes and great pasta dishes. There’s a discount for rail passengers with a voucher. www.facebook.com/isalltcoffeeshop
Treks Bunkhouse, 900 feet above sea level in Llan Ffestiniog, is a 10-minute bus ride from Blaenau Ffestiniog Station. Dorm beds from £14 – £18. www.treksbunkhouse.co.uk
The Wenallt Guest House in Penrhyndeudraeth, a five minute walk from Penrhyn station, is a large B&B with traditional furnishings. Doubles from £60, B&B, www.wenalltguesthouse.co.uk
Hotel Portmeirion, one mile from Minffordd station, is an impressive Victorian mansion that Williams-Ellis extended in 1926. Guests have included artists, writers and Albanian royalty! Doubles from £154, B&B, www.portmeirion-village.com/stay
Bryn Elltyd Eco Guesthouse in Tanygrisiau, powered exclusively by renewable energy, is about a mile from Blaenau Ffestiniog Station. Doubles from £80, B&B, www.ecoguesthouse.co.uk
Travel to Blaenau Ffestiniog and explore the town. There are small privately run shops, all pleased to see you, and a good selection of places to have lunch. You can follow the poetry band trail or have some retro fun at It’s a Small World, with indoor crazy golf, model boats and a scalextric racing track (activities from £1, www.itsasmallworld.org.uk). Or head to Llechwedd Slate caverns, a mile from the station, for an underground Victorian tour (£20, www.llechwedd-slate-caverns.co.uk), zip wires, trampolines and a world-class downhill cycle track (www.zipworld.co.uk). Please note these attractions do need to be booked in advance.
Starting from Blaenau Ffestinog or Porthmadog, take the train to Tan y Bwlch station in the heart of the Snowdonia Park woodland for the start of a series of walks. The Dyffryn Maentwrog map shows an extensive way-marked footpath network, allowing you to explore as much as you want, from a simple stroll round the lovely Llyn Mair Lake to a scenic afternoon hike. Longer walks to Tanygrisiau or Penrhyn stations are also available. www.bit.do/ffest
Your ticket is a day rover: so make full use of it by breaking your journey along the way!
Links with National Rail at Minffordd station, or it’s a half mile walk between stations in Porthmadog. Also links with National Rail at Blaenau Ffestiniog.