If you are a family with young children, then the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway in Porthmadog – a short two-foot-gauge railway – is for you. Your train ambles out into the countryside to the replica 1920s-style halt at Pen-y- Mount Junction with traditional wooden carriages and old-fashioned card tickets, clipped by the guard. The route is long enough to keep kids entertained but not so long they’ll get bored.
Walk down Porthmadog’s Snowdon Street with mountain views ahead. Cross the bridge over the “Cut” canal, feeding the Llyn Bach (“small pool”) harbour, and turn right along the top of the inner harbour wall. From here, there are scenic views over the Glaslyn River estuary and Traeth Mawr (“big sands”). This flood plain is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a refuge for many birds, including herons, curlews, sandpipers and geese. Just before the end of the path, sit on one of the benches and take in the magnificent views of the Cambrian hills.
After the train leaves Porthmadog and passes through a shady wooded glade, look left for the famous Tremadog cliffs, where climbers from all over the world come to ascend near-vertical rock faces and catch the area’s fantastic views.
A twenty-minute stroll from the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway in Porthmadog is Madog Quads, where people of different ages and abilities, including kids over six, can trek with quad-bikes through thirty acres of countryside near the historic village of Tremadog. www.madogquads.com
Seven minutes on the mainline train from Porthmadog Station (which is just over the road from the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway) is the interesting seaside town of Criccieth, overlooked by a ruined thirteenth century castle. www.cadw.gov.wales
Up a secluded stairway near the car park in Porthmadog is a 1922 granite war memorial in memory of the “ninety-seven fallen war heroes of Madoc Vale”. It is 5 metres high, shaped like a Celtic cross and stands on top of Ynys Galch, one of the former islands reclaimed from Traeth Mawr estuary. In the evening, the tranquil views from here are captivating.
On the Rails
On special days some trains include an original buffet car, built in 1893 and now serving soft drinks and snacks. The Russell Tearoom, located on the platform at our station in Porthmadog, is a great place to eat and serves a lot more than tea! From light meals to a full Sunday roast, you can take the weight off your feet and soak up the traditional railway tearoom atmosphere.
Off the Rails
For something a little different, visit Kerfoots, a traditional department store that opened in Porthmadog in 1874. Climb up the magnificent spiral staircase to their famous first floor coffee shop. www.kerfoots.com
The Travelodge in Porthmadog is a less than a mile away from the railway. Doubles from £39, room only. www.travelodge.co.uk
Alternatively, the Snowdon Lodge, where Lawrence of Arabia was born, is just 800m from the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway and can be booked for groups of up to 35 people from £450/night. www.snowdonlodge.co.uk
The 3-star Royal Sportsman in Porthmadog is just a few minute’s walk down the road from the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, offering 28 en-suite rooms, a bar and restaurant. Doubles from £90, B&B. www.royalsportsman.co.uk
A slightly longer walk (or taxi ride) from Porthmadog is the luxurious country house-style Plas Tan-Yr-Allt, built by William Maddocks, founder of Tremadog and Porthmadog. Percy Shelley stayed here in 1812-13. Doubles from £110, B&B. www.plastanyrallt.co.uk
Did you know?
T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) was born close to the railway in Tremadog’s Snowdon Lodge in 1886.
Ride the 10.30 or 11.30am train to Pen-y-Mount Junction, where kids can watch the locomotive uncouple and may even be asked to lend a hand, helping the guard operate the signals and change the points. On the way back, trains stop at Gelert’s Farm, where passengers can ride for free on the miniature Porthmadog Woodland Railway and visit a hands-on museum that lets them climb into locomotives and press buttons. Back in Porthmadog, have some food in the Russell Tearoom – maybe try the minted lamb burgers with homemade bara brith or fresh Eccles cakes for pudding?
Insider Tips: Pay once and your ticket is valid all day so you can ride the trains on the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway as many times as you like! And look out on Facebook for special events like Easter Bunnies and Santa trains. www.facebook.com/WHHRly
Porthmadog is unique with three of the Great Little Trains of Wales based here, so you can combine the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway with a ride on the Ffestiniog or Welsh Highland Railways. After your rail trips, you could walk south for a mile from the harbour in Porthmadog along the Wales coast path to the waterside village of Borth-y-Gest on the Glaslyn estuary, with a cafe looking over the water to the mountains beyond. From here a further short walk will take you to some very pretty sandy coves along the side of the estuary towards Morfa Bychan and Black Rock Sands.
The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway is just over the road from Porthmadog National Rail station, on the Cambrian Coast Line. T2 TrawsCymru buses from Bangor to Aberystwyth also stop right outside.