The longest narrow gauge railway in the UK runs coast to coast through mountains, from ancient Caernarfon, a walled town with a commanding, many-towered castle, to boat-fringed Porthmadog, where it shares a station with the Ffestiniog Railway. The scenery changes all the way along the 25-mile trip, with breathtaking views of Snowdonia, the Aberglaslyn Pass and the pretty village of Beddgelert. The full route offers a complete day out, starting at either end, with time to explore your destination, but you can also take shorter journeys or combine it with a trip on the Ffestiniog Railway.
Hire mountain bikes from Beddgelert Bikes, right next to the station, and explore the tracks that wind through pastures and impressive conifers in nearby Beddgelert Forest. The forest trails, well marked with numbered posts, pass spectacular viewpoints and great picnic spots. www.beddgelertbikes.co.uk
Alternatively, for a great woodland walk, alight at Rhyd Ddu station and take the Lôn Gwyrfai path, 4½ miles to Beddgelert.
Did you know?
Broadcasting pioneer Guglielmo Marconi had a radio station on the hillside at Waunfawr, which, for some years, was the most important long wave transmitting station in Britain.
The Fun Centre, Caernarfon, is a giant play area, inside a large church about 15 minutes’ walk from Caernarfon station, featuring high drop slides, ball pools, tumble towers, spinning steps and more, www.thefuncentre.co.uk. Kids might also like the Glaslyn Osprey Centre, right next to Pont Croesor Halt; live cameras constantly watch the nest, where the first chicks hatch in May or June. www.glaslynwildlife.co.uk
Exploring the seven acres of parkland at Antur Waunfawr, in the hills above Caernarfon, about 15 minutes’ walk from Waunfawr station, you can find secret ways, little woods and a variety of habitats, attracting all kinds of wildlife. There are colourful trees and flowers and great views of the Snowdonian mountains. The café (which uses only home grown and local produce) and most of the paths are all wheelchair accessible. www.anturwaunfawr.org
The Aberglaslyn Pass near Beddgelert was recently voted the best view in Britain by National Trust members. The trains run above the narrow gorge with the lovely River Glaslyn foaming over the rocks below.
Beddgelert (Gelert’s Grave) is reputedly named after a dog called Gelert that belonged to medieval Welsh prince, Llywelyn the Great. Coming home from hunting, Llywelyn found the dog with a bloody mouth, the baby gone and the cradle upside down. Believing that Gelert had killed his baby, Llywelyn slew the dog, only to hear the cries of the child, alive and unhurt underneath the cradle, together with a dead wolf, which Gelert had killed when it had attacked the baby. Remorseful, Llywelyn buried the dog with great ceremony and it is said he never smiled again. A pretty walk from the village brings you to Gelert’s rural grave.
On the Rails
There is a light refreshment trolley service on board, plus hot and cold snacks from the kitchen car, including toasted sandwiches, soup and bacon rolls. Spooners licensed restaurant and bar at Porthmadog Harbour Station is open daily from 9am to 9pm, serving full breakfasts, light lunches, daily specials and local real ales.
Off the Rails
At Hebog Café & Bistro in Beddgelert you can eat great, locally sourced food in a riverside garden, including minted Welsh lamb ciabattas or a Hebog cream tea with a slice of bara brith. www.hebog-beddgelert.co.uk
And look out for Beddgelert’s ice cream parlour – 24 flavours of homemade ice cream and sorbet, from butterscotch and pecan to raspberry pavlova. www.glaslynices.co.uk
Youth Hostel Snowdon Ranger in Rhyd Ddu, just a short walk from Snowdon Ranger halt, is ideal for climbing Snowdon. Dorm beds from £13 pp. www.yha.org.uk
The Black Boy Inn in Caernarfon is about 10 minutes walk from both the railway and bus stations, with excellent food, local ales on tap and comfortable rooms. Doubles from £75, B&B. www.black-boy-inn.com
The Travelodge in Caernarfon is handy and good value, about 15 minutes walk from rail and bus stations. Doubles from £28, room only. www.travelodge.co.uk
Aberdunant Hall Hotel and caravan park, near Porthmadog, is close to Pont Croesor Halt, standing in its own woodland. Doubles in the hotel from £95, B&B. www.aberdunant.com
The railway itself is a full day out with time to explore the coastal towns at both ends: bustling harbour-side town of Porthmadog and historic, royal Caernarfon. Right next to Caernarfon station is the imposing medieval fortress where the Prince of Wales was formally invested. Massive Caernarfon Castle, sporting polygonal towers and bands of coloured stone, is a World Heritage site, open daily for most of the year and costing £7.95 for adults. www.caernarfon-castle.co.uk
Make a circle through Snowdonia by travelling on the Welsh Highland Railway to Porthmadog, the Ffestiniog Railway up to Blaenau Ffestiniog and the pretty Conwy Valley line to Llandudno. You can then return to Caernarfon on the 5 or X5 bus via Bangor, to complete the adventure. www.bit.do/5X5bus
It’s a half mile walk from the National Rail station in Porthmadog. In Caernarfon it’s a 1/3 mile walk from the bus station.