The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway runs through eight miles of idyllic scenery in mid Wales. The engine works hard as it climbs steeply out of the market town of Welshpool, through hills, valleys and farmland, before finally running alongside the Banwy River to Llanfair Caereinion, the agricultural community that it was built to serve in 1903. Here, passengers can visit the railway tearoom and children’s playground or walk up to the small town, built near the site of a Roman fort.
Many visitors combine their railway trip with a visit to Powis Castle, making a superb day out. This historic landmark is a lovely walk up through the landscaped deer park, from Welshpool’s Raven Square station. The medieval fortress, dating from the thirteenth century, rises dramatically on a rock above the celebrated garden, full of formal yew trees, Italianate terraces and flowering herbaceous borders. Over the years, generations of the Herbert family, who have lived here since the seventeenth century, have added to collections of art and fine furnishings, including an interesting display of treasures from India in the Clive Museum. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/powis
The railway’s larger gauge allows for spacious carriages with open-air balconies at each end, which provide iconic views of the Welshpool & Llanfair railway and panoramas over the river, hills and fields along this pastoral route. Stand on the back balcony to see the line receding behind, or on the front balcony to overlook the hardworking engine crew.
The terraced gardens at Powis castle, with their statues and orangery, are magnificent, but, for a less formal green space, head for the watery urban nature reserve at Severn Farm, run by the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. It’s open all the time, with free access, but the best times to visit are April to July, when the wetlands round the pond are full of birds, like little grebes and reed buntings. www.montwt.co.uk
Dolarddyn Hall, near the hamlet of Castle Caereinion at the railway’s midpoint, is where Henry Tudor spent the night on his journey to the Battle of Bosworth. During the battle, in August 1485, he defeated Richard III, and in due course became Henry VII. Legend has it that Henry was given a white horse, symbol of the Powys princes, at Dolarddyn before he mustered his supporting armies at Welshpool. Henry was related to the ancient Powys princes and, since he is also a distant relative of the current queen, the fifth-century prophecy of St. Garmon, that descendants from that family would rule Powys forever, seems to be true.
Several great walks start from stations along the Welshpool & Llanfair railway, making it easy to combine strolling and train rides. The Glyndŵr’s Way National Trail actually starts close to the Welshpool station. Follow the trail up through the parkland of Llanerchydol Hall, with glimpses of the neo-gothic mansion, and then out onto the bare hills, heading for the heights of Y Golfa. After two miles, you can branch off the trail and return via a wooded cwm (or valley) to the little wayside halt at Sylfaen and rest your feet on the train back to Raven Square. A book by Steve Page, with more walks from W&LLR stations, is available at the railway’s shops.
On the RailsYou can buy hot drinks, confections and ice creams at Welshpool’s Raven Square while the railway’s tearoom, at Llanfair Caereinion, with indoor and (covered) outdoor seating, offers soup and sandwiches, homemade cakes and other treats.
Off the RailsThe Raven Inn, opposite Welshpool’s Raven Square station, is a cheerful family pub (www.bit.do/RavenInn). In Llanfair, the Goat Hotel serves quality food (www.thegoathotel.co.uk) and the Just3Drops bistro offers mains like Welsh cottage pie and puds like apple and blackberry crumble (www.bit.do/Just3Drops).
The no-frills Premier Inn in Shrewsbury is just twenty minutes away from Welshpool on the mainline train. Doubles from £29 (room only) if booked in advance. www.premierinn.com
An old coaching inn with characterful rooms and an open fire, the Goat Hotel has hosted travellers in Llanfair Caereinion since the seventeenth century. It’s in the centre of town, a five-minute walk uphill from the station, and serves great food and guest beers. Doubles from £50, B&B. www.thegoathotel.co.uk
The Royal Oak is a distinguished hotel in the heart of Welshpool. The largest in the area, it has 25 refurbished rooms and a formal dining room. Doubles from £100, B&B. www.royaloakwelshpool.co.uk
From Llanfair Caereinion, take the first train of the day for the 45-minute journey to Welshpool. Enjoy Powis Castle and the Powysland Museum, both within walking distance of Raven Square station. Having seen the fascinating history of the Borders area, return to Llanfair by train in time for dinner at one of the pubs or the wine bar.
There are foodie treats at both ends of the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway; and the mainline station, at the other end of town, connects it to the medieval English market town of Shrewsbury. Arrive in Llanfair Caereinion in time for homemade fare in the railway tearoom, walk off your lunch, and take the train back to Welshpool. Walk east along the High Street, enjoy a cream tea at the Old Station and catch a mainline train to Shrewsbury, with its wide choice of dining opportunities, like Turkish-style grilled meat at the Istanbul BBQ (www.istanbulbbqrestaurant.com) or French fine dining at Number Four (www.number-four.com).
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is a one mile walk from the National Rail station in Welshpool, on the Cambrian Line.
W&LLR Archives, Charles Spencer, Kevin Heywood, Mike Heath