Welsh Coast Heritage Railways

January 18th, 2019

All aboard for a trip along one of the Welsh coast’s lovely vintage railways; you’ll be spoilt for choice.

“Not very long ago” goes the story of Ivor the Engine, “in the top left-hand corner of Wales, there was a railway. It wasn’t a very long railway or a very important railway, but it was called The Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited, and it was all there was.”

Ivor the Engine was one of the most loved children’s television series of a generation. Its creator Oliver Postgate was said to be inspired by the dozens of historic steam railways that wind their way through the hills and along the shores of Wales. Join us as we explore two of these fantastic Welsh coast heritage railways.

Ivor the engine wikicommons

The Welsh Highlands

The lovely Welsh Highland Railway is one of Wales’ newest restored historic railway lines, arguably one of the prettiest and indeed the UK’s longest heritage railway. It runs for 25 miles from the coastal town of Caernarfon through Snowdonia and along the stunning Aberglaslyn Pass to Porthmadog to meet up with the famous Ffestiniog Railway.

The Welsh Highland Railway has something of a turbulent history. In the early twentieth century, several old lines that linked the quarries in the area were merged to form the Welsh Highland Railway, with the intention of running the line between Dinas (just south of Caernarfon) and Porthmadog for both quarry traffic and for passengers. However, the aftermath of World War I and the succeeding depression meant that the line wasn’t successful. The tourist industry simply wasn’t busy enough, the quarries were in decline and local bus services were quickly taking over, so the line closed in 1933.

However, although the tracks were lifted and the carriages sold off, the track-bed itself remained relatively intact, so restoration work steamed ahead in 1997 and the line was soon opened in phases, the first being the three mile stretch between Caernarfon and Dinas.

By 2011 the entire project was completed, meaning that a heritage railway linked Caernarfon and Porthmadog, and onwards to Blaenau Ffestiniog for the first time in over 100 years. Of course, long gone are the wagons that moved slate and stones from the quarries of the area; instead the brightly coloured carriages now transport happy tourists to and from the coasts of north Wales, delighting in the scenery of Snowdonia as they go.

The Rheidol Vale

The Vale of Rheidol Railway near Aberystwyth has several claims to fame but one of the quirkiest is that it was the last steam railway to be owned by British Rail. Steam trains had come to a halt on all other parts of the network in the 1960s, but the Rheidol line continued to operate under steam until British Rail was privatised in 1989 and ownership of the line was taken over by a charitable trust.

This stunning steam railway leaves the Welsh coast from Aberystwyth and journeys along the beautiful Rheidol Valley to Devil’s Bridge, which is of course, famous for its bridges – three bridges, one built on top of the other with the very oldest dating back to around the 11th century!

Today, the historic railway line is over 100 years old, and it transports thousands of visitors every year along the valley, taking in the scenery of mid Wales before heading back for some seaside fun at Aberystwyth. The narrow gauge rail track means the historic carriages can easily follow the tough terrain, clinging to hillsides and winding along the valley floor, for one of the most magnificent railway journeys in Wales.

Other heritage Railways on the Welsh coast include:

  • Llangollen Railway, North East Wales
  • Bala Lake Railway, North West Wales
  • Ffestiniog Railway, North West Wales
  • Llanberis Lake Railway, North West Wales
  • Snowdon Mountain Railway, North West Wales
  • Fairbourne Railway, North West Wales
  • Corris Railway, Mid Wales
  • Talyllyn Railway, Mid Wales