Heritage railway launches new services following historic slate trains route
Spring is on its way for Wales’ heritage railways, and at the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway, tickets for the 2023 train services, which start running on Saturday 25 March, go on sale this morning.
Changes to this year’s timetable include the option for passengers to spend a full day in Beddgelert by travelling on the renamed ‘The Aberglaslyn’ service. Booking a seat on the outward morning service and returning on the afternoon service enables passengers to have a longer break to explore.
In addition to previous services, visitors will be able to start and finish their journey at Blaenau Ffestiniog using the ‘Quarryman’ which will follow the route of the old slate trains which historically travelled between the quarries around Blaenau Ffestiniog to the harbour at Porthmadog loaded up with their cargo of slates.
After leaving Blaenau Ffestiniog, described as ‘the town that roofed the world’, the train passes the slate tips which remind travellers of the town’s industrial past, before heading through the Vale of Ffestiniog to Porthmadog, with time to explore the harbour town.
But while the railway’s ‘bread and butter’ is tourism these days, the locos and rolling stock can still turn their wheels for hard graft and industry.
Earlier this month Hunslet 0-4-0ST ‘Lilla’, built-in 1891, swapped her usual cargo of passengers for over 30 tons of stone as part of a mission to repair a 100m section of the Fisherman’s path which had been washed away by winter storms and high river levels.
Harking back to the days of carrying slate quarried from nearby Rhyd Ddu, the railway stepped up to assist the National Trust carry out the repairs by shifting the aggregate and stone to within meters of the damaged footpath.
The trainline runs parallel to the path and provides the only vehicle access on the East bank of the river at Aberglaslyn and once the restoration of the line from Caernarfon to Porthmadog was completed in 2011, a special gate was installed near Bryn y Felin to allow the train to help with the upkeep of the path.
The Fisherman’s path is an exhilarating route tread by thousands of walkers each year, it follows the Afon Glaslyn closely with its proximity to the river, part of the appeal.
It’s estimated that the footpath team of four will take a few weeks to complete the repairs in time for the busy spring months, when Beddgelert is a bustling hub for walkers exploring the fantastic network of paths in the area.
Footpath Ranger, Jack Peyton said: “We’re used to working in hard to reach, wild places and often rely on helicopters to move in the stone required for footpath maintenance and repairs.
“Eryri is a wet place, so erosion is an ongoing issue for us. The effects of climate change will likely increase the impact, making the maintenance and repairs of footpaths ever more important. A good footpath helps minimise the impact of erosion of soils and fragile upland habitats as well as allowing thousands of visitors to enjoy the area safely.
“It’s been great to work with the Welsh Highland Railway and we’re especially grateful to them for donating the time and resources to help us repair this special footpath.”
Chris Parry, Marketing Officer at Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways said: “It was a pleasure to be able to assist the National Trust with improvements to the Fisherman’s Path. Access there is always a problem when heavy equipment or material is needed, so a steam train was the ideal solution. Naturally we’re ready and available to help with any further work in the future.”
Through donations to Apêl Eryri, National Trust Cymru’s footpath team can care for a network of over a 100km of footpaths in every corner of Eryri, helping thousands of visitors enjoy the nature and beauty of this dramatic landscape each year.
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Make the most of experiencing our living heritage before they ban the use of coal and then these trains will then be left to rust and rot like most of Wales’ historical sites and monuments.