Ffestiniog Railway & Portmeirion
on the Railways of Wales tour

Sunday, 6th October 2019

Today starts a new tour: Rail Discoveries’ Railways of Wales. This is based in one hotel in Llandudno. As is similar to most UK based tours I meet the tourees on the first day at 16:00 in the hotel. This means that they can choose their method of travel to the venue, most will have chosen to drive. I, however, travel by train. Bromley South to Victoria, then tube to Euston. From Euston it is a train to Llandudno Junction. Unfortunately, on a weekend, there are no trains that go to Llandudno Station which is more central. This means traveling by taxi from Llandudno Junction to the hotel on the Promenade.

When I tell the taxi driver the name of the hotel where I am staying he duly replies with “I can’t take you there, there is a car rally going on”. “Oh” I reply, “Get me as close as I you can”. As we are driving along I get out Google Maps on my phone and suggest the odd route alteration to the driver. He says to me in a quite astonished voice, “How have you got the new car satellite thing on a phone?”

Arriving at the back of the hotel he says “Wow, I didn’t know that you could go that way”. “Just download the Google Maps app on you phone” I reply. “I’d have to get a phone first,” he says.

True enough outside my hotel is the finish of the Wales Rally GB. This is a four day event and is the 12th event in the annual World Rally Championship. So a big thing – who knew? 

Unfortunately, most of the tourees were driving to the hotel, and with all the roads around the promenade closed, and very few tourees of an age to use a satellite navigator, the receptionist was kept very busy trying to explain complex navigational routes through the back streets over the phone.

Monday, 7th October 2019

Today starts with breakfast at 08:00 and the coach departing at 09:00. Our driver, Norman, provides a running commentary as we head down to the slate mines of Blaenau Ffestiniog. We stop at the Slate Caverns at Blaenau Ffestiniog for a café and comfort break. This is also the location of Zip World, which has the fastest zip wire experience in the UK, it is also counted as the longest zip wire in the northern hemisphere. Check out a video here. I did try and convince some of the tourees that I had tickets for them.

The coach then moved us on to Blaenau Ffestiniog station for the Ffestiniog Railway.

This narrow gauge steam railway is probably my favourite railway in the world (so far).

The railway is thirteen and a half miles long on 23.5 inch gauge line running from Blaenau to Porthmadog.  It runs through some stunning scenery for just over an hour.

The railway opened in 1836 having been created by an Act of Parliament in 1832 to transport slate from the Blaenau quarries to Porthmadog harbour. The slate was exported: much of it to England via the sea to Liverpool.

The railway was gravity operated with no engines. The wagons were manned by brakeman to control speed and were hauled back up by horse until the introduction of steam engines. 

The line created two world firsts, passengers on a narrow gauge line in 1864 and the use of bogie wheels in 1873.  The 5th January 2015 represented 150 years of passenger traffic.

Even today some of the original engines and carriages are still used – either restored; recreated or updated representing 150 years of development. My particular favourite design of engine was hauling the train today – a Double Fairlie. The Double Fairlie is a “push-me-pull-you” double-ended design with an engine at front and back providing extra power.

Once at Porthmadog, Norman collected us and drove us back across the Cob in the rain.

The other side of the Cob to Porthmadog is the village of Portmeirion. Made famous by the TV series The Prisoner. The 17 episode Prisoner series was filmed here in 1960’s.

Clough Williams-Ellis (a conservationist and architect) bought the site in 1925 and set about converting it into an environmental architectural estate and township based on Italian designs. He changed the name from Aber Au to Portmerion being “port” for the estuary and the Welsh county name representing Merioneth.

Buildings and columns were acquired or built to specification and also evolved.

As well as The Prisoner, other television series and films have been filmed here including Dr Who, Citizen Smith and Cold Feet.

All the buildings in the village are available to rent as holiday homes. Various famous people have regularly rented properties here including Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, Paul McCartney, Brian Epstein, George Harrison and Jools Holland.

Jools Holland was so impressed with the architecture that the design of his music studio at his home in Blackheath is heavily influenced by Portmeirion.

There is also a Hotel at the bottom near the estuary waterside.

Norman drove us back to the hotel in Llandudno where we enjoyed our evening meal.


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