Thursday, 10th October 2019
The final full day of the tour takes us to the Welsh Highland Railway. The coach drove a very scenic route through the centre of the Snowdonia National Park. Unfortunately, Snowdon itself was hidden in clouds today.
The coach dropped us in the village of Beddgelert. It is a pretty Welsh stone built village, which has won “Britain in Bloom” competitions. It has also been described as “a wondrous valley”.
Gelert was the name of a dog that belonged to Prince Llewellyn. The Prince returned from hunting one day to find the dog with blood around its mouth and his son missing. Believing that the hound had killed the boy, Llewellyn slew it. However, the child was found alive and a dead wolf was discovered nearby. The dog Gelert had saved the boy from the wolf. Llewellyn was filled with remorse and allegedly never smiled again. The legend was embellished in the nineteenth century by the landlord of the Goat Hotel. It is possible to visit “Gelert’s grave”.
The train is hauled by a South African Railways narrow gauge Garratt. This is a huge 2-6-2 + 2-6-2 locomotive.
The demise in 1936 and the eventual reconstruction of the Welsh Highland Railway had been a long, tortuous and of highly legal progress such that it is too long to relate here. There were legal cases, liquidations, funding issues, public inquiries and political intrigues. However there was above all else a determination to reconstruct the railway and extend it all the way from Caernarfon to Porthmadog some 25 miles. It is about 2 hrs to travel the route, and an hour and a half to Beddgelert from Caernarfon.
When I was 18, I walked the extent of the railway, before they relaid all the track.
The work +cost some £30m and was largely done by volunteers and a construction company but not without controversy, objections, misgivings and satisfying local government requirements. The completed railway is now owned and run by the Ffestiniog Railway. There are reconstructed tracks in Porthmadog with revised signalling control arrangements and the Cob wall extended. The line is single track with passing places. There is a Welsh Highland Heritage railway also running from Porthmadog and they were part of and still have some legal rights over the new line.
Following objections to the restoration of the railway, as it was felt that it would ruin the Snowdonia National Park, it was stopped by the courts. However, John Prescott as Deputy Prime Minister, overturned a public Inquiry Inspectors report to not allow the WHR line reconstruction on economic grounds and allowed to occur. The line is a major success since.
In its day the railway never actually ran all the way to Caernarfon. Now a new modern design station has been constructed at Caernarfon part of a wider waterfront development programme. The new station cost was approx. £3m. There is a preserved vertical boilered De Winton at the station.
This is the first time that I have travelled on this wonderful railway through Snowdonia. I have previously travelled on the first small restored bit near Porthmadog, in the early 1990s. I can now say that it has knock the Ffestiniog Railway off the top of my list of favourite railways that I have travelled on. This means that the Darjeeling and Flåm railways have been dropped to 3rd and 4th.
Getting off the train at Caernarfon there is an opportunity to walk around the time and have some lunch.
I meet the group, again, at 14:30 at the castle for a guided tour.
Edward I started work on Caernarfon Castle in 1283 and it is the largest castle built by him. Two Princes of Wales have been invested at the Castle – Edward Vlll and Prince Charles. Until the twentieth century, The Princes of Wales had been invested at Westminster Abbey or Windsor, but the influence of Lloyd George in 1911 led to a change and the investitures have taken place in Caernarfon since then.
From the town square we return to Llandudno by coach.
Friday, 11th October
Today we have breakfast in the hotel. Checkout time is at 10:00. I say my goodbyes to the tours as the begin to make their journeys back to their homes.
For me it is off to Llandudno station [trains run on week days] to journey home by train. I have to change at Llandudno Junction, Crewe and London before arriving back in Bromley in the late afternoon.
At the moment, that is the end of the 2019 tour manager season for me. I am not expecting to do any more tours until summer 2020.
Now I have a bit of free time before my travels as part of TravellingHerd.uk resume. First we travel to Morocco [travelling around by train] then the baltic states [again travelling between them by train] and then onto the big one – Around the World in 100 days [without flying].