A Tour of Wales
Wales is one of the most ancient and hauntingly beautiful countries in Europe. From Snowdonia in the north to the Brecon Beacons in the South, Wales welcomes visitors to a breathtaking natural environment. People have lived, worked and thrived in this unique Celtic principality for more than 5000 years. Their legacy is a land which will fascinate the visitor with its rich opportunities for adventure, activity and discovery.
The gateway to North Wales is the A55 coastal expressway. Easy access to the region is now available from the historic City of Chester, the North West of England and the motorway network –M6, M56, and M53. When it comes to attractions, North Wales offers something to suit every taste. Castles, stately homes, gardens, lively family parks, art galleries, craft centres, museums, steam trains, we have it all! You can potter around charming towns and villages, explore our rugged coastline, feel soft sand between your toes, or have some family fun at the many events taking place all year round. Whatever the weather, there is something for everyone. Visiting some (or all!) of The Great Little Trains of Wales allows you to experience much of the scenery and culture of this beautiful land, away from the stresses of road travel. The following is a suggested road tour, taking in all the “Great Little Trains” and some other “must do” suggestions. Hotlinks to each railway are highlighted, to return to this page just click the "back" button in your browser.
If you are driving, here is a good way to plan your route. Public transport links are available here. Accommodation suggestions are given on each railways individual page.
H istoric Caernarfon Castle forms the backdrop to the terminal station for our first "Great Little Train", The Welsh Highland Railway . The line takes you to Porthmadog via Beddgelert and the spectacular Aberglaslyn Pass. At Porthmadog, it shares a joint station with the historic Ffestiniog Railway . Travel on this line to Blaenau Ffestiniog brings you to the home of the slate quarrying industry, which was once said to "roof the world". Returning to Porthmadog, a visitor to the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway can experience a "behind the scenes" guided tour of the loco sheds.
Travel north of Porthmadog, through Beddgelert , Nant Gwynant and over the Llanberis Pass, brings you to Llanberis, right in the heart of Snowdonia and again once a slate quarrying town. The route of the Llanberis Lake Railway was once part of a line that took the slates to the coast for export by road and sea, and takes you past the National Slate Museum, where you can learn much of the history and culture that surrounded this way of life. Look out for some of the best views of the mountains of Snowdonia, including mighty Snowdon itself, the highest mountain in England and Wales. If you are feeling adventurous, but don't fancy walking, climb Snowdon by train on the Snowdon Mountain Railway. From the summit, on a clear day, you can see as far as the Isle of Man!
An hours drive, through Betws y Coed and along the A5 and A494 brings you to Bala, a small market town and Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid), the largest natural waterbody in Wales. Bala Lake Railway runs along the shore of the lake on the trackbed of a line that once linked Llangollen with Dolgellau and the coast at Barmouth. Travelling along the lake from the Bala brings you to historic Dolgellau, situated at the foot of the Cader Idris mountain range, where Owain Glyndwr held the last Welsh Parliament in Dolgellau in 1404.
A scenic coastal drive from here will bring you to the Fairbourne Railway, which was originally built to carry building materials, and has now carried holidaymakers for over a hundred years. The seaside resort of Fairbourne, built on the coastal area previously known as Morfa Henddol, while the outcrop now occupied by the Fairbourne Hotel was called Ynysfaig. Fairbourne was founded as a seaside resort by Arthur McDougall (of flour making fame.) Continue along the coast road to Tywyn, home of the Talyllyn Railway, again built to accommodate the local slate industry. The streams which rise high on the South and Eastern slopes of Cader Idris, fall nearly 3000 feet in a little over ten miles, before entering the sea at Tywyn. Few places in Britain offer such an extraordinary diversity of landscape and habitat in such a small geographical space.
The open space of Southern Snowdonia offers unmatched stretches of clean golden sands, rocky coves, outstanding mountain scenery and beautiful lakes and is packed with things to see and do from walking or climbing, pony trekking, mountain biking to a variety of watersports. A perfect setting for that relaxing short break or activity packed challenging break.
Continue along the coast to Machynlleth at the head of the Dyfi estuary. Once the ancient capital of Wales, Machynlleth is now a leading centre for light industry and environmental technology. Wednesday street market attracts many people from afar with its great variety of traders and craftsmen. A short journey on from here will bring you to Aberystwyth, which is Mid Wales' main seaside resort, an established university town and an important administrative centre at the heart of Cardigan Bay. It is the largest town in the county of Ceredigion but it still manages to retain a friendly, community feel. The main line station is also home to the Vale of Rheidol Railway, built in 1902 to provide a link between the lead mines of the Rheidol Valley and Aberystwyth's harbour. A ride along the line takes you to Devil’s Bridge, where the Mynach Falls drop the river Mynach 300 feet to meet the River Rheidol. For a small charge, you can follow a pathway from the bridges right up to the falls and through the surrounding woodland. The three bridges are also quite a spectacular sight being stacked on top of each other!
From Aberystwyth, the next railway to visit is the Brecon Mountain Railway, based just off the “heads of the valleys” road at Merthyr Tydfil. The most direct route, via Llangurig and then the A470 will take you around two hours. This route takes you over the spectacular Cambrian Mountains and along the Upper Wye valley, passing through the unspoilt town of Rhayader, the oldest town in Mid-Wales and gateway to the spectacular beauties of the flooded Elan Valley. Also worth a visit, Brecon is remarkable not only for its narrow streets and passageways lined with Georgian and Jacobean shopfronts, but also for the world famous jazz festival which is an annual attraction. The Brecon Mountain Railway is built on the trackbed of part of the old Brecon and Merthyr Railway and now takes you into the Brecon Beacons National Park, along the side of Taf Fechan reservoir. Merthyr Tydfil itself has a long and varied industrial heritage, and was one of the seats of the industrial revolution.The early 18th Century saw the establishment of the huge Iron-Works complexes, which made Merthyr the Iron Capital of the World. There were also thousands of miners employed in the numerous collieries and coal levels, which served to provide coal for the ironworks and fuel for the ships to reach the vast British Empire.