The Cambrian Rail Cruise


A guide to the route


Chester - Llandudno Jct - Blaenau Ffestiniog - Porthmadog
- Machynlleth - Shrewsbury - Chester

Leaving Chester the route first follows the course of the River Dee to the sea, then along the North Wales coast to Llandudno Junction where the Conwy Valley branch train is met.  The Welsh border is crossed just outside Chester shortly after the junction of the line to Shrewsbury.  This is traversed on the last leg of the journey.  Leaving the suburbs behind, open countryside is traversed until the train passes the aerospace plant at Broughton.  The huge new building on the left is where the wings for the new A380 airbus are assembled, the wings are then taken down the River Dee by barge to Mostyn.  From there they travel by ship to France.

The industrial towns of Queensferry and Shotton are passed and the Tata steel plant, formerly John Summers & Sons, is seen across the Dee, this is followed by a large gas fired power station.  The gas is obtained through an off shore platform clearly visible off the North Wales coast and seen later in the journey.

The first point of historic interest along the route is Flint Castle - built by Edward the First in the twelfth century.  The castle is only a couple of hundred yards from Flint station on the seaward side..  A few miles further on is the incongruous sight of a sea going ship, now beached high and dry above the water.  This is the Duke of Lancaster, once used on the Heysham - Belfast service and derelict for many years after retail plans were abandoned.


The Duke of Lancaster


Mostyn Docks follows shortly after on the seaward side.   After Mostyn the train travels along a stretch of exposed sea wall with the Wirral peninsula and Hilbre Island, home to a colony of grey seals, visible across the Dee estuary.  A long curve to the west signals our trains arrival on the North Wales coast, at first past sandhills and caravans, then golf links before arriving in Prestatyn - first of the resort towns.


An Arriva Trains Wales service at Prestatyn


More caravan parks are passed on the journey onwards to Rhyl and Abergele.  Out to sea can be seen the wind turbines of the huge Gwynt y Mor windfarm.  There now follows a more rural stretch as the train heads up to Llanddulas with the folly of Gwrych Castle on the left.   After passing through Penmaen tunnel the wide sweep of Colwyn Bay opens out as the train passes first Old Colwyn and then arrives at Colwyn Bay - Bae Colwyn.  A short inland stretch follows to Llandudno Junction with the Carneddau mountains visible ahead.  At Llandudno Junction - Cyffordd Llandudno its all change for the scenic Conwy Valley line.

Changing between the two services at Llandudno Junction is normally just across the platform.


The Conwy Valley line - Y Lein Dyffryn Conwy

There is much more about this railway line on my website

The Conwy Valley train, which has probably come from Llandudno, leaves the main line just outside the station.   We pass under the A55 and the area of marshland on our right is a bird sanctuary owned by the RSPB and open to the public. The sanctuary is built on land which was reclaimed following the  construction of the Conwy road tunnel. Having passed this point, we are presented with a very fine view of the Conwy Estuary at its widest point. Conwy Castle, with its attendant bridges and town walls, is clearly seen as is the embankment carrying the former main road and railway. We soon arrive at our first stop - Glan Conwy. Like all the stations on the branch this is unstaffed, tickets being issued by the conductor-guard.  At low tide, the marshes here, and indeed the whole length of the tidal River Conwy, is a paradise for bird-watchers - herons, mallard, shelduck, curlews and oyster-catchers, to name but a few, are clearly visible.

Leaving Glan Conwy behind, the estuary now begins to narrow. The train continues south, following the river's every turn, with the hills and mountains becoming noticeably closer. The mountains on the right are known as the Carneddau and form the largest area over 3000 feet south of the Scottish Highlands. Hidden among the trees on the left are the celebrated Bodnant Gardens, owned by the National Trust, and well worth a visit. A particularly good time to visit is in the spring when the famed Laburnum Arch is in full bloom.


An excursion train near Tal y Cafn


The next stopping point is Tal y Cafn. The road bridge over the Conwy here replaced a ferry crossing, which had existed since Roman times.  The area on the left just past the station is home to the Conwy Valley railway society and contains a number of standard and narrow gauge items of rolling stock. Shortly after leaving Tal-y-Cafn, the ancient church of Caerhun is seen on the opposite bank, surrounded by ancient yew trees. Nearby are the remains of the Roman settlement of Canovium. If you follow the lines of pylons to the skyline on the right you will see the historic pass of Bwlch Ddeufaen. This was the route of the Roman road from Canovium to Segontium (Caernarfon). It was also a stage-coach route from Anglesey and Ireland, before the coastal route via Penmaenmawr was built.

Continuing in close proximity to the river, the nearest conical peak, on the right, is Pen-y-Gaer, site of a well-preserved Iron Age hill-fort. The next calling-point is Dolgarrog. This village leapt to prominence in 1925, when a dam supplying water to the hydroelectric power plant at the Aluminium works, gave way. The ensuing flood caused sixteen deaths. and many injuries. The gash in the old unrepaired dam walls is still visible high up in the hills as a sombre reminder. The bridge over the river here originally carried a siding to the aluminium works, visible on the right. This still provides the main source of employment for Dolgarrog. The bridge is now, however, only safe for pedestrians. The train continues up the slowly narrowing valley along a section very liable to flooding  in winter, the boulders along the side of the line being placed there in order to prevent the track being swept away as has happened quite frequently in the past.

nearby is the limit of the tidal Conwy, and the long straggling village across the river is Trefriw, this was formerly served by pleasure steamers from Conwy . This village is well known for its woollen-mill, and its chalybeate mineral-water springs, reputedly of medicinal value.

Arrival at Llanrwst is marked by the crossing loop which comes just before Llanrwst North station. This is the only passing loop on the branch line and the interested observer may watch the exchange of metal tokens between our driver and the signalman. This process ensures complete safety in the working of trains on a single-track railway.

After a short run the train arrives at Llanrwst station opened on the 29th of July 1989 as an act of faith in the future of the line. This station is far closer to the centre of the town. Llanrwst is a pleasant little Welsh market town and has a splendid road bridge over the Conwy, built by Inigo Jones in 1636, it is still in use today. Near by is Gwydr Castle - famed for its peacocks.


The station at Betws y Coed.


Leaving Llanrwst, the heavily forested hill on the right was once a major centre for lead-mining. However, since those days, much reclamation has taken place, and there are some delightful signposted walks and mountain bike trails to be enjoyed. We now cross the River Conwy on a steel girder bridge, and enter the Snowdonia National Park. Very shortly the train arrives in Betws y Coed. Although only a small village, it stands at the meeting-point of three rivers: the Lledr, which we will follow for the next part of our journey; the Llugwy, which flows down from Capel Curig and drains a large part of the Glyder and Carneddau ranges and, of course, the Conwy. Betws-y-Coed itself has much to interest the casual visitor, and it is a major centre for the tourist industry. At the station itself, a particular attraction is the Conwy Valley Railway Museum, and miniature trains may frequently be seen running alongside their larger counterparts.  Betws is also the starting-point for the Snowdon Sherpa bus service for spectacular trips around Snowdonia.

The next part of the journey is what really makes the Conwy Valley railway line something special. So far the journey has been along a pleasant pastoral river valley. However, the train is about to enter the very heart of the Welsh Mountains. Although the line to Llanrwst was opened in 1863, and to Betws-y-Coed in 1868, a further eleven years elapsed before the first train steamed triumphantly into Blaenau Ffestiniog, on 22 July 1879.  Indeed, at one time the London & North Western Railway seriously considered building the line to the narrow gauge of 1 foot 11 1/2 inches, the same as the Ffestiniog Railway, because of the difficult terrain. Victorian fortitude prevailed, however, and one can readily appreciate from the train how steep and sinuous is the course eventually chosen.

Leaving the station, look out for the bridge on the left. This carries the main A5 London-Holyhead road, and the arch of the bridge has the inscription that it was built in the same year in which the Battle of Waterloo was fought - that is - 1815. Following a short spell in dense conifer forest, Beaver Pool Tunnel is followed by the stretch of water of that name. This can be glimpsed through the trees down to our left. This marks the confluence of the rivers Conwy and Lledr, our course following the latter. The upper stretch of the Conwy from this point is known as the 'Fairy Glen', and is a spectacular stretch of rocky pools and surging cataracts. A recent addition in the Fairy Glen is a fish ladder to enable Salmon to colonise the upper reaches of the Conwy.

The harsher engine noise of the train gives a hint of the severe gradients which are now encountered as the train continues up the narrow, thickly wooded valley.  A temporary respite for the firemen of steam trains was provided by Gethins Bridge.  This is a handsome, stone-built viaduct of seven arches, carrying the railway across the river and the main road. The track across the viaduct is level, and the difference from the steep gradients on either side is clearly visible through the front window of the train. Waterfalls and rock pools abound in the river, now well below on the right and soon the train enters the short, unlined rock tunnel emerging at Pont y Pant station.  A spectacular waterfall on the River Lledr is near by  and well worth a visit. Another short tunnel brings railway and river together again. A more gentle stretch of track follows past the water-meadows, and through another short tunnel to arrive at Dolwyddelan. The impressive peak rearing majestically to our right is Moel Siabod, at 2861 feet. Disused slate quarries are observed on both sides, this being at the northern limit of the Blaenau slate measures. Dolwyddelan is a picturesque peaceful village, and excellent rock-climbing and walking is available in the vicinity.

Leaving this station, to the right is the stark, square tower which is all that remains of the once-proud Dolwyddelan Castle. This was built by the native Welsh Prince Iorwerth in the twelfth century and was the birthplace of Prince Llewelyn the Great, his son.  Prince Llewellyn is commemorated in  the name of Carnedd Llewellyn, one of the highest Welsh peaks. The castle is steeped in Welsh mythology, and is open for visiting courtesy of Cadw. Continuing up the valley, through the short Bertheos Tunnel and under the new road bridge, Snowdon and its attendant peaks may be seen above the open moorland directly ahead. The railway has now parted company with the main road, which climbs steeply up to the Crimea Pass, named after a public house which formerly stood at its summit.


An excursion train near Roman Bridge, Snowdon is the peak above the locomotive.


The charmingly named, and situated, Roman Bridge - Pont Rufenig is followed by a further short tunnel. There is sadly no evidence that the Romans ever built a bridge here. The journey continues up the narrowing rocky valley, the wheel flanges of the train squealing on the incessant curvature as the track  tries to seek out the most level path.  A lonely final stretch, with nothing but sheep for company, leads the train to the north portal of the celebrated Ffestiniog Tunnel. This, at 3,726 yards, is the longest single-track tunnel, and the eighth longest tunnel overall, in Britain. Apart from a short curve at the north end, the tunnel is perfectly straight. Construction of this tunnel took four years of hard toil, amid flooding, rock-falls, and explosions. The extremely hard rock required special drills and consequently the tunnel needs no lining. The summit-level of the line at 790 feet, is in the middle of the tunnel, and after what always seems an age in the darkness, the train suddenly bursts into the open to be confronted by an astonishing vista.

Few towns in Britain can have so spectacular or intimidating an entrance as Blaenau Ffestiniog, with vast heaps of slate waste towering precariously above and around us, and all in the shadow of lofty mountain peaks. The slate waste to the right forms part of what were formerly the Oakeley slate quarries.  The vertical difference in the quarry was 1,400 feet and it was served by 50 miles of underground railways.  This quarry was closed and mothballed in April 2010.  Because slate extraction often produces up to 90% of waste material to 10% usable product, the size of the waste heaps gives an indication of the frantic activity which occurred during the boom years. The quarries on the left form part of the Llechwedd complex, now home to the world-famous Miners' Tramway. The train now passes under the remains of Glan y Don viaduct. This once supported a spindly wooden trestle carrying 2 foot gauge slate vehicles. A short distance further on the right there used to stand the Baltic Hotel and a row of terraced houses, the rapacious desire of the Oakeley quarry owners for more tipping space however led to their evacuation and subsequent burying.


An Arriva Trains Wales service at Blaenau Ffestiniog.


With the Afon Barlwyd, which flows into Cardigan Bay, on our right, the train shortly passes the carriage sheds of the Ffestiniog Railway.  Shortly afterwards, as the valley widens, the Ffestiniog Railway itself trails in from Porthmadog  and parallels the standard gauge line for the short distance to Blaenau Ffestiniog Central Station. This station was newly opened in 1982, following the reopening throughout of the Ffestiniog Railway. This station is built on the site of the Great Western station of the same name which closed in 1961.

The interchange between the two railways at Blaenau Ffestiniog is over the footbridge or by using the crossing at the end of the platform.


Rheilffordd Ffestiniog Railway by Dave Sallery

The 2 foot gauge Ffestiniog Railway is the worlds oldest narrow gauge railway, The Act of Parliament for the Ffestiniog was granted in 1832 and the railway opened in 1836.  It was the boom in the slate industry which caused its development and for many years the slates were taken down to the harbour at Porthmadog for export throughout the world.  The railway closed in 1946 but through the enthusiasm of its supporters it reopened throughout  to Blaenau in 1982.  Today it once more forms an important link between two standard gauge lines.

A Ffestiniog train is ready to leave Blaenau Ffestiniog for Porthmadog.

The first part of the journey is along the side of the valley to Tan y Grisiau, at times along a narrow shelf cut into the mountainside.  After leaving Tan y Grisiau the Moelwyn mountains are seen towering up on the right while the pumped storage power station and its lake is passed on the left.  The flooding of the original trackbed by the lake meant that the FR had to build an entirely new line and tunnel to bypass it.  Continuing above the lake the train reaches the new Moelwyn tunnel.  After leaving the tunnel the train soon reaches the unique spiral at Dduallt.  The spiral was necessary to lift the new "deviation" line well above the level of the old route.  The little train now clatters along the mountainside with views over the beautiful Vale of Ffestiniog far beneath on the left.  Another much shorter tunnel is traversed before arrival at the picturesque station of Tan y Bwlch.

Leaving Tan y Bwlch the route runs through a long stretch of woodland which opens out to reveal a distant view of Harlech Castle and Cardigan Bay.  A more open stretch leads down to the village of Penrhyndeudraeth.  The constant downward gradient, which enabled the slate trains to travel down to the sea by gravity, has seen our train drop 500 feet since Blaenau.  Another 10 minutes of gentle pastoral scenery brings us to Minffordd.  The Cambrian coast line to Machynlleth passes under the Ffestiniog railway and access is via a subway from the end of the left hand platform.  Minffordd is the closest station to the famous Italianate village of Portmeirion.

A Ffestiniog Railway train at Minffordd

After leaving Minffordd the line continues falling steadily, past the railway's engineering depot on the right.  After a further mile the famous Boston Lodge works and engine sheds are passed on the left.  The train now crosses a long level embankment known as The Cob.  The view on the right hand side is one of the most spectacular in Wales with many of the Welsh peaks, including Snowdon on view.  The Cob was built by William Maddocks in the 1820's to reclaim the estuary of the River Glaslyn.  It was the draining of the land which allowed the town, which bears his name, to develop and become a port.  In the boom years of the Welsh Slate industry vast tonnages were despatched from Porthmadog by sailing ship.  The Cob is over a mile long and the train terminates at the FR's attractive Porthmadog Harbour station at its far end.

Harbour station, Porthmadog.

Porthmadog is a pleasant little town with much to interest the visitor.  The harbour area still has the quays once used to load slate but now the harbour sees only yachts and pleasure craft.  To reach the BR Cambrian line station, go left along the High Street and then right at the roundabout at its end. It is best to allow 20 minutes to cross between the two stations although it can be done in less time.


Pwllheli to Shrewsbury by Charlie Hulme

Passengers travelling the North Wales circular will join the Cambrian Coast line at Porthmadog or Minffordd, but for completeness, we’ll start this journey description a little further west at the line’s terminus, Pwllheli.

Pwllheli is a bustling little town, especially on Wednesday - market day. It is the chief town of the area known as the Llyn peninsula. The railway reached here in the 1860s, but the present station was not built until 1909, following some land reclamation and development of the town. The 1909 buildings have been restored to good condition, and now include a cafe; part of the station site is now occupied by a supermarket, leaving just one platform available for use, although there is a siding and loop.

This part of the line is not spectacular, running across flat land with occasional sea views through the halt at Abererch, the station at Penychain which serves the Haven holiday centre and once was busy with special trains on Summer Saturdays, and the site, now quite hard to spot,  of Afonwen station where the line from Bangor and Caernarfon joined on the left-hand side.  The village of Llanystumdwy, now famous as the home of David Lloyd George, was ignored by the Cambrian Railways; the line runs through the National Trust estate of Ynysgain before stopping at Criccieth.

Criccieth is a pleasant little town, dominated by its castle ruin which can be seen from the right of the train as it leaves Criccieth’s rather run-down station and runs along the shoreline for a while.  The sandy beach here is known as Black Rock Sands, and once had its own halt, for the benefit of bathers; this closed in the 1970s after its wooden platform became unsafe.  Beyond Black Rock the train strikes inland to run behind the conspicuous hill known as Moel-y-Gest, to reach Porthmadog station which is at the inland end of the town’s main street.

An Arriva Trains Wales service at Porthmadog

Porthmadog is a very pleasant and prosperous town, certainly the best shopping centre for the area. The tourist walking between the Ffestiniog Railway and National Rail stations should allow time to browse in the interesting selection of shops, and perhaps eat in one of the good selection of restaurants.  Indeed, the platform buildings at both stations also include pubs.

Crossing the main road on the level on leaving Porthmadog station, the short line operated by the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway company runs parallel on the left for a while.  The line crosses the flood plain of the Glaslyn river, an area known as the Traeth Mawr, with Wales’ highest mountain, Snowdon, in view to the left on clear days.  At Minffordd, the National Rail single platform is directly below the Ffestiniog station and  connected by a sloping path. A selection of FR stock can be seen in the adjacent exchange sidings.  Minffordd is the best station for one of Wales' greatest tourist attractions, the ‘Italianate Village’ of Porthmeirion, a walk of a mile or so from the station, mostly along a footpath. Turn right outside Minffordd station, through the village, and look for the sign directing you left for Porthmeirion.

After Minffordd the line swings left to call at Penrhyndeudraeth, a village whose principal industry and source of rail freight traffic was Cook’s explosives factory, which was on the left of the line leaving the station but closed around 1990 and has now been more or less completely razed. The railway turns right to cross the new bridge over the Dwyryd river which has a parallel road section. It was the rebuilding of this bridge plus repairs caused by storm damage in November 2013 which led to the lines temporary closure until September 2014.

A little halt south of the new bridge, Llandecwyn,  serves a rather sparsely populated district and is not served by all trains.  The train now settles in to a more or less straight and level run in an approximately south-westerly direction, with Porthmeiron’s exotic buildings in clear view across the Traeth Bach estuary as the train calls at Talsarnau  and Tygwyn stations, crossing a flat area known as Morfa Harlech to reach Harlech station, with Harlech castle coming into view on its hill to the left of the line. Harlech Castle, like Conwy and Caernarfon, was built to the order of King Edward II to keep the Welsh people in check, and is very popular with history-minded visitors. Travellers wishing to reach the town centre and castle entrance face a very steep climb from the station.  Harlech station is one of the busiest on the line thanks to the nearby school, which is attended by pupils from the wide area; travellers on the trains which pass each other in the loop here at ‘school’s out’ time are assured of a lively journey! Harlech also has a wide expanse of sandy beach, reached from the station by crossing the golf links and some impressive dunes, which has not been commercialised at all and is often very peaceful.

Shortly after Harlech station the line joins the sea wall immediately behind the beach before turning inland again at Llandanwg station, serving a small community with an ancient tiny church almost buried by the sand dunes.

An Arriva Trains Wales service near Pensarn on the Cambrian Coast

Shortly afterwards, Pensarn has a natural harbour at the mouth of the Artro river, and small boats enliven the scene. The next station, Llanbedr is the gateway, via a tidal causeway, to the tourist area known as Shell Island because of its beach composed almost entirely of fragments of seashells. The line now strikes across another flat area or ‘morfa’ composed of silt deposited by the tides over millions of years and more recently ideal for caravan sites (although prone to flooding), through stations serving the villages of Dyffryn Ardudwy and Talybont, before being forced to meet the rocky shore again at Llanaber.

The little station at Llanaber is built directly on the sea wall, which is maintained by the railway company; the line stays close to the sea to reach the popular holiday town of Barmouth /Abermaw.  It is an unpretentious place, popular with holidaymakers from the Midland cities and towns of England,  yet it also has a place in history for Dinas Olau, the first piece of land ever purchased by the National Trust, high above the town.

Leaving Barmouth/Abermaw, the train is on one of the most beautiful scenic sections of any railway in Britain as it rolls on to Barmouth Bridge, a remarkable structure of 113 wooden and two iron spans which carries the line across the estuary of the Mawddach river. As the train runs slowly over the bridge, views abound on all sides, of the Rhinog mountains to the north of the river, the Cadair Idris massif to the south, and between them the sublime view of the estuary itself, especially at high tide.

An excursion train on Barmouth Bridge

Morfa Mawddach, the first halt on the south side of the bridge, was once an important junction, although there is little sign of this now. A branch line ran from here to Dolgellau, where it met a line built by the Great Western Railway to a junction with the Chester - Shrewsbury route at Ruabon. From Morfa Mawddach to Dolgellau is now a public footpath and cycle route, with beautiful views of the estuary. At the intermediate station of Penmaenpool, the signalbox is preserved and there is a pleasant pub where refreshments can be obtained. Of the rest of the Ruabon line, a section near Bala is now the narrow gauge Bala Lake Railway, and the standard gauge Llangollen Railway runs between Llangollen and Carrog, with ambitions to extend at both ends.

Our train now curves to the right, following the shore, to the next station, Fairbourne. As hinted at by its non-Welsh name, this village was developed from scratch as a speculative development by Mr MacDougall, the flour miller, in the last decade of the nineteenth century.  Fairbourne station was opened in 1899, although there had been a temporary station here before Barmouth Bridge was completed. A brickworks tramway was converted into the Fairbourne Miniature Railway, whose station can be seen at right angles to the main line on leaving Fairbourne station.

South of Fairbourne, the steep Friog cliffs form the sea shore, and there was no safe place to fit the railway at sea level, so the builders decided to take it up to a ledge on the rock face. The train climbs at 1 in 55 to reach this, with spectacular views across the bay and close-ups of herring gulls, fulmars, and other seabirds which nest on the cliffs. Near the summit the train passes through a shelter built to protect the line from rock falls: before this was built, locomotives fell from the cliff on two occasions. Descending from the cliffs the line crosses a rather bleak district with quarries and derelict army camps on view, through Llwyngwril, the closed station at Llangelynin (cloed 1992), and Tonfanau, which survived closure at the same time thanks to one schoolboy, before bridging the Dysinni river and arriving at Tywyn station, which has a loop where trains often pass each other.

Tywyn was originally a small port, but attempts were made around the end of the nineteenth century to develop it as a holiday resort, including the building of a promenade along the shoreline which still has an unfinished look. The town has a great attraction for railfans, in the shape of the narrow gauge Talyllyn Railway, which has its own station at Wharf, visible on the left of the main line as the southbound train leaves Tywyn station. The 'wharf' refers to the place where slate was transhipped to main line wagons. The Talyllyn was the first railway to be saved by 'preservationists' back in 1951, and a ride is heartly recommended, especially in an open-sided coach on a sunny spring day.

The Cambrian Coast train follows the coast to the next station, Aberdyfi, a very pleasant little town with picturesque buildings and some welcoming pubs and cafes. Aberdyfi was once a port from which ships sailed to Ireland, and to avoid disturbing the harbour the railway had to run behind the town, leaving its station rather outside; an additional station known as Penhelig serves the other end as the line curves round to run alongside the Dyfi estuary, another section notable for its scenic beauty. The train sticks close to the shoreline, with tunnels punctuating the view, and the line to Aberystwyth in the far distance across the water, eventually crossing the Dyfi river by a trestle bridge and running into the interchange station at Dyfi Junction.

An Arriva Trains Wales service at Machynllech.

Here the line from Aberystwyth and Borth joins, and it is a few minutes' run to the line's headquarters at Machynlleth station, where the majority of coast line trains from Pwllheli end their journeys, passengers alighting to wait for an Aberystwyth - Birmingham train to continue the circuit. The signalbox here, built in the 1950s, is now the control centre for the Radio Electronic Token Block signalling which governs the whole Cambrian system west of Shrewsbury.  The signaller here also controls the traditional semaphore signals which are still used in the station area, the only visible signals on the whole line except for the 'stop' instruction boards seen at passing stations. The is a small train maintenance depot alongside the station, this was once a steam locomotive shed.

The town centre of Machynlleth, ten minutes walk from the station, is well worth a visit in itself, and has several good places to eat as well as an interesting range of shops. Leaving Machynlleth, which is just 48 feet above sea level, trains are faced with a twenty-mile climb on gradients as steep as 1 in 52 to 693 feet above the sea at Talerddig summit. The scenery on this section is dramatic, culminating in the 115-feet deep rock cutting at the summit itself, where trains often must wait a short while in the passing loop for a westbound train to arrive. Once past the summit the line starts a descent, slightly less steep than on the west side. There were once a number of stations on this section, all victims of the 'Beeching' theories of the 1960s. A shirt distance after Talerddig are the remains of the station serving the village of Carno, well know across the world in recent times as the nerve centre of the Laura Ashley fashion empire.

The first station after Machynlleth still open for business is Caersws, after 23 miles with no station. Caersws is a well-looked-after little station, which has a passing loop but only one platform, so two passenger trains cannot cross there. A few miles further on the train calls at Newtown -Y Drenewydd, the biggest town in this locality, something of a cultural centre for the area, and the first town on the Severn, one of Britain's major rivers, which the line now follows down to Shrewsbury.

Continuing through pleasant rural scenery, and passing through more closed stations, the train arrives at Welshpool - Y Trallwng, 14 miles from Newtown, where a new road has been built on the old trackbed of the railway which was moved to a newly-built platform, well away from the original Cambrian Railways station building which is now in office use. Welshpool is a picturesque georgian market town, in the shadow of the impressive Powys Castle, but is best known to railway enthusiasts as the starting point of the narrow-gauge Welshpool and Llanfair Railway, once part of the Cambrian Railways system but now run by volunteers using a fascinating selection of trains from round the world. Originally the narrow-gauge line started from the main line station and ran through the streets of the town, but today it is necessary to walk to Raven Square at the opposite end of the town to find the terminus; however this is a journey well worth making.

Beyond Welshpool, the original main line of the Cambrian company headed north to Oswestry and then east to Whitchurch on the Shrewsbury - Crewe route, but this section closed in the 1960s and present day trains head east towards Shrewsbury on what was once a joint line of the London and North Western  and Great Western companies. Five stations once plied their trade between Welshpool and Shrewsbury, but now there are none, At Sutton Bridge Junction trains from the Cambrian line join the main double-track Cardiff - Crewe route for the short run into Shrewsbury station, just over 107 miles from Pwllheli.


Shrewsbury to Chester by Dave Sallery

Shrewsbury station is a major hub for rail services as it is situated at the junction of five routes.  Through services operate to Crewe, Manchester, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Chester, Hereford and South Wales in addition to the Cambrian line we have just traversed.  The station has all the facilities expected of a major interchange point and it is quite convenient for the city centre.  The outside of the station is well worth a look if time permits.  The station lies just beneath Shrewsbury castle and the south end is built over the River Severn.

The 42 mile journey to Chester is one of many contrasts and has some major points of interest.  Leaving Shrewsbury the train passes the remnants of Coton Hill yard and heads north on a steady gradient out of the Severn valley.  Open countryside soon follows as the North Shropshire plain – a rich agricultural area - is traversed.  Keep an eye out for the Montgomeryshire extension of the Shropshire Union Canal which passes under the line at right angles.  This canal is currently being restored for navigation and hopefully will be reopened all the way to Newtown.

Whittington is the first major settlement our train passes through, although there is no longer a station here.  Shortly afterwards Gobowen is reached, this is the railhead for Oswestry and the 1848 station buildings have been tastefully restored.  At one time passenger services ran from Gobowen to Oswestry which was the headquarters of the Cambrian Railway.  From Oswestry other lines served Whitchurch, Welshpool, Llanfyllin and Llangynog – all now sadly a distant memory.

An Arriva Trains Wales service at Chirk

Leaving Gobowen the Welsh hills are noticeably closer as the line heads north though the former coal mining area around Weston Rhyn.   Shortly after the dramatic crossing of the Ceiriog valley is a major highlight.  Alongside the railway viaduct, at a lower lever on the right, can be seen the aqueduct carrying the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal.  Chirk station is reached shortly afterwards.  At one time the narrow gauge Glyn Valley tramway ran from Chirk to serve the then isolated communities of the Ceiriog valley.  Chirk is now a major employment centre thanks to the presence of Cadburys and the huge Kronospan chipboard plant which are both passed on the right just beyond the station.  An open stretch of countryside follows with the Shropshire Union Canal on the left.   A few minutes later the Dee Valley is crossed on a magnificent viaduct.  There are fine views up the Vale of Llangollen and a distant glimpse of Telford’s famous .

The Pontcysyllte aqueduct on the Shropshire Union Canal

A more built up area is now entered and the former junction station of Ruabon is soon reached.  There was once a dense network of branch lines around Ruabon serving collieries, iron works and  brickworks.  It was also the starting point for the long cross country line to Llangollen, Bala, Dolgellau and Barmouth.   For much of the journey onwards to Wrexham there is evidence of the former North Wales coalfield, the last pit, Bersham, closed in 1987.

  Wrexham is the largest town in North Wales and is a major employment and shopping centre.  It is also the terminus of the line to Bidston on Merseyside, see my website for further coverage of the Wrexham to Bidston line.   The station is on the west of the town and has recently been refurbished.  Leaving Wrexham, the Bidston line veers off to the left and trains to Chester now run on a single track line.  The steep descent of Gresford bank follows before the Cheshire plain is reached at the former station of Rossett.  It is now a straight and level run to Saltney Junction where the North Wales coast line is joined.  The Dee crossing is next with Roodee racecourse on the right followed by two tunnels and arrival back at Chester.


The Moelwyn mountains near Blaenau Ffestiniog.


Next page: Comments page

Return to the index page