passenger's view from the train:
Llandudno Junction to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
An Arriva Trains Wales 150/2 at Llandudno on a Conwy Valley service.
Our train, which has probably come from Llandudno, leaves the main line just east of the station. On the right can be seen the now disused rail freight terminal, oil depot and coal yard. Our train passes 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.
48151 leaving Llandudno Junction on August 25th 2010 hauling the last of three steam hauled excursions from Preston to Blaenau Ffestiniog run that year. This loco was used on all three. Two further excursions using this loco were run in 2011.
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 taken and issued by the conductor-guard. Another point of interest is the set of wooden steps to assist passengers in and out of the train. This station, and also the one at Dolgarrog, have been reopened in recent years having originally been closed under the Beeching Plan. 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, little egrets and oyster-catchers, to name but a few, are clearly visible.
47773 on a returning Tyseley - Blaenau excursion, Glan Conwy, 18-08-2012
Leaving Glan Conwy behind, the estuary now begins to narrow. We continue south, following the river's every turn, with the hills and mountains becoming noticeably closer. The mountains to our right are known as the Carneddau and form the largest area over 3000 feet south of the Scottish Highlands. Hidden among the trees to our 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 late spring when the famed Laburnum Arch is in full bloom.
20187 and 075 are working the second Trawsfynydd Trekker railtour on 10th September 1994, at the other end of the six coach train were 31238 and 31207. The train is seen by the River Conwy approaching Tal y Cafn.
37377 and 098 with the snow covered Carneddau mountains in the background, April 18th 1998.
Continuing in close proximity to the river, the nearest conical peak, on our right, is Pen y Gaer, site of a well-preserved Iron Age hill-fort. Our next calling-point is Dolgarrog, the village itself is on the other side of the river. Dolgarrog 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, now disused, aluminium works, visible on the right. The bridge is now, however, only safe for pedestrians. We continue 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 ballast being swept away, as has happened quite frequently in the past.
We are now at 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.
37417 and 150254 pass at North Llanrwst station.
Arrival at North Llanrwst, now a request stop, is marked by the start of the crossing loop which comes just before the rather imposing but derelict station building. This is the only passing loop and signalbox on the line. 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 we arrive at the new 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. Nearby is Gwydir Castle, once famed for its peacocks. Leaving Llanrwst, the heavily forested hill to our 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.
37886 is on the rear of an excursion crossing the River Conwy in October 2002.
The next part of this journey is what really makes this railway line something special. So far, the journey has been along a pleasant pastoral river valley. However, we are 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.
67029 on a route learning working passing Betws y Coed in 2004. The Conwy Valley railway museum is on the right.
The harsher engine noise of our train gives a hint of the severe gradients which are now encountered as we continue up the narrow, thickly wooded valley. A temporary respite for 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 itself is level. Waterfalls and rock pools abound in the river, now well below on the right and we soon enter 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.
The rocky portal of Pont y Pant tunnel.
101 685, affectionately known as Daisy, near Roman Bridge in 1994.
An excursion train at Roman Bridge with 47798 "Prince Henry".
The charmingly named, and situated, Roman Bridge is followed by a further short tunnel. There is however no evidence that the Romans ever built a bridge here. We continue up the narrowing rocky valley, the wheel flanges of our train squealing on the incessant curvature as the train tries to seek out the most level path for our progress. A lonely final stretch, with nothing but sheep for company, leads us to the north portal of the celebrated Ffestiniog Tunnel.
This tunnel, at 3,726 yards, is the longest single-track 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, we suddenly burst into the open to be confronted by an astonishing view.
National Power owned 59205 nears Blaenau Ffestiniog on April 18th 1998. The Oakeley Quarry slate tips are behind the train.
37401 and 37417 wait in the loop at Blaenau Ffestiniog with the slate tips towering above, 31st May 2008.
Little and large meet up in Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The delights of Blaenau Ffestiniog and its surroundings are many in number. The slate-mines, walking, rock-climbing, and views are unsurpassed. The little changed streets of the town itself give ample cause to remember a time when it was the slate capital of the world.
Earl of Merioneth is ready to leave Blaenau on a Ffestiniog Railway train to Porthmadog.
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