For many years, we holidayed in North Wales as daughter was hooked on the Ffestiniog Railway. Now the two grandchildren are following in her footsteps. Grandson Number One wanted to know if we would like to stay with them at their ‘Dragon holiday house’ and go on the Ffestiniog Railway with them. How could we refuse!
What is it about railways and small children? Be warned, the Ffestiniog Railway not only makes a great day out, it can become addictive and you may not get the kids off it for the rest of the holiday. Being narrow gauge, this is a child friendly size railway. There is plenty to do, as well as a ride on the train.
First of all there is the attraction of going on a steam train with the associated smells and evocative whistles. It is pure nostalgia for us oldies and is as popular with the grandkids too. The kids can admire the loco, talk to the crew, watch the wheels being oiled or the loco taking water. Going through a tunnel (especially if the guard forgets to put the lights on) is regarded as great fun especially as the smoke billows round the coaches and into them if the window has been left open. The windows also have the old fashioned leather straps to open them – again intriguing to the little ones.
Non compartment coaches have a small single seat on one side which is popular with the kids who can sit by themselves and feel important. The old coaches with their wooden seats which bounce up and down are different, and again fun – as long as it isn’t too far! Kids (and oldies too) are intrigued by the Flying Flea with its ‘bug boxes’ which carried the workmen to the slate quarries. The small four wheel coaches have a bench along the length of the coach which passengers have to climb over. The ‘Obs’, the first class observation coach at the end of the train with its comfy seats and views back down the line on the up trip, or views of the loco going back down to Porthmadog.
As well as the scenery, someone comes round selling souvenir guides and stops to talk and buffet crew work the train, taking orders which they then bring to your seat.
Porthmadog has a small shop with plenty of pocket money toys for the kids as well as cafe. There is time to watch the trains arriving, locos shunting round the train and maybe even shunting coaches.
Tan-y-Bwlch, the mid point of the line and 30 minutes later is a good place to break journey. It is a lovely settling surrounded by trees and a very good children’s playground. As well as swings this has a toy train and signal box. It is enclosed and kids can play here safely while adults have something to eat from the “cafe”:http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/restaurant/148375-review-tan-y-bwlch-cafe , (excellent scones freshly cooked each morning), accompanied by their piercing whistles and assorted chuffing noises. There are toilets and baby changing facilities.
Tany-y-Bwlch is always busy when trains are about to arrive, otherwise it settles back to its usual sleepy state.
If they get bored with the play area, there is a short walk from the footbridges along a grassy footpath through the trees to a stile by a minor road. If they want to explore further, turn left and drop down to another road, turn right and after a short distance there is a forest road coming in on the left which takes you into woodland with walks (map needed).
Alternatively the nature trail follows a well marked footpath down from the station to the lake, Llyn Mair, seen from the train with picnic tables and ducks. There is a lovely walk along forest roads and well made footpaths around the lake for those wanting a longer walk.
Continuing up the line, the next stop is Ddualt which has no road access. The station master’s house has been empty for years. It must have been a desolate place to live. Climb up the small hill above the station to the viewing table for superb views across Snowdonia. To small children this is a real adventure and can be sold to them as climbing a ‘mountain’. Below is the railway doing a spiral to climb up to avoid the lake built for the pumped water storage hydro electricity station after the line closed. Go and find the deviation stone beside the railway. It is possible to walk along the old section of line and watch the trains as they climb up through the trees.
From Tan-y-Grisiau, there is a lovely walk back along the line to Ddualt or Tan-y-Bwlch. Take a picnic with you. Older children may enjoy this as it gives close up views of the railway and chance to watch trains at the same time. From Tan-y-Grisiau, the footpath climbs up above the power station and then climbs up the hillside through quarry remains to the head of the lake before climbing over the new Moelwyn Tunnel and dropping down to Ddualt. From Ddualt it is a lovely walk across meadows to Plas Y Ddualt and then through the woods, including Coed de Bleddiau (Wood of the Wolves) before dropping down to Llyn Mair and up the nature trail to Tan-y-Bwlch. On a fine day this makes a marvellous walk, and for train made kids there is also the chance of seeing and hearing the locos working hard.
At Blaenau Ffestiniog, there is chance to walk up into the town and find the small industrial loco in the main square, which the kids can play on.
We spent three days on the Ffestioniog Railway with the two boys. They had a marvellous time – and spent the following three days on it before reluctantly having to come home.
Under 3s travel free. All children over 3 years old require a ticket. One child under 16 years travels free with each adult or senior citizen paying the ordinary 3rd class fare. Additional children travel at half fare.