Action Stations #1 - Wales
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
If you have been on a rail holiday over the past 15 years it’s entirely possible that I designed it. I decided to write a book, The Rail Holiday Maker, about my years travelling the tracks, finding new places and encountering any snags so your holiday is seamless. Hopefully it will see print soon. And when travel returns to some kind of normality I’ll be launching a small selection of unique rail holidays. If you’d like to hear about them first please leave your email address on my website or message me on email@example.com
Whilst we get used to a second lockdown I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite stations, just dreaming that we can all go back soon. Let’s start with Wales.
Great Welsh Stations #1 - Pant
Okay, hopefully I’ve managed to get your attention! Being serious, the first time I rocked up here I had been on the road for a week, living out of a suitcase and getting short of underwear. What a relief to reach a Pant Station!
Really seriously, sniggering aside, pant is the Welsh word for valley and this little beauty is in the heart of the South Wales valleys. Pant Station is the valley terminus of the Brecon Mountain Railway, a line specifically built for tourism close to Merthyr Tydfil. The railway itself is superbly scenic, but Pant has more than enough to keep you busy before and after the ride. After Welsh cakes or bara brith in the café, if you ask nicely you can have a peek inside the repair workshop. When I was there last, and in keeping with the underwear theme, a Brazilian was underway on the operating table. I’ll give you a few moments here in case, like me, you needed to google the word Brazilian……..
The Brazilian in question at the Brecon Mountain Railway is a sultry, exotic steam locomotive named Santa Teresa. Built in Philadelphia in the USA in 1897, she spent her working life at the Santa Teresa Sugar Mill in Brazil, before being rescued and restored in Wales. Whilst Saint Teresa sat dreaming of Copa Cabana Beach the equally exotic sounding German Count (Graf) Schwerin-Löwitz was coolly smoking outside ready to guide us up the mountain tracks. Although he’s just a little guy it wouldn’t be a big job for the Count; photographs in the station lobby showed his previous working life, transporting a circus, including elephants, into Poland across the North German Plain.
I soon went back to Pant with a group and we encountered the Count again. The enthusiasts rode behind the engine in the brake van for a close-up view of the fireman fuelling the flames. Others stood on the wagons’ open balconies for a rickety ride, the welsh wind in our hair, flying by the seat of our….erm…pants!
Great Welsh Stations #2 – Porthmadog
Porthmadog itself is a pleasant town and has a station serving the beautiful Cambrian Coast Line, but that’s not why I’m here. Porthmadog is also the terminus and connecting station of two of the world’s greatest railways, Welsh Highland and the Ffestiniog, the former in my opinion this island’s most scenic railway line, the latter unique in its own way, cutting through slate hills.
I could have chosen Caernarfon, the other terminus of the Welsh Highland, nestled beneath Caernarfon Castle’s keeps. Or Blaenau Ffestiniog, the other terminus of the Ffestiniog Railway, a village set beneath a glistening, other-worldly landscape of slate that reminds me of scenes from Star Wars. But Porthmadog station is so idyllic on a summer’s day that it’s pointless venturing far from the tracks. Just sit back on the station pub’s patio between trains enjoying a local beer, fellow travellers bubbling with anticipation as both railways gear up for their next exciting trip up into the mountains.
Great Welsh Stations #3 – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch
Oh dear. How very touristy of me to choose this one! Well, let's face it, I’m in the tourism industry and so I hope I’m allowed to be a little bit touristy from time to time. And if the 58 lettered station is otherwise a little underwhelming, at least we’ve ticked the box. And whether you arrive here by train or car, the journey is worth it, with both road and rail hugging the glorious Gwynedd coast, two bridges then connecting Ynys Môn (Anglesey) to the mainland of Wales, one by Telford and one by Stephenson. A visit to Anglesey was also the first time I set foot outside mainland Britain. Looking up at that sign as a little lad I must have felt like I had landed on Mars!
Now isn't the right time to plan holidays by public transport, but that time will return. Rail is a great way to travel, with comfort and a whiff of nostalgia. If you would like to hear more about the progress of my book or perhaps you'd like to hear about the rail holidays when the right time arrives, please leave your email address or contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org I promise I won't bombard you with unwanted emails!
Thanks for reading!
The Rail Holiday Maker