Membership of the Welsh Highland Railway Society (WHR Society) must rank as one of the greatest British travel bargains, since it offers a year’s free travel on this remarkable 25-mile long line for less than the cost of just one full round trip.
The annual fee of £39.00 compares to a Porthmadog-Caernarfon return fare of £39.80, with members not only getting unlimited free travel on Britain’s longest narrow gauge railway, but also three privilege rate (66% discount) tickets for family or friends and unlimited privilege rate travel on the Ffestiniog Railway.
This bargain offer opens up great opportunities for alighting at some of the lesser used halts along the two magnificent lines and the chance to do some interesting rambling between stations. Staying for the week at Penrhyndeudraeth, it meant that my journey to or from Porthmadog on the Ffestiniog Ralway (FR), for example, cost just £1.70 – identical to the fare on an Arriva 3B bus.
So from a week of mixed weather (31 July-2 August) here are a trio of modest and enjoyable walks, two that are easy to moderate and one that is a little longer and more challenging, but all of which give you the chance to use the little railways and to patronise some of their lesser-used request stops.
Tryfan Junction-Waunfawr: 2 miles / 40 minutes / easy-moderate
Relatively limited services on the Welsh Highland Railway (3 round trips a day in peak season) make planning railway walks something of a challenge. This pleasant ramble begins at the delightfully restored Tryfan Junction, now a request stop and once junction for a short branch line to Rhostryfan and Bryngwyn.
Leave the station by heading right towards a road bridge over the railway. Turn left and head up a narrow lane until you reach the end of the road at a farmhouse. Bear left here up a rough and unmarked path which takes you uphill and offers some great views looking back at Caernarfon and Anglesey.
Continue in a broadly straight line through a number of gates, as the path becomes a rough track and eventually a narrow metalled road. Follow this lane as it descends past a number of houses on the right before emerging at the A4085 Caernarfon-Beddgelert road, just south of the excellent Snowdonia Parc brewpub.
Having begun the walk by alighting from the 09.40 Porthmadog – Caernarfon train at just after 11.30, there is plenty of time for a leisurely sampling of the Snowdonia Parc’s splendid brews (all at £3.05 a pint) before joining the 13.30 Welsh Highland service towards Porthmadog at Waunfawr station, immediately behind the pub.
Nantmor-Beddgelert: 2 miles / 45 minutes / moderate then easy
Aberglaslyn Pass is the definitive picture postcard scene along the route of the Welsh Highland Railway, so after travelling it by train why not enjoy it again with a walk back from Nantmor to Beddgelert?
There are a number of reasons for doing it in this (northbound) direction. For a start there is nothing at Nantmor to pass the time waiting for a train, the most challenging section of the walk is tackled first, and walking against the flow of the Glaslyn River means you will always have the finest river views in front of you.
Setting out from the station (a request stop), walk down the lane leading to the main road then carefully follow it to the edge of the Glaslyn Bridge. Here there is a gate leading to the rocky and slightly hazardous first section of the walk, which should not be tackled when it is wet or without decent soles.
After 20 minutes or so of scrambling over the rocks the path levels out and is far more straightforward, running parallel to the railway line as far as a girder bridge, where railway and path cross from east side of the river to west. From here a firm path heads into the village, with a turn to the left taking you to the famous Gelert’s Grave, from which the village takes its name.
Alighting at Nantmor from the second southbound train of the day at 14.40 gives you ample time to do the walk and spend time appreciating the area’s tourist hotspot before catching either the last northbound train (16.20) or carrying on back to Porthmadog, as I did, at 17.10.
Tanygrisiau–Dduallt: 2½ miles / 70 minutes / moderate
Dduallt station must be the most isolated spot on the entire Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland system, with no road access, a catchment area of one abandoned house, and the only company being numerous sheep roaming freely around the deserted station.
On one of North Wales’ many wet and overcast days this is a place for hardy souls who are properly kitted out for the 90 minute walk from Tan-y-Bwlch station down the line towards Porthmadog, or the 70 minute walk from Tanygrisiau, penultimate stop on the Ffestiniog Railway (FR) before its terminus at Blaenau Ffestiniog.
I chose the latter route to Dduallt, a reasonably challenging 2½ mile walk over the dam at the end of the Tanygrisiau reservoir, then a fairly wet and wild walk along the east side of the reservoir. Next comes a climb up alongside the latter day Moelwyn Tunnel on the FR before a descent onto the trackbed of the old railway alignment south of the original and now blocked Moelwyn Tunnel.
While it is a place of solitude now, Dduallt was a very different place from 1968 until 1977, when it became a temporary northern FR terminus, while a band of what were known as “deviationists” built a new route onwards to Tanygrisiau, after the original alignment had been blocked and flooded to create the reservoir.
This is not a walk to be undertaken without the right clothing and footwear, but is one that helps you appreciate the wildness of the terrain, gives some splendid views of the railway and a chance to appreciate what a remarkable achievement the deviation and its spiral of line around the station really is.