Welsh Highland RailwayFinished in 2012 after decades of volunteer effort, this line is the granddaddy of Wales’ narrow-gauge trains. It runs 25 miles from Porthmadog to the city of Caernarfon, best known for its towering castle. The route traverses some of Snowdonia’s most spectacular scenery; you can soak in the views of soaring mountains, churning rivers and spring-green hills dotted with sheep or disembark for a hike and a pint of ale before returning to the train.
The mammoth 1958 Beyer-Garratt locomotive engine weighs more than 60 tons and is powerful enough to pull the long trains up Snowdonia’s steep slopes. The train cars’ interiors feature polished wood with plush chairs and beltlike straps that hold the windows open. A highlight is the view at Aberglaslyn Pass, where stone cliffs plunge into a deep, river-carved valley; it’s been voted Britain’s most scenic vista by members of the National Trust.
Intrepid hikers can get off at Rhyd Ddu to hike up Moun Snowdon, Britain’s highest peak and the training ground for the first climbers to summit Mount Everest in 1953. And be sure to allow time to explore the Romanesque fortress at Caernarfon, one of Wales’ most majestic and commanding citadels, which for centuries guarded the country’s northwest coast. From Caernarfon, you can see the adjacent isle of Anglesey, part-time home to Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Snowdon Mountain RailwayNo visit to Wales is complete without surveying the countryside from the top of Britain’s highest mountain. You can hike to Mount Snowdon’s 3,560-foot summit orrelax and ride up on the Snowdon railway. Open since 1896, this is a popular rail line, so book in advance; otherwise, you may have to wait a couple of hours.
The Snowdon railway has narration describing this land of fairies, giants and kings and the myths that swirl around the mountaintop. The boulders that pock the mountainside were, according to legend, stones flung down by a “giant in a fit of pique.” Don’t miss the waterfall early in the trip. Near the summit, the view unfolds in all directions. On a rare clear day, it’s said you can see Britain’s five kingdoms: Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England and the kingdom of heaven.
To learn about other Welsh trains, visit www.greatlittletrainsofwales.co.uk.