Sunday, 15 July 2012

Welsh Highland Heritage Railway (Porthmadog) Review

This year on May Day Bank Holiday, hubby wasn't working so we decided to take the children somewhere for a day out treat... but where? We wanted somewhere near to home (as our car isn't very good on long journeys) but that wouldn't break the bank (which as a family of 6 most days out do). Then I remembered a visit we'd made 2yrs ago to the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway in Porthmadog, and the fun we'd had.

Once decided hubby made some sandwiches whilst I organised the troops and we set off for Porthmadog!

The Welsh Highland Heritage railway is a little steam railway situated next to Porthmadog train station. It started life as the Croesor Tramway in 1863 bringing slate down from Croesor Valley to Porthmadog where it could be shipped by sea or rail. In 1923 the Welsh Highland Railway was completed and used part of the Croesor Tramway line to link Porthmadog with Beddgelert and Dinas near Caernarfon. However in 1937 the Welsh Highland Railway (WHR) was closed as it was losing money. 

In the early 1960s, the first determined efforts to revive the WHR began and in 1961 a group of enthusiasts formed a society which became the Welsh Highland Light Railway. Eventually they established a base in Porthmadog and a short length of line was laid to Pen y Mount and a public service commenced in 1980. This length of track is now known as the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway.

Although the actual train ride doesn't take very long, with young children that can actually be a bonus as they aren't long enough to get bored! We had a short ride, about a mile long, to the end of the line, where the children were thrilled when they were allowed to change the signals, and watched with interest as the train decoupled at one end and coupled at the other.

On the way back to Porthmadog, you stop off at the engine sheds. Here you can have a ride on the miniature railway, which despite having rails only 7 inches apart, it still manages to carry passengers over a girder bridge and a minature viaduct and through a tunnel, before going inside the shed. 

Inside the engine sheds you can discover the history of the Welsh Higland Railway, climb into the cab of the diesel and steam engines, work the levers and discover how things worked and how many tons of coal the fireman has to shovel each day to keep the engine working. The video simulation means you can see inside the boiler of the steam engine where the water boils to power the wheels. Meet Beano the horse and see how slate trucks were brought down from the quarries before steam locomotives came along. You can even sit at the controls of our small blue shunting locomotive and discover why you drive it sideways, or climb up in the cab of the large red diesel engine where the driver even has a radiator to keep warm. There's also lots of fun activities for kids, from making rubbings from engine nameplates, pushing the little engine for a ride, and even having a go at shunting trucks.

Back at the main station in Porthmadog, there is a lovely little shop, full of books, toys and knick knacks, as well as a little Thomas train chuffing around the top of the store. The staff are very friendly and welcoming and nothing is too much trouble. Next door is a delightful little tea room, which is very welcoming and great for families. The staff are friendly and the food is lovely with plenty of choice and not too expensive with plenty of choice.

Price wise the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway is excellent value for money with a family day ticket costing just £15 for 2 adults and 2 children, Adults £6, Seniors £5 and Children £3 (children under 5 and dogs are free). The all day pass also means you can ride the train as many times as you want. The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway also has several events planned throughout the year, which are always good fun. We went to the Teddy Bear picnic a few years ago and they loved it, especially watching the naughty teddy running away with the guard chasing him to get his flag back, and they loved winning a little prize for correctly counting all the teddies they could see hidden around the railway. I'm also hoping to take them on the Santa Train this year!

Getting to the Welsh Highland Railway is easy, there's free parking for cars, the mainline from Birmingham to Pwllheli (Cambrian Coastline) stops right opposite and buses stop within a short walk.

For a fun family day out, whatever the weather, I certainly recommend the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway.

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