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The enchanting charm of Wales' railways

5 January 2018

The home of Arthurian legend, land of poetry and song and nation of magnificent landscapes made up of noble mountains, spectacular coastline and pretty towns, Wales has it all.

From the idyllic south of national parks and charming cities, to the mystical north of misty peaks and classic coastal resorts, this British nation is a treasure trove of beauty and magic. Wales' genuine and sincere identity is a delight to explore by rail, with a fine network stretching across the country. Part of this network are a range of spectacular rail journeys, including heritage steam trains, seaside railways and mountain rail routes, each of which shows off a different facet of the Welsh landscape.

One of Wales' most famous railways, the Tal y Llyn Steam Railway is known as the oldest preserved railway in the world. Operating in North Wales, this train travels from the village of Abergynolwyn through some remarkable mountain scenery under Cader Idris, on its way to the coast and the harbour town of Tywyn. The engine itself is truly an enchanting piece of machinery, built originally in 1865 and preserved by the Tal y Llyn Preservation society since 1951. Its small black engine hauls charming wooden carriages painted in jaunty red, offering a nostalgic way to discover this beautiful region. While this attractive railway has much going for it, it is made especially famous by its fictional counterpart Thomas the Tank Engine, for whom Tal y Llyn's railway station served as the inspiration for the cheerful children's characters.

A little further up the coast is the Llangollen railway. Another steam engine, the Llangollen Railway takes passengers back to a time when rail travel drove the coal and tourism industries around these parts. Bustling its way through forested valleys, rising in a wall of deep green and emerald, the Llangollen Railway is found in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, navigating the fairytale depths of the Dee Valley. Served by a variety of refurbished steam locomotives from around Britian, this heritage line has been in operation since 1975, running on an older main line which closed after decades of service in 1965.

Another heritage railway running through the glorious Welsh heartlands is the ever-impressive Welsh Highland Railway. There are few rail routes in the country which give such a concise snapshot of Wales, providing marvellous views of stony mountains lakes and rolling green meadows. Beginning at the seaside coastal centre of Caernarfon, the Welsh Highland Line runs through some of Wales' most visited national landmarks including Beddgelert and Porthmadog. Dressed up in either jaunty red or a merry green, the steam locomotives on the West Highland Railway are a sight to see as the trundled past a wild and rugged Welsh backdrop.

From Porthmadog, the oldest railway company in the world, still in operation, can be found actively running services on the Ffestiniog Railway. Beginning at the harbour in Porthmadog, this rail route runs past Portmeirion and out into the Snowdonia National Park on its way to the slate town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Three engines operate on the line, each one originally built and carefully maintained by the company for the last 150 years. Wild, rugged and dramatic landscapes feature heavily as the Ffestiniog Railways passes under the noble gaze of the mystical Snowdonia, Wales' tallest mountain.

Speaking of Snowdonia, the Snowdonia Mountain Railway is yet another marvellous Welsh railway, ascending higher and higher through the clouds to the summit of the magnificent peak itself. From the tiny village of Llanberis, this heritage railway climbs upwards and has done so since 1896. For that time, its construction was a marvellous feat of engineering, pioneered during the golden age of rail travel by industrious Victorian Sir Richard Moon. According to the Snowdon Mountain Railway, it is thought that one of the locomotives since its inception has covered a distance equal to travelling to the moon and back four times over. All of the carriages are built on the original chassis and bogeys of the original carriages, making this railway a nostalgic trip back in time. Offering glorious views across the valleys and peaks below, this is perhaps one of the most panoramic railways in the UK.

This is just a taste of the great rail journeys available across the land of legends and beauty that Wales has come to be, and with much more to discover in this wonderful country, Wales is always worth exploring.