North Wales 2014
This was only a little holiday. We belong to several groups who hold meets or rallies, typically over a long weekend. We joined one group at Ruabon near Llangollen for a three day meet near the end of April. Now its a long way to go for just a few days so we extended it to a fortnight with two other camp sites.
We are members of the Camping and Caravan club and recently they changed their pricing methods, you can no longer see how much your holiday will cost from the members book or up front on the website you have either to phone them or select your holiday on line before the price is revealled. There was the May Bank Holiday during the time we were planning to be away. When we started to book the forest site at Beddgelert on line it became clear how expensive the site was going to be for the days selected. This meant some rearranging and meant we went straight to Beddgelert from Llangollen and went to an intermediate point on the A5 afterwards.
Days 1 to 4 Ruabon
At the meet there were many people to catch up with, because we hadn't been out with this group for over a year so plenty of visitng other peoples vans and chattering.. On the Thursday night there was a visit to a dog friendly pub with a quiz night and on Saturday they had booked a room in a hotel for an AGM and social. Lottie is now so clingy that she can't be left alone for any time so I went on my own to the AGM. On Friday we caught the bus to Llangollen and visted the canal centre. English bus passes are not valid in Wales but having one proves you are of an age to benefit from various discounts. So we got an all day rover ticket for just over the price of a single journey.
We wanted to go over the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in a narrow boat but they don't allow dogs on that 2hr trip and the alternative which was a shorter horse drawn visit to the horseshoe falls didn't appeal so we went instead to the railway station and rode on the Langollen steam train to Carrog near Corwen. Steam trains were going to be a feature of this holiday but not full sized standard gauge ones like this.
Langollen Railway by the River Dee
[I should explain, when we were on our epic coast trip a few years ago I took a small diversion on the Talyllyn railway. A famous narrow gauge line running from Tywyn. I must have given them my email address because ever since they have been sending me a newsletter. In it they have been promoting a discount card for "The Great Little Railways of Wales" ten narrow gauge lines which includes the newly opened line from Caernarfon to Porthmadog. We bought the card and were going to make use of it this holiday.]
On Saturday we caught the bus to Wrexham. It rained. Sunday it was sunny again so we said goodbye to our friends at Ruabon and drove to Beddgelert.
Day 4 Beddgelert.
Arriving after a drive through Snowdonia via Capel Curig we pitched up between the trees. Now the main reason for choosing this camp site is that the Welsh Highland Railway (WHR) runs right through the campsite and they even have a station!
A couple of hours after setting up two Beyer-Garrett locos of the WHL came through, the one going uphill working very hard. This is one of the steepest sections of the line and its clear that these powerful locos are far from being toys.
Beyer-Garrett articulated locos are amongst the largest and most powerful narrow gauge steam engines in the world, they consist of a water tank and set of driven wheels at one end and another set of driven wheels under a coal tender at the other end, the boiler, firebox and cab are suspended in between the two parts of the engine. This combination of many driven wheels and articulation enables them to traverse the steep bends of the WHL whilst pulling heavy trains up the steep gradients. The two in the above photos were made in Manchester and exported to South Africa.
Day 5 Beddgelert/Caernarfon
We started the day by walking down towards the Beddgelert station but after having taken a wrong turn the gradient was too steep for Doreen so she returned to the campsite to await the Caernarfon train whilst I continued to the other station. At the station I bought our tickets to Caernarfon there was a wasp annoying the ticket lady "at least there is not a nest" she said I pointed upwards and said that there was going to be and I pointed out the beginnings of a nest with just one wasp building it.
The train arrived and waited for the Portmadoc one which would pass it in the station, most of the line is single. To climb the 1:40 gradient to the campsite the track does an S shape with sharp corners this next photo is looking across at the track we have just passed over.
From Mellionen station where we picked up Doreen and Lottie we snaked up through the forest until we arrived at the highest point of the line where we crossed under the A4085 road near Pitt's head.
The line follows the river Gwyrfai, with two lakes on the left and Snowdon on the right, down the valley as far as Tryfan Junction. It then takes a flat route though Dinas to Caernarfon. Although the gauge is only 2ft the coaches are not miniature, three seats abreast and a corridor just wide enough for the drinks trolley.
At the time we were staying at Beddgelert there were only two trains operating, each taking a return journey from opposite ends of the line. This meant we had no options apart from waiting an hour in Caernarfon and getting the same train back. It also meant that from our campsite we couldn't see both ends of the railway on the same day. The next photo is of our engine about to go to the other end of the train at Caernarfon, there is also one of the other engine which we passed on the way back.
Day 5 Beddgelert/Llanberis
The next day we intended to go up the mountain railway to the top of Snowdon. After driving round to Llanberis, following the route of the WHR, we found that the railway was booked all morning with coach parties and in any case they didn't allow dogs to travel on board. We did toy with the idea of taking it in turns to stay with Lottie whilst the other travelled to the top but gave up on that idea, we subsequently found out that they weren't going to the top because of thick cloud. However there is another rail option, the Llanberis lake railway, and a delightful little journey it is too, along Llyn Padarn to Penllyn.
We then paid a short visit to the slate museum (Free!) at Gilfach Ddu and drove back over the Llanberis pass to Beddgelert.
Day 6 Beddgelert/Porthmadog
Well what to do today? I know lets go on a railway! So we all walked to Beddgelert and caught the train to Portmadog. The first bit of this journey is down the beautful pass of Aberglaslyn.
Beddgelert Station with up and down trains
Pass of Aberglaslyn
After the pass and its tunnels it soon gets pretty flat and boring on the run down to Porthmadog where you go parallel to the similarily names Welsh Highland Heritage Railway (just 3/4 of a mile) and around the outskirts of the town to the station in the harbour which is also the terminus of the Ffestiniog railway.
Showing Carriage width
Our sandwiches and some chips were consumed and after two hours it was time to board our train for the return journey. BTW the maps are taken from the WHR guide book which at only £5 is a model of its kind well worth the money.
Day 7 Beddgelert/Nefyn
We thought we would try the Llyn penninsula on a driving day, but we wouldn't entirely be avoiding trains because we were going to stop in a layby at the start of the Aberglaslyn pass where we had noticed photographers yesterday.
From the layby we drove to the outskirts of Porthmadog and on through Criccieth to Pwllheli then across the penninsula to Nefyn where we parked in a NT carpark last visited in May 2008 on our coast trip. We waited until the tide had gone out a little and walked across the sands to a pub then back across the golf course. An interesting drive back across low hills on the B4418 until we met up with the A4085 at Rhyd Ddu and over Pitts head to the campsite.
Day 8 Beddgelert/Giler Arms
This was the day we said goodbye to Beddgelert, out of season we thought it a great site, but as we left it was filling up for the holiday weekend and then I think it might be a different matter. The site was full of rabbits and squirrels and we also saw what someone said was a polecat but I'm pretty sure it was a mink. We needed some provisions so we went via the Aberglaslyn pass to Ffestiniog and across the mountains to the A5 and our next site The Giler Arms a CS near Pentrefoelas.
Day 9 Giler Arms/Bala/L Vyrnwy
Needing fuel so we first drove to Bala but the only petrol station in town was the old fashioned sort that you stop in the road for and it was on the opposite side. So on to Llanuwchllyn at the bottom end of the lake for fuel then following the path of the L Bala railway back to Bala we bought the Saturday papers and headed off to L Vyrnwy over the Cambrian mountains on the B4391 and the B4396. The latter was very tight in places. After driving round the lake and having a tea break we headed back the same way. From the top end of L Vyrwyn to LBala is only 9 miles by an unmarked road but given how narrow the named road was we decided not to risk it.
We had a pub meal in The Y Giller Arms. D had steak pie and I had faggots, all very nice and good value, beer was good as well.
Day 10 Giler Arms/L Brenig
L Brenig is a reservoir with nature walks etc not far from the campsite so we went there and had a three mile walk which D and L managed then we drove into Denbigh to get fuel and some more provisions at Morrisons. We weren't expecting the pub to be open for food tonight but it was so we went again. The pies are proper pies with short crust pastry and pastry underneath as well as on top. The beer is Bathams and the bar where we ate is dog friendly. http://www.giler.co.uk
Day 11 Giler Arms/Aberystwyth
To get the value from our discount cards we felt we had to visit at least one more railway. We had already thought about the Talyllyn at Tywyn and there were one or two others but the one I really wanted to see was the Vale of Rheidol railway which runs from Aberystwyth to Devils bridge and from the map is very interesting. The other advantage over the Talyllyn was that I had never been there before. Today (May Bank holiday) the Talyllyn has more trains running than the Vale of Rheidol but as its in the same direction we could make a start and decide later which line to go to once we got below Dolgellau. The road between Dolgellau and Machyllneth is worth the drive even without the rail trip at the end.
As we approached the turn off for Tywyn it was clear we couldn't get to Aberystwyth in time but could easily make it to Devil's Bridge and do the journey in reverse. So that was decided on. Assuming there was suitable parking and assuming that there was space. We needn't have worried, what some tour groups do is have their parties join at Aberystwyth and rejoin their coaches at Devil's bridge so the downhill (return) journey is fairly empty.
I hadn't done much in the way of prior research and so I hadn't realised that this railway was at one time an outpost of the GWR. I also hadn't realised what an excellent little railway this was. From Devils bridge the line falls dramatically clinging on to a narrow shelf above the valley. In some places the loco hardly fits between the rocks either side and sometimes it has to crawl at 5mph. This map from their website:
Once you get to Capel Bangor the line is level into Aberystwyth. In all its around 12 miles long. For the return trip I went in an open carriage whilst Doreen and Lottie who preferred to keep warm were crammed into a compartment, because the other carriages were reserved for coach parties. One other feature which makes this unique all the personnel are on the payroll, most other lines rely on volunteers.
There is a short video to give you a flavour of the trip here: www.rheidolrailway.co.uk I'll leave it to my photographs to describe the rest.
Day 12 Giler Arms/Craven Arms
We anticipated being away a fortnight and one place Doreen wanted to see on our way back was Ludlow Castle. There is a lot of the early history of the Tudors tied up in the castle. It wasn't clear from the web what parking there was for a motorhome in the vicinity of the castle. So what we deided to do was make our way to Ludlow and do a recce before deciding where to stay. So we left Y Giler and drove the straight forward way to Ludlow A5,A49. When we got there it was obvious that using the free park and ride would be best for us. There is a CS within walking distance of the P&R but we couldn't make contact with the owners. Other campsites were less useful so in the end we stayed at a pub a few miles back along the A49 that was in the Britstops book. www.britstops.com. We were made very welcome, although the pub does not allow dogs inside it was a nice evening so after one drink inside and Lottie starting to whine we continued in their garden.
Day 13 Ludlow and home.
Next morning we went to the park and ride at Ludlow and took the bus into town, the stop in town is right by the castle and the market. Ludlow castle is a must see it is dog friendly (even the cafe) and you can come and go once you have bought your very reasonably priced ticket. It is neither English Heritage nor National Trust www.ludlowcastle.com and seniors pay £4.50.
The castle shop is well stocked with books about the history of the castle and the various families and royal connections and rather than just buy a guidebook I was able to buy a substantial one of those for Doreen who is especially interested in the period of history around the wars of the roses at the end of the Plantagenet monarchy. What made it interesting for me is you can clearly see all the modifications, improvements an additions made in the different eras over its long histopry and you don't have to be very knowledgeable to spot the Norman, Tudor and post Elizabethan parts...
for example the marquees are clearly House of Windsor.
The cafe in the castle was a tad expensive but dog friendly and result! in a small gift shop next door I managed to purchase an unusual necklace for my daughter's birthday. Ludlow itself didn't disappoint, there was plenty to see and the small market held our interest.
We did consider staying another night in the area but with the weather deteriorating we set off for home instead.