There are few more relaxing ways to enjoy mountain scenery than sitting in comfort in a railway carriage, while a venerable steam locomotive does the work. And mountain scenery in Britain does not get much better than this.
But this little line was not built for the benefit of tourists. It was constructed in 1845 to take slate from the great Dinorwig Quarry to Portdinorwic on the Menai Strait, from where it would be sent out to roof the houses of Britain. The quarry itself closed in 1969, but the terraces still rise like the steps of a giant pyramid high above the tracks. That should have been the end of the railway, and the line did indeed close, until someone had the bright idea of replacing slate wagons with tourist carriages. The line reopened, and old locomotives were restored to fiery life.
The attractions here are obvious. On one side you have a lost industrial world and on the other the towering flank of Wales’ highest mountain, Snowdon, with a beautiful lake in between.
The main station is at Gilfach Ddu, at the site of the old maintenance workshops of the quarry. The tracks are a mere 60cm (2ft) apart and the locomotive, when it steams into view, looks like an overgrown child’s toy.
But all the engines are genuine industrial locomotives, the oldest of which – Elidir – was delivered brand new to the quarry in 1899. Once under way, there is a short puff across the little river that links the two lakes, Peris and Padarn.
The train runs past the gaunt remains of Dolbadarn Castle, not one of those erected by King Edward I to subdue the Welsh, but built in the 13th-century by the Welsh Prince, Llewellyn the Great.
Having collected a few extra passengers, the little train steams back again to continue along the line that hugs the shore of Llyn Padarn. Now the view opens up to reveal the great bulk of Snowdon. If the views give you itchy feet, there are stops along the way where you enjoy a picnic or a gentle stroll.
The route ends at the far end of the lake, the train turns round and puffs back again to the start. It takes just an hour for the whole round trip, but it is an hour packed with interest, for there is not one mile along the way where you are not rewarded with magnificent views.
How to get there
Llanberis is 8 miles east of Caernarfon on the A4086.
Find out more
Llanberis Lake Railway
Gilfach Ddu, Llanberis, Caernarfon LL55 4TY
The timetable varies throughout the year. Return fares: adults £7.50, concessions £6.90, children £4.50, dog £1.
The Peak Restaurant
84 High Street, Llanberis, Caernarfon LL55 4SU
An unassuming restaurant serving excellent food,
presided over by chef-patron Angela Dwyer.
Llanberis LL5 4TY
This Victorian country house has two apartments and a converted coach house, plus stables offering some wonderful views of Llyn Padarn.
National Slate Museum
Llanberis LL55 4TY
This magnificent museum is based on the maintenance workshops of Dinorwig Quarry. Highlights include a 15m (50ft) diameter waterwheel.
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