Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Five Valleys (Part 5, Blaenau Ffestiniog to Llandudno)

Blaenau Ffestiniog is a place that has never really recovered from the loss of most of its slate quarries, though it is trying very hard to regenerate. Its efforts are not helped by the dreadfully inadequate public transport links. There used to be quite a frequent bus service to Llandudno, but this has dwindled to a mere three or four journeys a day. The train service is rather similar.

Such short-sighted provision on the part of the powers-that-be would be shocking if it wasn't so commonplace. Ironically, the same powers-that-be want us to ditch our cars and make more use of public transport.

Fortunately, my Ffestiniog train had a main line connection, although the timings were quite tight and I wouldn't have wanted to be pushing a wheelchair or herding several small children. There was certainly no spare time to visit the fleshpots of Blaenau or even snatch a cup of tea.

The Conwy Valley line is greatly underestimated by tourists and I would certainly recommend that you take a ride over it if you get the chance. Of course it's part of the national network - currently worked by Arriva Trains, a subsidiary of the German nationalised railway. (You couldn't make his stuff up!). It's standard gauge, and the trains are rather boring diesel railcars. But don't let any of that put you off.

A short way out of Blaenau, the train plunges into a long tunnel - about two miles long I believe. This railway was originally built at considerable cost by the old London and North Western company, and, no surprises here, mainly to tap the slate traffic. Once out of the tunnel, you are back in the most majestic scenery imaginable, so typical of this part of Wales.

The stations along this bit of track are request stops and we didn't stop at any of them, not even Dolwyddelan, which serves the nearby castle. The castle is visible from the train, but high up on the other side of the valley from the station - it must be a fair walk, although undoubtedly one that is 'worth it'.

The train next halted at Betws-y-Coed, where quite a lot of passengers got on. Betws is an attractive village and pretty much the centre of the tourist trade around here. Unlike the less fortunate Blaenau, it retains a decent bus service too, at least to Llandudno.

The next stop was Llanwrst, a market town that actually has two stations, one more convenient for the town than the other, which seems mainly to exist as a passing place. Llanwrst is an ancient place, for many years the lowest bridging point over the Conwy. The medieval bridge still exists, and very impressive it is. The fictional Brother Cadfael was born just across the river in Trefrew.

The River Conwy was an increasingly impressive presence on the left as the train hurried along. You get a really good view of the estuary and its wading birds, and eventually of the impressive Conwy Castle.

We ran into Llandudno Junction without a signal check to delay us. This station is where the Conwy Valley line joins the main line from London to Holyhead, and various connections can be made here. The station isn't quite as impressive as it was back in the day, but retains several platforms.

Now on the last leg, we turned right on to the Llandudno branch, still running alongside the beautiful Conwy estuary, which in this section has various marinas and associated developments, some of which are rather less pleasing to the eye that the still-visible Conwy Castle. It is however a quite glorious location, especially as the sun was now out and shining.

After a brief halt at Deganwy station, we were on the last leg, and pulled into Llandudno Station (recently reconstructed) dead on time.

As someone once said, a grand day out.

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