Welsh Highland Railway. Caernarfon Porthmadog

Welsh Highland Railway. Caernarfon Porthmadog

The tale of our infatuation with steam trains continues with…

…the Welsh Highland narrow gauge railway running between Caernarfon and Porthmadog, where it links to the Festiniog Railway, running from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog high in the slate mountains of Snowdonia.

Welsh Highland Railway train arrives in Caernarfon
Welsh Highland railway loco taking on water at Caernarfon
Welsh Highland railway loco moves to front of carriages ready for journey to Porthmadog
Welsh Highland Railway loco with Caernarfon Castle in background
Locomotive standing at Caernarfon taking on passengers

At 09:30 on Thursday 16th June we were standing on the platform with lots of others awaiting the arrival of the 10:00 steam engine which would pull the 10:00 train from Caernarfon all the way to Porthmadog passing the foot of Snowdon on the way.
When the engine pulled into the station, there was a ripple of excitement. It is, like all steam engines, a living breathing thing, a Welsh dragon come to life.

An excited Dorothy in First class on the Welsh Highland Railway

Aboard the train, I felt like an excited child on a birthday outing. As the train pulled out of the station, I looked back to watch Caernarfon Castle slipping out of sight as we puffed along the track.

Incline up to Rhyd Ddu from Caernarfon
Mynydd Drws y Coed from the train approaching Rhyd Ddu
Rhyd Ddu station on the Welsh Highland Railway

The narrow-gauge engines on the Welsh Highland Railway run on tracks two feet wide. To go round the sharp corners required to take them snaking up steep inclines, they are articulated in two places. Each steam engine is made in three parts, a central boiler with driver’s cab, a watertank and a coal bunker.

Welsh Highland Railway loco showing three main articulated sections
Locomotive driver oiling bearings before next journey
Driving controls in locomotive cab
Welsh Highland Railway train prepares to leave Porthmadog for Caernarfon

Welsh Highland Railway. Brief history

The brief history of the line between Caernarfon and Porthmadog goes back to 1864 when a tramway was built to carry slate from the mountains to the coast for export. The line was extended over time until it eventually joined up and carried both slate and passengers.
Sadly, the Welsh Highland Railway was never a financial success and in 1944 a ‘winding-up’ order was made. The company was never actually closed, so eventually, in 1989, it was possible for the Ffestiniog Railway to make a bid for the track. In 1999, they aquired the assets from the official receiver and with the aid of a Milleniun Commission grant, much fund raising, and a lot of volunteer labour, the Welsh Highland Railway was reconstructed, bit by bit, to become the wonderful entity it is now.

It is still run on volunteer labour.

Journey from Caernarfon to Porthmadog

The journey from Caernarfon to Porthmadog is 25miles long and runs through beautiful countryside. It climbs from sea level at historic Caernarfon to 197metres before descending through forests and the beautiful Aberglaslyn valley until it arrives back at sea level in Porthmadog.

Welsh Higland train threading its way through wooded glades around Waunfawr
At Porthmadog, the line uses the main street to reach the other side of the valley for its journey North
Welsh Highland railway name plate on the cab of the locomotive

We loved every bit of our journey and can heartily recommend it to visitors. We took lots of pics and video. The best bit of the end of the end of the journey was that we could do it all again on the return journey from Porthmadog to Caernarfon!

10th July 2016

Rainbow evening light

A Rainbow in evening light

This amazing shot of a Rainbow in eerie evening light appeared on Friday after a strong rain shower, so Daf whipped out his camera and fired off a few shots.
The shot below was perhaps the best. We have seen this effect a few times while living here. Because the view is so expansive and the strong evening sun is striking the low level rain clouds from the North West, the clouds are lit up orange and cast a veiled light over the area beneath – in this case, us!

The shot was taken from the Berclas terrace just beside the holiday apartment main bedroom.

A shot of a Rainbow in eerie evening light, taken from the Berclas terrace by the apartment

July 3rd 2016

The Ponds and tranquility

The Ponds and tranquility

The upper pond on the terrace at Coed y Berclas

We have two ponds at Coed y Berclas – or water features. The upper one is a rill on the terrace in front of the house. It contains water lilies, irises, oxygenating plants and a few water insects. The lower one is larger.

In addition to having similar plant and insect life, it is also home to a number of newts, and in spring we are visited by two or three Mallard ducks. They stay only briefly and always fly off to a safer roost for the night.

A less welcome visitor is the occassional heron. We worry that it will eat the newts or puncture the pond liner. Fortunately, there are no fish to keep it visiting, so I suspect it flies away disappointed but has a short memory!

Mallard basking by the lower pond at Coed y Berclas

Unfortunately, we also have blanket weed in both ponds, which is very invasive. Therefore, from spring throughout summer, I have the task of taking out as much as possible, to stop it taking over. I don’t think we will ever get rid of it, but there was hardly any in the upper pond this year. That was very encouraging.

This might be seen as just another task to add to a long list, but here’s the funny thing: I really look forward to getting out my specialist equipment and spending ages by the pond picking out masses of fibrous bits of blanket weed.

I put it down to the magical relaxing effect of being by tranquil water. My equipment may not fit most people’s idea of ‘specialist’. It’s a pink plastic hairbrush tied with string to the longest cane I could find. It works really well at picking up clumps of the hair-like fibres. I always look carefully at the blanket weed for wild-life. I have found snails, dragonfly larvae and small newts. They are all returned to the water as quickly and gently as possible.

A used Dragonfly larva from the lower pond at Coed y Berclad

The dragonfly larvae are fascinating. when mature, they climb up reeds and cling on while they metamorphose into beautiful electric blue insects which dart backwards and forwards, across the pond, on their iridescent wings, hunting for food. I can hear the whirr of their wings as I seek out fibres of blanket weed. It’s wonderful. The old outer cases of the larvae are left clinging to the reeds or fall in the water. I have wondered if they are the reason for the name ‘dragonfly’.

Lillies on the apartment terrace at Coed y Berclas. Bangor Pier in the background

The sound of water trickling from the upper into the lower pond also adds to to the sense of peace and serenity. Guests staying in the Luxury Holiday Apartment at Coed y Berclas, step out from the sitting room onto a patio with table and chairs, which is close to the pond. While enjoying the view of the Strait and Snowdonia, they can also listen to water falling into the lower pond.

Two tranquil ponds at Coed y Berclas.

As a member of Cwilt Cymru I produced two quilted textile hangings to our chosen theme ‘Cynefin’. Cynefin is a Welsh word which refers to a place where one belongs. It has a spiritual and emotional dimension as well as a physical one. Because of my relationship and sense of belonging, I chose to create images for Cynefin based on our two ponds.

Tranquil Pond One and Two. Textile Art by Dorothy Russell. This links to her Art Quilt Portfolio page

Daf and I were both brought up near water. I lived close to the North Sea and Daf to the Menai Strait. Neither of us would wish to live too far from water. At Coed y Berclas we are on an island surrounded by water, we overlook the Menai Strait, and over Bangor Pier to Snowdonia, and we have our two ponds. This makes us feel very ‘at home’.

12 June 2016

Flying Scotsman on Anglesey

Flying Scotsman on Anglesey

When we heard that the Flying Scotsman would be crossing Anglesey we had fun finding the best place to photograph her. Crossing Anglesey was part of the Flying Scotsman’s journey from London to Holyhead. She was also returning later in the day.

We both love steam engines and feel the ‘romance of the age of steam’.

Flying Scotsman crossing Anglesey. Still image at Lon Myfyrian.

The day before her arrival, we looked at views of the Britannia Bridge, which crosses to the island over the Menai Strait – the stretch of Anglesey Coast we overlook from Coed y Berclas. We drove for miles across Anglesey, on roads parallel to the railway track. We looked over bridges and across fields. We waited at railway crossings. We wanted to find the best place to see the Flying Scotsman as she steamed her way across the Isle of Anglesey.

Eventually we settled on a lane, Lon Myfyrian, which runs along the edge of a field. This gave us a prolonged view of the railway track.



The next day we were there in good time, to set up our cameras and await the arrival of the Flying Scotsman. We kept thinking we heard her coming, but it must have been the nearby A55. She was running a bit late, so by the time we heard the distinctive sound of a steam engine approaching, we were stiff but excited.


Daf’s brother Wyn, who has been photographing trains for half a century, photographed the image below, at Myfyrian bridge.
Flying Scotsman approaches Myfyrian bridge on Anglesey. June 2016. Copyright Wyn Hobson

I took stills and Daf shot the video above. We were both over-awed and excited at watching this beautiful steam locomotive, The Flying Scotsman, pulling many coaches across our beautiful Isle of Anglesey, and the sound of her sent a thrill through us both. We have watched the video a lot since that day!



In the afternoon, Daf and I were at Bangor station to watch the Flying Scotsman pass through on her return journey. As she pulled slowly into Bangor station, everyone went quiet. I took video above and Daf mainly took stills.
Flying Scotsman arriving at bangor station 15th June 2016

It was wonderful to be so close to the Flying Scotsman, such an iconic engine. I remember as a child standing on Durham station awaiting the train which would bring my Great Aunt on a visit from London. I cannot be sure I ever saw the Flying Scotsman then, but I distinctly remember being over-whelmed and rather scared of the size of the engine and the sound of hissing steam. Now I think it is all quite wonderful.

Flying Scotsman locomotive standing at Bangor station. 15th June 2016

We hope you enjoy our images.

June 15th 2016

Anglesey Coastal Path to Beaumaris

Ewe with her two lambs at Coed y Berclas

Yesterday lunchtime, the rain stopped, the sun shone and the sky became a clear blue. It was time for a walk. We’d do the Anglesey Coastal Path to Beaumaris. Our land is bordered by the coast path. We set off up the drive, listening to birdsong and enjoying the fresh greens and lovely late spring flowers .Our woodland is still full of bluebells and pale pink Clematis Montana winds around an old fence. In our top field, the sheep and lambs stopped to watch us pass. Some of the lambs are still very young.

Clematis Montana at Coed y Berclas
Our lane on the Anglesey Coast pathWe strode out along the lovely winding lane, enjoying the beautiful day. Bird song was all around us and pheasants called from fields close by. In the hedgerows, flowers were blooming. We saw bluebells, cow parsley, vetch, May blossom, herb robert, red campion and many others whose names I don’t know. The trees were nearly all in full leaf and everywhere was busy with life. Lilac blossom filled the air with its delicate fragrance.

image of wallflowers in the lane

At the crossroads we turned right, still on the coast path, to begin our decent towards Beaumaris – one of Anglesey’s jewels. There is a private lake, which was once a reservoir. It can be glimpsed through the trees and over stone walls as you walk past. The sunlight glinted on its surface.

cattle in the lake munching water weed

Nearby a lady stood in the middle of the road looking towards us. It turned out she was watching a brood of tiny ducklings crossing the lane to join their mother who called to them from the other side. We saw the last two make the crossing safely. They were so tiny and very vulnerable, but far too quick for Daf to catch them on camera!

image of Wysteria

Further down the hill is Baron Hill Golf Course which welcomes everyone. We could see some of the players and hear their quiet voices, and the click of golf club hitting ball. All the time we were surrounded by busy nature and a sense of excitement and renewal.

Imaqge of Golfers at barron Hill Golf Club

Down the lane an old stone and brick bridge crosses over the road. It was one of two bridges which carried the drive to Baron Hill, one of the biggest houses in the area. Unfortunately the house was damaged by fire, and for many years remained a ruin. In August 2008, plans were submitted to restore the house, and turn it into luxury apartments. We don’t know whether this work has been undertaken.

Image of Beaumaris from the top of Red Hill

Downhill from the bridge we saw the town of Beaumaris spread out before us. From this point, the coast path re-joins the shore into the town. Beaumaris is a small, pretty town steeped in history.

As we reached the bottom of the hill, the waters of the Menai Strait twinkled in sunlight and the boats bobbed on their moorings. We walked along the shore, still on the Anglesey Coastal path, into the centre where the prettily coloured buildings seemed to welcome us.

It was time for refreshment. There are many places in Beaumaris to eat and drink. We decided to try a new cafe/restaurant – an addition to Red Boat ice cream parlour. We enjoyed a gluten-free Dutch pancake.

Beaumaris Pier

Before heading back home we wandered round Beaumaris. There’s a lot to see. A guest once described the town as being like Edinburgh rock, because of the colours of so many of the buildings. The pier is always fun, especially when families are there ‘crabbing’. The lifeboat station is at the root of the pier and we often watch the lifeboat, from Coed y Berclas, as it zips along the Menai Strait.

Image of boats on their moorings with Snowdonia in background

The town is in the perfect position between land and sea to guard the Menai Strait and keep a look out for danger. It was once the site of one of the courts of the Welsh princes. This is also why Beaumaris Castle was built for King Edward I. It was begun in 1295 as one of a series of castles built along the North Wales Coast to subdue the Welsh. However, it was never completed. The town grew up around the castle, so many of its buildings are very old. Now, it attracts visitors from all over the world, along with its sister castles at Caernarfon, Conwy, Fflint, Rhuddlan and Harlech.

Image of Beaumaris Castle

We love living at Coed y Berclas. Being able to walk straight onto the Anglesey Coastal Path from our top gate is one of the joys. The lane is delightful and the wildlife abundant.

23th May 2016

Image of the shoreline at Beaumaris with yachts on moorings

Squirrels on Anglesey

A squirrel on Anglesey by Duncan Rose

Duncan took these superb photographs of red squirrels while staying at Coed y Berclas. Reds squirrels are native to the British Isles, Grey squirrels are not. As Anglesey is an island it made it easier to remove the greys squirrels and allow the red squirrel community to thrive.

We have seen red squirrels in the grounds at Coed y Berclas, as have our neighbours. Reds are much more attractive than the greys which threatened their existence and are now increasing in number on the Island. We love to see them.

A squirrel on Anglesey by Duncan Rose

At Coed y Berclas, even when they haven’t been seen them for a while, we have evidence they’re around. There are little oak and hazel trees growing around the garden. As they are well away from any parent trees, the only explanation is that they were red squirrel stores which were forgotten. We will plant the trees in suitable spots where they can grow and supply food for later generations.

RAF T2 Hawks flying over Anglesey from Valley

Duncan also sent us an amazing image of two T2 Hawks at RAF Valley, which is towards the north-west of the island.

RAF Valley is a fighter pilot training base. It was placed on Anglesey because of the consistently clear weather. Sometimes we see jets flying high above the Menai Strait. We have even enjoyed the sight of the Red Arrows Display Team flying up the Nant Francon Valley towards us, weaving sky patterns and leaving coloured trails behind them.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, was based at RAF Valley as a helicopter pilot on Air Sea Rescue duty.

What a special photographer! Thank you, Duncan.

20th May 2016

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz

A spring outing of the Royal Anglesey sailing club, by the pier, on the Menai Strait

Spring is Sprung

Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
Except where every mole-hill is!
Along the Straits
The yachts all wizz
Serious stuff this racing bizz!

‘Spring is sprung’ with remarkable speed. The greenery is vivid and sudden, with the new laurel hedging at Coed y Berclas sprouting forth.

We have been having lovely weather for the past couple of weeks with the mountains changing as the sun moves throughout the day: one of my favourites is the gentle, warm pink/orange glow which suffuses them towards sunset. The wind has vered from NE to SW which tends to alter the general temperature, but as long as the sun is shining, it feels wonderful.

At last… hope summer will be like this!

17th May 2016

Voltaire Vegan cafe, tapas restaurant in Bangor

Voltaire - A Vegan cafe tapas bar restaurant in Bangor


Having heard about Voltaire vegan cafe tapas bar restaurant near the pier in Bangor, Daf and I decided to try it this evening. We’re not vegan but who cares; the meal was excellent.

We enjoyed the atmosphere, the decor, the music, and above all the food! You really don’t need to be vegan to appreciate good food. It was fresh, well presented and very tasty. The menu isn’t very extensive yet: they have only been open three week,s and are trying different dishes to find out what is popular. While we were there the chef was offering one customer a variation to one of the dishes listed – the service is very personal.

Well… the chocolate brownie with flavoured ice cream and coconut was so enticing, we started before taking the photo. The shame of it…

Voltaire - A Vegan cafe tapas bar restaurant in Bangor

We left feeling relaxed, and healthily fed; we will be back.

Voltaire vegan cafe tapas bar restaurant: Opening times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 12:00 – 23:00 (last orders 21:00)

Voltaire facebook page

4th May 2016

ATA – SW Anglesey Information Coach Trip

Wednesday 16th March 2016 goes down as a very important day! Our first grand-child, Olivia, was born!

Also, the ATA trip took a coach-load of us (people involved in tourism) on a very informative ‘jolly’ around the SW of Anglesey.
We started the day in Menai Bridge, at the Telford Centre, whence two guides took us for a walk under the Menai Bridge, built by Thomas Telford between 1819 and 1826.

From a distance the bridge is beautiful and almost delicate. Standing under one of the huge towers and looking up, you realise the immensity of the structure. The bridge formed the first fixed connection between Anglesey and mainland Wales. Previously, people and most animals would be ferried across the Menai Strait and cattle had to swim to reach markets on the far bank.

Later, in 1850, the Britannia Bridge was completed by Robert Stephenson, in order to carry the railway across the Strait. In 1970, following fire damage to the bridge, the opportunity was taken to add a road deck, carrying the A55, to relieve the increased traffic crossing the Menai Bridge.

Image from RibRide website taken from the bow looking back at excited passengers

From the Bridges we walked into the centre of town for a huge treat: in groups of ten we were taken out, by skipper Charles, in one of the powerful RIBs (rigid inflatable boat) owned by Rib Ride. Once our life-jackets were on and the safety information had been delivered, we were off.

We were in totally safe hands with Charles, but our spin under the Menai Bridge and through the Swellies to Gorad Goch (an island in between the two bridges) was great excitment and we all came back to the Princes Pier buzzing and with big grins on our faces! I’m sorry there are no photos but I was too busy enjoying the experience! Thank you, Charles. Back on shore we relaxed with a coffee courtesy of Dylan’s restaurant.

Lunch was ready for us when we arrived at the Marram Grass Cafe, run by the Barrie brothers, in Newborough. You may have heard of the Marram Grass – it has been appearing on TV, winning awards and gaining much praise. Good food and good company, what more could you wish for?!

A seahorse in Anglesey Sea Zoo

In the afternoon, the group divided so we could visit the Sea Zoo and Halen Mon which are right next door to each other. Both are well worth a visit. The Sea Zoo, apart from being a visitor attraction, is also involved in serious scientific work, studying sea-life around the British coast: they also have a breeding program, specifically with lobsters and sea-horses.

Halen Mon (Anglesey Sea Salt) is the salt of choice for many top chefs around the world and President Obama’s favourite chocolates are caramels topped with a sprinkling of Halen Mon. Salt water is pumped from the Menai Strait, cleaned and purified before going through a semi-secret process to make the salt crystals which have given Halen Mon its reputation.

image of 'classic' vehicles in Tacla Taid museum

As a little extra on our day out, we were offered a visit to Tacla Taid Transport Museum. This was my first visit and I found it really interesting. There is a wide range of vehicles, many classics, all in very good working condition. Some of the vehicles are used for special occassions – weddings etc. Another place to add to wet weather cover as well as being a special interest venue.

Back to Oriel Ynys Mon to collect the car, so I decided to pop into the gallery before closing time to take a quick look at their new exhibition. I’ll be back, with Daf – there was some really interesting work, which is associated with the Open Studios week on Anglesey, but actually lasts much longer.

Thank you to everyone involved in organising the day.

March 16th 2016

Anglesey Tourism Association visit to Mynydd Parys, Amlwch Port and Moelfre RNLI

As a member of the ATA I was offered the opportunity to go on a ‘coach trip’ to Mynydd Parys (Parys Mountain), Amlwch Port and the RNLI centre in Moelfre, with lunch at Lastra Farm: these visits are always interesting and very informative and the idea is that we can pass the information on to our guests.

image of geology of Parys Mountain, Anglesey

The morning didn’t start brilliantly – it rained! – but we set off for the north of Anglesey and our first stop. Mynydd Parys has a fascinating mining history stretching back about four thousand years: it is rich in minerals, especially copper, and has been mined since the Bronze Age.

The Romans were very keen to extract its metals and Queen Elizabeth I, whose Tudor ancestors came from Anglesey, sent two of her most senior advisers, Burleigh and Walsingham, to investigate Mynydd Parys.
image of geology of Parys Mountain, Anglesey

The height of activity came in the 18th century when there was a ‘copper rush’ equivalent to the Klondike gold rush, when it acquired the name ‘Copper Kingdom’.

image of geology of Parys Mountain, Anglesey

Copper was used to plate the hulls of Nelsons ships, saving them from a wood eating worm in the Med and keeping them free from barnacles and growth, thus making them faster in the water. Copper is still being mined on Mynydd Parys.

Visitors are advised not to stray from the official path but I can recommend a visit to this colourful, mineral ‘lunar landscape’.
Many thanks to David Wagstaff for sharing a lot of information with us.

image of geology of Parys Mountain, Anglesey

The whole of Anglesey has been designated a world-wide site of special geological interest and down at Amlwch Port, close to the museum which offers information about Parys Mountain, is Geo Mon’s centre. They are based in the port management building which goes back to the time of the ‘Copper Kingdom’.

image of geology of Parys Mountain, Anglesey

Outside is a circle set in a paved area which shows samples of all the different types of rock which make up the island. Specialists come from around the world to study Anglesey’s geology.

image of geology of Parys Mountain, Anglesey

Lunch awaited us at Lastra Farm, a short drive away, and it was superb. I expected sandwiches and a cuppa but we had fish and meat platters with salads and accompaniments, followed by some very tempting desserts. It also offered an opportunity to socialise. I can heartily recommend Lastra Farm if you’re in the north east of the island.

Our final visit of the day was to the RNLI Moelfre Lifeboat Station where we were shown round by two members of the crew. The Tamar class lifeboat, ‘Kiwi’ is a superb piece of technology and kept in spotless condition and although she comes with her own RIB, carried at the stern, the station also has a ‘D class’ RIB, ‘Enfys’.

RNIL Lifeboat at Moelfre

Close to the RNLI buildings are statues and monuments commemorating some of the wrecks and rescues. One statue depicts Coxwain Richard Evans who was awarded two Gold Medals.

The walk along the shore which took us to two of the wreck sites – the ‘Royal Charter’, where many died; and 100 years and a day later, the ‘Hindlea’ where everyone was saved, despite the lifeboat crew being at great risk – forms part of the Anglesey Coastal Path.

Back to the coach, driven by Nia, who had taken her vehicle through some very narrow lanes, including roadworks, during the day, and off to our cars parked in the grounds of Oriel Ynys Mon.

The whole day was very interesting and informative – thank you to everyone involved.

Next week we’ll be visiting a couple of places to the south of Anglesey and lunch will be at ‘The Marram Grass’. I can’t wait – but I’d rather it didn’t rain

11th March 2016