The steam railways of Snowdonia are among the region’s most popular attractions. Throughout the year these railways arrange many special activities; here are ten worth checking out.
“Not so very long ago, in the top left corner of Wales, there was a railway,” says the opening line of the classic 1970s animated TV series Ivor the Engine. Of course, the railway that Ivor worked for was fictional; here in Snowdonia there’s no Jones the Steam or Owen the Signal. But we do have several other wonderful steam railways, which every year transport thousands of passengers around Snowdonia to see the region’s countryside in what we believe is the most exciting and fun way possible.
Throughout the year Snowdonia’s steam railways organise many additional activities and special trains, to ensure there’s always something fun for visitors to enjoy. Here are ten special trains and railway-themed events that railway enthusiasts won’t want to miss.
1. National Slate Museum
At the National Slate Museum in Llanberis lives Una the Engine, a fine Hunslet engine which is shown off to visitors on Wednesdays throughout July and August. During the summer you’ll also have the opportunity to see Vivian incline demonstrations, where you’ll see the only working slate carrying incline in the UK in action.
2. Summer evening themed trains
On Tuesday evenings in July and August make sure you catch the special evening themed trains at the Talyllyn Railway. Each train provides unique entertainment, including a quiz evening, a Purple Moose Brewery train with a bar and barbecue, a floral train, a big band performance and live organ music while you ride. These special journeys take about two and a half hours, including stops for refreshments at Abergynolwyn.
3. Teddy bears’ picnic trains
Also on the Talyllyn Railway at Tywyn is the teddy bear’s picnic train, where children are invited to bring along their favourite teddies for a special train ride. Children’s activities and entertainment take place at the railway’s adventure playground, and the Halo Honey Bear pops in to meet the children and pose for photos.
4. Tom Rolt Steam and Vehicle Rally
Talyllyn again – and this time it’s the Tom Rolt Steam and Vehicle Rally, in August. This is an entire weekend dedicated to the best of vintage vehicles and equipment, with ring events and road runs. Heritage buses provide tours of the nearby countryside, and there are regular trains running throughout the day as well as an evening train with a bar and barbecue.
5. Jazz trains
At Tan-y-Bwlch on the Ffestiniog Railway every August, jazz fans have a unique opportunity to combine a ride on the steam railway with jazz performances by Dr Jazz. Jazz Train evenings include a barbecue, bar and dancing, to the strains of old classics like The Jungle Book and When The Saints Go Marching In. These special trains are extremely popular and often sell out before departure, so it’s worth booking in advance.
6. “Fun Whatever The Weather”
The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway in Porthmadog hosts a “fun whatever the weather” event during the August bank holiday weekend. Even if it rains, don’t let that stop your fun – and watch out for dragons!
7. “Lace On The Train”
Also at the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway is “Lace on the Train“, a September event where you’ll be able to join experienced lacemakers and have a go at making your own lace.
8. Quarry Power
The popular SuperPower weekend at the Welsh Highland Railway becomes Quarry Power in September, when restored Penrhyn Scrap line locomotives will be in operation on the 40 miles of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway (F&WHR). The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway joins forces with the F&WHR for this extra-special event which sees the engines restored to how they were half a century ago, running in a cavalcade at Beddgelert where they’ll be seen and photographed against the backdrop of Snowdonia. For many of these engines this will be the longest single journey they’ve ever made – all the more reason to make sure you don’t miss Quarry Power!
9. Halloween trains
Many of Snowdonia’s steam railway companies put on special trains every year at Halloween, with a spooky theme, fun and games and goodie bags. Some also put on food and drinks – see the websites of Talyllyn Railway and the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway for details, or search for Snowdonia events at Events North Wales.
10. Christmas trains and Santa specials
Christmas in Snowdonia is made even more magical by a trip on one of many Santa Specials. Many of our steam railways run special trains for Christmas, which may include extras such as mince pies, a visit to Santa’s grotto, presents for the children and carol singing. Christmas specials run on the Bala Lake Railway, Llanberis Lake Railway, Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway and the Talyllyn Railway, among others – again, for dates and details see Events North Wales (if you perform an advanced search for railway events in Snowdonia you’ll get a great list of results).