North Wales by Train

Riding small trains through the magnificent mountains and pastures of this often-overlooked U.K. country

By: By John Clayton

North Wales by Train // (c) 2009


Whether clients are train aficionados or simply on the lookout for a unique vacation, riding the small trains of North Wales is an experience like no other. I recently rode several trains in this lovely and sometimes overlooked part of the U.K. and felt transported back in time, to a period when life was simpler and easier.

With their unique whistles, clanging bells, swishing steam and one-of-a-kind wheels, the narrow gauge trains of North Wales were an ideal way to see the region’s lakes, magnificent mountains and pastures. Train rides can also be a choice activity for multigenerational groups. For instance, on many small trains, clients can ride up front with the engineer for a nominal fee. Because space is often limited, arrangements should be made at the time of booking.

The trains I experienced in North Wales offered varied experiences — none of which disappointed. The recently expanded Welsh Highland Railway ( puffs its way through Snowdonia National Park, while the unique Ffestiniog Railway ( is a great day trip for families and is a must-see attraction for youngsters. One of the engines, a double fairlie, has a smokestack at both ends. This historical engine was built in this fashion because the standard engines of the late 1800s and early 1900s were not designed to drive in reverse for long distances.

Another winning day trip for clients is a trip to the top of Mount Snowdon on the Snowdon Mountain Railway ( At an elevation of 3,560 feet, Snowdon is the highest mountain in the U.K. Each year, around 140,000 people enjoy the Snowdown Mountain Railway’s one-hour ride to the top, which covers approximately 4.7 miles. Be sure to advise clients — whether they go in summer or winter — to have a warm coat for the final leg of the trip. There is an average of four trains per hour, and the track layout has been designed so that trains can pass each other either on the way up or down. There are three passing loops, all of which are 15 minutes apart, with trains traveling at about 5 mph. This summer, a top-notch cafe and information center were added on the summit. Clients can climb a few steps outside the cafe to reach an observation point that locals call “the five great kingdoms,” with views of Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland and, reportedly, Heaven as well.

The Great Little Trains of Wales