Visitors to the Caernarfon area will find their enjoyment greatly enhanced by a jaunt on the WHR, a rail line with a chequered past and hopefully a rosy future. The Welsh Highland Railway began as a merger of two companies in 1922, with funding from the Ministry of Transport and Carnarvonshire County, in an effort to revitalize the slate quarries and boost the area’s economy.
Through a daunting series of setbacks and a lot of controversy, it has finally emerged as a going concern. Restoration and extension has been underway since the 1960’s; the final stage is set for completion in 2011.
The present-day railway is owned and operated by Ffestiniog Railway Company, with the line starting in Caernarfon and terminating at Hafod y Llyn. The railway is narrow gauge and the locomotives are steam-driven. Operations are managed by a central control office at Porthmadog Harbour Station with communication by landline at other stations on the route – no in-cab radio system is allowed.
Passengers on the WHR will be treated to some breathtaking scenery as the train makes its way from Caernarfon to Dinas, where the track turns inland and heads for the Snowdonia Mountains. At Waunfawr visitors can alight for a pint in the friendly pub or a visit to the crafts centre; a campsite is also available.
From Wanfawr the ascent to Rhyd Ddu is dizzying with its steep gradient and horseshoe bends zigzagging up, and then back down the mountain to Beddgelert, offering some of the most spectacular scenery in all of the U.K. Beddgelert town centre with its shops, cafes and river walks is just a short stroll from the station, and visitors can take the opportunity to wander and explore.
After Beddgelert the train follows the Afon Glaslyn then dives into a tunnel to emerge and descend to the current terminal at Hafod y Llyn, where it loops for the return to Caernarfon. In the near future, however, the tracks will continue to Porthmadog, where it will connect with the FR to Blaenau Ffestiniog.