Wales is renowned for its many steam railways and whilst staying at Llandudno in northern Wales earlier this year, I enjoyed a fantastic afternoon riding the rails of the Ffestiniog Railway, the oldest railway company in the world still operating trains.
Our 13.5 mile journey started in the slate quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog (about 50 minutes drive from Llandudno) and travelled via Tanybwlch, Penrhyn and Minffordd before arriving at the harbour town of Porthmadog one and a quarter hours later.
Along the way the beautifully restored Fairlie engine with carriages in tow, climbed over mountains 700 feet above sea level, through forests, beside lush green pastures and past lakes and waterfalls. As it winds its way through the stunning scenery, the track goes through tunnels, around sharp bends and even does a complete 360 degree spiral.
2013 is the 150th anniversary of the first steam engines operating on the Ffestiniog Railway and even today you can imagine the prestige and grandeur with which the railway would have been regarded. Originally the railway was built to transport slate from the quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog to the port but today the carriages carry tourists instead of the heavy cargo they once did.
Apart from the Observation Carriage, carriages on the Ffestiniog Railway consist of wooden benches and opening windows that allow you to breathe in that wonderful steam as the train puffs along. On our return journey, the friendly conductor, knowing we were visiting from Australia, kindly upgraded us to the Observation Carriage. Here we sat in plush upholstered seats in a more modern-style carriage and could order snacks and beverages from the on-board steward.
The town of Porthmadog makes a great place to visit. The station is set alongside the pretty harbour and a short walk across a bridge has you in the heart of the village. There are plenty of shops and cafes to keep you occupied or you can sit and relax by the harbour and watch fishing boats bob up and down on the water.
If you're a bit of a train buff or just like to take home a souvenir from your trip, the shop at the railway station is chock-full of information and mementos to help you remember your train ride. Spooner's Cafe and Bar, located at Porthmadog station, also serves reasonably priced meals and snacks.
Standard return tickets cost £20.20 per adult and £18.20 concession. Children under 3 travel free. An additional charge of £6 each way per seat applies to the Observation Carriage.
Four trains per day travel between Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog (and return) during summer. Check the daily timetable for your travel date.
Do you love steam engines? Which steam trains have you travelled on in Europe, the UK or Ireland?