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European Railroad Discussion > UK Trip Planning Help Please!


Date: 03/25/17 09:02
UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: meixel

My wife and I are planning to go to Britain, probably in August or September, mainly so we can visit Buckingham Palace again.  This will be our fourth trip.  Two years ago we stayed in Kennington outside of Oxford.  This was the first time I was able to visit some of the railroads and museums.  We went to the Severn Valley Railway and the Didcot Railway Centre and liked both of them very much.

For this trip we plan to stay in London for a week and then drive to Wales through the Cotswolds.  Currently I am planning to visit the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways.  We may stay overnight in or near Burford because my wife liked shopping there so much.

I would appreciate any advice about visiting the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways and any other railways and museums I should consider.  Also when visiting the railways I would like advice as to a great nearby shopping town for my wife to visit if I want to spend more time at a railway/museum.

As to my railway interests my favorite US railway is the Cass Scenic Railroad because I love Shays and you can sit right next to the engine while it pushes you up the mountain.  My next two favorites are the Cumbres and Toltec and Durango and Silverton railways followed by the Georgetown Loop.  My only complaint about the Severn Valley Railway is that you could not see the engine while riding the train.  I am guessing that is true of all UK standard gauge lines?

Thank you all for your advice!!!  



Date: 03/25/17 10:04
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: Hartington

If you're starting from London and planning a stop in the Cotswolds you could visit Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway while your wife visits either Burford or Cheltenham.

From memory, North Wales doesn't really have any "Burford like" towns for shopping - they all tend to be a bit workaday.

It occurs to me that it might make sense to take the train out of London to Cheltenham or Swindon and pick the car up there.   Driving in and around London isn't much fun!   Then getting back to Heathrow or Gatwick isn't complex.   Drop the car where you picked it up take the train to Reading and a connecting train to Gatwick or the connecting bus to Heathrow.



Date: 03/25/17 10:08
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: meixel

Thank you for the info!  No we weren't planning to dirve to London.  We are going to rent a car after London, probably at Heathrow.  We've already been through "The Magic Roundabout", in Swindon, and definitely don't want to do that again!



Date: 03/25/17 11:46
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: 86235

Certainly true that the towns of North Wales don't immediately shout 'shopping opportunity' I'm afraid. Portmeirion, the village created by eccentric architect Clough Williams-Ellis, which became the setting of cult 1960s TV sci-fi The Prisoner is well worth visiting, but really the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland are not solely for railfans.



Date: 03/25/17 11:49
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: meixel

Thank you.  Yes I am a "Prisoner" fan and plan on staying in "The Village."  I'm sure my wife will like both railways.



Date: 03/25/17 21:52
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: BobB

It's possible to take the train directly to Ffestiniog and take the steam train from there.  It's a nice town, with a good B&B very close to the tracks (I don't have my records right now and I forget the name--I found it in a Rick Steves guidebook).  If you drive, which makes a lot of sense, there are interesting slate mines in the area (mostly shut down, but there was one available for tourists) that used to have railway service (that's why the railway was built, in fact).  If you plan to take both railways, staying in Porthmadog makes good sense, but it didn't seem to me to be as picturesque a place even if it is on the water.  The schoolkids in Ffestiniog all spoke Welsh as their first language, which really increased the feeling of being in Wales, and I liked the more mountainous surroundings.  We even found a Subway in a local grocery store that was patronized by locals much more than the few tourists we saw; that got us decent lunches (we use Subway for lunch almost every day when we're traveling in this country).  If you do take the Ffestiniog Railway, be sure to stop off at the station for Lake Mary (I forget the Welsh name) and wander around a bit; just be sure there will be another train coming that you can catch to complete your journey.



Date: 03/26/17 03:33
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: andersonb109

If you want to see the locos in action, why not spend one day chasing by car? The WH is easily followed. The Feasting not so much. At Porthmadog, drive across the cob to Boston Lodge and watch them preparing the various locos for the day. Much like Chama, you should have the run  of the place and won't get kicked out. Although an obnoxious orange safety vest (which are EVERYWHERE in the U.K.) might be in order. For food near Porthmadog, drive over to Tremadog (sp?). There are two good pubs their with traditional Welsh/English meals ordered from the bar. 



Date: 03/26/17 06:00
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: meixel

Thank you!  Great advice.

We can drive to Wales one direction and back to Heathrow another way.  What other railroads would be good to visit?  I may save a trip to York for the next time.  It seems a bit too far out of the way this time.



Date: 03/26/17 11:39
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: 86235

The Welshpool & Llanfair 2'6" gauge line is en-route.



Date: 03/28/17 06:32
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: meixel

Thanks!



Date: 03/28/17 09:07
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: march_hare

We found a nice local pub in Bleinau Ffestiniog, perhaps 3-4 blocks up the hill from the station (which serves both the tourist operation and also "real trains" to the rest of the world.  Don't remember the name of the place, but it was on the left side walking up the hill .  We had a Sunday roast there that was quite good, with a pint for Dad at the same time.

If you have time in London, the Bluebell Ry connects directly with "real trains" at East Grinstead, a short ride out from Victoria Station.  Very nice ride, nice collection also.



Date: 03/28/17 10:37
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: meixel

Thank you!



Date: 03/28/17 11:16
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: CZ10

Ffestiniog's shops (Boston Lodge) is located about a mile's walk from the Port Madog station.  While not open to the public, I knocked on their office door and asked if I could take a few quick photos in the yard.  They gave me a full tour of the shops!  Incidentally, it's about a mile walk from Boston Lodge back to Port Mereion.  You can hear the whistles of the Ffestiniog while walking around "The Village".

I was 16 when I first saw The Prisoner on TV.  If somebody had told me at the time that I would find myself in the future walking around The Village at midnight, I would have told them they were crazy!

- Bruce



Date: 03/28/17 15:28
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: meixel

Bruce,  Thank you.  My wife told me that she will only stay in the village as long as I don't walk around yelling "I am not a number!  I am a free man!"



Date: 03/28/17 15:37
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: Hartington

Take the M4 west from Heathrow.   Once past Reading take exit 11 and head for Streatley and then Didcot for the GWR society.   Cross country to Swindon and the "Steam" museum which is in the town and right next to outlet shops - they share the car park.   Just north of Swindon is the Swindon and Cricklade railway.   Pick up the M4 west again - exit as if going to Bath but just past Pennsylvania(!) at the roundabout go right on the A420 and then cut south to Bitton for the Avon Valley Railway.   Use the M4 to cross the Severn then take the A449 north just before you get to Newport to Raglan and then west on the A40 to pick up the A465 "heads of the valleys" road to Merthyr Tdfil.   Don't go into Merthyr but instead turn right through Pant to the Brecon Mountain Railway.   There are several routes to Aberystwyth which is home to the Vale of Rheidol Railway.   From there head up the coast and you'll encounter the Tallylyn Railway at Tywyn and the Fairbourne Railway (at Fairbourne) before you get to Porthmadog.

Great Little trains of Wales
Brecon Mountain Railway (Trainorders)
Heritage Railways guide
Heritage Railways Association
Wikipedia list of heritage railways



Date: 03/29/17 05:59
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: meixel

Thank you!



Date: 03/29/17 12:33
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: GeoffM

Another vote for the Swindon Designer Outlet Village and the adjacent Steam museum. The former also has a good food court, but IMHO the shopping is not like it used to be - in the early days you could get real bargains as the stuff was genuine end-of-line, last season or whatever. Nowadays a lot of stuff is "made for Outlet" which kind of defeats the purpose. Still worth going though.

Quite a number of years ago I stayed in the Sportsman pub/hotel in Porthmadog. I honestly felt like I was in a new series of Fawlty Towers, and not in a good way. An overbearing manager, bed bugs, very mediocre food, limited parking, and terrible WiFi where you first had to sign a long waiver of your rights and the hotel's responsibilities. Comical if it wasn't so awful. Anyway, might have improved since.

The reason I was in Porthmadog was, partly, as an organised trip to investigate the ETCS crossover between National Rail and the narrow gauge Welsh Highland Railway. Fancy modern technology meets steam trains. It's not really accessible to the public but you'll probably know when you go over it on the WHR - which is a great trip.



Date: 03/29/17 14:10
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: 86235

The Royal Sportsman changed hands in 2014 or 2015, gets decent reports on Tripadvisor. The Royal Goat at Beddgelert is OK too, as is the Golden Fleece in Tremadog, although the rooms in the annex are a bit pokey.



Date: 03/29/17 15:07
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: GeoffM

86235 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The Royal Sportsman changed hands in 2014 or 2015,
> gets decent reports on Tripadvisor.

Thanks for the update. Yes, the reviews are mostly more favourable now. Looking back around the time I stayed I notice a lot of 4/5 star reviews by people who have only ever reviewed once - and "Croiala" in denial for everybody else in the reviews! Which just reminds me: he had about a 5 second spot on a TV documentary a year or two later - I recognised him instantly. Amusingly he was talking about fake TripAdvisor reviews. PKB perhaps.



Date: 03/30/17 04:40
Re: UK Trip Planning Help Please!
Author: meixel

Thanks for the new info.  "Fawlty Towers" is another of my favorite shows although surviving the last 10 minutes is always tough because it is so intense.  We swapped houses, in Oxford, two years ago and discovered a program about travelling the British canal system and learned that "Sybil Fawlty" was one of the hosts!



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