I am an incredibly lucky man to have been blessed with two beautiful daughters. We live in a world of princesses, butterflies, unicorns and shades of pink and I wouldn’t have it any other way, however, there is a distinct absence of anything with wheels or an engine in the girl’s toy boxes. Last week my wife announced that she was working in London for a few days and that I was in charge. I was over the moon when she told me that we were booked on Ffestiniog Railway’s “Santa Train” on Sunday afternoon - Myself, the girls and Grandad (my fishing buddy and totally on my wavelength!). Is it wrong to say that I was more excited about the train itself than a visit by FC and his elves?! I obviously didn’t let on to my daughters, who couldn’t contain their excitement as we drove to the station in Porthmadog and grabbed a quick snack for lunch in Spooners, the station café.
My late father was a railway buff and we grew up knowing all about the Ffestiniog Railway. My brother and I would spend hours playing with the models that he built. The incredible thing about this railway is that it was the first independent railway company in the world, founded by an Act of Parliament in 1832 and, for locomotive geeks, it introduced the world's first narrow gauge steam locomotives in 1863 and four of the original Double Fairlie locos still remain. This is exciting stuff! It basically means Thomas the Tank Engine style steam and the fantastic “chugga chugga choo choo” of a proper steam engine.
The railway was built as a horse-drawn line to transport slate from the mountain quarries around Blaenau Ffestiniog. As the slate industry flourished, so did the railway and the town of Porthmadog. Slates from Blaenau Ffestiniog were exported to ports all over the globe by ships built in Porthmadog. It really is a piece of Welsh history.
Over the last fifty years, the Ffestiniog Railway has become one of Wales's top tourist attractions and I have travelled on the line before, however, it was incredible for me to be able to take my own children. They loved every minute. The presence of Father Christmas obviously added to the excitement, but as young as they are, they still loved the train and the experience as a whole. How proud I was!
My wife, who likes to travel in style herself, had booked us a first-class cabin and we enjoyed not only Father Christmas, his elves and great presents, but also warm mince pies and a Christmas tipple or two for those allowed. The carriage was toasty and warm and it was a joy to look out at the natural beauty of Snowdonia and pass through areas inaccessible by road and undisturbed by the sights and sounds of modern life whilst climbing up towards Bedgellert where we stopped for a breath of fresh air. The staff, or rather elves, could not have been more helpful and despite it being my least favourite type of weather - mild, wet and grey - we had a wonderful afternoon. It is a great trip at any time of year and, as we proved, a treat for all ages, even those who didn’t grow up with Thomas the Tank, or Ifor the Engine!