Ah, the open road—or should I say, the open tracks? If you're a fan of van life and vintage trains, then buckle up, or rather, all aboard! This is a tale of how I combined my love for both into an unforgettable journey through the Welsh coastline.
The Prelude: Setting Off on a Van Life Odyssey
In March 2022, my van and I embarked on a van life escapade that was nothing short of epic. Starting in the rustic charm of Flintshire in North Wales, we coasted along the shoreline, making a week-long pitstop on the idyllic island of Anglesey. But the pièce de résistance was Pembrokeshire, where Skomer Island's puffins greeted me like long-lost friends.
The Digital Compass: Google Maps for the Modern Wanderer
You see, I'm a man with a plan—or at least a Google Map. Marked with must-see spots across the UK, it's my digital compass for van life. It's like having a treasure map, but instead of "X marks the spot," it's more like "G marks the Google."
My personal map is broken down to county level and contains all sites of interest that I'd like to see. It includes nature reserves and parks, historical estates, stately homes, castles, abbeys, cathedrals, old churches, zoos and general places of interest.
A Lifelong Affair with Steam Trains: The Origins
But let's switch tracks for a moment and talk about my lifelong love affair with steamtrains. It all started with overnight train rides from Durban to Johannesburg in South Africa. The rhythmic clatter of wheels on tracks was my childhood lullaby, and the whistle's blow was my wake-up call. Ah, the simple joys of youth!
The Vintage Train Experience: Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways
Now, any van life journey worth its salt—or should I say, steam—needs a vintage train experience. That's where Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways come in. These railways have been operating since the 1830s, making them some of the oldest in the world. The Ffestiniog Railway, in particular, was the first narrow-gauge railway to carry both passengers and freight. How's that for a historical nugget?
The Choices: A Buffet of Train Journeys
Stationed at Porthmadog, I was spoilt for choice with four different journeys:
Mountain Spirit: A 3-hour odyssey covering the entire length of the Ffestiniog Railway.
The Aberglaslyn: A 3-hour scenic route through the Aberglaslyn Pass, a geological marvel formed during the last Ice Age.
Woodland Wanderer: My choice! A 2.5-hour heritage service through Snowdonia National Park, home to some of the oldest trees in the UK.
The Harbourmaster: A 7-hour epic from Porthmadog to Caernarfon, where you can explore a castle that dates back to the 13th century.
A South African Connection: The Circle of Rail Life
Imagine my surprise when I discovered a South African Railways locomotive in operation! This iron stallion was built in Manchester, served in South Africa, and is now enjoying its golden years in Wales. It's like the Circle of Life, but for trains.
The Journey: A Time Machine on Tracks
The Woodland Wanderer was a nostalgic trip down memory lane. As we chugged through Snowdonia National Park, I was transported back to my childhood train journeys. The views were breathtaking, with the peaks of Snowdon mountains serving as the backdrop. Fun fact: Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and England, standing at an elevation of 1,085 meters.
The Pit Stop: Tan-y-Bwich Station
We stopped at Tan-y-Bwich station, where I had 40 minutes to explore a nature trail and indulge in some Welsh tea at Tan-y-Bwlch Tea Room. Did you know that the station is a Grade II listed building? It's like taking a tea break in a museum!
The Verdict: All Aboard for Van Life and Vintage Trains!
If you're living the van life and have a penchant for steam trains, Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways is a must-visit. It's a journey through time, nature, and engineering marvels. And let me tell you, I'm already planning my next trips from all three stations. That's right, I'm going for the full house of vintage train experiences!
So, whether you're a van life aficionado or a vintage train enthusiast, Wales offers a journey you won't forget. And who knows, maybe our paths will cross on the road—or the tracks—sometime soon!