North Wales Towns Tour Journey Notes 1 - Shrewsbury to Barmouth.
Times in brackets are approximate passing times - assuming departure from Shrewsbury on schedule at 11.27 based on timetables to 20 May 2017. Left or Right refers to when facing direction of travel.
(11.35) R - We pass the Shropshire village of Hanwood and then south of a smaller village - Westbury (11.41).
(11.43) Croeso y Cymru - Welcome to Wales! We cross the border just south of Middletown. R - Breidden Hill is a volcanic hill that rises some 1200 feet. On the top is Rodney’s Pillar - erected in 1781 by local landowners that supplied oak from their forests which was shipped down the Severn River to Bristol where Admiral Sir George Rodney’s fleet was built. A veteran of many campaigns, his fleet was used in the West Indies to defeat French and Spanish ambitions for Jamaica and the American War of Independence.
Up to 65 feet wide and 8 feet deep, Offa’s Dyke is named after the 8th Century King of Mercia who traditionally is believed to have ordered its construction. It roughly follows the current border between England and Wales although here it is about 4 miles to the west and not visible from the train.
We are now in the county of Powys which came into being in 1974 with the former counties of Montgomeryshire (Welshpool was the county town), Radnorshire and Brecknockshire.
(11.47) R - We go over the A458 level crossing and then pass the Welshpool Livestock Market - important for Mid Wales most numerous inhabitants - sheep! Capable of holding 15,000 sheep (as well as 1,200 cattle), this is the largest one day prime lamb market in Western Europe.
11.49 Welshpool. R - Edinburgh Woollen Mill’s shop is housed in the imposing Old Station building constructed in 1860. The railway was realigned and the current station built in 1993 to facilitate the provision of a new road to by-pass Welshpool. We follow alongside this by-pass on our right as we leave the town; when there is a break in the trees, look back right for Powis Castle.
(11.53) L - We follow the River Severn upstream towards Newtown. Long Mountain looks down over the small village of Forden on left. The former workhouse for the area is on the right; a substantial building constructed in 1795, it could house up to 1,000 inmates.
(11.56) L - Montgomery. We pass the site of the former station that served this town; Montgomery itself is over a mile to the east. The town, with its Georgian architecture, has a population of around 1250. Montgomery Castle was built to control an important ford over the nearby River Severn and replaced an earlier motte and bailey fortification two miles away. An important supporter of King William I (the Conqueror), Roger de Montgomery, originally from Montgomery in the Pays d'Auge in Normandy, was given this part of the Welsh Marches by William and his name was given to the town surrounding the castle. The castle also played a significant role in the Glyndwr uprising before it was damaged beyond repair by Parliamentary forces in the Civil War.
(11.59) R - Abermule. Dolforwyn Castle is a Welsh medieval castle above this village sited on a wooded ridge commanding excellent views of the upper Severn Valley. The fortification was established by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Gwynedd. In 1257 he invaded the area and Henry III recognised Llywelyn as Prince of Wales under the terms of the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267; the castle was constructed between 1273 and 1277.
12.03 Newtown. R - The Pryce Jones Royal Welsh Warehouse opposite the station sold flannel by post, the world's first mail order firm. Leaving Newtown, we continue to follow the River Severn for six miles.
(12.08) We cross over the A470/A489 roads and over the River Severn for the final time. Llanidloes, the first town on the Severn with a population of some 2,300, is 7 miles upstream and south-west of here.
12.10 Caersws. The name of the village is derived from a Roman fort. A short railway line (the Van Railway) used to run from here to serve silver and lead mines. Production peaked in 1876 when ore valued at over £100,000 (worth £8 million today) was mined. From 1868 until 1887, the manager of the Van Railway at Caersws was John Ceiriog Hughes, a Welsh poet and collector of Welsh folk tunes who did for Welsh poetry what Wordsworth and Coleridge did for English poetry.
(12.11) R - In the distance can been seen the village of Llanwnog and the parish church of St Gwynnog which contains the best example of a 15th or 16th century rood screen and loft in Montgomeryshire. The hamlet of Pontdolgoch is then on our left with a 17th century coaching inn.
(12.17) L - Carno. When Laura Ashley started her business, her very first factory was here by the side of the railway just before a road level crossing. Her delivery trucks used to be inscribed “London, New York, Paris and Carno”! The buildings have been empty for some time (although there is still a large Texplan factory in Newtown) and sadly Laura Ashley shops in both Newtown and Aberystwyth have closed.
(12.20) Talerddig. An isolated passing loop for the single line railway; we now descend Talerddig Bank - you can feel the train start to go downhill! Almost 120 feet deep and cut through solid rock, it was the deepest in the world at the time of its completion in 1862.
(12.28) L - Llanbrynmair. The village rose to local prominence with the building of a new turnpike road to Machynlleth in 1821 and the arrival of the railway in 1861.
(12.33) L - Cemmaes Road. A small railway hamlet (the actual village of Cemmaes is 2 miles north-east), slate was once hauled to here from slate quarries in the area.
12.41 Arrive Machynlleth.
The Aberystwyth portion of the train leaves Machynlleth first at 12.47 and we follow at 12.51; we cross over the road to Dolgellau and then begin to follow the Dyfi River.
12.57 Dovey (Dyfi) Junction. There is no road to the station - just a footpath. The line to Aberystwyth heads south on our left; we cross over the Dyfi and head west for the coast alongside the Dyfi estuary.
(13.06) We reach Aberdyfi (Aberdovey) - we may call at Penhelig, a request stop. This picturesque coastal village has a population of 800 and grew based on the shipbuilding industry in the days of sail, it is now a very attractive spot for a holiday with a long beach that stretches all the way to Tywyn and a yacht club; the very first Outward Bound centre was opened here in 1941.
13.10 The train calls at Aberdyfi station and then continues past Aberdyfi Golf Club with its superb links course as we head north to Tywyn.
13.19 Tywyn. R - As we approach this small town, the narrow gauge Talyllyn Railway’s station can be seen; built in 1865 to carry slate down from the quarries in the hills, it closed in 1946. However, a Railway Preservation Society was formed (the first such organisation in the world) to take over the running of the line and both the original steam locomotives and all the original carriages remain in regular use to this day. Brought to life by the railway in the late 19th century, Tywyn has been a popular holiday destination ever since and today has some 2,900 inhabitants. The long stretch of sandy coastline and sand dunes give the town its name - Tywyn literally means 'beach' or 'sand-dune'.
13.25 We leave Tywyn (after passing another train) and run alongside the sea with a request stop at the isolated Tofanau station (13.28). On 3 January 2014, a section of embankment near here was washed out by storm-force winds/tidal surges and services were suspended for five weeks; two trains were marooned at Barmouth and were taken away on the back of a lorry! There were more problems further north on the line.
(13.35) R - The small village of Llwyngwril; another request stop. This coastal village with a population of around 500 has strong links with the early days of the Society of Friends movement; the Quaker burial ground carries the date 1646. Castell-y-Gaer is a prehistoric hill fort overlooking the village and there are also many standing stones in the area. There is a local legend that these originate from the time when the lowland giant Gwril and his cousin, the mountain giant Idris used to throw rocks at each other!
13.44 Fairbourne. L - The village (population 1,200) was founded as a seaside resort by Arthur McDougall, of flour making fame; it has a two mile stretch of beach with golden sand. There is another little steam railway here - the Fairbourne Railway, a 2 mile long miniature railway which has provided a service to Penrhyn Point with a passenger ferry to Barmouth since its opening in 1895. Originally built to carry building materials, the Railway has carried holidaymakers for over a hundred years.
(13.45) Morfa Mawddach is a request stop; we now cross over the Mawddach estuary via the spectacular Barmouth Bridge.
13.55 Arrive at Barmouth and leave the train.