Great little Welsh trains: Conwy and Llandudno

By Colin Baird, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Conwy.

Overall rating:4.3 out of 5 (based on 4 votes)
Enjoyable
4.25
4.3
Useful
3.75
3.8
Inspirational
4
4.0
Recommended for:
Cultural, Short Break, Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

Travel on two of Wales' greatest little train journeys; the Conwy Valley line from mountain to seaside and the Great Orme Tramway to a nature reserve with white goats and wild flowers.

This is the final part of my circular tour of North Wales using scenic railways. This segment travels on the Conwy Valley Railway from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Conwy and Llandudno.

Britain's longest single-track tunnel

The Conwy Valley line (www.conwy.gov.uk/cvr/) does not have the vintage steam charm of other little trains in North Wales. Modern diesel units are a bit of a disappointment in comparison, but, hey, at least the scenery is good.

The line was originally built to transport slate from the mines in Blaenau Ffestiniog. It begins with a 2 mile tunnel, Britain's longest, that took five years to complete. The transformation from one end of this tunnel to the other is dramatic; it takes you from the huge mountains of slate and stark industrial landscapes into a world of pretty pastures.

The line has a seven arch viaduct, steep gradients, mountains, forests, rivers and moors that kept me enthralled for the one hour journey to Llandudno Junction. From here I made the twenty minute walk to Conwy.

Keep the children in the attic!

Conwy has everything you could possibly dream of. Town walls. Medieval and Victorian buildings. Spectacular castle. Fish and chips. Seagulls to steal your chips.

Built by Edward I between 1283 and 1289 Conwy Castle (£4.60 adult ticket, www.cadw.wales.gov.uk/default.asp?id=6&PlaceID=55) is designed to intimidate and leave you feeling rather small. It has eight towers which you can climb up for superb views over pocket-sized Conwy, the harbour and distant mountains.

The most exciting approach to the castle is across the suspension bridge (£1 adult ticket, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-conwysuspensionbridge). You would be forgiven for assuming that the bridge was a part of the castle because it also has towers and turrets. But no! It was built in 1826; Thomas Telford cleverly designed it to complement the castle.

I visited the tiny tollhouse where a family once lived and collected the fees for crossing the bridge. The guide pointed to a trap door in the ceiling and told me with a smile that the children had lived up there! I asked how the family got money from customers, imagining that they had to stand outside and operate some sort of barrier. My modern cynicism had clearly got the better of me because in those days the family got on with their lives in the house and customers would politely knock on the front door and offer to pay.

A “worthy, plentiful house”.

This is how Robert Wynne described his 1586 house, Plas Mawr (£4.60 adult ticket or joint ticket with castle for £6.85, www.conwy.com/plasmawr.html). It is regarded as the best preserved Elizabethan town house in Britain and has a lovely period atmosphere. Inside there is exquisite ornamental plasterwork and original furniture and the chance to climb the observation tower. The building is beautifully rendered in lime with steeped gables and a Tudor garden.

480 firing positions and 22 towers

These are some of the impressive statistics about Conwy's town walls. The walk along them is ¾ of a mile and the views are awesome. The last time I was this impressed by town walls was in Dubrovnik, Croatia, one of that town's greatest features. Unlike Dubrovnik, Conwy's town walls are free to walk.

Apple pie with a view

There are plenty of nice cafes in Conwy to take a well earned rest- walking up and down those castle towers and along the walls will need some serious calories.

The Tower Coffee House is across the road from the castle and has booths with views over the bay. The windows were wide open so that a pleasant breeze accompanied my apple pie and coffee deal.

Fish and chips is a must in a town by the sea and Archway (12-14 Bangor Road,01492 592458) is the place to get some. The queues of locals is a good sign and you can either sit in or better still take your package down to the benches on the harbour. For me it is the crispiness of the batter that makes a fish supper and this place gets it very right.

Two pillows makes a great youth hostel

Conwy Youth Hostel (from £14 for a bed in a dorm) is one of the growing band of hostels that could almost be a hotel. The dorms are en suite, immaculate and two pillows for each bed. This is not something to downplay! A single, limp pillow is the usual hostel characteristic but two pillows makes sleep very sweet.

The rooftop lounge is a nice touch with comfy sofas and outdoor terrace. The views are great from here because the hostel is located in a residential area above the town, about a 15 minute walk. There are plenty of seats outside to sit with a bottle of Conwy Brewery ale (www.conwybrewery.co.uk) from the bar.

The Castle Hotel (from £60 for a double) is the upmarket option, located on the High Street. It has a gorgeous exterior of granite and brick and classy rooms, including a deluxe suite with two-person jacuzzi. The bar is a cosy, relaxed place to try a pint of Celebration Ale from Conwy Brewery. I didn't eat there, but the restaurant is regarded as the best place in town.

Are we in San Francisco or Llandudno?

The Great Orme Tramway in Llandudno (20 minutes by bus from Conwy) made me think of the iconic cable cars in San Francisco. Along with Lisbon these are the only three locations in the world that have cable operated street trams.

The tramway (www.greatormetramway.co.uk) begins at Victoria Station, Church Walks, which is well signposted all over the town. Trams depart every 20 minutes and an adult return is £5.60. The big blue 1902 tram cars are a charming way to travel.

The tram moves off very slowly on a steep climb. It travels right past front gardens and bedroom windows. Then suddenly there are no more buildings and it enters countryside. I was startled that somewhere this wild and rural was just around the corner from a packed seaside town. This is the Great Orme, a mountain headland that is a nature reserve famous for its Kashmir goats and rare wild plants. I spent a delightful couple of hours walking, enjoying the coastal views and sunbathing.

An alternative way to go up or down the Great Orme is on the Llandudno Cable Car (www.attractionsnorthwales.co.uk/attractions/llandudno-cable-car), the longest cable car ride in Britain. The views are striking and on a sultry summer day the cool breezes are most welcome. I couldn't resist doing the tram and the cable car because they are both so much fun to ride!

“A Maharaja's Palace floating on a lake.”

What on earth received such a glowing report from the British Tourist Authority? Llandudno's Pier of course! Yes, it has ice cream, deck chairs, fish and chips and novelty gifts, but it is simply walking along the wooden decking and admiring the decorative railings,the curvy roof of the pavilion and sea views that I enjoyed the most.

Mediterranean atmosphere

I was fortunate to be in Llandudno on a beautiful, warm day and for outdoor dining Mostyn Street is the place to be. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants with terraces on this street, but I'd like to point you to the place I had lunch in. New Mediterranean (153 Mostyn Street, 01492 860670, www.mediterranean-restaurant.co.uk) offers a lunchtime tapas menu; I selected delicious sardines, calamari, vine leaves and haloumi.

Essentials

This is the final part of a circular tour of North Wales using scenic railways.

My Google map (http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF&msa=0&msid=105230649681054569951.00048b5f9b98c70cb6033) shows the route and it includes details to help with planning.

For more about Llandudno Joe Shooman has written a great guide to the town: www.simonseeks.com/travel-guides/llandudno-more-pier-and-candy-floss__111722

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More information on Great little Welsh trains: Conwy and Llandudno:

Author:
Colin Baird
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
4.25
Average: 4.3 (4 votes)
Total views:
319
First uploaded:
22 September 2010
Last updated:
4 years 4 weeks 1 day 15 hours 55 min 17 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Cultural, Short Break
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive
Free tags / Keywords:
seaside, scenic railway, Wales, City Walls

Colin recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Castle Hotel
£79
N/A
2. Conwy Youth Hostel
N/A

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Community comments (5)

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Colin,

I enjoyed your train trilogy - thanks for reminding me how great it can be to holiday close to home. Your third instalment was less of a train trip and more of a destination guide which is no bad thing. Great pics and video, but I can't believe how expensive the tram is in Llandudno!

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Rating:
4
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I have an uncle who always said "why go abroad when Britain has so much to offer?" He'd be pretty happy with your train sagas and I certainly haven't been disappointed. I can confirm that the views from Dubrovniks city walls are superb and I love riding on Lisbons trams. Alas it's a long time since I was in North Wales and I failed to do the city walls at Conway and never made it to Llandudno- no marks out of 10 for me but I am seriously persuaded by your guide that I would enjoy both. Your photos are beautiful, Plas Mawr looks very interesting and I like the sound of that YH rooftop. I think I'm sold-can you put a word in with the powers that be for some good weather for me?
NB- calamari in your restaurant choice hasn't come out quite right

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Thank you everyone for your comments. And for spotting the spelling errors. I have corrected these now.
I am glad that you enjoyed the guide and it has inspired you to visit this area.

Rating:
4
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Your guide had a cosy feel to it and I particularly liked the historical detail. There were so many points of interest, the trams and particularly the fact that the hostel provided two pillows. Essential!

I'm off to Dubrovnik soon, but only on a cruise. I just hope the city walls are as interesting as the ones you describe at Conwy.

A nitpick. You need to know you have a typo - a 'nn' in dining in Llandudno.

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Rating:
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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Colin

I have really enjoyed your Welsh steam odyssey. They each have plenty of good suggestions of things to see and do along with some simply stunning photography

Simon

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