The Ffestiniog Railway runs from Blaenau Ffestiniog, 3 miles away from Cae’r Blaidd and 630 feet above sea-level, down to the coast at Portmadog. Built originally to transport slate for exporting by ship to places world-wide, the Ffestiniog Railway achieved fame in Victorian times by being the first narrow gauge railway in the world to use steam locomotives with four original locos still surviving.
The half-way point at Tan-y-Bwlch has a station café and is surrounded by woodland walks.
Coed-y-Bleiddiau (The Wood of the Wolves) is a pretty little cottage on a mountain slope beside the Ffestiniog railway which runs between Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog. It even has its own tiny railway platform where trains will make a request stop for walkers to alight. Originally built in 1863 for an inspector of the narrow gauge railway, the cottage is situated a couple of miles above Tany-Bwlch station in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park. Before World War II the isolated cottage was a holiday home to a succession of interesting people, including St John Philby, father of the spy Kim Philby who fled to Moscow at the height of the Cold War, and Sir Granville Bantock, the
composer and conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Another possible former occupant was the infamous William Joyce, the wartime traitor Lord Haw-Haw.
Once in Germany, Joyce lost little time in starting to broadcast to the people of Britain. ‘Germany calling, Germany calling’ was the call sign of the Reichsender Hamburg radio station which broadcast nightly anti-Semitic and propaganda filled news bulletins in an effort to undermine the morale of the British people.
On one occasion, it is said, Joyce asked listeners in the Ffestiniog area how the Johnson brothers from the valley at Maentwrog were doing and how many of the five brothers had been killed in the futile war against the superior forces of Adolf Hitler. He talked about Coedy-Bleiddiau, the cottage beside the Ffestiniog railway in which he had stayed, making it sound almost as if he had been there the previous weekend.
The last occupants of Coed-y-Bleiddiau were Bob and Babs Johnson who lived there from 1951 until 2006. They apparently made a living from the gathering of Sphagnum moss which was sent by rail to Liverpool, where it was processed for use in clinical dressings.
Since their demise, the cottage has become derelict but looks as though it will be saved by The Landmark Trust, a charity that rescues historic buildings and makes them available for holidays. Landmark are hoping to raise £400,000 for the Grade II listed building’s restoration, starting the project in summer 2016.
Sharing the station platform in Porthmadog, is the Welsh Highland Railway running through the heart of Snowdonia via Beddgelert and the Aberglaslyn Pass, to Caernarfon, 25 miles away.
Of all the narrow-gauge railways that are on our doorstep, special mention must be made of the Snowdon Mountain Railway which opened in 1896. Snowdon Mountain Tramroad & Hotels Co Ltd was founded in November 1894 and work started immediately. 150 men with picks, shovels and dynamite built 2 viaducts, carved out a 100m cutting from solid rock, constructed several bridges and laid almost 8km of track up a 1 in 7 gradient to the top of Snowdon, 1085metres above sea-level, all in 14 months.