We began at Stamford station at 06:50 on a Saturday morning and there was our train indicated on the departures list! 06:51 to Blaenau Ffestiniog makes a change from the usual 5 past the hour departures for Birmingham New Street! It arrived on time, hauled by a class 56 locomotive and consisting of a long string of brown and cream Mark2 air-conditioned coaches: all painted this colour it was hard to pick out the Pullman cars, which were at the rear with their names painted on the sides.
Because Stamford station only takes 4 or 5 coaches we had to walk through the catering vehicle to reach our coach, which was interesting in itself. This train has been created by refitting disused 1970s vintage coaches which once worked most of the inter-city services in the UK.
|Waiting for breakfast, fizz in hand!|
Although the train terminated at Blaenau Ffestiniog with an optional trip on the Ffestiniog Railway, we had been there before, and so instead we opted to get off at Betws y Coed which we had never visited. Supposedly the most popular inland tourist destination in North Wales, it is certainly a pretty place and it caters well for all its visitors. We were amazed to come across a suspension footbridge over the river, and we visited the ancient parish church (which I had read about before we went), closed because it became too small for the growing congregation and had to be replaced by a larger one, and a small railway museum.
It was hot and sunny and although a meal was not required we did stop for beer and for ice-cream during our meanderings about the village. There was a craft fair on the green which had some fascinating stalls (and provided a souvenir-cum-birthday gift!) and we bought the traditional Welsh fruit loaf bara-brith to bring home to keep the trip current in our lives for a few more days.
Back to the station we were greeted with a glass of Champagne and canapés, and the four-course dinner began fairly swiftly. This was amazing quality for mass catering, table d'hôte unless vegetarian, with probably the best lamb I've ever eaten. All passengers were served before Nuneaton when the first would be leaving the train, and there was a charity raffle in which we won nothing but we'd made our contribution to Help for Heroes, and each passenger was given a small box of chocolates as a "Thank you for travelling with us" and the ladies were offered the flower arrangements from the tables - ours was still going strong a couple of weeks after the trip!
Snowdonia and back in a day, with four-course dinner with wine on the way back. Great day out. We were fortunate with the weather, of course, giving us a great time at our destination as well as a great ride on the train, and scenery was at its very best.
Travelling Standard Class would make this an inexpensive trip and in the past we might have done that, taking a picnic and buying coffee from the on-board buffet, but there is no doubt that the Pullman style catering was the most important part of the day for us and will be long remembered.