This year our main holiday was at Easter. We still wanted to do something during the summer but having spent a lot on the previous holiday it needed to be something less expensive. One option was for a camping trip. Our son loved the idea, but not so much our daughter. It’s not that she doesn’t go camping (she had been on a Scout camp just a few weeks before), but didn’t want to go this time. So we decided to have a Father and Son camping trip without the rest of the family. My son is really into trains and planes, so we used that as a theme for the holiday, with a bit of watersports as well.
We booked a pitch at the Bala Camping and Caravanning Club site. The Camping and Caravanning Club sites are usually of a good standard, but lacking some of the entertainment that you get with more commercial sites. That suited us fine we planned to be too busy for entertainment anyway.
We do like to have electricity on our camping pitch, mainly for our camping fridge, but also useful for mobile phone charging etc. You often need to book quite early to get a pitch with electricty during holiday periods, I think we timed it just right this time.
We drove to the site, shortly after the earliest arrival time of 1pm. Staff were very friendly, they gave us a choice of two pitches and we pitched the tent. As it was just the two of us we took the smaller of our two family tents, which is a Woburn 400, with awning, the other one is a large 6 person Kampa air tent, which is actually easier to pitch, but bigger than we needed.
We got the tent up just before it started to rain. It was then time to go off to our first activity.
Snowdon Mountain Railway
As my son enjoys trains then argubly the most novel train in the UK is the UK’s only Mountain Railway which goes to the summit of Snowdon. We had been planning the trip for a while, but I only got around to booking the tickets for the railway about a week and half before. As a result almost all the tickets were gone. This took me as a bit of a surprise as I though that would be ample time, but it seams like there are more days-out activities that need to be booked a month or more in advance. If you want to go on steam (rather than diesel) train then it may need to booked even longer in advance.
We were able to get a ticket, but it was on the last train of the day at 5.30pm. The trip is 2½ hours long which includes half an hour at the summit, so that that meant getting back to the car at 8.00pm.
We arrived at the station about an hour before the train was due to depart. We parked at the pay car park opposite and then went to the ticket office to collect the tickets. When we did we were told that there were a few spaces on the earlier train and would we like to go on that instead. That was better timing for us so we took it.
The trip on the train was a good experience, but unfortunately there was a lot of cloud at the top, so we didn’t actually get to see any of the magnificant views. In fact we could hardly see each other, let alone any nice views.
Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway
Day 2 involved an early start as we wanted to visit both the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway. It would be (almost) impossible to go the full length of both railways in the same day, and would mean spending the whole day on the trains, so we decided to do a bit on each railway. We drove to Porthmadog, whilst not the closest station to us it meant that we could use that as a base to visit both railways with maximum flexibility. We started with a short ride on the Welsh Highland Railway as that had fewer trains during the day. We took the train from Porthmadog to Beddgelert and spent half an hour exploring the village and shops before returning on the next train. Beddgelert is a nice picturesque village well worth visiting.
We then took the Ffestiniog railway (which had a 10% discount when we showed our receipt from the Welsh Highland Railway). We bought a half-way and back ticket which went as far as Tan y Bwlch. There was no opportunity for sight seeing at Tan y Bwlch (except by waiting for the next train in about 1½ hours time, so we just switched train. It was still a pleasant train journey.
The real highlight for my son was seeing two novel locomotives that are commonly associated with each of the railways. The Garratt Locomotive on the Welsh Highland railway, which is unusuable because it has a double articulation with the boiler in the middle and an “engine” at either side of the boiler.
The Double Fairlie is on the Ffestiniog Railway which is a single engine with two boilers mounted in separate power trucks. This gives the appearance of two locomotives fastened together back-to-back.
Bala Lake Railway and Canoeing on Wales largest natural lake
On the way back from our trip to the Welsh Highland and Ffestiniog railway we scouted out Lake Bala, looking for where we would visit the following day for some canoeing on the lake. We didn’t actually realise it had a railway until then, which came as an added bonus. We found two car parks, one with a station at Llangower and the other near the town of Bala.
We decided to take a train ride first and caught the first train out from Bala Pen-y-bont Station to Llanuwchllyn Station and then back again. There is no car park at the station, but there is limited free on-street parking available. The train at Lake Bala is very different to the previous trains we had visited. The carriage we chose on the way out was quite open and a great way to view the lake. There was then a wait of about 40 minutes before the return journey.
We decided to go to the car park nearer to the town to go canoeing. This is the more popular of the car parks and includes a watersports hire facility. Despite being busy we found it to be less busy further into the car park. You do have to pay for canoeing in addition to the car park charge. It was a bit tricky to understand the pay machine, but I worked it out and paid the launch fee separately and placed the ticket inside my car.
We had bought an inflatable Kayak a few weeks before, so this was our first chance to try it out on the lake. It is the first time I’ve used an inflatable Kayak as I used to have my own plastic canoe in the past, I was surprised by how good it was. Useful for having a bit of fun on the lake at least.
There are showers at the car park, but we didn’t need to use them. We were just a little wet and allowed ourselves to dry in the sun.
We then walked into Bala Town, visited the Chocolate Shop where we bought and Ice Cream and some chocolates to take home for the rest of the family. We also visited the local butcher for some food to cook on the BBQ when we got back to the campsite.
We packed up the tent during the morning. Taking our time to allow the tent to fully dry from the morning dew, then set off home. Our route home is via the 54 which takes us past RAF Cosford and the Royal Air Force museum. We therefore stopped there for a couple of hours on our way home. This is somewhere my son enjoys, he’s been twice already this year including a day out for the RAF Cosford Air Show.
Entrance to the museum is free with a reasonable car park charge.
We had a great holiday. Apart from the lack of view at the top of Snowdon we were quite lucky with the weather and there was lots to do, especially for train fans.