What are the Great Little Trains of Wales? It is possibly better to start with the question, what is a ‘narrow gauge’ railway?
Some suggest a narrow gauge railway is representative of Britain’s ‘gift’ to its former colonies – building countless railways where the space between the rails was less than the width in the motherland. Narrow gauge railways were cheaper to build, could go round corners more quickly and reminded the colonials of their slightly lesser status at 3’ 6’’ than the home country gauge of 4’ 8’’? Another excuse was the smaller gauge was representative of the gap between Roman chariot wheels and as Rome had a great empire… You get the picture.
The Russians on the other hand, being very very imperial, went for 5’ 3’’. Rumour had it that the decision by the Tsar to go big was more to do with family jealousy with the British King than sensible engineering.
But just to prove the Welsh were smart thinkers even way-back then, the gauge on many of their narrow gauge railways was even narrower than 3’ 6’’. And the last laugh must be with the Welsh because today the little narrow gauge railways of Wales that criss-cross the country are collectively one of their most sort after tourist attractions and an absolute must do for any visit to Wales – rail holiday or otherwise.
Years of loving labour by railway enthusiasts have brought moribund little lines back to their former glory and in many cases, greater than their former glory. After all, most Welsh narrow gauge railways were usually built for carrying slate from quarry to port. Not particularly glamorous and certainly not attractive for a tourist.
Diminutive engines would puff away, pulling small empty wagons uphill for many miles and before that, in some cases it was a horse. The return trip was often powered by gravity where the engine’s role was to use its brakes to help ensure the wagons full of slate didn’t end up in the sea. Horses, not known for their breaking power, rode down ‘shotgun’ style.
Today you can ride up and down in scaled-down luxury through stunning scenery, pulled or braked by a much polished and burnished locomotive, steaming away providing plenty of atmospheric photo opportunities.
Beer or wine can be drunk and food consumed. And at your journey’s end you can visit the obligatory gift shop where grandparents can part with their money buying ‘Thomas’ merchandise and yet another ice cream.
The Great Little Trains of Wales offer a jolly good day out – in fact, multiple good days out. LOCO Journeys has a number of Rail-Fan tours and Classic Journeys that take in some the premier Welsh narrow gauge railways – so don’t hesitate to get in contact if you want to know more.
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