“Calling at: Machynlleth, Caersws, Aberystwyth, Borth, Dovey Junction, Harlech.” Shrewsbury station – travelling on the train to Birmingham I have often wished to be going the other way to these strange-sounding names by the sea. Today my wish has come true and we are getting the train to Harlech and travelling through the Welsh hillsides, along the coast to visit Harlech Castle.
The train pulls out of Shrewsbury station and soon we are passing cornfields, golden in the early morning sunshine, some of the wheat has been cut leaving bales, straw blocks, dotted around the fields like faceless dominoes. Other fields have plastic wrapped silage bales, scattered like alien larvae; gone are the days of haystacks that we used climb up and slide down, landing in a giggling heap, then scrambling up for another ride.
It’s not long before we arrive at Welshpool, the trees and bushes grow so close to the train tracks that they sometimes brush the windows, then the rails rise above the surrounding countryside and reveal magnificent views stretching to distant hills, the foothills of misty mountains beyond. The tracks are patterned in pink and yellow with willowherb and ragwort – and Himalayan Balsam, an alien invader from another part of the world that smothers everything in its path but still our native bees love it and it makes beautiful honey. We pass Welshpool Cattle market, the empty car park waiting for market day – sheep, cattle and pigs all arriving to be sold on – for breeding – or butchers. Then on to Caersws, past the coal merchants, cars waiting at the level crossing for the train to pass.
Grassy churchyards, isolated standing stones, relics of an ancient past, of others that have lived and died without seemingly leaving a mark. The landscape becomes wilder, fields criss-crossed with hedges, tiny foals stretched out lazily in the sun, sustained by mother’s milk, they have no need to constantly chew the grass. Scalped, a hill devoid of trees, ferns shrinking from the sunlight, with no respite until the saplings grow again, shading, cooling the earth beneath. Bracken, meadowsweet, willowherb, lining the tracks, viaducts crossing deep valleys, rocky streams tumbling down hillsides to valleys below, bounding towards the sea. Anticipation mounting as the children become aware that the train is nearing its destination and the seaside is imminent.
The river meanders through the fields leaving shingly beaches and deep pools on the bends, under the willows where pike and perch are lurking, stalking unsuspecting minnows darting from the shallows.
Then the train travels right along the edge of the sea, the waves breaking along the shore, to the Barmouth estuary, the railway bridge crossing the river – with magnificent views out to sea and inland to Snowdonia.
Until we finally reach our destination – Harlech castle towering above us, guarding the coast and watching over Snowdonia, history unfolds within its towers and castellated walkways.
Trains travel this route regularly from Shrewsbury to Pwllheli and you can alight, wander around one of the places en route and hop back on the next train home. A great day out!