1970 – UK – “Slate & Steam”

Holidays in North Wales

In late July 1970 I was taken on my first proper summer holiday.

My father, who had struggled through the sixties with a series of very cheap and unreliable cars, had recently purchased a 1964 Austin Mini. It was maroon and the registration number was CCM609C.

I suppose it would have been possible to come up with a name based on “CCM” but for some reason my mother just christened the car “Daisy” and the name seemed to stick.

As we set off with me in the front and my inflatable yellow plastic rabbit sitting next to my mother in the back, my father told us that he was confident enough that Daisy would not let us down. IMG_7178

Our destination was Wales and I was told we would be gone for 10 days.

We followed an ambitious path, staying in bed and breakfasts and taking 4 days from Llandudno in the north all the way down to Tenby in the south. On the 5th day all seemed to be going well, but we suddenly turned round and quickly returned home. Years later my parents explained they had simply run out of money and had had to come back.

Nevertheless, Daisy had proved herself up to the task and we returned to Wales again in 1971. This time we stayed only in the north. We based ourselves in Llandudno and used self catering holiday flats with some of the food and supplies brought from home.   That formula worked well and Daisy made two more trips to Wales in the summers of 1972 and 1973.

To me, North Wales was a truly magical place for a holiday.

There were beaches to sit on, fantastic mountain scenery to look at, interesting castles to explore but the outstanding attraction was the network of narrow gauge steam trains.

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Most of the lines had been created to carry slate from the mines to the ports, but since the war they had been restored by enthusiasts to become tourist attractions.

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They were marketed jointly as the “Great Little Trains of Wales”: there was the pioneering Talyllyn in central Wales; the Snowdon mountain climbing train; the quirky Welshpool and Llanfair with its Austrian carriages; the Fairbourne running along the beach at Barmouth; the Llanberis along the lake and my absolute favourite the Ffestiniog that ran from Portmadog towards the slate town of Blaneau.

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Over the four years we went on all of the lines at least once but we returned again and again to the Ffestiniog.

It had a magical allure for all of us. Perhaps it was because of the unusual “back to back” Fairlie Patent locomotives, perhaps it was because of the cute miniature buffet cars or perhaps just because it had the nicest scenery and the longest ride.

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Fairlie’ Patent

I had seen a steam engine on British Railways just once in 1968 at St Anne’s station in what must have been the last few weeks of steam in the UK, but now I got the opportunity to get much closer to real working steam locomotives.

As with the modern trains I had seen, it was the sound that was really captivating.  It was in a different way though; the steam engines sounded more alive. The smell too was magical and I would always ask to sit as close to the locomotive as possible so I could breathe in the vapour.

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I have returned to Wales many times since and I always have fond memories of those sunny days in the 1970s when I first discovered steam.