If you arrive by car, you will find plenty of parking in the pay and display car park operated by Gwynedd Council. This serves the railway, the slate museum and several other attractions in Padarn Country Park. Before you make your way to the station, take a moment to think if you were here 200 years ago, you would be standing in the middle of the lake, as the whole of the car park and the area known as Gilfach Ddu is reclaimed land as a result of the quarry tipping slate waste into the only available space at the time, the lake. Would that be allowed today?
Tickets for the train ride are sold in the Station Building, as is a range of gifts,books, souvenirs and refreshments.
Boarding the train, it will be noticed that the coaches have doors on one side only. This is because all the stations are on one side of the line.
The main entrance to the Museum is clearly visible from the train, and a large clock can be seen over the gateway. Two men spend ten minutes once a week winding this historic item - it generally keeps very good time and the trains are dispatched by it. The dial of the clock is a huge slab of engraved slate.
When the time comes, the train departs from the platform and, after crossing the access road to the station, commences the run alongside the Slate Museum . This building was once the main workshops for the whole quarry and was totally self-sufficient. If you are lucky you may glimpse one of our other steam engines outside the building, as part of it is also used as an engine shed and railway workshop. Although this extension and new line was only built in 2003, we are following the route of what was known as the “Mills Tramway” which connected the mills at the main quarry alongside Lake Peris with the trans-shipment point at Gilfach Ddu. The engine works quite hard as it climbs the gradient before, with a toot of the whistle, it begins to swing across the main access road to Padarn. On your right, in the Museum yard, a terrace of quarrymen's houses has been reconstructed and now shows how their families lived throughout the decades. The once derelict houses came from Blaenau Ffestiniog and each stone was carefully marked before they were taken to pieces and the 'jigsaw' moved from there to Padarn. The river bridge you now cross has a 33 metre span. It arrived in three main pieces, and after they were fitted together it was winched into position by a huge 600-ton crane.
As the train crosses the fields on a gently falling gradient, Llyn Peris and the Llanberis Pass can be seen on the left-hand side. This water level in this lake rises and falls considerably as it is used for power generation by the nearby Dinorwig Hydro Electric Power Station housed deep within Elidir mountain, beneath the old Dinorwic Quarry workings. Also on the left, dominating the surrounding countryside, is Dolbadarn Castle , built early in the 13th century by Llywelyn Fawr (‘the Great') . After a short climb, the train arrives at the Llanberis terminus and the engine 'runs round' the train. If you wish, you may break your journey here to explore Llanberis High Street, with its shops, pubs and cafes, or visit some of the other local attractions including the Snowdon Mountain Railway and the ' Electric Mountain ' visitor centre where tours of the power station begin.
We are soon off again in the opposite direction, but first, if you are lucky, you may glimpse one of our other trains travelling across the other side of the lake. The train now retraces its path to Padarn Park, but this time goes non-stop through the station. On busy days in summer months, you will pass another train waiting in the station - watch for the signalman exchanging 'staffs'. A different 'staff' or token is required for each section of the railway in order to prevent two trains being in the same section at once. The waste tips now close in on the line until it is running in a deep cutting, which is culminated by a very high archway - the Vivian Arch - built in 1900 to allow slate waste to be tipped on the lake side. The harsh contours of the tips have been made less unsightly by a little rock moving and a lot of grass planting, to provide the visitor with wonderful vantage points from which to view the surroundings. Immediately the arch is passed, however, the tips cease and a breathtaking view across Llyn Padarn ( Padarn Lake ) is revealed. From here to Penllyn the train will follow the shore of the lake, never more than a few feet from the water's edge.
The village of Llanberis can be seen on the opposite shore, and the full magnificence of the Snowdon mountain range slowly unfolds. This section of the line runs on a ledge built right on the shore of the lake.
On the other side of the railway can be seen the impressive Allt Wen woods - an excellent example of the increasingly rare natural deciduous woodlands which once clothed most of the lower slopes of the Welsh mountains.
The woods are the home of an interesting range of wildlife, squirrels can often be seen running beside the trains and the rattle of woodpeckers can be heard throughout the summer. There are also some snakes in the denser undergrowth away from the railway and visitors are advised not to tramp away from recognised paths. In spring and autumn, you may be lucky to spot a flock of feral goats, driven off the higher slopes by poor weather.
The lake, too, supports a wide variety of life. Plenty of fish of course - fine salmon and a rare Arctic char called the Tor Goch, as well as coarse fish. Birds abound, from the inevitable gulls, swans and ducks, to the rarer heron which can occasionally be seen, one legged, without moving for hours.
As the journey proceeds, the train reaches the end of Allt Wen, and, with a blast of the whistle, rounds the sharp 'Ladas' curve. Nant Wen (the 'White Valley') opens up on the right; the village of Dinorwig being visible high above the line as the train clatters over Pont Afon Wen (White River Bridge). The shore of the lake is more sloping here, due to slate waste being tipped in the past from the long-closed Vaynol quarries, now almost invisible in the woods which close in again on the right.
Cei Llydan station is now passed, where there is a good picnic site on the side of the lake - the train will stop here on the homeward run. The next section of the line is through a short cutting, which causes a great deal of interest amongst geologists, as the rocks are actually solidified lava from a long extinct volcano! The rock itself looks like a very fine grey sponge, with millions of small pebbles embedded in it. The surface of the rock is split and crazed due to contraction when it cooled.
After Volcano Cutting, the route opens out on to a very wide shelf, which used to be a landing place for boats ferrying stones across the lake; local folk know where to find old mooring rings round here.
When the hydro-electric power station was built at Dinorwig, it was decided that the cables conducting the electricity would be placed underground to avoid impact on scenery in an area of outstanding beauty, and these cables are buried beside the railway. The slate building, which you can now see on the right hand side of the train, is a water pumping station. Cold water is drawn from the lake, to cool the power cables in the ground.
A branch siding runs into the building from the railway, in order that the water pumps and other equipment can be carried on the trains when repairs are necessary.
The line continues through a long curved cutting, which is very shallow but also tends to be wet. If it has rained recently, a small but spectacular waterfall can be seen tumbling down beside the train.
This pattern of route - first a shallow cutting, then a wider embankment - is repeated for the remainder of the journey to Penllyn, providing a vivid illustration of the difficulties the men must have experienced when first constructing the line way back in the 1840's. Remember they had no plant or machinery - only crude tools and a little gunpowder.
Approaching Penllyn ('head of the lake') the scenery is now noticeably gentler, the steep hills have receded into the distance, to be replaced by smoother slopes. The summit of Yr Wyddfa (' Snowdon ') looks quite distant now, and it is worth watching it on the return journey - assuming it is not hidden by cloud - as the apparent growth in size and height is remarkable.
Penllyn is the end of the line, there is no platform here and it is recommended that you remain on the train whilst the engine runs round to the other end of the train. You can sit and contemplate the peace and quiet for a moment whilst enjoying one of the most spectacular views of Snowdonia. You may get roused by the guard who will complete his ticket check if there wasn’t enough time at Llanberis. The more energetic might take a single journey, alighting at Penllyn to complete the walk along the trails and paths around the opposite lake shore back to Llanberis.
As soon as the engine is coupled up and ready, the return journey will commence - and although you will travel back by the same route, it is certain that you notice a great deal that you missed on the way down. Indeed, the view which can be seen from the train is so vast that even the train crews, who make the journey hundreds of times every year, are continually noticing something new.
On the return journey the train will stop at Cei Llydan for a couple of minutes. If the weather is fine, it is a pity not to leave the train here and let it return to Llanberis without you. You can catch the next train that calls here, and in the meantime there is so much to see. A small headland juts out into the lake, forming an excellent spot to view the mountains from, and a picture board here will help you identify each summit; always there are pleasant spots for you to picnic, with tables and benches provided for your convenience both on the headland and in the shade on the platform. If an unexpected shower should surprise you, there is a handy stone-built hut to shelter in. Cei Llydan is also home to Menter Fachwen. This attraction, run by a local charity, has a waymarked nature trail and a children's adventure playground. They also have a small cafe right at the top of the site, which is open on certain days, but be prepared for quite a long stiff climb!!
Having enjoyed the peace and beauty of the Cei, the journey back to Padarn Park (Gilfach Ddu) will form a fine conclusion to your visit. Steadily the scenery gets grander, then the village across the lake is in view. Suddenly the tips and the Arch will blot out the scenery, and once more you are back in the everyday world of the motor car and traffic jams. The train now takes an extended stop here, giving the driver time to coal and water his engine, do a little oiling round and then perhaps have a cup of tea himself. Time for you to take a few photographs and then why not explore some of the other attractions of Padarn! If you started your journey at Llanberis station you can return there on any later train.