If you want to see the Brecon Beacons, but don’t fancy hiking to get there, the steam-train The Brecon Mountain Railway is a great alternative.
The whistle blew promptly, steam hissed into the air and our train slowly began to get into its chug-chug rhythm as the 12:15 left dead on time – surely the only train to be so punctual on a British Bank Holiday Monday.
Luckily, I’d booked tickets in advance at www.breconmountainrailway.co.uk. As we arrived at the departing station, the brilliantly named ‘Pant’ just outside Merthyr Tydfil, signs told us the 12:15 and the 14:00 were sold out. We’d paid £13.50 each – about the same as a return from Coventry to Leicester – for the 90-minute trip uphill from Pant to Torpantau and back, through gorgeous mountain scenery. The company’s slogan is ‘Steam into Superb Scenery’ and I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Sitting on the left side of the train on the way out gives the best views as it trundles alongside Taf Fechan Reservoir, passing wild campers making the most of the great outdoors. The ‘Taff Trail’ hiking and cycling path runs alongside the reservoir too.
Our ears popped as we approached the highest point of the journey at Torpantau. Here, you are free to go wandering into the forests and mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and then catch a later train back, or you can wait fifteen minutes while the driver detaches the engine from the front carriage, turns it around and re-attaches it to the other end of the train for the return trip.
Before returning to Pant, the train stops at Pontsticill where there is a cafe, toilets and a steam museum. The 25-minute stop is just about right to enjoy the views across Taf Fechan Reservoir, with its picturesque, gothic-style valve tower. Sorry, but I can’t tell you what the steam museum was like – it wouldn’t have been my cup of tea.
How to do it
The large car park at Pant station is free. To get there, head towards Merthyr Tydfil – the postcode for SatNavs is CF48 2DD.
There are four trains a day in summer, leaving Pant at 10:30, 12:15, 14:00 and 15:45. In Spring and Autumn there is no 15:45 train, and throughout December there is a Santa Special. Check the website for timetables, and book ahead to avoid disappointment.
And remember to sit on the left on the way!
The Brecon Mountain Railway is part of ‘The Great Little Trains of Wales‘, so if you enjoy this one you might like others in places like Ffestiniog and Llanberis.