Plans for the phased re-opening of the world’s first preserved railway, which celebrates its 70th birthday this year, have been announced following the Welsh Government’s careful relaxation of Covid-19 regulations.
Talyllyn Railway, based at Tywyn on the Mid Wales coast, plans to re-start its daily public train service on Saturday, May 1.
Talyllyn Shop at Wharf Station, which is already open from 10am until 1pm, will resume usual opening hours from 9am until 3pm from Monday, April 26. Hot drinks and cake are available to take away from the shop. The railway’s online shop offers free UK deliveries for orders over £25.
King’s Café at Wharf Station will also open from April 26 with heated undercover outdoor seating and a special menu. The café will then be open from 9am until 3pm daily.
With a resumption of the public train service on May 1, King’s Café will open from 9am until the return of the last train, and the Tea Rooms at Abergynolwyn Station will be open from 10am until 3pm.
Details of the timetable and special Covid safeguarding arrangements are available on the railway’s website - www.talyllyn.co.uk. All bookings must be made in advance through the website.
To ensure social distancing in combatting Covid 19, intending travellers will be booking a compartment exclusive to their group.
The narrow gauge railway opened for goods traffic in 1865 and, shortly after, for passenger services, which have operated every year since between Tywyn and Nant Gwernol, just over seven miles inland.
Operation of the line was taken over by Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society in 1951 when it became the world’s first preserved railway. Primarily run by volunteers, with a small paid staff, the railway is now a major tourist attraction in Mid Wales, contributing significantly to the area’s economy.
Talyllyn Railway preparing to reopen.
Photo: Darren Turner.
After months of staying at home to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, millions of people across the UK are longing to escape to the countryside for a holiday or short break.
There’s no better place to relax and immerse oneself in beautiful countryside and spectacular scenery than Mid Wales, the rural heartland of Wales which offers something for everyone.
From the rivers, lakes and mountains of Powys and the Brecon Beacons National Park to the stunning Cardigan Bay coastline, the Cambrian Mountains and the foothills of Snowdonia, the region is packed with places and things to see and do.
National Resources Wales’ woodland trails and National Nature Reserves (NRW) in Mid Wales have remained open over the most recent lockdown period, with social distancing measures in place.
With more people expected to explore beyond their local surroundings, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is urging visitors to adhere to the Countryside Code and follow six steps to ensure their return to the great Welsh outdoors is a safe and enjoyable experience for themselves and communities. The message is: respect, protect and enjoy the natural environment of Wales.
Before they visit, visitors are asked to:
While at their destination, they are asked to:
For those seeking a family day out, there is Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, near Aberystwyth, which has red kite feeding every day, easy walking trails, including one suitable for pushchairs, a new off-road cycle trail and a takeaway service from the café.
Tan y Coed woodland in Dyfi Forest, near Machynlleth offers an easy to find picnic site with two short woodland walks with an animal discovery trail with animal models hidden in the trees.
For those seeking an activity day out, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre is a great place for running and mountain biking trails, while the Hafren Forest, near Llanidloes has an eight mile walk to the source of the River Severn.
Further north near Dolgellau is Coed y Brenin Visitor Centre, a famous mountain bike centre with trails for all abilities as well as walks, picnic sites and a takeaway service from the café.
Visitors who use wheelchairs can enjoy two very different trails in Mid Wales. Cors Caron National Nature Reserve, near Tregaron has a wheelchair accessible boardwalk over a vast raised bog and Hafren Forest’s waterfall walks include a wheelchair accessible boardwalk to a viewing area over cascades.
For waterfall walks, head to Hafren Forest which offers walks of varying lengths, one of which is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs, while Hafod Estate, near Aberystwyth has a historic landscape with a range of walks taking in dramatic waterfalls and views.
For those wishing to explore off the beaten track, Mid Wales has a selection of woodlands to choose from. The Foel Friog picnic site in Dyfi Forest, near Machynlleth, is the starting point for a short but steep walk with superb views over the Dyfi valley and estuary. Pont Llogel in Dyfnant Forest has an easy riverside stroll through woodland and is tucked away in a hamlet not far from Lake Vyrnwy, The Arch, near Aberystwyth provides walks through huge beech trees with views over hills and Radnor Forest (Fishpools car park), near Knighton has a woodland walk with valley views.
When it comes to bluebells, the woodland walk at Gogerddan Wood, near Aberystwyth is a must do during spring. Nature lovers could also head for Dyfi National Nature Reserve, near Aberystwyth to enjoy displays of spring flowers in the dunes and perhaps spot one of the reptiles that live here, including the common lizard, sand lizard, adder and grass snake.
For more information on each site, go to: https://naturalresourceswales.gov.uk/days-out/places-to-visit/mid-wales/ or check out https://www.visitmidwales.co.uk/ for a full range of things to see and so and places to stay in Mid Wales.
Read the Countryside Code at https://naturalresources.wales/days-out/the-countryside-codes/the-countryside-code/?lang=en
Bluebells beside the woodland walk at Gogerddan Wood, near Aberystwyth.
Foel Friog in Dyfi Forest, near Machynlleth.
Waterfalls on the Hafod Estate, near Aberystwyth.
Bwlch Nant yr Arian near Aberystwyth.
One of the waterfall walks in the Hafren Forest, near Llanidloes.
Between June and November last year, when the park could open, they sold 18 caravans and are confident that the remaining available pitches will be filled this year.
The couple previously ran a busy holiday park in Somerset for seven years before moving to Cumbria to renovate a cottage and launch a landscaping business for three years.
Keen to return to holiday park management, they jumped at the opportunity to take over at Seven Oaks Holiday Park. It was love at first sight and the couple sold their cottage and moved down to the Welsh border.
“Seven Oaks ticked all the boxes for us because we were looking for a park with owners, no rentals or nightclub and somewhere we could put our stamp on,” said Russell. “At the previous park we managed, I spent most of my time sat in an office when I wanted to be outdoors working.
“The park here is beautiful and in a great location. We have done most of the projects we wanted to get done ready for reopening.
The park has 137 double and single lodges and caravans holiday homes, two coarse fishing lakes for the exclusive use of owners, fishing on a stretch of the River Severn, crown green bowling green complete with pavilion, pitch and putt golf, fitness suite, riverside walks and two enclosed dog walking areas.
Most caravan holiday homes and lodges on the 40-acre park have views of the River Severn and are bordered by mature trees, banks of shrubs and immaculately kept grass down to the riverside.
In their leisure time, Russell and Nikkole are keen walkers and their ambition is to complete the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrim route from St. Jean Pied-du-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Russell Midgley and Nikkole Pedder.
Now the Covid-19 Tourism Taskforce, set up by Welsh Government and representing the hospitality and tourism industry in Wales, has written to First Minister Mark Drakeford asking him to forward the reopening dates in line with England and Scotland, or even sooner. This would see indoor hospitality and indoor attractions reopen on May 17.
MWT Cymru, which represents more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Powys, Ceredigion and the Meirionnydd region of Gwynedd, has backed the letter and commended the work of the taskforce throughout the pandemic.
Rowland Rees-Evans, MWT Cymru’s chairman, is calling for the taskforce to continue its work during the Covid-19 recovery period and beyond and for the next Welsh Government to create a Cabinet Minister for Tourism.
“We welcome the taskforce’s letter to the First Minister because it comes from the whole hospitality and tourism industry,” he said. “The Welsh Government has said all along that the reopening dates are guided by the Covid-19 infection rate data because it doesn’t want the NHS to be overwhelmed.
“We are now at the stage where the data has overtaken the dates, so why can’t we reopen faster. If we don’t reopen the industry in line with England, Wales is going to lose out again and people are going to book holidays and short breaks in other parts of the UK.
“We feel that the Welsh Parliament-Senedd Cymru election should have been delayed because purdah is standing in the way of important decisions during an absolutely crucial time for the industry.
“We would like to thank the Covid-19 Tourism Taskforce for its excellent work during the pandemic and we think it’s essential that it carries on representing the hospitality and tourism industry during the recovery and beyond. We also believe there is a definite need for a Cabinet Minister for Tourism in the next Welsh Government.”
Taskforce member, Wales Tourism Alliance chairman Andrew Campbell said: “We are calling for flexibility in bringing forward the reopening of indoor hospitality and attractions, following the excellent work done by the Welsh Government in controlling the Covid-19 infection rate in Wales.
“We must get the sector open because businesses need to start trading as their cash reserves are low. It’s essential that the sector continues to have the ability to feed in concerns and issues to the Welsh Government as and when they arise.”
Representing Mid Wales on the taskforce is Steve Hughson, Mid Wales Regional Tourism Forum chair and chief executive of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society at Llanelwedd.
Other taskforce members based in Mid Wales include Adrian Greason-Walker, Wales Tourism Alliance’s Wales policy advisor who lives at Nantmel, near Rhayader and Anthony Rosser, Hospitality Cymru’s chair who is general manager and operations director of Lake Vyrnwy Hotel.
The taskforce’s letter praises the First Minister and Welsh Government for saving lives in Wales and protecting health services from being overwhelmed. However, it says the time has come to reopen the hospitality and tourism sector.
“We appeal with urgency for an early reopening and the positive opportunity to help you begin the economic rebuild that our great industry can help the new government to deliver in the coming months,” it states.
“As a taskforce, we very much look forward to working together with that government to bring forward business stability, staff wellbeing, community replenishment and a Croeso Cynnes to our customers and visitors.”
Rowland Rees-Evans, MWT Cymru’s chairman.
Owners Kerena and Stephen Pugh, who normally report a high annual occupancy rate for their five-star holiday accommodation, have not been surprised by the demand.
Some bookings have been rolled over from 2020 when pandemic restrictions prevented guests from visiting. However, Kerena says enquiries continue to flood in from people who are finding it difficult to find available accommodation.
Wherever possible, she is directing callers to other quality accommodation businesses in the Rhayader area. Lon Lodges is a member of the Rhayader 2000 tourism group which is currently going through a process to rebrand the town and surrounding area, including the spectacular Elan Valley, as The Outdoors Capital of Wales.
“It’s really busy and I have few availability gaps for the lodges until December,” said Kerena. “It hasn’t come as a surprise to be honest, but the lodges have been booked up much earlier this year.
“We are getting guests booking who do not normally holiday in this country, but the pandemic is preventing them from going abroad. People are so grateful to get away and it doesn’t seem to matter how far they have to travel.
“Since Monday, when people living in England were allowed to resume visiting Wales, Rhayader has been much busier. People love the outdoors here with walking, cycling, fishing, wildlife and golf very popular.”
Director Dylan Evans says he is expecting to see the touring park full throughout the holiday season. “It’s definitely busier with bookings this year and the calls keep coming,” he said.
“We are grateful to have a second bite of tourism industry this year because people who normally go abroad on holiday are now staycationing. After a horrendous 2020, when we were shut for the majority of the year, we are looking forward to bouncing back.
“It is going to be a great summer and I just hope we have good weather like last year. We have been getting busier every day this week and we are expecting to be full at the weekend.
“The only disappointment is that our award-winning facilities cannot open. Subject to Covid cases remaining low, we will be able to serve food and alcohol outdoors on April 26 and indoors from May 17, when our shower and toilet facilities will also reopen.”
“We were only open for 11 weeks last year due to the lockdowns but were fully booked throughout and we are delighted that there had been a lot of repeat bookings.
“We have chosen high end lodges because people want to come to somewhere unique and quite luxurious. Our guests really enjoy the views, tranquillity and the opportunity to experience country living.
“We have met some lovely people and it’s great to be able to bring them to an area where there are so many places to visit and see.”
All three businesses are members of MWT Cymru, which represents more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Powys, Ceredigion and the Meirionnydd region of Gwynedd.
One of the lodges at Lon Lodges, Nantmel, near Rhayader.
Carol and David Parry outside one of their lodges at Plas Robin Rural Retreats in Llandyssil, near Montgomery.
An aerial shot of Islawrffordd Luxury Holiday Park at Talybont, near Barmouth.
A project by the world’s first preserved railway in Mid Wales to buy three new train carriages has received a £300,000 boost from the Welsh Coastal Communities Fund.
The £450,000 project will allow Talyllyn Railway, which runs from the coastal resort of Tywyn, to take 155-year-old original carriages out of daily service to preserve as much of their historic fabric as possible.
The new carriages will offer wheelchair accessible compartments, which will allow more passengers with mobility issues to travel in comfort. Two of the carriages will also have upgraded first class accommodation.
The original carriages will still be used for special trains, including weddings and driver experiences.
General manager Stuart Williams said: “We are delighted to have received this major award from the Welsh Coastal Communities Fund at an important time when we are recovering from the effects of the pandemic.
“The railway is planning a major new development in the next few years and this award is a major first step in this process. Talyllyn Railway is unique in having its two original locomotives and all its original carriages in use. This award will enable us to retain these carriages in as near their original condition as possible for many more years.”
The new carriages will be built under contract in Wales, with the first arriving in 2022 and the others in the following two years. This project forms an initial part of a multi-million pound scheme for the railway including a new heritage facility at Wharf Station, new volunteer accommodation and a new engineering works.
The complete original Victorian train hauled by locomotive No.1 ‘Talyllyn’.
Photo by David Mitchell.
Welcome to the first in our new series of spotlight features, to highlight some of our long-standing MWT members, in celebration of MWT's 30th year.
Claire spoke to Anne Jones from Hendy Farm Holidays. Diolch, Anne.
Q. Please tell other members a bit about you and your business
A. At Hendy Farm holidays we provide 5 star self-catering and 3 star Bed & Breakfast facilities in Tywyn, Southern Snowdonia. Myself and my husband have been running the business for almost 50 years. We started the B&B first, then had a caravan club site, and now have the self-catering cottages. We must have been in MWT membership for the full 30 years the organisation has been running! I have also been a Director of MWT and was MWT Chairman for over 15 years.
Our present house, built in 1905 for my husbands grandparents, was rented out in the summer for many years up to the second World War whilst the family moved back to the old farmhouse. My mother-in-law, having come from Borthwen, her family's farm in Llwyngwril, which had a long established campsite, probably one of the first in Merioneth, continued the tourism tradition. Having helped her mother on the campsite and established a B & B on the farm, where Clem Attlee, the Labour P.M. of the post war period was a regular visitor. Her mother once memorably remarking that she couldn't see how he could run the country and his cabinet if he couldn't control his own children. We all sometimes make mistakes!
Q. How has the industry changed from your perspective over the years?
A. When I first started, people would see our sign on the road and come to stay. Now computers have taken over. Most of my bookings are repeat guests; we have children of children coming to stay, which is lovely. Also a much clearer understanding of the inter-dependency of other tourism enterprise. We benefit hugely from our proximity to the Talyllyn Railway. A number of good restaurants in the area, an excellent well stocked small garden centre and a number of interesting shops, help to enhance the tourism experience along with of course our stunning environment. Operating within one of Wales's three national Parks is an immense advantage.
Q. What have been your biggest challenges over the years?
A. Foot and Mouth and Covid, without a doubt. We didn’t open for B&B last year and probably won’t this year; we will probably do room-only.
Q. What do you enjoy most about running your business?
A. We love meeting people; our guests have become old friends over the years. Many guests have been attracted here by Talyllyn Railway. Some guests stay six times per year. We are quite fully booked from May onwards with repeat bookings. Every customer is important to us, and we have welcomed some high profile guests over the years too. Peter Hendy, the Chairman of Network Rail, came via a special train. There have been lots of memorable moments.
Q. Why do you think it's important to be a member of MWT?
I have always valued the up-to-date information and support.
Photos with Sir Peter Hendy at Hendy Halt station and by Edward Thomas cottage.
Steam trains are set to return to the Banwy Valley from May 1, as the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway runs its first public services of 2021.
The reopening of the Mid Wales tourist attraction, which remains subject to the continuing easing of Covid restrictions by the Welsh Government, follows five months of closure, during which the Llanfair line’s popular Christmas Santa Specials and February half-term services all fell victim to the lockdown.
The line’s early-season timetable features a variety of one and two-hour return journeys, with new-for-2021 innovations including travelling first class, alongside returning favourites from previous seasons, such as the popular fish-and-chip specials.
Return trips from Llanfair Caereinion to the intermediate station of Castle Caereinion will start from May 1, operating on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, plus every day during the spring half-term holiday between May 31 and June 6.
These one-hour long round trips proved particularly popular with families when the railway ran them last season.
Trains over the full eight-mile line to Welshpool will start running from May 4, the two-hour return trips operating on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Due to current Covid restrictions, all journeys will continue to start from Llanfair Caereinion and visitors will not be able to join the train at Welshpool.
Among several innovations launching this year, every travelling child aged three or over will receive a Discovery book full of interesting facts and activities with their ticket.
Visitors will also now be able to travel in enhanced luxury – the Llanfair line’s former Sierra Leone Railway first-class carriage, with its white leather armchairs, will be rostered on every passenger service.
Tickets for this carriage, which are subject to a supplement, include a free copy of the W&LLR’s newly-released Traveller’s Guide, a glass-bottle soft drink and snacks.
Trains from May 4 will also feature a new breakfast service, departing from Llanfair at 10am or 10.30am, with the ticket price including a breakfast roll and hot drink. Tickets for this service will be limited and must be pre-booked.
Safety of both the railway’s visitors and its volunteer staff remains paramount and the Covid prevention measures that proved so successful in 2020 will continue to be applied.
Intending visitors are being asked to pre-book their tickets through the W&LLR’s new online booking service, https://wllr.digitickets.co.uk, while measures including the wearing of face coverings and social distancing will remain in place.
Over the enforced extended winter break, the railway’s almost entirely volunteer staff have been carrying out essential maintenance, working in small Covid-compliant teams. They are now looking forward to getting back to what they enjoy the most, running trains for their visitors.
“After a difficult 12 months for the railway, we are delighted to welcome visitors back to enjoy our beautiful line from May 1,” said W&LLR general manager James Brett. “Our team are working hard behind the scenes to get everything ready for a Covid-secure operation and we already have much to look forward to in 2021.
“Alongside our core service of steam-hauled heritage trains, we plan to offer a range of new experiences for travellers, combined with the return of two of our historic locomotives from major overhauls.”
Over the coming weeks, the W&LLR will be making further announcements regarding train services later in the season and plans for special events. Latest news will also be found on the newly updated website at www.wllr.org.uk and on the line’s social media feeds.
Visiting Austrian steam locomotive, ‘Zillertal’, is set to be rostered on early-season passenger services at Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway.
Photo: John Travis/W&LLR
>> More information about Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway on Visit Mid Wales
Caravan parks across Mid Wales are pulling out all the stops to welcome back England-based customers safely on Monday, April 12 as Covid 19 lockdown restrictions continue to ease.
The Welsh Government took the first step to easing restrictions on March 27 when caravan parks and other self-contained accommodation were able to open to people living within Wales.
Now people living across the Welsh border will be able to return to caravan holiday home parks and drive to touring caravan and motorhome parks across Wales, bringing a welcome boost to the tourism economy. The reopening of the parks coincides with the second week of the Easter half-term school holiday in England.
“The caravan parks in Mid Wales have never looked better as they prepare to welcome back customers from England,” said Dylan Roberts, joint managing director of award-winning caravan and motorhome dealership Salop Leisure, which has sales centres in Shrewsbury, Machynlleth and Stourport on Severn.
“After a very quiet Easter Bank Holiday weekend in Mid Wales, park managers are really looking forward to welcoming back caravan owners and visitors from England for what promises to be a bumper holiday season for anyone connected to the tourism industry.
“Everybody is delighted to be getting back to some form of normality and it’s great news for the caravan industry, including parks, dealerships, manufacturers and consumers.”
Salop Leisure, which supplies caravans and luxury lodges to 250 holiday home parks across Mid Wales and the Heart of England, has reported high demand for caravans and motorhomes.
The company believes that, with more British people taking ‘staycation’ holidays this year, caravans and motorhomes are going to be in even greater demand, which is good news for businesses that rely on the tourism industry.
However, the company is advising those thinking of investing in a new or pre-owned caravan or motorhome not to delay, as stocks are likely to be in short supply due to the high demand. Available pitches on caravan holiday home parks are also being snapped up quickly.
Sales of touring caravans and motorhomes at Salop Leisure in March were 50% up on the same month last year. Although Salop Leisure’s sales centres have been closed to visitors due to the lockdown, customers have still been able to view caravans and motorhomes online, telephone to order and then arrange to collect their purchase.
“We saw huge demand for caravan holiday homes, luxury lodges, touring caravans and motorhomes last summer and this has continued into 2021, as people look forward to spending their holidays and short breaks in Mid Wales and the Heart of England,” said Mr Roberts.
“After months of staying at home, families are desperate for a change of scenery where they can escape and relax. Our industry is perfectly placed to cater for this demand.
“Uncertainty about restrictions on foreign travel and the prevalence of Covid-19 in other countries suggests to me that staycationing will be more popular than ever this year. People are apprehensive about leaving this country and facing quarantine restrictions when they return.”
Val Hawkins, chief executive of MWT Cymru, which represents more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses in Powys, Ceredigion and the Meirionnydd region of Gwynedd, said businesses were looking forward to welcoming back visitors from outside of Wales.
“Our businesses have been very busy making improvements in preparation to welcome back visitors safely in a Covid-secure environment,” she added.
“Visitors to Mid Wales will find lots of things to see, do and discover, including rural forest trails and coastal walks, cycling and mountain biking trails and spectacular spring gardens, and we are looking forward to the outdoor attractions and activities sector and outdoor hospitality reopening on April 26.”
Steve Lewis, manager of Gwernydd Hall Holiday Park at New Mills, near Newtown, ready to welcome back owners from England on Monday.
>> For more information about Gwernydd Hall Holiday Park, see Visit Mid Wales
Business owners, start-ups and those looking for an engaging workspace in the heart of Newtown are in luck as Focus Newtown Enterprise Hub has re-opened its doors.
Located in the quirky Pryce Jones building in Newtown town centre, the hub provides a safe place to meet, network and fill the empty social gap many home-workers are currently experiencing.
“We know that the pandemic has really made people look at their work/life balance and re-evaluate their working practices,” said hub manager, Holly Jones. “It’s helped people realise you can be just as productive at home or in a community space.
“Many of us are keen to avoid re-starting the old daily commute but are also looking for a break from home-working; flexible working is the way forward and it’s not only great for motivation and efficiency, but mind-set and wellbeing too.
“There’s a common misconception that a co-working space is for creative freelancers, but actually it has huge advantages for both corporate employees and freelancers alike.
“We’ve welcomed employees from local businesses that have been established for years, who just need a space away from the office and from the distraction of other colleagues, to work on a project or run through some ideas.
“It goes without saying that a co-working space also has great economic benefits. It offers a cost effective and flexible solution for self-employed people, or small businesses who aren’t ready to commit to renting or investing in an office space or those looking just to rent a desk for a few days a month.
“We’re confident that the future of co-working in Mid Wales will be a positive one, and we’re excited to see how it’s received by a wider audience now we are open again.”
Fully Covid compliant, this large and open plan hub has plenty of hand sanitiser stations, safely positioned workspaces and uses the NHS track and trace app. If you would like more information on the various co-working options available, or to book your space please visit https://focusenterprisehubs.wales/co-working-space
Engaging workspace at Focus Newtown Enterprise Hub.
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