Luxury travel is a subjective concept. At 9.57am on a cold Tuesday morning, a two-carriage train rolls into Porthmadog. Its seats are mostly empty, and its doors are softly spattered with January mud. I step onboard and choose a window seat, then watch as the sheds and houses of the coastal town, once a booming slate port, begin to slide past. An unrushed conductor in hi-vis sells me a ticket for the four-hour return journey ahead. “Your cheapest option’s the Day Ranger ticket,” she says, as the train trundles south. “On and off where you please; £13.50.”
And so starts one of Britain’s greatest rail experiences. The Cambrian line begins on the underside of the Llŷn peninsula and traces the sumptuous coastline of northwest Wales as far as the mouth of the River Dovey, where it tucks inland among the hills. The line dates back to the mid 19th century, but this is no tourist train. You’ll find no wine lists, or polished marquetry, or vintage locomotives. It’s a scheduled passenger service that eventually winds up in Birmingham: it has a loo, and comfortable seating, and so-so wifi. That’s about it. The riches are all found on the other side of the window.
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