Explore Wales Autumn 2019
Three years ago, we had undertaken a Freedom of Scotland tour, in which everything run by Scotrail, as well as connecting boat services ran very smoothly. Maybe we were lucky, but I have to say our experience of Transport for Wales was less positive. Perhaps we were unlucky.
Day one began over the border in Nantwich. Tickets are only valid after 9.30am on most lines, so I paid extra to catch the 09.25 service to Shrewsbury. Alas! It was running half an hour late, so tour of Shrewsbury abandoned. Bad start!
However we did look around a blustery Llandudno, before a splendid trip on the Blaenau line, with its incredible tunnel, and breathtaking scenery. At Bangor the bus to Caernarfon did not show up, so we caught the next, which was packed.
The next day gave us a morning tour of the splendid castle, before catching the narrow gauge railway to Portmadog. Our ticket offered us a 20% discount on the service, which ended a quarter of an hour behind time, mainly because the enthusiasts running it played an enjoyable game of switching locos at the summit. We soon learned that this seems to be a charcteristic of running Welsh train services.
Day two saw us catching the service from Criccieth to Shrewsbury. However the line through Newtown was closed, so a bus had to transport us to the Shropshire town. It was a journey from hell, two hours on an ancient coach with the heating turned up, apparently not possible to switch it off. We made Swansea an hour and a half late. The scenery had been some compensation.
Day 3 was very wet. However our train to Fishguard was changed to the ubiquitous bus at Carmarthen. The reason was never explained, and I quickly calculated that we'd be home with the milk, if we went to this port. So we left the poor passengers awaiting the yet to materialise replacement bus and made for Milford Haven. The station here is a sad apology of a place. Bus to the lovely town of Pembroke, pity it was raining, and the town museum is well worth a visit. The train back to Swansea was also delayed, passengers for the ongoing London service had a mighty dash to connect with it.
Final day was a simple trip of two trains. Simple?! Actually we did the trip but using four trains. The 09.34 to Shrewsbury offered us a wonderful scenic feast, but at Llandrindod it suddenly terminated, without any warning. Everyone had to cross the footbridge (awkward for those with luggage) and catch a replacement train onwards. No explanation. However my wife pointedly asked the five Transport for Wales representatives who had travelled south on this second train, and received the unlikely answer that they were "testing the lights." Unconvinced, I asked the conductor, who blustered, and said he didn't know the reason. However I pressed him, and he explained that our first diesel had been "short of fuel" so had to return southwards. As this was far further than continuing northwards, my impression was that we had changed trains merely to suit the Transport for Wales officials.
Our third train was to take us back south via Cardiff. But here, once again without any warning, the conductor announced that this train was bound for Holyhead! No way! We had to change to a wreck of a one coach train to continue on to Neath,
Being half-Welsh myself, I would give a generous five out of ten for being able to use the Explore Wales facility, but little for the current service on offer