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Stunning sights from one of Wales’ most beautiful train journeys

by Well Polished Swansea, May 2018

It is one of Wales’s most picturesque train journeys.

Meandering past flora and fauna, spectacular countryside and magnificent structures like the viaducts at Cynghordy and Knucklas it takes in the Loughorestuary, the river Tywi, the Eppynt hills near Llanwrtyd Wells, Radnor Forest between Llandrindod Wells and Knighton, and the remote borderlands of the Marches.

As part of the 150th anniversary year, the new Heart of Wales Line Trail will open. A 150-mile trail, it will use existing rights of way that connect in and out of most stations along the line, allowing walkers to hop on and off and walk some or all of the entire route.

The trail also takes passengers to pubs, shops, and cafes along the way with plans to develop artwork along the route, both at stations and on the lineside.

The 121 miles of track, currently used by Arriva Trains Wales, stretch from Shrewsbury in Shropshire, through Powys and Carmarthenshire before finally reaching Swansea.

Train enthusiast Phillip Skinner is one of its fans.

“We must protect it and not let it go,” he said.

“It sees places that the road does not see. It goes through the countryside and it is a real Welsh gem.

“It’s a tourist line and we need to think out of the box a bit to make even more of it in future.”

Historically known as the Central Wales line, it used to include routes through Gowerton, where the railway crossed the West Wales lines, and ran through Dunvant and Killay, then down through the Clyne Valley to Blackpill and along the seawall to Swansea Bay station, before finally reaching Swansea Victoria railway station.

It was built by the Llanelly Railway and Dock Company to break the monopoly held on Swansea Dock by the Great Western Railway but closed in 1964.

Nationalisation of the railways removed the need for competing routes and the running down and closure of Swansea North Dock ended the need for freight services.

North of Llandovery , the route was opened in stages between 1861 and 1868 by a number of different companies – the Knighton Railway, the Central Wales Railway and Central Wales Extension Railway.

The 1963 Beeching Report proposed the remainder of the Heart of Wales line for closure.

But as a rural branch line, it survived the Beeching Axe since it carried freight traffic, serving the steelworks at Bynea and industrial areas such as Ammanford and Pontarddulais , linking them with the docks at Llanelli.

The Heart of Wales line (Image: Stephen Miles)

During engineering work, the line is still occasionally used as a diversionary freight route.

Since the seventies, the basic service has remained more or less constant, with four or five trains running in each direction each day.

The station announcement at Swansea for the service, which is recorded in Welsh and English, is the longest in the UK.

Arriva Trains Wales managing director Tom Joyner described it as “one of the most beautiful lines in Britain”.

The 150th-anniversary celebrations began at Shrewsbury with a performance by local Morris Dancers and speeches by Arriva Trains Wales MD Tom Joyner, the Mayor of Shrewsbury and Paul Salverston, a pioneer in community rail.

Guests then left on the 10.09am, arriving into Swansea at 2.50pm, having been delayed slightly by sheep on the line just south of Llandrindod Wells.

The train was met by the Morriston Orpheus Choir.

Community Relations Manager for Arriva Trains Wales, Geraint Morgan said: “This line means so much to so many people and up and down it we see so many fantastic examples of communities getting involved in their railway and helping look after their local stations, through our Station Adoption programme.

“Yes it connects Swansea to Shrewsbury, but it does far more than that. It connects towns, villages and most importantly, people. Here’s to another 150 years.”

The line offers a feast of panoramic views, and these are some of the finest on offer along the way…

Loughor estuary

The Loughor Estuary is the region of the waterway below the road and rail bridges at Loughor, where it turns abruptly from a southerly to a westerly direction towards Carmarthen Bay. The Afon Lliw empties into the estuary just below the Loughor bridges. This region almost completely empties at low tide, exposing extensive sandy areas supporting a cockle industry and rare birds.

The Cynghordy viaduct

The viaduct at Cynghordy is 150 years old, the same age as the railway line it carries, and is a grade II listed structure.

Standing one hundred feet tall, it has 18 arches and is a feat of Victorian engineering.

The meandering river Tywi between Llandeilo and Llandove

At 75 miles long the River Towy is the longest river that flows wholly within the principality of Wales.

The river rises on the lower slopes of Crug Gynan in the Cambrian Mountains and flows southwesterly towards its 1,333 square mile basin that it shares with the rivers Teifi and Gwendraeth, at Llansteffan on Pendine Sands, famous for being the venue of the land speed record between 1924 – 1927 at Carmarthen Bay, before eventually flowing out into the Irish Sea.

The Eppynt hills near Llanwrtyd Wells

Llanwrtyd Wells is the smallest town in Britain.

It is also one of the friendliest, having a long history of catering for the many visitors who, today, come to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the surrounding Cambrian Mountains.

Llanwrtyd is a great base to stay and explore the Cambrian Mountains and is a mecca for walkers, cyclists and pony trekkers keen to experience the olde worlde charm of the town and the spectacular mountain scenery.

Radnor Forest between Llandrindod Wells and King

Radnor Forest was once a royal hunting ground which wasn’t a forest in the modern sense of being a heavily wooded area, but in the medieval sense of “forest” being an unenclosed area used for hunting deer.

The area still called Radnor Forest is a land of hill farming and great moorlands, steep narrow valleys and hills, rising up to the highest point in Radnorshire, Black Mixen at 650m (2150ft)

The Water-break-its-neck waterfall at the Warren was popular with Victorian tourists.

Nowadays the wooded part of Radnor Forest is looked after by Natural Resources Wales.

Sugar Loaf Station is the most remote of all of the stations on the Heart of Wales Line.

It provides an excellent departure point for those wishing to walk to the Sugar Loaf vantage point.

Llangammarch Wells

Llangammarch Farm Park 1.5 miles outside the village provides the opportunity to see lambs, Welsh mountain ponies, ornamental pheasants, rabbits and more.

The quiet village of Llangammarch is one of the 4 mid-Wales spas that this railway brought visitors in their thousands during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.


Pen-y-Bont Station is located on the A44, within walking distance of either Pen-y-bont or Crossgates – and there is plenty to see.

A stop off here will give you the chance to check out an interesting Victorian shop with a B&B nearby and a choice of hotels and campsites, not to mention spectacular views.


Walks between Knucklas, Llangynllo, Llanbister Road and Dolau stations provide great views of Radnor Forest, Beacon Hill and the surrounding countryside.

The station is unstaffed and has no ticketing provision, so all tickets must be purchased on the train or prior to travel.


   There is some stunning countryside near Garth

Garth is the place to enjoy some of the quietest and most peaceful countryside in Wales.

Irfon River Camping & Caravan Park is a tranquil seven-acre park situated by the River Irfon.

The Heart of Wales website describes it as being “ideal for walking, mountain biking and pony trekking”C

Church Stretton

The official Heart of Wales website describes Church Stretton as “colourful, full of little inns, restaurants and specialist shops”. It also has a large indoor antiques market.

You can go past mountain streams to the heather clad plateau of Long Mynd with stunning panoramic views. The Cardingmill valley is popular for short walks and picnics.


Llandeilo dates back to the 13th century. It is named after the 5th century Saint Teilo and is located high above the river.

It is full of distinctive shops and eateries. Dinefwr Park, castle woods and Dinefwr Castle are in walking distance of the stop.


Situated in the Tywi Valley, Llandovery offers opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors or just relax amongst the stunning natural beauty

Llandovery is a quiet, pretty market town these days, but once saw 30,000 animals pass through every year on their way to faraway markets. Much wealth was entrusted to the drovers, their helpers and their dogs.


Knighton is a market town popular for rambler walks. It is full of tradition and character, and its narrow streets can be explored for a host of interesting shops and market stalls.