An epic railway and legacy of the steam age
The eminent engineer Robert Stephenson masterminded this mainline railway, which includes his two wrought-iron tubular bridges, revolutionary for their time. The first is the Conwy Bridge, over the river of the same name; it is, amazingly, in near-original condition. The second, Britannia Bridge, spans the awe-inspiring Menai Strait, but has been altered much more. If you are starting or ending your journey at Holyhead, look out for the striking train shed in curved red brick, dating from the 1870-80s.
Work on the line began in the mid-1840s, with the early station buildings you see at Bangor, Aber, Bodorgan and Valley stations being designed by Francis Thompson. He was an architect who had worked with Robert Stephenson before on railway projects. Thompson favoured an elegant rather than extravagant design style; it was much admired and later inspired the station building at Penmaenmawr.
The line was in operation from 1848. The ‘Irish Mail’ express, dating to this time, was famous for being the fastest scheduled train in the world along this route; it is also reputed to be the world’s oldest named train. The train carried government mail and government dispatches between London and Holyhead, where they were loaded onto ships for the crossing to Dublin. To achieve this super-fast service, an innovative water-trough system was laid at Mochdre (a village to the west of Colwyn Bay) in 1860, enabling trains to pick up water without stopping. Full steam ahead!
A55 follows along most of the length
All stations well-served by buses
NCN Route 5 and Route 8
Full Grid Reference Number - Holyhead Station: SH 247821, Chester Station : SJ 413669
OS Landranger map sheet: 114, 115, 116, 117
- 08457 48 49 50
- North Wales Coast Main Line, Holyhead, LL65 2BT