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A Small Slice of Africa in Snowdonia, Wales


A South African Railways class NG G16 in Beddgelert, Wales.

The best way to describe many days in the Welsh summer is 'murky'. Simple as that. So it was, with the rain drizzling slowly down, that I embarked on a walk accompanied by a small group, from our base at Snowdon View in Plas Gwynant to Beddgelert around five miles away.

Armed with food, flasks of tea and water, an Ordnance Survey Landranger map and a compass, we set off in a direction that took us away from the main road and around to the rear of Llyn Dinas - a lake in the middle of the Snowdonia National Park.

In spite of the aforementioned murk and the slight sensation of feeling like a sponge absorbing the fine rain, the walk was exceptionally pleasant and tranquil. Only the occasional rustling of leaves on the trees disturbed the quiet. From a promontory about half way into the ramble, it felt as if we had left the modern world well and truly behind – there is no doubting that this landscape is typically Welsh.

Upon arrival in Beddgelert, a small town on the junction of two small rivers, the unmistakable sound of an steam engine whistle rang in a hushed manner around the hills. One of the group immediately quickened her pace as if a homing device in her brain had suddenly been activated.

The whistle rang out again louder and something told me that this steam engine wasn’t typically British. The woman who’d quickened her pace, was by this point breaking into a sprint and dragged us along with her, led the way towards the station of the Welsh Highland Railway.


There in front of us, resplendent in deep crimson red, stood a steam locomotive that screamed, “I’m a bit South African.” Not being the train aficionado that I used to be meant that I had to use the Internet to get the facts, but sure enough, nestled in the valleys of Snowdonia, a train that had worked* most of its life in the Eastern Cape and Natal, was waiting to take us away. 

And so, whilst on holiday in Wales, Africa once more had found me. It seems the continent is always calling me back, in ever more inventive ways.

*The locomotive itself, I am reliably informed, was built by a British company for South African Railways. More information on the locomotive can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAR_NGG_16_Class and more information on the Welsh Highland Railway can be found here: http://www.festrail.co.uk/main.shtml. As an interesting aside, we later found that former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was on board.

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