A trail in the making

, July 11th, 2017

The Heart of Wales line’s media spokesperson Rachel Francis talks to ACoRP’s Train On Line about an exciting project that links walks in rural Wales with community rail.

Cynghordy Viaduct |Stephen-Miles

Cynghordy Viaduct |Stephen-Miles

The story of ‘A Trail in the Making’ begins in late 2015. It begins in a pub.

Paul Salveson – widely recognised for his pioneering work in Community Rail –  had agreed with Arriva Trains Wales a pot of money to fund a feasibility study for a walking trail linked to the Heart of Wales (HWL) Line. The HWL line is under used and yet it is a vital public transport link for rural Wales. It is also much loved, passing through stunning scenery and great walking country. A rail-based walking trail?  A group of us trooped off to the pub to find out more.

At this meeting was Les Lumsdon. Les lives locally to the Heart of Wales Line. He is a widely travelled professor, specialising in the relationship between transport and tourism – in particular sustainable transport. Les has a particular love of walking and has written books detailing a number of major walks in Britain. Les Lumsdon and colleague Alison Caffyn, a consultant specialising in tourism development, were asked to carry out the feasibility study for a walking trail that would weave between stations along the HWL line.

Les said: ‘You can’t just plan a 140-mile long-distance walking route in the comfort of your office – you have to go out there and walk it. You have to get out in the weather, meet the farmers, work with what you find. If there is no route across a stream, the question is – should we find a different route or build a new bridge? If a path you thought existed has been diverted, you go back to the drawing board. We have based the route on existing rights of way but we also wanted to ensure there are links to those stations that are just off the main route. So that has been another challenge – there are 30 stations between Craven Arms and Llanelli. We have been fortunate to find support from experienced walkers along the route – they have been instrumental in helping design the trail.”

In 2016, the feasibility study was completed, presenting us with a viable trail and a plan. The trail begins in the old railway town of Craven Arms. It passes through remote upland, woodland, and the salt marshes of the Loughor Valley, en route to the Millennium Coastal Park in Llanelli. It is suitable for people looking for a long distance challenge, but equally for those who wish to walk the trail in sections, using the train to access day or weekend walks and using local shops, cafes, pubs and overnight accommodation along the way.

In January 2017, with a super-duper trail steering group firmly established, we launched a crowd funding appeal. This got us on local TV and radio for the first time, giving interviews in Welsh and English and enjoying some really good coverage in the local press. We have raised £5,000 from crowd funding online and especially via the Heart of Wales Line Travellers Association. We have also received support from Arriva, Network Rail Wales, REPTA, and Councils/Right of Way teams in Shropshire, Powys, Carmarthenshire and Swansea City and County.

On Tuesday 4 July we launch the Northernmost section of the trail with the unfurling of a banner and lots of cake followed by a guided walk led by Rail Ramblers. Very exciting.  We are expecting a big crowd.

For further info Rachel Francis rachelzzzyx@gmail.com