This is one of my favourite places in North Wales mainly because of its quarry-scarred otherworldly landscape which has been captivated me for years. Surrounded on all sides by Snowdonia National Park this quiet corner has a hard beauty of its own and holds deep buried secrets to the area’s bustling industrial past.
From a distance, the mountains that surround the little town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, the former ‘slate capital of Wales’, are breathtaking in their quiet beauty, once you head downwards you discover another world.
What is Slate?
Slate is a fine-grained, metamorphic rock formed by compression of sedimentary shale, mudstone, or basalt. Its story starts more than 500 million years ago, when the slate deposits of north-west Wales were created by volcanic action and huge geological upheavals.
Slate was first mined in North Wales as far back as Roman times, when the fort at Segontium near Caernarfon was built with local slate. But it was in the nineteenth century that the slate industry really took hold of the area and changed landscapes and communities forever.
As the industrial revolution began to gather speed and more and more demands were placed on natural resources, the tough, resilient nature of slate was recognised as the building material of the future. The slate from North West Wales is reputedly the best in the world; it didn’t take long for once sleepy farmland and quiet hills to succumb to the lure of the grey gold. The mines around Blaenau Ffestiniog grew to be the largest in the world.
Luckily today every interested individual can visit the Llechwedd Slate Caverns. Of course we couldn’t resist to explore the eerily magnificent mines gazing into dark holes and across cathedral-sized caves. I should say it is a great feeling – you get to put your hands on history, and set your heart pounding.
Llechwedd Slate Caverns
Luckily enough we have taken this tour twice together with my wife, first time in 2010 and just recently in 2018. Both times we were deeply impressed with unforgettable beauty of the underground lake as the story of the slate miner’s life unfolds. However we have to admit that “sound and light” sequences have been definitely improved since we experienced it first time back in 2010. The tour became more interactive with enhanced reality technology providing a real window into the past. This is the case where you can see the advantage of modern technology!
The main attraction is to go down the slate mine by a funicular railway with truly tiny and claustrophobic compartments.
Reaching the bottom a guide takes you on a tour of the slate caverns, some truly spectacular, with audio visual displays and a touching recorded commentary. We were showed the tools that would have been used in the Victorian days and even had an opportunity to try some of them. It is absolutely amazing attraction and gives a real insight into how the miners lived and died, a real piece of social history.
Travel Tips: Standard ticket price for Llechwedd deep mine tour is £20.00. Official website: SlateCaverns
It is very noticeable how passionate tour guides are, many of them have local connections with the mine and their families can be traced back to Blaenau’s past.
Travel Tips: If you are tall, as I am be aware that in some places you almost have to bend double to get through, also it is a wet place with quite a few puddles, so not a place for flip flops or sandals. Make sure you wear some appropriate shoes and clothes.
Interesting fact: The Llechwedd Deep Mine Tour is an award winning interactive tour with new technology featuring a beautiful projection over the underground lake.
If you still have some energy after exploring underground world, you actually can see the same mine from air by flying over it! If you are real adventure seeker you wouldn’t want to miss a heart-pumping zip line experience right here.
The fastest zip line in the world
Well, outdoor zip lines offer up a different perspective. You can build up quite a lick heading down these, a physical thrill that’s matched by the awesome spectacle of North Wales swooshing by beneath you. Blaenau Ffestiniog’s three zip lines take you down from the hills above to the mine itself.
Travel Tips: The experience lasts approximately 2 hours. Minimum age is 10, minimum height is 120cm – maximum height is 210cm. Minimum weight is 30kg. Maximum weight is 120kg. Price for one person varies from £89.00 to £65.00 depending on the day of the week. Official website: Zipworld
Zip World Snowdonia is the longest zip wire in the northern hemisphere and is the fastest in the world – reaching speeds of up to 125 mph! Fortunate to have a clear day when it was not too busy. We have enjoyed this thrilling ride made absolutely fantastic by lovely weather.
These great experiences combine both entertainment and education and inspire most of visitors to learn more about this mysterious country.
Photography © Gurcan Sarisoy