“ The Slate Caverns / Llanfair / Harlech / LL46 2SA / Tel: 01766 780247 „
Approximately two years ago we visited some slate mines and although we found it highly interesting we didn't think we would want to go back there, there really is only so much slate that you can handle however, several weeks back whilst on holiday we found a tourist leaflet for the slate caverns in Harlech. Having never been to this one before and the leaflet and prices looking very appealing we decided it might be worth visiting so we decided to venture that way to take a look.
Officially named Chwarel hen Llanfair Slate caverns, being such a mouthful, I will proceed to call it the slate caverns. The slate caverns are situated within the small town of Harlech, more famously known for Harlech castle and its rich history. The slate caverns are easily sign posted from the town centre so it is relatively easy to find as the town is rather small.
Upon entering you are presented with a very steep hill up towards the car park, I would probably say that it is the most steep hill we have attempted in a car and being a one way road I have no idea what would have happened if a car had been coming the other way, luckily for us however there wasn't. When you reach the top you are greeted with a rather small car park, it perhaps fits 10 cars at the most; there is however a larger car park at the bottom of the hill but this is for the neighbouring animal park. When we went we found that there was ample car parking spaces left as there really wasn't that many people there.
So after embarking on a hazardous adventure to park the car you are presented with three slightly run down looking buildings, one being the toilets the other a café and the last the shop. We proceeded straight to the shop as this was the only one of the buildings that we would imagine selling tickets. At this point we were wondering exactly where the caverns were because we failed to see anything that remotely looked like a cave tour. After entering the shop we went straight to the front to enquire about tickets and find out where we needed to go and what we needed to do etc.
The lady within the shop was very friendly and polite and kindly informed us of the ticket prices:
Under 5s free
I was extremely happy with these prices as the last slate mines we went to was costing over double the price of these. After purchasing our tickets we were informed of which way to go after leaving the shop via a back door, we were given a torch and were sent on our way. With only having the comparison of one other mine tour I was expecting to have to wait for a tour guide to join up with a large group of people, this however was not the case, we were just sent off to explore by ourselves.
At this point I would highly recommend wearing a coat as it is extremely cold within the mines and slightly wet and damp. To enter the mines you proceed down a rather poorly lit tunnel (this is where the use of the torch comes in handy) after a short walk you are greeted with a set of very long and very steep steps heading down into the mine. Within the mines there are several different walkways all leading to different caverns that contains something for you to look at and a small sign to describe what it actually is. I won't spoil the fun for anyone wishing to go by giving away too much information but there are 9 caverns in total all having something miners or slate related inside them. There really isn't much scope to get lost as it isn't overly large within the mine itself. Overall I would think it took us approximately 20 minutes to fully explore every area.
I must warn, it is dark within the mine, even with the use of the torch, you are provided with helmets before you enter but I have to say, the dark plus low head heights does lead to some bumps so be prepared for that. Also, from learnt experience small children might find it a little bit scary, my daughter certainly did. The day before we went to the caverns we went on a pretend bear hunt based on the book Were going on a bear hunt, my daughter has been reading that frequently recently so we were all set on making our holiday as special as possible for her but unfortunately she assumed that the caverns was actually the bears cave and so she was scared/excited the whole way round thinking she was going to see a bear. She was very happy to reach to exit anyway.
The caverns to me were a pleasant surprise, in comparison to the other mine tour that I have been on it is very different but I also found that to be better. There was no guide and there was no group of people to walk around with but I preferred that, I preferred to be able to walk around the caverns completely alone being able to explore to my heart's content. It was perhaps not as long as others or the caverns as large but it was very enjoyable in its own way. During our adventure in the caverns we only bumped into one other group and they were heading in the completely opposite direction to us which made it feel even better as we had our own space to stop, look, take photos and have some fun without be ushered along by a swarm of people.
After we left the caverns we had a better look around the shop, in here you can purchase, homemade slate items such as door numbers, signs, house plaques etc. and there are also other types of souvenirs and ornaments. We didn't purchase anything but I took note that the prices were very reasonable. One of the best parts of the day, and not necessarily to do with the caverns was the picnic we had when we resurfaced. There are several picnic benches overlooking Harlech and the view really is beautiful, I could have sat there all day, you have a clear view of the sea, the small town, the castle and best of all the open countryside. It was very tranquil (despite the swarm of wasps.)
We didn't enter the café so I couldn't add anything about that but it doesn't look like much from the outside, there were several people sat inside, the building is mainly glass so you can clearly see the view and the sea. As well as having this extra amenity there is also a children's farm at the bottom of the hill, this is part of the caverns site so it's not completely a separate amenity although you do have to pay extra for this. The prices are also very reasonable I would recommend visiting her with small children if you are visiting the caverns.
Unfortunately there is no disabled access to the caverns at all, the steps themselves are too steep and there are too many of them to maneuver with a wheelchair, or a pushchair and the terrain itself is unstable and unsuitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs. The ground above the caverns is more stable and the café could be suitable so the view could still be enjoyed.
Overall I really enjoyed visiting the slate caverns, it's not what I was expecting but I really liked the freedom you were given, it added more mystery to the whole adventure. For such a cheap price I would highly recommend paying a visit and with the animal farm and harlech castle being on the doorstep a real day can be made out of it.
The entry to this old but important slate mine is through the main tunnel, under the twin arches of the crypt, and into the lofty cathedral cavern. Remember that the tunnels and caverns you are about to see are all man made over a 100 years ago with only a candle for lighting. The slate in this mine, which is found in veins between layers of ancient Pre-Cambrian rocks, is among the oldest in the world. Many industrial towns in Britain and Ireland have the original roofs made of Llanfair slate.