“ Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, Wales LL411 3NB. Tourist information 01766 830306. Fax 01766 830711. „
I visited the Llechwedd Slate Caverns with my family in August this year on a rainy morning in Blaenau Ffestiniog, (no surprise there, Blaenau Ffestiniog is the wettest place in Wales). The gravel car park was big and busy with lots of puddles, which made some parking spaces pretty inaccessible.
The entrance is via a short wide building surrounded by slate mountains. Inside is a gift shop, cafe, toilets and an information point near to the ticket desks, these had around a ten minute long queue when we visited. The gift shop was spacious and as you might expect had lots of slate products for sale. There were some very nice items in there although I didn't buy anything. At the surface there is the quaint '''Victorian Village''' to explore, if you haven't bought mine tour tickets this area has a £2 entrance fee. In the village bank you can change your money for old coins to spend with if you wish, (they accept real money too). The shops include a chemist and sweet shop and there's a tavern which also does food -The Miner's Arms, plus a couple of exhibition areas including a blacksmith's and a tiny old house which tells the story of the original occupants. There's a craft workshop where slate crafts are handmade, you can order house names to be made while you wait or there's an area for children to paint slate coasters, these were priced at around £2.50 and looked like they would make a sweet gift. Llechwedd is still a working mine and there are demonstrations showing how they make roofing slates today. Also up top is a climb to a viewpoint; Safle'r Olygfa (don't ask me how to pronounce it), but unfortunately this was roped off when we were there, presumably due to slippery slate.
The main attraction for visitors though are the mine tours. What we didn't realise before arrival was that there are two tours - The Deep Mine Tour and The Miners' Tramway Tour. We weren't sure how well our energetic small child would deal with sitting on a tramway and listening to a guide talk, so we opted to go on just the Deep Mine tour which had no human guide, just a ghost....
~The Deep Mine Tour~
We waited in a long queue to board the train down to the mine. We put on the regulation hard hats and then the three of us climbed into a carriage designed for six. We expected that the staff would see to it that three more people got in, but we were just left in our own carriage. I was surprised they did this, while it was undeniably nice just to have our own family carriage, it's not really a very efficient way to get a queue moving.
It's a steep descent of around 500 feet, our child was quite excited by this little journey, (me too). When we got out at the bottom a member of staff was waiting to explain what to expect and point us in the right direction. We were in a group of around twenty people and we were all to walk around the mine together. As we entered the first cavern the light and sound show began. A disembodied voice welcomed us, meant to be that of 'Sion,' a miner who began work at age twelve back in 1844. Throughout the ten caverns Sion's voice educated us on the subject of the slate caverns and it's workers. At the end of each section the cavern went black and light shone from the area to walk to next.
Music played intermittently and light was used to dramatic effect. At times the only light was from electric candles, showing how the mine may have looked to it's workers, then different coloured lights might illuminate sections of the cavern showing unexpected features or great height.
The last cavern but one was my favourite. It had an underground lake which put me in mind of the horcrux cave in Harry Potter. It was beautifully lit and some emotive music played, but it could have been made more of - before long the show ushered us along to the exit. It would have been nice to spend a little more time there, the mechanical nature of the tour felt a little rushed, it was almost like being herded.
There were metal barriers and warning signs in place, presumably for safety and so people couldn't wander into or climb on exhibits such as old work tools. The barriers added a slight building site feel, it may have been more awe inspiring without them, but, safety first. There were several steps to descend at one point, (61), and we were told that we might have to climb 71 steps back up to meet the train at a higher floor if it was busy, but there was no need on our visit. There was quite a long wait for the train to take us back to the surface.
It was an unusual tour. The caverns are indubitably very impressive, the size and complexity of them makes it astounding to think they were dug by hand. We spent some time discussing the mechanics of how they were dug and what hard lives those Victorian miners must have had, working all hours in the cold, damp dark for a pittance. It's an expensive visit for a family doing both tours, especially when you consider they only last around half an hour each. Whilst it was interesting and well worth a visit, I did feel the whole experience had something of a 'get them in, get the money, and get them out again' feel.
~~~One Tour ~~~ Both Tours
Adults £10.00 ~ £16.30
Children £7.90 ~ £12.10
Seniors £8.95 ~ £14.75
Tour prices are inclusive of a £2 entrance fee. Children under 3 go free.
Family Tickets: There's a 10% discount when an adult travels with 1 or more children on combined tour tickets.
Accessibility: collapsible wheelchairs can be taken on the tramway tour but the deep mine tour involves several steps and walking. The surface site is a mixture of tarmac, slate chippings and grass. Access to areas in the village may involve two or three steps. Tours are available in different languages, and there are group discounts available - check the website for further details and how to get there. Website: www.llechwedd-slate-caverns.co.uk.
Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd. LL41 3NB Tel: 01766 830306
The Llechwedd Slate Mines is located above the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog in the gorgeous Snowdonia countryside. The dry description of the attraction, a museum and slate mine, does not do it justice. This is a fascinating, exciting, full day out for the whole family.
The Llechwedd Slate Mines aims to paint you an accurate picture of what life was like for the slate miners of the Victorian age, both in work down the mine, and at home. I found the whole experience quite moving, learning about the miners' working conditions, they way they were exploited by the mine owners, and the stark facts about their short life expectancy. It certainly made me grateful to be living nowadays rather than then.
The weather in Snowdonia is not always pleasant, so it's nice to know that most of this attraction is undercover (indeed, if you take the deep mine tour, you'll have hundreds of feet of solid rock above you!).
The site has four attractions, the deep mine, the miner's tramway, the Victorian village, and the Miner's Arms tavern.
The Deep Mine
To get to the deep mine involves a tram ride. You don a safety helmet, and climb into one of several cramped four seater carriages, to be taken down, at a steep angle, into the depths below. After descending on the train, there's a guided tour of about half a mile taking you through winding tunnels and ten stunning caverns. The size of these caves is all the more impressive when you realise that they're not natural, they've all been carved out of the Welsh rock by human hands.
You're accompanied on the tour by the 'ghost' of a Victorian miner who started in the mine at 12 years of age. This is, of course, a recorded tape giving you facts about what it was like working in this dark place. These miners worked six days per week, 12 hours per day. For most of the year, they will have descended in the dark, worked in the dark, and then ascended into the dark, not seeing the sun except for Sundays.
Mines are prone to flooding, and whilst working, are continually pumped out. Part of the deep mine is a huge underground lake where flooding has been allowed to occur unchecked. Seeing a lake underground was, for some reason, really spooky.
After half a mile, you ascend to where the train takes you back to the surface.
The Miner's Tramway
Again, this tour involves an underground train journey. This tour is designed to show you exactly how the miners earned their living. In Victorian times, there were no electric lights, so the miners worked by candle light in huge caverns that they blasted out with dynamite.
This part of the tour really moved me. We were taken to a cavern with a ceiling over 50 foot in height. One of the miner's jobs was to climb a ladder, set dynamite in holes in the ceiling, then retreat to ground level and (relative) safety. The guide turned off the light and the model miner at the top of the ladder was lit by a single candle. These were the conditions that these people had to work in, not nice! This worker was paid more than other workers (danger money), but not for long, since life expectancy for this job was measured in months.
This tour really tells it how it was, warts and all. In the days before unions, the workers had to buy all of their equipment from the mine owners. After buying the kit, there was hardly enough to live on. If they were injured, which happened a lot, they were sacked. We really are luckier now.
The Victorian Village and Miner's Arms
The model village is a bit less intense than the tours. There's a house, shops, blacksmith, and other businesses laid out exactly as they would have been over 100 years ago. You can see how the miners would have lived when they were not working.
The house is quite special. It belonged to David Francis, a blind harpist who became very famous. A moving commentary tells his story and is worth listening to.
The bank is quite fun. You can exchange 'real' money for old Welsh money that can then be spent in the village. Kids will love this, especially if you allow them to spend their money in the sweet shop which sells the sorts of sweets that would have been sold in Victorian times!
The tavern is laid out to mimic a pub in the old days. It sells real beer and you can get pub meals there too. It's a worthwhile alternative to the modern café that's also on site.
As mentioned above, there's a reasonable café on site. This serves good, simple food, and is not too expensive. There's also a souvenir shop. I preferred this to many such shops I've seen, as it (as you'd expect), sells slate ornaments and souvenirs. Some of these are genuinely useful and very beautiful, it's well worth browsing here after your visit.
Price wise, you only pay for the tours. One tour costs £8.25 for an adult, £6.10 for a child. Two tours costs £13.65 for an adult and £9.80 for a child. With two adults and a couple of kids, you do get a 10% discount. It still may seem expensive, but this is an attraction where, because there's so much to see and do, you can spend a full day.
I've visited many different attractions in England, Wales, and Scotland, and I can honestly say that none affected me they way the Llechwedd Slate Mines' tours did. I think that this trip is educational and thought provoking and would recommend that anyone who's in the area takes a look. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
LLechwedd slate mines are a surprisingly wonderful journey into a subterranean world. That sounded pompous didn't it. To be honest, most people would take one look at the advertising and pronounce BORING upon it. Especially kids. They know nothing, however, due to all the brain-addling sweets they eat. It is one of those things you cannot appreciate until you do it and when we took 5 of them aged between 4 and 12 they all had a really good time. Can't promise they'd agree though but I suspect they would crack under torture.
For myself, I'm and aging geology geek who still loves rocks. I have to say, slate isn't the most interesting no matter how geeky you are but I still enthralled the children with interesting tales of metamorphism and faulting. They were so happy I was their father.
The slate caverns are situated in Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales, just on the outskirts of the Snowdoia National Park. Blaenau is not the most attractive town in Snowdonia but it maintains the character of what it is - an industrial heartland, now slightly decayed. It lies on the A470 from the North or A496 from the South. And next to some sheep to the East and West. Probably.
What do you do there?
The main focus of the attraction is to go deep underground into the caverns from which slate was extracted util the 1970's. There are 2 tours on offer, one deeper than the other. You are taken into the depths of the earth, past worms and later Satan, on small locomotives. As well as passing the massive caverns sculpted from the slate - and they are huge - there are various 'exhibitions' of slate-workers going about their business. You know the sort of thing - mannequins wearing dirty clothes with sound effects in the background. I've just reread that and need to clarify that the 'business' was quarrying and the sound effects were of pick-axe on hard rock. These are token things, the beauty is in the well-lit holes filled with water that have been left behind. They are cathedral-like and the whole place has fantastic acoustics. Every now and again the train stops so you can wander around and have a closer look.
Back on the surface, there are further exhibitions of slate workings and a few demonstrations of slate-splitting and the like. The quarry village has been largely preserved and you can see the Victorian sweet shop and buy traditional sweets. Kids liked that. A few workshops and houses are also still present with their river-flushed privies. The mind boggles. In other words they used to go and wee in the river. Like bears.
There is also a half-decent cafe for drinks and food (but as always this will double the cost of the day out), as well as a shop which I don't remember much but suspect sold bits of slate with owls etched into it like wot grannies do 'ave.
Quite a lot I feel. For both tours (and you need to see the deep mine by the way) it'll set you back £14.75 for adults and a whopping £11.25 for children. For just the one ride it'll be £9.25 for adults and £7 for children. There are some group concessions but no family discount which sucks, frankly.
I do not think this is good value for money by the way, especially for children who will need press-ganging to attend in the first place.
For adults who enjoy geology (who doesn't?) or industrialization then this'll be fun. For children, well, hard to say. They'll enjoy the tram ride into the cave but miss a lot of the point. They can buy sweets, but obviously this will rot their teeth and as responsible adults we can't condone it. Pensioners like my dad will love it because it will remind them of when they were young and could still have sexual relationships. Actually, that might upset him. He can't even bring himself to watch nature programmes anymore.
Personally, it killed some time on a wet Thursday and gets my thumbs up.
Find out yourself at http://www.llechwedd-slate-caverns.co.uk
Thanks for reading
May also be posted at other review sites which I can't mention because I keep forgetting to edit this sentence.
Llechwedd slate caverns are situated in Blaenau Ffestiniog and are a fascinating experience which gives the visitor an insight into what life would have been like working in a Victorian slate mine. It’s free to visit the site and you only pay if you want to go on one of the two underground tours. To be honest you really have to undergo one of the tours to fully appreciate Llechwedd. At the time of writing we paid £37 for both tours and this consisted of 2 adults and 2 children. While not cheap it was worth every penny. If you can’t afford both tours or simple don’t have the time I suggest you try the Deep Mine Tour although this one does involve some walking once you do get underground, as well as some steps. The Deep Mine Tour (opened 1979): ----------------- After queuing you are given a given a hard hat to wear and you then start your journey aboard Britains steepest passenger railway. This is a very small train which holds 24 people with 4 persons to a carriage, the train is of a stepped design. Once at the bottom after descending 99ft a guide informs you that the tour will commence in the next chamber and at each numbered chamber (10 in total) the group will stop and you will hear the pre recorded tour guide. The tour takes around 25 minutes to complete. The voice you hear is an actor playing the part of Sion Dolgarregddu who informs you that he came to work in the mine in 1838 at the age of 12, following his father and uncle who already worked the mine. This way of presenting the tour is very good indeed, during the tale various parts of the cavern light up to display models of the miners and you gain lots of very informative information. It’s not overlong and you are never bombarded with too many facts which can make some tours hard to remember. After the speech in each chamber has ended you are instructed to follow the trail to the next and once everyone has gathered again the tour restarts. After a while you descend further onto the mine by a 61 step (32 ft) metal staircase this takes you down another level. Now although you have only gone down around 131 feet and at this point you are 430 ft below the summit. This is because the point at which the train starts is not the top of the mine. The highlight of the Deep Mine Tour, is an incredible underground lake inside a huge cavern. Here the water is so clear that you can see right to the bottom of the lake, the lighting also makes this a very atmospheric chamber. At another point you reach another staircase, this one leads you up to the upper level and eventually the tour rejoins the point where you started and you board the train back up to the top. Miners Tramway Tour (opened 1972): ----------------- By the time we started to queue for the second tour the time was around 12 noon and we had to wait around just under an hour to board the train itself. You journey into the side of the mountain on a level piece of track and get off at a cavern. Here another guide explains the workings of the slate mine and the life the men and boys had inside. Again you get more sight and sound guides but this tour features a real life guide more than the last one. We learn that boys started to work the mine from the age of 11 and they had to rely on the candle light of the other men as they could not afford to buy candles of their own. Life inside the mine was nowhere near like what you see on the tour, their was no nicely lighted chambers and fresh air to breath. Our guide at one point turned out the lights to reveal the harsh reality of the mine. With the exception of a few candles the miners had to endure total blackness accompanied by the dusty air due to the explosions made to break free the slate. You board the train to travel to another chamber where you learn more about a miners life inside Llechwedd. It’s hard to believe that these men where expected to work 6
days a week 12 hours a day with only Sunday a day of rest. This doesn’t sound too bad until you realise that they were expected to attend chapel 3 times on a Sunday as well as a couple of times in the week. At its peak in 1904 the slate mine employed around 369 men. Life was easier in the mine if you worked in a chamber where the foreman was a member of the same chapel as you. Even their half hour lunch underground was not their own. After eating their meal their discussion was moderated by the foreman and they were allowed to discuss topics such as religion and politics. After boarding the train again it makes its way back to the slate mill where you learn how the slate was prepared above ground. All this adds up to another very informative tour. ----------------- Above ground there are a few things to visit you get the obligatory café and souvenir shops. Llechwedd also boasts a small Victorian village complete with a bank where you can exchange your money for replica old coins which can then be used inside the village. A few of the shops list prices in both amounts and children will have fun paying for items this way. One of the shops was in the style of an old fashioned sweet shop and proved very popular inded, also at the village is an old pub called ‘The Miner’s Arms’ and once again this proved to be a popular feature. I can’t really comment further on the café or the pub as we took something to eat and drink along with us. The time on the tours went very quick but it was overall a very enjoyable experience and one I’ll never forget. If you ever get the chance to visit Llechwedd Slate caverns then I highly suggest you take the opportunity.