Newest Review: ... 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 ... more
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Llechwedd Slate Caverns (Gwynedd)
Member Name: noodlesandwich
Llechwedd Slate Caverns (Gwynedd)
Advantages: caverns are impressive
Disadvantages: somewhat rushed
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
Summary: a little pricey, interesting and well worth a visit
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