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An exhausting and rather dull tourist attraction
Sygun Copper Mine (Snowdonia)
Member Name: i_am_joy
Sygun Copper Mine (Snowdonia)
Advantages: The wonderful views across the Gwynant Valley
Disadvantages: Expensive, not suitable for disabled visitors yet this is not made clear before you have paid
Whilst spending a long weekend in North Wales recently we found ourselves somewhat at a loss for something to do on our last full day. It had to be somewhere fairly local to our campsite as one member of our party was not feeling well, yet after six previous trips to the area within twelve months I was beginning to feel as though I had sampled pretty much everything Snowdonia has to offer.
The Sygun Copper Mine was recommended by local lady who obviously knows the area far better than we did; she mentioned it is widely thought of as over-priced but admitted it is known as an excellent experience, especially if you are visiting with children as we were.
Sygun is a 'real' mine, albeit abandoned over 150 years ago. The literature I browsed through promised an interesting and atmospheric look at what life was like under the Welsh hills in the 19th century. In reality I wasn't quite so impressed, but more about that later.
Prices are rather steep; our party consisted of four adults, two children and a toddler so we ended up purchasing a family ticket for £28 plus two further adult tickets at a cost of £8.75 each. For this we were each given a hard hat and rather sullen directions from the lass behind the counter who informed us to 'follow the signs and put your hats on'. Safety briefing over we set out up towards the short but steep entrance to the mine.
Once inside there is a long narrow passageway to walk along, those visitors who are interested in rock formations and the like would enjoy it but personally I found the trek uninspired and very, very dirty. The problem is that there is a small rivulet of water running along the passageway floor, this water has the unmistakable red tinge of copper and as we trudged along I could feel it soaking into my shoes and splashing the backs of my legs. It was only upon returning home that we all realised this awful water stains clothes to such an extent that even bleach would not get the marks out and several perfectly good items of clothing had to be thrown away.
Then we reached the steps. Steps? No-one mentioned steps to me, and here I was confronted with 186 of them. Panic begun to set in slightly then; I have chronic asthma, I had to relocate to a bungalow a few years ago to avoid the thirteen steps in my house. Why on earth is there nothing in the literature or at the entrance to the mine telling visitors that to make the most of the tour they will need to climb such a large number of steps?
This huge flight of metal steps completely ruined any semblance of enjoyment I was experiencing, and I must confess to not enjoying the mine one little bit - with or without the steps. They are very narrow, rather rickety feeling and absolutely exhausting. There is a small area at the top of each flight of around 20 steps where you can stand and admire the view (or in my case, get my breath back!) but frankly the entire mine is so dark that it was hard to make any details out once you'd left ground level.
There are some fascinating stalagmites and stalagtites which I enjoyed looking at, I'm sure any budding geologists would be interested in seeing these fast-forming examples which are completely unlike those found in limestone areas. Dotted along at various intervals there are some rather gruesome looking models of men (and women) working in the copper mine; all looking half starved and completely miserable. I understand why these are here, but I actually found them to be rather disembodied as there were no plaques to tell visitors the relevance of the small gatherings of miners.
There is an audio commentary running through the duration of your visit. This is available in English, Welsh and a couple of other languages (possibly German and French, I can't recall properly) but the volume through the mine is so muted that it was hard to snatch what was being said. I found this strange as I would have thought the mine shaft, for this is surely what we were in, would serve to amplify the dialogue instead of lessening the volume and impact of the words.
At the top of the steps (yes, I did make it without medical intervention - just) there is another long wet passageway to walk along and then...
Oh joy, I'm out in the open air - halfway up a mountain. I was just about ready to keel over at the top of the steps and now I discover I have a 45 metre walk down a gravel and stone path just to get back to ground level. Luckily we had brought a picnic with us so we sat down for half an hour to enjoy the wonderous views across the Snowdonia National Park, thus allowing me to get my lungs back into some sort of working order and giving my heights-hating daughter chance to acclimatise herself to the daunting (for her) walk down.
And the views are stunning; you are just high enough to be able to see for a fair distance and if you gaze across the valley you will see Dinas Emrys, the birthplace of the original Red Welsh Dragon according to legend. At the time of our visit the mountain, and those all around it, were carpeted with Purple Mountain Saxifrage, a wonderfully vibrant alpine flower with the look of so much heather from a distance. I will freely admit that while I am calling it a mountain, I am not completely certain of that fact - it might simply be one of the humongous hills that are found in this part of the country, but for a South East 'townie' the label of mountain shall certainly suffice!
Once at the bottom of the well maintained, yet slippery and bumpy, path there is a small cafe and gift shop. I went in for a well deserved cup of tea only to find they were just closing, and no matter how exhausted I complained of being they absolutely refused to serve me even though the till was still on and people were finishing off their food on several tables. Oh well, I mused, I'll go and look at the gift shop instead.
This too was disappointing, there were hardly and location specific souvenirs and I was left browsing a rather generic selection of I 'Heart' Wales fridge magnets and bookmarks. Prices were reasonable I thought, although the tiny nugget of shiny copper for £2.50 was (in my opinion) the only item available which really made for an interesting memento of our visit - and even then I didn't buy one as I was certain I would find no way to adequately display this flat piece of metal.
Overall, I wasn't impressed with the Sygun Copper Mine. Not purely because of the steps (although these did spoil what could otherwise have been a fairly sedate walk) but because the mine did not feel like a terribly good tourist attraction. I'm sure some will disagree with my views, but personally I felt this was a rushed out idea and more like a chance to make money from an old Welsh tradition - rather than creating a place that visitors will find informative and enjoyable. I cannot say I learned anything from my visit, and I also found myself thinking of other things rather than the hardships these brave miners faced in their time under ground.
Of the seven of us, only my eleven year old granddaughter actually enjoyed the mine. The rest of the emotions ranged from boredom through to sheer terror at the very steep steps - as well as not terribly encouraging signs throughout telling you not to press certain buttons for fear of plunging that entire flight of steps into darkness. As you may have gathered, this attraction is certainly not suitable for those in wheelchairs and I'd even go as far to say that you should perhaps avoid taking very small children in with you - my (then) two year old granddaughter had to be carried up the steps by my son-in-law, no small undertaking considering the steepness of them and the not insubstantial weight of a small child.
Summary: My idea of enjoyment certainly does not include 186 steep steps!
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