Known as ‘the town that roofed the world’, Blaenau Ffestiniog was the undisputed capital of the slate mining industry in Wales throughout the nineteenth century. Located at the heart of the Snowdonia National Park, this little Welsh village languished after the decline of the slate industry but, in recent years, has found new purpose and is flourishing again.
While some may say the craggy, bleak mountains surrounding the village of Blaenau are devoid of soul, they couldn’t be more wrong. Buried deep beneath Snowdonia’s ancient rock faces are stories waiting to be told; the slate trade that Blaenau is famed for built communities and defined the culture of many North Walian families. Today, the town is a vibrant and exciting community and, as well as a proud industrial heritage, it is rapidly establishing itself as the extreme sports capital of North Wales. Got a taste for adventure? Why not come along and explore?
Llechwedd Slate Caverns
At Llechwedd Slate Caverns you can uncover the story of the miners, their families and this curious natural material. A day out here should not be missed, not least because you’ll uncover the fascinating history of slate: from its prehistoric beginnings, to its use in ancient times, and right up to the present day. But have you ever wondered what it was really like to live and work in this strange subterranean world? Well, now you can experience life below ground on the new Deep Mine Tour at Llechwedd. The tour, brand new for 2016, uses cutting-edge enhanced reality technology to tell the story of the people who risked life and limb everyday to ‘roof the world’.
If you fancy trying it for yourself, head along to the slate workshop where you can watch traditional slate splitting before giving it a go yourself! The workshop craftsmen can create some beautiful gifts for you, including hand-painted coasters and personalised signs. Afterwards, if you’re peckish, try The Emporium for tea, coffee and delicious cakes or the Caverns Café for a selection of Welsh home-cooked meals. We recommend the lobscows – a traditional stew made with lamb and vegetables that the miners would have eaten underground.
With its feet firmly above ground Antur Stiniog is a world away from the subterranean tunnels of the miners, despite being located in an abandoned slate quarry. Perched above Blaenau town, it’s a mountain bike park with a choice of challenging downhill runs and thrilling trails. Overlooking the remains of the biggest slate mine in the world, it’s an eerie atmosphere but that only contributes to the excitement! Opened in June 2007, thanks mainly to donations from locals, it’s a mecca for bikers and attracts riders from all over the world.
There are six trails, all of which have received international acclaim from mountain biking enthusiasts. The trails are accessed by a regular uplift service, which quickly transports you and your bike to the top of the mountain – this means you don’t waste time pushing your bike back up the hill!
The trails range in difficulty from Jympar, a blue route, to Y Du, a formidable double-black. Whilst Jympar is easier it’s great fun and suitable for a wide range of ages and abilities. With plenty of sweeping turns and rolls, it will keep even the most seasoned bikers on their toes. Y Du, on the other hand, is seriously fast. Steep and craggy, this trail is not for the faint of heart! If you’re unsure of the best run to suit your ability, have a chat with the knowledgeable onsite staff (most of them keen bikers too) who’ll make sure you safely enjoy a day on the hill.
Plas Tan Y Bwlch
If you prefer your sightseeing less extreme pay a visit to Plas Tan Y Bwlch, a sprawling country estate on the outskirts of Blaenau. Plas Tan Y Bwlch houses the Snowdonia National Park Environmental Studies Centre and delivers a range of environment-related professional courses but it’s open to the public too. This grand country house was the Welsh seat of the Oakeley family, who were wealthy and prominent slate quarry owners.
Between Easter and October the estate opens its gates to visitors (small fee applies), who are invited to enjoy Plas’s beautiful gardens. The Victorian formal gardens are a delight to wander, and include a carefully-restored Japanese Garden, the vibrant Rhododendron Walk and a Sensory Garden. With over 30km of scenic walking paths, it’s easy to lose yourself in the gardens and surrounding woodland for hours!
After you’ve finished exploring head to the Dwyryd Tea Room for some refreshment. Situated in the Terrace Conservatory, it boasts sweeping vistas over the Vale of Ffestiniog that will take your breath away. Less well-known than the gardens at Bodnant and Plas Cadnant, Plas Tan Y Bwlch is just as impressive and a really well-kept secret!
Image: Copyright Steve R and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.