An underground adventure: exploring the slate industry of North WalesPublished on 9 Dec 2019 by Gwion Llwyd
Expect gripping adventure and poignant storytelling when you visit Llechwedd’s deep mine tour. A weatherproof must-do for your next holiday to North Wales.
Deep under the mountains of Snowdonia is buried the beginnings of an extraordinary story. It’s a rock revolution which shaped the look and feel of the world as we know it. A way of life that built communities and defined generations of families in North Wales.
The story of slate began 500 million years ago, with deposits of mud and clay on an ancient seabed. Slate was used by Romans in the first century AD and by medieval kings to fortify their castles. But it wasn’t until the advent of the Industrial Revolution that demand for the mighty grey rock really exploded.
At its peak, the slate industry in Wales employed an army of 17,000 men. By the end of the 19th century they were extracting half a million tonnes of slate per year and their hand-split wares were being exported to all four corners of the earth.
The Welsh slate industry made a few men very rich and paid a decent wage to many more. But, like so many industries that relied upon the physical labour of human beings, its colossal success did not come without great sacrifice.
The Deep Mine Tour at Llechwedd
The fascinating and poignant deep mine tour at Llechwedd, Blaenau Ffestiniog, takes you back in time to meet the men and boys who worked in Llechwedd’s mine in the mid-19th century.
Told from the point of view of the workers, this brilliant underground tour combines highly engaging storytelling with cutting edge technology to tell the story of their blood and guts, their determination, resilience, risk and endeavour.
You’ll see some of the basic tools used to extract slate by hand in the 19th century. It was dangerous work which saw men suspended by chains from high cavern walls for hours at a time. Boys were able to start an apprenticeship from as young as eight years old, and generally worked in a crew with other members of their family.
The miners worked by candlelight and would never see the vast caverns their years of hard work produced – it was simply too dark.
The growing slate industry transformed Blaenau Ffestiniog from a small farming settlement into a thriving industrial town. The narrow-gauge railway which ran from Llechwedd at Blaenau Ffestiniog to the new port of Porthmadog was one such advance. The Ffestrail steam railway which now runs on the same tracks, is now a world-famous tourist attraction. Ffestrail runs a regular service between Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The importance of family, community and Welsh culture
Visitors to the deep mine tour at Llechwedd will also learn a great deal about how our Welsh forefathers lived, the importance to them of family, friendship, chapel and community, and how their lives have shaped our own – and still do.
The deep mine tour is made all the more engaging thanks to the fact that so many of the mine’s tour guides have a personal and family connection to the mine. We think it’s a story that will captivate and thrill you. Tickets for the tour start at £10 per person for early bird entry.
UNESCO World Heritage bid – watch this space
In October 2019, the UK Government announced plans to nominate seven former slate industry sites in the county of Gwynedd and the Snowdonia National Park to be considered for UNESCO World Heritage status. If the nomination is approved, it means the slate landscapes of North Wales will share the same status with the likes of the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef and the Egyptian Pyramids.
We think it would be appropriate recognition for this unique and fascinating landscape and the people who created it.
Our Top 5 Cottages near Llechwedd’s Deep Mine
Price £600 – £1190 / week
Sleeps 7 + Cot | Farm Stay |Hot Tub | WiFi | Pet Friendly | Real Fire
A stunning Welsh farmhouse with a hot tub, mountain views and a steam train running through the garden. That’s right, we said a steam train running through the garden.
Price £550 – £1090 / week
Sleeps 8 +cot | WiFi | Real Fire
Traditional farmhouse accommodation in one of the most beautiful valleys in Snowdonia. Bryn-Weirglodd offers a great combination of 5 star self catering set in a faultless tranquil location. Beautifully appointed bedrooms and comfortable living areas compliment a setting where walkers can head off straight from the front door whist beach lovers only have a short 10 minute drive down to the seaside villages of Criccieth or Porthmadog.
Price £550 – £1090 / week
Sleeps 6 + cot | WiFi | Near Pub
As you pull down into the drive of the cottage, the view that greets you is spectacular; a beautiful old stone building looking out over the Conwy river and the Lledr valley. Wern is a three bedroom holiday cottage with fantastic views near Fairy Glen and a five minute drive from the centre of Betws Y Coed itself.
Price £450 – £890 / week
Sleeps 6 + cot | Farm Stay | WiFi | Near Beach | Near Pub
Llofft Talar is a three bedroom farm holiday cottage in Porthmadog. Situated on the outskirts of town on a working farm, is it perfect for exploring Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsula.
Price £350 – £690 / week
Sleeps 5 + Cot | WiFi | Near Pub
Hendre-Wen is a modern detached three bedroom holiday cottage in Betws-Y-Coed; known as the gateway to Snowdonia and home to the Swallow Falls. It is a comfortable cottage in a popular location.