Family Faves in North Wales : Llechwedd Slate Caverns
To me, North Wales means mountains, a wee bit of rain and quarries. The whole of North Wales is a wealth of history, industrial scars, and stories of the white slave trade which you never really hear about in the media. Now you can find a little bit of everything in Llechwedd Slate Caverns.
As I’ve mentioned in the first of this series, the kids and I love adventure. But we like to take something home with us. The sense of history. That we have learned something on our day out. And if you want to get to the heart of Snowdonia (both historically and quite possibly literally!) this is the place for you.
Llechwedd Slate Caverns – The History
This is a tale of the industrial revolution. When people became very rich on the backs of workers who had no basic rights. North Wales is quite literally strewn with the scars of the industrial revolution. And in Llechwedd, Mohammed moved the mountain and the Welsh workers turned it inside out, creating 200 million tons of the generated waste on the outskirts of the village of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Before the coming of the industrial revolution, there were hardly any large villages in North Wales, only a gathering of smallholdings owned or rented by farmers. Blaenau is one such example, there were 14 small holdings registered in the 1711 census, and that’s it. Then came the slate quarries.
Llechwedd fawr was opened by John Whitehead Greaves in 1846. And he struck gold. The family of this man still own the quarry today. Part of his success as a quarry owner was the empathy he showed his men, his workers, and they were far better treated in his quarry than in those of Lord Penrhyn for example.
Slates put North Wales on the map
The mountains of Wales were rich in blue gold. But most quarries you came across would have been open cast, this was a deep casting mine, so underground. Welsh slate was used for roofing throughout the British isles, and even exported, so it was big business, that saw the populations of migrant workers rising. Blaenau boomed from 14 small holdings to over 20,000 people over five years – making it the second largest town in North Wales next to Wrexham.
This happened all over the country, from the linen and cotton mills of Yorkshire, to the Coal mining in South Wales and so many people leaving cottage industry to make a living wage.
In it’s wake came the age of Steam, and huge ports being built to accommodate the sheer volume of trade occurring. Hence the network of trains now run by the Ffestiniog railway and the Welsh Highland, and the relative size of the town of Porthmadog. But it was a time where the rich got very rich, and the poor were very very poor. But a sense of community was born. And here, it was all based around religion.
Can I answer this question with LOADS? You have a Deep mine tour, a slate quarry tour, and the Llechwedd Story tour. On top of that (and run by a different company) you have the option to go Zip lining or trampolining at Bounce Below. Add that to the AnturStiniog mountain biking facility a short walk away. There is a circular walk which you could take too if you’re up to it!. You can quit easily spend a whole day here. There is a shop, a café and plenty of benches to meander on. Plus a lot of historical buildings I would be weary of bringing very young children. Saying that we saw plenty of babies and toddlers on the day we chose to visit.
We didn’t visit the café this time around but it’s worth going for the EPIC hot chocolate they make. We took a picnic this time around as the sandwiches and food in the café is quite expensive, but what you would expect from a tourist venue. And sitting outside watching people fling themselves through a quarry on a zip wire is very entertaining to say the least!
Luckily the day we visited was just glorious. No rain in Blaenau Ffestiniog which is renowned as the rainiest town in Wales! WOW!
The Deep mine tour
Pack some warm clothing, because the hour and a half long tour not only takes you 150 years back into the past but 1000m down into the heart of the mountain. What’s so special about this tour is the guides. Now I have to give ours a special mention here, the train driver, Malcolm and the tour guide John. They made history come alive for my kids.
In the dark dank and frankly freezing conditions of the mine you really get a feel for what it was like for the men down there. But the tour itself is pretty hands on history – which we love. The kids are made to feel part of the story, and the audio visual tour coupled with local knowledge and hands on experience of the guide is second to none.
We are transported back to 1890 and the lives of the Welsh miners aged 10 upwards. Spending 12 plus hours in the dark, day in day out with three religious days holidays off a year.
The kids had plenty of opportunity for some hands on action. They got to drill holes for blasting slate using the same tools these men would have used. They learnt to appreciate how hard life must have been in those days and why a sense of community between workers was what held them together. It was lovely to see both of them asking questions and talking openly about it as we have family history (I’m seventh generation!) with the quarries.
I won’t spoil it for you but there is a special surprise at the end of the tour which made me cry…
The Quarry Tour
We’d never done this tour before, but I would highly recommend you do the both. It lasts an hour and a half, and is a bumpy ride but well worth it! This tour gives you an insight of the magnitude of the industry and the impact on the location. You don’t get that underground. Do the deep mine first, learn about the quarrymen and their lives, then do this tour. Every single slate you see along the way will have the human handprint of one of these men. It’s quite touching.
You are transported in an all terrain army vehicle up the slate waste tips which are as high as the mountains themselves. At specific stops along the way your guide tells you the history. Shows you the old railway tracks, and on a sunny day like today you can see exactly how much work went into turning this area into the booming industrial area of the 19th and early 20th Century.
There are disused railway tracks everywhere. Abandoned quarry buildings. Some dating back to 1790. It’s awesome. I think the kids and I screamed a lot of the time in the back. It’s better than a roller coaster but you also learn something valuable. Both kids agreed how lucky they are to live in this day and age.
Tickets on the day for individual tours are £30 pounds for adults and £15 for children. You can save half the price by booking online here and getting an early bird discount. Entrance into Llechwedd itself is free.
And with that, I’ve rambled enough. I would certainly highly recommend this venue to ANYONE visiting Snowdonia especially to get a sense of history, and take some wonderful information home with you. It’s a bloody brilliant day out.
We were gifted entrance to the Deep Mine tour and the Quarry tour in return for an honest review