North Wales is known for extremely high quality slate, which was once quarried out of numerous mines especially around Blaenau Ffestiniog. These days, Llechwedd is the only mine left. Llechwedd Slate Caverns has created a remarkable set of adventure tours to teach you about the history and culture of mining in Wales and the technology used to extract the slate.
The Deep Mine Tour: A compelling adventure into Welsh history
I paid two visits to Llechwedd (and one to Zipworld at the same site…more about that here). First, I went with friends in June to explore the Deep Mine. Once you purchase your ticket at the entrance (£20 per person, with a family discount), the tour begins with a ride down a tram to the lower levels of the mine.
Once down, we followed our guide Tim on a walk through the history of the mine, made more compelling and poignant by a 4-D presentation. We tried the various tools that miners used – and it really helped put me into the place and time.
At the end of the tour, we took the tram back to the surface and met a fellow who was “dressing” the slate. He gave a fascinating demonstration of the craft and it’s history. He told us about the economics of slate mining in Wales over the last 100+ years, and we even came away with a small rectangle of slate. (I use mine as a drink coaster back in Atlanta, to help me connect with Wales every day.)
The Deep Mine tour requires some walking, as well as stair-climbing. Guests are required to wear hardhats with flashlights, as the caverns are quite dark. You’ll also want to wear sturdy shoes with good soles, since some spots have water puddles. Dress in layers as the ambient temperature below is a fairly chilly – 8C (46 F).
For more photos of the Deep Mine tour, check out my Instagram page.
The Quarry Explorer Tour: An adventure with edge-of-your-seat views
I returned to Llechwedd a few months later to ride to the top of the mountain in a 4X4 military truck on the Quarry Explorer tour. What a rush!!! Brian was our truck driver – he’d worked at the mine until recently – and our tour guide was Shane, who told us the mine’s history.
The tour starts outside the main entrance to Llechwedd and Zipworld, which share the facility. Once you’ve paid your fee (currently £15 per person, with a £5 discount if you’ve done Deep Mine same day, but check the website for seasonal specials), you sign a waiver and head out to the troop carrier.
The drive up is an adventure, with extremely steep climbs and edge-of-your-seat views. Shane not only regaled us with interesting stories, he also showed vintage photos for contrast to the current landscape. He was reassuring to those of us who were wary of the steep drop-offs!
At the top, we had time to walk around. As it was a clear, sunny day, we could see not only the ocean, but also Harlech Castle, Snowdon, and more of gorgeous North Wales off in the distance. I met some skittish sheep, saw verdant lichen, berry bushes & flowers, and breathed the super-clear air. On the drive back down, we stopped to learn more about the hard lives of the miners.
This tour is as physically challenging as you want. You must be able to climb into and out of the converted military carrier, but aren’t required to walk much, unless you want. The inclines are steep so leave your fear of heights at home. Make sure you have an outer layer, as the transport is open sided, and it gets windy.
Be sure to wear athletic or flat shoes – climbing in and out of the military transport is challenging in heels (trust me on this point!). The tour lasts approximately 1.5 hours and runs 3 times a day.
For more photos of the Quarry Explorer tour, check out my Instagram page.
An after-tour stop in the pub is always nice!
After both tours, you can refresh and revive by visiting the cafe or charming pocket-sized pub (open seasonally). Or take a turn through the shop, which offers slate and other Welsh items. My friend and I warmed up with a panad (Welsh for cuppa) and indulged in a bowl of cawl (Welsh lamb stew). Delish!!
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