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Blaenau Ffestiniog

Blaenau Ffestiniog

Former ‘slate capital of Wales’ with a strange, compelling beauty. Screes of broken slate tumble down steep-sided mountains, mixing with Snowdonia’s natural grandeur. Glimpse into Blaenau’s unique history at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, one of Wales’s most successful tourist attractions. Make a day of it and travel here by the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway from Porthmadog. Bring the bike – a new lakeside cycle trail along Tanygrisiau Lake and a specialist mountain biking downhill route at Llechwedd, opened in 2012. Town centre improvements are revitalising the shopping area and a new pedal-powered velorail attraction, the first in Britain, opens later in the year.

Llechwedd

Llechwedd Slate Caverns are one of Wales’s most successful tourist attractions, giving visitors the rare opportunity to go underground and experience something of the working life of slate miners.


'The Town that roofed the World'

Blaenau Ffestiniog is famously known as the ‘slate capital of Wales’ and the ‘town that roofed the world’. Its industrial role has long since diminished, yet Blaenau Ffestiniog attracts many visitors because of its rich slate history.

Other Attractions

Other attractions here include the art and culture on display at The Dragon’s Gallery. Blaenau Ffestiniog is also an excellent location for walking, climbing and mountain biking.

Beauty, History, Culture and Vibrancy

A town that boasts a unique blend of natural beauty, history, culture and vibrancy, and which lies at the very heart of the Snowdonia National Park, welcomes you to explore the rugged mountains, picturesque valleys, tranquil lakes and numerous café’s and pubs.

The fact that Ffestiniog can boast two active male voice choirs and several chart topping pop groups is a reflection of the diverse nature of the town and it’s people, where traditional and contemporary, and old and new harmonise in a way that makes us proud to be Welsh.

History

Blaenau Ffestiniog is a relatively new town, created following the discovery of the valuable slate vein in the area in the 18th century. But Ffestiniog parish itself goes back a few centuries. Many ancient remains can be seen dotted around the area, with sites dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages, and there is also evidence of the Roman period in the neighborhood.

Towards Cwm Cynfal, some of the place-names remind us of the magical stories recorded in the world-famous folk tales, Y Mabinogi, where some of the tales are located. By following some of the local footpaths, we can reach a number of well-known valleys, Cwmorthin, Cwm Bowydd, Cwm Cynfal, Cwm Teigl, each with its’ own particular  historical features, and superb views. Sarn Helen is a noted Roman road, which covers a few miles in the vicinity, and reminds us of the arrival of the Roman legions to nearby Tomen-y-mur, a Roman camp, around the 2nd or 3rd centuries A.D.

Man's Pursuit

Evidence can be seen all around the town of man's pursuit for a livelihood from the slate rock, and the slate waste is a reminder of a thriving industry in the area. According to tradition, it was in the 1760s that one Methusala Jones, from Arfon, dreamt of a location where the rock slabs split perfectly, and ventured to start a small business at a place that later became known as Diffwys Quarry, here in this town. Diffwys was soon followed by many other slate quarries. One of those quarries, the Oakeley, grew into what became the largest underground slate workings in the world, which has, unbelievably, around 50 miles of railway track in its’ various underground levels in the bowels of the surrounding mountains. Hence the beginning of a thriving industry which developed into what became one of the largest slate centres in the world. Out of a secluded part of Ffestiniog parish mushroomed a community that became the highest populated in all of Meirionnydd county, and the second largest in the whole of north Wales by 1901.

At one time, over 4,000 men worked in the local slate quarries, which contributed greatly to the local economy. To provide transportation for the slate products, and for the convenience of the increasing population, three railway branches were built from different directions to reach Blaenau Ffestiniog. The L.N.W.R. (later L.M.S.), the G.W.R., and the Ffestiniog Railway, which was constructed in 1836. Dôl Wen hydro power station was built to provide electricity for the local quarries in 1899, and in May 1902, Blaenau Ffestiniog became the first town in Britain to have its’ streets lit with electricity provided by the power of water, which is in abundance in the area. Later, in 1963, Ffestiniog Power Station was opened at Tanygrisiau, being the first pumped storage power station in Britain, and the largest in Europe at the time.

Treasures

During the second world war, a different use was made of some of the caverns in one slate quarry in the locality and these operations were carried out in total secrecy. Due to the dangers of enemy bombing over London, it was decided to transfer all of the art treasures at the National Gallery, and from Buckingham Palace and other places to Manod Quarry quarry in 1941. Amongst the painting stored there over that period were works by Rubens, Rembrandt and Michelangelo. There were rumors at the time that the Crown Jewels were also stored there. But that’s another story!

700 267 Golygfa o'r Tren Rheilffordd Ffestiniog View from Train

Walking

From high level to low level, Ffestiniog offers all kinds of walking. From Moelwyn Bach in the south to the high peak of Moel Siabod you have over 90 square kilometers of wild country to explore. In the wilder areas the use of a map and compass is essential. To the south of Blaenau and towering above it are the Manods. Although the north peak of Manod Mawr is heavily quarried, the south peak is relatively untouched and wild. Its smaller brother - Manod Bach is wild and untouched by paths. Nestling between the peaks is the beautiful Llyn Manod, ideal for a picnic.

For those not into high tops or wilderness areas, look for the village and woodland walks e.g. Cwm Bowydd, and Cynfal on the edge of Llan Ffestiniog is breathtaking for its waterfalls. Or walk through the Maentwrog woods where old ancient oaks dominate and woodpeckers can be heard and seen. It’s also the haunt of bats.

Climbing

The south facing cliffs of the Moelwyn provide some of the best rock climbing in Britain. As they are south facing they dry quickly and as the rock is rough, even when damp it makes good climbing. From easier routes to the extremes all grades are on offer, most are multi-pitch.

Caving

Blaenau Ffestiniog was one of the six major slate production areas of North Wales, and it was slate that made Blaenau famous. Blaenau slate was exported the world over and is renowned for its strength and durability. This great industry has left a permanent mark on the landscape, above ground in the tips, tramways and ruined mills; but also below ground in the miles of winding tunnels and cathedral sized chambers that were carved by hand in the mountains around the town.

Slate extraction continues at two working quarries, however the large underground mines, Cwmorthin, Croesor, Rhosydd, Wrysgan and many others are long abandoned. A show mine, Llechwedd Slate Caverns, allows visitors to glimpse the working lives of the Welsh quarrymen; and for the walker or industrial historian there are many routes in the area that allow the remains, and the scenery, to be appreciated. Underground exploration is potentially dangerous and should only be attempted by the suitably equipped and experienced. Your local caving club would be a good first point of contact.

Canoeing

Kayaking and canoeing locally - A Paddlers Dream. Imagine touring the world and bringing back a mountain from the Alps, a steep creek from West Virginia, a river from New Zealand, a waterfall from Norway, an Estuary from Devon, a rocky coastline from the West of Ireland and a tidal wave from Pembrokeshire. Add a lake from Austria and a valley from the Rhine. Finally a dam controlled playground from Colorado. Now imagine all of this within 5 to 45 minutes drive away. Open your eyes you’re in Blaenau Ffestiniog!

Fishing

One of the most prolific areas for lakes containing brown trout from the lakes of the Moelwynion, Cwmorthin, Corsiog, Conglog and Llyn Adar, to the lakes of Ffestiniog, Gammallt, Morwynion to name just a few with the rivers Teigl, Cynfal and Dwyryd. For rainbows and brown trout try Tanygrisiau with easy access and most methods of fishing allowed, for all abilities.

The Cambrian Angling Association offers excellent lake fishing in wild surroundings. Blaenau Ffestiniog, in the centre of the spectacular scenery of the Snowdonia National Park, is undoubtedly a good centre for any angler, who enjoys catching Wild Brown Trout in beautiful surroundings. Any legal method with a single rod and reel is allowed including Float Tube Fishing, (fly only) but as these lakes are natural and sometimes remote, the decision as to whether it is safe to enter the water, is entirely yours. The lakes are mainly located to the west, (in the Moelwyn mountain range) and to the East, (in the Migneint range), of the A470 trunk road that runs through the town. Contact e –mail. cambrian1885@googlemail.com

Bird Watching

An area rich in birdlife. The higher peaks have ravens, peregrins, buzzards, and the remarkable choughs rare in most parts of Britain. In the wooded valleys, woodpeckers, nuthatchers, finch and tits, and always the opportunity to see ospreys fish the estuaries and lakes.

The Mabinogi

The Mabinogi are Welsh tales. They were first written in important manuscripts, however
centuries before then, they were recited in the Welsh courts. The material used in these tales or legends are very old – the shadows of some of the olden Celtic Gods are upon some characters in the Mabinogi.

Initially, the meaning of the word `Mabinogi’, was `a tale about adolescence; then it developed to mean `chwedl – i.e. fable, myth, legend, tale.’. The meaning of the word `cainc’ is ‘strand’ or branch.’

The part that retains the most interest for us, here in Ffestiniog, is the Fourth Cainc, called `Math fab Mathonwy’. Math was the King of Gwynedd and also a wizard, and Gwydion is one of his powerful court wizards. It is the second part of the tale that is relevant to our area.

Gwydion’s sister, Arianrhod, has given birth to a baby under circumstances that are extremely humiliating for her personally. Gwydion steals the baby and he raises and cares for him. When the baby has grown into a young man and he sees his mother for the first time, she is very angry that Gwydion has kept her son – in her mind, he has done so in order to remind everyone of her humiliation. She casts three ‘fates’ on the son: `he will not have a name, nor armour, only from her, and he will not get a wife from amongst the women on earth. Using his own magic Gwydion gives the son a name, Lleu Llaw Gyffes (meaning The Fair Dextrous One), and he provides him with armour too. The third task is to get him a wife. He and Math create a wife for Lleu made from field flowers, and they call her Blodeuwedd (`face of flowers’). They lived at Mur Castell, where Tomen y Mur is today.

The Ffestiniog Railway

The Ffestiniog Railway is an important part of Blaenau Ffestiniog’s past - as well as its future. The Ffestiniog is the Oldest Independent Railway Company in the World, and started carrying slate from Blaenau in 1832. Horses pulled empty wagons up the line, but the loaded trains descending to the sea by gravity - with just a couple of brakesmen keeping them in check!
196 150 Rheilffordd Ffestiniog Railway

Steam was introduced in 1863 and some of those same locomotives are still in use today, taking passengers to and from the town through the picturesque Vale of Ffestiniog. Take some time to explore the streets of this historical and unique town with it’s rich heritage and strong welsh culture.

From Blaenau, it is downhill all the way to Porthmadog, once a bustling port and now a
popular holiday destination. You can break your journey along the way, with Tan-y-Bwlch – halfway along the railway and situated in the heart of National Park woodland - a popular choice. The station café, children’s play area and woodland trails make it a great place to spend a couple of hours.

Trains run all year round with a regular service between Easter and the end of October. Most trains are steam hauled and a ‘Day Ticket’ allows you to travel on any train and make the most of your visit.

For information on our services, telephone 01766 516000, visit our website Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway or pick up a timetable.

address and contact details:
Economy and Community Department, Gwynedd Council, Caernarfon LL55 1SH | tourism@gwynedd.gov.uk | 01286 672232
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