Happy Sunday and welcome back to our family road trip in Wales. This week, we travel the route Harlech – Portmeirion – Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Portmeirion

From Harlech, we carried on towards Portmeirion, a seaside village on the Welsh coast, and one of our favourite places. I won’t say too much about it, since we’ve covered this crazy, beautiful place before. Just one photo…

Portmeirion - Blaenau Ffestiniog

Blaenau Ffestiniog

This is the image I had of Wales before I was ever here: a slightly drab country, grey as the slate industry it relied on for so long, and eternally overcast.

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Or, as Edmund, Lord Blackadder the Third, would say:

It’s a ghastly place. Huge gangs of tough sinewy men roam the valleys terrorising people with their close-harmony singing. You need half a pint of phlegm in your throat just to pronounce the placenames.

Just a ruse, I suspect, to keep people out. What I’ve seen of Wales is every bit as beautiful as Scotland.

But the slate industry was real and Blaenau Ffestiniog was its capital – in Victorian times. These days slate isn’t much in demand. Today, the town relies on tourism, with the Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns as the main attractions.

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The Ffestiniog Railway is one of Wales’ narrow gauge railways, running through the very pretty Vale of Ffestiniog, between Porthmadog (nearest town to Portmeirion) and Blaenau. Better, I’m sure, than seeing the landscape from a hire car, as we did.

At Llechwedd Slate Caverns you can take the Miners’ Tramway and/or descend 150 m/500 ft underground (via cable car) to explore the quarry and learn about the slate industry and experience life as a miner. Although you’ll have electricity and other mod cons; the miners had candles.

If, like us, you arrive after 5 pm, you’ll have to settle for hiking or biking, checking out the old-fashioned pubs (and hear locals speak Welsh) or just wandering around town, taking in the surroundings.

 

 

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Blaenau Ffestiniog, unfiltered.

Blaenau Ffestiniog practicals

We arrived in town too late for both the slate mine and the heritage railway. Next time we’re in Snowdonia, we’ll plan better.

Llechwedd Slate Caverns: info on opening times and entrance fees here

Ffestiniog Railway: info on fares and timetables here

 

Stay tuned for more fab finds in Wales next Sunday

 

Postscript 4 August 2021: The Welsh slate landscape was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list last week.

The serial property comprises six components each encompassing relict quarries and mines, archaeological sites related to slate industrial processing, historical settlements, both living and relict, historic gardens and grand country houses, ports, harbours and quays, and railway and road systems illustrating the functional and social linkages of the relict slate industrial landscape.

Blaenau Ffestiniog (and the Ffestiniog Railway) are components of the inclusion. One could argue that this industrial landscape is rather ugly, but I find it intriguing, where entire towns are completely made of slate. A well-deserved inclusion, in my opinion – and a part of the UK that I could easily return to for a closer look.

 

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The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited around the world.