Blaenau Ffestiniog is located a few miles inland from the coastal town of Porthmadog and once served as a major mining community for Welsh Slate. As the demands for the slate declined so did the local population until Blaenau rebuilt itself as a tourist destination.
Looking at a map of the Snowdonia National Park, there is an obvious circle highlighting the fact that Blaenau Ffestiniog has been, (most would say unfairly), deliberately omitted from the national park. The original thinking was that because of its industrial past and the heaps of splintered slate surrounding the town, Blaenau Ffestiniog was a blot on the landscape. Blaenau Ffestiniog responded, by turning the town into a tourist hotspot.
Surrounded by craggy mountains on three sides, Blaenau Ffestiniog sits in a south-facing natural bowl. All around are the tell-tale, blue-grey slate spoil tips, bleak and yet fascinating and somehow ruggedly beautiful. It’s the slate that today’s visitor come to see and slate artefacts they come to buy. Slate was and is the basis of prosperity in this town and slate will forever be the landscape.
The Llechwedd Slate Caverns are one of Gwynedd’s top attractions highlighting what life was once like for the miners and the Blaenau Ffestiniog Railway, which once served as the main transportation route for slate from the town has reinvented itself as another major tourist attraction within the area.
At Llechwedd Slate Caverns, take the tramway into the mountain into spectacular chambers where a miner describes the working of the mine. There are easy links from Llandudno railway station to the narrow gauge railway that runs through Snowdonia to the town of Portmadog.
Many of the visitors to Blaenau Ffestiniog will have arrived on the Festiniog Railway, whose trains wind their way up the mountains from Porthmadog through magnificent scenery. This narrow-gauge railway was originally built to transport slate from the mountains to the sea and from there, around the world.
Another popular tourist destination is the site of the UK’s first pumped storage hydro-electric power station at nearby Tanygrisiau. Ffestiniog Power Station and Hydro Centre, on the shores of the Tan-Y-Grisiau reservoir, is the starting place for a guided tour of this fascinating power station. An audio-visual presentation, displays, exhibitions and moving models show how electricity is generated and used. The tour can include a startling drive up an amazing, narrow, twisting road to Stwlan Dam, where the views are outstanding.