Visiting Southern Snowdonia: Ten Interesting Facts About Blaenau Ffestiniog

Blaenau Ffestiniog

Blaenau Ffestiniog

Surrounded by amazing countryside, Blaenau Ffestiniog is a warm and friendly town in Meirionnydd, southern Snowdonia. Here are ten things you should know about Blaenau Ffestiniog.

It’s been known for as long as anyone can remember as ‘the town that roofed the world’ and ‘the slate capital of Wales’, thanks to the industry which has provided the world with high quality slate for many years.

But there’s much more to Blaenau Ffestiniog than slate. It’s a warm and wonderful town, where the people are friendly and welcoming, the surrounding countryside is stunning, and contrary to the rumours, it definitely doesn’t rain all the time!

Here are ten fascinating facts about this wonderful part of Snowdonia.

Llechwedd Slate Caverns

Llechwedd Slate Caverns

1. Top attraction

Blaenau Ffestiniog is home to one of Wales’ most successful tourist attractions – Llechwedd Slate Caverns. At Llechwedd you’ll take a trip on the tramways to learn about life as a miner in the 1800s, and all the dangers this entailed. Back above ground there’s a Victorian village with its own currency; change your money at the bank and spend it at the village shops, or keep a few coins back as souvenirs.

2. If music is the food of love…

…you’ll feel full after visiting Ffestiniog, which boasts not one, but two active male voice choirs. And over the years, Ffestiniog has produced many pop artists that have topped the Welsh charts. Anweledig, Mim Twm Llai, Gwibdaith Hen Frân, Twmffat – these are just a few acts with Ffestiniog connections. Gai Toms, who hails from the area, is a finalist in 2012’s Cân i Gymru (Song for Wales), which takes place on 4th March. He came second in 2010 and third in 2011, so we’re all rooting for him to win this year!

3. Ancient remains

Although Blaenau Ffestiniog is a fairly new town in the great scheme of things, it’s built in an area with ancient roots. There’s plenty of evidence of bronze age, iron age and Roman activity in the Ffestiniog area, including the remains of the Tomen-y-Mur camp and the Sarn Helen Roman road.

4. The ‘perfect split’

Tradition says that in the 1760s a Methusalem Jones from Arfon had a dream of rock slabs splitting perfectly in the Diffwys Gorge. Works were therefore started at Gelli Farm, which was the property of the Wynns of Peniarth. Diffwys continued as a Welsh partnership until 1800 when it was bought out by a group of entrepreneurs from the Lake District.

5. World’s largest

Another Ffestiniog quarry, the Oakeley, was to become the largest underground slate workings in the world. At Oakley there’s around 50 miles of railway track in the quarry’s various underground levels, etched deep into the surrounding mountains.

Climbing in the Vale of Ffestiniog

Climbing in the Vale of Ffestiniog

6.  Water power

In May 1902, Blaenau Ffestiniog became the first town in Britain to have its streets lit with electricity that was powered by water. And in 1963, the Ffestiniog Power Station was opened in Tanygrisiau. This was Britain’s first pumped storage power station, and at the time it was also Europe’s largest.

7. Wartime treasure house

In 1941 some of the caverns in one of Ffestiniog’s quarries led a fascinating secret double life. As German bombing raids over London were happening regularly, all the art treasures from the National Gallery and Buckingham Palace – including works by Reubens, Rembrandt and Michelangelo – were transferred to Manod Quarry for safekeeping.

Slate train at Blaenau Ffestiniog

Slate train at Blaenau Ffestiniog

8. Full steam ahead

The Ffestiniog Railway, which was created to serve the needs of the quarries, is the oldest independent railway in the world. It started in 1832, with horses pulling empty wagons up the line. Once the wagons were full, gravity took over and carted the loads down to the sea, with just a couple of brakesmen keeping them in check. Steam was introduced in 1863 and some of these locomotives are still in use today, amazingly. If you take a scenic trip on the Ffestiniog Railway through the beautiful Vale of Ffestiniog, it may well be one of these original locomotives pulling you along.

9. Watch the birdie

If you’re keen on bird watching, a visit to the Ffestiniog area is a must! On the higher peaks there are ravens, peregrines, buzzards and even the elusive chough, which is a pretty rare bird in most parts of Britain. If you’re lucky, you may see ospreys hunting around the estuaries and lakes. Head into the woodlands around Maentwrog and you’ll see and hear woodpeckers.

10. Community spirit

The community spirit in Blaenau Ffestiniog and nearby villages is tremendous. Looking to the future now that the slate industry has quietened down, the community is taking part in the Eryri Centre of Excellence scheme and pooling resources to make Ffestiniog one of the UK’s premiere outdoor centres. With a fantastic range of mountain biking trails, a purpose-built visitor centre and even a velorail on the cards, there’s plenty to look forward to in Blaenau Ffestiniog this year!


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