Llechwedd Slate Caverns is a visitor attraction near Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, Wales. It details the history of slate quarrying in the town and specifically the Llechwedd quarry in which it is located. It has an interpretive centre which shows how slate was extracted and processed, a reconstructed village which shows how miners lived, and a funicular railway which takes visitors into abandoned sections of the quarry. The attraction also incorporates Mountain biking tracks, Zip-lines and giant underground trampolines.
The 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge Miners' Tramway, opened in 1972 under the name "Quarry Tours", was a railway travelling 800 metres underground. The trains were hauled by battery-electric locomotives and travelled through tunnels and into a series of quarry chambers. The tramway's closure in 2014, as part of a revamp of the caverns, caused some controversy.The Deep Mine, opened in 1979, is accessed by the 3 ft narrow gauge Deep Mine Railway, a steep passenger funicular with a gradient of 1:1.8 or 30°. At the foot of the funicular, visitors can walk through several tunnels and chambers. The Deep Mine Railway is the steepest passenger railway in the UK. In 1992 the Deep Mine displays were upgraded using audio-visual technology supplied by Eurodisney. In 2014 the Bounce Below attraction, described as "the world's largest underground trampoline", opened in the mine caverns along with the Zip World wire course outside. As part of the 2014 developments a new guided Victorian Mine Tour opened combining the funicular, the tunnels from the two previous tours and some tunnels newly opened to the public. In 2015 the Zip World Caverns wire course opened within the caves.
Before the slate industry developed, the area now known as Blaenau Ffestiniog was a farming region, with scattered farms working the uplands below the cliffs of Dolgaregddu and Nyth-y-Gigfran. A few of these historic farmhouses survive at Cwm Bowydd, Gelli, Pen y Bryn and Cefn Bychan. Much of the land was owned by large estates. The town of Blaenau Ffestiniog was created to support workers in the local slate mines. In its heyday it was the largest town in Merioneth. In the 1760s men from the long established Cilgwyn quarry near Nantlle started quarrying in Ceunant y Diphwys to the north east of the present town. This valley had for a number of years been known for its slate beds and had been worked on a very small scale. The exact location of this original quarry has been obliterated by subsequent mining activity, but it is likely that it was on or near the site of the Diphwys Casson Quarry. Led by Methusalem Jones, eight Cilgwyn men formed a partnership and took a lease on Gelli Farm where they established their quarry. In 1800, William Turner and William Casson, quarry managers from the Lake District, bought out the lease and significantly expanded production.
In 1819, quarrying began on the slopes of Allt-fawr near Rhiwbryfdir Farm. This was on land owned by the Oakeley family from Tan y Bwlch. Within a decade, three separate slate quarries were operating on Allt-fawr and these eventually amalgamated to form Oakeley Quarry which would become the largest underground slate mine in the world. Quarrying expanded rapidly in the first half of the 19th century. Significant quarries opened at Llechwedd, Maenofferen and Votty & Bowydd, while Turner and Casson's Diphwys Casson flourished. Further afield, Cwmorthin and Wrysgan quarries were established to the south of the town, while at the head of Cwm Penmachno to the north east a series of quarries started at Rhiwbach, Cwt y Bugail and Blaen y Cwm. To the south east another cluster of quarries worked the slopes of Manod Mawr. The workforce for these quarries was initially taken from nearby towns and villages such as Ffestiniog and Maentwrog. Before the arrival of railways in the district, travel to the quarries was difficult and workers' houses were built near the quarries. These typically grew up around existing farms and along the roads between them. An early settlement was at Rhiwbryfdir, serving the Oakeley and Llechwedd quarries. As early as 1801, new roads were being built specifically to serve the quarries. By 1851, there were 3,460 people living in the new town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
During the 1860s and 1870s the slate industry went through a large boom. The quarries expanded rapidly, as did the nascent town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. The town gained its first church and first school, and saw considerable ribbon development along the roads. By 1881, the town's population had soared to 11,274. The boom in the slate industry was followed by a significant decline. The 1890s saw several quarries lose money for the first time, and several failed entirely, including Cwmorthin and Nyth-y-Gigfran. Blaenau Ffestiniog hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1898. Although the slate industry partly recovered from the recession of the 1890s, it never fully recovered. The First World War saw many quarrymen join the Armed Forces, and production fell. There was a short post-war boom, but the long-term trend was towards mass-produced tiles and cheaper slate from Spain. Oakeley Quarry took over Cwmorthin, Votty & Bowydd and Diphwys Casson, while Llechwedd acquired Maenofferen. Despite this consolidation, the industry continued to decline. The Second World War saw a further loss of available workers. In 1946, the Ffestiniog Railway closed.
There are ample free car parking facilities with blue badge spaces within a few yards of Reception. There is a covered reception area and limited seating is available outside. Wheelchair accessible, unisex toilet provision in reception area with baby changing facilities. Large site map on display. The main shop is spacious and can be accessed by wheelchair users. Help will be willingly available. The cafe can be accessed by wheelchair users. The surface site is broadly accessible to prams and wheelchairs and is a mixture of tarmac, slate chippings and grass. Picnic areas are available outside on grass hillside. Dogs are allowed on site and must be kept on a lead, but not allowed on either underground tour. If the wheelchair is collapsible then this is permitted to be taken underground on the tramway tour. The Deep Mine Tour involves walking and the descent of 61 steps and is therefore unsuitable for wheelchairs and people with disabilities.
Location : Llechwedd, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd LL41 3NB
Transport :Blaenau Ffestiniog (National Rail) then bus or 15 minutes. Bus Routes : 37, X1 and X19 stop nearby.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 Last Tour at 17:15; Click for Tour Times
Tickets : Deep Mine £20.00 per person; Tramway Tour £20.00 per person; High and Low £30.00 per person
Tel : 01766 830306