Snowdonia: 31st March/1st April 2017
We drove up the A4086 from Capel Curig towards Llanberis through mist, drizzle and fog. I was reminded of the opening chapter of ‘I Bought a Mountain’ … because, in the 1930s, author Thomas Firbank drove up this self-same road in similar conditions.
Our destination was Llanberis, where we were to spend a couple of days at the Royal Victoria Hotel as the guests of North Wales Tourism, who were going to show us some of the sights of the area.
The following morning, it was still misty and drizzly, but most mountain areas have a saying: ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait a little while. Or, go into the next valley.’ We were indeed going into another valley … and, even if it was still raining there, we were going to visit the Llechwedd Slate Caverns which, as the name suggests, are underground, and in the dry!
The whole area around Blaenau Ffestiniog was devoted to slate mining, although little, if any, goes on nowadays. But, the evidence is everywhere; a mass of slate litter almost as far as the eye can see, for the rejection rate was high. The gangs that quarried and dressed the slate, usually a family group, were only paid for the ones that passed muster.
So, with the demise of slate mining, what could be done to attract visitors? They’ve installed a series of ziplines here for the adventurous … and a tour of the mine for the less adventurous. After being equipped with a hard hat, we were taken down on a funicular railway … the same kind used in cliff railways at some seaside resorts. We then had a short guided tour, which culminated in a large chamber, where projected images of miners told the story of life down the mine far more graphically that a guide’s narrative.
It was indeed a hard … and usually, short … life, and I wonder if anyone who lived under a Welsh slate roof ever gave any thought to the hardship of those who won it?
There’s another use for the caves, as well. Since the temperature and humidity down there are almost constant, they’re used for storing and maturing locally made cheese. They gave us some to take away with us … and very nice it was, too!
Disclosure: I travelled to Snowdonia as the guest of North Wales Tourism.