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Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd
Blaenau Ffestiniog is a town in Gwynedd, North Wales. The town was once the capital of the slate industry in Wales. At the beginning of the 19th century, Ffestiniog was a 'small, poor village' with a few isolated farmsteads, and sheep were as important as slate to the early pioneers. Slate eventually became the basis of the wealth in Snowdonia and Blaenau Ffestiniog became the centre of the industry. The industry prospered and Blaenau Ffestiniog became the "town that roofed the world", and when entering the town through the usual grey damp mist via the Crimea Pass you could be forgiven for thinking that this was the town that sits on the roof of the world.
Picture of Blaenau Ffestiniog
The town is set in an elevated natural bowl between the Manod and Moelwyn Mountains of Snowdonia. Despite being geographically in the centre of the Snowdonia National Park, the grey slate waste tips that surround the town prevented it from being officially included in the national park. Today slate extraction employs only a fraction of its former labour force, (4000 men in the 1880's), but the town has to some extent reinvented itself as a tourist destination with two quarries offering trips into the massive underground caverns built by the slate workers.
Culturally you are in the heart of "Fortress Gwynedd" one of the last bastions of defence for the Welsh Language. The defence of the language is of supreme importance to many of the population and Welsh is naturally used as the first language.
Walks, Cycle Trails and Other Activities

Being located close to the mountains, lakes and forests of the Snowdonia National Park, Blaenau Ffestiniog is a convenient base for all kinds of outdoor sports and activity holidays, including Mountain Biking, Climbing, Walking, Canoeing.
Attractions

The narrow gauge Ffestiniog Railway links Blaenau Ffestiniog with Porthmadog on the coast. The Ffestiniog Railway (originally horse drawn) opened for freight traffic in 1836 and transported the slate from source at Blaenau Ffestiniog to harbour via a 21km journey through meadows, woodlands, lakes and waterfalls within what is now the Snowdonia National Park. The ride is spectacular as the line twists and turns its way through the countryside.
The Conwy Valley Railway at 27 miles long offers one of the most beautiful rail experiences in Britain. It was constructed in 1879 and links Blaenau Ffestiniog with the north Wales coastal resorts. Part of the National Rail Network, it takes you via a 3 mile ( 5km ) tunnel under the Crimea Pass, alongside the banks of the turbulent river Lledr, down to the river Conwy, one of the great rivers of Wales. A breathtaking range of scenery unfolds before your eyes, from majestic crags and pastoral delights of the upper valleys to the historic castles of Dolwyddelan and Conwy, through an estuary rich in wildlife, You glimpse fairytale landscapes, ancient quarries and tracks, forests and the high peaks of Snowdonia before eventually reaching Llandudno the Queen of the Welsh resorts.
Ffestiniog Power Station at nearby Tanygrisiau was the first pumped storage station built for the CEGB - an example of modern technology set against the dramatic backdrop of old slate quarries. There is an exhibition, and tours.
The landscape around Blaenau Ffestiniog. Just a short walk out of the town and you come to fantastic rocky outcrops, mountains, rivers and lakes, as best as the best of Snowdonia!
However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. A writer from the Boston Globe states: "Blaenau Ffestiniog is smack in the middle of the gorgeous Snowdonia National Park, and yet one of the ugliest spots you'll find in north Wales. The air itself seems permeated with a dark gray cast.... The slate history of the town is everywhere. Stone houses are roofed in slate, stone steps leading through town are slate, and shops feature slate products in their windows. But most striking is the dead landscape that surrounds the town. The hills are lifeless piles of gray rubble... enormous mounds of waste rock now cover the land. A gorgeous place it is not,”
A470 Blaenau Ffestiniog Viewpoint
However, at this point the author of the article softens towards Blaenau ; much like a traveller in Egypt might after realising the pyramids are more than just piles of stones. Remarking on the demise of the slate industry, the rise of tourism, and the opening of the Llechwedd Slate Caverns (where the Miner's Tramway travels deep into the mountain and into a succession of spectacular chambers.)
"Visitors can take two ways down into the Llechwedd caverns, where more than 600 men once worked. The longer trip is via a small railway that drops almost 400 feet down a steep incline, making it the steepest rail track in Great Britain. ...Most of the way, the only illumination is that approximating the candlelight the miners used to work by, and the passageways have low openings you sometimes don't see till you walk into them. The dim caverns are cold: a steady 48 degrees or so, with water dripping on you periodically and puddles on the floor. It feels colder than it sounds. In each cavern "room" there is a taped narration by an actor in the guise of one of the 19th-century miners, telling the story of Victorian life underground. The disembodied voice, hanging in the dark, gives the small details that re-create a world. You are standing there, damp, chilled, and increasingly claustrophobic, watching a few tiny pinpoints of light in a corner. The voice tells how the new young miners often did not have enough money to buy candles, so they had to share the light of someone else's candle to work, until they earned enough to purchase their own. And suddenly it seems even darker, and wetter, and colder."
Accommodation and Services

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