Once a mining mecca, and the poorest area in the country, this close-knit Welsh community is now using everything it has—from the mine shafts to the mountains—to breathe life into their town once more.
“There,” says Rich, training his torch on a miner’s caban, the typical shelter workers would have gathered in during their 30-minute break on a 12-hour shift. “Highlight of our working day, that was.”
We’re in the Llechwydd Slate Caverns’ appropriately-named Deep Mine, in the Welsh town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. The rudimentary shelter doesn’t look like much: Slates heaped around a table within the greater gloom of the chambers making up Level A.
Miners once looked forward to their half-hour in this dark den, cherishing the chance for a hot drink, gossip, news on sick or injured fellow workers, perhaps for a dig at the management that had them all working down here on a pittance of a salary. If their day’s highlight was anything to go by, the rest of it was pretty abysmal. “I started here when I was 16,” Rich, who now leads tours of the mines, says. “My father was 12; my grandfather eight. Imagine that today.”
But Blaenau is no boom-times-to-bleak-times sob story. Against the odds, the town is in the midst of a transformation into one of Wales’ biggest adventure travel destinations.