Friday, 29 August 2014

Attractions of Snowdonia - Our Welsh Roadtrip

Living in North Shropshire, means we are lucky enough to have Wales close by, allowing us to enjoy day trips to the beautiful area of Snowdonia National Park.  So, when Attractions of Snowdonia asked us if we wanted to enjoy a big day out, visiting some of the 27 different attractions in the area, we were excited to take up their challenge.  We were sent Deri the roaming Welsh dragon, who is the mascot of the Attractions of Snowdonia, to accompany us on our roadtrip.  

wales, days out, road trip

Our first port of call was the Sygun Copper Mine, a self guided audio visual tour that allows you to explore the old workings of a Victorian Copper Mine on foot.  You have to walk through narrow passageways with low, uneven ceilings, so hard hats are a must!  But this gave us an opportunity for a hard hat family selfie before we entered the mine.

family, day out

Inside, you can discover the large colourful chambers and see stalactites and stalagmites which have formed over the years.  Pressing buttons along the route activates the audio part of the tour as you learn about how things used to be for the miners who worked in the mines prior to 1903, when it was abandoned. Lighting and sound effects add to the experience.  The Sygun Copper Mine brings the industrial heritage of the area to life and teaches visitors about the history and the science of copper mining.

wales, days out

The mine experience is definitely not for the claustrophobic or fainthearted and you have to be pretty fit to negotiate the low, narrow tunnels and the 176 metal gridded stairs that take you from the mine up into the mountain walk, where there are some amazing views.  Sensible footwear is a must as the floor is wet and uneven in places.  I confess to banging my head on the roof about six times...a problem with being almost 6 foot tall in a confined space...but the hard hat meant I didn't hurt myself!  The kids really enjoyed it and it unleashed little Freddy's sense of adventure and curiosity.  The dark did not phase him at all and the constant 9 degree temperature was not too chilly. The walk takes about 40 minutes to complete and really was quite an adventure!

Above ground there is a mountain walk, gold panning (extra charge applies), adventure playground, lakeside walks, metal detecting and a small museum of antiquities.  There is a also a shop.


Our next stop was the Slate Caverns at Llechwedd.  The journey took us across the mountains and it was beautiful, but took quite a long time because of the windy, narrow roads.  When we arrived the car park was full as it is a really popular venue with its underground adventure zone, subterranean ropes course and zip wires. We were directed to an overflow car park which was a few minutes walk away from the site.

 We were there to experience the new underground tour of the spectacular slate caverns.

wales, days out, family, Snowdonia

On arrival we stopped for lunch.  There wasn't much provision for vegetarians, so we ended up with a small cone of chips each, which were quite pricey at £2.50.  They were good chips though, and the cafe was nice and clean. Freddy had a kids' lunch box with a cheese sandwich, a yogurt, a drink and a flapjack.  We visited the Victorian Emporium where the kids chose some old fashioned sweets, which were sold by the 2 oz bag.

We then headed to the queue for the underground tour.  It didn't seem too busy but we were waiting an hour to get on board the little cable train that would take us to 500 feet below ground.  Trains run every fifteen minutes.

While we waited, we were given hard hats...definitely the dress code for the day!

Wales, day out, family

The cable train down is very cramped and a tight fit in the steep tunnel.  Again...not one for the claustrophobic.  But it only takes a couple of minutes to get down into the caverns, where you are taken on a guided tour by a guide dressed as a Victorian.  They lead you through passageways that open up into huge caverns, telling you the story of a family who worked the mines back in Victorian times. You hear the story of Sion Dolgarregdu who went to learn how to dig for slate with his father. It was really interesting to learn that children as young as 12 were taken on as apprentices to work in the dark, dangerous mines.  The success of the mining industry created a boom town and the community grew, but the job remained incredibly dangerous with many men dying on the job or from silicosis years later. 

The guide demonstrated how the miners used their tools and at one point turned off all the lights to show us just how dark it would be for the miners.  After the underground tour there is a demonstration of the ancient skill of slate splitting, but we had to rush on to our next attraction so we missed this part of the tour.

Wales, day out, sisters

The underground tour takes an hour and includes 61 stairs down and 70 stairs up and half a mile of walking, so you need to be fit enough to do it.  Although there were some low ceilings in the passages, I didn't hit my head once! The kids really enjoyed it and Freddy said it was "really awesome".  He never lost interest at all, which shows just how interesting the tour was.

My favourite part was the huge and beautiful chamber that included an underground lake.  It was breathtaking and I wasn't surprised to hear that it can be used as a wedding venue  - it is the deepest place licenced for marriage in the Guinness Book of Records!  Although 500 feet underground, the caverns felt airy and were so spacious that I didn't feel at all confined (although the train made me feel like a sardine in a can!)


We then headed to Llanberis to board a steam train on the Lake Railway that runs alongside Lake Padarn at the foot of Snowdonia.  Time was running short (because of our wait at the Slate Caverns) but we just made it to the ticket office to book ourselves onto the final train of the day at 4.10pm. The 5 mile return journey takes about an hour and follows the old 1845 slate railway route.

We were lucky enough to visit on one of the days of the Teddy Bear's Picnic event, which meant the kids received a mini picnic to eat on board the train and there were some teddy themed things going on at the stations. There were lots of teddies on display and there was an opportunity to have your photo taken with a teddy character. Even the steam engine driver was dressed as a teddy bear, much to the kids' amusement.

steam engine, Wales, days out

It was a lovely leisurely way to end the day, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the countryside and looking at the beautiful views outside.  It was fun to watch the vintage steam engine chugging alongside us at the end of the line to hitch itself up to the other end of the coaches and take us back to the station...especially as it was being driven by a rather sooty giant teddy bear! 

Wales, day out, steam train

As it was the last train of the day, the station shops were closing so we didn't get to check them out.  The Llanberis Lakeside Railway is a nice excursion for little train enthusiasts to enjoy and they do events all year round to add to the fun!


Unfortunately we ran out of time before we could visit our last attraction of the day, which was the beautiful Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens in Anglesey.  They closed at 5pm and we didn't get back to Llanberis until 5.10pm.  Such a pity, but we had been on the go from arriving at 10am and simply ran short of time.  This just goes to show how much there is to do in Snowdonia and  how much fun the attractions are.  We didn't even have time to stop off at any of the towns...we had hoped to pop into Porthmadog for an ice cream at Cadwallader's but didn't have time for that either.  We will definitely return at a later date, and now I know how much the kids loved the attractions we'll organise more days out like this one!  Who knew how much Freddy would love going underground! 

If you are planning a visit to Wales for a day trip or a holiday, make sure to check out the Attractions of Snowdonia  website for ideas for things to do and information on the 27 brilliant attractions in the area.  You may need more than just a day to fit in everything  that you want to do!!


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