Blaenau Ffestiniog

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Blaenau Ffestiniog
Blaenau Ffestiniog is located in Gwynedd
Blaenau Ffestiniog
Blaenau Ffestiniog
 Blaenau Ffestiniog shown within Gwynedd
Population 4,875 (2011)
OS grid reference SH705455
Community Ffestiniog
Principal area Gwynedd
Ceremonial county Gwynedd
Country Wales
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district LL41
Dialling code 01766
Police North Wales
Fire North Wales
Ambulance Welsh
EU Parliament Wales
UK Parliament Dwyfor Meirionnydd
List of places

Coordinates: 52°59′38″N 3°56′20″W / 52.994°N 3.939°W / 52.994; -3.939

Looking down towards Blaenau Ffestiniog town during the summer months.

Blaenau Ffestiniog is a historic mining town in Gwynedd, Wales. It has a population of 4,875 according to the 2011 census, including the attached village of Llan Ffestiniog, which makes it the third largest town in Gwynedd unitary authority, behind Bangor and Caernarfon. Although the population reached 12,000 at the peak of the slate industry, the population fell due to a decrease in the demand for slate. Blaenau Ffestiniog at one time was the second largest town in North Wales, behind Wrexham. Today, the town relies heavily on tourists, who come to see the many attractions within and around the town such as the Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns.


Early history (before 1750)[edit]

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.[1]

The slate industry arrives (1750–1850)[edit]

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.[1] In the 1760s men from the long established Cilgwyn quarry near Nantlle started quarrying in Cenunant 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.[2]

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.[3]

Quarrying expanded rapidly in the first half of the nineteenth century. Significant quarries opened at Llechwedd and Maenofferen, and Votty & Bowydd while Turner and Casson's Diphwys Casson flourished.[1] 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 houses began to form near the quarries to house workers. 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, 3,460 people lived in the new town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.[1]

Blaenau Ffestiniog becomes a town (1851–1900)[edit]

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.[1] By 1881, the town's population had soared to 11,274.[4] 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 Nidd-y-Gigfran.[5] Blaenau Ffestiniog hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1898.

The decline of slate (1901–1950)[edit]

Although the slate industry 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 Festiniog Railway closed.[5]

Recent history (1950 - present)[edit]

The slate quarries continued to decline steadily after 1950. The remaining quarries served by the Rhiwbach Tramway closed during the 1950s and 1960s. Oakeley closed in 1970, with the loss of many local jobs. It re-opened in 1974 on a much smaller scale and was worked until 2010.[6] Maenofferen and Llechwedd continued to operate, Maenofferen finally closed in 1998.[7] Llechwedd is still a working quarry.

As the slate industry declined, the population of Blaenau Ffestiniog has also declined, to 4,875 in 2011. At the same time the tourism industry has become the town's largest employer. The revived Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns are popular tourist attractions as is the Antur Stiniog downhill mountain biking center.[8] Recent attractions include the Zip World Titan zip-line site, which also now features the Bounce Below slate mine activity centre.


The English pronunciation of Blaenau Ffestiniog suggested by the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names is /ˈbln fɛsˈtɪnjɒɡ/,[9] but the first word is pronounced [ˈbləɨna] by locals.


Blaenau Ffestiniog, seen from Moelwyn Bach, showing the large waste heaps that dominate the town.

Located in the mountains of Snowdonia, the town was once a centre of the Welsh slate mining industry. This industry declined during the early 20th century. The town's economy is now largely dependent on tourism. Although the town is in the centre of the Snowdonia National Park, the boundaries of the Park exclude the town and its substantial slate waste heaps.

Blaenau Ffestiniog is part of the traditional county of Merionethshire. It is made up of a number of distinct areas, several of which take their names from settlements that predate the town, including Rhiwbryfdir, Glanypwll and Cwmbowydd.[citation needed]. Other local villages, notably Tanygrisiau and Manod are sometimes considered part of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

The mountains around Blaenau Ffestiniog form the watershed between the River Lledr flowing to the north (a tributary of the River Conwy) and the River Dwyryd flowing to the west.

Blaenau Ffestiniog is home to several reservoirs which supplies the Ffestiniog Hydro Power Station with water. Stwlan Dam can be seen in between two of the main mountains in the area, Moelwyn Bach and Moelwyn Mawr.


Glan-y-pwll School, Blaenau Ffestiniog c1895.

Ysgol y Moelwyn is the main secondary school in the area, covering Blaenau, Manod, Tanygrisiau, Llan Ffestiniog, Trawsfynydd, Gellilydan, Maentwrog and even stretching into the Vale of Ffestiniog and Dolwyddelan. Ysgol Y Moelwyn came third in Britain's best county school in 2006. There are five primary schools in the area.

But some pupils go to Ysgol Y Gader Dolgellau in south Meirionnydd.


The main access route to Blaenau Ffestiniog is via the A470 road which runs from the north to the south of Wales. The A496 runs south from the town down to the coastal resort of Barmouth. The A487, which runs West to East, feeds the Llŷn Peninsula into the A487 (which runs from Bangor through Caernarfon and into Porthmadog, which in turn connects with the north-south A470. Immediately to the north of the town the A470 climbs steeply to the Crimea Pass and meets the A5 at Betws-y-Coed, towards Wrexham and Shrewsbury. In the opposite direction, motorists can follow the A470 to Dolgellau, then on to its eventual end in Caerdydd / Cardiff.

Bus services in the town are mainly provided by Express Motors with routes available to Porthmadog, Dolgellau and to Llandudno via Betws-y-Coed and Llanrwst. Town circular services via Tanygrisiau are operated hourly on weekdays by John's Coaches.

Blaenau Ffestiniog railway station on the site of the former Great Western station serves as a combined station for the Ffestiniog Railway and the Conwy Valley Line, their previous stations being no longer in use. The Conwy Valley Line runs to the North Wales coast at Llandudno Junction with links to Chester, Holyhead, Manchester and the rest of the UK. The station sees thousands of visitors pass through the town ever year.

At various times the town has been the terminus for four independent railway lines, each with its own station or stations:


Blaenau Ffestiniog has several major tourist attractions, including the Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, a former slate mine open to visitors. Llechwedd is often listed as one of Wales' top 5 visitor attractions.[10] Near Blaenau Ffestiniog there are miles of mountain landscape with derelict quarries, rivers, various lakes and walking routes.

Several new mountain biking trails have been installed with some suitable for competition level mountain biking. Visitors can borrow bikes from the biking centre and explore the miles of trails, ranging from tracks for beginners to high end professional mountain biking tracks.

The town centre boast various cafes, and traditional pubs. There are various quirky features such as child friendly pot holing, poetry walks, art centres, and breath taking views. Visitors are urged to explore the streets and try out the towns specialities. Blaenau is one of few places where the Welsh language is commonly heard on the streets around the town.


A cyclist on one of the new 'Antur Stiniog' tracks.

Blaenau Ffestiniog's town centre has recently been regenerated. Due to funding from various organisations, grants and the Welsh Government, 4.5 million will be spent on redeveloping the town centre in order to create a vibrant shopping experience. A new bus station has been created along with new areas that allow visitors to sit back and enjoy the breathtaking mountains which tower over the town. Several slate structures have also been built with poetry engraved on them. The structures are roughly 40 feet tall and visually ‘echo’ the towering slate hills and mountains. Poetry and local sayings have also been engraved on slate bands set into the pavements throughout the centre of town.[11]

Various walkways have also been installed as well as a series of downhill mountain biking trials by Antur Stiniog.[12]

A kilometre long zip wire is also expected in the town soon. If plans go ahead Blaenau Ffestiniog will have the UK's first vélo-rail, which are popular in France.[13]


Many artists come to Blaenau Ffestiniog for the unique landscape around it. Such artists include Kyffin Williams & David Nash. The harsh landscape of the slate tips often give inspiration which is not found in many other places. During World War II the National Gallery stored their treasures in one of the mines in the town in order to protect them from damage or destruction. The large steel gates are still standing and the system so that the paintings could be preserved is still in the caverns.


Blaenau Ffestiniog has a strong musical tradition, from the quarrying boom days with the Caban, male voice choirs and brass bands, to the Jazz / Dance bands like "The New Majestics" and the popular rock bands of the 80s and 90s such as Llwybr Llaethog and Anweledig, to more recent bands such as Gai Toms, Frizbee and Gwibdaith Hen Fran. The local alternative music training Company Gwallgofiaid now has over 12 bands under its umbrella based at their Centre 'Cell' at the Old Police Station in Park Square. The Centre has 5 rehearsal rooms, a 24 track studio and Cwrt performance space.

Notable people[edit]

See Category:People from Blaenau Ffestiniog

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Blaenau Ffestiniog: Understanding Urban Character". Cadw. 
  2. ^ Gwynfor Pierce Jones and Dafydd Walter Dafis (2002). "Water Power in the Slate Mines of East Ffestiniog". 
  3. ^ Jones, R. Merfyn (1981). The North Wales Quarrymen, 1874–1922 (Studies in Welsh history; 4.). University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-0776-0. 
  4. ^ Davies, John (1993). A History of Wales. 
  5. ^ a b Boyd, James I.C. (1975) [1959]. The Festiniog Railway 1800 - 1974; Vol. 2 - Locomotives and Rolling Stock; Quarries and Branches: Rebirth 1954-74. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-8536-1168-8. 
  6. ^ BBC Wales News
  7. ^ Sallery, Dave. "Maenofferen slate quarry in 1975". 
  8. ^ "Blaenau Ffestiniog mountain bike centre given go-ahead". BBC News. 22 March 2011. 
  9. ^ G. M. Miller (Ed), BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names, Oxford University Press, 1971. ISBN 0-19-431125-2
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Antur Stiniog website accessdate: 13 November 2013
  13. ^ "Linkliste Railbike". 9 January 2008. Retrieved 10 June 2013.  lists 14 vélo-rail in France totalling 146km.

External links[edit]