Blaenau Ffestiniog is famously known as the ‘slate capital of Wales’ and the ‘town that roofed the world’. Its industrial role has long since diminished, yet Blaenau Ffestiniog attracts many visitors because of its rich slate history.
Blaenau Ffestiniog is a town that boasts a unique blend of natural beauty, history, culture and vibrancy, and which lies at the very heart of the Snowdonia National Park, welcomes you to explore the rugged mountains, picturesque valleys, tranquil lakes and numerous café’s and pubs.
Today, the tourism industry is the town's largest employer and and visitors to the town can explore the shopping area, and view words, sayings, quarrying terms and local poetry that have been inscribed into the street scape or glimpse into Blaenau’s unique history at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns,
For the more adventurous, check out the Antur Stiniog Centre that has become a mecca for mountain bike enthusiasts.
In its heyday, Blaenau Ffestiniog was the largest town in Meirionnydd. 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.
In 1819, quarrying began on the slopes of Allt-fawr near Rhiwbryfdir Farm. 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.
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. By 1881, the town's population had soared to 11,274. 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.
Before the slate industry developed, the area now know 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 and the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog was created to support workers in the local slate mines.Later as the slate industry declined, the population of Blaenau Ffestiniog has also declined to 4,875 in 2011.
Blaenau Ffestiniog railway station is the terminus of the Conwy Valley line from Llandudno Junction and for the narrow gauge steam Ffestioniog Railway.