The Vale of Ffestiniog
Slap bang in the middle of Snowdonia this is the heart of the national park. Rugged mountains on 3 sides and sandy beaches along the shore.
Slate from Blaenau was the cutting edge of lightweight, roofing technology – grey gold. For years it came down by packhorse to the quays on the Afon Dwyryd and was rowed out on the tide past Portmeirion to waiting ships.
Victorian ingenuity marks the mountain with what look like enormous ski jumps – beds on which pairs of tramways operated with the weight of a downhill wagon hauling an empty one back up. These connected to the Ffestiniog Railway which opened in 1836 as a gravity train with horses pulling the empty wagons back to Blaenau.
The final mile of the railway runs along The Cob, an embankment built by William Madocks to hold back the sea. A natural by-product of this was a deep water port at the northern end, hence Madocks’s Port became Porthmadog, where boats and yachts now bob at their moorings.
In the 1860s the railway was modernised to steam and nowadays the area is a popular place to relax or have fun: the walking is superb with everything from upland hikes and long views to evening strolls on the beach as the sun sinks behind a castle into the sea.
Llan Ffestiniog was the original and ancient settlement, rooted deep in Welsh history, whilst Blaenau, which means uplands, is the modern town built during the booming slate industry.
Half way down the Vale is Plas Tan y Bwlch - stately home of the Oakeley family, owners of the largest quarry, but now the study centre for the national park. It provides a diverse range of courses from bird watching to harvesting (and frying!) wild mushrooms.
Our landscape has a familiarity and dreamlike quality, probably due to being used as a location for so many films such as First Knight. It looks like the landscape of a bygone era, how things should be before being spoilt and overcrowded. Space to breathe fresh air blown in across 3,000 miles of the Atlantic.
The Romans built a fort by Trawsfynydd and one of the original stones, commemorating the troops of Marcus completing their section of the walls, is now built into the door of the pub in Maentwrog. ‘I’m just off to do some archaeology!’
It’s been a highly rated destination for many years. Lord Lyttelton’s blog in 1776 ....’Nothing remarkable occurred in our ride, until we came to Ffestiniog, the Vale before which is the most perfectly beautiful of all we had seen ..... with the woman one loves, with the friend of one’s heart, and a good study of books, one might pass an age there, and think it but a day.’
Images - @ Crown Copyright (2010) Visit Wales
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