Most of the slate used to roof 19th-century Britain came from Wales, and much of that came from the mines of Blaenau Ffestiniog. However, only about 10% of mined slate is usable, so for every tonne that goes to the factory, 9 tonnes remains as rubble. Even though it's in the centre of Snowdonia National Park, the grey mountains of mine waste that surround Blaenau (blay-nye) prevented it from being officially included in the park – a slap in the face for this close-knit but impoverished town in the days before Wales' industrial sites were recognised as part of its heritage.
Although slate mining continues on a small scale, it's the abandoned workings of this once-mighty industry that are now Blaenau's attraction. It's by no means a 'pretty' town, but opportunities to explore the slate caverns or pursue extreme sports make it a great day trip from Porthmadog, via the historic Ffestiniog Railway.