Susan C. Anthony

Blacksmith at Llechweld Slate CavernsLlechweld Slate Caverns

October 13, 1987

I cried my way through the book How Green Was My Valley in high school. It's a fictional account of a family in the coal mining area of Wales. I was consequently interested in Welsh people and their mines. The coal mines are in the south, but we heard about an award-winning tour through a slate mine near Blaenau-Ffestiniog in Northern Wales.

Fortunately for us, the season was nearly over. In summer, there are upwards of 3000 visitors a day. We got a discount by taking both tours offered. During the first, we were taken into the tunnel by a guide who explained the process of mining slate, the history of the mine, and so on. The guide had been a slate miner himself in this very mine until it closed in the 1970s. At the end of the tour, we watched skilled workers split and finish roofing slates to various specifications.

The second tour was into the deep levels of the mine. Our guide was the recorded voice of a slate-miner's ghost, explaining what life had been like in the village and the mines: the importance of music and religion, the way the community cared for its own in times of trouble, the accidents and dangers.

Above ground were museums, films, a restored cottage with tape-recorded oral history, and a traditional pub. Last of all, we went to the blacksmith's hut. We were the only visitors, and the old blacksmith, who had worked for years in this very smithy when the mine was open, made me a slate pencil and reminisced at length about his life, the job of a blacksmith, and the mine.

It was living history, and I was enchanted.

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