The past two days have been full of activity. Yesterday we began our day at Penrhyn Castle. This castle was a 19th century castle that had been build by Lord Penrhyn after striking it rich in the Slate Industry. This castle was built on the site of a mediaeval castle, but it had all of the bells and whistles of a late 19th century and early 20th century home. Lord Penrhyn owned what used to be the largest slate quarry in Wales. To show off his wealth, he built the massive castle in very gothic revival architecture. As I walked through the building, I was amazed at the opulence. Every aspect of the castle was meant to amaze, and it did just that. I also thought it was interesting that the Penrhyn family lived in the castle up to the early 1970s. After Penrhyn Castle, we went to the National Slate Museum. This was pretty neat. We were able to see all of the tools that the quarrymen used, and we learned about the day to day lives of quarrymen. We also got to see a slate splitting demonstration (slate splitting is still to this day done by hand).
Today, we visited two castles and we went underground in a slate quarry. The first castle we visited was Caernarfon Castle. This castle was built by Edward the First after he conquered Wales. This castle was pretty interesting. One of the strangest parts about it was that it was never finished. The outside of the building looks completed, but there are several places where the wall is left jagged for a new attachment that was never added. Caernarfon Castle is also the castle were the Investiture of the Prince of Wales occurs. According to our tour guide today, this is not a tradition that stretches far back. Apparently only two investitures have ever taken place in the castle. However, it is the castle were Prince Charles was made the Prince of Wales and it is where Prince William will be crowned the Prince of Wales when Charles becomes King. It was actually really cool to see pictures of how the castle looked for William’s investiture in comparison to how the castle looks on a regular basis. After Caernarfon we visited Cricieth Castle. This castle was originally a Welsh castle but was taken over by the English after the Great Conquest. This castle was essentially just ruins, however the views from the castle were fantastic. It sat right on the ocean and there was an almost panoramic view of the Welsh coastline. From there we went to Llechwedd Slate Cavern. I must say that I was a bit disappointed with this visit. The slate quarry has been transformed into a complete tourist attraction, and it very much glosses over the ‘real’ history of the quarries and is very romanticized. I think that if I had been a real tourist and not a student I would have enjoyed the experience. However, from an academic standpoint, I wish that there had been more candidness about the past. Also, it was really hard to not compare the experience to when we went underground in Big Pit Coal Mine in Cardiff. This tour was led by an ex-miner and it very much told the true story of the lives of the miners. It was also based more on history than tourism. The two experiences were completely different. However, the worst part of both Big Pit and the Slate quarry was being constantly reminded of how far underground you are. At one point today I was over 500 feet underground, and some of the spaces were a bit tight. My mom would never have enjoyed the Slate quarry, because even I was feeling a bit claustrophobic (especially when the tour guide began talking about collapses in the quarries). Regardless of the tourist-ness of the day, it was still a really cool day. With each passing day I am convinced that I will see all of Wales before I leave for home!