Fancy exploring ancient mines over 4000 years old and discovering how tools were made in the Bronze age? On our recent holiday trip to North Wales we spent a whole day at the Great Orme, a huge limestone headland which is also home to some ancient copper mines.
What Are The Ancient Copper Mines?
The mines were discovered by accident in 1987 when the local council was digging up the area to build a car park for the Great Orme. Instead of landscaping they ended up discovering what is now thought to be the largest prehistoric mine that has ever been discovered. The attraction allows you to take a self guided tour around the outside of the excavation site as well as directly down and through roughly 200 metres of tunnels
Getting Kitted Up
Upon entering the attraction you walk straight through the gift shop and into the starting area where a countdown timer shows when it’s your turn to go through. This allows visitors to be spaced out and for the self guided tour not to get too crowded. Even though we visited during the summer holidays it still wasn’t massively busy. We visited on a wednesday just after lunch time.
A selection of hard hats are available for almost every head size – including little ones to fit toddlers (believe me you will need it). Then once the timer has finished you go through to sit and watch a video about the story of how the ancient mines were originally discovered and their significance in piecing together the history of the Bronze age.
At this point you head outdoors and go straight over to the mines. There’s quite a few steps leading down into a tiny looking passageway. My 4 year old Brooke was a little sceptical at this point but my 2 year old was raring to go. We had read ahead and all had sensible flat shoes with some grip on them and had decided it would be best to keep Harper the youngest child on a set of reigns.
Inside the Mines
Inside the Mines it’s a steady cool temperature and a little damp in places, the corridors are very narrow (so no wheelchairs or pushchairs) but not so low to cause my 6ft 2 husband any major issues. The tunnels were well lit and as you walk round there are lots of informative plaques giving you more information about the mines around you at the time. You can even see the green of the malachite which used to be mined to actually make the copper! Although a little scared at first Brooke soon felt at ease and thought the twisting corridors and steps down was an amazing adventure! Hand rails meant that there was a helping hand for navigating the mines when going down the steps inside.
One of the most fascinating things we learnt whilst exploring was that some of the extremely tiny passages were actually mined by children with nothing more than stones and candles to assist them. A lot of these miniscule shafts remained unexplored to this day as there’s just no adult small enough to go down them!
The Main Chamber
After sometime heading downwards into the mine we reached a breathtaking site. In the middle of the mine tour you can look into a beautiful chamber which has several mineshafts going off of it. The lighting here was breathtaking and all of the children thought it was an amazing sight (as did both my husband and I)
After the main chamber we started our climb back up to the level we entered on with Brooke deciding to lead the way. This is the point that we were grateful for wearing our hard hats, everyone except Harper and Dan (the smallest and tallest of us) accidentally smacked their helmet at one point on the climb back up.
The Opencast Mine
After the tunnels you’re then into the opencast mine section of the tour. Essentially this is outside where they used to mine from rock faces. We all enjoyed walking around this area and especially enjoyed watching how they actually turned the malachite they mined into copper to use for tools. This is believed to be the oldest part of the mines dating to be 4000 years old. This part of the tour is accessible to absolutely everyone, wheelchairs and pushchairs included.
The Visitor Shop
The attraction ends in the gift shop which I have to say was easily one of the best gift shops we visited during our stay in North Wales. Brooke choose some gem rocks and I purchased a gorgeous selenite tea light holder for our living room. There were lots of locally produced and relevant things to purchase, as well as a rather quaint second hand book shop located within the gift shop too!
What We Thought
The Ancient Copper Mines are a brilliant attraction to visit if you are in the area. Although generally the self guided tour only takes around 45 minutes it was 45 minutes of our time well spent. All kids aged from 16 to 2 really enjoyed the experience and learnt a lot from their time visiting. My 4 year old wanted to re visit every day because she loved exploring the tunnels so much.
The Gift shop was a delight to look round and if you want to make more of your time there you are welcome to bring your own food and stop and eat on the picnic benches by the opencast mine. Toilet and baby change facilities are available but are basic as you would expect for a remote location. Admission prices I thought to be extremely reasonable which is one of the reasons we chose to visit in the first place.
If you are claustrophobic then I’d say the tour inside the mines is not for you but you can skip these and tour the outside instead. However I’d say to make the most of the visit you really want to be braving the inside of the mines! We’d love to take Chase one day to a similar attraction (even if the mines aren’t prehistoric) so my next task is to find a mine somewhere there is largely wheelchair accessible if such a place in the UK exists.
The Great Orme Mines are located on the Great Orme in Llandudno, North Wales. A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs just £20 and Under 5s are free. Up to date information about this attraction can be found on the Great Orme Mines website