Thursday, January 19, 2017
Epic Views in Snowdonia: Dinorwig Quarry, Wales
If you have read my previous posts on traveling in Wales, you already know that my boyfriend and me were absolutely blown away by the wild and extraordinary scenery we encountered in Snowdonia National Park. I can’t think of many other places in the world in which nature is quite as rough and as lonesome, yet also as easily accessible, as in North Wales and the landscape in Snowdonia especially is shrowded behind a veil of mystery and suspense. The mountains and valleys are hardened by the elements, but the eye is met with a fierce and feral kind of beauty no matter where it looks and every twist and turn of the few roads leading through the national park seems to lead to a view more magnificent than the one before. At times, you almost feel like you’re the very last human walking on the face of the earth – and yet you’re never too far away from the amenities of modern life.
Humans have exerted their influence over this stretch of land for hundreds of years already and the convergence of this rugged nature and the harsh footprint left by humanity was nowhere more obvious to me than at the site of the abanoned slate quarry in Dinorwig. Slate mining is an important part of the industrial heritage of Wales and while the production has declined a lot since its peak in the mid-1800s, you can still see the remnants of this trade in various regions of the country and they are interesting relics of a past long gone.
Before we travelled to Wales, I spent quite a bit of time perusing different travel blogs and websites to find some inspiration for places that we could visit during our trip. One of those websites was Buzzfeed and even though that’s not usually the place I go to for solid travel information, I inevitably found myself reading one of those „X Places You Won’t Believe Are in Y“ posts and came across a picture of a place called Dinorwig Quarry that, frankly, looked like no place on earth.
Intrigued, I decided to do some further research and quickly learned that this disused old slate quarry was located close to the town of Llanberis on the western edge of Snowdonia National Park where we were going to stay for three nights. Information about the Dinorwig Quarry was scarce at best, though, and while I gathered that it was possible to visit, I was uncertain if there was actually anything interesting to see and had absolutely no idea just how to get there until I stumbled upon this handy walking guide on the BBC. Since walking is one of our favorite activities when we’re visiting the UK, I figured it would be worth a shot – and now that I have seen this place with my very own eyes, I have to tell you that the Dinorwig Quarry is one place that you absolutely have to seek out should you ever find yourself in the area.
Llanberis is a small town located at the shores of Llyn Padarn, one of the largest lakes in North Wales, and a popular base for treks to Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales and England. Since we had to cancel our own plans to climb Snowdon because one of my walking boots literally lost its sole in Betws-Y-Coed – this is why you should always check your gear before you go on a walking holiday! –, a leisurely walk to the Dinorwig Quarry was just the right activity to soothe my disappointment and still a great opportunity to get a closer look at the mountains that we had already admired from afar in the days before.
Our walk started at the National Slate Museum just opposite of town on the other side of the lake. We had read great things about this museum online – it seems to be a fun place to visit if you’re travelling with children – but it was mid-afternoon already and so we were somewhat pressed for time since we didn’t fancy traipsing around in the dark later. We had a short look at the tiny, but fascinating Vivian Quarry on the museum’s premises, but then quickly walked on and soon found a signpost that lead us away from the lake and up the mountains instead.
Not long after we had left the museum behind us, we found ourselves walking through an enchanting old oak forest. The forests I grew up with in Germany where filled with tall and lanky trees that formed canopies so high that they were almost reminiscent of the nave of large cathedrals. These trees, however, were much shorter and bent in strange ways, their branches having the appearance of being frozen in the middle of a dance, and where their cousins on the continent stood proudly and aloof, they seemed playful and mischievous instead. One of the reasons why places like Scotland and Cornwall had touched me the most during my travels in Great Britain thus far was the feeling of an old, forgotten world that they exuded and Wales was quickly proving to be just as intertwined in an air of myth and mystery.
As we followed the path through the woods, we passed abandoned buildings that had been a part of the slate industry once, but that had evidently been left behind in a hurry decades ago. Thick rusted cables were strewn over the ground, partly overgrown by plants as nature slowly started to reclaim her territory. Seeing the evidence of what must once have been a busy and bustling site, but finding it quiet and deserted and all but forgotten by the world today, was an almost eerie experience and made me ponder if our own legacy would lie forgotten in the same way one day as well.
We stopped occasionally to catch our breath and to enjoy the view over the lake that opened up to our side every once in a while. We hadn’t been able to appreciate Llyn Padarn’s large size from the ground, but as we saw it stretched out from above, I found myself wishing for more time to explore this area. The gently-sloped mountains on the other side of the lake were calling out to me especially, but since it’s both the blessing and the curse of the traveler to only ever be a temporary guest just passing through, I quickly focused on the path we were on instead.
So far, we hadn’t met a single person since leaving the National Slate Museum and the rest of our walk continued in quite the same way aside from a family, a photographer and a pair of sheep that passed our way at some point. While we weren’t entirely sure anymore if we were still on the right track – it turns out that written walking descriptions, no matter how detailed, aren’t quite a substitute for a proper map –, we could already spot the large slate tips left by decades mining in the distance and eventually left the quiet forest behind us and entered the grounds of the Dinorwig Quarry.
The production of slate was one of the prime industrial sectors in North Wales in the 19th century and at its peak, the Dinorwig Quarry was one of the largest slate quarries in the world. Over time, the importance of slate as a building material started to decline, though, while other competitors entered the market and like many others the Dinorwig Quarry closed its doors in the 1960s, its quarrying facilities left behind to fall into disrepair. And while most of the old buildings have done just that, the waste products of the slate industry still form large mountaineous piles that give the landscape an utterly other-worldly look. The Dinorwig Quarry was actually used as a filming location for Clash of the Titans a few years ago, so if you ever want to visit a place that makes you feel like you’re walking through the Greek underworld this is just the right place for you.
We found a large and deserted viewing platform overlooking the valley – I say large, but maybe gigantic is a more adequate description – and walked all the way to its end for a quick peek, but ended up being so absolutely stunned by the view that that peek turned into a longer look instead. Words like breathtaking and awe-inspiring should always be used with caution in travel writing, but I can honestly tell you that I have rarely been as amazed by natural scenery as I have been that day in Wales. Snowdonia is full of great panoramas, but the view that unfolded in front of us from the Dinorwig Quarry was second to none during our entire trip and I almost had to pinch myself to remember that I wasn’t watching an epic movie, but visiting a real, tangible place that was open to everyone.
After we managed to tear ourselves away from the view, we followed a small footpath deeper into the quarry and back down to the valley. To our sides, huge stacks of dark-grey slate waste were looming above us and walking along them was quite a surreal experience and different from walking in any other place I had ever been to. We passed more crumbling buildings and railways and often had to step over other objects that had been left behind after the closure of the quarry, but we couldn’t help, but exclaim to each other that this would surely make for one of our coolest travel memories ever one day.
As we got closer to the bottom of the valley, trees slowly started to engulf the edges of the quarry again and eventually it felt like we were walking through a regular forest once more. It almost seemed as if the towers of slate, that we had passed just half an hour earlier, had only been figments of our imagination, but it only took one glance on the slate-paved path ahead to remember that they had very much been real.
On our way back to our guest house, we walked along the lake and the pastures we passed trough seemed like a completely different world. We had made it in good time as the sun was just beginning to set on the horizon and while we were ready to rest our legs and prepare some dinner, we were also sad to let go of such a marvelous day.
The day had started somewhat disappointingly when I had tried to get my walking boots fixed to no avail in Caernarfon - a pretty town with a seriously impressive castle and very much worth a visit -, but it had definitely taken a turn for the better in the afternoon and while it has taken me eight months to finally put together this post, I still maintain that the Dinorwig Quarry isn’t just a great introduction to a piece of Welsh history, but also one of the most epic viewpoints of Snowdonia. I cannot recommend making this place a part of your Snowdonia itinerary any higher!
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