#245 – Dinorwic Slate Quarry

Bridge Of Doom? No, the gallery had given way beneath this track panel, leaving it suspended precariously in mid-air.

Remains of a weighbridge

Could there be a more appropriate landscape in which to film ‘Clash Of The Titans’? OK, so I’ve not actually seen the film in its entirety, but when security told me that I was welcome to go into the quarry but that the paths through the quarry were closing the following day so that filming could take place, I was immediately impressed at the choice of set.

As a stage, this must be the biggest and most impressive one ever to have appeared on the big screen. Smashed out of the Snowdonian mountains overlooking Llyn Peris, this enormous grey blot on the landscape was an active quarry for nearly 200 years, until more modern building materials resulted in a shrinking market that Dinorwic couldn’t compete in.

But for me, fascinating as this amazing landscape is, what lured me here was the industrial artifacts that had been left behind when the quarry closed. The 50 or so miles of railway within the quarry were served by a number of small narrow gauge locomotives, and these were all rescued and preserved when the quarry closed in 1969 by the nascent heritage railway movement. But remarkably, many other items of machinery and infrastructure were left behind, and 40 years later, their ochre brown surfaces provide a relief from the monotony of the green grass, grey slate and the grey skies of this bizarre landscape.

Although there is a public footpath through the middle of the quarry, the slopes are fenced off with a somewhat token 4 foot wire fence, which to my mind indicates that whoever owns it is, at best, not keen for people to explore the quarry. That’s as opposed to being utterly against it. So I hopped the fence, and started the ascent up through the mist, of the C4 incline. The inclines were used to haul trucks of slate down from the levels to be hauled away by rail for onward shipment. These were gravity worked, so empty trucks were hauled back up by the weight of the ascending full ones, albeit under the skilful control of the brakeman. I’m not entirely sure of the gradient, but I’d say somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees, so it’d pretty damned steep.

All the way up the incline are different levels or galleries, and on these were numerous remains of buildings in various states, mainly poor or virtually non-existent. The higher I got, the less I could see across the valley through the mist. Far below me, a helicopter flew along the lake, invisible but for the thump thump of it’s rotors, giving away the fact it was a Sea King.

As I wandered the galleries, I was surprised at just how much was left up there. The steam locomotives that remained in the quarry were all brought down and are all in preservation, but there’s still quite a lot of track, machinery, wagons and buildings to take a look at. On my own in the misty silence, it was hard to comprehend this being a site of massive activity, with steam engines hauling wagons of slate, men drilling and sawing, wagons rumbling up the inclines, and the blasting of explosives.

My attempt to ascend the second part of the C4 incline ended in failure. The slope was very steep, to the point that I had to use the crumbling stone stairs at the side of the grassy slope. By this point though I was shattered, a combination of being slightly unfit and the June humidity. I was bitterly disappointed as I’d really wanted to reach the australia level where the building remains with all the slate cutting machinery. I also wanted to see some Blondins, the cable car system that was in place across the quarry. That’s the thing, the quarry is just vast, I could easily have spent several days there.

As I made my descent, the gloom started to lift, and patches of blue sky emerged. By the time i reached the main path through the quarry, the mist had lifted and it was a full blow sunny day, revealing the beautiful lake below, and the hydro-electric power station site clinging to the edge of the lake. Built in the 70’s and taking advantage of the landscape . the power station gave employment to hundreds of former quarry workers in its construction, and is now a tourist attraction as well a major provider of back-up power to the national grid.

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