North Wales’s slate landscape inscribed by UNESCO

It seems a long time ago (and a lot has happened since) but back in February 2020, we announced the UK government’s intention to bid for UNESCO World Heritage status for Snowdonia’s slate mining landscape.  The stark and stoic slate mining landscape of snowdonia was nominated for international recognition from the world’s leading heritage preservation organisation, UNESCO. If successful it would join other iconic Welsh landmarks, including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Llangollen and the North Walian castles of King Edward I

Dinorwic Quarry Snowdonia

The road to UNESCO

Campaigners believed the mark left on Gwynedd and Snowdonia by an industry that literally roofed the world was worthy of this accolade. The landscape comprises so many tangible relics from our industrial past – including the shells of tiny quarrymens’ cottages on windswept hillsides, towering slate tips and skeletal workings. Slate has been quarried in North Wales for over 2,000 years but the industry reached its apex in the late 19th century when the expansion of towns and cities in the wake of the industrial revolution accelerated demand. At its peak, the Welsh slate industry produced approximately 485,000 tonnes of slate every year and employed over 17,000 people – Welsh men, women and children from towns and villages across Gwynedd. 

On the 28th of July the dream became reality when UNESCO inscribed the Slate Mining Landscapes of Northwest Wales the 33rd UNESCO World Heritage site in the UK.  The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales – labelled an area of “remarkable uniqueness”’ by PM Boris Johnson – joins over 30 other UK UNESCO sites.

The successful bid was led by Gwynedd Council on behalf of a partnership which included the Royal Commission, Welsh Government, CADW, Snowdonia National Park Authority, Bangor University and the National Trust.  The nomination document sought to emphasise the importance of the culture surrounding slate mining as well as its industrial legacy: “The Slate Landscape of Northwest wales… represents an exceptional example of an industrial cultural landscape that was profoundly shaped by large-scale slate quarrying and underground mining, and by the rocking and transport of slate for national and international markets.”

UNESCO’s brief was to seek out sites of “outstanding universal value” which possess “cultural, historical or physical significance.” Our local industrial landscape ticked all the boxes and it’s not hard to see why. 

Our local slate heritage

Take a drive through Snowdonia and traces of our slate mining past is everywhere; even within a stone’s throw of our hotel the evidence is tangible. Llanberis was the site of Dinorwig Quarry, the second largest slate quarry in Wales, now home to the National Slate Museum. Just a short stroll from the hotel, this living history museum provides a fascinating insight into the daily lives of the people who lived and worked in slate. 

From the hotel, you can also follow in the footsteps of the miners on the Llwybr Llech Eyryri (the Snowdonia Slate Trail). This 83 mile walking and cycling route takes in several industrial landmarks associated with the slate mining industry and some stunning mountain scenery to boot. Split into 13 sections, the trail can be walked over several days or at your leisure. Section 3: Llanberis to Waunfawr, takes 2-3 hours, taking you along forest paths and lanes high above Llanberis with stunning views of Llyn padarn, the Vivian and Dinorwig quarries before descending into the village of Waunfawr.  

Responses

Archaeologist, Dr David Gwyn, has worked on the bid for the last 12 years. Speaking of the inscription, he said: “We’ve known for decades that the slate landscapes of North Wales are special, but to have it recognised by an international committee was a humbling moment. 

“These are outstanding and beautiful landscapes with meaning for the whole of humanity. It says a great deal about our powerful history and our present day communities.”

Mark Drakeford, First Minister for Wales said: “Today’s announcement recognises the significant contribution this part of North Wales has made to the cultural and industrial heritage, not only of Wales, but of the wider world. 

“This worldwide recognition today by UNESCO will help preserve the legacy and history in those communities for generations to come and help them with future regeneration.”

Find out more

The landscapes comprising this UNESCO World Heritage site are: 

  • – Penrhyn Slate Quarry and Bethesda, and the Ogwen valley to Port Penrhyn;

– Dinorwig Slate Quarry mountain landscape;

– Nantlle Valley Slate Quarry landscape;

– Gorseddau and Prince of Wales slate quarries, railways and mills;

– Ffestiniog: it’s slate mines and quarries, the ‘city of slates’ and railway to Porthmadog; 

– Bryneglwys Slate quarry, Abergynolwyn village and Talyllyn Railway. 

We will be exploring some of these iconic locations and landmarks in an upcoming blog series entitled Our Slate Landscape, so be sure to check back soon!

Snowdonia wild swimming: everything you need to know

We all know that feeling when we jump into cold water. It takes your breath away, stings your skin like sharp needles, and for a moment you can’t imagine anything more uncomfortable. Yet as quickly as the sensation hits you, it passes. A warm numbness settles over your body, then when you leave the water and reach for your towel, your skin feels hot and tingly. In fact, you feel really good!

This is just one of the attractions of wild water swimming. Read on for many more, and some great places in Snowdonia where you can try wild swimming for yourself.

Why go wild swimming?

Seasoned wild swimmers will enter cold water without a wetsuit and will regale you with the many health benefits: a sense of elation and relaxation; a soothing of aching muscles; and an all-round sensation of feeling good. What’s not to like?

Then there’s the practical side of the pursuit. You don’t need to spend lots of money on gear, and so there’s no need to lug it all with you either. It’s just you and nature in perfect harmony.

Finally, it’s a different way to explore the landscape and immerse yourself in nature; see surrounding hills and forests in a new light; plunge beneath the surface and see another world, too.

Then there’s the sense of calm isolation. Chances are, most of the time it will only be you in that cold water. Swim from the shore and feel truly alone, with only the sound of you splashing gently in the water to keep you company.

Wild swimming: how to get started

It’s well worth stating the obvious first. You need to be a good swimmer, and confident in your ability. If you’re just starting out, find a friend to go with you. Even if they sit it out on the shore, having someone nearby will help soothe any nerves you may have, and they will be able to raise the alarm if needed.

As we’ve said, you don’t need any special kit. However, if you’re just starting out it’s probably worth having a wetsuit handy. Try wild swimming with it on first, before having a go without. Also invest in a brightly coloured swimming hat and tow float (see top tips below).

Wild swimming: top five Snowdonia lakes to try

  1. Llyn Padarn, Llanberis: popular but relatively shallow lake with spectacular views all around, especially towards the Pass of Llanberis, Dolbadarn Castle and Snowdon’s lower flanks beyond. There are plenty of access points, especially on the Llanberis side, and other than a seasonal tourist boat, other watersports users tend to be paddleboarders and kayakers.
  2. Llyn Dinas, near Beddgelert: at the foot of Nant Gwynant valley, Llyn Dinas is a tranquil lake fed by waterfalls and feathered on its southern shores by ancient trees. There are a few unofficial laybys on the A498 as well as a small parking area at the lake’s southern end. The waters are quieter than Llyn Padarn but you will hear passing traffic.
  3. Llyn Llydaw, Snowdon: head up the popular Miners’ Track from Pen-y-Pass which crosses Llyn Llydaw (actually a reservoir) via a causeway. Wade in and let yourself feel small against the towering rocky massifs of the East Ridge (Y Lliwedd) and the notorious Crib Goch that flank both sides of the water.
  4. Llyn y Foel, Moel Siabod: Park at the Moel Siabod Cafe and follow the trail towards the peak, reaching Llyn y Foel in a gorgeous cwm beneath the summit. No problems with traffic noise here, and not so many bystanders as you might have at Llyn Llydaw. This is the kind of lake wild swimmers love!
  5. Llyn Cwm Silyn, Nantlle: We’ve left the most off-the-beaten track for last! In a cwm north west of the Nantlle Ridge, Llyn Cym Silyn is actually two lakes almost joined together. Grab a good map, follow minor lanes from Llanllyfni village south of Caernarfon, and have this wild spot of Snowdonia all to yourself.

Our top tips for safe open water wild swimming

  • – Don’t go wild swimming alone until you have some experience behind you
  • – Wear a brightly-coloured hat (bright orange or greens are the best) so you can be easily seen
  • – Invest in a tow float (a small buoyancy aid that you tether to your waist and trail behind you)
  • – Enter the water slowly and give your body time to get used to the cold (no running in or diving bombs here, thank you)
  • – Make sure you know the tide times if swimming in the sea or tidal waters
  • – If you get into difficulty, don’t panic. Stay calm and attract attention by raising your hand and shouting for help
  • – Always let someone know where you are going and ideally give a time for when you expect to return

Image courtesy: Swimming at LLyn Cau|©debjam/Flickr. Llyn Padarn by © Copyright Robin Drayton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Llyn Dinas by © Copyright Tony Edwards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Llyn Llydaw by John Allan / Causeway across Llyn Llydaw. Llyn y Foel by Peter Smyly / CC BY-SA. Llyn Cwm Silyn by © Copyright Chris Andrews and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.