An Accidental Walk: Lakes and Slate in Snowdonia

View across Llyn Padarn, Llanberis, and Snowdon Range

View across Llyn Padarn, Llanberis, and Snowdon Range

Llanberis, Gwynedd, Snowdonia

Travel often reminds us to expect the unexpected, and all travellers know weather is one of the big reasons you sometimes have to change your plans.

On a brilliant sunny day in Wales, we thought we were headed for a walk down Yr Wyddfa, Mount Snowdon. It wasn’t to be.

A Highlight of Wales

Seeing and walking on Snowdon was one of the major reasons we came to Wales. We planned to take the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the top, then work our way down on foot.

As with other mountain viewings (Fuji in Japan and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania come to mind), we knew nothing was guaranteed. On Clive’s prior trips to Wales, he got part way up Snowdon twice and to the top once, but it was a foggy day and he couldn’t see much of anything.

As we drove from Betws-y-Coed through the Pass of Llanberis, the landscape grew increasingly high and rugged and I got more and more excited about seeing Mt. Snowdon.

Llanberis Pass, Gwynedd

Llanberis Pass, Gwynedd

It seemed a perfect weather day. But when we got to the railway station at the base of the mountain, there was a strong breeze. Then
we learned that due to high winds at the summit, the train was only going 5/8 of the way up, and this was likely to continue for the rest of the week. The wind was so strong passengers would not be allowed to get off the train.

It was one of those decisions you sometimes have to make rather quickly when travelling. We thought we might have paid for 5/8 of the way up, if we could’ve walked down from there. Since we couldn’t even do that, we concluded it would be an expensive £23 each, only to take pictures out the carriage window.

We agreed summit or nothing, and we’d try another time. I did my best to stay philosophical and not be too disappointed. Clive took out the walk book, which we always carry with us, and we moved to Plan B.

Clive reading walk book, Llanberis Station

Clive reading walk book, Llanberis Station

Llanberis and Padarn Country Park

A few steps across the street from Llanberis Station, but seemingly miles away from the rest of the tourists, we discovered an 800-acre nature reserve, Padarn Country Park.

A footbridge between two lakes, Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris, led us to the Her Awyr Agored, or Outdoor Challenge public footpath and walk around Llyn Padarn.

The Most Welsh of Welsh Industries

The National Slate Museum is on the northeast shore of Lake Padarn, at the edge of the massive Dinorwig Quarry complex. It employed 3,000 men at the start of the 20th century, and it’s said slate from here “roofed the world.” (It’s also used for snooker tables, roads, walls, fences, and my mother’s front path in New Jersey.)

When the quarry closed in 1969, many of the old structures were preserved, with the museum and surrounding footpaths developed to provide public access.

The museum includes the only mining incline working today in the UK, a series of tracks climbing the side of the Vivian Quarry. 

Slate mining incline, Vivian Quarry, Llanberis

Slate mining incline, Vivian Quarry, Llanberis

This is a fabulous (and free) hands-on museum, where we could have spent much more time. I was awestruck by the size and scale of the quarry, truly a marvel of human engineering. I learned a new term, ‘industrial archaeology,’ and here you can see how slate quarrying shaped the Welsh landscape.

The Quarry Hospital

The human aspects of quarrying are in such contrast to the epic nature of the physical landscape. As we continued ascending the north side of Llyn Padarn, we reached the old Quarry Hospital.

Steps leading to Quarry Hospital, Llanberis

Steps leading to Quarry Hospital, Llanberis

The hospital visitors’ centre is closed weekends, so we didn’t see the restored operating theatre or ‘gruesome implements’ (thank goodness).

To give you a feel for the hospital’s location and where we were climbing, here’s a view of it later in the walk, from the other side of the lake (hospital in the lower left of photo).

Quarry Hospital across Llyn Padarn, Llanberis

Quarry Hospital (lower left) across Llyn Padarn, Llanberis

Clive and I were both quite moved, seeing the quarry hospital after the museum, and imagining what the miners’ lives were like. It gave us a deeper appreciation of the risks they took, when we realised the mine had its own hospital (and mortuary). I can’t imagine what it was like in winter, but miners worked in harsh conditions year-round.

We could also sense, on the hospital grounds, how the beauty of the lake surroundings would offer to those who had to stay there a measure of peacefulness and healing.

Coed Dinorwig (Oak Woodlands) and the High Side of the Lake

Quarrymen walking to and from work created many footpaths. The path we were on kept climbing, and in the woodlands we came upon the ruins of an old woollen mill by a waterfall, now mostly crumbled stone.

Coed Dinorwig, woodland path, Llanberis

Coed Dinorwig, woodland path, Llanberis

The steepness of the path was more than we expected, and we were rewarded with views back across Llyn Padarn towards Llanberis village and the Snowdon range.

Llyn (Lake) Padarn, Llanberis, and Snowdon Range

Llyn (Lake) Padarn, Llanberis, and Snowdon Range

The Southern Side of the Lake

We descended to the southern side of the lake via the footpath and a paved lane through a small residential hamlet.

What a change, from high woodlands to flat, pastoral land. For part of the way, we walked on a wide lakeside biking path developed on the bed of an old railway track. Then we shared the footpath with a ewe and her lamb (which is partly why we couldn’t resist a Christmas ornament of a sheep wearing the Welsh Red Dragon).

Sharing the footpath with sheep

Sharing the footpath with sheep

Travel = Expect the Unexpected

We were thrilled our unexpected change of plan turned out as well as it did. The Llyn Padarn walk has a little of everything: it’s interesting, educational, and beautiful. As an added bonus, it was more strenuous than we anticipated, so we felt we got some good exercise along the way. And we would have missed doing it if the train had been running all the way up Snowdon.

Padarn Country Park even has its own narrow-gauge steam train, the Llanberis Lake Railway, which chugs back and forth along one side of Llyn Padarn.

The little trains of Wales will be the subject of my next post.

Llanberis Lake Railway (and little boy who reminded me of my son)

Llanberis Lake Railway (and a little boy who reminded me of my son)

Padarn Country Park
National Slate Museum of Wales
Llanberis Lake Railway
Sowdon Mountain Railway

7 Responses

  1. I am so enjoying this walk through Wales Carolyn. Your photos are truly beautiful. You must be very fit I think as well as you are doing a lot of walking. Its been a real education for me and I appreciate your posts very much.

  2. Looks like a happy accident. That quarry looks fascinating.

  3. Thanks, L and L! Wales is such a lovely country, and it was a ‘happy accident’ indeed 🙂


  4. Hi there !

    Very good for a Plan B if I may add ! I swear, the unexpected like weather conditons, can make us go off the itineray and discover something new.

    I had already been on your following post, and got started with miners. Because my gr gr grandafther mined, and I started learning little things while doing my Genealogy & in reading.

    It was really terribly hard work.Then you mentioned slate… In my family, I found on Census documents, the youngest sons not in school but toiling in the mines as ” slate pickers”. Yes, the hodpital + cemetery sum up the end results of such hard work.

    My great grandfather died of a disease called ” Miner’s asthma”, from all the dust & soot breathed down in the mine.Even after leaving the mines & living in the big city, he died from it.

    Thank you for showing your excursion and these sites.

    See you soon !

  5. Barbara, thanks for your comment and especially your personal insight from your own relatives’ lives..

    It’s hard to imagine young children working in the quarries, and sad to think your great grandfather died of miners’ asthma (probably along with countless other hardworking souls). What a difficult life they led.

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience.

  6. I’m glad you had better weather than I had! I had to contend with mist, not rain, on Snowdon.

    But, an excellent post nevertheless … (just one small point, which I hesitate to make, lest it sound too pedantic and pernickety …. it’s not MOUNT Snowdon; just Snowdon.)

    Looking forward to your take on the trains.

  7. Travelrat, thanks for your comment. I appreciate the clarification/correction about ‘Snowdon’ too; I think the ‘Yr’ in front of it in Welsh confused me somewhat.

    It would be difficult to contend with mist and rain up there, I’m sure.

    Cheers and happy travels!

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