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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.