The Slate Valleys Paths

From the end of the 18th Century until the beginning of the 20th Century the slate valley communities of Gwynedd - Ogwen, Peris, Nantlle, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Corris - were dynamic, thriving industrial areas. Between them these areas consisted of over 60 quarries and mines employing over 18,000 people. The quarrymen and their families created distinctive communities, overwhelmingly Welsh speaking and Non-conformist.

The slate industry itself dramatically changed the landscape - slate tips, quarry buildings and railways can still be seen today. The network of paths created to link the small villages and hamlets to the quarries, schools and chapels and the surrounding countryside were just as important. Many of the paths are still in use and give walkers an opportunity to explore the valleys,showing that there is more to these areas than just slate. The paths also offer spectacular views of the mountains, and provide a glimpse into the life and work of the quarrymen.

Bro Ogwen 

Slate has been extracted in Dyffryn Ogwen since the Middle Ages. The explosion in production took place during the 18th Century when Lord Penrhyn joined together the numerous small quarries and constructed the tramway to Port Penrhyn near Bangor. Although Penrhyn Quarry remains open and is a major employer the other quarries have closed. The railway to Port Penrhyn was closed in 1962, but some sections have been reopened as a path for walkers and cyclists called Lôn Las Ogwen, whilst the former quarry workshops at Felin Fawr are being developed for new industries.

Bro Peris

The slate industry in Llanberis was dominated by the Dinorwig Quarry on the slopes of Elidir mountain. Many of the quarrymen came from outside the Llanberis area and would live in the barracks during the week, arriving to work from Monday morning until midday on Saturday. Despite being cold and damp, the barracks and the cabans (quarry mess rooms) became known as centres for debating politics, religion and literature. Much of Dinorwig Quarry is now part of Padarn Country Park and the Welsh Slate Museum.

Bro Nantlle

In the Nantlle Valley the development of the slate industry was hampered initially by poor transport links. With the opening of a horse drawn tramway to the quay at Caernarfon in 1828, Dorothea, Cilgwyn and Pen-y-bryn quarries grew quickly. In 1848 the tramway was adapted for use by a steam engine. In the 1860s much of the earlier tramway was incorporated into the new Caernarfon to Afonwen main line, now the Lôn Eifion cycle route.

Bro Ffestiniog

Two hundred years ago Blaenau Ffestiniog was an area of small hamlets and scattered farms. With the growth of the slate industry during the 19th Century the population of the parish of Ffestiniog grew from less than 800 to over 10,000. Unlike the areas further north, almost all of the workings were underground owing to the overlying thickness of rock. It was common for quarrymen and their families to supplement their wages from the quarry by running a smallholding (tyddyn). This was hard work as the land on the lower slopes of the mountains was often poor and unproductive. These small farms with their tidy paddocks surrounded by skilfully built dry stone walls are still familiar features throughout the slate areas.

Bro Corris

Corris, probably named after Corus a 7th Century monk, nestles in the Dulas Valley just south of Cader Idris, the most prominent peak in southern Snowdonia. A mixture of conifer and broadleaved woodland covers the slopes of the valleys with a rich variety of mosses, flowers, birds and mammals. Amongst the wooded slopes are obvious signs of the area’s industrial past. The Corris quarries are the most southerly of the North Wales slate quarries. At their peak they employed 800, but today only a handful remain. Quarrying started in the Corris area in 1810 though there is some evidence that it began in Aberllefenni in 1500. The numerous quarries were at their most productive between 1850 and 1900. Initially the slate was carried by horse and cart to Derwenlas, then transported by boat to Aberdyfi. The Corris Railway was built in the 1850s and from then on slate was transported to Machynlleth. The railway closed in 1948, but today a short section has been re-opened for tourists. The area has an excellent choice of tourist attractions as well as a system of paths and picnic sites.