This is the story of two fat lads and two dogs walking round an old abandoned slate quarry (Dinorwic Quarry) in North Wales in August 2013. Our mission on that day was to walk round and photograph Dinorwic quarry which was closed in 1969.
The quarry is now abandoned but many of the buildings and machinery still remain in place. There is a no public access and it is quite difficult to get to unless you are prepared to walk up steep hills and difficult loose slate inclines. The quarry also extends from a height of about 100 metres above sea level to almost 700 metres above sea level in less than 1 kilometre of distance, therefore should not be attempted by those who aren’t fit or have medical issues. I’m quite fit and all the walking up and down steep hills wrecked my legs the day after and my mate was screaming for an ambulance 24 hours after as the walk down had killed his quadriceps 😀
We entered the quarry close to the village of Dinorwic which is about 200 metres above sea level as there is parking close by, from here we were already presented with quite spectacular views over the village of Llanberis and out towards Caernarfon on the Welsh coast.
As we climbed up the quarry the path wonders up the steep slopes of the quarry and via a series of switchbacks climbs to a height of almost 600 metres. A lot of these inclines are man-made and supported by waste slate. the views from this height of Snowdon are quite spectacular and as we went up to the area in March there was still snow on the ground towards the top of Mount Snowdon.
As we climbed higher and higher we came across two huge concrete trenches which stretch from the bottom to the top of the quarry and are these are for the hydroelectric power station (Electric mountain) which is now at the bottom of what used to be the quarry near Llanberis. These concrete trenches have huge metal straps all the way down either to secure the lids on the concrete trenches or for lightning protection. We have no idea but these climb all the way to the top of the quarry and contain the control cabling for the top reservoir for the hydroelectric power station.
The first buildings we come across at Dinorwic are at about 300 metres above sea level and this hut is obviously an old quarry workers rest hut. This particular hut still contains the original fireplace which the Quarrymen would have probably use to warm themselves or to boil water, cook food or the like but the roof on this building has long gone.
We’re standing on just one side of Dinorwic quarry itself and later on we will be walking over to the other side which you can see quite clearly with Snowdon in the distance. From this vantage points you also get some idea of the scale of the quarry.
On this level, or gallery as they were called when a quarry was in use, are several buildings now in a state of disrepair through either neglect, theft or vandalism we were unsure as this part of the quarry is quite accessible and quite easy to get too. We could tell that we weren’t the first people to be there on that particular day having seen people climbing down as we climbed up.
As we reached the end of this particular gallery we came across some tunnels which lead from one part of a quarry into another.
The tunnels themselves are man-made and quite large. We could easily walk through them side by and without having to duck our heads, in places they were flooded deep enough for one of my dogs to swim in. The tunnels were about 50 to 60 metres long and took us further into the quarry itself, the first we came across however was a dead end! There were also other tunnels close by which must have led off to other parts of the quarry or into maybe mines but we didn’t investigate these because we didn’t have any equipment for prolonged underground activity. We couldn’t see daylight at the other end of some of the other tunnels so we thought this would be better left for another day.
From this point on we saw nobody else till later in the day which was a further 6 hours and after we descended down the quarry.
As we climbed higher into the quarry at 550 metres high we came across a tunnel which was gated, securely locked and chained & padlocked. Inside the tunnel we could see it went quite a distance into the hillside, we could hear running water, quite heavy running water actually but as we couldn’t see inside or venture further we continued to climb upwards.
The view from this height is quite spectacular. The view across the quarry gives you some idea of the scale of it but in the scale of the environment it’s quite small. you can see the village of Llanberis in the distance and the the two Lakes. The one on the left is the hydroelectric Lake (Llyn Peris) which is fed by a smaller man-made reservoir on top of the mountain that we are now climbing. The lake on the right is Llyn Padarn. Llyn being the welsh for Lake.
At this height there is quite a lot of mine machinery railway tracks and buildings which look like they were left yesterday if you ignore the rust on them but they are still insitu in many areas. There is also a great deal of mining equipment which has rusted away to virtually nothing all over this area.
As we reach the top of this part of the quarry we came across what is the top drop reservoir for the hydroelectric power station. This is where at quiet times water is pumped up from the lake below and stored. Then when lots of power (electricity) is required the water is then dropped through the mountain to the hydroelectric power station some 600 metres below. You can’t really see the drop Pond as it’s surrounded by an electric fence with CCTV and other security features but there are warning signs telling you to “Keep out!” We heed these warnings!
From here we began to descend down into the other side of the quarry and this is where the quarry starts to come alive as very few people have been in this part of Dinorwic quarry over the last 40 years and many of the buildings and mine workings are still in the same place they were when the main quarry closed with many of the buildings still having roofs and many with machinery still inside. This is almost ghostly as if there waiting for someone to come and switch them on again.
The buildings still being there was quite lucky for us because as we began our descent it began to snow and within about five minutes we’ve had about six inches of snow. We had come prepared for this but we weren’t prepared for the speed at which the snow came in but we take refuge in one of the old quarry workers buildings which still has three walls and a roof and was obviously used by the quarry’s only residents, sheep! Here we wait out the snow storm and within 30 minutes the snow has subsided and we were able to carry on investigating again.
Abandoned quarry machinery in Dinorwic Quarry
The next building we came across was obviously some kind of compressor house or pumping house as it contains a large stationary engine, a large either compressor tank/water tank? We couldn’t work out which. The equipment which is still in place must have been too heavy or worth nothing and is now kept company by the many sheep which live in the quarry. Much of the machinery however looks in poor condition and most of the electrical wiring and pipes have rotted away and some of the ancillary machinery has been stripped out and was laid outside in the elements.
Further along the gallery we come across several telephone poles which have now rotting away and falling over again this is a sign of a one thriving quarry with communications to other areas of the quarry. This once must have been an important part of the Dinorwic quarry operations.
The old slate cutting sheds at Dinorwic quarry
As we walk even further along the gallery we come across a series of sheds, again these are now neglected. They have no roofs on but inside the old slate cutting tables were huge slabs of slate were cut into smaller pieces for such things as pool tables or even roof slates. These machines remain in place and many of the cutting machines still have their circular saw blades attached but most of the machinery is now beginning to rust quite badly. We can only guess how industrious these sheds were in their heyday as these sheds must be 50 metres in length each and there are several of them on this gallery each with the machinery still inside. Obviously it was uneconomical to remove them when Dinorwic Quarry closed some 40 years ago.
Some of the buildings in this area have fallen down but only because the supporting foundations built on mine spoil has crumbled away or slid down the hillside into the quarry. The view is quite spectacular across to Snowdon over the lake way below.
In the corner of this gallery are old pulleys and winches which still hang onto the rock faces and in some cases are still attached to cables which hang across the quarry. We also found these old ladders which sit clinging to the rock face descending into the lower levels of the quarry some 20-30 metres below.
Where did test these ladders to see if we could climb down but on standing on them they made some very strange noises, so we decided against it as a fall from this height would have been fatal had the ladder failed. Both myself and my friend aren’t the smallest in stature and would have put the ladders under greater stress than lesser men. There are also trees growing out of the side of the quarry close to the steps and these may have further weakened the structure.
As we descend further into this part of the quarry we come across one of the old winding engines which was no doubt used to move railway waggons full of slate down to the lower levels of the quarry and bring the empty wagons back up into the quarry. This building is in quite a sorry state of repair and part of it has fallen down. The roof is missing but the winding drums are still in place however these are devoid of their cables which still move freely when pushed. A testament to the engineers who installed them maybe a hundred years ago or a sign that decay has brought them to near failure?
The abandoned quarrymans hut at Dinorwic quarry
What we come across next is quite a shock to us and whether the building has been repaired we couldn’t tell because all the materials look like they are original. Whether this was a quarryman’s hut or something else more important we don’t know but it still has its roof and nearly all its windows and I’m sure if we had got trapped up here because of the weather then we could have quite easily spent the night inside. From the ashes in the grate it was obvious we weren’t the first to come across this hut or indeed have stayed inside. The walls of the building are all covered in graffiti which has been scratched into the walls which you can quite clearly see in the photograph. There is also a clothing, boots and equipment from what look like the quarrymen possibly left before the quarry was closed.
Up to this point all the paths have been rough cut and barely used tracks in the rock or the terraces but as we descend we walk down this staircase which is made from the from the slate spoil built into the hillside. With its rough uneven steps we use it to climb down some 80-100 metre to a lower level in the quarry. It has a terrifying drop to the side and in places parts are missing.
We are now back to around 300 metres above sea level and begin to see people again using the old quarry as a rock climbing playground. We meet a number of rock climbers along the way who are intrigued where we’ve come from and more amazed when we show them the photos we have taken through the quarry.
The same concrete conduit that we saw at the top of the quarry we now use to descent down back to the footpath around 150 metre. Although it is steep this is the easiest way to get down the quarry and this eventually takes and down to the pedestrian footpath and back to reality.
That’s for reading and watch this space as we will be going back to Dinorwic quarry soon.
More photos of Dinorwic Quarry
The following images of Dinorwic Quarry are copyright of Lee Clare, reproduced with permission and not to be used anywhere else.