We recently spent a weekend reconnecting with nature on a camping trip in one of our favourite places to explore: Wales! There just seems to be something about the Welsh mountains that bring us back time after time, the adventures to be had up here are simply spectacular! This time around we had heard of a “secret” abandoned quarry with the most beautiful and vivid blue lake in the bottom of it’s well hidden walls. We decided to head up with the abseiling gear and check it out…
The blue lagoon or Golwern Quarry (Goleuwern) is well known by locals in these parts but not so much by the many visitors who pass by the pretty towns and roads of Mid Wales without even realising it exists. Wild swimmers often hail it as the best place to ply their trade in the UK as it’s secluded location makes for a peaceful day out but yet it also has a eerie and dramatic feel about it.
Wales and in particular Snowdonia is well know for it’s slate quarries, in fact we ventured to one only last year to climb which also had a truly epic feel about it. There seems to be something about old slate quarries which creates this feeling of awe and also a little bit of creepiness!
Although, we are no strangers either to exploring old, abandoned and frankly scary places (Check out our Urbex exploits: Urban Exploring). There just seems to be something appealing about the idea of a place that was once so filled with activity and energy being left as this ghost like remnant of epic proportions.
It always surprised me too that these places are so open to the public and, unlike the many buildings we have clambered our way into, not secured or boarded up. Even the quarries we legitimately climb in (as in, it’s allowed and a recognised venue for climbing) seem to be assessable from all angles and often inhabited by teenagers daring themselves to go closer to the edge…
I do have to also add that climbing the quarried gritstone of the North West of England has to be our favourite surface. Not only because our climbing styles suit it but again because of the strange idea that these people who built these quarries hundred of years ago had no idea they would be also creating some of the most amazing and often legendary climbing routes!
Golwern Quarry’s murky history!
Not much is known about the Quarry over looking the tiny mid Wales village of Fairbourne, most of it is local legend and folklore than many “outsiders” never knew existed. The quarry itself was opened in 1867 and slate was carted up a steep path towards the river Mawdach and taken across the bay to Barmouth by boat.
In around 1871 the include most made their way up today to visit the blue lagoon was built as an easier and more efficient way to transport the goods from one of the most successful quarries of the area. In 1890 a nearby quarry of Henddol took over the workings until it was eventually abandoned in 1920. Many of the climbable quarries we visit are of a similar age and it really does feel like you are exploring another era of industry.
The lake itself is actually another level of the quarry and is reported to be around about 12 metres deep. It was also flooded on purpose after the workings stopped to act a as reservoir for a since abandoned scheme to provide the nearby village of Fairboure with electric.
Sitting on the hillside and looking out of the Barmouth bay from below you would be forgiven for thinking this was just a great vantage point from which to view the wonderful coastal are below. Little do many people know the historic and amazing secret it holds!
Oh, and the vivid blue colour of the lake really is that bright! It is caused by the dissolved natural minerals from the slate and surrounding rocks and it totally safe and absolutely breathtaking! It also has it’s own population of fish as is the depth of the water and a mysterious WIFI signal from which no one knows the origin!
Exploring the remnants of the quarry’s industrial history
Like many of the Welsh quarries there are still many artefacts laying around, almost as if the workers just left in the middle of the day and never came back. I think it is these left over pieces of history which give these quarries that eerie feeling. Many of these pieces of equipment seem frozen in time, slowly decaying in the spot they came to rest. One of the most striking we have seen was an old track leading right off a sheer cliff, the wooden bridge long since gone and the old cart crumbled 200 ft below!
The grit quarries of Lancashire unfortunately don’t often have as many abandoned pieces of equipment but if you look closely on many routes you can see where they drilled and left marks for explosive to be placed into the rock, often some climbs also have little quirky features such as an old drill bits or even spanners left in the wall. Fascinating stuff!
As we walked up the steep hillside towards the quarry we found a variety of dressing sheds and foundations of old buildings, all made out the very slate they were quarrying, some still in relatively good states of repair. Crossing through many man made tunnels which the carts would roll over day after day as well as the sealed up tunnel to the original base of the quarry which allowed it to be flooded.
Access to the main level of the quarry can only be gained by a series of tunnels originally used to transport the slate. The old light railway lines for the carts to run along can still be seen inside these damp and cramped tunnels and you get a real sense of exploration. (Although check out this cool tunnel we used to walk through a mountain> Dovestones abandoned mile long overflow tunnel)
Many of the old workings of the pulley system used to transport the carts up and down the mountainside also remain as well as the shed the product would be stored in near to the rail entrance. Seeing remnants such as these really gives you an idea of the scale of the machinery they would use and the dangerous nature of the job the men did up here and often leaves you in awe.
Our abseil (and subsequent telling off!)
After walking past the rusty and barely noticeable sign warning visitors that abseiling was not allowed we continued up to find a spot from which to, erm, abseil! Well, we are the renegades!
Our original aim was to of course go from the highest point of the quarry on the enormous overhanging main wall. However after analysing the edge we realised it was just too sharp to stick a rope over.
So we ventured a little further down to a ledge just below the top and happened upon some bolts that had been drilled into the wall for this very purpose! This made the rigging so much easier and also safer, but of course we tied to the tree just behind as a backup!
Luckily we had some down to Wales with a good friend, Lee, who is a level 3 rope access supervisor so although with our climbing experience we could have set it up ourselves, we left it in his capable hands! So don’t go trying this on your own!!
Although we have climbed for years and feeling quite used to being a height, abseiling is always a thrill! Leaning back off the sharp (but now protected) edge is always a test of the nerves but always a great adrenaline rush!
There is also something quite nice about hanging off a rope high from the ground without, for once, frantically hanging on to a tiny slither of rock!! It’s a somehow strangely thrilling but relaxing activity for a bunch of climbers! The tranquil setting and view did help though!
After getting reacquainted with the different lowering off gear ( the same one which although reported to be the safest shorty nearly killed himself with whilst caving!) we were hanging over the edge ready to go! What I love about doing things like this ourselves is that it’s real, organised “abseils” tend to, in reality, actually be someone just lowering you off from the top, this time we had our fate in our own hands! No extra line, just us and the rope!
As anyone who has abseiled knows, once over the edge the initial nerves turn to enjoyment! The over hanging nature of the rock meant the ride down was smooth and swinging (so glad we didn’t have to jug back up this one!)
We took a few turns each and by this time we had drawn a crowd! One of them must have also noticed the…not very noticeable sign… and reported us! So over came an angry Welsh farmer and asked us to promptly leave! Well, we had had our fun and off we went without any trouble!
Video of the abseil!
How to get here!
Erm… it’s a secret!! No it’s not actually a proper secret, just not too many people know it’s actually up here. We will include some basic directions and the rest is up to you though!!
From Barmouth we took the rather lovely little toll bridge for a cost of around 50p to Fairbourne and made our way up a series of winding paths and tracks. The steep footpath which leads up to the quarry can be found on Ffordd Panteinion where there is also some limited parking. This is near by the a Texico garage and BT telephone box.
Head through the “kissing gate” up the steep track staying on track until you reach a slate archway with a slippy stream flowing underneath it. Head up through here and continue to the top, you will soon see the small tunnel leading into the quarry.
A great day of adventures and explorations in an amazing setting! Thanks to Lee for taking us and setting up all the gear for us!
Have you ever been here or explored any of the other amazing Welsh quarries?
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Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.