- Walk around one of the largest slate quarries that ever existed in Wales, or perhaps even the world.
- Check out the largest working waterwheel left on mainland Britain.
- Explore the old Victorian Workshops and see where the quarrymen would have had their lunch.
- Learn all the history of the fascinating slate industry, and its significance in Welsh history.
Located in Gilfach Ddu, in the north Welsh county of Gwynedd, the National Slate Museum is about much more than the history of rock. The museum is situated on an old slate quarry site, and offers visitors to learn about the history of local slate production, while exploring what life would have been like for those who worked in the quarries themselves.
Slate has often been a key commodity in north Wales, due to the natural slate deposits that collected over millions of years. With a history of slate quarrying that dates all the way back to Roman times, slate has always been popular as a material for roofing and building. During the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the slate industry boomed, with 450,000 tons of slate being produced every year in Wales in the 1870s. As well as bringing trade and income to the area, a tie between the slate industry and local Welsh culture grew, with lots of local people working as quarrymen. While the industry declined after the Industrial Revolution, with large-scale production ending completely by the early 2000s, the history of the slate industry and the people who worked within it is still very apparent today. The National Slate Museum stands at the workshops of the old Dinorwig Quarry, which was once one of the largest slate quarries in the world. Here, you'll be able to investigate just what slate meant for the local people, and also see some amazing pieces of history, such as the the largest working waterwheel in all of mainland Britain. There were several different stages that came with quarrying slate, and each worker would have had their own individual role in the process. Slate splitting was an important task, which was highly specialised and involves literally 'splitting' the stone with a chisel until its layers divide. A top attraction at the National Slate Museum, you can attend one of the regular slate splitting demonstrations to see just how it was done.
With slate mountains framing the museum, when you visit you are instantly reminded of what it might have looked like for those who came to the quarry every day. The museum itself is housed in the old Victorian workshops that would have been used by the quarrymen on site, and you can even visit each individual room and see what it was used for all those years ago. With saw sheds, a foundry that was used for metalwork, and a smithy where metal was formed, the workshops are the ideal place to go to learn about how things worked at this Llanberis quarry. You can also take a tour of the mess hall, or Caban, which was a significant place on the quarry for the workers to eat, relax, and converse. The Caban was also an important place for community to develop, and there were often large discussions held here, the important points of which were written down in minutes.
On your visit to the National Slate Museum, you'll find there is lots to do for everyone in the family, as well as looking around the quarry itself. The museum area has everything you could possibly need to know about the slate industry in wales, and to help you experience a little bit of it for yourself. The introductory film, called 'To Steel A Mountain', is a great way to learn a little more about what it took for the 3,000 workers at Dinorwig Quarry to work at the mountain. You can also visit the Quarrymen's Houses and the Chief Engineer's House, which have been reconstructed to give an authentic sense of how the workers here lived. Also, make sure to check out the huge waterwheel, which still works and is one of the largest in the UK. For those who like to get right in there with the action, make sure not to miss one of the slate splitting demonstrations, where you can watch a professional split a real piece of slate just like people did hundreds of years ago.
For something to eat on your trip to the National Slate Museum, head to the Ffowntan Cafe, where you can find lots of options ranging from snacks to sandwiches. You can also order children's lunchboxes here, and the cafe is especially child-friendly, with colouring pages and high chairs. Or, if you fancy a picnic, you'll find picnic tables outside the cafe where you can enjoy your own food.
If the kids had a great time on their day out to the National Slate Museum, and loved walking through history, why not check out Caernarfon Castle to continue your north Wales experience? With almost 1,000 years of history to explore, Caernarfon is definitely one to add to the list. Or, for a relaxed day out by the seaside, you're not far from Traeth Abermaw Beach in Barmouth, which is perfect for paddling and beautiful sea views all year round.
What to know before you go
- National Slate Museum opening times are from 10am - 4pm on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
- Accessible toilets and baby-changing facilities are available on site.
- Most parts of the museum, including the waterwheel and paths, are accessible by wheelchair, but there are some areas such as the pattern loft, railways tracks and smithy that can only be accessed by foot.
- Only assistance dogs are allowed in the historic houses or cafe.
- The National Slate Museum is located in Padarn Country Park, in Llanberis.
- National Slate Museum parking is located on site, and there is an extra charge for this even though the museum itself is free.
- The nearest train station is Llanberis train station, which is just a 10-minute walk from the National Slate Museum.
- There are regular buses running from Llanberis to Bangor.
- If you wish to travel by bike, there are lots of bike trails in the area, in particular ones that travel through Snowdonia.