Nant Gwernol is a rocky river gorge high above the Talyllyn Valley and offers a couple of walks steeped in the history of the Welsh slate industry. The Cascade Trail is a one mile circular walk starting at the Nant Gwernol Station which follows the riverside and offers picturesque views of a series of falls and the surrounding forest.
The Quarryman’s Trail starts at the same point but circles the quarry and is four miles’ long. Keep on the lookout for a number of wind-up listening posts which reveal the story of the quarrymen and their families. On your walk you may come across a variety of birdlife: from dipper and grey wagtail in the streams below, to goldcrest, coal tit, redpoll and crossbill in the trees. Leaflets describing the walks can be picked-up at any of the Talyllyn Stations or at the Abergynolwyn Community Centre/Café. Alternatively, you can download a leaflet by visiting the Forestry Commission’s site.
Bryn Eglwys Quarry
Bryn Eglwys was first quarried, on a small scale, in the 1840s by John Pughe with the slate transported to Aberdyfi using a mixture of pack animals, carts and sledges. From Aberdyfi, the slate was transported by ship to the rest of UK and the world. It was not until the 1860s that a railway was built linking the quarry with Tywyn, or Towyn, as it was then known. The railway was the brain child of William McConnell who leased the quarry in 1864, forming the Aberdovey Slate Company Limited, with the intention of ramping-up production. Clearly, a major limiting factor to the successful exploitation of the quarry were the poor transport links and the railway was created to address these.
The original plan was to build a railway from Bryn Eglwys to Aberdyfi but the opening of the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway meant that only the section as far as Tywyn needed to be built. The narrow-gauge line terminates at Nant Gwernol with the slate wagons making the rest of the journey to the quarry via gravity-fed inclines, where the loaded wagons going down the slopes, pulled the empty wagons back up. The level sections were worked by horses.
Talyllyn Railway & the American Civil War
McConnell was owner of Sedgwick Mill in Manchester, one of the largest cotton spinning mills in the country. As the bulk of cotton at that time was sourced by America, the American Civil War (1861-65) had a devastating affect on the cotton industry in Britain as supplies of the raw material were effectively cut-off. Sedgwick Mill, with its large stocks of cotton, was able to continue limited operations whilst many of the smaller mills were forced to close. In 1864, with the war continuing, McConnell sought to diversify his interests and purchased the lease to Bryn Eglwys quarry. The quarry operated on and off until 1946, well after the industry’s boom years in the latter quarter of the 19th century, when it was closed as the result of a serious rock fall on Boxing day. The accident was the inevitable result of “pillaring” where the pillars that supported the underground caverns were cut away. Pillaring represented a far cheaper, though rather short-sighted, alternative to opening up new chambers.
How to get there
Find the Community Centre/Café in Abergynolwyn and park-up. Behind the Centre is a roadway where you will pass a terrace of old quarrymen houses on your left. Continue up a steep bank and in 30-40 metres you will come across a public footpath sign leading to your right. Take this path and you will pass a stone bench and a Woodland Trust sign marked ‘Coed Nant Gwernol’. Continue along the path until you reach a footbridge.
You now have a choice of paths. To walk the Cascade Trail continue along the river bank until you reach another footbridge. Cross this bridge and turn right along the old tramway. This path will take you to the Allt Wylt incline down into Nant Gwernol station. To return to the start, turn right at the station and cross the footbridge you ignored earlier.
To walk the Quarryman’s Trail, cross the footbridge and follow the path until you reach the station. The trial starts at the steep Allt Wylt incline on you left and loops the quarry returning you to the footbridge.
Whichever path you select, both are well signposted with signs at all the points where you could go wrong.
Of course, rather than driving to Abergynolwy , you can combine your trip to the river gorge with a day on the Talyllyn Railway. The Nant Gwernol station is the last stop.