The once bustling forgotten Welsh village completely reclaimed by nature

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-Credit: (Image: Daniel Start / Wild Guide Wales)


In the northwestern reaches of Wales stretches a vast expanse of Cambrian slate, tracing its origins back some 500 million years. Extending from Nant Ffrancon valley in the east to Nantlle Valley in the west, this belt has been pivotal to the area's history and legacy.

The region once boasted some of the world's most prodigious and industrious slate quarries, so influential that it was said to have "roofed the 19th century world". This illustrious past has shaped the lives, communities, and even the landscape of the region, the impact of which is still discernible to this day.

Open-air quarrying using the gallery method prevailed in the east, whereas, in the western reaches, slate deposits lay beneath the valley floor. In the Nantlle Valley, the very depth at which the slate was buried informed the innovative quarrying techniques that were developed there. Excavating these underground seams necessitated the creation of immense pits.

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Dyffryn Nantlle was home to a multitude of small quarries, an result of the multiple landowners each establishing their own operations. Over time, however, amalgamations and takeovers saw the emergence of larger, more centralized enterprises like the Dorothea quarry.

Opening its gates in 1820, Dorothea remained operational until 1970. The quarry was situated on land owned by one Richard Garnons, but it was William Turner, a Lancashire man, who would be the driving force behind the place's development.

In 1904 a Cornish beam engine was installed on site to replace the waterwheels
In 1904 a Cornish beam engine was installed on site to replace the waterwheels

Originally known as Cloddfa Turner, the quarry was renamed Dorothea after Garnons' wife. The site evolved from a series of smaller working quarries with names such as Hen Dwll, Twll Bach, Twll y Weirglodd, Twll Coch, and Twll Fire. Over time, these pits were deepened and merged into the large flooded pits that we see today.

By the 1840s, Dorothea was producing about 5,000 tonnes per year. However, by the 1870s, production had soared to more than 17,000 tonnes - over triple the amount it had been 30 years earlier. Despite a promising future, Dorothea was grappling with serious flooding issues.

In 1884, several men tragically drowned when the pit was engulfed. In an attempt to alleviate the flooding problems, the Afon Llyfni, which flowed through the valley, was realigned and deepened in 1895 to flow south of the slate workings.

This helped to some extent but as the workings deepened, the constant need to pump out water became a significant drain on the quarry's profits. A decision was made in 1904 to install a Cornish beam engine on site to replace the waterwheels. The remains of this engine can still be found in the village of Talysarn.

As the quarries of the Nantlle Valley expanded, it led to the removal of the old Talysarn village. The village was moved westward, where it now accommodates nearly 2,000 residents - yet some original structures persisted amid the quarries, with their ruins visible even now. The main road was shifted in 1927 to the valley's south, though traces of the old route remain.

Present-day pictures reveal nature's reclamation of the orginal Talysarn village within Dorothea quarry. Daniel Start, author of "Wild Guide Wales," likens the remnant ruins to a 'Welsh Angkor Wat'.

"Only the baboons are missing," he remarked. "It's a vast, wild site with many fascinating, overgrown ruins, including a Cornish beam engine and the overgrown remains of the chapel at Plas Talysarn."

Constructed in the 1700s and later expanded and altered in the following two centuries, Plas Talysarn Hall once stood three stories tall above a basement. Although its roof is largely absent, the south wall retains some surviving timber.

Explorers can discover the former stables and kennels entrance, reconditioned into a bathing area for quarry workers, alongside a former boiler house where, despite the collapsing roof, two dilapidated Lancashire boilers stand.

Other nearby structures are blanketed in moss and tree roots. Much like other quarry pits, production saw a significant drop following the onset of the Second World War. Find out about the latest events in Wales by signing up to our What's On newsletter here

The quarry ultimately shut down in 1970. Dorothea Quarry has since been flooded, with the lake reaching depths of over 100m in some areas. The site is now incorporated into the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales World Heritage Site, as declared by Unesco in July 2021.