This old adventure goes all the way back to when I was 14 years old, and I went with my classmates (all of us visually impaired) on a field trip to Snowdonia in North Wales. We had a fabulous time, and it would be lovely to go back one day.
Fortunately, our teachers put together a diary of the trip that we were all given a copy of, and many years later I scanned it into my computer for posterity, using OCR software to help me convert it into text. So here is that diary, along with a few of the photos I took at the time. I hope you enjoy!
This log was compiled during the evenings when the group met to discuss the events and visits that had taken place during the day. The notes below are a compilation of the pupils answers and comments made in response to the questions asked of the group as a whole.
Friday 1 May 1998
This was the day we travelled to Snowdonia. We left the West of England School at 10am and arrived at the Youth Hostel at 5pm. The journey totalled 290 miles and was travelled on the M5, M6, M54, A5 and then minor roads to the Youth Hostel at Bryn Gywyant. The longest stretch travelled was on the M5 between Exeter and Birmingham.
Saturday 2 May 1998
The journey was very impressive as we travelled down through some spectacular mountainous countryside with wooded hills on either side. The road followed the river that ran beside the road. The first train we travelled on was a double Fairlie called David Lloyd George.
The railway was built to bring slate down from the mine to the port of Porthmadog for export. The slate was exported to all parts of the country.
The various chambers were very impressive, the way in which the slate had been cut out of the rock was incredible. There were huge amounts of slate which had been cut out. For every ton of slate which could be used, about 10 tons of rubble or useless rock was thrown away, which was heaped up into slag heaps which appeared like mountains. The mine is very cold and damp with water dripping all the time.
There is a story of one miner who was packing gunpowder ready for blasting. This had to be packed into the hole, usually with a brass packer, which was the only metal available that would cause a spark. On this occasion the miner thought he would chance his luck and use his steel chisel. He packed the gunpowder with his steel chisel, made a spark and caused a large explosion. He was lucky, as the blast missed him but blew his chisel right through his hat. His hat was then hung outside the miners hut to remind everyone that they should always use their brass tamper and not the steel one.
We saw a small cottage where a very famous harpist was born and bred in the area. He was blinded when he was 4 years old as the result of an accident. He was called Dafydd Francis and attended The Blind School, Liverpool, now St Vincent’s School for the Visually Impaired. His dying words were “The strings are broken now!”
Sunday 3 May 1998
Today was an electrifying experience. We travelled to Dinorwig to visit a pumped storage facility. This is a facility which is actually built in the middle of a mountain. It was built in the mid-seventies to provide electricity very quickly when there is heavy demand on the National Grid. This happens at the end of Coronation Street or at half-time in a football match. It is able to provide this extra electricity within 12 seconds. A conventional power station would take 5 or 6 hours to provide the same amount of power.
It works by allowing water to flow by gravity from a reservoir at the top of the mountain to one at the bottom of the mountain. This is used to drive generators and produce electricity when it’s needed. Later the water is pumped back up to the top lake ready for the whole process to begin again. This is usually done in the middle of the night when there is spare electricity in the National Grid and when it can be bought cheaply. It is so technologically advanced the system can be operated by only one person.
Some of the figures associated with the building of the facility are staggering. The contractors dug out 12 million tons of slate, and all of those waste materials were used to fill in most of the workings of the slate mine. It had taken the slate miners about 150 years to dig out that amount of material, but then they were using just pick and shovel and muscle power. The main generating hall in the complex is as long as two football pitches joined together and is big enough to fit St Paul’s Cathedral inside it. The contractors also used a million tons of concrete when they built the power station. By building into the mountain, the landscape can be replanted and preserved.
When we had finished the visit to the power station we went on to the Welsh Slate Museum. Here we saw the biggest water wheel in the world, and there is an entry for it in the Guinness Book of Records. It stopped working in 1925. When working it would produce energy equal to 80 horse power, it could go up to a maximum of 100 horse power towards the end of its working life.
In the afternoon we met up with a Ranger from the Snowdonia National Park staff before going for a short walk towards the summit of Snowdon. The Ranger told us about the pressures on the national park from a range of interest groups.
For example she told us that about 500,000 people climb or visit Snowdon in just one year, and there are 10 deaths each year on the mountain. The most difficult problem to deal with is erosion – apart from visitors and walkers to the area the other two major contributors are the weather and the sheep!
She also told us that tourism contributes about £100 million a year to the local economy, and farming in the same area contributes £30 million. She pointed out that tourism is very important to the area and that one of the difficulties is reconciling all the different pressures on the national park – for example, the differing interests of farming and leisure activities.
After this we walked up the main mountain path to the copper mine. This is known as the Miners Track. It was quite a long way, but it was an enjoyable walk because it was a very sunny, warm day. At the copper mine, which is located beside a beautiful clear blue lake, a small group of intrepid explorers decided to continue to pick up a higher path, called the Pyg Track, and return that way back to the car park where the mini-bus had been left. This group was christened the Snowdon Team – they successfully returned despite the roughness of the track which they had to follow. The group said that the views that they saw once on this very high track were worth the hard climb.
The evening meal back at the Youth Hostel tasted really good as the walk had given everyone a very good appetite. It had also made everyone very tired.
Monday 4 May 1998
This was our first visit of the day. The reservoir was built in the 1950s by flooding a valley by building a dam across one end. It was built to provide a more efficient supply of water to Liverpool. The problem was that there was an occupied village in the bottom of the valley. Eventually after a legal wrangle which went all the way to the House of Lords, the village occupants had to move out and the village was then flooded, and once the water was high enough it became a drowned village. But in years when there are droughts the church spire gradually appears out the water, reminding everyone about the village which was drowned.
There was a lot to see and absorb on this visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth. We saw exhibitions where we were given information about solar power, how to successfully recycle used water and how energy efficient houses can be built using modem technology. There was also an energy efficient vehicular railway that lifted two carriages up a steep incline, one up and one down at the same time. The neat trick of this technology was that they counter-balanced each other using nothing more than the weight of water.
The message from the centre is to recycle as much as possible, conserve as much as possible and use available resources carefully and wherever possible use resources which are renewable.
Nightmare at the Half-Moon
On our last night in Wales the group was challenged to walk a tunnel beneath a mountain. Having arrived at the location of an old railway when almost dark, and starting from one side of the hill, we picked our way through a tunnel to the other side, with only a small torch and small shining half moon for comfort and light by which we could pick our way. We emerged into a steep sided river valley reminiscent of a setting from Lord Of The Rings – SPOOKY!!
Written in April 2020:
And that’s it. That was the journal of my Snowdonia trip. I don’t remember the time vividly after all these years, so it’s wonderful to have this diary and some photos to look back on. One day it would be lovely to revisit the area, to see all of those attractions and the stunning scenery again. Check out my Instagram post for more photos as well. And I hope you enjoyed that little trip down memory lane!