Holiday in a UNESCO World Heritage Site

As the slate landscape of Northwest Wales becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site, project development manager Alastair Dick-Cleland shares a guide to the many Landmarks – now including Coed y Bleiddiau - which sit within the internationally renowned landscapes.

Many readers may be aware that ‘The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales’ is the latest addition to the list of the UK’s World Heritage Sites (WHS), which now number 23. And there are plenty of Landmarks – at least 15 at the last count – that are situated within a WHS to enable you to sample the special qualities of these cultural and natural gems.

The bid for the Welsh slate landscape was over 15 years in the preparation, and UNESCO’s recent decision to add it to the list is a real achievement. The area joins the like of Machu Picchu, the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China on the global stage – and such delights as The English Lake District and the City of Bath here in the UK. And where better to be part of this newest WHS than a stay at Coed y Bleiddiau, situated on the railway line that carried slate from the quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog down to the waiting ships in the harbour at Porthmadog. Welsh slate has been mined for over 1800 years, and at the height of the industry, 17,000 people were employed and it produced 500,000 tonnes of slate a year. It is widely regarded as the finest slate in the world - and was exported all over the globe in the 19th century. In 1830, an astonishing 50% of buildings in New York City were roofed in Welsh slate.

The quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog were quite extensive, even if smaller than the great Welsh slate quarries of Penrhyn at Bethesda, Dinorwic at Llanberis, and Dorothea at Nantlle. Much smaller still were the size of quarries that grew up in the Conway Valley including around the hamlet of Rhiwddolion, home to three Landmarks, Ty Uchaf, Ty Coch and Ty Capel. Rhiwddolion had been a small farming community since at least the 17th century, but expanded with the discovery of lead in the late 1850s, and then subsequently slate in the 1890s. For a while all was boom in the area, leading to the rebuilding of the chapel in 1893. But such small slate quarries were never very profitable and by 1913 the mine was described as disused - and with the fall in employment opportunities, families moved away. Today Rhiwddolion is a remarkably remote and peaceful place, accessible to Landmarkers only on foot, which wonderfully enhances the sense of tranquillity. Today, it is hard to imagine that the Industrial Revolution was once on the doorstep.

There are Landmarks in over a dozen different World Heritage Sites, including two in Italy – Casa Guidi and Villa Saraceno. Here in the UK in the ‘Ironbridge Gorge’ WHS, we have Iron Bridge House, which sits right at the heart of the crucible of the Industrial Revolution, with magnificent views of the first bridge in the world to be built entirely of iron. A stay here allows you to explore the numerous sites and museums that bring the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution to life.

Another Landmark firmly linked to the UK’s industrial heritage is North Street in Cromford, which forms part of the ‘Derwent Valley Mills’ WHS. Claiming another world first, this Landmark forms part of a terrace of worker’s cottages that was the earliest planned industrial housing in the world. It was built in 1771 by Richard Arkwright to house his mill workers - and in rather better style than later 19th century housing turned out.

In more picturesque environs is The Ruin at Hackfall. This delightful, double-faced banqueting house sits on the edge of a ravine looking out over a magical woodland garden, conceived and created by John and William Aislabie – who created the WHS gardens at Studley Royal just a short distance away. Whereas Studley Royal has grand sweeping views, Hackfall is a secretive, wooded garden studded with a variety of different follies including a sham castle and a hermit’s hut. After an extensive tour of this garden, the Aislabies’ guests would have repaired to what had initially appeared from below as only a ruinous triumphal arch, but once one arrived at the rear, turns out to be a charming pavilion in which to take tea. And now you can stay here, explore Hackfall for yourself, and enjoy the fine view all the way to Roseberry Topping.

There are plenty of other Landmarks within World Heritage Sites. Clavell Tower is in the ‘Dorset and East Devon Coast’ WHS. Causeway House, perhaps the only heather-thatched house in the UK that you can stay in, is in ‘Frontiers of the Roman Empire.’ And both Marshal Wade's House and Elton House enjoy dual designation – as both the ‘City of Bath’ and ‘The Great Spa Towns of Europe.’

And here are two final offerings – Bath Tower in Caernarfon forms part of the ‘Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd.’ Edward I built this huge fortress and the fortified walls around the town as part of his ‘iron ring’ to subdue the restless Welsh princes. And returning to the industrial theme where we started, Danescombe Mine near Calstock forms part of the ‘Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape.’ The mine worked for around 80 years producing first copper and then arsenic. There are still industrial remains in the area where the signs say ‘Do not touch’ because of lingering traces of deadly arsenic. But where there was once the noise and heat of a steam driven beam engine crushing these sought-after ores, now nothing but sublime peace and natural beauty reigns.


Book a break in a World Heritage Site