Things to know about Gwaith Powdwr, Penrhyndeudraeth
Not far from Harlech is a delightful Nature Reserve located at the northern end of Pont Briwet. The old Toll bridge has now been replaced by a swish new structure that allows 2 way traffic and easy access back and forth over the Dwyryd Estuary.
Gwaith Powdwr (Powder Works) started producing explosives in 1865 using guncotton and starch. It was taken over by the Ministry of Munitions in 1915 following a huge explosion that destroyed much of the site. It was sold to Cookes in the 1920’s and underwent modernisation. It went on to produce 5000 tons of explosives during the 2nd World War. During the 1970’s 500 people employed producing 9000 tonnes of explosives and was the most advanced in Europe specialising in ‘Safety Explosives’ for the mining industry. Ultimately production ceased in 1995 following a decline in mining operations. Decommissioning of the site then cost £6M.
Many of the buildings have an Information board explaining their original use.
Nitro-glycerine was produced on site and piped round to the various buildings. Its temperature had to be constantly monitored and cooled to keep it safe. Before automation this was done by a man sitting on a one legged stool so he wouldn’t fall asleep.
The site consists of 3 parallel valleys; this makes it ideal in terms of a good environment for producing explosives i.e. if there was an explosion in one part – other buildings would be safe. Many of the buildings have a roof that could easily ‘lift off’ if there were an explosion thereby directing a blast upwards rather than sideways.
Following decommission the site was managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust. Birdwatchers will be pleased to learn that Stonechats and Linnets can be seen in Cwm Klondyke (one of the valleys). There are fabulous views of Harlech Castle, Portmeirion, Ynys Giftan and the Dwyryd Estuary.
There are several streams and ponds on the site teeming with wildlife, shady woodland areas, picnic tables and many paths to explore in addition to plenty of ‘outstanding views’.
Some of the original buildings have been kept showing the origins of the site.
There is a small car park at start of trail, which meanders around the site. You will also find ‘Interpretation Boards’ along the route providing information about the buildings and wildlife you might see.
At the end of the trail is the unique ‘Pendulum Shed’ where explosives were once tested; from here you will find some of the best views.
What was once a hazardous Industrial site has now become a haven of calm and nature has reclaimed and enhanced the landscape.
Further information can be found at www.northwaleswildlifetrust.org.uk/reserves/gwaith-powdwr
Map reference SH 621 389. The nearest railway station is a few hundred metres away at Penrhyndeudraeth on the Cambrian Line.