“ Address: Aberdulais / nr Neath / Neath & Port Talbot / SA10 8EU / Wales „
Having come back from a lovely holiday with the other half and our daughter in a cold and blustery South Wales, I felt I had to write a review about a special trip we took.
The place in question is a rather wonderful ancient copper and tin works. It is full of interest to keep even the most easily bored youngster (and young at heart) entertained for an hour or two. The site is not large, and this excursion will be perfect to take in the morning before going somewhere else (I recommend Gower or Mumbles half an hour drive away, but that's another review).
Admission to the site is very reasonable £4.50 for adults and £2.50 for children. I expect concessions pay a child price but I didn't take much notice, and for that, I apologise. We have a yearly membership to the National Trust, and as such, entry to us was free. You may also take out a yearly membership and then your admission fees to the property for your visit, will be refunded.
The reception is a modern and sleek building, at odds with the very natural setting. It also holds the National Trust shop. All profits from here go into the coffers for the upkeep of the property, and to improve facilities.
The one thing that struck me, upon entering is the very good disabled access. There were plenty of wheelchairs for visitors to use, and a special wheelchair lift. There are six steps to enter the property. Attention to detail was very evident; the disabled access was not an afterthought whatsoever.
Aberdualais Falls has powered water wheels here for more than 400 years, and has seen industries come and go, from the manufacture of copper in 1584 to the more recent tinplate works in the 20th century.
This is the only surviving example of a small water powered tinworks. The technology to make things on a larger scale as in other places in the locality was all developed here.
The main reason for our visit was not to see the spectacular ruins of the copper/tinworks but to see the beautiful, stunning waterfalls. The majesty of the sight is just indescribable. There aren't enough adjectives to describe it. The power of nature is awesome. My seven year old daughter was struck speechless for once. This has got to be the main reason for any visit. Nature is truly a wonderful thing.
The site today houses a unique hydroelectric scheme to harness the power of the River Dulais. The waterwheel is currently the largest in Europe, and together they make Aberdulais Falls self sufficient and very environmentally friendly.
The village of Aberdulais was demolished to allow the A45 to be built and all that now stands of the village is the Dulais Rock Inn and this site.
What to see on your visit -
1. The Old Works Library This is where the schooling of the workers and their children was undertaken. This is now the tearoom and is staffed by the friendliest people I have ever had the privilege to meet. There work is undertaken voluntarily and all the money raised goes towards the upkeep of site. The most amazing cream teas ever are served here; you will not want to miss taking a pit stop here before you continue your day.
2. Visitor centre- Find out more about the area and its industrial history.
3. Resource room - where they regularly hold exhibitions and special events. See their website for more details as to dates and times http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-aberdulaisfalls
4. Tin workers exhibition - here they have on show photos from yesteryear. The exhibition also includes finds from archaeological digs on the site. Some finds include shoes, which can only have been worn by a toddler. More functional than fashionable - how times change! Some other things on view are made out of tin - old toys, biscuit tins, cigar cases and the like to the more modern can of beer.
5. Waterfall. This too, can be accessed via a disabled lift. You cannot get any closer without getting wet. You are literally hovering over the water at some points. The most amazing views can be had of the heron fishing.
6. The ruins of the tin works. There are many poster boards full of information around the site, and each one is relevant to what you can see.
7. Finally, there is a film screening you are able to view, featuring how they manufactured the tin plate and all the processes involved. For my daughter, being able to visualise the procedure made it all the more 'real'.
Over 50 major artists have visited the falls at one time or another. The most famous painting though, is one by JMW Turner, when he visited in 1796 and produced 'Aberdulais Mill' which is a painting of the site when it was used as a Corn Mill (between the copper and tinplate industries).
The views here are stunning. It's the first waterfall I've ever visited and it certainly won't be my last. If ever I'm in the region again, I will certainly visit again.
As a child I spent a lot of time travelling in Wales. One of the highlights of each visit was the "waterfall search" that was obligatory on any trip! That childhood love of tumbling water has remained and I will actively seek out falls whenever possible. On a more recent trip to Wales we found ourselves near Neath and the reasonably small National Trust site at Aberdulais.
Aberdulais Falls are, perhaps rather less about the waterfalls and more about early industry but, without the river and its falls the site would not exist.
The falls themselves are attractive enough with plenty of water passing come rain or shine. They wind through light deciduous forest and there are some good vantage points for some excellent photography. The topology of the site means that there's not a great climb to reach the falls and as such access is excellent. You could make it with a buggy and, rather unusually, the site is wheelchair accessible - a rare, but welcome thing.
The real purpose to the site, however, is the display of past industry. The site used to be a water powered tin-works and it is the only surviving example. Prior to that the site was home to a flour mill and a copper works. Today, a hydro-electric scheme is in operation powered by the largest working waterwheel in Europe. The size of the structures and the helpful explanatory displays give you a real insight into the power of the falls. These natural wonders take on a whole new meaning as you realise their awesome power.
For those less into the industrial there are still some parts of the set up that offer interest. The "fish pass" (used to help spawning fish travel up river and climb the falls) is amazing and if you are lucky enough to catch a fish going "upstream" you'll get really up close and personal!
As a "green" attraction this place has every credential. It shows just how good the early engineers were at harnessing the power of nature and has lessons for us all. It's a peaceful site, despite the continuing industry here.
There's a very small shop and refreshment area, toilets and a children's quiz. The nearby pub can be used for bar meals. Parking is in a private car park across the road from the falls.
At £4 for an adult and £2 for a child (2009 season) I think this is a National Trust site that offers great value for money. Whilst it's not vast there is something for everyone and many lessons that can be learned. It offers something very different from the usual stately homes that form the core of the NT collection. Children will not be bored by what is on offer here, photographers and artists will delight (the site was a favourite of Turner) and walkers satisfied. Tours are, in the main, self-led giving you ample freedom.
The site is open from April to October and at weekends at other times. Check on the NT site for detailed and accurate opening times and prices. There's little shelter on a wet day so bring waterproofs if the weather is inclement. Stout shoes are probably advisable although not strictly necessary.