Snowdonia Holiday – 1932

Snowdonia National Park

Snowdonia National Park, known as Eryri in Welsh, is a significant natural region located in northwestern Wales. It is the largest national park in Wales, covering a total of 823 square miles. Established in 1951, 19 years after my grandparents’ pre-war motorcycling tour, it was the third national park in the UK, following the Peak District and Lake District. Notably, it is home to Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. The park also includes other mountain ranges and coastal areas.

In the modern day, the park accommodates over 26,000 people and attracts millions of visitors each year for activities like climbing, hill walking, fishing, and sightseeing. It comprises a blend of public and private lands, with agricultural activities also being carried out within the park. The park’s geography, particularly the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, is vital to its industrial development.

Aside from its natural beauty, Snowdonia is steeped in culture and history. It offers various tourist attractions, including Bala Lake, Betws-y-Coed and the resorts of Cardigan Bay. The park is governed by the Snowdonia National Park Authority. You might think it difficult to find one unidentified building there from a near-century-old photograph but there are clues.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Cwm Dyli Snowdonia, 1932.
© Always Worth Saying 2023, Going Postal

In our last episode, my grandparents toured North Wales before heading inland to Llyn Dinas (or Lake Dinas) on the A498. If we continue along that road we pass the larger Llyn Gwynant and, aided by satellite mapping, can see there are very few buildings and that one of them matches the structure in the above 1932 photograph. As with our Llyn Dinas picture, there is a slight layby to the side of the road where my grandparents’ Triumph N and sidecar must have paused to take the snap – fortunately for us on a better day for photography than when the Google car called.

On the mapping services, the larger building is labelled as the Cwm Dyli Hydro Electric Power Station. On closer examination you can see a line in the hillside diagonally from the right of the main building heading up the mountain. This is the pipe bringing water down from a reservoir to drive the turbines. The aerial photography is very clear. Puffins can see a section of the pipe in close-up here. An even closer look was possible during the James Bond film ‘The World Is Not Enough’ when the pipe doubled for an oil pipeline in Kazakhstan.

Cwm Dyli Power Station

The Cwm Dyli Hydro-Electric Power Station is located in Nant Gwynant, at the foot of Snowdon. This power station is a crucial part of the local infrastructure, harnessing the energy of the water brought through a pipeline from the Llyn Llty Reservoir on Mount Snowdon. The water’s journey starts from a rocky and steep route at the summit of Yr Wyddfa, travels through Llyn Llydaw, and ends at the power station. This system not only provides an efficient use of natural resources but also adds to the picturesque landscapes of Snowdonia which the Snowdon Mountain Railway traverses.

It was constructed in 1905, marking it as one of the oldest grid-connected hydroelectric stations in the world and the largest of its kind in the UK at that time. The power station was built by the North Wales Power and Traction Company in cooperation with the Porthmadog, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway Company and was conceived to serve the Oakley, Dinorwic and Pen-yr-Orsedd quarries. The station was also intended to supply power to an electric railway planned for the valley (hence the involvement of the PB&SSR) but the railway line was abandoned due to a lack of funds.

The NWP&T company had been established in 1904 by Platt and Tomkinson. Electrical engineers Bruce Peebles of Edinburgh received the contract for the turbines. Harpur Bros. were consulting engineers. Energy was transmitted at 10,000 volts via an eight-mile-long overhead line to Blaenau Ffestiniog. During constructuion workmen were encamped in bell tents spread across the hillside. The power station was heralded in its day as a ‘triumph of modern transmission’ and with its basilica-like design became known as ‘the chapel in the valley’. The power station commenced operations in 1906 and was the first instance in Britain where Alternating Current was used.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Cwm Dyli today
© Google Street View 2023,

In 1987, the station was shut down to allow for a complete refurbishment with its output uprated from 5MW to nearly 10MW from a single turbine. To put that into perspective, 10MW is about the maximum output of two 300ft high off-shore wind turbines.

Emily Kelly and the Pinnacle Club

Looking to the right of the ‘chapel in the valley’ we can see two white buildings. Above the rightmost can be spotted the outline of a darker structure. Eagle-eyed Puffins might notice the builders are in as it was in 1932 that the abandoned shell was converted into the Emily Kelly Hut.

Emily Kelly, also known as “Pat” Kelly, was an early lady climber and a founder of the Pinnacle Club, the first rock-climbing club solely for women. Born in 1873 as Martha Emily Bowler, she began climbing in 1914 and was noted for her graceful and bold balance climbing techniques. Her husband Harry Mills Kelly also climbed and was employed as an insurance clerk in Manchester’s Levenshulme district.

One of her significant achievements was soloing a rock climb called Jones’ route up the English Lake District’s Scafell Pinnacle. Beyond her personal climbing exploits, Kelly was instrumental in encouraging women to participate in climbing. She was known for her climbing abilities, her interest in others’ climbing experiences, and her overall enthusiasm. Tragically, she died a year after founding the Pinnacle Club in a climbing accident on Tryfan about three and a half miles north-north-west as the crow flies from Llyn Llydaw.

By this time Emily and her husband were residents of Bramall in Cheshire. However, 17 April 1922 found them in Snodonaia on the final day of a Pinnacle Club Easter meet. At the end of the day Emily was found lying on her own severely injured and missing a climbing boot at the base of some easy-to-climb rocks. At an inquest held later that month her husband said in evidence that he was walking leisurely with his wife down a steep, grassy, gully, unroped, when a piece of rock on which she leaned to steady herself broke away. After falling only a few feet she then rolled for about 150 feet further. Taken to Caernarvonshire and Anglesey Infirmary in Bangor, Emily Kelly died on 26 April 1922 from fractures to the base of her skull.

In her memory, the Pinnacle Club named the pictured hut in Cwm Dyli as the Emily Kelly Hut. Nowadays this is a comfortable cottage which can accommodate up to 22 people. The hut was originally discovered as a shell by club member Evelyn Lowe during a climbing trip, and despite the initial challenges such as cooking on Primus stoves and fetching water from a nearby stream, it has undergone significant renovations. Originally, the power company owners agreed a 5-year lease at the rate of £10 p.a. A further £8 made the cottage habitable and also paid for the installation of electric light.

Today, it’s equipped with a kitchen, hot shower and heating options for the cold winter months. The hut is also located close to walking trails, a campsite that rents kayaks and paddleboards and the village of Beddgelert, making it an ideal location for a hiking holiday. It’s important to note that only full Pinnacle Club members and kindred club members can book the hut as individuals. Other clubs can make group bookings at the discretion of the Pinnacle Club.

Next Time: Mount Snowdon

© Always Worth Saying 2023