Exploring Aberdulais Tin Works and Falls
JMW Turner was just one of many painters charmed by the beauty of Aberdulais Falls. Over 200 years later and it remains a popular tourist destination, not only for its natural features, but for the remains of a tin works, one of many industries that sprang up here to harness the power of the falls. Located in South Wales they are home to Europe’s largest electricity-generating waterwheel, as well as playing a role in the creation of the world’s first beer cans. I decided to take a visit to this National Trust site to find out more about this slice of local Welsh history.
Aberdulais, meaning mouth of the River Dulais, is a village only 12 miles away from the city and port of Swansea, and 40 miles from the Welsh capital of Cardiff, making it an ideal day trip. This also meant it was in a great location for industry and over the last 400 years copper-smelting (to produce coin to fight the Spanish Armada), iron working, textile and grain milling, and tin plating have all taken place here. The site features an interesting 10 minute film exploring the history of the falls to the present day. The former stables now hold a small museum which looks at life for 19th century tin plate workers and explains how Welsh tinplate created the first cans of beer at a brewery just down the road in Llanelli.
Sat in the original wheel pit the new waterwheel creates green electricity to make the Aberdulais Falls site self-sufficient, as well as enough for the local neighbourhood to use. Surprisingly, even though it is the biggest of its type in Europe, the waterwheel isn’t what dominates the view here. Next to the riverbank a chimney stack standing 18 metres high is the most prominent of the remains of the tinplate works. The other buildings are ruins, however the ash pits used where iron plates were dipped in molten tin, as well as the annealing furnace are still clearly visible.
Viewing platforms have been erected so visitors can get a closer look at Aberdulais Falls. Flowing from the Brecon Beacons the river looks calm until it hits the falls where up to 160 million litres of water flow over every day, creating quite a noise. Timing your visit to a wet day, or after periods of heavy rain can in this case pay off to see the falls at their best. Luckily South Wales has lots of rainy days!
The Boring Bit!
- From Swansea catch the 158 bus heading to Banwen, it stops right outside – cost £4.50 for a day ticket, check here for up-to-date times and prices.
- From Cardiff catch the train to Neath then the above bus – cost £8.10 return, check here for up-to-date times and prices.
- Entrance is £4.80 including Gift Aid donation.