As usual, I needed a little help with my Welsh pronunciation at Aberdulais as I knew that the French look to the word was bound to be deceptive. And it certainly was! The best way I can describe the correct pronunciation is that it is something like ‘Abbadilice’.
Whichever way you say it, a visit to Aberdulais will give you some interesting background on the glory days of Welsh industry in the Vale of Neath. The site is home to the ruins of the tinplate manufacturing operation located here between the 1830s and 1890s, so this is the main focus of the exhibition boards on display in the Old Stables, the first thing you come to on your visit. It is slightly refreshing that the emphasis is on the work and the workers rather than on those who made money from their exploits. There is a little information on the owners, including the William Llewellyn who pioneered tinplating at Aberdulais and who established a school for his younger workers in 1842 (now the site of the School House Tearoom), but the main focus is on the men, women and indeed children who worked there and their roles in the different stages of the tinplating process.
Although the focus is on the tinplate activities, other industries that harnessed the power of the waterfall between the 16th and 18th centuries are also mentioned around the site, including copper smelting, woollen milling, corn milling and iron forging. There is even some information about the popularity of the Vale of Neath among landscape painters, including a certain JMW Turner, who famously painted the falls while staying in the Neath valley in the 1790s.
All of this is summarised in an excellent 10-minute video that can be viewed upstairs in the Turbine House. However, I did feel that this would actually be the perfect introduction to Aberdulais and its history and that it would be better if visitors were directed to this first, rather than being sent straight to the exhibition in the Old Stables. So, I am making that recommendation here: watch the video first and then tour the exhibition and ruins after.
The waterfall is an integral part of Aberdulais, having played a major role in delivering power to the various industries conducted here over the years. When all is said and done, though, it’s also just really pretty so I’m sure you’ll want to stop to take some photos. But if you’re a keen photographer, please don’t hog the perfect viewpoint with your tripod and outstay your welcome when other people are trying to get the best shot (just saying!)
Last, but by no means least, I have to mention the hydroelectric waterwheel at Aberdulais, which was the first hydro wheel operated by the National Trust when it was set up in the early 1990s. It’s a bit of a beast and is the largest electricity-generating waterwheel in Europe so well worth seeing in action. Unfortunately, it is currently out of action so we missed out on that and our hot drinks had to be made using power from the National Grid instead.
Highlights: Waterfall and hydroelectric power (albeit not functioning!)
Refreshments: Redbush tea (for the second property running!) and half a slice of bara brith
Companion(s): Helen and Simon
PS: After visiting Aberdulais, I would recommend a drive up the Vale of Neath to visit some of the other waterfalls along the way. We had quite a long journey back to Carmarthenshire so we only visited the nearest – Melincourt Falls near Resolven (another spot once painted by Turner) – but if you head further up the valley, you enter ‘Waterfall Country’ so if you haven’t had your fill of falls, there are plenty more to see.