The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales

A New UK UNESCO World Heritage Site

The story of Wales Slate is an age-old one. This post-industrial landscape has a special place in the hearts of residents. The Slate Landscape of North West Wales tells the story of the evolution of a quiet, agricultural region to an area where there was no escape from the slate industry.

The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales was formed by the quarrying, processing and transport of slate to produce roofing materials and architectural materials for global markets, from the late eighteenth century to the twentieth. It is a cultural landscape – one where the works of nature and humankind combine to express a deep relationship between people and their natural environment.

As well as the quarries themselves, both on the surface and underground, this cultural landscape has also been shaped by the need to tip substantial quantities of waste rock; to process and transport slate; to manage water as both a threat and an asset; to house workers and their families; and to provide for their material, moral and intellectual .well-being


Where is The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales?

53.176628 N 4.0737530 W
53.121043 N 4.1159104 W
53.077737 N 4.2227757 W
52.968268 N 4.1620506 W
53.002617 N 3.9431892 W
52.649729 N 3.8850403 W


It is characterised by the monumental scale of hillside workings, deep pits and underground chambers, as well as outstanding technical equipment and engineering marvels.

The wealth generated by the industry allowed industrialists and quarry owners to build grand houses, where the workers practices from rurality were preserved in their settlements.

Together they show a cohesive transition from an agricultural to industrial society – and particularly how a traditional minority culture adapted in the Industrial Age.


The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales is much more than just an industrial site. The slate-quarryman is an iconic figure for many people in Wales and beyond. Characterised in literature and folklore for his progressive politics, loyalty to the Welsh language and cheery nature despite the difficulties his labour inflicted upon his health.


At least 65% of the inhabitants of the UNESCO World Heritage Site speak Welsh (with higher proportions within certain communities) and participate in a thriving Welsh language literature, arts and craft and music scene.

The communities of The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales form the heartland for the Welsh language, which is an important attribute of the World Heritage Site. Welsh is identified as an indigenous language by UNESCO and formed part of the UNESCO Year of Indigenous Languages celebrations in 2019.


The technologies developed in the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales were fundamental to the development of the Slate industries of continental Europe and the USA, as well as quarrying more generally.

By the late nineteenth century the area represented about a third of Slate production worldwide, making possible the rapid urbanisation and architectural development of Africa, Australia, Eurasia and North and South America.

Snowdonia’s railways comprise of a specific technological system which was adopted in mountainous regions worldwide – including the Darjeeing Himalayan Railway, part of the Mountain Railways of India UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales in numbers

"This UNESCO inscription is a magnificent achievement comparable to the effort and perseverance of the people who lived in these awe-inspiring places and worked these slate mines. UNESCO World Heritage Site status calls for a galvanising vision, and everyone from Gwynedd Council, its partners and the people now living in those historic settlements should be commended for their solid commitment to getting the global recognition that their landscape well deserves."

Kate Pugh OBE, Non-Executive Director for Culture at the UK National Commission for UNESCO


To be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, a site must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria.

The Slate Landscape of Nothwest Wales met 2 of them.


Exhibits an Important Interchange of Human Values.

Technologies that evolved in the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales were fundamental to the development of similar industries elsewhere in Europe and the USA.

The Slate extracted from the area that came to dominate the global market also encouraged major developments in building and architecture, such as terraced housing.


An Outstanding Example of a Type Of Building, Architectural or Technological Ensemble or Landscape Which Illustrates a Significant Stage in Human History.

The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales illustrates in a dramatic way the ‘combined works of nature and of man’ through the large-scale exploitation of natural resources.

Both water and gravity were harnessed ingeniously to power the machinery that hew the slate from the mountainsides and valley floors.

The lavish houses and parklands of the quarry owners convey the levels of capital achievable from the extraction of this resource.


As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales has developed a philosophy for governance of the area in which conservation and sustainable development are at the heart, whilst promoting a vibrant regional economy.

Of vital importance is that Welsh language and culture continues to be recognised and celebrated throughout all levels of the governance of the area, now and in the future.

SDG Goal 11; Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable has been identified as a cross-cutting theme throughout management of the area.

The Seven Goals of the The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 will also inform policies used to manage and preserve the site – which have sustainable development at their core.

As well as this each theme of the World Heritage area’s management considers the needs of the communities, residents and business that occupy the region.


In 2017 Gwynedd was voted the fourth-best region in the world to visit by the travelguide publisher Lonely Planet.

Walking and exploration have been popular activities in the area for many years amongst both visitors and locals, often prompted by an interest in natural surroundings or in the historic past.

Visitors have explored and enjoyed the region since the eighteenth century. Many of these early travellers came for mountaineering or to explore the region’s rich botanical,geological and cultural heritage.

It is important that the area can still be enjoyed and experienced by all groups of people, and remains and authentic cultural environment.


The historic archive of the slate industry of Northwest Wales and of its transport systems, settlements and communities is detailed and voluminous. These documents are preserved and made available to the public.

The Snowdonia National Park study centre at Plas Tan y Bwlch has been running practical courses in industrial archaeology for adult learners since 1972. These are now among the very few professionally-led courses in the field of Post-Medieval archaeology in the United Kingdom.

There is considerable potential for encouraging community engagement and volunteering. By fostering and developing heritage-related skills and training amongst a volunteer base, the Partnership Steering Group can help to support employment prospects including qualification-based training.

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