Gunpowder and gorges in the Brecon Beacons

Ruth Adamson, Broads Authority Tolls Assistant, had the opportunity to visit the Brecon Beacons National Park on an exciting "Gunpowder and gorges" study day through the Society for National Parks (SNPS). 

Find out what she got up to on her visit below...

ruth infront of waterfall

On Friday 18 October I joined 18 other Society of National Parks Staff members from Pembrokeshire, South Downs, Exmoor, New Forest and Brecon Beacons.

After arriving in Wales we travelled by minibus and pool car to Glyn Neath gunpowder works, a site which has received heritage lottery funding to enable restoration and improved knowledge of the area as part of the Explosive Times Project.

We learned about the area's unique history amidst the typical welsh weather of constant rain. The gunpowder works were in use from 1857 - 1931 to produce powder for mining and quarrying in the local area. The location of the works was remote and allowed a lot of space between buildings to minimise the impact of any explosions, and the River Mellte running alongside was an important part of the works, providing the water power for the machinery.

The process for producing gunpowder was extensive, making up ten stages: Refining/grinding, mixing and incorporating, pressing, corning, dusting glazing, pelleting, drying, proofing and packing.

Horses were used to transport materials across the site and onto canals and railways for onward travel to larger destinations. At the time the area was well connected by the Neath Valley Railway which ran from Merthyr Tydfil to Neath. The works closed in 1931 when the government no longer permitted gunpowder for use in the industry.

old gunpowder works

The area has now been transformed and is an important habitat for wildlife and plants, including rare moss and lichens, eleven bat species as well as 110 different types of moth. The heritage lottery funding is also allowing tree felling where they are endangering the historic buildings (and in some cases the walkers below!).

For lunch we sat in the village hall to dry off a little and chat over cake and tea before leaving for the waterfalls for our afternoon session, the purpose of which was finding out about sustainable tourism. 

In an area suffering from over-tourism, it was interesting to discuss possibilities for keeping the area attractive while acknowledging there are no facilities nearby and that paths are unsuitable as they lead off narrow lanes with farmers’ fields around (resulting in difficulties navigating the roads in the summer when many cars park either side of the road). Despite hearing about the challenges I thoroughly enjoyed walking under the waterfall and learning more about 'waterfall country', it was easy to see the appeal for visitors.

brecon waterfall

The main take away from my visit was the fact that although we want to protect our National Parks – the infrastructure, wildlife and plantlife, we also need to balance the need for tourism as it brings in vital money and awareness. The challenges faced in Brecon started me thinking about the similarities and differences between our two parks, particularly how the Brecon Beacons do not openly advertise their attractions and instead provide mainly factual information on their websites. They also actively discourage other companies and websites from advertising due to the lack of parking and facilities to cope with demand. This contrasts with the Broads Authority's approach in attracting people to the area.

Although it took two days for my clothes and shoes to dry out from the day, I had a very enjoyable day so thank you to the Brecon Beacons who hosted the event and to the Broads Authority for supporting me in attending!

For more information:

https://www.beacons-npa.gov.uk/planning/heritage2/heritage-hotspots/pontneddfechan-gunpowder-works/

http://www.breconbeacons.org/gunpowderworks

http://www.breconbeacons.org/waterfall-country

Membership of SNPS is one of the benefits of working for the Broads Authority. It offers National Parks staff a number of opportunities for professional development, including visits to other protected landscapes for job shadowing, specialised study tours to learn more about National Parks and even social events to be enjoyed with colleagues in their own areas. 

If you are interested, please visit our careers page to view current job vacancies and read our working for us page to learn more about life working for a National Park.

Monday 9 December 2019