The sun was blazing as we dawdled at 30mph along the A4085, behind yet another camper van. I don't know, perhaps the driver was more used to continental roads than ours. He kept gradually creeping over to the right, only swerving back to the left (and braking severely) when a vehicle appeared coming the other way. Who knows, perhaps he was looking for mines.
We found escape from the tedium of the nose-to tail traffic in a turning built for the new Llyn Cwellyn waterworks. It's a wide roadway with room for a couple of cars if you park considerately. (There are all manner of dire warnings posted up on the gates, so it is probably only safe to use this space at the weekend.)
We found a footpath that started up the slopes of Moel Eilio at SH53845 57294, it can be seen on Ian Adams' video of the mine (link at the end of the blog). As is so often the case, we have Ian to thank for finding this gem for us. The path wound through a field with two lovely horses and a very elderly Renault 5, going feral. This path was probably the course of a tramway to the mine, which linked up to the then North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway... a little late, as the output of the mine was negligible by the time the railway reached Betws Garmon.
We passed a rocky knoll which contained an adit/opencut and a fine drumhouse for hauling material out of a pit here. Ian had warned that this adit was full of rubbish, including a whole van, so we carried on uphill. (Farmers and their ways...) At this point, after the drumhouse, the main incline came into view, the eight stoped areas of the mine showing clearly. The iron ore seems to have initially been taken out from opencuts then stoped into the hill. Rubbish runs lie consistently north west of each opening. From what I have gleaned from reading, the ore occurred as nodules of stilpnomlane deposited with the Nnat Ffrancon mudstone measures.The tips are full of interesting minerals.
Being high summer, the vegetation was doing it's best to impede us, with fern and gorse staging a riot of growth. It's a little tricky to access the mine, not to mention steep, but it certainly is worth the effort. The first idication that the game was afoot was a stile with the welcome sign "Danger, Shafts"...which was encouraging. The path led over a bridge across a stope which was choked with vegetation, well near impossible to access. No matter, the next level was in sight. This was an opencut leading to a stoped out area, becoming rapidly higher as we walked in. On our right was a steep unguarded shaft leading down to the lower level, and another on our left. This seemed to be a pattern as we moved up the workings, with exposed shafts from opencuts at each level, making it essential to exercise the utmost caution. The entrances were often choked with bracken, masking the deadly holes until we were almost upon them, making for an exciting explore.
We detoured across to a working area, where there were so many remains that it was impossible to clearly guess what might have gone on. There were plenty of concrete machine bases and a round stone grinding wheel. I know that there was a gas engine here along with several ore grading machines- it also looked as if water was employed to wash the ore, concrete channels having been cast with bolts protruding everywhere. . The working floor was dominated by a beautiful old Ash tree and we sat under it's shady canopy to have our lunch, marvelling at the view. The mournful wail of a Garratt locomotive carried up to us and we watched fascinated as it scurried along, reduced to a miniature from our viewpoint. The extensive tips of Hafod-y-Wern slate quarry could be seen across the valley, surely an explore for when there will be less leaves on the trees, as it is heavily wooded.
Then we forged uphill once more to further workings. It was at this point I noticed that my camera had been malfunctioning. When I put it on manual to take photos underground, it had insisted on applying a stupid "tilt shift" filter. Despite Petra's best efforts, (she is much more patient and intelligent than me) she couldn't disable this. I bought the camera solely because of it's ability to take long exposures, and now it was useless. Why the filters were included in the feature set is a mystery as they were all things that could be accomplished with even the most rudimentary image software. Now the only feature that was useable was "Auto Shoot" where the camera seems to know what you want to achieve and cleverly does the exact opposite. I stomped around in a bad tempered way for a while, resisting the impulse to throw the camera down a hole.
Further up the hill, more pillars and bolts were found, suggesting that these were connected in some way with the aerial ropeway* which at one time ran across the summit of the bwlch towards Llanberis. Incidentally, the boundary between the two mining concerns lies where a fence crosses the sett, visible in my photograph at the head of the blog. It's possible that the inclines were solely used by the Ystrad Mine, while Garreg Fawr used a ropeway to transport ore. One of the wonderful things about this mine, as with places like Clogwyn-y-Fuwch, is that the hard climbing rewards with views of the surrounding area. To the south west, the mighty bulk of Mynydd Mawr showed its steep northern flanks, while to the north, as the haze began to lift, the Menai straits and the towers of Castell Caernarfon could be discerned.
I won't bore you with endless descriptions of every stope and adit, but we did find a couple of fascinating features. In one stope there was a sink hole in the floor with water rushing down it, the abyss below seeming to fall well out of torch range. There were several marooned adits, that fascinating feature, a sign of early exploration before work progressed downwards. There was also an adit which defeated us- Petra waded in for a little while, but the water was up to waist level and, more seriously worrying, the mud was extremely deep and sticky. So kudos to Ian for actually negotiating this one- we gave up. As for the camera, It did eventually recover, and I still use it for underground shots...just have to be careful not to select "Filter" !
Suffice to say that this is a dangerous mine, with the very present and real danger of imminent death by falling down a hidden sink hole. Caution must be taken and the correct equipment carried- sorry for the nannying pronouncements, but if this mine was in Cwm Nantcol there would be more barbed wire than the Ypres salient in 1915.
Ian Adams' video of the mine here
"Cwm Gwyfrai" The Quarries of the North Wales Narrow Gauge and the Welsh Highland Railways, by Gwynfor Pierce Jones and Alun John Richards, Gwasg Garreg Gwalch.
*Wilkinson, J.S., ‘Iron Ore Mining in Caernarfonshire’,
British Mining No. 78 Memoirs 2005, Northern Mines Research Society, 2005, pp. 99, 100
Some more photos: