A ruined farm near Llyn Cregennan...and some mining remains
We were on the lookout for old mines on Google Earth when Petra spotted some trials near Llyn Cregennan, a picturesque lake overlooked by that sharp little peak, Bryn Brith (which I think means "speckled hill"). We motored on up from Dolgellau and scanned the hills for adits...sure enough, there were a couple within striking distance. But we didn't expect to find this ruined house, a welcome surprise. It was on Google Earth, but we somehow missed it.
We ditched the car and walked up via a footpath, which very helpfully passed some mineral trials on the way. This is an ancient landscape, inhabited from the bronze age at least, and there are numerous indications of this- vestiges of hut circles, standing stones etc. Hafotty fach (SH 65997 13471) was a slightly more modern addition, but no less fascinating.
It's not really a Hafod (a small summer dwelling) nor a small house, as the name might lead you to believe. In fact it has signs of a modest grandeur about it, with big chimney stacks and fireplaces in several rooms. It appears on the 1842 survey maps in it's present plan form, but I suspect that at one time it was much smaller. The back room has a huge wooden lintel to the fireplace, almost completely ruinous now, but the masonry and rocks that make up this part of the house are rounder and larger than the slightly more worked examples everywhere else in the structure. So I would guess that this back room was indeed the "hafotty fach" and that in later times it was extended. It may have been a small-time hotel for people in the C18-19 taking in the grand tour of Wales- the buildings to the side do look suspiciously like stables. From the situation of the place, with a grandstand seat to the spectacle of Tyrriau Mawr, sloping relentlessly up to the peak of Cadair, it does indeed look a "sublime" spot.
I am indebted to my friend Myfyr Tomos, who called upon his local knowledge and connections to furnish me some information about the place:
"I spoke to Emlyn Lloyd at Cregennen Farm. The house was on the old Penmaenucha estate and the last family (John Jones) moved out in the late 1950s to live in the "newish" house of Ffridd Boedel, overlooking Cregennen Lake. Why it fell into disrepair he didn't know. The Penmaenucha estate was left to the National Trust in 1959 by Captain Charles Llewelyn Wyn Jones in memory of his two sons, killed in the 2nd World War.
Some trials for gold, copper, lead and probably manganese at Cyfannedd and Cwm Llwyd and a small trial by the roadside between Hafotty Fach and Ffridd Boedel. "
We walked up the slope behind the house and had our lunch on an outcrop of igneous rock. In the next field were a several piles of stones, placed haphazardly. They were all of a similar size and looked to have been worked. Petra remembered seeing something similar at Ganllwyd, by the gold mines there. These were not from the farmer clearing the land of stones, for those would have been carted away to a field corner, not dumped in a pile arbitrarily. Afterwards, we headed to the nearest mineral trial, to the SW of the house at SH65921344. This was interesting...
The small pit seemed to have been hand worked, no sign of explosives such as shot-blast holes were found in the rock. There was a substantial waste tip and a rudimentary shelter nearby. The waste was fascinating. I picked up a chunk of the dark mineral and felt how heavy it was- Manganese.
I guess this was an early trial, and not necessarily for manganese- that was only really in demand from the start of the bessemer steel making process in the mid 1800s. Manganese is found in layers of ore-rich sedimentary rocks that formed in ancient oceans under specialized conditions. These occurred when changes in the oxidation state of ocean water first caused high concentrations of dissolved manganese and later precipitated various manganese minerals that became concentrated on the seabed.
That seabed was then thrust up by tectonic and volcanic activity. As if to highlight this, Petra found a chunk of rock in the tip where volcanic tuff had landed on an area of sand that had been rippled by wind and water.
If this was a manganese trial, I feel it would have been from 1910 onwards, when the pressure for steel was acute- and somehow, these trials looked older than that. The manganese was of reasonable quality, too- but perhaps there weren't large enough deposits, or it just wasn't what the prospectors were looking for.
We moved on to the next trial, at SH 65884 13404, nearer the road this time. Again, it looked like the rock had been crowbarred out and there was a substantial pile, but this time, not so much manganese ore in the tip. There was a good deal of igneous rock and tuffs, perhaps from a volcanic caldera or fumerole- both good spots to find gold and silver ores.
The old mineral prospectors used a range of clues to find deposits of ore. They read the landscape, knowing where volcanic and sedimentary rocks lay under the ground, digging then chipping away with their hammers. But what's less known is that they used a knowledge of plants and what they indicated.
For instance, copper-loving plants have been successfully used to make big ore discoveries in the Chilean Andes while in Britain, both tungsten and tin have been discovered over the years by following plant clues. So far more than 200 plants have been found that have the ability to be used this way.
Ordinary yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is very good at accumulating zinc, while common horsetail, (Equisetum arvensea) does the same with gold.
Whilst mooching around the ruins, we found a cache of slates behind the house, as if whoever had placed them years ago wanted to use them somewhere else. I wondered if they had been mined originally from Cyfanned Fawr, the slate/lead mine a couple of miles south.
This area to the south west of Llyn Cregennan is a fascinating one, especially for the student of landscape. I felt that we'd only looked at the surface, not really understanding very much. As with most things in Wales, it will require further study, particularly here, where the palimpsest contains marks made during several ages, from early man, through medieval to pre and post industrial. Much to study!
Thanks again to Myfyr for doing some invaluable detective work.