A new look at an old friend, at the top of a favourite Cwm ...
We've visited Cwm Pennant countless times over the last seven years. Almost every time, I have gazed up at the Prince of Wales quarry with a guilty feeling, knowing that I have failed to do it justice. Perhaps due to dull weather, excessively bright weather, or more likely, a lack of photographic ability. The place has an epic quality about it- in contrast to it's distinctly uninspiring economic performance - and I felt I hadn't yet conveyed that.
The quarry has an exquisite location at the head of one of Wales' most beautiful and haunting cwms, where poets, harpists, bonesetters, surgeons and preachers once lived; a landscape where every field corner is still thick with ghosts.
Now the cwm is largely given over to silence...to holiday cottages and a few down at heel farms. But a lot of magic and mystery remains, and I hope to at least hint at some of it here.
Perhaps the best way to start out on our adventure is from the car park after Beudy Newydd farm at SH5401849207. You cross a stile and on to the footpath here, noting that the path and car park have been provided with a grant from the EEC and that, as the sign says, you are on Private Land. Only here on sufferance, in other words.
A short climb takes you up to the Prince of Wales quarry manager's house, "Cwm Trwsgl". Its a lovely spot, with two mature trees shading the front area.
Across the valley is the Chwarel Dol Ifan Gethin, or Dolgarth, looking from this distance like a diagram of a slate quarry - although in fact it was also a metal mine. (Note to self- must explore soon) The house and route up to here have been covered in another blog post about the Cwm Dwyfor mine, so I'll not tarry here.
We gained the tramway formation above the manager's house and turned right, south east, to the mill. You have to negotiate a collapsed cutting where the slate is seriously rustic and gives way all too readily- you would think this might have given the promoters pause for thought, eh?
Then, the mill is reached, and what a wonderful structure; not as flamboyant or large as the Pandy Mill in Cwmystradllyn, but fine all the same. I felt in some ways, it echoed the construction at Hafod Las slate mill, Betws y Coed, with almost Brunellian arches to the windows and a monumental wheelpit and leat supports. The wheelpit was deep and hidden in undergrowth, but it is possible to look inside the pit from within the mill. It seems as if it was at least a thirty foot wheel.
Today, the mill seems an improbable spot for folk to work. It's very remote and would have been even back in the late 1800s. Perhaps the men lodged at the barracks on the upper levels of the quarry. There was an old Hafod above the reservoir that looks as if it might have provided some accommodation for workers, as well as being a workshop. Commuting on the tramway would be an unlikely choice, given that it was a horse drawn line until latterly- but I suppose we can't rule that out.
Once we'd had a good look around the mill, we followed the well-worn path up beside the incline towards the main quarry. The incline head here is an impressive feature, made more exciting by tantalising glimpses of what is ahead.
At this point, we decided to explore around the dam area to the right of the photo above, going towards the quarry workshop. We became rather bogged down and had to retreat back to the tramway, deciding to access the workshop from the lower levels, rather than risk wet boots! This was what had tempted us-
We made our way across and down to the old Hafod, which had been converted into a forge and possibly a barracks. On the way down, the sun came out and we decided to have lunch atop a fine flight of steps... these connected the lowest working level of the quarry with the workshop (and possibly barracks) below.
The workshop was an interesting ruin in a very sheltered spot. It showed definite evidence of having been a forge, with the hearth clearly visible at the end of the building. It was at this point that Petra spotted what she thought was a mine on the hillside above. We stored that thought, while we climbed back up for a look at the lower levels. It was our intention to go over and have a look at the Princess quarry before taking time to check out the main quarry again, and we could also take a look at this new discovery of Petra's at the same time.
Back up the steps and onto the lower levels revealed an adit, still open but only to those of a gymnastic persuasion. There were colossal slabs left lying about here, a feature of the quarry in general. Slate was processed in walliau around the quarry, but slabs were sent down to the mill. Perhaps a lot of the slabs were found to be just not worth the bother- many were actually used as sleepers for the tramway. Here, I felt there was a strong similarity with the Gorseddau quarry in the next cwm, where huge slabs lying seemingly haphazardly are also a feature.
Now for something that has taken me ages to notice and subsequently study. A feature of most south facing quarries is the variety of lichens and algae that can be found growing on the rock. The most common is the Map Lichen, (rhizocarpon geographicum), so called because it looks like, well, a map! This lichen is also very handy, because we know that it grows at slightly less than 1mm a year- so a (very) rough guess can be made about how long some of the slabs have been lying in position. It is possible to date the lichens accurately by a process called Lichenography- very scientific, of course and a whole different area of scholarship, intended more for the dating of glaciers and moraine deposits..
The Prince of Wales quarry is not the best site for lichens, the nearby Gorseddau has some better examples, as does Rhosydd quarry in the Moelwyns, but there are some other notable species here which I will point out as we encounter them. Of course, now I know a little about lichens, I spot them everywhere...
At this point I will pause, returning very shortly with the next episode in this study of the quarry...with an exciting bonus feature, a peek at the Princess!
There will, of course, also be the customary "Factoids" feature for those hungry for hard data to work their Industrial Archaeology molars on.