There seemed to be no end to the heatwave, nowhere to go to escape the glare of the sun. Not that I'm complaining, I have enjoyed the current phase of liquid gold, but taking photographs of mines and quarries in this weather results in very stark photographs and is beyond my skill level.
Petra suggested having a look at the Coed Felinrhyd, which is near to our home- we'd never been before. It looked like a handy trip without too much sweaty driving, but I wasn't too enthusiastic...another forest, close to a power station...
Of course, I was hugely mistaken. The place is really special, as I hope the photos show. We took a path close to the Afon Prysor- the river was very low- but this was to prove an advantage. We soon encountered a wonderful old bridge, about six feet wide with no parapets, but with ivy growing down like Lianas. Because of the low water, we were able to get quite close and take some shots from the river bed. I think for the best photographs, you would need early morning light, but my shot here gives the general feel, I hope.
The path started to ramp up in a series of steps through ancient oak and birch woods. I wondered if Tolkien had been here, and had been inspired to create the woods of Lothlorien, as I was feeling the sense of enchantment with the place. What put the icing on our cake was the discovery of a mine (well, a trial, really) above the path. The tip had been degraded by the construction of the trail path, but there was a fair preponderance of rustic slate about. There is a record in Wilkinson's Gazetteer of a gold mine on the north bank of the river possibly on the same lode- we will have to investigate.
We carried on- up until this point, we had the place to ourselves, but soon we noticed a school group doing some gorge walking in the river. The place is so enclosed that after walking a very short while from them, we couldn't hear them shouting.
We eventually reached the Rheadr Ddu, normally a raging torrent- it was barely a trickle.
I get the feeling that in wet weather, this would be a waterproof footwear type of walk, but during the heatwave it is a delight to wander and not encounter bog in Wales, even if the waterfall was non-existant!
There was a great variety of wildlife...from signs of badger activity to the unmistakable sound of wood warblers, long tailed tits, redstarts and flycatchers. Sadly, the moss and lichens that the reserve is famous for were all under great stress- great banks of moss were fragile, dry confections of light green fibres. We did note some wonderful trees in the woods, including some amazing oaks that had survived attempts to kill them in the 'forties and 'fifties.
This woodland was rescued by the Woodland Trust, who had to fight a stiff battle against the invasive rhododendron and the widespread coniferisation of the area. I didn't see one rhododendron, so they have succeeded there. I noted some dog's mercury and wood sorrel in some of the clearer areas. Some of the conifers, being mature trees, have been left to protect the oaks and ashes from the weather, although I did note quite a few with the dreaded red circles on them.
I can recommend this place if you like a peaceful walk with plenty of trees and wildlife, or if you just want to sit for a while and enjoy the peace of one of Wales' oldest woodlands.
Maps: OS Explorer OL18 and Landranger 124
Grid reference SH656389
Woodland Trust web link for the reserve
Parking for five or six cars is available in a lay-by across from the Power station at Maentwrog.
There's not much out there on the internet about this secretive mine, and it's neighbour, the Afon Gamallt mine. Looking on the map, or Google earth, it's easy to see why- the place is surrounded by a good deal of boggy ground -and where the ground isn't quaking gloop, there's knee-deep heather. Nevertheless, Petra and I have had a long-term fascination for this magical place, being gluttons for punishment. We first visited in 2008...my memory of that epic day was of falling thigh deep into a morass and emerging covered in sphagnum and the aforementioned gloop. Since then, we have made a few expeditions to the Gamallt and found out more fascinating details each time.
Our latest sortie was in a spell of unseasonably dry weather. The moor was like tinder, the moss crackling underfoot. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, although there were still some very soggy areas that were best avoided. We approached by the south west side of Y Garnedd, near Foel Gron. We kept high so that we were on dry ground-it's not such difficult country until you hit the moor. We sat a couple of hundred feet up on one of the outcrops of Y Garnedd and looked at the country below, where a sheep was happily munching next to a particularly virulent green patch of bog. We made for the east side of the valley between the Sarn Helen/Carreg-y-Fran ridge and the rising ground below the line of Graig Goch. The country between is a series of bogs and low-lying morass- it's possible to traverse this with care, but having done so once, years ago, enthusiasm for it was weak. Petra also had an idea that there might be a small trial on the southern extremity of the ridge, so we made for that. As we got nearer, large boulders were scattered around. It became more difficult to make progress due to the mixture of heather, bilberry and tussock grass, but we eventually attained the higher ground.
It was just possible to make out what might have been a level and a shallow digging here, covered now in a growth of heather. But the tip was the giveaway- it was still bare of vegetation and displayed some fine crystal growths in the rocks.
We carried on in a northerly direction and realised that it had been a mistake to climb up to the plateau, as although we were only a hundred feet or so above the floor of the valley, the ground was very difficult to negotiate. Further onto the plateau it was covered in short heather and sheep nibbled grass, but here it was a breakleg world of huge boulders and deep old heather. After a great deal of cursing and stumbling, we eventually dropped down to the floor of the valley where a wall ran, separating the grassy bog with the steep sided rampart of the gamallt plateau. I was very grateful for my walking pole, which saved me more than a few times.
The wall was old, but very fine. We stumped along on the left side of it, northwards until at last, we could see the ruined building in front of one of the adits for the mine. Here the spoil lay about in heaps, shimmering and sparkling in the sun, betraying a great deal of effort by people hammering and prising the ore out. There were some flat slabs of rock set into the ground, presumably to use as anvils for cobbing the ore. Far different to the rock near the trial earlier. here the rock was sharper, more abrasive. I knew that, on closer examination, there would be nodules of lead in the quartzy boulders, along with iron sulphides. Intitially, it was thought that gold was present, one of the developers referring to assays of 2oz per ton of quartz from the deposits.
We had our lunch in the dilapidated building, it's roof open to the sky. I have read that this structure was possibly an office but tend to disagree, the built up area inside looks remarkably like a hearth- and surely the smith would be one of the most important people at the mine. The structure is built from country rock and reminds me of the structure at the Moel Hebog mine, with thick gable walls and the hearth against the north end. Roughly cut moss slates lay on the floor, perhaps from one of the slate trials nearby. There are two other structures here, a curious round-walled structure, almost completely ruinous, and a three-sided building further up the hill, reminiscent of a similar structure at Drum quarry, also unexplained.
Excavations seem to have concentrated on a wall or outcrop of ore-bearing rock twenty five feet or so above the workings and adits. Mineral deposits seem to have been chased down in an opencut, then when this became impractical, an adit was driven to exploit the mineral from below. The adits along the escarpment are fine but quite short, although at least two are run-in. Petra then made an interesting discovery below the mine- examining an area that might have resembled a low tip run, she discovered a very overgrown and flooded adit. I would guess that it must be of some age, given that the spoil on the other tips is still exposed, similarly with the old slate trials on the west of the valley. A rudimentary exploration of the tip with a boot revealed some quartzy rock, so certainly not a slate trial. We knelt down in the soggy heather on the floor of the opencut here to peer into the adit- it was probably belly-deep in gloop, but the drive appeared to run for quite a way. It felt much like one of the Afon Gamallt adits I mentioned earlier, but too overgrown to see if this one had a masonry portal.
Sadly, the mine was too far away from anywhere to be profitable; the country was too boggy to be able to make a road cheaply. Although a tramway was considered briefly in conjunction with the slate trials nearby, it would have had to have been heroic in it's engineering, given the gradients to be encountered along the way to Llan Ffestiniog. Sadly, all these schemes, and the mine itself, floundered in 1892.
If you are feeling like a dip in mud, or some bog-hopping, the mine is at SH 7428 4439. The mine was only worked intensively for two years, between 1890-92, although some of the other workings and the valley floor adit are obviously of some antiquity. There are references to Sir Owen Wynn having his men mining here in the 1650s.
"The Old Copper Mines of Snowdonia", David Bick, Pound House Publishing, 1985.
"Lead Mining in Wales", W. J. Lewis, University of Wales Press, 1967.
I am a stravaiger. A wanderer, often aimlessly. I'm not normally one for footpaths. I like to photograph views that few others have recorded; a different take on a well-known site, perhaps, or an unusual viewpoint.
This approach is not without it's responsibilities. Earlier this year, Petra and I revisited the delights of Cwm Bychan and walked up the famous route along the so-called "Roman Steps". It was busy, even in April. It wasn't long, however, before we both saw the possibilities of a hawthorn tree above a small waterfall, some 250 yards off the main track. It was a difficult spot, certainly not somewhere to clamber down, but it made a good photograph. Or it would have done, if my camera hadn't been almost knocked from my hands by a party of ladies who brushed imperiously past me, thinking that I was selfishly blocking the path.
I realised that they had been following our steps- and others were coming, too. Honestly, sheep would have had more sense. I felt annoyed at first, but then remorse got a hold of me and I felt responsible when I saw the ladies struggling down the rocky sides of the waterfall. I guess the moral is, just don't let them see you.
Lately I have been studying Cwm Pennant. There are quarries, mines and ruins enough to keep Petra and I happy for a few months. But I couldn't plot a way to get to some of them, at least not easily, or without tramping over miles of bog. So I fell to studying the maps, and scried a network of footpaths throughout the cwm, marked on both the 1:25,000 and the 1:50,000. The 25k map is my favourite - all that delicious detail.
The paths, my reasoning argued, would give a legal method of attaining access to sites of interest. Of course, these were not places open to the public, but at least I could get up there without encountering some petty lordling with an issue over my trespass on his fiefdom. Once at the site, I would take my chances. Except that, on the ground, these paths didn't seem to exist. Well, a couple are still marked with the familiar signs, but most are obscured and obfuscated. Some lead into quagmires or nests of rusting barbed wire. Some are deliberately blocked.
I've tried a few of these paths now, in the company of my partner in crime. I probably wouldn't have the nerve to try them alone, even though I have a legal right to be there. Why is it that paths aren't marked? Do the landowners want to discourage walkers, or is it just a lack of funds and/or an overseeing body? Certainly, these days, there is precious little profit in putting up footpath signs.
Close attention to the maps is needed, because many of the the paths have all but disappeared. Yet it is very heartening when, unsure if you are on the right track, you suddenly encounter a stile, or a kissing gate, classic signs of a right of way. Every one of the paths I have "discovered" has yielded some special gem, an old ruin, perhaps a view or an intriguing geological find.
Most farmers and landowners that I have encountered are perfectly reasonable and are often very helpful in pointing out routes. These people deserve our grateful thanks. But there are others, those who obstruct the paths, who need to know that there are legal responsibilities that come with rights of way and that there is an obligation to keep them open. And despite what some people might tell you, a path does not go out of use because nobody has walked it for ten years, Or fifty years, or a hundred years, or ever. A path is for life.
I know that my views won't be popular with some folk, but I believe that we are simply the stewards of the landscape, that it is our responsibility to take care of it well, holding it in trust for future generations. None of us should own it, or have the right to keep people off it. With respect and careful measures on both sides, access can work- and footpaths are a good compromise.
I hope I can encourage people to use the footpaths more; to seek them out and find out for themselves what gems are hidden behind the rusting signs or the dilapidated stiles.
I was talking about our network of footpaths with an American friend recently and he was astonished that we were actually allowed to use them. In his country, he said, you would be liable to be shot, or crossbowed- especially in the hunting season, if you crossed private land. To an American, it would seem, private property and possession is everything.
How fortunate we are in Wales to have a network of paths, even if some of them are a little reticent and would rather not be rediscovered. Walk them, open them up again. Enjoy the wonderful landscape and the fascination that it offers. We don't want to lose this precious liberty.