This started out as a straightforward explore of the Arenig Stone Quarry, but like many of our adventures, soon became something else. On our first visit we could only manage a couple of hours, hampered by the lack of light- but we optimistically started in the rain from a lay-by at SH82264 39271.
We followed the fascinating remains of the old quarry tramway that goes south from the main Arenig excavation to a smaller, earlier digging. This tramway is above the line of the old Bala to Blaenau Ffestiniog branch- this too can be followed, as it is a (soggy) permissive right of way. There are the remains of slab bridges, huts and the way is revetted impressively every now and then. As we ambled soggily along, I remembered that I had seen a ruined farm nearby on the map and mentioned this to Petra. Instantly, a new mission was formed- to find the ruins!
The quarry had been fun, but not that interesting, so like magpies that have spotted a shiny set of keys, we headed all-out along a farm track that is marked on the map as a right of way. The track leaves the railway at SH81651 38984. This soon gained some height as it headed south, but then morphed first into a very rough, boggy path, then a dark stain, finally just a rumour in the reeds.
Undeterred, we carried on until Petra spotted an interesting shape on the skyline. We made for it through a field, as the path by now was beyond the reach of boots although it would be OK with wellies, I guess. I didn't say anything to Petra, but a friend had told me that one of the farmers around here is a little bit territorial, and is in the habit of rushing folk on a quad bike. I kept a keen lookout, but thankfully, the horizon stayed clear of any raiding parties.
The ruin was the first of four interesting structures. At first, it looked like it had been some sort of mill or processing works...
Afterwards, courtesy of Coflein, I discovered that the building was an extensive barn, probably for keeping cows in. The large pillar was for supporting the roof. This landscape looks like slim pickings for the sheep today, but perhaps back in the C19th the pasture was improved, as this looks like a prosperous operation. This barn seems to have superceded an earlier one on the same site. Further up the hill to the north east is another steading complex with a farm track running through it. This, too, seems to have belonged to the same farm, Amnodd Wen.
As we left the ruin, heading south, we spotted the farm, Amnodd Wen about a quarter of a mile ahead. There was just enough light to have a look.
I'm glad we did, as it is a fascinating site, and a poignant one. The ruined farm house sits on a sheltered, yet elevated position beside a line of fine Ash trees. Alas, this time, it was too dark to make any decent photos, so we vowed to return on the next fine day. A week later, we had found a slightly faster route to the farm...via another ruined farm! We parked at SH81651 38513, rather cheekily beside the farmer's driveway. We strode boldly down the drive until it met the footpath sign, taking us over the railway and on through the forest. A much easier and dryer route, although despite the fine weather forecast, it had begun to rain...
Undeterred, we soon arrived at our first objective for the day, a ruin called Amnodd Bwch. This still has a roof, although most of the windows have gone. Coflein thinks that it is one of a pair with Amnodd Wen. Perhaps it was built by the landowner originally, although confusingly, while it appears on the Tithe maps of 1838, the present remains correspond more to those marked on the 1901 Ordnance map.
Whatever the origins of the place, it is a fascinating sight. Inside, the big kitchen range was still intact. There is some fine ornamentation in the bargeboarding of the porch, and the windows are a very superior sort that must have cost quite a bit to install, before the days of Everest.
We took a well-earned lunch here and sheltered from a sudden shower in the remains of the barn. Apart from the barn, the steadings were extensive, with pig-sties and sheep pens. In the barn, Petra noticed an inscription above the first storey door. "T & J, 1901". I wondered who they were- estate workers, or family? They built the barn to a vernacular, traditional style that wouldn't have needed much in the way of plans. The steps to the granary were particularly fine and the stone was similar to that used in the farmhouse, perhaps a little less worked.
We carried on along a forestry road towards the other farm, Amnodd Wen. While in a more ruinous state, the place is fascinating and had a rather spooky air on the gloomy day that we visited. The buildings ramble about...it seems that as well as a farmhouse, there were other buildings housing workers, and one structure had been converted to some kind of mill. According to the tithe survey of 1838, there were 36 acres of land under arable cultivation- at the end of one structure there are the remains of a waterwheel in a 3 metre pit and a leat which runs from the stream above the house.
Inside the buildings there are the remains of fireplaces and what looked like a bread oven. There is a curious set of shallow steps leading to an entrance between the buildings- one occasion when I wished for an old photo of the place.
The weather and the light began to get to me, not helped by the old Ash trees beside the farm, which gave off an air of dead men walking, as they are surely doomed. Such a pity, as they are beautiful trees.
I think the feeling of sadness that we always feel when exploring ruined houses had begun to weigh on me. I thought about the families that had lived here, hoping that their lives weren't too hard. I wondered where the children went to school, and how tough the winters were. It seemed like an inhospitable place to live and farm.
It was sad, too, that the signs of endeavour were still around...the axle and bearing from the waterwheel...the remains of ornamentation on the vestiges of woodwork; and a pile of slates stacked against the front wall, as if put there recently, with hopes that they might be used again. We took one last look at the trees and then headed back in the failing light for the road. It was only three o'clock, there would be a coffee shop open somewhere, ready to prop up our sagging spirits with caffeine. And...winter won't last forever, even in Wales!
Best viewed in winter, when the trees provide a filigree backdrop, "Y Twr" was a monument to the vanity of James Huddart, of Brynkir House fame. He was knighted in 1821, the year when George IV succeeded to the throne and it seems that the folly was a celebration of personal success by someone with rather too much money. However, it also provided local craftsmen with work, in the slump just after the Napoleonic wars, so as a hubristic vainglory it perhaps wasn't so bad. North Wales is full of these gestures in the landscape, one only has to look towards Portmeirion or perhaps the wedding present folly of Castell Brondanw.
Some claim that Huddart was knighted for his services to industry and the sinking of speculative mine enterprises, others that he had the tap on the shoulder from the king while on the Royal Britannia Bridge, which would certainly support the claims to be a captain of industry. He was also a chum of William Alexander Madocks; but at least the Cob was more than a monument to vanity, it was actually of some use.
I shouldn't be too hard on the poor fellow, he might have been a self-made millionaire, but he did provide employment for local folk at a time when the only other option was to starve or go to the workhouse. And his rather over-enthusiastic mining activities eventually put him in dire financial straits, as they did many an over-enthusiastic entrepreneur.
Which brings the story round, rather ironically, to the present day. The tower has been finely restored by it's present owner, Richard Williams, after having fallen into disrepair. The floors had gone altogether and it was possible to look from the door up through the entire structure to the sky. Helpfully, the Welsh heritage body Cadw came to the rescue, as the building is Grade II* Listed. It then became possible for Mr Williams to apply for grant aid and after a great deal of effort and money from the owners, the tower is back to it's former glory.
Until recently, anyone could stay there for a week or so, provided they had enough disposable income to spare. Sadly, the tower has disappeared from the holiday let listings- I hope it will be back soon. The views across to Hendre Ddu Slate Mine and Cwm Pennant would be fine, while sipping a morning coffee.
My post about the Plas is here.
A return to the lovely surrounds of Cwm Pennant this time. An easy walk (mainly on a right of way) to an interesting quarry and some great views over to Moel Hebog. What was special about the place, for me, was the sheer variety of mature trees in the woods. I don't know how long some of the lovely old ash trees can hang on for- hopefully for a couple more years, but there were many very old Birches, Oaks and Holly trees to wonder at. Add a fascinating and very old slate quarry to the mix and you have a great location.
We started at GR SH5298446339 at the old Plas y Pennant farmhouse, and parked in a little farmyard. At the moment, the farm is abandoned, although the steading itself is used by another farm. We couldn't find anyone to ask about parking, but thankfully there was no irate note on the windscreen when we returned! A public footpath runs from here, although the sign has been removed. Understandably, as the path runs through the garden of the house and felt very uncomfortable, even though the house is empty. It was too close. The site seems to have been split into four holiday cottages, but would make a nice set of homes for people to actually live in. Perhaps it will be sold this year (2018/19). The footpath can easily be traced on the OS current edition "explorer" map.
On our first visit, Petra and I skirted the farm by going along the farmer's road which was originally the quarry access track, although not a right of way. (SH5299946220) When my daughter Sam accompanied me in the summer, we went through the farm - she's more intrepid than me and egged me on!
We walked up through the woods and found an open adit, badly choked with brambles. But as we stood there feeling the chill air emanating from the portal, a large bird emerged. It seemed almost like a CGI animated creature- and flew closely past my head- an owl! It felt magical, more than scary, in that lovely place.
We eventually arrived at the pit, which is a deep one, but completely choked by trees, who have taken the opportunity to grow in a sheltered and protected spot. Their trunks contorted around the space, like a sinuous dance, stopped in time. I expect that the adit we had seen earlier connected with this pit and was for removing waste.
Walking uphill from the pit, I realised that we were on a plateau, and if we continued in a south westerly direction, we would come to the remote ruin of Llwyn y Betws. I badly wanted to show this to Sam, but the tussock grass (aka "Johnny Breakaleg") and a very tall barbed wire fence delineating the public access land beat us back. If I'd thought about it, a right of way goes on to the moor further north; I was just being lazy...and it was incredibly hot...that was my excuse!
There isn't much history available about the place; it is assumed to have been opened in the mid C19th and certainly the produce was carted to the road using the track that Petra and I walked. The shed near the pit is identified by Richards* as a dressing shed, although there are remains of structures on tips to the south that may also be walliau. The fact that there is no sign of mechanisation suggests that it was not very successful -or that it was an early operation for local requirements only.
To sum up- well worth a look on a fine day as the views are great and the woods magical- I just hope that the footpath access is retained when the houses are sold.
reference: * Gazeteer of Slate Quarrying in Wales, by Alun John Richards, Gwasg Garreg Gwalch.
If you enjoy my content, please consider supporting what I do. Buy me a coffee! Thank you :-)