Reading the runes, part one.
Ratgoed lies at the end of a narrow road from Aberllefenni. It's not a road you would drive down unless you had a reason to; it is marked as a no-through route. Not that there is a "Ratgoed" any more, it has been uninhabited since just after the second world war when the mine closed.
The road follows the route of the old Ratgoed tramway, a narrow gauge, horse drawn railway which took slate from the various slate mining concerns hereabouts and carried them to Corris and on to the GWR at Machynlleth.
We parked in a lay-by full of smelly bins and set off uphill. Already I was doubting the map, unsure of where we were exactly. Petra asked a man who was working on his cottage. He turned out to be very friendly and very Glaswegian, telling us that we were on a right of way and to carry on "awa' up the brae". Emboldened, we walked up to Cymerau Farm, opening the gate for a friendly farmer in an old Daihatsu 4x4. As we passed by the place, we spotted several more Daihatsu in various states of repair. Sadness settled upon us, as we too had one until recently, but a MOT failure and the reluctance of our garage to work on it put paid to that. Now we drive a vanilla, boring car...
At the corner of the valley and the entrance to the Nant Ceiswyn, there was an area of land where several excavators, tractors and cars had gone to die. I love places like this, especially if the remains are a few years older than normal. One of the choice remains on offer was a first generation Daihatsu Fourtrack. I can imagine people getting very upset about piles of rusting rubbish in the landscape- over the years I've learned to embrace it, preferring this to the sprawl of a caravan site or theme park...although all these things also rot away eventually.
But the first item on my checklist was coming up, the Cymerau Mine, started in 1863 and worked in conjunction with Ratgoed further up the valley. I knew the mill would be a ruin, and wasn't disappointed. It had, however, been "repurposed" to form a barn and part of a riding menage. Poignantly, a graffiti gave the date beside a blocked in doorway in the old mill. Not a pretty site on the whole, but still standing and showing signs for those interested enough to look. The miners cottages were intact and cared for, surrounded by the detritus of modern rural living- Jewson's sacks, scrap, unidentifiable plastic, dead cars and children's toys. Slate waste was everywhere, showing that the mill here had done a lot of work. Apparently it was powered by a Pelton wheel, a faster, compact development of the usual huge waterwheel..
Further round on the road, we came across the first adit, a walled opencut with a rising main...according to AJR* the adit led to five chambers, but was below the level of the river so had to be constantly pumped out, by waterwheel. More excavations opened up on the hill on the right, all collapsed. We passed some ruins, a possible magazine and a building that was marked on the 1880 OS as a "smithy".
I had to remind myself that we were walking on the tramway here as, apart from the formation, all trace of it had gone. I thought wistfully about photographs I had seen from the seventies where the track was still in place. Why didn't I have the nous to come here, back then? Musing on my squandered youth, I realised that there weren't any clues to pick up. No revetments or major earthworks, no sleepers embedded in the path.
We walked on, the level road at least conforming to the expectation of a tramway, passing a white painted cottage on the left. Named Ffynnon Badarn and the site a of a "holy" well, the places' identity was hijacked by the British version of Willy Wonka in the 'sixties. ... It matters little that these folk were model employers and offered the cottage to their workers for holidays, now everyone calls this unremarkable place the "Cadbury House". There wasn't even any junk lying about, I was disappointed- although it is very well kept, and I would love to stay there for a week, at least.
Very soon we came to the best part of our walk. A gate led into a tiny hamlet of ruined structures, almost lost within the tree growth. The first was a small row of houses for the miners. I read that the first one, nearest the road, once had a bay window and was a shop. Miners children would press their wee noses up against the window and look in. Poor things, I can't imagine how hard their lives must have been.
A beautiful chapel was standing roofless, reminding me more than a little of Capel Gorlan in Cwmorthin. This one had a yew tree obscuring the frontage, and birch trees growing inside- but it was finely built, all the same. Apparently it once had a font made of slate, although I noticed that the mullion to the central windows was a crude replacement. Behind the chapel was a fenced area like a graveyard, but with no graves. No gravestones, anyway. The fence was made of thin slate slabs and became a causeway at one point, albeit a way without a cause, since it led nowhere I could see.
The dim light of the day had become increasingly gloomy, lending the ruins a forsaken air. I snapped away hopefully, reckoning on f5.6 and a steady hand. I was aware of a feeling, as if I had strayed into a Samuel Palmer painting...rather unnerving. Everything seemed to take on significance, an ominous feeling of being watched by the landscape. My thoughts flitted between trees, my steps felt like someone elses'.
I strode back down to the tramway and met up with Petra, who was keen to go on. We came to the remains of the mill, which felt a little more cheerful, although no less dank. These structures were built on slate waste and were sinking slowly, but we both noticed the fine lintels and arches. Gloom descended again... it was as if this was the end of days, as if the clown Trump had pressed the button and nuclear war had enveloped the world. They wouldn't tell us anyway, and in that case, all that rusty junk didn't matter.
Petra shouted across to me. She'd found a curious structure in a hollow carved out by a stream. It was a dinky little row of cottages...I've since learnt that it was supposed to have been stables...really? The doors are so low, it must have been for miniature ponies. I think the reality is that it was made for Hobbits and we had stumbled on a portal to middle earth. Fully grown trees stood very close to the walls, as if guarding the place. I pushed past one and a branch slapped me in the face for my impudence. Despite my earlier misgivings, the vibe here in this hollow was benign, even though the stream was angrily roaring past, and I had no way of seeing whether anyone was watching from the road as I took photo after photo. But this was to end...
Petra spotted a driveway, lined with moss encrusted boulders. leading to a house. Trees had fallen around the place amid an air of desolation. The foreboding was back, my hackles were bristling. I hid behind a tree and snapped off shots like a nervous sniper. I wondered about running up to the house, but as a friend has since observed, that bush would take me down before I had made it halfway. I stood transfixed until I saw Petra mooching about around the windows, peeking inside. She impatiently waved me on. The bush stayed still, under her enchantment. The place was empty, watertight and wind tight, locked up, but decaying fast. I couldn't imagine living here, it was so dark, gloomy, dank and ghostly. It could easily have passed for a B movie set or "The Woman in Black".
I peered in. There was a box of artist's materials amid the clutter. Outside there had been several fires, leaving the charred remains of a ceramic human skull and a heart. I was feeling a little like Scooby-doo at this point and wanted to move on before something bad happened...the shadows seemed to be closing in, strange shapes resolving themselves from spiky branches. Creepy music was playing in my head and I was all out of Scooby Snacks.
We left the house, to walk up to the first level of the mine, where we entered a world of moss encrustation and darkness.
I will leave you here, dear reader, for the moment- but I promise to reveal all about the mine in another installment.
As we walked back to the vanilla chariot that evening, Petra expounded her theory that there had been bad blood at the house. That it was let to an artist, and he or she had been evicted, or had died. Because no artist would burn their own work, or leave materials lying about, surely?
*AJR- "Slate Quarrying at Corris" by Alun John Richards, Llygad Gwalch.
Many thanks to Andy Thorpe and to Geraint