The mighty Rhosydd quarry is always on the periphery of any adventure in Cwm Croesor or Cwmorthin. It is also familiar to the legions of walkers who trudge up its inclines in order to gain the summit of Moelwyn Mawr, although to read some of their blogs, they are not too keen on the place. I really can't think why.
Take an abandoned slate quarry with a deserted barracks, fine adits and ruined mills, all set in a stunning mountain setting. Mix in the ever present, brooding form of Cnicht, add a wildly exposed tramway down the steepest incline in the British Isles and you have a recipe, I reckon, for a Grand Day Out.
We've explored a couple of times in varying weather conditions; the last time didn't seem very promising, with low mists blanking out the tops. Once at the West Twll, however, the mist cleared magically, making way for a superb sunlit evening. That's Welsh weather for you. Usually wet, but with sublime flashes of brilliance.
The way to Rhosydd is usually up from Tan-y-Grisiau. I'm sure most folk are familiar with this route, especially as it passes Cwmorthin, Wrysgan and Conglog quarries on the way. Yes, this is a veritable Valhalla for the mine explorer. It can become busy with the walking folk, not so good if you like your hills deserted, but if you arrive early on a weekday, even in the summer, it won't be too busy.
As the road ramps up past the strange, open chambers of Conglog and on to the bwlch, the first thing to explore is a massive bastion and waterwheel pit on the hillside. The construction is on a monumental scale, yet appears to be unfinished. Lewis and Denton, in their Vade Mecum "Rhosydd Slate Quarry" (1974, Cottage Press) hint that it may have been built to utilise water flowing out of floor 9 adit, some 60 feet higher up the hill. Inside the wheel pit, the date 1887 appears, although this doesn't really mean much. The bastion seems to be later, as it only appears on the 1890 OS map. Why it was built, and so massively, will forever remain a mystery. I thought that the wheelpit might have been built to use the water from the nearby stream, but in 1886 this was a mere trickle, as the Lyn Coed reservoir would have taken most of the flow to supply the wheel on floor 9.
Walking on and upwards to the bwlch, the remains of the once extensive 9 mill come into view. The barracks are still standing, roofless, yet evocative, especially on a misty day. Men paid a rent somewhere between a penny halfpenny to three pennies a week and had to find coal and food for themselves. Men came from far and wide to work at the quarry and lodge at the barracks. From Llan Ffestiniog, Penmorfa, Garndolbenmaen and Nantmor. One man even came from Rhyd Ddu!
Conditions at the barracks were appalling. According to Lewis and Denton, when the inspector of mines complained about the bad ventilation in the dead-ends underground, the reply was "The air here is nothing like so bad as you would find in the men's bedrooms". Men slept in double beds, mattresses filled with lice ridden straw. Little wonder that one man and his son from Pant Lwyd on the Migneint, east of Llan Ffestiniog, preferred a daily ten mile walk rather than stay in the barracks. Today the buildings are simply fascinating ruins, but still serve as a reminder of the rugged characters who worked here in terrible conditions.Perhaps hardship fostered a cameraderie rare elswhere, as in Rhosydd quarryman Richard Owen's "Hen Hogia'r Rhosydd" (the old boys of Rhosydd). In some quarrymen's biographies and writings, the barrack life of the quarry is described as being "like a university" and it's true that eisteddfodiau were held as well as weekly lectures and debates.
The mill lies in a shattered state, difficult to interpret. Plans show an old mill of 1867 to the south west of the new mill, built in 1909. The fine dry stone archways to the bays have almost all fallen down now, lying on the ground in an echo of their former shape. Only one remains standing, still a testament to the skill of the builders. During the final years of the quarry, men were toppling the walls of the mill and re-using the slabs, sawing them to make smaller sizes of slate.
There was a big stockyard where slate was laid ready to be trammed off down to the Croesor tramway and at least two waterwheels. A smithy was sited near the entrance to no.9 adit, along with a cable sheave to haul product and waste out. The transport, however, is another story for another post...soon!