Trying to find an original angle when photographing these two famous quarries...
Cwmorthin and Rhosydd are probably two of the best known and photographed quarries in Wales. I've visited them many times this year, but although my understanding of both places is much improved, I felt that I hadn't come up with any original photographs. There's also the thought in the back of ones mind, that every photographer worthy of the name has been here and had a go, with often stunning results.
I could blame the weather- it was too hot, it was too wet, there was no light, there was too much light, and heck, I'm no great photographer. All those apply, of course. But the images I was coming up with lately had nothing more to say than the ones taken on my first visit, ten years ago. I don't exactly use a state of the art camera now, but back then I used a little plastic point and shoot.
Time for a rethink. A good start was my approach- after all, there must be an alternative to that endless quarry road from the cwm. For instance, I'd been looking on Google earth for a new angle on Tai Llyn, the iconic ruins across from the quarry. I reckoned that if I climbed up the shelf of rock on the west side of the cwm, I could take some shots, then carry on up to the bwlch between Moel y Hydd and Foel Ddu. Then it would be a short step to Rhosydd.
It was wet...very wet, so I had on my waterproof boots, something I was very thankful for as the climb progressed. They are like wellingtons that lace up, they have grippy soles and are comfortable enough if you are only doing a couple of miles- after that, they shred your feet. I got to the place I had identified on Google and waited for the clouds to help me out. After a wait of about 35 minutes, a peanut butter sandwich and a coffee from my flask, a sunlit gap appeared- I snapped off twenty exposures.
The way up was easy enough to navigate between rocky outcrops and it wasn't too ridiculously steep. What struck me most was the feeling that this was very different to the normal experience of Cwmorthin. I was gaining height and finding fascinating new micro-landscapes, waterfalls and rock features that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. Below, over a shelf of rock, I could see tiny figures walking along the track towards Conglog... I chuckled to myself, knowing they wouldn't ever think of glancing up here- it felt as if I had discovered a secret world, known only to the sheepdogs and the sheep.
There was a good deal of blanket bog about, blaring bright green, to warn me of the possibility of sinking thigh deep in gloop- even on the steep slopes. I stuck to the patches of fescue and ryegrass. It was surprising how many tiny flowers there were. I normally don't appreciate flowers, the daffodil and tulip type- they depress me. Yet these tiny gems in the wild are something of a delight. I think I enjoy the way they are just growing there, whether you see them or not.
Further up towards the bwlch, a few outcrops of rock surfaced from the bog, seemingly enamelled with white lichen- Aspicialia Calcarea. The rock appeared to be igneous in origin, probably some kind of dolerite. The lichens like it because it is silica rich.
It was obvious that here I had been presented with another view of the cwm- all I had to do was be patient. I lined up a shot and waited for the sun to come over the chapel, far below. It was a two sandwich and one coffee wait, but I was rewarded, although anxious about my camera settings as the light was up and down.
After this, it was a a steep climb on grass to reach the broad bwlch. Then I had a choice- South or North? Both. I rushed Moel yr Hydd and found myself on a surprisingly windy summit. I couldn't find a view that hadn't been done before, and the Manods over to the West were covered in haze- but it was great to be on the top after so many years of looking up at it. I descended down again, north west towards Foel Ddu.
Now this was unfinished business as I have tried to get up there three times this year and each time have been beaten back by wind or snow. The climb was straightforward- it's a handsome and surprisingly craggy hill, with a fierce aspect to Cwmorthin. I clicked off a few more shots during a squall of rain. I had the idea of taking some telephoto views of Rhosydd from here and swapped lenses, but managed to get rain water on the mirror. Once I had done my Mrs Mopp routine, the sun seemed to have disappeared for a while, so I put my 14-55mm back on...
As I was now up on the plateau, I headed down to Rhosydd to have a mooch around- it would be sacriledge not to. Joining the path from Moel yr hydd, I was saddened to see that the ground had been churned up by two-strokers...is there nowhere safe from these selfish folk? The path comes out beside the weigh house on floor two of the quarry...the collapsed craters of the East Twll had been visible for some time as I descended. I tried, as usual, to make a meaningful photo of the weigh house, and failed.
There are some fascinating ruins here of the structures near the level two adit entrance. Level 2 was opened about 1854 and the ruinous structures are all that remains of the mill, smithy and workshop. It is likely, according to Lewis and Denton, that a portable engine drove the mill- the elevation precludes water power and indeed, there is a nettle covered patch nearby which could be a pile of ash. Furthest away from the adit is the smithy, and after messing about for some time with the camera, I came away with a shot that satisfied me. I sat and had what remained of my lunch in here, absorbing the atmosphere.
At one point, I looked up and saw a fox regarding me keenly. One blink and he had vanished, but I felt lucky to have seen the elusive creature. Ravens were also in evidence, one was circling nearby, probably aware that I was eating, waiting to see what I left. They are such intelligent birds, I love to see them and hear the medley of strange sounds they make- the "cronks", metallic "dings" and rough scraping croaks. The whirring of their wings in flight is a familiar sound in most North Wales quarries. I got up, leaving a small offering. After hundreds of encounters with Ravens, I am pretty sure they like peanut butter sandwiches.
I noticed that where I had been kicking the earth absent mindedly by the smithy wall, I had dislodged some of the meagre grass and exposed what looked like cinders- perhaps left there in the 1850's by the blacksmith? Despite the mischief wreaked by the weather here it's not difficult to imagine the place as it was. Work here ceased in about 1867, as a lower adit came on stream, but for a while the structures were used as barracks- the evidence is an old iron bedstead, dug up by the plas Tan-y-Bwlch study group. All were unroofed by 1888.
I walked away, having debated, as I always do, about the road down to Cwmorthin. Sometimes I go over the bwlch into Cwm Stwlan, and take the miner's track down there to the Moelwyn slate mine and the reservoir road- it's a long way, but easier on the knees. This time, as I was wearing the waterproof boots, I decided to conform and go down the vanilla way.
As I was leaving, I met a young Scottish family who had just descended from Moelwyn Mawr. They had two children with them, in good spirits. I walked along for a while beside them- they were excellent company. The woman told me that she had managed to complete all the Munros, but that her sister had been the youngest Munroist, completing all 282 by the age of twelve! I was clearly in the presence of a superior type of human being. I have only managed 47, although some of those I have done several times, as is my habit, when I like a hill. I liked these folk, they were keenly interested in everything, and obviously very good parents.
After wishing them well, I left the charming Scots in order to have another look at 3 mill. As always, this presents an enigmatic sight, difficult at first to understand without the guiding hand of Lewis and Denton, who wrote the definitive work on the quarry. Our copy was provided by Petra's Dad (who doesn't know we have it) and is a much used resource, but I am delighted that the book has been reprinted and will be available from Moore Books. I can't recommend it enough. Ours looks as if it was retrieved from the British Polar Expedition, we've referred to it rather a lot- perhaps I should replace it with a new one.
But back to 3 mill. Being lower down, this mill was water-powered, and sports a huge wheel pit. This housed a wheel, possibly 20-22 feet in diameter and four feet wide. It seems to have been extended at the side to accomodate a crank, to power rods to drain the East Twll. The Mill itself was extended on an ad-hoc basis and certainly looks that way. The construction utilises huge lintel stones and seems to have been built without regard for efficiency. It is testament to the short-sightedness of the management, as it was out of action by 1867, 9 mill taking all the mine's rock for processing after that date. The slates of the roof were removed, again by 1888, and all that remains are some rather photogenic walls and a layshaft wheel from the overhead drive system. I find the slate waste tip to the NE of the mill rather attractive, it is composed of splitting and trimming waste and is much finer than any of the other tips here.
To be Continued...