Take a remote quarry and some out-of-the-way farm ruins...add a trackless morass between them, then season with damp weather...
We're only acccidental walkers. We walk in order to get to quarries, or ruins that excite our taste for the picturesque- although sometimes we cover long distances. as a result. But you won't find me scanning the outdoor mags for routes up mountains, or scenic rambles 'twixt hill and dale. Unless there's a mine involved; but then those are usually airbrushed out of the magazines and guides; the unruly relatives that are never invited to the party.
So a great deal of thought went into finding a route to this quarry, after Petra spotted it on google Earth. In a seemingly untroublesome stretch of country between the Rhinogs and Ganllwyd, Cefn Cam sat at the top of a very long road with no permissable vehicular access, unless on business- and I don't think mine exploration counts.
Now, we've had two visits to this place, the second time we took in some fascinating ruins, so I will give you the round tour in all it's soggy glory. I'm just telling you because for a while on our second visit, the sun shone- in case you wondered why there were a couple of bright photos in a sea of overcast ones.
Coed Cwm Mynach
We began our foray at the car park in the idyllic Cwm Mynach reserve at SH68382182. Wales' best kept secret, according to the Woodland Trust web site. We walked up the forestry road for a long way...so long, in fact, that it was necessary to stop for a flask of coffee at the lake- (SH67802391) there's even a bench, dedicated to the memory of a gent who donated a big wedge of cash to preserve the woodland and convert it back to temperate rain forest. For this is the Coed Cwm Mynach, a Woodland Trust scheme, funded entirely by contributions from the public. It was originally owned by someone from the city of London, who sold it to the trust for less than it's market value, in order that it could be returned to a more natural state. Because, of course, up until now, it's been in the hands of the forestry people and is covered with a mix of over-mature Spruce, diseased Lodgepole pine and various other intrusive species.
But, thanks to the Woodland Trust, Oak and broadleaved woodland is staging a comeback. The Lodgepoles will be taken out, the other conifers will simply be allowed to die, or be harvested if near a road, and any self-seeded spruces will be hunted down and uprooted. I wish I could be around in thirty years time to see the results.
After a long trudge through trees, we came to a junction. Left takes you onto the moor, and was the access road to the quarry. It is also used by guests at the Shooting Lodge, a strangely obtrusive Victorian excrescence, now used as a kind of Hafod. No guns have been on the moor for a long time. There's no wi-fi, no electricity, no mobile signal... and no grouse. I found the structure so ugly that I managed to obscure it with rocks or other features in all my photos, although if you want to know what it looks like, it is featured here.
We decided, as the weather was so nice, that we would carry on along the right fork this time, away from the quarry road, to take in some ruins that Petra had spotted on the map, so we walked for another mile and a half. We were still heading for the quarry, but in a kind of pincer movement.
The trees became less dense and views opened out now, so you could see the Rhinogiau in all their glory, basking in the distance. We turned left at SH69682452 off the forestry road as it descended into another thick stand of trees, for this was proper forestry and the conifers stood tightly packed for miles. There were warning notices posted here, with surveillance cameras.
Reading the Woodland Trust web site, it seems that they have been having problems with bands of two-strokers on their motor bikes, roaring through the woods and churning up the paths- we certainly saw evidence of this. There have been efforts to persuade them not to do so.
The path was more like a stream, even in the dryish weather we'd been having, so we changed our boots for waterproof numbers. No, I told you, we're not serious walkers, we just object to ruining our "best" boots... The bracken was high and the path difficult to follow, but we eventually emerged near the first farm, called Glan-llyn-y-forwyn, which translates to something like "the lakeside of the maid". It had obviously been a grand farm with a causeway leading up to it. It commanded a fine view of the Afon Cam surrounded by a gorgeous stand of trees. While there were some mature Sycamores, I was sad to see that some were Ash.
It was difficult to interpret the ruins here as the deterioration of the farm had been almost complete, so we had our lunch under the trees and admired the views downstream towards Ganllwyd and Moel Cors-y-garnedd.
Glan-llyn-y-forwyn farm is at SH69312494 and you can see from the Google view that the surrounding land is boggy, or as the OS puts it, "liable to flooding". We made our way north from the farm, over a modern wooden bridge over the Afon Gam, towards the next ruin.
Cefn Cam Farm
These were the steadings for Cefn Cam farm, and appeared to be pig sties and a hay/forage barn, although I can't imagine there would have been much of that here. A little more walking took us to the fascinating structure of Cefn Cam itself. It is situated below a low ridge of slatey rock, on a slightly elevated position.
As I was walking around the farm, I noted some very large slates, looking like "Duchesses". I wondered about these, but then was distracted by Petra calling me to look inside. There was a huge old kitchen fireplace with the remains of a range. It must have been a welcoming place, back in the day. No doubt soggy boots were left in front of that range, and wet coats hung up to dry...
I read a brief note on the internet by a chap whose great grandmother had lived here, having to bring their belongings by cart from Trawsfynydd in 1902- it was a two day journey and I'll bet the way across the moor here was the longest and most awkward.
But back to those slates I found. While trying to find an angle on the house that didn't involve too much light or too much sky, I walked up the ridge behind, where an outcrop of fine slate ocurred. I noticed it had been worked, an area twenty feet by ten, beautifully carved out. I'll wager the farmer was a quarryman by day and crowbarred slate out of here for the roof. Dolerite and other rocks outcropped nearby, and judging by the way the stones were worked, I'd hazard a guess that most building materials were found to hand. As if to confirm this, we found a big pile of worked stone near the steading, almost like mining fines, probably chipped off blocks that had gone to build the house.
On all the maps we'd seen, there had been a footpath marked from the farm towards the slate quarry, a couple of miles to the east. The weather was deteriorating, but neither of us could face the thought of battling back towards the road and then crunching up the forestry haul road. It seemed sensible, at the time, to try and find the path. Hindsight is always 20/20, though, isn't it?
We made it to a field barn at SH69082537. The terrain wasn't too bad, so we carried on. Gradually, the land became rougher, the grass deeper and more tussocky until it was impossible to make much progress without stumbling, falling in a wet gopher hole, or both. We're both thrawn individuals though, and neither of us wanted to admit defeat. so we bog-bumped on, very slowly.
At least we received some benison from the mining gods, who must have been smirking down on us. Halfway through our soggy oddysey, Petra spotted a tip and an adit, unmarked on the maps and unseen on Google Earth.
Probably because we were tired, everything seemed to take so much more effort as we neared the mine. I was so fed up of falling over and then having difficulty getting up, that I crawled for quite a way. Luckily, we both found the situation amusing and at least we had good bearings...I would have hated to have gone round in circles! I don't think that stretch of land has ever been cultivated or sunk to another human boot, and as for the quarryman's track, perhaps that stuck to higher, less waterlogged terrain.
We sat for a while on the wall of the small mill near the adit, vowing to never do something like that again. The only thing that could have made headway over that primordial prairie would have been an elephant, or a monster truck with huge tyres.
Eventually, interest in our surroundings returned, after some helpings of Petra's famous home-made flapjacks. The girl strolled stiffly to the adit, turning to me and giving a thumbs down. The entrance was very wet and knee deep in slime. There are conflicting reports about this adit. Richards reckons that it was an attempt to take slate out from the lowest pit and avoid uphaulage, and that a mill relocation to this spot was considered- but the adit was never finished. On a previous visit, we met the landowner, a pleasant and urbane gent, who knew a lot about the place. He reckoned that the adit did indeed go through to the lower pit and slate was hauled out that way.
The tips tell the story. Some are composed of large blocks of dolerite, then, one tip becomes rough slabs of low grade slate. On the western side of the hand of tips, two fingers are composed of splitting waste and fines. To my mind, the landowner is right.
A look at the rest of the quarry seemed a reasonable idea, although the weather had really begun to close in. There was little light about, but I have come to the conclusion that the weather here is always like this. Every time we drive to Dolgellau from Ffestiniog, we gaze over and the southern Rhinogs are looking in a bad mood, even though the sun is shining on us.
There are some intriguing ruins here, and I must confess that I had a great deal of difficulty working out what they were. I will start with the things I know...the manager's house, ruinous, but still surrounded by a marked off garden that his wife had happily worked on and grown flowers in. Best of all, it had a most wondrous larder, half underground, looking at first sight like a hobbit-hole...
There were some other structures that we spent some time wondering about. I think this must have been the barracks...
While other structures could be the workshops, near the pit...
The pit itself was on three separate levels, with the lowest pit (opening out to the mill) having another, much lower level, which I presume connected with the lower adit.
The mill was water-powered, presumably a supply was taken further upstream from the tributary of the Afon Gam that runs through the site. A slot in the mill wall seems to indicate that slate was hauled out of the top pit by water power.
There are large piles of waste by the mill, indicating that much work was done here. There are no figures for production, and dates suggest a working period between 1840 to 1893, although we know that there was a revival in operation in the early C20th. The slate seems excellent and the landowner told us that the produce was very good quality slate, but that the access road passed over so many different parcels of land, each demanding wayleaves, that it was difficult to make the slate profitable.
It being June, there was a profusion of blooms on the moor. That old quarry favourite, Stonecrop was in evidence, along with Lady's Bedstraw, and most surprisingly, quite a few Foxgloves. Petra noted the dainty yellow stars of the Bog Asphodel. In the air, Hen Harriers were spotted on both our visits, (no gamekeepers to persecute them) while even in the rain, larks could be heard singing.
The long walk back
Unsurprisingly, the rain started to become heavy, so we scrabbled in rucksacs for our waterproofs and trudged down the access road, past the shooting lodge, over a very old bridge and back into the forest.
We hadn't been walking long before there was a loud roaring ...not a troll, but a cohort of two-strokers- dirt bikers, covered in mud. There were over twenty of them, in a rolling sound envelope, stinking the woods out. I was disturbed by how silent the woods became for quite a while after the passage of the loud ones. They're not coming for the scenery, or the wildlife, that's for sure.
And now, combing the maps, I see that there's the Diffwys Manganese mine up on the hill, overlooking the moor, so it seems we'll be back again soon - once the memory of that primordial bog fades...