Abercorris, or Cwmodin as it is locally known, has been on our radar for a while. You hear other explorers talking about the heart-attack inducing climb and the lack of adits, others that there are too many conifers. I can say confidently that it's a "yes" to all those- the site presents all the worst excesses of our spruce-loving friends. Add to that, mother nature has vigorously asserted her right to claim back just about everything.
But you know mother nature, she might obscure stuff for us amateur Industrial archaeologists, but as a result, there is a real charm about the site. And you can't have enough deciduous trees, at least. We climbed up on a dull day, rain threatening, skies lowering- but the allure of the place shone through the conifers like warmth through a threadbare curtain. I'm glad we made the effort.
The best approach is from the village- we parked in the Corris Railway car park, as it was off-season and the railway was closed. Parking spaces in Corris are few and far between, because the village is packed into the confines of a narrow valley. We walked out and right, up the main street until we reached the crossroads where a small street turned left and uphill towards Corris Uchaf. There's a pub on the corner, the grade 11 listed "Slater's Arms". Even in these first few yards, we were aware of the old trackbed of the tramway as it crossed the Afon Deri on a tall slate bridge. It's a very pleasant walk, with a chapel and old miner's cottages lining the road for a quarter of a mile or so. Then things quickly become more rural and a footpath sign points uphill along a rough road. We climbed for a while until we were surrounded by mature conifers. Then we encountered a delightful surprise, a weathered, old Italianate miniature village. I'm itching to show you, but want to find out more about it first...it will be the next post, I promise!
After some more gentle climbing, we came to the first level of the quarry. A weigh-house, remarkably well-preserved, sat before some spoil tips, while in the woods, the ruins of what must have been the mill loomed in the trees.
Petra strode out to the end of the tips and looked down on an unexpected view of the Gaewern Quarry, across the valley. You don't normally see it from the main A487 that goes through Corris. That quarry has been in the news recently as it has been offered for sale. The consensus of opinion among mine explorers is that the cost of clearing away the many old car wrecks dumped there would put buyers off. We live in a slate mill, but to be honest, I wouldn't mind a quarry to go with it.
Meanwhile, I was preoccupied by the size of the spoil on the tip...it was a bit chunky, there were no fines. That was solved later by my discovery that Abercorris mainly produced slab- as the slate, from the Corris Narrow Vein, was not easy to split into thin slices.
The footpath headed off downhill at this point, not where we wanted to go, but we could see some shapes looming through the autumnal trees. They were the remains of worker's houses and a mine office. One of the characteristic Corris narrow slate fences marked the boundary. This place, shaded by ash, oak and birch trees was magical. I could have spent a long time here. Strangely, it reminded me of another place, not far away- Ratgoed, with it's terrace of houses and the demolished shop.
Now it was time to walk back up and explore the first level where a tramway had run to a remote Incline drumhouse. The incline once swooped down to the valley bottom, where it met a branch of the Upper Corris Railway. These days, it's hard to make it out, the regimented rows of spruce have all but obliterated it.
Thankfully the drumhouse was spared- it is a fine one and stood in a beautiful clearing, made more pleasant by a stand of Larches, turning gold in the autumnal gloom.
Before the drumhouse was an unusual structure, still with some roof beams in place. Circular holes in a long bench looked familiar and then the, er, penny dropped. This was a privy! The seats were very well preserved, and reminded me of a similar arrangement at my Granny's farm when I was a boy.
We retraced our steps back up to the level and the well-preserved weigh-house. A gable wall jutted out from the undergrowth and we followed a well-worn path to see more. The mill was certainly ruinous and hard to interpret, but the one surviving gable was very impressive, buttressed internally and with cables set into the stone. A machine base stood near the door, hinting that there were four saws, a planer and a dresser here at one time.
Other buildings stood clustered at this end of the level- a caban for the men and possibly a smithy. The path carried on towards a waterfall which looked at first like an adit, but we were disappointed. Petra set off up the incline, which was only just recognisable as such, so aggressive was the growth of bracken and heather. Above the waterfall was a small reservoir...
The reservoir, according to Richards in his book "Slate Quarrying in Corris", contains the remains of a wagon which ran away down the incline. We couldn't find any sign of a waterwheel around the mill, but there must have been one for this reservoir to be built. We carried on climbing. The incline was a single-pitch table incline (Richards). It was, still is, 670 feet long and gains almost 400 feet in height. The lower part was easy enough, through the conifers.
A compressed air pipe carried on beside the incline, perhaps a remnant from the 1930s working of the site. The trees to the east of the incline are significantly older than elsewhere and less densely planted- they are marked on the 1888 Ordnance survey. I had to admit that their fine, straight boles were rather majestic- and the fact that they were Lodgepole Pines, rather than Spruce.
At this point, it began to rain on our first visit (we returned on another day, one of those wonderful bright October days- but we only tackled the incline once.)
Eventually a level opened up on our left- I was pleased, as the climbing had become very difficult. Sadly, while there were impressive tips here and views across to Gaewern quarry, the adit had been blocked.
We had a small discussion about whether it was wise to go on, as the rain had become heavy and the ground was ever more dangerous. I was concerned about the downward journey...but more of that anon. We decided to carry on up to the next level, as we could see the remains of a building tempting us. This time it was worse, the slope seemed steeper, and I was forced to pull up using heather stalks. The last portion was overgrown with young spruce trees- not much fun.
Never mind- it was worth the effort, as there was a superb drum house at the top, and to the east, the sight in the woods of a big pit. We bashed our way about on this level, trying to find any sign of an adit, but it looked like spoil had been tipped over the adit here. Once again, we looked at each other but this time, decided after much debate, that we would go no further today. Perhaps if there is another dry summer, we will come back and explore the top adit. But now, we had to descend. The rails at the crimp described the top of a parabola as they started their journey- it reminded me of similar inclines at Penmaenmawr Granite Quarry.
It felt dangerous coming down- the slate, where exposed, was very slippery and the incline was covered in brambles, ever ready to trip you up and send you hurtling downwards. Petra worked slowly down without fuss. But after a while, I'd had enough, got out the bum-mat and came down on my ample posterior. I just hoped that I wouldn't end up in the reservoir! But here I am, none the worse except that my jeans look a little more distressed than is, perhaps, socially acceptable.
On our second visit, we scouted out the lower level where the tracks from the incline joined the Upper Corris Tramway. A bridge is reached over the Afon Deri by means of a couple of switchbacks. The incline has been totally lost in the spruce trees, but the bridge, in rebuilt form, remains as a footpath.
There's a very pleasant circular walk that takes in the houses of the quarry workers and gives a glimpse of the lower workings, as a glance at the present day OS map will show. We encountered a couple of very pleasant walkers with their dogs. We were also aware of a very loud lady on our second visit, somewhere behind us. She passed with two other, much quieter folk while we were photographing the cottages, continuing to berate her hapless companions, complaining about "another quarry". Gradually the noise of her discontent abated and the birds started to sing again. I noticed that the group had gone up the incline. Then, the air was ripped apart by a shout: "I'm not bloody well going up this!" Fine, now we all know...
The definitive source for the quarry are the two books by Alun John Richards-
Slate Quarrying in Corris, and The Gazetteer of the Welsh Slate Industry, both indispensable to the student of Slate in North and Mid-Wales.
Paraphrasing from AJR, it seems that the first record of work here was in 1863, although a note in the Mining Journal mentions previous work done at the quarry.
In 1874 The Cwmodin Slate and Slab Quarry company was formed, but was almost immediately in trouble. The quarry closed, but was then reopened in 1880 by the Abercorris Slate and Slab Quarry Limited. So it continued, progress at first,as new owners took over, then faltering as poor trading conditions and short-sighted management took their toll. The Corris Railway was frequently owed money, cheques bounced and slate was impounded by the railway. The quarry struggled on until the thirties. In the fifties, it was re-opened for a couple of years and worked in conjunction with Braich Goch (now marketed as "King Arthur's Labyrinth").
Another feature of the quarry was that the directors insisted in taking large fees, where a little restraint would have allowed the operation to have carried on.
The miner's houses lower down at the mill were abandoned in the 1930s.
The mill was at first powered by water, later by a steam engine and finally by electricity from Braich Goch, although this was limited sometimes to 4pm until midnight, as the larger quarry had the first call on power.