It was Easter Saturday and the weather was perfect. Of course, that meant that the tourist hordes would be milling in their hundreds round the usual places, but Petra hatched an idea to take a look at the little-visited neolithic fort at Pen y Gaer, high up above the Aberglaslyn gorge. For some reason, neither of us had checked the route- both thinking that the other had done the homework. That wasn't actually to be the disaster that we feared, although it was far from best practice.
Once at Nantmor, it became evident that all of the folk in Manchester and Liverpool had got up early to come to Cwm Bychan...the car park was beyond full and cars were abandoned everywhere. The path at this point in the gorge resembled a long conga line. Don't get me wrong, Wales needs people to come and spend their money- I'm just glad we know a few places they don't- although perhaps one less after this :-)
Undaunted, we renegotiated the busy traffic . Petra spotted the rumour of a space opposite Aberglaslyn Hall- incredibly, there was room- and after some Reginald Molehusband* style manouevres, we managed to get the car parked completely off the road. A National Trust footpath wound up the hill directly opposite.
This was surely a sign from the gods of mining, and we wasted no time in getting the boots on and setting off. Petra muttered something about remembering a road going up, but the last time I had looked, I'd seen the path through the woods, so I didn't pay as much attention as I should. However, within a few yards, the site of a quarry pit opened up in the trees. Things were now looking promising and we dismissed any doubts we might have had about the route. We climbed on and came to a junction, where yours truly made the executive decision to take the right hand path. As we later found out, the left hand path would have taken us to the fort, but never mind, what we found later made up for that temporary disappointment.
A mine opencut appeared, looking like a trial. This boded well, and I brandished the trusty Nikon, only to find that I'd forgotten my memory card! Ugly tantrums were averted as Petra always carries a spare- what a top girl. Whilst ruminating beside the opencut we spotted some ruined buildings in the trees...the game was on!
The structures were what looked like mine offices, with some curious copper sculptures inside. It reminded me of the office at the Gamallt mine. Nearby was a fenced shaft, looking like it reached a level fifteen feet down and then carried on to the east. To the North of the shaft was an opencut which started off in a modest way, but soon became a massively deep stope, testifying to the large amount of material mined from here. We followed the stope for a few hundred yards, amazed at the depth and the work that had gone on.
I consulted my patchy memories and surmised that this must be the Aberglaslyn mine, a fascinating early copper enterprise which starts in the garden of Bridge house on the road below and continues up the hill in a series of shafts, opencuts and adits. We didn't find any open adits- the ground was difficult, being thick woodland, but I was so pleased to have found the mine- I had not imagined ever being lucky enough to see it. Below, things became very steep, and then the garden of the house precluded further exploration. Bick, in his "The Old Copper Mines of Snowdonia" has an amusing description of exploring the adit near the house in 1955, when it was in use as a larder! Bick also talks about a waterwheel pit and area for a stamps battery higher up, but these appear to have been lost in the forestry.
After exploring for an hour or so, we found an ant-free log and sat down to eat our lunch. Wood ants were swarming everywhere, intent on whatever ants do, looking busy and preoccupied. They are fascinating creatures and I spent some time watching, until a large one crawled on my hand and bit me. It was a sharp nip for such a small being, and I wondered if I was going to be assimilated into the hive mind. But nothing happened, so I gently brushed the pugilistic fellow off.
The woods were absolutely wonderful, the air full of bird song...thrushes, blackbirds, other less obvious calls- and woodpeckers, drilling away manically. It felt like the place was teeming with life. We climbed further up, hoping to find the edge of the woods and perhaps see the fort. At this point, we encountered the only other folk we were to see in the woods, a rather miserable American family who also seemed to be having memory card problems- we couldn't help overhearing their loud conversation.
Finally, the path left the woods and continued to a fascinating knoll high above the pass. This really felt like Bestall country...not surprising as the creator of the beautifully crafted illustrations in the "Rupert" annuals lived in a cottage at the foot of Mynydd Sygun near Beddgellert. I felt he must have walked here, as the scene reminded me of a puzzle in one of the books I had as a child. The view was spectacular, and took in Snowdon as well as the village of Beddgelert. There was a "tower" here, looking like a powder hut. Coflein suggests that it may have been a WW2 lookout post, but I don't really believe that. What were they looking out for? Had the germans a plan to bomb the heck out of Beddgelert and we weren't told? There was also the small matter of the hike up there. Petra noted from the rubble around the tower that something much older had once been on the site... perhaps a neolithic cairn- there are plentiful remains of prehistoric settlements here.
It might have been the right shape, but it didn't really seem like a powder hut; for one thing it was too far away from the mine. There are other mines below, notably the "Level Goch", the blocked deep adit level of which is betrayed on the road as a series of red water stains. We could also see the Bryn y Felin mine far below. Being a simple soul, only then did I join up the dots and realise the genius loci and where we were in the geographical scheme of things. That's what relying on Streetmap and online mapping will do for you, you miss the bigger picture. Petra is a Google Earth girl, so was way ahead of me. We relived our fun explore of Bryn y Felin, then watched a Welsh Highland Railway train snake through the pass below looking like an 009 model.
It was still early in the day. All around were familiar hills, blue in the warm haze- Cnicht, the Moelwyns, Moel Hebog and of course, the big boy, Snowdon- all familiar to the readers of this blog. I could almost see the mass of humanity on the summit of Snowdon in their shorts and flip-flops. We realised that our path continued on, down to Beddgelert- somewhere we had no intention of going with all those folk wandering about. Perhaps we could do a traverse across trackless country and still find the fort?
Find out what happens in the next post soon :-)
Aberglaslyn mine factoids:
Copper was known to be here by the Romans, although it is doubtful whether they ever did anything to extract it. In 1769, correspondence appears from John Griffiths of Portmadoc (sic) and Lord Powys- a year after the great discovery of copper at Parys mountain. Griffiths implores Powys to invest in the location, saying: " Your Lordship will find there the noblest vein with such prospect for profit I ever saw..." Powys was interested; his Uncle's large gambling debts needed clearing among other things.
Bick points out that at this time, the Glaslyn river was tidal at Pont Aberglaslyn, and that boats could come up and load ore almost directly from the mine. The construction of the Cob at Porthmadog in 1811 changed all that. Also, in the 1760s, there was no road through the pass. In 1810, Richard Fenton observed that a copper mine adit was being worked energetically by some "Cornish Adventurers". Afterwards, it was reported that a stamping mill had been erected. Sadly the sources do not mention where. After 1847 the mine continued only sporadically, dependant on the price of copper.
A report by a mining engineer in 1907 indicated that nothing had been done at the mine since it had been closed when in posession of J.W. Greaves, putting 25 men out of work. The mining engineer thought that the site was very favourable and that prior to his report, the site had been worked in a most primitive manner. Bick seems to think that the deep adit near the house was driven after the mine closed (?) connecting to the main workings.
The paucity of records during the entire life of the mine make it hard to guess at the output, although we know that between 1804 to 1847 only 56 tons were sold at Swansea. But genuine figures rarely reached the authorities in the early part of the C19th, so that figure is relatively meaningless.
"The Old Copper Mines of Snowdonia" David Bick, Pound House press, Newent.
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