There's not much out there on the internet about this secretive mine, and it's neighbour, the Afon Gamallt mine. Looking on the map, or Google earth, it's easy to see why- the place is surrounded by a good deal of boggy ground -and where the ground isn't quaking gloop, there's knee-deep heather. Nevertheless, Petra and I have had a long-term fascination for this magical place, being gluttons for punishment. We first visited in 2008...my memory of that epic day was of falling thigh deep into a morass and emerging covered in sphagnum and the aforementioned gloop. Since then, we have made a few expeditions to the Gamallt and found out more fascinating details each time.
Our latest sortie was in a spell of unseasonably dry weather. The moor was like tinder, the moss crackling underfoot. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, although there were still some very soggy areas that were best avoided. We approached by the south west side of Y Garnedd, near Foel Gron. We kept high so that we were on dry ground-it's not such difficult country until you hit the moor. We sat a couple of hundred feet up on one of the outcrops of Y Garnedd and looked at the country below, where a sheep was happily munching next to a particularly virulent green patch of bog. We made for the east side of the valley between the Sarn Helen/Carreg-y-Fran ridge and the rising ground below the line of Graig Goch. The country between is a series of bogs and low-lying morass- it's possible to traverse this with care, but having done so once, years ago, enthusiasm for it was weak. Petra also had an idea that there might be a small trial on the southern extremity of the ridge, so we made for that. As we got nearer, large boulders were scattered around. It became more difficult to make progress due to the mixture of heather, bilberry and tussock grass, but we eventually attained the higher ground.
It was just possible to make out what might have been a level and a shallow digging here, covered now in a growth of heather. But the tip was the giveaway- it was still bare of vegetation and displayed some fine crystal growths in the rocks.
We carried on in a northerly direction and realised that it had been a mistake to climb up to the plateau, as although we were only a hundred feet or so above the floor of the valley, the ground was very difficult to negotiate. Further onto the plateau it was covered in short heather and sheep nibbled grass, but here it was a breakleg world of huge boulders and deep old heather. After a great deal of cursing and stumbling, we eventually dropped down to the floor of the valley where a wall ran, separating the grassy bog with the steep sided rampart of the gamallt plateau. I was very grateful for my walking pole, which saved me more than a few times.
The wall was old, but very fine. We stumped along on the left side of it, northwards until at last, we could see the ruined building in front of one of the adits for the mine. Here the spoil lay about in heaps, shimmering and sparkling in the sun, betraying a great deal of effort by people hammering and prising the ore out. There were some flat slabs of rock set into the ground, presumably to use as anvils for cobbing the ore. Far different to the rock near the trial earlier. here the rock was sharper, more abrasive. I knew that, on closer examination, there would be nodules of lead in the quartzy boulders, along with iron sulphides. Intitially, it was thought that gold was present, one of the developers referring to assays of 2oz per ton of quartz from the deposits.
We had our lunch in the dilapidated building, it's roof open to the sky. I have read that this structure was possibly an office but tend to disagree, the built up area inside looks remarkably like a hearth- and surely the smith would be one of the most important people at the mine. The structure is built from country rock and reminds me of the structure at the Moel Hebog mine, with thick gable walls and the hearth against the north end. Roughly cut moss slates lay on the floor, perhaps from one of the slate trials nearby. There are two other structures here, a curious round-walled structure, almost completely ruinous, and a three-sided building further up the hill, reminiscent of a similar structure at Drum quarry, also unexplained.
Excavations seem to have concentrated on a wall or outcrop of ore-bearing rock twenty five feet or so above the workings and adits. Mineral deposits seem to have been chased down in an opencut, then when this became impractical, an adit was driven to exploit the mineral from below. The adits along the escarpment are fine but quite short, although at least two are run-in. Petra then made an interesting discovery below the mine- examining an area that might have resembled a low tip run, she discovered a very overgrown and flooded adit. I would guess that it must be of some age, given that the spoil on the other tips is still exposed, similarly with the old slate trials on the west of the valley. A rudimentary exploration of the tip with a boot revealed some quartzy rock, so certainly not a slate trial. We knelt down in the soggy heather on the floor of the opencut here to peer into the adit- it was probably belly-deep in gloop, but the drive appeared to run for quite a way. It felt much like one of the Afon Gamallt adits I mentioned earlier, but too overgrown to see if this one had a masonry portal.
Sadly, the mine was too far away from anywhere to be profitable; the country was too boggy to be able to make a road cheaply. Although a tramway was considered briefly in conjunction with the slate trials nearby, it would have had to have been heroic in it's engineering, given the gradients to be encountered along the way to Llan Ffestiniog. Sadly, all these schemes, and the mine itself, floundered in 1892.
If you are feeling like a dip in mud, or some bog-hopping, the mine is at SH 7428 4439. The mine was only worked intensively for two years, between 1890-92, although some of the other workings and the valley floor adit are obviously of some antiquity. There are references to Sir Owen Wynn having his men mining here in the 1650s.
"The Old Copper Mines of Snowdonia", David Bick, Pound House Publishing, 1985.
"Lead Mining in Wales", W. J. Lewis, University of Wales Press, 1967.