Anyone who studies accounts of old mineral mines in Wales is familiar with the stories of how mine proprietors were economical with the truth, exaggerating the wealth to be extracted from whatever mine they were promoting that month, straining the credulity of all but the most avaricious investor.
This time we have two mines that, for a change, might just have been solvent while the other was definitely a work of mine fiction!
The first two are conveniently visited together as we did one bright autumn day, from Cwm Pennant. There is a parking space on the Cwm Pennant road at SH5319847623 and a public footpath goes up past the mine. From here, it's a short but very sharp climb to the Gilfach processing area, where the middle adit is located.
The origins of Gilfach and Ciprwth weren't auspicious- an attempt to attract investors was floated in the summer of 1850 with a prospectus that stated:
"(Gilfach)...is at present producing immense quantities of ore, reported 1000 tons monthly. Indeed, several railway waggons are seen constantly in active service, bearing their rich burdens..."
Gilfach was worked in conjunction with Cwm Cipwrth, the site of the latter being on the plateau above and connected underground for the purposes of de-watering the mine. It had been in operation for a while before 1850, but there are no records to show any "immense quantities of ore". However, it was a productive mine, even if it only employed a handful of men. Gilfach returned 25 tons of copper in 1854, for instance and the actual quantities will have been much greater, as numbers seemed to slip through the official sieve with alarming regularity.
The adits at Gilfach are difficult and dangerous today, and should not be explored without proper equipment and experience. There are some intriguing remains of a mill on the middle level, with a leat and a waterwheel pit. The Gilfach site is deep in woodland, giving it a sylvan feeling in summer- it is well worth an hour or so, prodding around and speculating about the ruined buildings, which have a romantic air, like something from a Tolkien story.
Another climb then awaits, to make it to the plateau below Graig Goch. Once there, the waterwheel for the mine can be glimpsed; the only fly in the ointment is the half-mile of bog between it and you. While the waterwheel might have drained the mine, it did nothing for the site. The best plan is to stay on the path and then explore only the parts of the site that aren't covered with reeds. Of course, I roamed all over to bring you the photographs...and I would say that it is worth wet boots for the goodies on offer.
Overall view of the Cwm Cipwrth copper mine . This water wheel was installed in 1889 and has been conserved. It provided the power for pumping water from the mine workings and for hauling the ore to the surface. The water wheel was made by Dingey and Son of Truro, whose name appears several times on the metalwork. It would date from the mid 19th century. The long rods worked the simple pump, which can be seen in the foreground. The pump removed water via a shaft which, as can be seen, was some metres higher up the slope than the water wheel. The box was filled with rocks and was a counter weight to the pump beam. The mountains in the background are, from left to right: the shoulder of Braich y ddinas, 377M, Moel Lefn, 638M , Moel yr Ogof 655M and Moel Hebog 758M.
A 24 foot waterwheel stands in a pit, with a four foot winding drum with spur gears and a primitive clutch attached. Flat rods take the drive to a shaft and an angle-bob. There are a range of ruined structures and artefacts as well as a powder house on the side of the hill.
The cast iron wheel bears the marks of Dingey and son, of Truro. That all this is still here is partly because the scrap man is a lazy sort of fellow, but also because the site was extensively restored some years ago by the Welsh Development Agency and Snowdonia National Park. The two long flat rods, which had snapped, were replaced in 2013.
There's a small adit just above the buildings, but it is unclear what this was for...a trial perhaps.
The mine seems to have descended into obscurity shortly after the Huddarts of Brynkir became involved. They seemed to have had the "midas touch", but in reverse, and the mine went into liquidation in 1894. It's quite a miracle that so much has survived to this day.
After looking at Cwm Cipwrth, we had a feeling that we would like to see if there was anything left of the "Great Dinas Consols", or "Great Copper" as it was sometimes styled. It was launched with a great fanfare in 1853...one promoter claimed that:
"as the site is nearly perpendicular, one only had to open a door into the mountain to take the copper out..."
We had seen some interesting looking diggings here from across the valley a couple of years before; once back home I had checked on Google Earth and it did look like a mine, albeit a small one. Worryingly, there was no evidence of a mine on the Ordnance Survey maps of 1888 or 1912. It is a little to the north of Cipwrth, over a ridge at SH531484 and makes an extremely pleasant walk with fine views, until it becomes time to descend down to the valley and look for the mine. There are some structures on site and evidence of cobbing at the ore. There is also a run-in adit, but really nothing that would suggest any great wealth was dragged from the ground here. The site is confused as it is on the line of an ancient trackway which is revetted into the side of the hill.
Apparently, at the end of 1854 it was suggested that gold might be found here and across the valley at Moel Hebog, a mine which was later re-named "Glistening Valley"...I ask you, was there no end to the incredulity of investors? Needless to say, there was no gold, in fact nothing of any worth was ever brought out of here. Strong suspicions of fraud attended the last days of the enterprise and one or two of the promoters left for antipodean locales fairly quickly afterwards by all accounts!
An interesting mine for all that, and a fascinating rake around- it's nice to have a mine or two to punctuate a good walk with! I should say that our escape from the Dinas Consols to the road was attended with some uneasiness, as we had to cross some private farmland/bog. The farmer kept an eye on us until we were off his quagmire!