Over the winter, we spent some time discovering and studying a good many deserted dwellings in the Llanllyfni area, on that stretch of high ground to the east above Dyffryn Nantlle. One of the first (and highest) we found was Maen-y-Gaseg, at the end of a long road on the slopes of Craig Cwm Silyn.
Most of the cottages hereabouts were lived in by quarrymen and their families who, to eke out their meagre wages, did a little farming as well after work. I wonder where they found the energy. There are a few similar ruins along the road to the Cwm, only identifiable by searching the 1890 maps. Maen-y-Gaseg at least had a gate with a name written on it, sparing me the task of sifting through the old Ordnance Survey editions.
The decline in crofting in these parts probably happened after the second world war, when the quarries stopped and council houses with bathrooms and proper kitchens became widely available. No doubt there are some who mourn the way of life, but to me, it seems a brutal and hard way to live. I know what I'm talking about, as I spent ten years on a hill farm in Scotland- even with the aid of tractors and central heating, it wasn't an easy life.
The views from the small windows of Maen-y-Gaseg are sublime. But I can't imagine being completely receptive to the scenery when it was freezing cold and there were animals to feed, before walking the four miles to work, then doing the same upon one's return. I'd like to think that the cottage was a cosy one- the way it's built into the lee of that massive rock tends to suggest that it might be a draughty spot. I also wonder about the person that built the place. Back in the sixties, I was told by an old lady that her father had built the house I was living in at the time, when he came back from the first world war. Perhaps Maen-y-Gaseg was also built by a quarryman, having been given, or claimed a parcel of land. Many if not all the stones are rounded, glacial rocks, although some bear mason's marks- perhaps by the quarryman himself. It's a far cry from "Grand designs", that's for sure, but at this remove from the reality of life in victorian times, it does seem a delightful spot.