An explore undertaken in February of 2020, before the great lockdown emptied the hills of human activity.
Bwlch Cwm y Llan is a fascinating quarry with some impressive pits and a few intriguing remains- as a glance at the place on Google Earth will show. Sadly, most of the buildings were removed by the desperate crew of Robert Jones of Nantlle, who in the late 1940s, stripped the place of any workable slate. That said, the melancholy lacunae of the pits set against the backdrop of the Nantlle hills, leave a lasting impression to those susceptible to these things. Slate tips, ruined structures and silent adits, bastions and unexplained lumps and bumps in the land tend to bring on a kind of infatuation in me, a yearning for more knowledge- although these days I do try to simply enjoy looking at what there is and not fret so much!
Starting Out...Our day began bright and early from the Rhyd Ddu WHR car park, on a cold February morning. There were a few other hardy types about, setting off for Snowdon, while the lonely house across the road, near the start of the Lyn-y-Gadair track, had a lazily smoking chimney. The smell drifting across made me nostalgic for the sight of a steam locomotive- we didn't suspect that due to the impending Corona crisis, it would be some time before one came this way again.
It's an easy pull up to the first interesting thing, Fridd Isaf slate quarry, which lies mostly to the right of the track. The pit has been infilled, but the cutting looking towards Llyn-y-Gadair is still a spectacular feature. It is all that remains of the "open cutting level" of 1863. There used to be traces of the barracks here, but all has recently been removed. In that vein, we noted twenty or so large bags filled with slate waste from the tip, presumably to repair the Snowdon path from the expected ravages of thousands of feet.
The powder house for this quarry sits atop a knoll further down the track, above the WHR station- I confess that I didn't actually notice it until we came back. It is a typical circular structure which at one time had castle-like crenellations- it must have looked rather intriguing back in the day.
The track carries on uphill, past some interesting erratics. Views open up across the valley towards the Nantlle ridge, while to the north, the workings of Glanrafon slate quarry can be made out. Ahead, the formidable bulk of Llechog and Bwlch Main command the gaze, sunlight flitting across their flanks. On our visit, the summit of Snowdon revealed itself, for once without the usual war banners of cloud. The wind was getting up, making it a tough slog and rendering fingers and faces numb with cold despite thick gloves and balaclavas. I was glad that few people saw me in my warm headgear- I didn't realise that it was very pointy and made me look like a large and rather feral looking hill-elf.
The Quarry wish List
After a while, we reached a gate where two paths diverged. We were to follow the right hand path, much less trodden, but to us, infinitely more fascinating. The climb began again after a spell of easy gradient over marshy country. I noticed that the sides were revetted in places and that there was the occasional slab bridge over a stream. This would have been the cart track to the quarry, the route for the slate won, but the cause of many damaged slates, I would guess. It was also expensive, costing 2/- a ton in 1896.
A project to build a two mile branch from the WHR with an incline was investigated, but the cost, at £2,064 was a little too much for the quarry owners. They kept it on their "wish list" however, as the land for the line was secured in a 21 year lease at £2 per annum. Sadly for industrial archaeologists, nothing was to come of this, as quarry profits declined slowly with the turn of the new century.
Quarry remains at last!
The path became steeper and turned gradually to the right, to climb the flanks of a rocky spur. A ruined structure on the side of the spur was interesting and I later discovered that it had been the barracks for the quarry. Scattered rubble suggested that there had possibly been a stable also on the site. Above here the game is properly afoot, some ruined structures lie to the right with a tunnel into a deep pit. The tunnel connects this pit with another, slightly higher up the road, which winds to the right of the openings.
The buildings were possibly a small mill, with associated tips consisting of fines as well as more solid block waste. We sheltered in the remains of the mill and sipped coffee from a flask, although as usual, I was so excited at the prospect of the quarry and remains to be found that I couldn't wait to get going again.
A Holding Reservoir
We walked on up, finding more and larger pits. There was also the dried out remains of a reservoir, perhaps a holding pond for the lower mill which disappears into the tips from the workings above. It hardly seemed large enough to contain enough water to drive machinery.
We walked on, and came to the remains of a further mill, more extensive- and a long tip run, held back by a long bastion, which may be the launder that Richards describes in his book. . On this tip lies the body of a wagan dipio, used by American troops in WW2 as target practice- as the late Gwynfor Pierce Jones remarked, it would now serve better as a colander! Walking up to the incline head, Petra noticed a small, slate-lined pit a little way from the drumhouse. I was puzzled by this until I read that it had been a sheave pit. Of course, both of us neglected to photograph it! Both the inclines on site were gravity inclines and most of the useable slate had been robbed from them.
We walked south from the incline head to see the reservoir on this level, snug against the encroaching tips. There was plenty of water trapped behind the dam, which was a good example of double wall construction. There were also a couple of unexplained features which show best on Google Earth...what could have been some kind of incline or causeway. This is between the tips -I suppose it could be the remains of tip bastions.
Playing to the gallery
The next pit had benchwork and was extensive. According to a valuation document by Bowen Jones in 1901 there was a gallery in this pit which connected to the sinc level of the pit above, but much rockfall had ensued over the years and while there was perhaps a hint of a tunnel, we couldn't be certain. These great man-made defiles are big features on the landscape -all readily spotted from Google Earth. But their emptiness and mystery has become something in it's own right now. I almost feel that the quarrying was but a small event in time and that now, they are being drawn back into the silent narrative of the hills, "y llonydd gorffennedig" which (I think) translates as the finished, or the accomplished silence.
Of course, the pits do give up their secrets. The differing types of blast lines, the quarrymen's marks, remains of overburden clearance and excavation and the type of tunnelling, to mention a few of the clues. All tell their subtle stories and add to the fascination.
Finally, we reached the highest pit- the deepest, with the ruins of a weigh house and other structures. It is accessed through a cutting and a short tunnel. . Inside the pit, there is a wide shelf or bench, with excavation continuing downwards. I assumed, without any real evidence, that the lowest level would be accessed by a tunnel from the lower pits.
The bonus quarry...
We located another working afterwards, a small cutting leading to a collapsed adit. This has been roughly dated to the 1840s, when a Henry Stock from Beddgelert, financed by some London backers, went looking for promising slate outcrops in the area. He opened an "old working" the name is intriguing in itself, and struck the best deposit of slate in the area before Glanrafon was started. We noted a lovely keyhole shelter on this highest site, probably a blast shelter rather than a powder store as it is quite near the opencut. The views of Yr Aran when coming out of the opencut were spectacular.
Of course, there are a couple of unsolved mysteries, as always. Studying the Google Earth photos and the NLS maps, a large reservoir became apparent at SH 60246 52596, with a small mine working to the south west of it. The reservoir must be something to do with the Bwlch Cwm y Llan enterprise as there is not enough working spoil in the little mine nearby. Yet there is no evidence of a leat or a launder. Come to that, there are no remains of waterwheel pits on the site either...but 1901 inventory listings for the quarry show an entry for a "25' waterwheel and launder". I guess these pits were filled with spoil from the later 20th century work. Neither Alun John Richards in his Slate Gazetteer, or Gwynfor Pierce Jones in "Cwm Gwrfai" mention this, I wonder why?
Slightly above the site to the north at SH 5992 5220 are the remains of a three-celled ruined building, and to the north of this, the ruin of a circular plan powder store. To the east is what looks like a more modern powder store. Sadly we didn't see those on our visit, and will have to return at some point.
A short uphill walk from the 1840s trial took us to the bwlch where we looked down on Cwm y Llan and the workings of the South Snowdon quarry, visited a few years ago and noted on the blog here. That's one of the nice things about roaming in the hills; when you join up the pieces of the landscape in your head and discover different views to places you know. I look forward to doing more of that when the lockdown eases.
"Cwm Gwrfai" Gwynfor Jones and Alun John Richards, Carreg Gwalch 2004
"Gazetteer of Slate Quarrying in Wales" Alun John Richards, Llygad Gwalch, 2007
"Snowdon, the Story of a Welsh Mountain" Jim Perrin, Gomer, 2012
Some extra photos of the quarry...
Hidden in the lonely woods below Foel y Ffridd, a couple of miles west of Aberangell, lies the mysterious and elusive Talmierin mine. Petra and I have made a few forays here and failed to find the adit, or even the site of the mine. It was rumoured to be connected to a tramway that came down from Maes y Gamfa slate quarry, but despite searching we couldn't find it. I made enquiries online, and one sage told me that he had been in the adit with a mate and it was flooded almost to the roof- they had to use an inflatable to make progress. So we gradually consigned the place to that dusty corner marked "too much bother".
Fast forward five years, and Petra and I decided just to have a walk around the woods and see what had changed. Short answer: nothing. It was still as magical and fascinating as ever. We poked around a bit, went up to Maes y Gamfa, then on the way back I suggested to Petra that we had another quick look for the fabled adit, not really expecting to find anything. I must say that we did have a good idea where the adit was by this time, but it was just an untried theory.
Well, we stumbled about for an hour, then quartered an area of the woods where I suspected the mine might be. As if by magic, a tip appeared, like a grey mist in the trees! Despite being weary from a day's aimless stravaiging, we ran up the slope like a pair of Jack Russells scenting pedigree chum. And there it was! A beautiful location, the kind I like best, a black adit mouth breathing out chill air to the balmy woods. Of course, we'd only come equipped for a walk, we didn't have torches or helmets. Typical! We had to come back ASAP.
A month later, we returned, with my daughter Sam, a keen mine explorer, and our good friend Dave Linton, the curator of the Merioneth Manganese and Hendrecoed Mining History sites. Equipped with lashings of ginger beer and rucksacks groaning with provisions in true Enid Blyton style, we made our way up beside the tramway past Bowley's mill. The mill looks much the same, except there are notices up to tell the unwary that it is unsafe. I'd read that it was to be converted into holiday cottages. Obviously, it hasn't, not yet anyway.
Walking past the Coed Mawr twll (also known as Gartheiniog or Hendre Meredydd) which was the working that Bowley's mill once served, we just had to go in and have a look. It's very deep and difficult to photograph. Gazing down into the depths, I absent-mindedly pondered about whether there might be a drainage adit. As soon as we were back on the road Petra and Dave had decided where it was most likely to be. Dave was off down hill, leaving the rest of us to stagger about in his wake. On our previous visits, we hadn't thought about a lower entrance to the pit, yet a little thought, (and a close reading of Richards) would have shown that it was obvious.
It was even more of a jungle below the road; steep and bramble infested, but somehow we all scrambled down. Petra found the opencut, which was choked with mud almost up to the roof, but an inspection with torches revealed that it was indeed a drainage tunnel. Luckily, the end of the opencut debouched into the river, the Nant Maesygamfa and we decided that it might be a good idea to cross the river and proceed to the mine via the tramway.
I guess at this point, the tramway is called the Maesygamfa tramway...the woods hereabouts are infested with the mysterious remains of tramways and make a fascinating study, branches going off to Hendre Coed and other quarries. The lines were also used to transport timber and until fairly recently, some rail and trolleys were lying by Bowley's mill. There is, I hope, soon to be a book about the tramways...hurry up, Dan!
We made our way up through the woods and eventually came to the adit, where we changed into underground gear. It wasn't a long adit, and it had been filled near the end of the drive with deads. Dave crawled over the obstruction anyway. We called to ask if there was anything to see, but then decided we didn't want to be left out, so over we went. It wasn't easy and, in fact, there was little to see except a few mineral flows. But we'd made it to the forehead, and we were pretty chuffed.
It was definitely a slate mine, there were some big slabs awaiting transport out. Halfway down the adit was an attempt to roof up and start a chamber, but there was no sign of the two chambers that Richards mentions. Nor was there any sign of flooding, no tide marks that you can sometimes see in other places. Above is an open quarry which seems to have been an early digging. I've been studying the maps again and note that on the OS map the mine is pretty much where "Old Quarry" is marked, although it's impossible to make out on Google Earth. I can only offer the excuse that the woods are quite thick and that you don't really see the adit and tips until you almost stumble on them.
Sad to say, there was no sign on these recent visits of the red dog at the turning, immortalised by google streetview. (Here's a link to the original post with the dog). Unlike in the Famous Five books, we didn't encounter any scoundrels or visit Kirrin Island, but we did eat well and find some secret(ish) tunnels. I still reckon it was a brilliant day. Thanks to my daughter Sam, to Petra and to Dave for their excellent company and knowledge.
Fridd Gartheiniog, ( aka Bowley's, or Hendre Coed Y Fridd) SH822117 was opened in 1850. The product was mostly slab from the Corris Narrow slate vein. There were two tunnels into the pit. An enamelling oven was added to the mill in the 1920's to produce slate for mantelpieces and other architectural items. The mill was initially water-driven by a leat from the Afon Angell. We didn't find any trace of this. Later, a diesel engine supplied power for 6 saws and 3 planers. It closed in 1950.
Gazetteer of Slate Quarrying in Wales by Alun John Richards
From Porthmadog to Cwm Dwyfor, high above Cwm Pennant.
Part one: Allt Wen.
This is the first of a series of posts following the route of the Gorseddau tramway, in a kind of back-to-front way. I'm starting at Porthmadog, although the tramway was built looking in hope and optimism towards the sea. The short distance from Porthmadog to Allt Wen is mostly under tarmac or towpath -a few marks on the palimpsest disguised as a cycle route... but Allt Wen is where things start to become interesting.
Some years ago, we visited an ailing relative at the Allt Wen hospital, underneath those impressive crags. After dispensing grapes and much sympathy we walked a little way on a lovely public footpath that beckoned from the hospital car park. I had a vague recollection that a tramway had run somewhere near, and that there had been a switchback arrangement...but all had been buried, I surmised, when the hospital was built.
The footpath out of the hospital is at the North West end. The rather anodyne buildings and soulless car park have covered over an area here which, a century and a half ago was once the site of an iron mine and a smelting works. This was the terminus of the Tremadoc (sic) Tramway, a three foot gauge operation built to tap the iron mine here known as the Llydiart Yspytty mine and carry the minerals thus won to the harbour. Hard to imagine today; what isn't car park is thick gorse cover. We did have a good look for remains nevertheless...the prickly bushes cover everything, but Petra did find signs of a blocked adit near the access road- and we spotted what could have been the top adit and opencast, seen as a gloomy rake between trees near the top of the car park.
Before the hospital was built, an archaeological survey was made of the site- it's recommendations were that the remains were significant and should be conserved. Perhaps, in a way, that's what the gorse and cotoneaster is doing.
Parting the overgrown branches of history reveals that the mine here may have been worked from 1754, and was certainly being exploited by 1770: the Porthmadog harbour dues confirm that 3,30I tons of ironstone were shipped out between March 1839 and December 1840. 'Smelting furnaces' were built, probably in 1845, near the principal adit. In 1848- 1850, between 10,000 and 15,000 tons were shipped, suggesting that the underground workings were extensive. The last mention of the mine in the Mining Journal was in 1851, when it is assumed to have closed down. The tramway, unsurprisingly perhaps, was one of the many projects of a certain energetic gentleman, William Alexander Maddocks- and as far as records show, it was horse worked. It might have begun as an extension of the cob construction tramway. It isn't known whether Maddocks had a finger in the Ironstone pie, but I wouldn't be surprised.
In the map above, the modern hospital is at the bottom right. The Ironstone mine is marked "Old Level".
On this 1887 map, the tramway is clearly marked. It makes a switchback to gain height underneath where the hospital is sited today. It's marked "Gorseddau Junction" because by now, after the ironstone mine closed, the owners of a quarry below the crags (Penmorfa, perhaps, or Ty Cerrig) extended the Tremadoc tramway to serve these concerns. This would be in 1856. The quarry owners were the Bangor and Portmadoc slate and slab company, who were later to open the rather more infamous Gorseddau Quarry.
It was engineered by Sir James Brunlees and as can be seen on the ground, was a well-built and safely engineered route. The area around the smelter and mine was retained as a kind of depot for the dropping off of slate and slab destined for more local users.
Certainly, looking at the early maps, the inclines from the Penmorfa quarry and Ty Cerrig bisect the route of the tramway. Yet at the same time, there are obvious loading banks at the side of the tramway and a possible formation beside the much degraded remains of the incline.
It is unclear whether the switchback arrangement on the present site of the hospital was constructed at this time, but it seems logical to draw that conclusion. The tramway had gone through several iterations and changes of layout around the iron mine during it's life, but when linked to the slate quarries it would have needed to gain height quickly and economically. There was also an incline within the area of the ironstone mine, from the opencast.
So that's the historical context, but what of the scene today?
The tramway ambles along through woodland, making a delightful walk. For those with a weakness for mines, the signs are there, albeit subtly. There are vestiges of loading banks, inclines and tips shining through the trees.
The last time we walked along the trackbed, the temptation became too much for Petra and she was off up the slate tip...it took me a while to catch up, by which time she had found an opencut at the end of a tip run. It didn't look too much like a slate mine, the spoil was more like chunks of igneous material mixed up with shaley blocks. The opencut was blocked by a big fall of soil, but clambering up it, we found an opening. I hadn't expected that!
Of course, the adit was wet inside and not very long, but a lovely find. Judging by the spoil, it was a trial...inside, the join between slate and gangue is all too obvious; the rock is not encouraging. It was a magical place, though.
There were tips above and what looked like further workings, so we clambered up the very steep slopes to see. I was hoping to find signs of the drumhouse for the incline that crosses the road down below. We found excavations and a deep quarry, a working face had been hacked away to a depth of almost 80 feet in places. There were remains of a tramway, as the old OS maps suggest. An early adit had been topped out into an opencut and a shelter built within it. The place was overgrown and felt a little like a lost world...we explored on a beautiful day in late August, with the leaves giving a green shade to the rocks. It would feel different in winter, but the remains would be more visible.
We carried on along the level and eventually came to the top of the incline, which needed the eye of faith to see. It really had been degraded by mother nature and there was certainly no sign of a drumhouse, which was strange. Petra made the suggestion that perhaps a horizontal sheave was used, Denbigh style, although there were few signs.
We walked a little further and came to another, even more degraded pit , where the suggestion of a tramway ended. We didn't fancy walking back down the way we came, but luckily a footpath wound down a little to the north east. I realised that this was the path to the top of the ridge, something we'd done about ten years ago in summer and had nearly disappeared in bracken. It's worth doing, as the view from the top is wonderful and there are some mysterious stone pillars to wonder at while you get your breath back. We must do that again this winter perhaps.
Once back down on the tramway, we continued north west towards Penmorfa. There's a lovely open stretch with views across the traeth towards the Arenigs. I took two photos and merged them, but otherwise this was straight out of the camera...
We walked on, enjoying the sunshine until we came to a couple of houses in a terrace. Until recently, there was a sign here that said "Railway Terrace" and indeed, it is so marked on the 1887 map. But I guess that name isn't beguiling enough when you are trying to market a holiday let...although it would sell it to me! There are still some railway themed pottery ornaments on the wall, a crude but amusing depiction of a 14xx tank, some genuine rail and a tram waggon wheel.
Railway Terrace. The incline from the Penmorfa slate quarry came down here from the left where the footpath sign is. You can walk up quite a way although there are few signs that you are on an incline- father time has foxed the edges of history again. It's a steep but fabulous walk to the top from here as well.
The tramway then winds its way above Penmorfa, coming onto the road for a short while before crossing it. This is as far as you can walk here, as the rest is on private land, but there are things to see...
Well, that's the end of our first instalment of the Gorseddau tramway, but there's more to come soon. If you want to walk this short stretch, it is possible to park in the hospital car park (just don't tell them I said so) or in the layby at the other end near Penmorfa- SH 54582 40632 To whet your appetite, before my next posts- here's a map someone has done on Bing maps of the whole route.
The Allt Wen area isn't just all about the tramway- bricks and human remains were discovered nearby in 1810 and thought to be of roman origin; later, workmen building a drain in 1876 found further remains. By 1908, excavations revealed a bath-house; pottery indicated occupation from the second century AD to the fourth (Breeze and Anwyl l909)
The Gorseddau Junction Railway's only locomotive, "Pert" languished for a while in a shed on the iron mine site, the building is shown on the 1887 Ordnance map. Not much is known about the locomotive except that it was little-used and was a product of DeWinton's of Caernarfon. It worked during the last phase of the tramway, when its fate was connected to the spectacularly futile copper mine developments at the head of Cwm Pennant.
An explore with something of the knight about it...
We'd decided, on the spur of the moment, to have a look at the little-noted slate mines on the west side of Cnicht, that hill known as the "Welsh Matterhorn" because of it's profile from Porthmadog. In the late 1800s, the same steep profile induced slumberous local worthies in Port to mis-name Snowdon Street in a case of mistaken identity. In fairness, it is rather serious-looking from that angle -and I suppose "Cnicht Street" doesn't have the same ring to it.
Our explore started off from the car park in Croesor. It was just before eight in the morning, so we had the place to ourselves. As we walked through the village I was visited by ghosts of my young children from a holiday we'd spent, many, many years ago in a cottage here. Happy memories. We walked up and through the woods on the well-marked path, noting the first signs of mining activity in the shape of a trial digging tip on the right. I hadn't expected to see any remains so far down in the woods, and after so long a time.
After a short climb, we came out of the woodland and turned right at a junction in the path on the 230 metre contour. The way left goes on towards Gareg Bengam and into the Dyffryn Nanmor, something we noted for another day. Our way was marked "Cnicht" so no worries about the route. We climbed steadily until finding a tip on the left, and an adit on the right of the path. I took a photo, although the adit wasn't inviting, being flooded and, no doubt, short. The weather was putting on a good show with shafts of sunlight and angry clouds...but we had, for once, packed waterproofs so we didn't feel too worried. There were a couple of ruins here scattered about, but I felt they were probably the remains of sheepfolds.
Soon, we came to another junction, where the path goes off to the right. This was our cue to diverge from the Cnicht route and we followed a well-made track slightly downhill into the valley between Yr Arddu, whose magnificent crags were catching the sun to our left, and the Cnicht ridge. There would be no summits for us today, but hopefully some mines, which in our book are far more interesting. Petra has climbed Cnicht three times anyway (as a child) although professes to have little memory of it. I would like to climb it, if only for the magnificent view of the Croesor quarry it affords... I want that photo!
Before long, we encountered a fine ruin which didn't look like a shepherd's hut or a farm. Somehow, it had an air of mining about it- not surprising since a little distance away was a fairly substantial tip. Sadly, the entrance to the adit was run-in. It looked as if it had been filled in many years ago, lost to explorers wanting excitement and sheep needing shelter. This is one of the trials on the Criblwyd sett.
The landscape had a really wild quality to it - our day began to have a special feel, of days spent in the wild country under the Gamallt, or stravaiging towards Serw. And yet, we only had to turn round to see Moel y Gest in the distance, the town of Port nestling under it and the sweep of the bay. I imagined having a coffee at Costa's later in the day. In the middle distance was the Aberglaslyn and towering over it, the cloud harried flanks of Moel Ddu and Hebog. A small, distant wisp of steam and a stentorian whistle carried by the wind announced the passage of the first WHR train of the day. This is why I love Wales!
Petra reckoned that she could see more mine tips from the Criblwyd operation, so we forged on. Stonechats were calling all around us, sounding like the sorting ladies at a lead mine, knocking stones together. The country became a little craggier, and we heard our first raven of the day. We encountered another, almost identical adit and tip, marked as "old level" on the 1913 OS six inch map. We'd left the path by now, beguiled by mining remains. We yomped over tussocky grass, rife with small brown butterflies and skirling birds until we reached a natural amphitheatre, formed by the beetling western slopes of Cnicht, the gap of the Bwlch y Battel and on our left, the crags of Yr Arddu. Here was a fine working, a fan of tips like four fingers leading to a blocked adit. The opencut had been packwalled and the tips were substantial, I reckoned that it must have gone to some chambering. We'll never know.
The view from this working was most intriguing. Across what looked like a rather tricky area of bog was a pit working with the remains of a two-storied house! Our way to this working wasn't too dramatic, only resulting in soggy boots, but what is a day walking in Wales without those? We pushed through an outbreak of waist high bracken, worrying about ticks, and came up to the flattened work area.
The first thing that claimed my attention was a strange structure that looked at first like a sheave pillar- on further reflection, I decided that it might have been a multi-sided walliau, where you could work in shelter despite the vagaries of the wind. There were candle alcoves on each side. Large slabs were scattered around, probably from a makeshift roof to the structure, but flung off in one of the storms that famously ravage this spot. Behind this wal is a deep opencut which appears to lead into a collapsed adit. There have been a couple of rockfalls which make exploration impossible.
We walked back on to the working area and approached the house, which feels like a distressed version of the mysterious Llwyn y Betws in Cwm Pennant. While the place has been badly treated by the weather, there is still evidence of some very fine masonry work. The building is marked on the 1888 OS map, so it's construction had obviously been solid. There appear to be too many doors for a house and we thought perhaps this had been an office and barracks structure, although why the need for two stories, given the challenging nature of the weather here is anybody's guess. It must have felt like being on a ship, sleeping upstairs in the winter. Perhaps the place was built in a rush of optimism and a desire to attract investors.
Petra wandered around the back of the structure and discovered the remains of a smithy hearth, with an arrangement for a bellows to the rear. There was also what looked like a storeroom. A fine set of steps climbed down possibly to a path, obliterated by high bracken growth. A ruinous outbuilding lay nearby, of indeterminate purpose- too close to be a powder store.
We climbed up to the top level and found the remains of an adit, untopped as work proceeded downwards. Unexpectedly, a deep pit opened out, with what looked like an attempt at chambering at the bottom- but again here there had been a significant rock fall and it was difficult to interpret much. We had an early lunch sitting on a slate slab and gazed up at more workings going towards the ridge above. Very tempting, but not today...expect an update on those very soon. We wandered on westwards, towards the path which heads towards the Nantmor defile. I was glad we had done this, as we found the powder house for the mine on the outcrop, a satisfying discovery.
Richards, in his Slate Gazetteer, mentions an access track for this mine, which he calls the Bwlch Battal, Gelli or Craig Boeth working. We couldn't find the track, unless he is meaning the footpath to the west. We followed this anyway, heading north through the bwlch. It forged enticingly onwards and we were keen to see what transpired at the top. We came first into an area which had a shallow, boggy Llyn, reminding me of my youth in the Galloway hills and the "Silver Flowe". I realised that on the opposite shore was the cave that it is now fashionable to sleep the night in, thanks to certain outdoor magazines and the "Independent". A feature easily found by anyone with a map, but now the facebook and Instagram hordes have found it, so we stayed away- although it looked uninhabited on this occasion.After more climbing, we arrived at the place where the path descends down into the next valley. There are some ancient settlements here worthy of further study, but today we were weary and after drinking in the views of Snowdon in the distance, we made our way back down the track.
As usual, back home, studying Google Earth and the old maps, I discovered a small trial adit above the mine. The completist in me will have to go back!
Grid ref for the Bwlch y Battel mine: SH637463.
Below- some images from the walk:
We take a look at a couple of megaliths and the vestiges of a fort, plus a bonus mine near Tal-y-Fan mountain. And ponies...
You might remember a couple of posts ago that I mentioned we were going to have a look at the area south of Tal-y-Fan which is rich in prehistoric remains. We finally got round to it, and it was better than we could have hoped. Remains of prehistory are thick on the ground here, from obvious standing stones to more subtle manifestations of our distant ancestors.
Cerrig Pryfaid stone circle SH72457132
We started from the Bwlch y Ddeufaen car park. Unlike our last few visits (here), we headed east along the road as it heads back towards Rowen-just for a short way. Within a few minutes, we had arrived at the site of Cerrig Pryfaid stone circle. It's unassuming, shall we say. You have to sit for a while and soak up the place (and it's stunning location). The stones fight for attention with the tussocky grass, but after a while you begin to see ten or twelve stones in a ring about 22 metres across. There appears to be a stone missing towards the north west end of the circle and there are a couple of outliers. Looking at Coflein's map, it seems that there were many other prehistoric features immediately nearby- a burnt mound, some hut circles and a longhouse. These things all take time to discover and to recognise, so it looks like we'll have to go back. One thing is for sure, this area was of considerable significance in neolithic times.
After trying very hard (and failing) to take any meaningful photos of Cerrig Pryfaid, we walked on until a fork in the road at SH73187147, where we went left and then through a gate.
The road becomes a trackway here then winds uphill through a wonderful landscape of low hedges, boulders and walls, always with a panorama of hills as a backdrop. We stopped by a big pile of rocks which must be an ancient clearance cairn and had our lunch. In the distance could be seen the hillfrot of Pen y Gaer (link to previous post). Areas of burnt gorse made me realise that when we'd been at Pen y Gaer last, the smoke had come from over here.
After a pleasant ten minutes or so, we came to a sheepfold- not a very old one. A carving on the very fine gatepost gave the game away...1884.
The fields here are littered with stones left by the glacier as it retreated. It must have been quite a job to clear the fields of these monsters, each weighing a good few hundredweights.
We had been walking beside a wall, which gradually petered out until it was simply a line of boulders. It wasn't particularly straight, either. This type of wall, probably medieval, is known as a "Wandering Wall" which seems a nice image and fits these things very well. The rewarding thing about walking round an area is that gradually you begin to join the dots and see things from different perspectives. So here we were coming up to Craig y Celynin towards the east- a hill that we had walked around from the South, the Parc Mawr direction a few weeks earlier. Wales is compact and bijou- but that's it's charm, after all.
Caer Bach Hillfort SH74427296
It was time to walk up to Caer Bach hillfort. From the south east it looks like nothing at all, but once on the site it's origins are obvious. The atmosphere wasn't helped by the gorse having been burnt over the hillfort, but at least it cleared the ground and made the remains more visible.
It is a small fort of only 38m internal diameter. Strangely enough, it is built on a spur of land above the trackway, not a naturally strong position for defence as it is overlooked from above. However, it has a massive internal wall 5-6m in width and an outer defence of a large bank and ditch. This outer bank is unusual in that had a stone outer facing, some of which can still be seen on the west side. Little remains of the inner wall and the lack of tumbled stone has been suggested to show that it was unfinished or had been robbed to create the outer rampart in a second phase of use. Who knows...but the remaining stones left in the platform are useful for photography!
We made a little detour here to visit a mine; what I expect was a trial adit for the Tal y Fan slate mine a few hundred feet above. This was at SH74347332 and shows up well on Google Earth satellite view. The opencut was too choked with gorse to even attempt a look without some serious bush cutters. There is quite a quantity of spoil, but no discernable trackway to the mine.
Just for the heck of it, we decided to scramble up to the top of Craig y Celynin...there were some impressive rocks on the top and I thought there might be a view towards the church below, but that was masked by some small drumlins. What we did see were some wild horses, so there are some gratuitous Carneddau pony shots at the end of the post.
Maen y Bardd SH74067178
It was time to walk back and go cross-country to find Maen y Bardd. We retraced our steps, then picked up a path going downhill through the ruined farmstead of Pen y Ffridd.
There are all sorts of remains here, from victorian farm remains through to medieval field systems and long houses. Everything you see seems to have some past significance. Gradually we descended towards Maen y Bardd.
So here we were at last. Maen y Bardd, 'Bard's Stone' is thought to be all that remains of a burial chamber built around 3500 BC. Tradition suggests that the dolmen was originally covered by a large cairn, but only scattered traces of stones remain.
The burial chamber consists of a large, flat, capstone supported on four standing stones forming a rectangular inner chamber. The chamber is about 1.2 metres high (roughly 4 feet) and the capstone projects beyond the upright stones to form an entrance, or portal. For that reason this type of burial chamber is often called a portal dolmen.
The chamber is sometimes called Cwrt-y-Filiast (Kennel of the Greyhound); a reference to an ancient legend that says that a giant's (in some versions, Arthur's) sheepdog took shelter under the dolmen and his master threw a spear across the valley at the hound, who sheltered in the chamber.
It's a fine spot, all the more so for being surrounded by other remains in a rich landscape of prehistoric settlements and fields, the majority probably belonging to the later Iron Age and Romano-British periods. It also lies adjacent to a sunken trackway which bisects the earlier fields, thought to be the line of a Roman road.
Ffon-y-cawr standing stone SH73927170
The trackway that leads past the stone connects it to a couple of other interesting megalithic remains. The next one was the standing stone of Ffon yr Cawr (the Giant's Stick) or Piccel Arthur (the Spear of Arthur).
Legend has it that this stone, over 7 feet high was originally a spear belonging to that all-purpose mythical figure, Arthur. Apparently, Arthur was gathering his sheep on Pen y Gaer but the dog ran off and sheltered in the dolmen. Arthur threw his staff in exasperation, and it landed nearby. Not a bad shot.
By now, it was becoming rather gloomy and my shot of the Cae Coch standing stone further along the sunken trackway (SH73557164) was pretty useless. Luckily, Terry Hughes had taken an excellent shot for which I give grateful thanks. We managed to miss quite a few things on this part of the walk, meaning that a re-visit will have to be done, but that's the fun of it, isn't it?
And to finish off the post, some Carneddau Pony shots, as promised...
Where we find a wealth of prehistoric remains in the landscape- and an awful lot of fallout from forestry felling.
We knew from our previous visits here that there were a good few remains of cairns and settlements to be found. Coming back, with the objective of looking closely at them, it surprised us how many there were- and how little care is taken over these remains, which date from possibly 2,000 years ago.
We started by parking up in an area that has been used by Conwy Forestry as a storage area for their giant tree strippers and log movers- these days, nothing is done by hand. Rubbish was everywhere, plastic bottles, scrap metal, discarded piles of young trees in white bags...even a broken-backed caravan- the hallmarks of chaotic and disorganised conifer extraction. I suppose I am guilty of thinking back to the (thankfully) short time in prehistory when I worked for the F.C. in South Scotland, when we took trees out using a horse and cleared up after ourselves lest the D.O. would come by and bollock us all. Changed days, it would seem.
Anyhow, we started up a footpath, marked on the map as such but we proceeded uneasily, because notices told us access was forbidden. We were aiming for Bedd-y-Brennin cairn and cist, marked on the map up in the woods above Cwm Llwyd. The footpath had had an upgrade, anyway. It seemed as if it had been used recently for a car rally. Luckily, it was dry and we managed to make a pleasant, if steep climb out of it. I wasn't expecting much of the "grave of the king" as Bedd Brenin translates. Apparently it was excavated in 1851, when human remains were found in the cist (an ancient coffin or burial chamber made from stone, pronounced "Kist") Shortly after that, a farmer built a sheep fold on top of the cairn. They were different times, eh? Here's the unedifying scene at the cairn.
I think, considering everything, the cairn still looks impressive. Hopefully the scars of modern extraction will fade as nature heals them and the place will return to peacefulness and the songs of woodland birds.
Next on our agends were some erratics which were supposed to be in the woods here. We followed the road back down and found them quite easily, since the trees had been taken away from three sides. Conwy forestry had arranged more litter, guest starring a diesel drum underneath the stones to add the finishing touch. Here they are...
Bryn Seward Stone Row
We headed back to the road and on to the next feature, Bryn Seward Stone Row. Thankfully, this was still here and relatively unscathed, although some giant tyres had been placed nearby. I managed to elide them out of the photos.
The stone row measures 61m long, including at least five medium and large-sized stones standing up to 2.14m high. It's situated on a north facing slope with sea and landscape views and reveals. It is considered likely to be of Bronze Age date, and have been built into a probable Post-Medieval field wall. The row is situated alongside the ancient trackway known as the Ffordd Ddu.
However, in the 1970s the Ordnance Survey suggested that there are actually four stones, and although this view has been endorsed by many, it appears that there is no definite conclusion regarding the number of stones constituting the group - as they are incorporated into the field wall, several of the larger stones at the base of the wall could be part of the original group. [Thanks to Nina Steele, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust]
At the lower end of the row was a large cairn on an eminence above a small valley.
It's obvious that this cairn has been robbed in antiquity, probably again in the 1850s. The cist has been taken, but enough of the structure remains for it still to be impressive.
A wonderful trove
We carried on over the fence and into the land to the north of the road, where we found a wonderful trove of remains...cairns, hut circles, field boundaries and settlement remains.
As we moved further down the hill, the area below came into view. The blue pool, or Golwern Quarry- now sealed up because of irresponsible activity by tourists. At least it means that there will be a super nature reserve there. It's very difficult to access except by the blocked tunnel. Here's a link to our explore of the place some years ago.
Some huge rocks loomed at us as we crested a small ridge and we had a pleasant lunch sitting in their shadow...
Climate Change Refugees
We looked down to Fairbourne and reflected that this will be the first settlement in North Wales to be lost due to climate change. It is only a few feet above sea level. I wonder where the villagers will be re-housed. The council have been trying to build a big flood defence wall, but it's a massive task, judging by the number of loaded stone trucks going past my study here in our old slate mill below the Ffestiniog quarries. Now, they have given up. It's also cost over £6 million, a good proportion of that from Europe. Although this is because of climate change, the council prefers to call it "decomissioning" the village. I feel very sorry for the folks losing their homes, as no compensation will be available for them. Ironically, some of the villagers refuse to accept climate change, being firmly in the Trump camp- one resident said it was "a load of la-la". I can understand it must be difficult to part with somewhere you have invested money and time into. Better to dig your head, literally, in the sand.
Guardian article about Fairbourne
Back to the Past...
On the southern side of the road were a considerable number of remains: cairns, enclosures and clearance cairns. Coflein thinks they are all sheep folds, although I can't quite get behind that interpretation. Yes, some look like clearance ...
Another standing stone.
We had a little time left, so we trundled across to Llyn Cregennan, to find another standing stone- and a bonus mine- there's always time for one of those!
Not too much to say about Carreg-y-Big, except that it is impressive and stands out for quite a way. A little way further north east, we found a mine- a manganese trial of some age, and probably associated with the ones at nearby Hafotty Fach.
Here's a gallery of images showing the forestry vandals handiwork...nothing too terrible, just a bit oblivious of them...as if they really didn't give a f...
As your reward for reading this far, here's a nice photo of a farmhouse on the road back to Dolgellau :-) Pity about that power line.
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