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.
A very unusual excursion into England, and a trip in the time machine back to 2013...
In Ludlow with a few hours to kill before meeting a customer, I was idly studying an OS map when my eye caught the name "Clee Hill". It was only six miles away and by the looks of things, had a quarry. We fired up the car and high-tailed it up to the village of Clee. After the Georgian gentility of Ludlow, this place seemed like a Kentucky mining village. It has what must be the unfriendliest village shop in Shropshire; but I liked it. A pub called "The Kremlin" was also noted, surely a story there. Provisions purchased, we headed up by the sign marked "Dhustone". From the Welsh name for Dolerite, apparently, although the locals called it "Jewstone".
Much has been written about the railways hereabouts, and I won't labour the point; there are other places on the web for that. I'll give some links at the foot for those who want to browse further. We rolled up the steep road, noting what looked like a ruined incline beside some lovely brick houses with fantastical chimneys, built by the quarry company for it's workers. One rejoiced in the name "Hedgehog Cottage".
The weather wasn't promising at all, but as we reached a plateau, the bulk of Titterstone Clee loomed from the mist. It's not high by Welsh standards but it's imposing. 533 metres, and the third highest in Shropshire. From this distance it seemed more like a gigantic spoil tip, but I could make out the remains of rock bins and the concrete standings for machinery.
We parked up and walked about, heading for a water filled hole. Rounding the corner of a spoil tip I had a sudden stab of alarm. Slowly revealing itself from the mist was an enormous white golf ball on the skyline, like something from a 1960's Dr Who episode. I checked, none were filmed here, although they should have been. I felt the scene needed a Cyberman coming towards me and imagined the Brigadier screeching to a halt in his Mk 1 Land Rover nearby. It was only a strangely disoriented gull, unfortunately, but it didn't spoil the magic.
The golf balls; the larger one is part of a National Air Traffic Control radar network, it's little brother being a Met Office weather radar . There are also the remains of an RAF radar station here, too, mainly bits of concrete in the grass. A bronze age hillfort completes this embarrassment of riches, although I failed to note any evidence of ancient activity- but my eye was concentrating on the quarry remains.
We noticed graffiti everywhere with the motif "RIP Mitch". I wondered if someone locally had died here, but later found that it referred to Mitch Lucker, frontman and vocalist of a California Death Metal band called Suicide Silence. Their music is typical of the genre, but interesting...so the artist was a fan, I guess.
As normally happens when we explore places, I charged about excitedly like a Jack russell terrier scenting rat and ran up to the summit. Petra more sensibly decided to mooch about near the stone crushers and crafted some fine images. All too soon, it was time to leave, as the mist came down to veil the hill again. Later in the afternoon, listening to my customer, I couldn't help but notice the hill in the distance, with it's two strange white shapes atop the crest. I couldn't help wishing I was back up there. It was a fascinating explore and one worthy of another expedition.
Links and interesting facts:
I found a site while browsing for information which has some fascinating photographs of the quarry from 1955, with many other interesting details, called "Photos by D J Norton". Recommended.
Factoids courtesy of the Industrial Railway Society:
" The quarries date from 1858 when a railway was being constructed from Ludlow for the transport of coal. A quarry, opened to produce ballast for the Ludlow & Clee Hill Railway (opened on 24th August 1864), produced such good stone that the industry has flourished there ever since. Three main quarries have operated over the years and in one of these a 3ft 0in gauge rail system was introduced with horse haulage, going over to steam about 1910 when a second-hand loco was obtained. This 0−4−0 saddle tank (Bagnall 1717 of 1903) came to Titterstone Clee from H. Arnold & Sons Ltd, contractors for Embsay Reservoir, Skipton, on which job it was named MARY. It is assumed the loco proved to be superior to the horses, as a few years later a new 0−4−0 side tank was purchased from Avonside (1666 of 1913) and put to work carrying the name TITTERSTONE. This loco was followed by a new Sentinel 4−wheel geared-drive shunter (6222 of 1926) which was named LILIAN.
Wagons were pushed by hand along tracks from the quarry face to a collecting point in the middle of the quarry known as "the turnout", from where they were hauled by locomotive to the crusher. From the crusher a mile long incline, which included a three rail section, ran down the side of the hill to an interchange point at Bitterley on the standard gauge line. Although the rail system was closed in 1952, the quarry remained in use until 1962, the stone being conveyed in road vehicles."
There is a widely held belief in the local area that the Clee Hills are the highest land eastwards until the Ural Mountains in Russia. Hence the name of the pub in Clee Hill village - The Kremlin Inn. It has even been known for radios in the area to pick up signals via the air traffic control masts from Radio Moscow.
The Clee hills are mentioned in A.E.Housman's poem "From Clee to heaven the beacon burns", which is a section of A Shropshire Lad.
Most people will know about Nant Gwrtheyrn, the erstwhile quarry worker's village on the Llŷn Peninsula that became deserted after the quarries closed. After some vicissitudes, the place was finally restored and has become a very fine centre for Welsh studies. Originally the village housed the workers from three quarries- Porth y Nant, Carreg y Llam and Cae'r nant.
The Cae'r nant quarry levels tower above the village still today as a reminder of the skill and perseverance of the quarrymen.
Looking up from the Welsh Language centre at Nant Gwrtheyrn, the quarry "benches" at regular intervals seem to be an easy morning's explore. However, once on the slopes it is a different matter!
A couple of years ago we tried to reach the quarry from the stone hoppers on the beach, at the bottom of the incline. We were beaten back by the wet weather, it was miserable and everything was slippery. So this time, we thought about coming from the top and working our way down steadily. And- it was great, especially at first, before we encountered the gorse. At the very top, along the airy ridge, the views are superb. It was a real adventure and I felt like a kid again- as per, some would say. We had bags full of provisions and coffee, and it helped that the rain held off, too.
It wasn't too long before we encountered a hut here at the top level. There was quite a view from the window, which was unexpectedly large. I didn't think it was a weigh hut, perhaps a caban. There isn't much excavation on this level until you get to the end, but it does overlook an earlier incline coming from Trwyn y Gorlech.
We mooched on and eventually got to the western end, where a surprise awaited us. The quarrying had continued around the headland. We walked round to the most northerly point and could see "West End" cottages on the way up to Trefor! These were the offices for the Trefor quarry at one time, and a tramway ran past the doors- before the big incline was built from the main quarry.
The sky began to threaten us with rain at this point, but we were resolute and saw it off. The quarry up here is rather like Carreg y Llam to the south, completely stripped of any artefacts or buildings. It was very impressive, but a little sad. There were no signs of human activity except these titanic gouges in the headland which could have been made by giants. I looked but couldn't even see a shot blast hole.
Keen to move on, we crossed the incline to the rest of the level. First there was a range of structures that were easier to interpret. Unfortunately, the old tramways along the level were choked with thick gorse, so it was difficult at times to make progress. We were now at the main level of the original Cae'r Nant quarry, which is a series of excavations to the east of the later quarries. Here the incline comes down, linking with the big crusher house below. The incline was, according to Coflein, 830 metres long. At some time, there was a zig-zag trackway built between the levels, impossible to say whether this was a modern innovation or not, as the earth banks at either side are collapsing and the whole thing is covered in gorse. But I can't see diesel trucks winning out here, the difficulty of getting them on to the quarry when the inclines must have been an elegant solution outweighs any economic argument, I would have thought. So perhaps these zig-zags are just for the quarrymen.
We were tempted by the spoil heaps at the original excavations and went over to have a look. Again, the place is devoid of any meaningful context, apart from the benchwork. But then Petra spotted a wheel, lying on one of the tips. Note to those folk who like to steal these things- it didn't have an axle and was very rusty.
Down again to the next half-level, where the unmistakeable remains of a blacksmith's shop lay. Outside it was a fuel tank and an inspection pit- so at some point, locomotives were stabled here. Internal combustion, I would imagine, although if there was steam I would be willing to bet that it would be by DeWinton of Caernarfon! I wonder if a flimsy corrugated iron shed was put up to house a locomotive. But it wouldn't have lasted long in the winds here.
The smithy was a treat. Inside, under the fragile roof, threatening to collapse soon, there were remains of iron and steel, a hammer head almost rusted away, and strangely, a few scraps of a distinctly 1950s style linoleum. I can imagine the quarryman's wife saying "Here, take this, it's no use to the house now, but it might do in the caban..." The floor was covered in cinders and rusty iron fragments.
We wandered off to the seaward end again, to look at the rock faces in the quarry. It struck me that here the rock was slightly different, there were shiny green veins through it and in other places, iron intrusions. The rock was complex occasionally and didn't look too good for making setts. I was struck by how much crushed stone was under foot, thousands of tons of the stuff...why was this thrown away- I couldn't understand. I wondered as always about the profligacy of it all, making great holes in the landscape, terraforming for money. But I then realised that the plant life was wonderful- nature was having a great time here. And hey, we humans are only going to be around for another thirty years or so anyway.
Petra pointed out a Kestrel, chasing a pigeon over the benches here. The pigeon was surprisingly agile in flight and was almost a match for the Kestrel. Almost... There were skylarks singing and stonechats, but the most wonderful sight was the choughs, who scooted past us high above, with their skirling cries.
We used the trusty zig-zag gorse path again to get down to the crusher house. This was an amazing structure, quite awe inspiring. So out of place in this landscape, so bold and insouciant...but wonderful. It was surrounded by the detritus of it's own decay, long baulks of wood were strewn about, bits of steel and concrete that had given up the struggle and fallen. The effect was incurably romantic- I was struck by the thought that it would make a fantastic painting.
I couldn't begin to work out what happened here, as the stone hoppers were placed over the incline...but there was no visible way to transfer crushed stone to the hoppers. All that was lost in the fog of history, but if I find out, I will let you know.
We walked around here wishing that there had been some photographs taken while everything was in working order. But then I do like things in this transitionary state, not working, not functional. Then they become like statements, or memorials in the landscape. That's fine. I also like the way some giant blocks of concrete have broken off and lie like enormous dice at the side, bits of rebar sticking out of them.
After spending an age photographing the crusher house, we moved on to a compressor house a little further along the level. This was constructed from shuttered concrete and had a similar feel to the structures at Trefor. Inside were massive machine bases, all familiar to those who have seen other large quarries.
After some discussion, it was decided that it would be easier to go down to Nant Gwrtheyrn, rather than go back up and try to get through all that gorse again. This was quite a thought, because our car was at the car park at the top of the hill above. Never mind, it would be good to look at the incline and hoppers at the bottom again...
There was a quay at the bottom of the incline, where stone could be loaded onto waiting ships. It wasn't an easy or relaxing anchorage, and masters of ships would berth nervously, watching the weather. Small wonder then, that there were shipwrecks- the photo below shows the mortal remains of the "Amy Summerfield", wrecked here in 1951.
The sad story can be read at the Rhiw web site here.
Interesting that records show the ship foundered in 1951- when the quarry, according to some sources, had closed in 1939. Perhaps the latter operation in the fifties was simply selling the crushed stone, which is abundant everywhere in the quarry?
Before we came to the hoppers at the bottom of the incline, we spared a glance at the lovely old farm of Ty Uchaf, on sale at the moment for £750,000. A snip as it includes a section of beach and the quarry.
Some facts about Cae'r nant:
Modern quarrying started in Cae'r nant shortly after 1850 to supply granite setts for paving and construction work in large cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. Work finished in 1939...or in 1951, depending on which source you trust!
While the ships that landed here took away stone, they often arrived with essential goods for the village- coal and food, plus items of furniture! The vessels would be called coasters today as they were only of 150-200 tons.
This is somewhere we'd been aware of for a while, having seen the chimney above the road a couple of years ago and putting it on the "to do" list. Finally, we found time to have a good look around, and although the greater part of the site is landscaped, it was still a fascinating explore.
A medieval or even prehistoric origin has been suggested for this site, but there is no documentary evidence for mining in the area until 1753. It seems that the mine, known as the Pwllycochion mine, first came to public notice when a discovery was made by miners of £200 worth of lead ore and black jack (A miner's term for sphalerite, or zinc sulphide). The miners sold their shares in the mine to local entrepreneurs, but it was not a wise buy. In 1836 to 1848, an average of only 88 tons a year was sent down the Conwy river.
In 1892, there was an increased demand for lead, resulting in mines up and down the county being re-opened and re-invigorated. The mine was re-started as the Trecastell mine and equipped with new plant- a water wheel, flotation pits and a series of flues to a chimney above the processing works, from a smelter stuated east of the road. This area had the largest workings, following several lodes, with stoping extending to a depth of 105 fathoms and accessed primarily via shafts. The mine produced 2,548 tons of lead ore and 12,554 tons of blende before 1913. After that date, the concern limped on until 1955.
Sadly, there isn't much to see today. There are some adits/shafts further up in the woods, but they are gated and used by Lesser Horseshoe bats as a roost, so best left well alone. I confess, guiltily, that we did trek through the brambles to have a look at the chimney and the adits. It was very tough going, but we were rewarded by seeing how well the structure has been conserved. The upper adits were nearby, gated but looking very tempting. Afterwards we nursed our myriad bramble cuts and torn jeans, but we hadn't been in the adits and hopefully no bats were disturbed.
David Gwyn, (in his 1996 report to the Woodland Trust) states that the spoil was barrowed out from the adits, perhaps underlining the antiquity of these openings. Later on in the report, there is a mine plan which shows the depth and scope of the workings which are more extensive to the east of the road.
Of the processing works there is little remaining- the site was "landscaped" a few years ago. There was a waterwheel there, a smelter and ancillary buildings. After our first visit, where we were focussed on something else (here) we studied the old maps and the new OS editions and concluded that there was public access on to the landscaped area to the east. As it happened, this was very worthwhile.
There wasn't really much to see, but the outlines of the tips and the spoil was a giveaway. The river itself is heavily buttressed and the banks revetted. There is a wall which may have been a dam, choked up with vegetation and willow growth- but it may well be where the water wheel was sited. All around, there was the feeling that something had been concealed...and all there was to show for it were the tantalising shreds of evidence here and there.
We did find some small clues in the undergrowth- rails, bits of iron and a curious length of angle that could have been from a hopper wagon. This was excavated using the well-known archaeological method, the "toe of the boot"! Of the shafts and adits east of the road, nothing remains except some substantial tips.
It is however, a charming area of trees and undergrowth with some old beech trees which must have been there when the mine was working. Elsewhere, ageing birch trees, their job of colonising almost over, still choke the undergrowth and fight the onslaught of Gorse, which has become "leggy" and almost possible to walk under.
I presume that the area was cleaned of any toxic fallout from the lead mining, as the remains here and there of the flue and the water tanks all look very healthy. It certainly makes a grand day out and an excuse to exercise the "eye of faith" :-) It is strange how both of us have developed a mining "sixth sense" where, no doubt due to some unconscious cues from the lie of the land, we feel an area is "miney". The senses were working overtime here.
There is a terrace of houses directly opposite and above the old processing works- these are particularly handsome and were built for the miners- now cherished and probably rented from the Woodland Trust.
We walked up above the woods (on private land...) and found more evidence of mining, in particular, a filled-in shaft at SH757746...
There was a lovely old track (a bridleway) which runs up and around the top of the Parc Mawr, it had the feeling of a sunken lane and appears on the old maps, but seems to have been superceded by the modern lane. Below in the river, there were some concrete remains which might have been something to do with later mining in the 1930s but I couldn't say.
We walked further along the road which winds above Parc Mawr and encountered a farm which looked as if it might have had an industrial past- but perhaps that's my mine-frenzied imagination at work! But at the back of the farm was this house, sadly derelict, which was in the same style as the Trecastell houses...could it have been a manager's dwelling? There were a couple of nasty looking farm dogs, obviously considering whether my ankles were worth a bite, so we didn't hang about here.
Interestingly, there are a couple of photos on Geograph of a mine adit along this road, something we failed to find- perhaps it was further north than we went. Amusingly, there was an older photo of the same thing on Geograph, but taken a few years earlier...with a twee display of flowers. Glad to see those had gone :-) very un mine-like! Thanks to Chris Andrews for this excellent shot, without flowers. I've since discovered that this is a shaft.
Further references for the Trecastell mine:
"Mines of the Gwydyr Forest Part 7", J Bennett and RW Vernon, Gwydyr Mines Publications, 1997.
"Lead Mining in Wales" by W. J. Lewis, UWP 1967.
AditNow photo album of the mine here
Gwynedd archaeological Trust report 226
Williams C J "Metal Mines of North Wales," Rhuddlan 1980
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