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.
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