Another expedition along Cwm Eigiau, but this time a bit further in - and with better weather!
We're back again to Cwm Egiau. There was some unfinished business on the last visit to the cwm, as we ran out of time at Cedryn and had to leave the Eigiau Quarry unmolested. So, we headed back to the car park once again up that narrow road. As we attained the threshold of the cwm, I could see a Land Rover hurtling towards us. Petra pulled over as best she could. It was the mountain rescue, who asked us if we'd seen a man in camouflage gear. Perhaps his camo was very effective. We said "No". A hundred yards later and yet another Land Rover came at us...this time the guy did a neat run up the banking while his dog scrutinised us from the passenger seat. This was making me sad, we have owned a couple of 4x4s, the last one didn't make it through it's MOT and we had to buy something else quickly. Trouble is, it doesn't fit the image of "Gentleman Mountain and Quarry Photographer" when I roll up in a Ford Fusion.
The car park was busy, but we managed to dump the Dagenham dustbin and set off. The congestion was because of the RAF, who had several Mountain rescue teams in the parking area. Nobody else asked us about a man in camo gear, but I wondered if they might be looking for a Phantom that had strayed off the Mach loop and defected to Russia.. Perhaps "man in camo gear" is code for "one of our jets is missing..."
So hey, the sun was out, no threatening clouds, just a few scudders providing nice shadows over the lovely landscape...it really is lovely here, that's no exaggeration. We went at top speed past the dam and onto the cart road...cast a few glances at Cedryn on the way past and then on up the hill to the end of the cwm. We encountered a friendly couple who asked if this was the way to the Cowlyd reservoir...I tactfully helped them on their way back along the track, making a mental note that we should do that walk another time. Not in flip flops, though.
That made me think about our gear, rucksacs, poles, cameras, water, food, extra clothes, torches...coffee...perhaps we are a bit obsessive, ready for any eventuality. I hadn't packed crampons, (Petra did have gaiters)...but one thing I wouldn't be without is my boots, a pair of Vegan boots that have been the most comfy and effective that I have ever owned. I'll do a review soon.
The quarry came into view and despite having seen photos of it on Graham Stephen's blog, it was an exciting sight.
This place is more of a mystery than most, perhaps because of it's remote location, but even that doyen of slate writers, Alun John Richards, is a bit cryptic about it. The first thing that struck me was a very fine dry stone leat, running across the trackbed. I was so impressed that I decided to have my lunch while gazing at it. We made ourselves comfortable in the remains of the mill. That place is a real mystery, with cantilevered slabs hanging over a wall beside the river. The slabs are drilled at two foot centres, which I think is a red herring...it's not for track, but for machinery mountings, perhaps for a drive train of some sort.
I was tucking in to a nice peanut butter sandwich when a couple came towards us as if we weren't there, and started rummaging about in the walls and underneath stones. They were being very thorough, obviously looking for something. "Archaeologists?" I asked Petra. "No" she replied..."Geocachers". A tad unfriendly and disrespectful of personal space, I reckoned- but a few minutes later the woman gave a squeal and they both crouched down to look at something. Mission complete, I guessed, as they strode off proudly. It takes all sorts - all any of us need is an excuse to get out in the hills, although they could be a bit more polite about it.
There was a fine view over to the quarry pit from our dining spot; I could see at least five levels, with perhaps a couple of exploratory levels further up. The levels on the left, complete with walliau, seem to have been abandoned as work went further up the hill...or down, I'm not sure.
We stumped about in the mill area for a while...according to Richards, there were three mills here, built in succession...I don't have a clue why. Was the building unstable, or was it too expensive to move new equipment in? It doesn't make sense, although there are a lot of ruins. I know that this quarry was partly a speculative concern, and that it would be made to look extensive for the benefit of visiting investors. Top equipment was purchased and installed, we know that, plus a lot of effort had gone into the water wheel and pit.
Only the last mill remains, at the eastern end of the wheelpit, were built of slate waste, as if (finally!) there was enough to spare for building. The revetment at the side of the river, built like a long bastion, changes to slate waste at the new mill area too, supporting the theory. I still can't work out why the slabs were cantilevered over at the side of the mill, but then there is something similar at the Cedryn Mill further down the valley...examining that made me no wiser, though.
We crossed the river to have a look at the pit. The tramway bridge was still hanging on, despite what looked like a good many floods and wild nights of wind and rain. The incline is still fairly obvious and is topped by the remains of a drumhouse, sans roof, drum, in fact anything except the walls, although Petra found a part of the incline winder brake drum in the opening to the pit.
Structures on each level were very ruinous, but enough was left to identify weigh houses and walliau, where the craftsmen would shape the slate roughly before sending down the incline. There was no fine waste here, so I am guessing that blocks would be split and shaped only, no slates being made on the levels. On other sites where the slatemakers have been working from walliau, there are mountains of fines, even after a hundred years.
One thing that struck me here was the novel way that the huts all had their fireplaces built into the corner:
I can't remember seeing this before, but I am sure someone will correct me. The structure above was a weigh house leading out from the pit, and must have been a cosy little place. There are walliau opposite, on the other side of the pit, now rendered inaccessible by the deepening of workings. There was a larger structure on the level below that somehow I managed not to photograph, although Coflein have recorded it here. It's quite interesting, although could possibly just be a weigh house, there's a tell-tale pit next to it.
As the incline went up to the higher levels, a bridge was constructed for the tramway to pass underneath:
This was a rather nice feature, although it looks as if it has sunk slightly since being built over 160 years ago! The alcoves in the walliau for candles are noticeable in this shot, on the right.
The pit was, well, like most quarry pits, except that vegetation and the effects of weather had robbed the place of any geological insights. It looked as if the rock had been a poor selection, though- very flaky in some places, very solid and lacking in cleavage planes elsewhere. Apart from the pretext of fleecing subscribers of their money, I wonder what made the promoters dream of coming here, to this remote, yet hauntingly beautiful spot.
On the way in to the pit was this wonderful blast shelter...I wonder, though- perhaps it might have been used to hide from the investors?
We headed back to the mill, as there was still much to explore. I haven't mentioned the barracks, built out of quite good quality blocks:
These structures were sited a little way from the quarry, perhaps to be safe from explosions and flooding. Despite considerable dilapidation, its plan is thought to reflect the influence of the Rigby Foundry at Hawarden in north-east Wales, tenants of the quarry from 1827. While many of the workers here would have lodged in these barracks, it is said that some men walked daily from Bethesda, a considerable hike over a 900metre bwlch. I must say, I find that hard to believe, but then many of the quarrymen's exploits are difficult to explain, or relate to our modern lifestyle at all. They were a different breed, that is for sure.
While mooching around the lower area, we recorded the powder house:
Not much left, but the thick walls, no windows and a shelf all around the interior give the game away. I think we might have possibly located the forge/workshop as well, although Coflein think that this is a cottage, which I guess it could be:
Interesting that in other photographs I have seen of this feature, the fireplace is free of all the slate inside it...perhaps it has collapsed further quite recently.
So, we have covered most of the features of the Eigiau Quarry except for the rock cannons. For the benefit of those that don't know what these are, I have linked to Huw Jenkins' excellent piece for the BBC here. Rock cannons can be found all over North Wales and the late, much lamented Griff Jones' sadly out of print masterpiece, "The Rock Cannons of Gwynedd" is a must-read for anyone interested.
There are three separate cannons here, the biggest being an eighteen hole, pictured above. This one would have ended with a big bang! The barracks are in the background here.
With that glimpse of a blast from the past, we reluctantly made our way back to the car park, three miles away. It had been a lovely day and a fascinating quarry, plus another opportunity to look at those Carneddau mountains, brooding above us. The quarry itself was quiet, apart from the Geocachers mentioned earlier, but throughout the day we were aware of tiny figures inbetween the crags of Craig yr Ysfa, looking down in wonder at the scene. One day, given enough time, I must walk up there and snap off a shot of the quarry...the view must be incredible.
Cwm Eigiau Quarry was started in or before 1830 and closed by 1880. It amalgamated with Cedryn, and for some of the financial jiggerypokery, see my previous article about the Cedryn concern.
The tramway to the quarry replaced the cart road, which runs above.
The earlier mills had circular saws, notably the ferocious Hunter saw, while the later mills utilised sand saws, a retrograde step, surely. According to Richards, later mills robbed stone from the earlier ones, something I can't quite see, although there certainly doesn't seem to be enough stone to go round!
Two buttresses in the later mill area bear the marks of the Hunter saw:
Several fragments of slate slab show evidence of having been drilled to take Thomas Hughes rail, and some rail has been found. Basically this is in the form of a cast iron bar, bent at both ends into a right angle which was then spragged into a sleeper, usually a slab of slate. Two rail ends would be in each hole. It seems like the entire tramway was laid with this, as we found a length in a cutting near to the dam. It was a rather primitive type of arrangement, but I suppose as no locomotives were used and everything was either horse or mule drawn, comfort and ride quality were not a concern.
D.Gwyn, "Welsh Slate: the Archaeology and History of an Industry" (RCAHMW 2015), pp.26, 54, 56 & 187-8.
Ordnance Survey County series six-inch maps: sheet Caernarvon. XIII SW, editions of 1892, 1901, 1920 & 1953.
A.J.Richards, "A Gazeteer of the Welsh Slate Industry" (2007), Llygad Gwalch
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