It wasn't a particularly auspicious day. We had the afternoon off, but it was raining and the forecast wasn't good. Not a good day for exploring the mines of Snowdon. But luck was with us- heading out towards Beddgelert, on the north side of the pass of Aberglaslyn, Petra spotted a ruined building that she'd been wanting to photograph for a while and- why, here was a handy lay-by, empty of vehicles!
We quickly strode up the hill to the aforementioned structure when Petra spotted a small magazine, looming in some beautiful beech woods...now there were no more complaints about the rain or the light as cameras clicked into action. The house, too, was something special, an old C18th building that had been attacked by a large wooden spider masquerading as an oak tree, which despite it's new angle, was very much alive. It now seems that the house was actually constructed as a barracks for the workers at the mine, according to Coflein.
The magazine, or powder house, was marked on the first edition Ordnance Survey maps as "Old Magazine", hinting at the early nature of the mine.
It wasn't hard to see where the mine was, as spoil tips littered the ombrous woods behind the house. The tips were something special, containing many interesting minerals and some fascinating lichens- it really ought to be an SSSI, as the whole area feels delicate. We kept to the sheep tracks so as to make minimal impact as we examined the tips and remains of buddle pits and a possible horse whim. Everything was very degraded on the ground.
But what was still very evident were some mighty excavations, big, big stopes with ancient stemples still in place here and there. The stopes were extremely dangerous, drops of 150 feet into open shafts were common and the adits we explored had winzes which suddenly opened or were covered with a layer of dead vegetation. A very perilous, yet enchanting place which had me thinking about scenes from the "Lord of the Rings", so haunting were the woods in the autumnal gloom.
We photographed until the light failed completely. What a turn up after expecting nothing, but that's what is so special about North Wales- if you are into Industrial Archaeology, anyway.
The mine's glory days were in the early C18th, when it was operated energetically. A long drainage level was driven from beside the road in the pass, now lost, and a stamps mill was built beside the Afon Glaslyn. Nothing now remains of that except the waterwheel pit, but a fine stone-lined leat can be traced uphill from it. The waterwheel was, apparently, a cast iron one made in Liverpool, being offered for sale in the 1820s with the suggestion that the premises could be converted into a textile mill. This didn't happen, as in 1861, 515 tons of ore were sold. Later in the year, an engine shaft had been sunk, but lack of any more actual ore stalled the operation. At the disposal sale in 1875, the assets listed a machine house, dressing house and turbine, sadly all lost now.
I don't know if anyone has SRT'd into any of the stopes, I suspect it would be a perilous, if enlightening enterprise! Stop press- My friend Dave Linton has informed me that the intrepid "Thursday Nighters" from Adit Now have indeed done a couple of explorations, not without incident- they can be read here and here on Margot's blog.
The late David Bick, in his "Old Copper Mines of Snowdonia" describes the mine as being set on a "still and gloomy wooded hillside, in a silent and mysterious setting" - I think, aside from his obvious talent for exploring and documenting mines, he nailed the location squarely on the head.
Winter is a good time to explore the old mines around Beddgelert- in the summer it is impossible to find a parking space, or any peace and quiet, although Bryn-y-Felin is just far enough off the beaten track to remain unspoilt.
Mine location is SH589472
I am aware that I throw out mining terms and expect my readers to be fully conversant, forgetting that it took me many years to understand what people were going on about! The terms used in this post are:
Stemple: "Such a piece of wood be it great or little, that is set between the two sides or to support a rock; the one end is called the egg end, being so like the end of an egg, for which there is made a stope in the side to set it into; the other is called the head end, not cut even, but sloped a little, that it may the better be driven into its place, the use of these are to climb by, or for making bundings, and many other useful things in the work."
Winze: A small underground shaft sunk from one part of a mine to another- the opposite of a raise or rise
Stope: A worked out vein after removal of the ore, left as a cavity. When working upwards it is overhand stoping. Downwards is underhand stoping.
Information from W.Hooson "The miners dictionary...", Wrexham, 1747 (Hooson described himself as "a Derbyshire miner" on the title page)
And for the benefit of my transatlantic readers, an SSSI is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
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