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
Some ancient woodland, the old, remote church of Llangelynnin and Maen Penddu standing stone, all connected by a rather old path.
An area of woods to the west of Henryd, at SH757737, Parc Mawr is owned and managed by the Woodland Trust who welcome considerate visitors. There's a small car park/layby near the entrance, which is handy as there are few places to park hereabouts unless you start from Henryd. This is a mixed deciduous woods, on a very steep east facing site above the Conwy valley. But the first thing we encountered was an adit...
Into the woods!
After having a nosey around the ungated trial adit, (more about this here) we set off up the main path which takes a route along the middle of the woods. The path climbs steeply for almost a mile, (a vertical climb of 110 metres in height), to a viewpoint with a handy bench. There are many fine trees to admire; beeches, sweet chestnuts, Douglas firs, and some fine old oaks. Conifers have been felled and left on the ground.
We sat for a few minutes and gazed at the view across to Conwy, starting in on the snacks already, despite it being early in the day. Feeling slightly full, we walked on a little way until we encountered a trackway crossing from below. This is an old route which has been re-branded as the "Pilgrim's Path". We turned right and walked steeply up. It's surfaced with round stones and would probably be very slippery in the wet- even on the glorious day we had, it resembled a stream bed in places.
It's interesting that on the way up the path, the walls vary in age and repair condition. Near the top, there is some ancient walling on display, parts of it originating from the middle ages. We went through another gate, with the Iron Age fort of Cerrig y Dinas looming on our right. The old church came into view now.
Looking at the walls as they strode up the hill, I realised that they were enclosure walls- perticularly noticeable in the higher land above the Conwy valley. I don't like the thinking behind them, the idea that a few people could divvy up land that folk had been living and farming on for thousands of years. Share it out between themselves and chuck everybody else off. But I had to admire the craftsmanship that went into building the walls. I have tried to build dry stone walls a good few times and I know how much thought goes into it- and how much frustration!
St Celynnin's church
I shan't say much about the church, since churches and religion are not my thing. But if it's your thing, then it is well worth a look. The site was dedicated to St Celynnin in the sixth century, although this ultra-modern imposter dates from the twelfth century. You can pick up a very good, free informative leaflet inside the church. Petra went in and took some photos- I will put them on here when her workload allows her to process them.
Once past the church, the moor opens out and horizons become wider. We walked past a very fine sheepfold. I'm glad to see there is renewed interest in these wonderful old structures that always fascinate me when I find them in the hills. Sadly, they don't photograph very well without a drone, or a tame pilot to do them justice!
We headed upwards as the landscape became more remote, despite being only a few miles from Conwy. That is one of the attractive features of this area, as locals can come up and get some fresh air while it is relatively unknown to the majority of tourists, who tend to congregate on the Bwlch y Ddeufaen to the south. I don't think my readership is big enough to endanger the secret.
The ruined medieval farm of Friddlys
We were now on the lower slopes of Tal y Fan, and could see the eponymous slate quarry ahead. See post here. We were intrigued by some stands of trees below in the otherwise bare hillside. I wondered if the trees masked a ruined farm, so we went down to have a look. We found something rather magical in the shade of some old sycamore trees. According to Coflein, this was a medieval farmstead, which they call Ffriddlys, although it is marked on the 1st edition OS maps as Llwyn Penduu. Modern maps ignore it.
The first thing that I saw was a pig sty, almost completely ruined, but still recogniseable. Then a cart shed. To the right, or south, there was a range of buildings- at the end was the dwelling house with a range still in position (just). I wished it wasn't so sunny (never satisfied) as the light was so harsh, but perhaps that added to the magic as well.
A little bit further up the hill, there was another, smaller set of more ruinous structures- I think they were a part of Ffridllys farm. I failed to photograph anything here, sadly, the differences between the light and the shade defeated me. There was a mysterious metal wheel leaning in a gate opening, perhaps from a machine like a hay rake.
We made our way uphill to an area which contained a number of old beudy structures, and the peat hut shown in a previous blog post here. These were all close to a very impressive standing stone, Maen Penddu.
I quote Coflein NPRN 303070 which says: "The stone stands 6ft high and measures 3ft 6 ins x 2ft 6 ins at base. It has been incorporated in the line of an old enclosure bank on the S of a well-used track." Maen Penddu means "black headed stone".
The side that faces the track coming uphill has sadly been defaced with some deeply carved names. The south elevation has a cross carved into it. Honestly, I can't find the words.
At this point, we headed off up the hill to spend a couple of hours at the slate quarry.
Our next adventure will be to take the lower track from here all the way down to the Bwlch y Ddeufaen-and it's many neolithic treasures. Coming soon :-)
A few more images from the walk:
The first time we encountered one of these was while stravaiging west of Tal y Fan on the moors between there and the Penmaen hills. We'd seen a couple of old steadings and sheepfolods, but this structure mystified us. I wondered if it might be a shepherd's shelter, but a glance inside showed that there wasn't space, nor was there a chimney. It wasn't until we returned home and I consulted "An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Caernarfonshire" (RCAHMW) that the fog of mystery lifted.
Apparently, these are peat huts...for the storage of peat. Accustomed to peat being stored outside in heaps to dry, this came as something of a surprise to me. But the guide says that they are called "Hafodtai Mawn" - and that they are not very common.
Peat seems to have been more commonly kept in a heap that was thatched, resting on a peat stool ("Ystol Mawn") which is a platform of large stones intended to keep the peat off the ground. The guide says that these are very common and can be mistaken for burial mounds. Below are two shots from inside, showing the cramped nature of the accomodation.
The grid reference for this one is SH 73347537. The day we explored, we were accompanied by some lovely Carneddau wild ponies, who seemed fairly relaxed about us being on their...er, turf.
A few days later, we found another peat house. We were looking for a powder hut near the slate quarry at Tal y Fan and encountered something that looked as if it might be a powder magazine, but the more we examined it, the more it looked like a peat house. (Unfortunately, we didn't find the magazine)
The remains aren't as well preserved as the one further north, although these are in company with a couple of old beudeau and an impressive, if vandalised standing stone, Maen Penddu. The grid reference is SH73917346.
It's amazing to think that these moors, which look completely uninhabited, have actually known human habitation for a very long time. These peat house remains are just one facet of a timescale going back four thousand years to the neolithic.
The moors between Penmaenmawr in the north and Rowen in the south are a fabulous hunting ground if you like ancient remains, strange ruins and wild scenery. I can't say the moors are trackless, as there are a multitude of paths- the place is popular due to its proximity to Conwy and Llandudno- but there is still a wild, remote feel about the area.
The first time we spotted the quarry, we were on a hunt for standing stones near the Cefn Coch part of the Coastal Path. You might know, there are enough antiquities in this area to last you for months of exploring, but Petra spotted what she thought was a slate tip in the distance. We found ourselves mysteriously quartering miles of gorse and moor as we drew ever closer ...
There's a very well-engineered road that leads to the quarry from the east. I will produce a map of the area with all the access points in the near future. The first time we approached, it was from the Jubilee Path car park outside Penmaenmawr. There's space for only three cars and it's a very narrow road. The second approach (yes, there were things we missed the first time!) was from Parc Mawr, east of Henryd. Both are tiring walks with an uphill trend, but the area has so many interesting things to offer that you forget the tired legs in the haste to get to the next shiny bauble.
It's really a very small quarry, but it appears to have been worked intermittently from at least 1555 to 1913, for very little quality of rock. Our two visits were in very sunny weather, and the place had a very benign atmosphere. The first structure encountered as you arrive up the access road is the strangely constructed caban. It seems to be a near relative of the peat cutter's shelter/stores on the moors- at first I thought it was a blast hut, but the entrance is like a keyhole, opening out into a small area with a bench and a fireplace. Looking at older photos, it would appear that a small window at the right hand end has now fallen in. Perhaps the quarry was worked on an ad-hoc basis by local farmers, and the earliest ones built the strange caban in the only way they knew. They must have been small folk.
At the first level, there is a fine entrance to the pit, where there have been a few collapses. It's a pleasant change to be able to access the pit of a quarry, normally they are flooded or blocked up. While we were in there, I thought I heard Choughs, but Petra informed me that they sounded like Ring Ouzels. Later, I found that they nest in here- if I had known that, I wouldn't have gone in- I hope we didn't disturb them too much. Just now (May) the place is full of slugs, which I guess would be rich pickings for birds.
There are a few ruins on the first level, a working hut and something like a shelter, built into the side of the tip. This is small enough to be a powder store, but seems too near the quarry. It's hard to tell from the evidence on the ground, but it doesn't look like there was any mechanisation here. I didn't spot any saw marks on the waste blocks.
There seemed to be a higher level, so we climbed up to have a look- it was a little treat, a tunnel with a ledge in the pit, obviously an earlier working before extraction had opened up the bottom pit.
On this upper level, there was a ruined hut- at first I thought it might be a weigh hut, but then that wouldn't apply to such a small operation, so I guess that it is a worker's shed where the slates were trimmed.
Richards, in his "Slate Gazetteer, mentions a powder hut and a smithy. So we went up higher to see if there was anything more. There is a ruined structure which might have been a smithy at a pinch- it was too big for a powder store at any rate. There might have been a chimney at one end. Interestingly, it was very difficult to see this structure from below.
We sat up at the top, enjoying the views and listening to skylarks. Neither of us had any inclination to climb any further towards the top of Tal y Fan, even though it is apparently the northernmost peak of the Carneddau, and Wales's second lowest mountain.
The grid reference for the quarry is SH73807330.
Coflein entry for the quarry
During our search for the axe factory sites, we had plenty of opportunity to look at the disused workings of Graiglwyd quarry. For a long time, from 1834-1911, this was a separate entity from the quarry on Penmaen head, seen in the distance in the photo above. That quarry is still being worked, albeit sporadically, with a handful of workers. But with modern equipment, that's all you need.
Walking over from the moorland side, I was excited to see what the quarry looked like from a new angle. Unexpectedly, I had a strong sense of the hubris of the quarry company, back in the early C20th. That these people could think nothing of making this gigantic scar, destroying the signs of ancient landscapes in a rapacious desire for money. Taking 500 feet of the top of a mountain (and destroying a prehistoric fort) just because they "needed" to. It would probably still happen today, I don't think it's any use saying "times have changed".
The archaeological significance of the site was acknowledged even in 1900, but according to Alwyn S Evans, author of "Populating the Past: Penmaenmawr's Mysterious Beginnings",
"...economic interests came first...the quarry people had said, 'Maybe we can keep a lookout for old remains'. This was ridiculous. It would be a non-starter because of the conditions under which the men were working, although the working men might have wanted to look"
Yes, I know, the jobs. But everything can be justified if you think that way, can't it? Don't get me wrong, the place fascinates me. I love trying to interpret the processes, the machinery and the buildings that remain. I am fascinated by the stories of the old quarrymen and their struggles to survive- paid a pittance, risking their lives to line the pockets of the owners. Perhaps in the early C20th, this place was a monument to the workers...less so now, as more efficient, less labour intensive extraction and bigger machinery overlays the marks left by the old men. It's more an advertisement for the removal capacity of modern excavators.
I've gone a bit Kier Hardie haven't I? But within me, and within many amateur industrial archaeologists I suspect, there is a dichotomy- a fascination with historical industry, then a feeling of shock when, with the scale of 21st century processes, this gets out of hand. The need, always, for growth. Sometimes it feels as if mankind is a parasite, leading to the destruction of anything that gets in the way. Certainly, looking over the ravaged mess that is the quarry today I felt that it had benefitted nobody but a few rich capitalists. Anything of industrial archaeological interest had been taken away to yield scrap money. Signs of historic industrial useage were removed by "landscaping", making even the telltale signs of the old levels into strange, alien shapes that are meaningless, owing nothing to geophysical processes or what came before the quarry..
To give an idea of what might have been lost, I have included an extract from Sir John Wynn of Gwydir's "An Ancient Survey of Penmaenmawr " at the end of the post along with Coflein's information.
OK, I've had my ten pence worth. Normal industrial archeology will resume...
While pottering about at the axe factory site, we noticed what looked to be a drum house on the level below- we decided to go and have a look at this. But first, we took a close look at a blast shelter on the edge of the quarry above.
You could be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of prehistoric structure- and it does bear similarities to a very old peat cutter's building on the moors behind Penmaenmawr. But it is also very similar to a blast shelter at Tal-y-Fan slate quarry, a couple of miles to the south on the moors, built when that operation was active in the 1840s.
In fact, the building was a small concrete box, overlaid with several thicknesses of stones to protect the workers as they sheltered. I wonder if they added stones every now and then, when they could!
By now, the drum house on the lower level was calling to us. The first of a few that we encountered, left alone, no doubt because it would be too expensive to demolish. I could see that it was going to be a struggle to access, but it would be worth it.
After a conference, we decided that the best way to reach the drumhouse was to go down and round the perimeter wall, to the base of the incline. It was a steep walk, but a delightful one as the Hawthorn trees were in bloom and underfoot there was a profusion of wild flower growth. To our right was the great Orme and nearer, the bare slopes of the Sychnant Pass.
Eventually, we found the old path used by prisoners of war in the 1914-18 conflict. They were brought here to stay at Graiglwyd Hall and marched up by armed guards daily to work. Most of the men at that time had gone to the forces, but the quarry needed more production for the "war effort"- and to make more money, of course.
The Galloping Colonel
A battalion of quarrymen was formed by the quarry owner, C. H. Darbishire. Tragically, 72 of the men didn't come back, killed in the unneccessary slaughter. Darbishire himself, give him his due, was as keen as mustard to get over and fight the enemy. But his age was against him and he was refused- in 1915, he would have been 70. He'd already funded the building of a drill hall for the men in 1901 and had made himself Colonel of the volunteer regiment.
What do you think he did next? He had a uniform made for himself (that of a private soldier) bought tickets to Egypt, where his troops were fighting, and tried to join them. But he was apprehended and sent back with a stern warning to behave himself. You have to admire his spirit!
Meanwhile, we had reached the lower level and began to walk up to reach the drum house. The incline became overgrown with gorse and we had to detour off it onto the spoil, never a good idea. It was a tense fifty yards of uphill scrabbling, trying not to dislodge pieces of rock, but we managed it.
Walking up, we had been aware of a strung-out line of rusty equipment which I realised must have been a conveyor, something that replaced the incline in the forties.
It seemed to be constructed from very heavy duty tram rail, but perhaps someone more knowledgeable could advise there. It was a rare gem at any rate.
Its interesting that this drum house, and the twll behind it, does not appear on the early OS maps. It only makes an appearance after 1912. Thus the structure is of relatively modern construction. The roof is fascinating, seeming to be laid with massive rough-hewn timbers which are felted over, or perhaps cemented- it was difficult to tell. There's an arch between the crimp and the brakesman's cabin, which has been filled in.
After a while, we wondered how we were going to proceed. Neither of us fancied going back down the incline. After some thought, we set off along a narrow sheep/goat path on the tip, going west. It required a great deal of care.
After some tricky moments, we made it over a fence to a landscaped area where the levels had been turned into something resembling a golf course on a 45 degree slant. Very strange. The main haul road was now above it, but we took advantage of a gap in the fence and crossed on to yet another landscaped level which led to Nant Dwyll, meaning "the dark hollow"... according to Dennis Robert's excellent booklet about the quarry.
It felt a strange place, neither one world nor the other.
At last, we found a way to get out from the landscaped tedium of the middle twlls, up via the formation of a 1943 tramway branch which had once run from Penmarian to Fox Bank. There was another formation immediately above it which we thought might have been a leat, but according to John M Lloyd's map in Boyd's "Narrow Gauge Railways in North Caerns" this would have been a branch laid in 1888.
There were several things of interest along the formation: a remarkable view across to Fox Bank and Penmaen East quarry, and a sight of the remains of Braich Lwyd Mill.
A very much degraded incline was spotted crossing the formation. This must be the one on the map that is marked 1924, but there was hardly any sign of it. The presence of a bright yellow stile indicated that we had now finished trespassing, and were on a right of way. This would be the path that we had spotted several years ago and wondered where it went. It eventually reached a drum house on what seemed like the highest level...
Above- three shots of the incline house at the top coming from Kimberley Bank. It had a long wall, presumably to shelter waggons from the wind at this location, above the 1000 foot contour.
Now we were on the top level of Graiglwyd, looking across at some sett sheds. To the left of the sheds was what looked like another drum house, which was confusing. I couldn't see any sign of an incline, nor was there one on the map. But there were some wild horses here, who seemed unconcerned by our presence- it was so nice to see them. They had watched us as we walked along the level below; now I stood and listened to them crunching away at the grass contentedly.
From the sheds here, it was a short walk up to the quarry haul road. Our way took us above and past the offices and out onto the older quarry road that descends down to Plas Heulog, above Nant-y-Pandy in Llanfairfechan. Although this was a weekday, we hadn't seen any activity at the quarry; all semed to be in a dormant state. Obviously, we wouldn't have considered exploring if there had been any chance of blasting.
While researching the subject of the prehistoric remains on Penmaen Mountain, I came across a few choice nuggets. One was this illustration from from Sir John Wynn of Gwydir's "An Ancient Survey of Penmaenmawr ". It's an early view of Braich y Dinas hillfort, formerly on the summit of Penmaenmawr, which appeared in "The Sphere" for November 19th 1910, during the controversy surrounding the hillfort’s imminent destruction due to the expansion of quarrying at Penmaenmawr .
Here is a link to the text of "An Ancient Survey of Penmaenmawr " which makes for fascinating reading; pages 11 and 12 refer to the fort.
Coflein have a very interesting collection of photographs and documents about Braich y Dinas and its destruction.
Wikipedia Page for Braich-y-Dinas.
Dennis Robert's excellent booklet about the quarry.
"Penmaenmawr, Rails of Granite" by Mike Hitches, Irwell Press,
"Narrow Gauge Railways in North Caernarfonshire, Volume 3" by James I. C. Boyd, the Oakwood Press.
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