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:
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