The next hour or so was filled with the sounds of turning pages, as mining history books were riffled, maps rustled and mouse buttons clicked. “AditNow” and “Mine Explorer” sites were themselves mined brutally for information. A picture was beginning to emerge of somewhere well worth exploring.
We headed off the next morning and drove up through Trefriw on the Llyn Crafnant road. It was pretty busy for a single track road, but this was a Sunday and the Llyn is a favourite morning stroll for the crimplene trouser brigade, so we were dodging their highly polished cars pretty much the whole way up. There’s a handy car park at the Llyn, which looked as busy as Tesco’s, but in much nicer surroundings. It’s good to see people out enjoying the countryside and we did eventually find a place to park.
Lunch was taken at this point, accompanied by a Raven cronking at us from high up on the cliffs above. Now, while Petra has a very fine singing voice, she also does an uncanny impersonation of a Raven. With customary avian charm, she managed to coax our black feathered friend to take to the sky and reply to her “cronks”. I asked her afterwards what she was saying and she told me that she’d offered the bird some of my chocolate Hob Nobs. I made sure that part of the deal didn’t go ahead. He or she wheeled above us, occasionally hunkering into a dart shape and building up a huge speed before flattening out again noncholantly.
|Waliau inside the level one chamber.|
|The incline, from our lunch stop.|
|Inside the adit, showing the mineral rich rock.|
We looked around the fascinating huts on the level for a while and took some photos of the fabulous view. Every now and then Petra eyed the incline again. She seemed to have gathered her forces after exploring the adit, and was keen to climb higher, to the next level- for once, not a cliche.
We were so very glad that we did. At first it seemed like there were just more waliau and piles of slate waste, so I suggested forging on upwards, forgetting that for waliau and slate waste to be there, so must the source of the slate. On Petra’s insistence, we followed the tramway formation further towards the cliffs. And there it was, a grin of a hole, partly filled in with debris, but very clamberable into. Once inside, we both exclaimed under our breath. It was a huge chamber at least a hundred feet high and as wide again. It seemed to go for a long way back into the mountain, where a ghostly illumination beckoned.
|That's Petra in the next chamber, behind the arch.|
To the left as we delved deeper into the chambers were the crazy ruins of an incline, leading out to the source of the light above. Ahead was what looked like a huge, gloomy hallway with one wall sloping at twenty degrees towards us; the slate vein again. The walls were smeared with iron oxide leaching and signs of other minerals present in abundance as the light in the chamber slowly became dimmer. We made our way slowly and carefully out again, taking photos and marvelling at this cathedral of slate and the men who had made it. There didn’t seem to be any sign of jwmpwr lines or shot blast holes, so it looks like this whole chamber was hewn out the hard way.
The final pitch of incline beckoned. It was still steep and dangerous, but Petra was keen to carry on up, and who was I to try and dissuade her? The view from the final drum house was vertiginous, to say the least, but another large opening in the mountain took our attention away from the view. It led into an unseen level of the previous chamber, hidden by the steep slope and the blinding light from above. It was like being in the minstrel’s gallery of a gigantic hall and I will never forget the light and the shadows on the rock. I wondered if those miners ever stood back and wondered what they were making in the heart of the mountain and perhaps, if Tolkien had ever been here for this, surely, was enough inspiration for the mines of Moria.
After wondering at the scene and taking the inevitable photos, we climbed up the remains of the incline to the light. More of a rock scramble than a climb and one that we both enjoyed, since the exposure was only a hundred feet or so rather than the massive drop outside and proper handholds were plentiful- much more satisfactory than handfulls of heather!
|Petra stands at the opening to the topmost chamber.|
We eventually emerged from the hillside onto a path going from Llyn Geirionydd to Llyn Crafnant. By now my legs were aching and I had a soggy backside. Petra was tired, but uncomplaining and kept me going by reminding me that there was a picnic bar in my rucksack. We had met no-one during the exploration of the quarry, and only met two people on this track, which led past the lower mine buildings. One was an elderly, stern lady with a lovely collie who seemed frightened of me. At that point I didn’t realise that I looked as if I’d been mud wrestling with King Kong. A very pleasant couple passed us, equipped with the long walking poles that everyone has these days and a fashionable, pastel selection of walking togs, making me feel like an itinerant hawker of rags. They left behind them a heady mixture of strong perfume and fabric conditioner and I wondered why the lovely smells of the woodland and the earth had to be spoiled by these unnatural odours.
|The lower slate dressing area on level one.|
Clogwyn-y-Fuwch: The factoids.
The name means “Crags of the cow”...no, I don’t know how the cow got there!
It seems that this quarry has greater significance than first thought. The features that struck me as being unusual, such as the dry stone walling, the slate arching, the waliau inside the chambers and indeed the red slate, are all Cumbrian features and are not found elsewhere. Obviously, the red slate is just a co-incidence, but the features are explained by the quarry having been worked by a team of Cumbrian miners in the early part of the 19th century.
Even more interesting: the man in charge, one William Turner (1766-1853) had worked at Walna Scar Quarries in Cumbria before coming to the area in 1799. After taking the lease and working Clogwyn-y-Fuwch he moved to Blaenau Ffestiniog, and with his brother Thomas and a William Casson he bought the lease on Diphwys, then a farm above Blaenau Ffestiniog, and developed it into the hugely successful quarry later known as Diffwys Casson. This was the first major slate undertaking in Blaenau Ffestiniog, so it could be said that Clogwyn-y-Fuwch was the cradle of the industry in this corner of Wales.
The dry stone arching of the adit and of the cut and cover tunnel is known as “Matt-Spedding” tunnelling, although I have been unable to find out anything more about this!
Pipistrelle bats live in the chambers. They are secretive creatures and hide in crevices rather than hang from the roof, so are not easily seen.
The mountain the quarry plunders is Mynydd Deulin (Mountain of the two lakes) and is 400 metres (1,312 ft) high.
|Very brave indeed!|