Friday, 26 November 2010

The Road to Bryn Eglwys

High up above the present Nant Gwernol terminus of the Talyllyn Railway lies a fascinating, if rather reticent, slate quarry. It's hard at first to see that there's any archaeology here at all, as large areas of the site were covered with conifers in the 1960's. Nevertheless, it's a very fine walk, and there are still some grand moments along the way, when it's possible to get a glimpse of how things might have been during the quarry's heyday.
There's a good, signposted route up from the narrow-gauge railway station which takes in the well-preserved Alltwyllt incline above and follows the bottom of the valley up towards the quarry. It's a lovely walk and is well worth the effort.
Our slightly more strenuous route up to the site is from the car park in Abergynolwyn, near the community centre. The road winds up, relentlessly, along the upper sides of the Afon Llaeron valley, vistas opening to the rear with views of the beautiful pass cut by the Dysinni towards Mynydd Pen Rhiw, while to the right are the scree-fretted outliers of Cadair Idris. The village becomes ever distant, then a bend in the rough road is turned and the upper valley spreads out in front. Slate tips are evident in the distance, partly covered by acres of conifers. The tall ones date from the 1960's when the planting of conifers on high ground all over Britain attracted a considerable subsidy, while the smaller ones which are now beginning to creep over the whole site are self-set.

Below, thick birch and oak woods grow in the valley, lending a magical air to the scene. Across the valley are the slopes of Foel Fawr, Hendre and Tarren Fach, clothed with conifers, but retaining some of their majesty nevertheless.

After walking for a while, the ruined remains of Hedrewallog farmhouse appear up on the left. It was probably built before the quarry, as the stones are rounded, pulled from the river or from outcrops in the field. The barns, however, are from slate slab, which dates them nicely.

A little more climbing and the waste tips of Cantrybedd can be seen below on the right. We took a path down to the tips, past the shattered ruins of Beudynewydd farm and on to the area that had once been the lower mill. Not that you could have guessed from the way the site had been levelled, although I don't think the forestry people were wholly responsible for this.

A noticeboard stood here, with information about the mill area. The present owners of the forest are obviously doing their bit, although it is all a case of too little, too late as far as the archaeology is concerned. The area is still a fascinating one, although it's difficult to escape a feeling of utter frustration when trying to identify features, even with a copy of M Loyd's excellent map in hand.

We scuttled about for a while here, then headed further towards the upper mill area, trying to find signs of the “Daylight Adit”, a through passage from the large twlls further up. Once again, everything was razed to the ground.  It turned out that we had just missed the entrance to the adit. I found out from a fellow explorer on the AditNow site that it is hidden in a hollow in the tips, where the forestry ents have bulldozed spoil towards the mouth. Just enough to discourage all but the most enthusiastic explorers. As a result, the adit is now ankle deep in water. We'll bring our wellies next time.

The 10b incline house, which somehow survived flattening by the Forestry Commission
 It was lunch time by now, so we sat on the ruins of the old incline house above shaft 8B. This, at least, could be traced from the map, and I remembered seeing photos of mine explorers abseiling down from this point, and thinking “no, thanks”. The shaft loomed,  dry stone walls covered with moss and algae stretching down into the blackness. I don't mind walking in to a dark mine at all, with my hard hat, lights and back-up. But abseiling into

This upper area is still the most fascinating one, although it doesn't help the blood pressure to see how an officially designated national heritage site has been treated by the Forestry Commission. A signboard desperately tries to interpret the scene of the water wheel house and crane lift on this level, but fails to properly hit the mark. Better to buy a copy of one of the books at the end of this post if your interest is sparked.

It's at this level of the quarry, though, that the imagination can still be captured. Here, there are three enormous holes in the ground, linked by huge archways. Originally chambers where slate was worked, they fell in one wild night in 1946 due to pillar robbing* and left these gaping holes that even nature can't quite disguise. It's possible to trace the course of three inclines here among the trees and we climbed up the “Boundary” incline, then the “Short” incline to another old shaft. This was a fascinating place, the steep sides of a tree-choked pit falling down, a waterfall cascading over the side and into the abyss below. An old slate hut, possibly a weigh house, stood by the edge. From the map it seemed that another incline led up to the first 1879 workings, but all trace was lost in the thick tree cover. Frustrating, because the mouth of the upper adit could be seen above the trees. Perhaps I'll bring a chain saw next time. 

Petra leans against the remains of an incline drum house, deep in the woods.

We decided to head for the other side of the valley, to try and find the North Vein, or Broad Vein pit. This seems to have been an attempt to win slab from the harder, more brittle slate in this vein.

We  found a track that skirted the North side of the quarry and eventually joined the original line of the tramway to the North vein, now made into a rather tame footpath. We were beginning to give up hope, when the old familiar sign beckoned us to look...”Danger, Deep Mines”. The pit certainly wasn't disappointing, although the photos can't really do it justice.This twll seems to have been always worked in the open as a series of galleries, although I suspect there may still be an adit into this pit, buried in the undergrowth. Finding that will have to wait until another time!

We exited the quarry area by passing under the remains of the long-disused Beudynewydd incline and picking the trackway up again where we had come in that morning. We've visited the quarry twice now and we both feel several more visits are required before we can begin to understand the site. Not that it matters much, it's a great excuse for a scramble about, perhaps a steam train ride and a fine walk in beautiful surroundings. If you like conifers, that is.

“The Tal-y-llyn Railway” J.I.C. Boyd, Wild Swan Press, ISBN 0 906867 46 0
This is the definitive account of the old, pre-preservation railway, a charming and absorbing read. The sections on the quarry are excellent and the book is beautifully produced, as you would expect from this publisher.

“Slates from Abergynolwyn” Alan Holmes, Gwynedd Archive Services 1999, ISBN 0 901 337 42 0
The definitive work on the quarry, written by a member of the TR preservation society.

*The frowned-upon practice of reducing the supporting pillars of a chamber roof beyond safe limits in order to cheaply obtain more good slate.

AditNow site for mine explorers and historians


The Extra Large Medium said...

I love your blogs, and they've inspired me to escape my comfort zone and become more inquisitive with my walking, which has lead to outstanding photographs. I'm trying to gauge the length/distance of some of them, in particular this one. I don't suppose you can give a rough estimation of some of the walking distances you cover? My limit is presently around 3 miles but I'm increasing this slowly.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks for dropping by, I'm very pleased that my blog has inspired you. This particular walk was a long one, simply because the road up to the quarry is about a mile and a half. Uphill. So, factoring in the road and all the meandering, we are probably talking 5 or 6 miles. But most of the excursions and adventures on here are about 4 miles and, if you are in pursuit of a mine or something intriguing, you don't notic the distance until the way back! I hope you enjoy some good adventures :-)

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