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 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.
|The 10b incline house, which somehow survived flattening by the Forestry Commission|
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 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