|Manod Mawr and Carreg-y-Fran from the B4391|
Without doubt, Drum quarry is one of the stars on this route. It lies reticently along a track utilised later for a waterworks, and parking for one car by the gate is just possible at SH723423. Park considerately here, as Welsh Water vehicles are sometimes very large and their drivers don't tend to take prisoners!
Our trip was made on a beautifully sunny, but bitterly cold January day. The first thing we saw as we got out of the car was a Red Kite, wheeling above us. Petra had illustrated a book about the bird, so she knew what she was looking at before I did. It was great to see it, eyeballing us. I tried to get a few photos of it, but my camera didn't want to focus.
The road led up to a mysterious building, obviously something to do with water purification. However, set into the wall was an interesting replica of an ancient stone. It had a Latin inscription, which in English reads: “Cantiorix lies here. He was a citizen of Venedos. Cousin of Maglos, the magistrate.” Maglos must have been a big noise in Venedos, for Cantiorix to want to make sure everybody hereabouts knew that he was a relative. This is a copy of a 5th or 6th century gravestone, presumably first found here, which can now be seen in Penmachno church.*
Back to the track, which carried on uphill, skirting the flanks of Craig-y-Garreg-lwyd. (Cliffs of the grey rocks). It's almost like a tramway formation, certainly well made enough, although perhaps a little too steep. To our left, a dolerite dyke rose above the cwm. This was the site of a small iron age hillfort, excavated in 1979-85.
|Bryn-y-Castell Hill Fort|
|The Quarry Incline|
Into the sunshine briefly as the track climbed another shoulder, then the massive incline from the top quarry levels came into view. The quarry here was first opened in the 1860's as little more than scratchings on the hillside, but was later deepened into pits and developed underground. This could have been because of the opening of the narrow gauge Ffestiniog and Blaenau railway, which gave a cheaper way of carrying the produce to the sea. The F&B was later widened to become the Blaenau to Bala line of the GWR, but that was a few years into the future when Drum quarry was being worked.
|The South Pit Mill, complete with Red Kite.|
There are two open pits, the North and the South. Ruined buildings abound; the first we encountered was the South pit mill, situated at the mouth of a collapsed tunnel leading from the pit. I wondered if this had originally been a wholly underground feature, as when I looked into the pit from above, the tunnel seems to have been opened out and has then subsequently collapsed into a vertiginous defile....the classic signs of untopping. The South pit itself has suffered some extensive recent rock falls, obliterating the adits that Alun John Richards describes in his Gazeteer of Welsh Slate Quarries. We were a little disappointed, as we had come tooled up for some subterranean wanderings. Above the South Pit Mill was a lovely little weigh house, leading to a trident-shaped tip run. It's hard to tell whether or how rubbish was up hauled out of the pit here, but it was fascinating to look and speculate. Within the pit, a fine horse of slate is showing through the dolerite; but whether this had been exposed by recent rock falls or not, again it was hard to tell. There are no further records for the site after 1884, so it looks as if the quarry didn't survive the slump after that date.
|The South Pit from the summit.|
|The North Pit incline tunnel|
|The remains of the South Pit from below.|
|The Weigh House from the South Pit|
*Since writing this, further research reveals that Cantiorix's stone is probably the earliest surviving mention of the name Gwynedd. Gwynedd covered part of the territory of the Ordovices, but tradition traced the kingdom's foundation to Cunedda, who migrated with his sons and followers from what is now southern Scotland. The name Gwynedd is probably derived from Brythonic Ueneda and is akin to Goidelic (ancestor of Irish) Fenia (which gives fiana, "war-band" in Old Irish - e.g. Finn and his warriors). Thus the probable meaning is "Land of the Hosts" or "Land of the Warrior Bands". The territory was called Venedotia in Latin. It is sometimes suggested that Gwynedd is a mutated form of Cunedda, thus the Kingdom of Cunedda, but there is no etymological basis for this. Scholars, however, seem agreed that this stone does indeed refer to the region, and that this fellow Cantiorix was a citizen and his cousin a magistrate in the 5th Century, suggesting that Roman institutions survived in this part of Wales for some time after the legions departed.