Monday, 14 February 2011

Of Mine and Mire

As usual with our adventures, this one wasn't planned. I can't even say that it seemed a good idea at the time, as we had started out to do something completely different. We had wanted to locate a couple of small slate trials on the eastern sides of Cwm Teigl, just south of the Alaw Manod mine.  Alun John Richards' "Gazetteer of slate quarrying in Wales" mentioned a trial which was supposed to have a semi-underground vaulted work area, and there was another unexplored trial higher up that we wanted to eyeball at the same time.

Cwm Teigl, with the slate trial and "hut" in shadow. Mighty Manod Mawr to the right.

Petra explores the "hut". Chwarel Llew Twrog adit across the cwm.

Cwm Teigl is rather fine, and is only a few minutes from our home. Like a wonderful, massive, glacial amphitheatre, but then again, more like a cauldron full of trouble in bad weather. I guess that by now we know it pretty well, so it wasn't long before we had the first mine sussed. The trial was interesting, and the shelter rather like a long barrow or a dolmen, except that inside it was made of cut slate waste. We headed up the ever-steepening sides of the Cwm to the next job, and stood at the top, out of breath, hearts pounding.

On the bwlch between Cwm Teigl and the Migneint. Moelwyn Bach peeps
coyly round Manod's Clogwyn-y-Candrell cliffs.

The Google earth printout suggested it was to the south again, so we followed Sarn Helen and walked with the roman ghosts for a few hundred yards. The mine failed to materialise, although across the valley, the Drum quarry levels smirked at us for foolishly wandering about looking for something so small. After all, we still had unfinished business over there, the mine seemed to say. Yes, but getting over there would be another matter. The valley between where we were and the quarry was composed of something that is a speciality in these parts, upland bog. We had trespassed over the cwm into the Migneint, which in Welsh guessed it..."bog".

We perched on a handy dolerite erratic, of which there are many here,  and had our lunch. We were vaguely irritated at not being able to find the slate trial, and slightly nettled by the looming presence of Drum Quarry. A couple of weeks before, we'd been beaten back from further exploration by the cold.

A telephoto view of the hut that lured us through the bog...the cliffs of the Gamallt loom behind.

Ah, but the view to the north east was marvellous, and as we savoured the sandwiches neither of us guessed that the same plan was forming in our minds simultaneously. I turned to Petra and mentioned the lead mines over there, somewhere, in the Gamallt. David Bick, in his wonderful "Old Copper Mines of Snowdonia" writes about them, and how they are difficult to find and access. Petra nodded, a bright look in her eyes. Did I think that tiny dot of a building over there might be something? Before I realised it, we were striding down the slope, ready to pick a line across the boggy wastes between us and the Gamallt.

When the land here is not a jelly-like mass of sphagnum, it is covered in marvellous little vegetable forms known as pingos, nothing to do with the jolly little penguin, but actually the remains of mounds of ice from when this area was held in the grip of permafrost in the last ice age. They are now rather lovely domes of moss and lichen, tiny ecosystems which we avoided treading upon as we negotiated the heading to what Petra thought might be the mine.

I pride myself on my rather amazing miner's boots, which have yet to let in water and are as sure footed as a Snowdonian goat. This boast was soon to be tested though, as I stood upon a mass of quivering migneint and rapidly sank to my thighs. It didn't feel cold, strangely enough, but I was stuck pretty fast. I managed to extricate myself by performing a kind of very liesurely breast stroke kick in slowmo' style. Once out at the edge of this pocket of mire I noticed that my legs seemed twice their normal size, covered in sphagnum and primordian gunk. When Petra stopped laughing, we carried on our way, yours truly keeping a keen eye for any more bog holes. She didn't fall in any because, as she says, she's a lot lighter than me.

Amazingly, the mine was reached without more drama. As we walked nearer, tips of shattered white rock bore testament to the reduction of  material from the mine and chunks of broken quartz sparkled in the light.

Galena, lead ore, fused in a chunk of quartz.

The walls of the old buildings, made of country rock, still stood and we could see a line of excavations obviously following a vein of lead along a sill of dolerite overlaying chalcopyritic deposits and mudstones, rising above the level of the bog. The largest building had some shards of metal still lying, along with evidence of candle alcoves.

According to Bick, "The lode is up to 6 foot wide of breccaited ashes and volcanic agglomerates cemented by quartz. The mineral ores are galena, blende (zinc), copper and iron pyrites with some malachite and azurite, and up to 17dwt of gold per ton of copper pyrites." Well, that explains why the miners were keen to investigate here and brave the bog.
The adit with pack wall.

There is supposed to be across-cut adit here with a fine masonry portal, but all we found was a nearly run-in adit with an entrance disappearing under rubble. We had to do a little excavation to gain access, but it was well worth it. Inside were two adits and a stope, with the timbers still in place. There's no date for when the mine was working, but we know the mine was abandoned in 1880, so these timbers had survived since then. All the more amazing since this is a very wet mine, water continuously cascading down from above.

The rock inside the adit showed traces of all the minerals summed up by David Bick, but none in any great concentration, although galena still sparkled from the walls.

Sparkles from Petra's head lamp
 light up the adit.

Several more workings littered the upper slopes of the sill, some extending towards Llyn Gamallt Bach, but we didn't find the other lead mine mentioned in Bick's book. He talks about it being alongside Sarn Helen, yet it is called Llyniau Gamallt. Sarn Helen doesn't really run near Llyn Gamallt; maybe it's the mine we were trying to find earlier ourselves. Time will tell.

One of the workings further up the hill.

Rather than risk the bog again, we decided to forge ahead over the Gamallt sill towards the bwlch with Cwm Penmachno, and climb back that way to the west. The country was good this way and only a small area of bog was encountered, as we passed over the course  of Sarn Helen. Rough heather abounds here, but it does provide a soft landing for when you fall...which I did, several times. Well, the legs were getting tired! Cwm Teigl was a welcome sight as we descended from the old drover's track, legs aching, memory cards full of shots. The boots? Rather soggy, I'm afraid. It took two days to dry them out!

The route back, down the metalled road descending from the head of Cwm Teigl.
The Alaw Manod mine and it's adits can be seen along a trackway
in the middle distance of the photo.


Chameleon said...

Great story and photos. Tell me more about your Miners' boots - where did you get them from?

p.s. Cant remember if I've mentioned it before but the inline comment form doesn't work in Firefox, it just wipes your post when you try to preview. I changed my blog to the popup comment box version and have had no problems since.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, David. My miner's boots are just a rather fine pair of working men's boots that were obtained from a farm store in Aberdeenshire...but I maintain they are miner's boots as they are so strong, and up till now, waterproof!
Thanks for the tip about Firefox. Blogger is so unwieldy, but I guess we're stuck with it. I'm not smart enough to use Wordpress.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting report, Iain!

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Graham!

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