Not that planting trees is an entirely bad idea, of course. Just closely planted spruce, two feet apart...not good. These days the Forestry Commission adopts a generally careful and sensitive approach to the management and planting of it's land. However, they've as good as admitted that they can't harvest this particular forest as it wouldn't be economic. If the forthcoming government sale of the Forestry Commission goes ahead, it is not clear what will happen to sites like Rhiwbach. Public access may well be denied and undoubtedly, even more archaeology will be lost in the name of corporate “growth”. With any luck, the land will remain unsold and the trees will die and thin out naturally.
|Looking south, into the sun, from Fridd Quarry|
|The mystery buildings|
|The trackway going off to Cwm Teigl|
|The impassable incline down to Cwm Teigl|
|The view through the trees, over the New Vein Quarry Pit|
We were just about to make our way resignedly down to the pit itself when I spotted a different kind of light in the trees, farther over in the woods to the south west of our heading. I ran up the slope between some more irate hedgehogs and took a sharp intake of breath at what I saw.
|View from under the collapse|
Rather pleased, we scrambled out of the collapsed pit and made our way to the ruined engine house at the top of the lake for a spot of lunch. Now, I always think that no matter how well you know a place, there's always more to discover, and quarries are no exception. So I was happily munching my customary doorstep and trying to imagine the Fowler 12hp portable engine which, in the 1870's, was housed just where I was sitting, when my gaze was attracted to three large rocks with strange markings on them. I walked over and was delighted with what I saw- for these were the fabled Rhiwbach rock cannons, something I had read about but had never seen. In fact, I had supposed they were lost, so this was another turn up.
Rock cannons are, basically, a large firework, used to provide large explosions and pyrotechnics for special occasions such as the visit of posh folk to the quarry, or notable local events.
The holes were hand-drilled into the rock, filled with black powder and then packed with crushed rock. Each hole was linked by a shallow groove, often curved to lengthen the interval between bangs. Black powder was then laid in the groove and covered with powdered stone to keep it in place.
The holes are typically an inch in diameter and five inches deep. Modern experiments have shown that a small amount of black powder in the hole with a powder-filled goose feather quill as a fuse, and the whole held in place by powdered slate, can produce spectacular sounds and visual effects.
We decided to skirt round the forest on the way back, for some reason. That was when I made the last discovery. I should have known about this, but Rhiwbach is such a large site, and so much is hidden by tips...well, that's my excuse. There were some pillars that looked like launder supports going downhill from the eastern edge of the tips, and we followed them northwards for a while to see what might turn up. At first, I thought the wall might be a tip bastion, but as we came nearer it was obviously a waterwheel pit. I then remembered reading that the levels of the New Vein mine were drained by a waterwheel working flat-rods, so there was the answer. As we struggled wearily over the hill beside the trees on our way to the bwlch and Cwm Teigl, we saw the remains of a dam in the woods, in all probability the source of the water for the wheel.
|The Lovely powder house at Fridd|