Saturday, 21 May 2011

Bosky Byways in Ffestiniog- the Sylvan Magic of Bryn-Llech

We'd never explored Cwm Cynfal before. We'd only gazed down from the road over the Migneint, high up by the Cynfal falls. Down there, it seemed like a windswept, chilly place, scattered with ruins and querulous sheep, the upper slopes of the cwm fringed with unwelcoming conifers and the usual quagmires.

A querulous Cwm Cynfal sheep
However, this spring we drove up the tiny unclassified road that leads through the valley, and I realised that I couldn't have been more wrong about the place. The slopes either side echoed to the sound of birdsong while trees waved in the soft breeze, coruscating with new shoots and young leaves. The weather helped, of course. Flawless skies smiled down on us as we walked, having abandoned the car, better to enjoy the sights and smells of spring. I was sold on the place. Just as well, really- because we were on a mission.

Yes, we were looking for a mine. Bryn-Llech, a small but lovely working, reputed to nestle deep in the woods hereabouts.It wasn't long before Petra spotted the tips at the side of the road, and a short climb up into the boscage revealed some ruins and a ravine.

Petra gazes down into the ravine
This led to a small chamber, via a deeply boggy area. The chamber had been worked downwards and had cut off an adit, which carried on uselessly ten feet or so above the floor. It was an intriguing place, dark slate with red iron veining everywhere making me wonder if the product had really been any use.

After exploring the chamber, we decided to see if we could find any remains of the Sofl-y-Mynydd mine on the hill above, so we re-negotiated the quagmire and headed upwards. The cwm revealed itself in ever more beautiful views as we climbed, the rugged landscape towards the Migneint looking bleak above the falls. The contrast between the idyllic valley bottom and the upper slopes couldn't have been more dramatic. It was cooking hot on the slopes above the woods, so we sat down and raided the sandwiches and drinks in my rucksac.

It was then that Petra spotted something up by the falls. Not a Red Kite, but a paraglider. He soared effortlessly above the defile, reminding me of the buzzards that wheel in the thermals hereabouts. We watched him for a long time. Then, without any warning, his parachute gave a crackle and seemed to collapse. He was at least two hundred feet up at this point. We watched in helpless dismay as he plumetted through the air, struggling with his control wires. Then, as suddenly as the 'chute had collapsed, he managed to re-fill it with air and was climbing up again.Tense moments.
We climbed too, with a great deal more difficulty. Despite combing the ground above the woods, all we could find of the Sofl-y-Mynedd mine were some ruined buildings and the remains of what could have been a cei mulod, or loading bank for pack mules. We were joined by our intrepid friend from the sky, who had decided to land and phone for a lift, much to the disapproval of the local sheep, who thought this was yet another sheepdog trick. To our amazement, he told us that he had flown all the way from Llanberis, and that he was a mine explorer, too!
Petra in the entrance to the tunnel for the pit working at Bryn Glas

Bryn Glas- inside the pit

I hadn't realised that in our enthusiasm, we had climbed all the way up to the Migneint road, near the Cynfal falls viewpoint car park. Petra pointed out that our old favourite, Bryn-Glas was only half a mile away and it would make a nice conclusion to our day, so we headed off there and explored the upper workings again. There's always something new to see; due to the dry weather it was possible to access the lower levels of the pit and see the remains of a shaft and some small chambering.

The boggy entrance to the mine at Bryn Llech
It occurred to me afterwards that a paraglider would be the ideal way to case out possible mine sites, although I think that I might prefer the added security of an engine. If I got into difficulties on the Migneint, there would always be a handy morass to land in.

Bryn Llech Factoids

The mine, also known as Bron Goronwy or Chwarel Owen Sionm, was in production (as far as records show), from 1888 until 1905. It had a hand-powered slate saw. (ref: AJR Slate Gazetteer)

It's at SH7278 4134

There's a copper mine further up the cwm near the falls. We haven't found that yet, although it is listed in Bick's “Old Copper Mines of Snowdonia”

Paragliding is dangerous, mine exploration less so.

Waliau in the woodland


Anonymous said...

Another fascinating report, Iain. I especially like the shot of Petra reflected at the tunnel entrance.

Sounds like Mr Paraglider had a narrow escape. Wonder what they do with regards to ground support if they happen to land somewhere with no mobile coverage.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham. Despite his narrow escape, our paragliding friend was remarkably sanguine. We too wondered about the backup plan!

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