It's true to say that I wouldn't make a very good General. When left to decide the plan for one of our adventures, I always choose the most direct route. No subtle, careful manouvres for me. Comes from being a raven in another life, I suspect.
So there we were, climbing up the very steep incline from Dinas Mawddwy up to the Minllyn slate quarry. Those forestry people had been up to their mischief again and had left a sea of brash for us to negotiate. It was steep, wet and slippery as we toiled up. Less than helpfully, the weather gods decided to tip a few thousand gallons of best mid-wales moisture on the hillside, too.
It didn't dampen my spirits, although I was aware of observations concerning my navigational methods, quietly voiced beside me as we walked. Petra had been unwell, but she was nevertheless determined to see the quarry- although a gentler route would have been helpful. After a while, we reached a forestry road that had cut the incline, and decided to walk along it to have a look at the pits that we'd seen from the road. Until recently, these were hidden under the serried ranks of spruce. Now, they were lurking beguilingly amid a chaotic jumble of felled trees and brashings. They looked worth investigation...for a better day, when we both felt more like replaying the siege of Mafeking against timber and bramble.
|A pulley wheel, found among the felled spruce.|
The transformation in Petra was wonderful. From being a subdued presence, she galvanised into action, gazing keenly into the blackness of the mine. We put our waterproofs on and waded in. The water was knee-deep in places and oh, so very cold, but eventually it subsided. Adits are generally dug with a downward slope outbye, so as a rule, you will usually find dry ground inside, although I can think of some mines where this would be a foolish boast! The adit opened out into a reasonably large chamber. It seemed about 150 feet high and had several abortive drives in the walls, one of which went on for a few hundred feet. We found many rusty things in the chamber. Rail, chain, pulleys and a nice tram waggon wheel. There was a fair bit of wood lying about, too; we couldn't work out what that could have been for. Later, I read that it was the remains of a bridge, from an adit high in the roof of the chamber. Scary.
The moisture content of the air in the chamber was incredibly high, making it difficult to take flash photos. Oh, for a time exposure on my little Lumix! We did the best we could with our lamps, but they made no inroads into the inky blackness above us. I'd been looking at a 1,000 lumens lamp during the week and was now wishing I'd bought it. Our own lamps were a respectable 250 lumens, more than good enough for navigating in a mine, but not for photography.
Petra spotted a fascinating growth on a length of rail...some kind of fungus. When the torch was shone upon it, the effect was like a fibre-optic display. There were also the sad remains of several beautiful moths scattered around. As we were leaving, she pointed out a growth of rust-shells on another length of rail. Nobody quite knows how these are formed, but there is a theory that they are caused by a fungal organism, re-using the iron oxide in some way.
|The mine shells on a length of rail.|
The rest of the incline was climbed without incident, probably because the sun came out. When we reached the crimp, it was obvious that this was going to be one of those mines that you remember for a long time. Beyond our viewpoint in the drumhouse, the levels racked up to towards the head of a steep defile, topped off by a vast pit.
|Towards the crimp of the main incline.|
|The main incline drum house. The stonework is very different to the Ffestiniog quarries,|
it is dressed and worked to a much higher degree.
|Walking past an old weigh house, with the top pit on the horizon.|
|The lower tunnel into the first large pit.|
Because of the plentiful rain, the whole site was as if it had been under water for the last three weeks. I half expected to see Jacques Cousteau sailing the “Calypso” in the pit, but had to make do with two loud waterfalls. Catching up with Petra, who had clambered down inside the pit to get to the main adit, we saw that a large volume of water had gathered in the entrance. It was probably four, possibly five feet deep. The major problem being that at the best of times, this is a narrow squeeze, and now the water was lapping at the doorstep; there would be no way to get in without being submerged. There's normally a waggon in this adit, but there was no sign- obviously it was below the murky waters. Neither of us fancied a swim, so we reluctantly climbed back out of the pit to mooch the rest of the site.
|An adit entrance. Not a dry one...|
|Petra ponders another flooded adit|
|Fascinating why the miners segregated the spoil here...|
Sadly, time was running out. Evil clouds were massing in the lower part of the valley, building up their strength to roll yet another Mid-Wales monsoon over the mine. So we walked down, hearing some exuberant whoops and yells from one of the pits. Petra smiled. “Mine Explorers...”
Yes, in a way. We reached the tramway level just as a very soggy father and son emerged from the flooded pit adit, in that mood that only underground adventurers know. The lad, probably nine years old, full of enthusiasm, asked us if we'd been in the adit. We had to admit that...er... no, we hadn't. “Well, you ought to!" he shouted, "Theres a HUGE mine down there!!”
We'll be back. And this time, we'll take the path suggested by Henllan in his video. Big double thumbs up for that, Ian, as we wouldn't have ventured out here otherwise.
Minllyn is an ancient quarry, probably working in the early 1800's. It was developed underground after 1840.
The original mill above the valley had a waterwheel and a steam engine back-up. It was a very early example of an integrated slate mill, pre-dating Diffwys in Blaenau Ffestiniog by a number of years.
The later mill was in the bottom of the valley, near the Cambrian Railways station of Dinas Mawddwy. The mill is now a craft outlet with a cafe. Handy for tired, thirsty mine explorers!
The mine closed in 1925.
Henllan's video about the mine here
An interesting site with 1980's photos of the mine here
GR SH 853 140