Monday, 30 May 2011

Minllyn the Magnificent

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.
Back to the incline, which was now a soggy scramble up a muddy bank. Nearing the top at last, we noticed a level going off to the right. It looked like a tramway joining the incline, and there was a big spoil tip in the woods, too. We detoured off- any excuse for a rest, really. I'm so glad we did, because the adit was wonderful. This part of the site had not been felled, (it had mostly felled itself) and I fear that when the F.C. do come with their big logging machines, they will destroy this gem in the process.

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.
We walked on, past several deep pits, a barred-over shaft from the extensive underground workings and then the remains of a weigh hut. At this point it all lay before us. To the right, the original mill, worked by water, but with a steam engine back-up. Two inclines rose in front, the left one going up to the pit at the top, the other coming down from an intermediate level. An arched adit lay ahead. We looked inside, noting that it led into another pit. There was an adit above, too. We went up to this and into the defile. Obviously, the useable slate had been worked down and this adit rendered obsolete.
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...
There were run-in adits a-plenty, spoil tips with notably large rocks in them and of course, on the ground, a confusion of remains. Work had gone on here over a long number of years and , as is the case with all quarries, new had tipped over old, making it hard to interpret. At the highest pit, a long length of chain stretched across. Below were two adits, one a steep ventilation shaft from below, the other a drive leading to a cross-cut. A river ran down the ventilation shaft, while the other adit was very flooded. We climbed out again and savoured the fabulous view, so different from the ruggedness of the North Wales slate regions. Here were round hills, traversed by hedges, above mellow valley sides, thickly wooded with deciduous trees, while shrouds of mist reached down from the low clouds.

Petra ponders another flooded adit
Fascinating why the miners segregated the spoil here...
Outside the big pit, Petra noticed a spoil tip that was completely different. For a moment, she thought we'd found a copper mine. Closer examination revealed that the spoil was rustic slate, iron-rich and friable, although I wondered why it had been allocated a tip all by itself.
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 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 Factoids:

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


Kit and Kaboodle said...

Fabulous blog Iain. I came here after watching the video Petra has up on her blog and am so pleased to have stumbled across it. Your joint efforts are superb - can't wait to 'virtually' join you on more of your blunders around wales.

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you for your very kind words, K&K...very glad you like the blog!
We've more blundering planned for this weekend...:-)

Anonymous said...

Nice shot of the filamentous fungus, Iain!

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, Graham. It was pretty amazing! A bit nicer than the horrible black bootstrap fungi we found in Bwlch-y-Llu.

weston said...

the adit where petra is stood at the end with the trees criss crossing,we went in there the other week,we had been in there before and found nothing but a large chamber(dry)but! this time we found some one had moved some slate from the back of the chamber where the tracks run into the wall and exposed another adit leading into another chamber that led onto another chamber we think the surface was to slippy to climb up to look but there was another level there ian and myself thought we had put minllyn to bed but apparently not we have just woken her up with her little secrets take care wez

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Wez! Looks like there's unfinished business at Minllyn now as well... We will go and see, I kinda felt there was more to that chamber than met the eye!

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