Saturday, 28 May 2011

Nant Gefail-y-Meinars copper mine

This was another one of those places found by Petra, mooching about on Google Earth. She also found a handy bit of software, called “Where's the Path” which gives you a map window next to the Google Earth one and matching interactive cursors/view boxes. It also works out grid references for you down to considerable accuracy...and it's free.
Of course, sometimes when you find what looks like a mine and then walk miles to explore it, the “mine” turns out to be a rocky outcrop with scree, or a black welsh cow standing near a slope. To counteract these tendencies, we now use the excellent Hendre Coed mining database. Type in the grid ref of the mine you've found and it will come up, hopefully, with a list of mines nearby for you, one of which should be the mine.

Which is how we came to be stravaiging across that wild and trackless moor between the B4391 and the A4212 north of Cwm Prysor, in search of a copper mine. It wasn't exactly trackless at first, though, as we followed a well made grassy road for a hundred yards; built perhaps for servicing the charmless pylons that stride this upland. There was a feeling of uneasiness, too, as the gate we had climbed over said “No Trespassing”. We were to make amends for that later.

When the road petered out, we followed the Nant Gefail-y-Meinars stream, noticing fine outcrops of slate in the stream bed and a well-made bridge, seemingly from nowhere to nowhere. Perhaps this was the remains of an ancient road, although it looked as if it dated from the 1850's.

Before long, Petra spotted what looked like the line of a leat on the left bank beside the forestry. The trail was warming up! Soon we came to an area of tips, rich in chalcopyrites, fools gold, calcite and quartz. At this point, the remains of a water wheel came into view. There were strange rock formations in the stream which I thought might be quartz crystallising within interstices in the folded, cooling igneous rock, but I'm open to correction on that one.

A stoped area lay above the water wheel, seemingly broken out to bank, with a connecting adit to the waterwheel. Drive rods were still in place, leading to a flooded shaft within the stoped area...probably to pump out the workings below. Copper sulphate leached out of the walls, while an ochreous tunnel led off into the hill. Already knee deep, it looked too dangerous to pursue.

Topsides, there were two more shafts, filled in. One of these was quite deep into the forestry where there are traces of buildings and more scrapings/trials.
There might also be another shaft above the stoped area which looks as if it has been filled in. Here there were beautiful quartz outcrops with fool's gold, looking at first like growths of lichen. Towards the summit of Pen-y-Foel Ddu was a strange round structure like a small broch, however it was buttressed in a way that will be familiar to all visitors to slate mines, making me think that this was perhaps a powder store. Various other ruined buildings lay about, made from undressed country rock. Perhaps these were farmer's shelters, or the remains of cytiau 'r gwyddelod ...this translates amusingly as “Irishmen's huts” but I think means ancient settlements...

While we were looking at the powder store, a bird soared above us. I glanced at it, looked away, then glanced back as Petra told me it was a Red Kite. It made a pleasant change from the Ravens and Buzzards that are our usual mine exploring companions.
We spent a fascinated hour or so raking over the tips, photographing mineral samples, then followed the valley further south. There's a curve in the watercourse with tons of mine spoil washed by the flow, and we headed off to investigate. By the stream, a sheep was struggling to free itself from the fence. It's head was firmly trapped, and around it the poor creature had eaten a circle of grass completely bare. The less said about the other end, the better. I reckoned it had been there for a couple of days and was looking a little stressed. Petra held it's head while I attempted to free it by easing the wire. Oh, the joys. It brought back memories of my early years on a hill farm in Ayrshire where our sheep seemed determined to commit suicide in ever more novel ways. Eventually, we managed to free the poor creature and it wandered off, hopefully to recover. You never know with sheep, they are difficult (and surprisingly pesky) animals and have a habit of dropping dead at the slightest provocation. However, we'd done our bit, and if we hadn't trespassed, who knows, that sheep might not have got free. That's my rationale, anyway.

Looking inbye to the stoped area.

After wearily trudging back to the car, we had a surprise. I'd parked the car as carefully as possible to the side in a forestry gateway, out of the way of the massive timber trucks that were rumbling in and out of the gates. However, some joker had parked slap in the middle of the gateway with their mighty Audi all-terrain. There was a truck rumbling down the track towards us and it was quite close now, so we jumped in to the car and made off as quickly as we could. I do wonder what happened to that Audi.

Factoids and Links:

According to Hendre Coed, the mine was in action from 1853-1875 as far as the official records go.

There's a mention of the mine in Lewis, M J T & Williams, M C, "Pioneers of Festiniog Slate" (p. 4) where the mine is described as working as early as 1761.

Hendre Coed Mining Database (North Wales only) here

Where's the Path? here

Mine location: SH7681 3934


Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff, as ever. Great find with Where's the Path? Looks like a very handy utility indeed.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham. "Where's the path" is great, although it has a limit on the number of views per day with the O.S. map, and then defaults to a 1930 version....which in a way is even better for us!

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