Sunday, 3 July 2011

Looking for something...finding something else.

For the last year or so, the Craig Nyth-y-Gigfran mine had eluded us. We'd tried to reach it by walking up the incline from Rhiw, in Blaenau Ffestiniog, but unfeasible amounts of security fencing had been put in place, making further progress difficult without body armour. We tried a more direct route, up the Nyth-y-Gigfran incline which rises up the Craig. That became steeper by the metre and ended in a very exposed gap, impassible without ropes. We were so near....
This time, we thought we'd take the advice given by Simon from AditNow, and try to sneak up over the mountain on public access land from Cwmorthin. It sounded like a plan. It's a hard climb up through the shattered remains of Cwmorthin, and distressing to see the chaos that the old untopping has caused to the archaeology- especially as financially, it was not a success. The views, however, are some of the best to be had in Wales.

 Eventually, we made it to the top of the quarry and stood for a while admiring the scene. The weather was warm and the light very intense, making photography something of a challenge. We then incorporated an energy-sapping detour to what eventually proved to be an old, run-in adit, and were pretty weary when we staggered over the summit above, the sheep staring at us as if we were crazy.
But neither of us was prepared for the view that opened out from the top. We had emerged onto the upper levels of the Oakeley quarry, into some old, old workings. Called Cesail, they were begun by Samuel Holland in 1827 and were developed underground in 1840.
We'd seen these workings from afar a few days earlier, while at Cwt-y-Bugail, trying out a new video camera. I hadn't expected, a couple of days later,  to be standing among those same four large pits while Petra shouted in delight at finding some very interesting looking adits.

There are several lovely old buildings, including what looks like a keyhole powder store as well as a fine drum house on the middle level. The Craig sits looking over all the remains, like a bhudda with a train set.
Behind, the landscape takes in all the major quarries of Blaenau as well as the levels below and vast pit of the Oakeley. The adits were all interesting, but very fragile. Most showed evidence of laminar disintegration inside and some falls had taken place. One fall was passable at the entrance to a chamber, but there were such cracks in the rock above that I felt it would be tempting fortune to go any further.
An adit led out by some more buildings. We followed it through a rocky outcrop and gasped as it ended in a vertiginous, narrow ledge above floor five of Oakeley, some four hundred feet vertically below. It was like hang gliding, looking at that view, and made you dizzy taking photographs. A base jumper's dream, I would have thought.

It was also possible to trace the route we needed for the Nyth-y-Gigfran mine, but by now, we'd spent so much time examining Cesail that we had to start back. We were passed by a runner, trailed by his three enthusiastic dogs. He waved cheerily as he tackled the next summit towards the end of the cwm. Later, we were descending towards the car park above Tan-y-Grisiau to find that he had been to the end of the valley and still beaten us back. The dogs had the decency to look tired, even if he didn't. Well, just sometimes, slow and steady wins the race, I reckon. We'll be back for Nyth-y-Gigfran.


Anonymous said...

I especially like your third photograph - some drama in the sky and a lovely tonal range in the land. A very painterly, timeless feel.

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you very much, Graham.

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