Friday, 19 August 2011

Chwarel Gethin Jones

The mine incline, looking towards the Lledr Valley, over Y Cribau to Glyder Fawr.
 This interesting little mine lies on the track that leads from near the summit of the Crimea Pass (A470T) to the railway tunnel ventilation works, above the headwaters of the Afon Lledr. For a while, I had assumed that the Jones of this mine's name must have been responsible for the civil engineering works of the Blaenau Ffestiniog tunnel, but apparently he was not.

Owen Gethin Jones was a prominent 19th Century civil engineer and contractor, and was certainly responsible for the construction of the imposing viaduct on the Conwy Valley railway line between Betws y Coed and Pont y Pant. He was also involved in the construction of the Rhiwbach tramway, connecting Rhiwbach Quarry to Blaenau Ffestiniog and the railway. The lovely station buildings at Betws are also his work.

But here, on the high moor above the Lledr, he simply saw an opportunity to utilise a ready-made route for a speculative slate venture. It's a fine site, with views towards Dolwyddelan and Moel Siabod, and makes a very pleasant walk as the trackway is level and yet quite spectacular in places.
The trackway, looking towards Moel Siabod.

Parking in a tree-skirted layby, we crossed the road to a gate, which opens onto the old trackway. Almost immediately, there's a trial adit in a spur of Moel Dyrnogydd, facing the road, with a filled in roofing shaft above it. It's hard to see at first, and I confess I had missed it thousands of times as I drove by in the car. It's flooded to ankle depth and goes in for 50 yards or so before ending rather ignominiously. Quite strange though, to be in an adit and see cars roaring past outside as you slosh back to the entrance.

However, this isn't the main event. So we took the trackway as it wound round another spur in the hill, putting some distance between us and the intrusive, 21st Century sounds of the road. Curlews and ravens became the predominant voices now,  as the wind snatched away the snarls of bikes climbing up the road across the valley. Soon the mine came into view.
The most obvious feature is a fine slate incline, leading to the upper workings. This level is an open quarry, although Alun John Richards' "Slate Gazetteer" hints that there might have been some underground working up here. If so, there's no sign of it these days, just a rather boggy pit.
The middle, later level does have a nice adit, leading to a couple of chambers. The first one is broken out to bank. The second seems to have been abandoned before completion, and what looks like a whinze, now filled in, has been sunk to connect with a lower level. There's some nice quartz veining in the chambers.
The middle adit
Inside the first chamber, looking outbye
 There are a couple of intriguing features by the tunnel road; what looks like a cei mulod and some evidence that the incline possibly  pre-dated the trackway. Below the level of the trackway, there are the remains of further adits, probably to a lower level. To my great frustration, they were all run in. I have to confess that a few years ago now, this was my first introduction to a slate mine. Petra had suggested the mine as somewhere to walk to, but we ended up peering into the middle adit and coming back the next day with torches. I've been back many times since and can still remember the excitement of my first small adventure underground...what larks!  Now I have become a lumens bore with enough torches to light a football stadium and a collection of hard hats to equip a small colliery.

Towards the tunnel ventilator and it's spoil heaps.

This time, we walked on towards the tunnel works; an impressive site in it's own right. The track slopes down past a magazine and a ruined office towards the fan of tips (mostly slate-like rock) and the tunnel ventilation shaft. It must have been grim working up here with the wind blasting over the moor- there are remains of a variety of shelters here, converted later into an ad-hoc sheep pen arrangement, with a couple of lengths of bridge rail lying here and there from the original contractors back in the 1870's. It reminded me of the shafts above Woodhead, and I wondered whether , like at Woodhead, there were any men killed here during the driving of the tunnel. So far I'm afraid I've been unable to glean any information about the tunnel's construction.
The ruined Chapel
Here the track becomes a more ordinary sort of country cart track, and leads down to the Lledr valley in a series of switchbacks. From the top most one, you can just make out the Afon lledr Copper for another day. It looks very interesting, although someone on Geograph labelled it a "death trap"...I'll write a post about it, should I survive.

Eventually the road arrives at the North tunnel mouth amid some interesting geological features in the river bed, as it tumbles beside the railway. There's a chapel here, too-  thought to have been built for the workers on the tunnel. It's kept company by various ruined buildings, one looking suspiciously like a magazine. Even now, it's quite easy to picture the scene as the tunnel was driven, and we stopped to munch our sandwiches, sitting on a handy slab bridge over the river. I daydreamed for a while, imagining the shouts of the men, the rattling of carts and shear legs and the occasional blast from within the tunnel.

The walk back up the track is not so pleasant, as the gradient is steeper than it seemed when descending- so it was a relief to reach summit level as the trackway winds round the hill's shoulder. Now, I'm left with the mystery of the tunnel's construction. Who drove it? What were the many dramas that unfolded before it was finished, and the inaugural train blasted through to the strains of "See the Conquering Hero Comes"...? Watch this space.

Gethin Jones on Ffestipedia
Blaenau Tunnel on Wikipedia

The processing area on the quarry level
A primitive blast shelter outside the middle adit
Wild West country, looking toward Moel Siabod.


Anonymous said...

Your butty-break musings paint a lovely picture of times gone by.

I especially like the colours and tones in the top photo of the incline.

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, Graham! I like the idea of "butty break musings"...very ennobling of my humble and rather random thought processes :-)

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