|The mine incline, looking towards the Lledr Valley, over Y Cribau to Glyder Fawr.|
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 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|
|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|
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.|