Friday, 26 August 2011

The Wonder of the Moor.. Cae'r Defaid slate mine

A logging truck carefully rolls down the mine road
We jumped off the track as another forestry truck lumbered down, loaded with over 30 tons of spruce logs. The driver gave us the thumbs up, trailer groaning as tortured tyres sank into another deep, water-filled rut. This part of the road was beginning to look more like the Ypres Salient than Wales as the rain stabbed down. It now fully lives up to the promise of the sign at the start of the road, which says: "Unsuitable for Motors".

But it wasn't all like this. The day had started very well, in beautiful sunshine. I'd seen a video on "Weston's Wales" about the mine, and our appetites were whetted. It's about two miles up a roughly metalled road, from Llanfachreth, near Dolgellau. As we walked up, fantastic views opened out of the Cadair Idris range. Petra photographed several unusual plants and mosses...while she was doing this, I noticed a very old trial and roofing shaft at the side of the road, both run-in. There was no evidence of blasting, everything had been crowbarred the hard way. I wondered if this was a gold trial. The lower slopes of the road were a delight, with oak woodland and plentiful birdsong. Above the deciduous tree line, the rolling slopes were bilberry clad ( Llusen in welsh). It brought back memories of sliding down hillsides as a child and coming home to a row from my Mum because of my purple stained trousers and shirt! Ahead, the imposing bulk of Rhobell Fawr loomed. An extinct volcano, but luckily it hasn't erupted for 500 million years.

Once at the mine, after opening and closing several of the many gates for trucks, we sat and had our lunch above the very tidy upper adit entrance. Above the mine, the hillside undulates with plentiful remains of pits and shafts, and one quite long run-in adit. It's all heavily grass grown, but there must have been substantial activity here at one time. The only reference I can find to the mine (which gives dates) is the excellent Hendre Coed database. It states that there is a record of working between 1896-1899, but the remains suggest a much longer period of activity.

One of the many roofing shafts in the foreground

We donned waterproofs, hard hats and wellies, checked our lights then walked into the adit. It is a fascinating mine, the main tunnel is intersected by two cross-cuts, leading to chambers.It seems almost to have been worked in a Cumbrian way, deads being stacked up in the chambers and roofing shafts worked up to surface. In places, the chamber roofs must almost be about to break out to bank. The slate is not of the best, but the minerals in the mine are fascinating. There's plenty of iron and several outcrops of sparkling gypsum crystals. But the best part of the main tunnel is the grotto, with beautiful stalactites and mites. Sleepers run almost the whole length, often with chairs still in place- unusual, since often rails were spiked directly to the sleeper. The one chunk of rail we found in the mine was near a waterfall coming from a roofing shaft; this was bridge rail, so called because of it's "top hat" or bridge profile.

One of the cross-cuts to chambers
The Grotto
Water splashing off a mineral formation
 We spent a good deal of time in the mine, photographing or just mooching, taking in the magic of the place. When we did emerge from the lower realms it was to find that the weather had become rather annoyed. We quickly walked down to the lower adit, which was flooded up to neck depth... neither of us fancied a paddle. We were joined by a troop of dogs and their owner. I'm always a bit wary of meeting farmers and landowners when mine exploring as they can be understandably tricky. I still have a considerable scar on my ankle from meeting the hell-dogs of Cefn Clawydd and their irate master back in the 1980's...Of course, it's always best to ask permission when exploring on someone's land. Luckily this lady understood our enthusiasm, telling us that her husband had also explored the mine. After much fuss over the dogs, we headed off down the track again as the first big drops started to splash on our waterproofs.
Looks a bit like rain....looking towards the mine on the middle right, with Rhobell Fawr above.

Thunder rumbled ominously as we walked through a nervous herd of beautiful Welsh Blacks who had come towards the trees to seek shelter. "No, not the trees, guys!" Petra cajoled them, but they were staying there. Then, the ground began to patter with the sound of very large drops of rain. Although we were wearing our waterproofs, both of us were soaked to the proverbial essentials when we reached the car. It was only then that we realised that our cameras had been in our pockets. Extricating them, I can confirm that Panasonic cameras are not in the least waterproof. Our memory cards were OK, which was something. Water had got in to the backs of both cameras and short-circuited the works. My previous camera had been crushed by a steam engine, so this was a slightly more ignominious fate. There's a lesson here, I know. An expensive one. We've had to sell our video camera  and some other stuff to afford two new cameras. Oh well. I wonder how long the new ones will last?

Mites climb up, Tites hang down...what if they join??
More stalacmites, with the sleepered tramway in evidence.
How to deal with your boots when wearing wellies, Petra style.
The Lower Adit
That's all folks!  From my poor old camera at least...
 Petra's Plant Blog "In the Green"

The super Hendre Coed Mining database

Weston's video  some great shots inside the mine here.


weston said...

Donna and I were just viewing your blog and were reminiscing about our very steep climb upto the summit of Rhobell Fawr. Sorry to hear about your camera.......I bought a camera a few months ago it is the fuji xp it is waterproof, shockproof and I have dropped it and it has been underwater in the mines. It does everything it says on the tin.....
Wes and Don

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Weston. I was impressed by the quality of the videos you had done with the Fuji. We ended up buying a Samsung, mainly because it had a long shutter speed capability for underground shots. That will do until I can afford a Nikon, I guess!

Anonymous said...

The grotto and the minerals there look fabulous!

Sorry to hear about the misadventure with the cameras. What a terrible shame.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham. Well, every cloud has a silver lining...the new cameras have long exposure shutter speed capability...will be trying mine out soon!

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