Monday, 22 August 2011

Secrets of the Cynfal Gorge

The Cynfal Falls, as seen from one of the run-in adits.
The B4391, as it meanders over the Migneint towards Llan Ffestiniog, is a reasonably well mannered highway, much beloved of motor cyclists and car reviewers for its choppy, yet deliciously driveable twists and turns. But a surprise awaits for the unwary, as the road unexpectedly skirts the flanks of a vertiginously steep defile. At times, only the flimsiest of fences stand between the edge of the road and certain destruction below.

I've often gazed down into the abyss here, looking for a copper mine when I should have been paying attention to the driver ahead, as he or she drives in the middle of the road for fear of the drop on the left.  So this time, we  parked the car up and walked down into the gorge, armed with some information from David Bick's "The Old  Copper Mines of Snowdonia". We were going to get that mine in the bag.

After a little bit of routine Migneint moorland, the Afon Cynfal, a boisterous youth, chatters and meanders past  the bogs. The water was peaty brown on the day we were there, looking like strong shipyard tea as it flowed over the rocks. Here, the stream makes it's way over microgranites and metamorphosed shalestones, but as  the rock changes, the Cynfal (or more likely it's icy predecessor)  starts to play hard ball and cuts a deep gash  in the landscape. Now the rock is shale, slate and mudstones, with a spicy hint of chalcopyrites here and there in an igneous intrusion or two.

Right away, as we descended into the gorge I spotted the mine, although Petra wasn't convinced.  She  reckoned that what I'd interpreted as the mouth of an adit, above a vertical drop into the gorge, was a gorse  bush and some scree. I have to say that normally, she is the one who finds mines, either on Google Earth or  while driving, when she will suddenly exclaim "A mine!" and pull in to the side of the road at the first opportunity.  So I reckoned she might be right.

The point where I spotted the adit, above the spoil runs at middle right.

Petra looks along the packhorse trail. The gorge falls away more steeply beyond the water at the left.

Remains of trial workings were evident even on the upper lip of the cwm and as you looked around they  seemed to be everywhere on the north side of the valley.  An old pack-road skirted the side of the gorge,  certainly less frightening than the road above us, which clung atop a buttressed shelf, rather like the Rhosydd  tramway above Cwm Croesor. Shattered rock from the road embankment littered the flanks of the hillside.

The Hobbit Hole
 As we walked along the track, we could see several run-in adits and an old stone building, with what looked like  the remains of a cei mulod, or loading bank next to it. Perhaps this had been an office, or a processing/weighing  hut. Impossible to say, given it's ruinous nature. The track carried on to where a lovely view of the rounded  sides of the cwm opened out. Several adits and their tips could be seen here, all run in, of course. There was  also the remains of a shaft, looking for all the world like a Hobbit hole. It was too small to squeeze into and take a photo, but delightful nonetheless.

We scoured this level for the adit that David Blick had described. " It was open in 1953" I said, thinking at the  same time that it was 58 years ago.  Petra reminded me that a lot can happen in 58 years, even in geological  time. We picked our way, slipping and sliding on our backsides, down the steep slopes to a lower level where another run-in adit lay, surrounded by bits from cars that had crashed down here from the road above.

As we gingerly made our way on a sheep track, mindful of the hundred foot vertical drop to our left, the alleged adit came into view. We were too low now, so we climbed through the ferns up to the height of the shelf ahead of us. But at the same time, the slopes to our left became much steeper. I suppose if we had brought some climbing rope, we might have been able to belay against something; one of the old Hawthorns maybe. But  neither of us was prepared to risk slipping and ending up sliding down and off that steep cliff into the stream below.  The memory of a friend, lost because of a small slip on the Aonach Eagach in the eighties still haunts me to this day, and I want to explore more mines after this one. So we marched rather disconsolately in defeat, back up the ravine and to the car.

Never mind, I'd always wanted to see what the gorge was like and Petra spotted and photographed several  unusual plants on our day's meanderings, so all was not lost. And...this mine hunting lark wouldn't be as much fun if  everything was easy, would it?

However, we may be back, with the aforementioned rope, as the adit does sound worth looking at. Bick describes it  thus:
"Perched above a deep and inaccesible ravine...the level extended 40 or 50 yards NW to the lode and about 10  yards beyond...The vein included a wide rib of copper, worsening to the west. At the intersection with the adit was a filled-in winze, also a rise leading to several higher levels and a further rise which must have extended  practically to grass."
Incidentally, the grid reference for the adit given by Bick is wrong, it's actually SH 73624163.

An odd, unidentified automotive artifact, found partly buried near one of the adits.

The view from the top of the falls.


Anonymous said...

It certainly makes you ponder with awe at what the workers must have had to endure in their day when you see the inaccessibility of some of these places!

Iain Robinson said...

Yes, there didn't seem to be any sign of an easy way to haul the material from the lower adits. I wonder if access to the mine was from one of the shafts on the upper track, and the lower adits only broke out to bank in order to tip spoil? Don't suppose we'll ever know.

Anonymous said...

Amazing site, wonderful magical photos of a world we rarely see, plus beautiful landscapes.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much for your comment, Lynn and I'm glad you enjoyed looking around.

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