Monday, 19 September 2011

Reading between the mines at Cyfannedd Fawr.

Most of our friends and family think we're slightly daft, certainly misguided. We go out in all weathers, clambering about above and below ground, taking photographs of things that well-adjusted folk would simply pass by or shudder and try to forget they'd seen.
Well, maybe that's right...maybe not. As a child, I lived for a while next to a disused colliery line. It literally ran at the bottom of the garden. My Dad and I used to walk up to the old mine where there was a pithead and an old engine shed, containing some gloriously superannuated relic of the age of steam which, sadly, my dad never did photograph.

Then, one morning before school, I woke up to the sound of a bulldozer grading the trackbed. The genie had been let out of the bottle and within a month, hundreds of raw new houses stood on the site of the mine. Later, we learned that a couple of the houses had sunk into the ground without trace, thankfully with nobody inside them. We moved on.

I've always been aware since then that the marks of activity on the ground are at best temporary, whether they are the remains of prehistoric settlements or nineteenth century mining remains. The ground either grows around them, reducing them to the status of palimpsest, or it swallows them up quietly and nobody notices. Yet the vestiges are all around for anyone to see.

Petra grew up in the heart of a slate town, Blaenau Ffestiniog, and roamed all over the quarries in her well-spent youth. With her innate feel for slate mines, she can usually spot an old working in the landscape well before my dull brain can join the dots together.

The Cyfannedd Fawr tip, Barmouth in the distance.
 So, on to the latest tilt at the windmills of time!  The mines of Cyfannedd, near Fairbourne, are a good example of what I mean. They've been given a right old working over by the weather and the ravages of vegetation, then the coup de grace has almost been administered by the landscape version of the norse god of mischief, the forestry commission, who have planted conifers four feet apart over almost all the site. Records of the place are confusing, different sources varying wildly, but one thing is for sure; there are several mines to be discovered in a compact area of a couple of square miles.

One of several standing stones on the mountain road. 
There's a glorious road that runs up from Llwyngwril, south of Fairbourne. It's a very narrow and many-gated highway which rises from sea level to 250 metres in the space of a couple of miles. Luckily, it's fairly quiet, as there don't seem to be many passing places. This brought us handily to the track leading to Cyfannedd Fawr farmhouse, on a public footpath. Here, in 1748, one Morus Jones had his home. He was a poet and winner of many bardic chairs.

There is a bewildering network of old ways and paths around here, leading down to the Mawddach estuary, linking the old mines that are gradually sinking into oblivion in the very bosky valley below. We'd had a couple of forays here before getting the measure of the place. From the farm house, the track continues down to what Coflein call the Cyfanned Fawr slate works. The tips are a brown kind of slate, although there are iron pyrites, calchopyrites  and galena to be found in the waste, evidence that this was a lead/copper mine before slate was found. It's a wild, windswept and glorious place, on the edge of the forestry, with views across the sweep of  Tremadog bay to the Llŷn.

An overall view of Cyfanned Fawr mine from the tip. The adit is deep in the trees on the left middle.

The curiously shaped ore bins
 The remains are intriguing. There is a cobbing floor, with two well-made stone  bowl-shaped structures, about 3.5 metres in diameter cut into what appears to be a waste tip. I wondered if they were buddling pits, as there is plentiful water about the place. On reflection, they are too deep. Probably they were ore bins, as the adit is nearby.  There are several other ruined buildings, one obviously a smithy, and an open adit, which runs behind an almost impenetrable thicket of trees and brambles. Disappointingly, the place was flooded almost to chest depth in places the day we were there. Our new wet socks and waddling gear weren't really up to the job. There's supposed to be a shaft further along the adit and then some remarkable formations, but with that depth of flooding we didn't want to risk it.

Further down the hill, a magnificent water wheel house lies in ruins, with another processing area and a quarry pit beside it. Again, there is evidence of plentiful water supply to the wheel, although no sign of flat rods or other means of pumping the mine- and it must surely have needed it, as the water gods seem perpetually in need of appeasement here.
Shafts at Cyfannedd Bach South Mine

An almost run-in adit, with evidence of stone arching
Cyfanned Bach South Mine, more shafts and working area.

In the forest there are several other mines. As already mentioned, Cyfannedd Bach South mine is found in a gap in the trees, with an almost completely run in adit and several shafts. To the South East are the oddly named Cyfannedd Fawr North mine and Cyfanned Bach South East Mine. This latter has been a large operation at one time, with long tip runs, some of which exhibit good quality slate in the tips. There's a shaft and a run-in adit here, although the place has been bulldozed by the forestry folk..

The Heneb site describes it as producing  " lead, silver, copper and manganese from Cyfannedd fawr (the remains of the mines and adits, which were initially opened in 1827 but mainly worked during the period 1851-63, lie to the north of the eponymous farm at the top of this area). The silver mine here, the only one in the district, was producing approximately 40oz of silver from a ton of ore at its height."

(I'm presuming this refers to Cyfanned Bach South East mine, as the slate/lead/copper mine of Cyfannedd Fawr is to the north west of the farm. )

To the North again is Cyfannedd Bach mine...we've been able to find nothing of this, although it supposedly lies above a mine processing area which has been converted into a holiday cottage.

Despite the best efforts of the forestry people, this small area of land high on the moors above Fairbourne is rich in signs and remains of previous activity. It's a confusing picture, not helped by some conflicting information from various sources. It's something of a puzzle.There are also several standing stones and some huge glacial erratic boulders in the trees. The mine remains are evocative and fascinating and of course, the views are stunning. The steep slopes ensure that the exploration will also be the equal to a few hours in the gym and the air is the finest in Gwynedd. And people wonder why we do this?

A glance at the Dolgellau sheet 124 OS will show that there are plentiful paths with rights of access around the site.

A chunk of sedimentary Breccia, partly metamorphosed to slate. Several blocks of this were found in the walls of the ruined buildings.

The view from the spillway of the wheel house.
Looking towards Cadair Idris from the top of the Cyfanned plantations.


Anonymous said...

That's a rather splendid monochrome shot by Petra of the farmhouse - lovely tones and textures there. I'm also keen on the photo from within the wheel pit - nice perspective.

Keep up the good work!

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham! Bloomin' rain is getting us down just now, we've a list of places to hit!

emma said...

There is no public access to the mines at all. There is one footpath which goes form Panteinion to Cyfannedd and no rights to roam on Panteinion and Cyfannedd land and forestry. You have no permission to enter or walk around the mines and we do not take any responsibility for injuries as you are tresspassing. KEEP TO PUBLIC FOOTPATH IN FUTURE.
G E Roberts & Co - Owners

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you very much for that, Emma. I appreciate your anxiety about people injuring themselves on your land, and I apologise for giving you concern.
I suppose my header photo was a bit provocative, too. Lucky you, though, having all that lovely landscape to yourself. I imagine you wouldn't like the situation north of the border where there is no law of trespass...

Charles Hawes said...

Fabulous blog with great photos. You really added to my pleasure as I wrote up my walk past the place. I hope that you won't mind me quoting you and linking to your blog from my own about The Wales Coast Path.

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, Charles, I have had a good look at your blog and it is both interesting and thorough...quite a few places I didn't know about as well. Thanks for linking to me, that is much appreciated. I will keep an eye on your blog from now on and comment when I have something interesting to say :-)

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