Friday, 9 September 2011

The Rocky Road to Llew Twrog

It was hot and humid in Porthmadog after we had done our weekly shop. By the time we had made it back to home the rain was drizzling in a sort of lazy, Welsh rain forest kind of way. So Petra suggested going up the Cwm to have a look at a mine we'd passed countless times but not explored. It emerges out of the side of Manod Mawr above a small tip. Not much spoil, we thought, so the mine wouldn't be big or interesting. We were wrong.

The tip for the mine is to the left of the tree, right middle. Curious layering on the rocks is caused by successive layers of air-borne molten ash laid down when the Manod was an active volcano.
 We drove up the winding road and into the hanging valley shadowed by the Manod and Carreg-y-Fran (rock of the crow). Up here it was a different story; the wind was blowing hard, making the mist whirl in wraiths. The mine is tricky to reach, as you have to cross a field of huge volcanic "tuff" boulders, some the size of trucks. Perhaps they were flung out from the volcano here, or plucked from the Manod by ice. There's a lot of them, anyway.


 I wish I knew who Llew Twrog was. What I do know is that he mined slate here, singlehandedly after the great war. He must have been local, I guess...the nickname "Twrog", suggests a local legend about a giant who threw an unfeasibly large boulder which landed in Maentwrog. So, he was possibly a big man. Not an anxious man, though. I couldn't work underground with explosives, all on my own, the way he must have done.

We sat in the improvised shelter outside the flooded adit entrance and got changed into our mining gear. The walls of the shelter utilised a couple of the aforementioned large boulders, building round them in an admirably ad-hoc manner. It was also well sheltered from the South Wester that was coming up the Cwm. As we carefully picked our way to the entrance, Petra spotted a lovely small frog ...so now we had to be careful not to disturb any more frogs, as well as try and get in the adit without slipping. Once we'd squeezed inside, the adit went on for a surprising distance under the mountain. After we'd become used to the desperate cold of the water splashing over our wellies, the mine was rather lovely...although it wasn't a good idea to imagine the huge bulk of Manod Mawr above us, all those thousands of tons of granite weighing down. I'm sure that was something Llew kept well away from his mind, too, working here day after day.

 There had been several attempts at chambering up as well as a couple of substantial roofing shafts; the adit split into two after 100 yards, both tunnels having interesting rock although little evidence of good slate. There was some Hughes bar rail attached to wooden sleepers on the floor, looking for all the world like old Hornby tin plate track. Some fine mine iron shells grew on the rail. These are curious organisms, if that is what they are. They grow out of rusty iron into the shapes of sea shells, as if a fungal organism synthesises the iron oxide for it's own use.Whatever their origin, they're very difficult to photograph!  There's currently a study by a local phd student on this topic and I await the results keenly. If anyone is thinking of braving the freezing cold water in the mine, please don't disturb the mine shells...or the frogs.


We emerged outside to the hot breath of the outer atmosphere and realised just how cold the mine had been. Standing by the entrance I noticed that the tip has a good deal of processing spoil, from trimming slates- so obviously good slate was found here. But the waste certainly doesn't seem large enough for the size of the mine.  Perhaps Llew Twrog hurled it all away on the sides of the Manod- well, it's a thought.

Factoids, courtesy of Alan John Richard's "Gazetteer of Slate Quarrying in Wales".
The mine was first opened in the 1890's, using the recently built Bwlch Slaters road down the Cwm to cart the slate to Llan Ffestiniog. 2 or 3 men worked the mine before our Llew took it over.

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1 comment:

lustrebox said...

Another interesting report, Iain. Those shells are fascinating!

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