Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Silence is Golden: the mines of Cefn Coch

The Grotto in Cefn Coch South West Mine

There's an area on our Google Earth map which has become thick with digital thumbtacks lately. The bit I'm talking about is a couple of square miles of moor near to Ganllwyd, between Trawsfynydd and Dolgellau. That's right- gold country. There are several recorded gold mines within this area and it certainly looked promising from the satellite view. There was just one thing bothering me about the place. It's owned by the National Trust.

I'm glad that people enjoy National Trust sites, and I appreciate that they keep them for us. I just like my mines wild and woolly, preferably without other people around to criticise us for going underground. I'd already made a mental picture of the gift shop and tea room as Petra drove up the narrow road.

Petra appreciates the workmanship
 The road wound up through oak and birch, past a group of obvious mine buildings, kept in good repair yet rather romantically ruinous, if you know what I mean. We didn't meet another vehicle. Parking up quickly on a flat area, a well-kept path awaited. It led us to a stile over an otherwise lethal barbed wire fence, thence to a one-of-a-kind bridge over the Nant Las, made from a tree trunk sawn in half. High quality work, to be sure. The moors awaited us, in all their wildness! Maybe this NT lark was going to be ok after all.

Then I heard a high pitched voice behind me, followed by a chorus of excited chatter. A group of  20 or so "silver ramblers" * clambered over the stile and started to look around them, taking in great hearty draughts of air and saying things like "ah, yes, ahem!" and "Come along, Marjory!".  I looked balefully towards Petra, but she had already clambered over another stile in a wall. I followed, and there, shadowed in the decency and privacy of a huge glacial erratic, we had our lunch. After a suitable interval and lashings of ginger beer, we emerged from our fortress of solitude, to find the ramblers slowly heading off.

 We climbed up to the first set of mine buildings, which were fascinating. There had obviously been a great deal of conservation done here, leaving a set of ruins which can still be realistically interpreted. This was the site of the New California mine processing area. Settling pits and a blacksmiths' shop could be seen, along with a fine magazine.

The Magazine

 Then, without warning, those stealthy ramblers were all around us again... they'd doubled back up the path and were now dogging our every step. P and I hared off in the opposite direction uphill again, noting with relief that Marjory and her friends were now finally moving away downhill. It reminded me of the time that we'd had our lunch at Rhosydd, far away from the mill area on a big rock. A party of about thirty folk made a bee line for us and started to lunch within a few feet. I suppose folk are naturally gregarious...only, I'm not.

One blessing from our hasty retreat was that we discovered what I thought might be a prehistoric structure. Possibly a long house, or barrow, I pompously postulated. We climbed up it, to find that it was a dam for a reservoir serving the mill's great waterwheel. Then it was a very steep walk, until the first of the Cefn Coch adits came into view. We didn't see the ramblers again that day; from then on all we saw were sheep and RAF jets roaring over.

The adits themselves open up on a lode going steeply uphill, and range from classic types with an entrance like a hobbit hole, to more exciting variations, a bit like a Derbyshire "Rake", where a great gouge is made in the lode, worked downwards and uphill until underground. All were ring-fenced securely, (and one at the bottom of the hill, probably New California, was gated as a bat roost). The two adits that we explored were very fine. I just had a feeling that we were missing something. I'd watched Henllan's video of his and Wezchef's explore of the site and things didn't seem to tally. Never mind, we made it to the topmost hole, where the views were beautiful, across to the Arenigs, and to Snowdon in the distance. Across the valley, the settling ponds of the Glasdir copper mine were evident in some recently felled forest. Looking at the view made me realise just how much of this landscape is indeed covered in conifer forest. And how much we rely on sheep to keep the rest of it clear of the birch scrub that would be the other climax vegetation.

Top of the World Ma!
 We were well satisfied with our exploits now, and wandered off downhill, finding a rough track to help us navigate. It was then that I noticed several more adits. We'd been over five hours wandering round the site and had only just scratched the surface. We walked past the lower adits, noting where the tips were for future reference. If only I had paid more attention to that video...you did mention all this, Henllan...

There was a simple path from the bottom of the hill that took in all the adits. It was the one that our friends the ramblers were taking. We could have saved some time, although we wouldn't have found that "neolithic" reservoir...That'll teach us to be anti-social! The site is a really fine one for anyone with an interest in industrial archaeology. It covers the sites of Berthlwyd, New California, Cefn Coch and Cefn Coch South West as well as Cae Gwyn. From the satellite, a tramway can be seen running north, worthy of further exploration on the ground.

In conclusion, a great site and one that the NT actually deserve a great deal of credit for as it is very sensitively managed. It's also NT access code 8, which allows you to wander at will. I guess they don't  mean in the adits, but never mind. Watch this space for more photos when we go back!

*(I can get away with saying that because I've gone grey too-prematurely, of course!)

Yours truly, by Petra
Looking inbye, from the Grotto.

That glacial erratic.


Mark A said...

Excellent again. I particularly like the black and white images. They have a luminosity that is frequently lacking in digitally produced black and white work.

And I am pleased to learn that I am not alone in my dislike of sharing the landscape with passers by. I even get twitchy photographing the abbey ruins across the road. Which is a bit of a problem given the number of dog walkers about even early in the morning.

My best rambler moment came in Rhosydd some years ago. I was poking about around the Level 9 adit entrance in somewhat moist weather, when down the adjacent incline came what from their accents I took to be a transatlantic coach party, complete with loud tracksuits, trainers and see-through plastic macs. Quite what they were doing up there eluded me. Perhaps they were looking for a Tea Shoppe?

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Mark. Glad you enjoyed the post. There was a period when I had a film SLR that I shot nothing but mono, and I'm slowly coming back to that frame of mind for the reasons that you give.

Yes, it's reassuring to hear you are like us. I find it very intrusive when people come up and give their views gratuitously about something. Your experience sounds like a moment from a Monty Python sketch-brilliant!

The gentleman who decided to treat me like a ten year old and tell me (with many inaccuracies) all about the Rhosydd tramway at the top of the incline will remember me still, I suspect!

Anonymous said...

Your comments both strike a chord with me too - us loners have got to stick together ;-)

"Come along, Marjory" says it all.

Another fine report, Iain. My favourites this time have got to be the top photo of the grotto and the contrejour one of yourself.

Keep up the good work!

Petra said...

Thanks, Geotopi! 'us loners have to stick together' :D
Iain's away for a week... I'm tending the blog. :)
Love your photos!

weston said...

Once again the pictures are top class,you can look at a picture sometimes and it means nothing,but yours are there with what it is if you see what i mean,hard to explain,shall i just say say pictures 10out of 10 a lot easier.your lights seem to be capturing the natural colors under ground although we don't actually know what the natural colour is with day light,any way i digress...a brilliant trip recorded wonderfully

Petra said...

Hiya Weston :)
I read out your comment to Iain over the phone(he's away for a wee while)and he was really thrilled. He says to thank you for such a lovely comment and to tell you he always thoroughly enjoys your videos and follows your blog with great interest.

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