Friday, 16 September 2011

Where there's a wheel, there's usually a mine...

Looking towards Porthmadog from Caerwych
 On the spur of the moment after work, we decided to have a look for a couple of old copper mines in the Coed Caerwych, high in the hills above Talsarnau. After negotiating a couple of miles of very narrow single track roads and occasionally meeting drivers who clearly felt they were immortal, we left the car near a very pretty lake, Llyn Tecwyn Isaf. From there, it was a very steep climb up the road to Hendre Cerrig, where we thought the mines might be. The views, across to Porthmadog and even as far as the Rivals on the Llŷn, were spectacular. This is the northern end of the Rhinogiau, and we'd climbed over 250 metres in a short space of time to reach the Coed Caerwych. Unfortunately, between us and the mines was a precipitous and thickly wooded ravine so, ever the optimists, we walked on along the road in the hope of something developing...and it did.


A large stone structure came into view just as we left the woodland. Above us, the typical rugged scenery of the Rhinogs began to play out. But here was something that had our mine senses tingling...as we approached, it became obvious that this was a wheel house. For a mighty water wheel; judging by the height of the walls, it could well have been 25 feet in diameter. To the west of the back wall was a flattened area, possibly a processing floor.


At this point, I rolled out all-purpose amateur archaeology cliche no.1. "Where there's a wheel, there's a mine". We looked around and sure enough, a well made mule road climbed, almost like an incline, up the hill and away south east from the woodland. So this had nothing to do with the Caerwych mines; they were back over the ravine to the north east. As we walked up the track, Petra looked back and pointed out the ghosted marks of machinery bases in the grass. There were other structures dotted around; they could have been farmhouses, but one thing was certain, this remote little valley had been very busy at one point, probably in the early years of the C19.



After another steep climb up the mule track, crossing a dinky little slate slab bridge, we left the trees and came out on to the rocky wastes of the moor above. Almost immediately, what looked like an adit faced us across a soggy field. It was filled with an impenetrable growth of gorse, hawthorn and birch, but somehow, Petra managed to carve a way through the jungle to recce and photo the scene. A shaft, flooded. Not very deep, judging by the size of the tip. Here, cliche no. 2 was utilised. "Adits often run uphill on a lode." It didn't look hopeful, but I ran up the steep slope to see.


Sure enough, a further four holes appeared. One looked like a good adit, with a substantial tip, but unfortunately it had run-in. Two more were fenced off with some serious paling; although the thick jungle of gorse (obviously climax vegetation in these parts) would have ensured that no-one without a pro-grade chain saw could have entered.

Looking towards Blaenau Ffestiniog and Manod Mawr in the middle distance from adit no.2.


Finally at the top of the site, another ancient run-in adit was serving as a sheep moot. I didn't want to disturb them, as we could see that there was nothing of mine interest there. The light was now failing, so we made a quick dash for a view from the top of the hill and then made our way down.  The climb had been sore on the feet and Petra decided to remove her boots and cool her toes in the stream back in the valley. There was a handy set of stepping stones across the stream to sit on...at which point, we noticed a track lurking in the gloaming, going off in the direction of the Caerwych mines, into the woods. There was even a Woodland Trust notice about it. How could we have missed that earlier?

Back home, maps out, online databases whirring, we discovered that the mine we'd found was the Y Gryn mine, a copper mine. Hendre Coed had been rather coy, turning up little apart from a grid reference, which at least tallied with what we'd seen. So far, I've not been able to find any information about it, yet it must have been a sizeable concern, especially with that waterwheel. There were no processing tips in the valley, near the wheel. Maybe we hadn't found them yet, or maybe the mine was one of those investment bubbles that grew and quickly popped in the early C19 without ever making any money. Now we'll have to come back, to solve the mystery and find the Caerwych mine...again.

Adits: SH64403 36181

Waterwheel: SH64598 36549




4 comments:

Mark A said...

A fascinating piece with some great photographs. What it underlines is just how much of our landscape has been influenced by economic activity one one sort or another, and how evidence of human activity can be found in seemingly the remotest of locations in the UK. There are, I suspect, no true wilderness landscapes left in the UK.

Iain Robinson said...

Yes, agreed, Mark. The landscape above this particular place was dotted with ancient settlements and looking on google earth there are numerous ancient hut circles and strange depressions on the ground. It all makes for a fascinating hobby, trying to interpret all the marks and signs left on the land's surface.

geotopoi said...

Nice find with that rather robust looking wheel house! Were there any launder pillars there?

"Back home, maps out, online databases whirring" - brilliant, I have a mental picture of some rather steampunk mechanical information-retrieval contraptions...

Iain Robinson said...

Ah, Steampunk! Welcome to my world! If only one could have a steam computer...

We did look for launder pillars, without success. There was a good-going stream running down beside the mule track, which looked as if it had been diverted at one point...I guess the launder could have been a wooden one.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...