Our day started by walking up the very minor road towards the head of the valley. A well laid hedge hid the cwm at first, then as we turned a corner some impressive cliffs came into view. The near vertical wall of Craig Maesglase, a waterfall cascading down it's face. Our route then turned off the farm road, past a small monument to Hugh Jones, a hymnist and teacher who had spent his youth in this valley. Petra translated the Welsh for me:
"Not far from Ty'n y Braich on this road stood Murddyn Maesglasau, home of Hugh Jones the hymnist, 1749-1825."
Although "glas" would normally mean blue, in this context "Maesglasau" reads as a "green place", which certainly seems right- although Petra is open to suggestions as to a more accurate translation. As far as subsequent research goes, Maesglasau must have stood near to where the present farmhouse, named after the cliffs at the end of the cwm, now stands. It's a bit of a visual disaster in such a beautiful valley, a 1960's block of a house, surrounded by an ugly collection of concrete structures. I can forgive the farmer, however, since the standards of his land and animal husbandry were extremely high. Although I'm not sure Hugh Jones would be singing hymns about what had been built near the place he grew up in.
Our very enjoyable walk along the old mine road to the head of the valley was punctuated by the sight of several Red Kites and a Buzzard, being strafed by some irate Ravens. Petra tried to video them; a very difficult thing- we now have new respect for those TV wildlife film crews.
A run in adit lay at the side of the track, the remains of the Maes Glas Bach mine - the spoil heap was completely grown over, and occupied by a bit of farm machinery. Hard to say what was mined, but the quantity of spoil indicated a trial at best.
Then, the Red Dragon mine came into view, reached over a stile and some very boggy land. Bwlch Siglen means "The pass or notch of the bog", so fair enough. The mine sits within the slightly elevated ground of the bwlch. There were ruined buildings and evidence of several excavations. We stopped for lunch inside the mine office -a fine spot - I wondered if the manager would have had time or humour to appreciate the view - he was probably too busy trying to find something under the hill that would make the shareholders happy. Meanwhile, a tree grew out of the fireplace, the falling leaves making the light shimmer inside the ruins.
"... Perkes' machine (was) a cast iron pan, six feet diameter and three feet six inch high, in which five heavy cast iron cones revolved, worked by a central vertical shaft. Numerous working trials were made ...... one upon 50 tons of auriferous gossan. The time occupied in reduction and amalgamation was four weeks of day and night work, and the final results were a loss, by disintegration, of 50 per cent of the mercury employed, and a ultimate yield of 1½ ounces of gold, or 14 grains per ton of ore. Every attempt to extract gold from North Devon ores remuneratively by this machine proved a failure".
Not encouraging, especially as the old miners hadn't even found gold here. It was to be the 19th century equivalent of "spin". The initial prospectus issued by the promoters suggested that a "Champion Lode" of lead ore had been found; goodness knows how they then U turned and persuaded the backers to part with the cash for an expensive and relatively untried machine like Perkes'!
2S gas from the sulphuric puddles on the floor here. There seemed to be plentiful manganese ore and sulphur occuring here; but perhaps the manganese was not of sufficient quality to be worth exploiting. There was also plenty of iron pyrites, judging by the acidic orange mud and dark red gour pools on the floor. There was a false floor above us; I dearly wanted to have a look, but I felt that even to brush against the timbers here would bring the roof down. Being a fully paid up member of the yellow belly club, I contented myself with a couple of photos. Further in, there had been a collapse, blocking the way. The calcite deposits on the ends of the buried pit props showing that this had happened a considerable number of years before.
The temptation to climb to Creigiau Garn-wddog above us proved too much and we struggled up, the views opening out as I puffed and panted like an vintage steam engine. I quietly celebrated that everyone else makes a bee-line for Snowdon, the Ogwen valley or whatever...the usual beauty spot suspects. It leaves these magical, perfect places for the rest of us to enjoy, unmolested - we certainly didn't see another person all day. As a final coup, Petra then proved her legendary mine finding abilities by spotting the run-in entrance to the Bwlch Siglen mine, almost on the ridge. Now that must have been a wild spot to work, and one heck of a walk to the office, even if the views were superb!
Looking down on that wonderful cwm, I understand why Hugh Jones' thoughts turned to wonder on the meaning of life.We try to make sense of it all by wandering and enjoying the landscape, taking photos and hunting for mines. We're singing from the same sheet, I guess.
|The mine can be made out in the lower middle of the photo.|
Mindat data page on the Red Dragon
Entry about the mine in Merioneth Manganese, Dave Linton's excellent web site.
Biography of Hugh Jones