Friday, 21 October 2011

Stumbling about in the Aberangell woods

A typical day's adventure for us comprises stumbling about, getting lost, falling into a mire or two, then eventually finding what we came to look at.
But sometimes, what's on the ground doesn't fit the information we have. Until afterwards, when I generally can't believe how I could have missed what now seems so obvious. Thankfully, Petra is very good at finding things. She usually rescues the day by discovering something that I hadn't even been aware of.

This is how things went on our expedition to find Talmeirin slate quarry, still lurking mysteriously in the woods near Aberangell. Only, I didn't mind too much. The valley where the mine hides is very close to my idea of paradise. A beautiful cwm, bounded with low, rounded hills just high enough to shield it from the rest of the world. Add a deserted and picturesque farm. File under " forgotten valley"; one that we'll certainly not forget in a long while.
The only building in the valley, the deserted Maes-y-Gamfa farm, from the forestry road.

Petra had noted on street view that we would drive through Aberangell and take a winding little unclassified road out towards Hendre Ddu. Past a lovely house where, on the Google street view, an old ginger dog sat in the road. "We'll have to be careful of the dog", I joked. I do joke occasionally, you know. It's not all archaeological angst.  As Petra steered the car through the village and up the road, there was the dog! Next time I will take a proper photo.

The Google street view image. The dog is saying: "Must I move?".

The roads in the woods here are strange. There are far too many of them, all going the same way in a profligate waste of tarmac. This culminates in a wierd junction of about five ways, hunched round a bridge like something out of "The Looking Glass". I reckon that one of the roads must be a tarmac-covered incarnation of the Hendre Ddu tramway.

Bowley's Mill
We parked, confused, in a forestry turning. As I got out of the car, I immediately saw a slate tip, where I hadn't expected to see one. We walked a little further and a mill, clearly a slate mill, came into view. I reckoned this must be Bowley's, from the Ffridd Gartheiniog pit. I wasn't completely sure, though, until Petra shouted that she'd spotted the adit. See what I mean about that girl?

View from the entrance adit
The pit from the earlier adit entrance, high above the floor.
 The pit was wonderful. It was excavated down to what looked like some chambering, but from our perch, thirty feet above at the entrance to the tunnel, we couldn't see a way down without ropes, which we didn't have. The bottom was rubbish filled, mostly scrap iron, but it didn't look too bad. I wondered about trying to find the lower adit mentioned by Richards, but the birchwood and bramble here is evil. We would need to return with chain saws, or a few hungry goats at least.
A Crab Apple tree on the Maes-y-Gamfa branch of the Hendre Ddu quarry tramway

Back on the track and we could find no sign of Talmeirin. It didn't seem to be at the grid reference we had. So we carried on along a forestry road to Maes y Gamfa, at the head of the cwm. An interesting quarry with a fine pit, thankfully not so infested with birch and conifers. There were some remains of the mill, but it seemed that most of the stone had gone into building the nearby farm's outbuildings. Elswhere, walls had fallen down. There was no sign of the ornamental slate said to be still here, although there was a strange totem pole sticking out of a slate tip.

Looking down from the tips

The valley here at the end of the cwm was beautiful. We followed a tramway from the quarry to the farm, where a sheave incline house stood above what must have been a branch of the Hendre ddu tramway. There was plenty of bridge rail and slate slab in the wall here.

Top of the incline, with the sheave winder house and obvious remains of tramway above the farm.
 By now, time was running out, so we opted to abandon the quest for Talmeirin and make a dash up the hill to try and find the Nant Cwmddu copper mine, reputedly in the woods at the top of the bwlch.

An old mule road headed steeply uphill from the farm. It was hard going in the evening heat, but the views that opened up were so beautiful that I soon forgot that I was sweating like an actor in a fifties jungle war film.
View from the mule track. Talmeirin somewhere in the woods below.

 We were skirting the Talmeirin sett on our way up, but there was still no sign of the mine. Perhaps it was hidden in the trees. We'll wait for winter, when hopefully things will be a bit more clear. Of course, when I got back and had another look at the satellite photos,  I understood the place a lot better. It was now obvious we'd missed stuff, so we will have to make another visit. We didn't find the copper mine, either, but heck, that's the fun of it. We'd found two very interesting sites, drunk in loads of finest scenery, stumbled about a bit, seen an orange dog and for once, I didn't get stuck in a mire. Surely, that's a result?

The Factoids:

Fridd Gartheiniog, ( aka Bowley's, or Hendre Coed Y Fridd) SH822117 was opened in 1850. The product was mostly slab from the Corris Narrow slate vein. There were two tunnels into the pit; we found the upper, earlier one. An enamelling oven was added to the mill in the 1920's to produce slate for mantelpieces and other architectural items. The mill was initially water-driven by a leat from the Afon Angell. We didn't find any trace of this. Later, a diesel engine supplied power for 6 saws and 3 planers. It closed in 1950.

Maes-y-Gamfa, SH818127 was opened in 1889 and was a slab quarry, working the Corris Broad vein. Closed in 1914, the mill on site was powered by a waterwheel.

Information from:
"Gazeteer of Slate Quarrying in Wales", Alun John Richards, Llygad Gwalch 2007.
Jeremy Wilkinson’s "Gazetteer and Bibliography of the Mines and Quarries of North Wales" (here)
After kicking aside some undergrowth with her mighty size 6 boots, Petra found this remnant of a forestry tramway near Bowley's mill. The sleepers were metal, and the rail 20lb flat bottom, clipped to the sleepers.

Mill remains at Maes-y-Gamfa. From a satellite view (Google Earth) it's possible to see that the mill's footprint was much larger, showing how much slate was "borrowed" by the farm!

Slate at Maes-y-Gamfa
The farmhouse, with tramway running above and to the rear.

The Gartheiniog adit
Sylvan delight at Maes-y-Gamfa. Mill buildings in the middle distance. Left is a stream issuing from the pit.


Mark A said...

Excellent as ever. I particularly like the second black and white shot. And I spent a happy 40 minutes retracing your steps on Google Maps and Satellite... I even found the ginger dog! Where exactly are the quarry workings in relation to Bowley's Mill. The building is obvious on Google Satellite, but the workings are not, no doubt due to their overgrown nature as you describe.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much indeed, Mark. Really glad you enjoyed the article & photos. The Quarry workings are just a little way up the road from the mill... If you go to "Where's the path?"
and type in SH82243 11756 that is just about exactly it. There's an adit a little off to the left in the trees and at least one more in the woods...I will try and photo them when we go back - if you don't beat me to it!.

Mark A said...

Thanks Iain. I assume the tramway route is the line now followed by the public footpath on the far side of the workings from the road? Strange that the right of way stops in the middle of nowhere too. There must be a reason for that. Thanks also for the link to 'Where's the Path'. I was unaware of that site. You will beat me to the location. You have the advantage of living about 130 miles closer to it than I do!

Anonymous said...

Nice one, Iain! Certainly looks like you had a very fine day for it.

I especially like the framing in 'View from the entrance adit' and the textures in 'Slate at Maes-y-Gamfa' are great.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Mark. Yes, the tramway line does follow the footpath. What the satellite and the map don't make clear is that the tramway follows the river for a while on a revetted embankment before elevating towards Talmeirin. It's been "improved" out by agriculture for a short length, but then you pick it up again. The footpath is marked at the layby at SH82264 11219, a continuation of the permissive way, which I suspect is the Hendre Ddu tramway. That branches off west towards Hendre Ddu, for which a trip is planned!

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Graham, yes, we had some great weather...nothing like it since :-( Glad you liked the photos!

Dan Crow said...

Hi Iain. I'm a huge fan of your blog and of the Hendre Ddu Tramway. I've got a little more information on the track you found at Gartheiniog Mill (aka Bowley's Mill). The track is about 20 lbs/yard weight, not 70lbs/yard as stated in the caption. 70lbs would be very heavy for semi-portable 2ft gauge track panels.

More interestingly, the track you found was laid by the Forestry Commission in the early 1950s - about the same time they laid the Afon Cwm Caws railway. There was about 200 yards of track around the mill building, which was being used for timber preparation. The hand-worked railway was in use until the early 1970s and remained in place until around 1981. It wasn't anything to do with the Hendre Ddu Tramway or slate extraction, except that it occupied part of the trackbed of the branch up to Bowley's pit.

I'm also the owner of a Facebook group on the tramway, which includes some more photos and discussion of Gartheiniog. I'd be delighted if you wanted to join in at:

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much Dan for the information and for the nice comments! The information is most helpful and I will amend the blog in the light of it. You will no doubt have seen my post on the Hendre Ddu mine later in the blog.

I shall go and look at your Facebook site.
Thanks again for your input, very much appreciated!

John Davison said...

Has anyone found any remains of a house Hendre Meredith uphill from the Ffridd Gartheniog works building ?

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