Monday, 14 November 2011

Tarren-y-Gesail Slate Quarry

One of Petra's finds, this ancient slate quarry sits at the head of a cwm above Pantperthog, near Corris. We started our trek from a car park in the forestry, at SH747045. From there a forest road climbs up above the Nant Siambar Wmffre towards the head of the cwm. It's an easy route, although the road becomes rather steep at times.  I was astonished to see that the "Google street view" camera van had been up and around the forestry loop here- although signs clearly say that non-forestry vehicles are not allowed. Makes for a nice virtual tour anyway, so thanks, Google!

The forest road was beautiful when we walked it in autumn sunshine and the cwm is another one of those idyllic places that Wales does so well. Towards the headwall of the cwm, the bulk of Tarren-y-Gesail looms mightily. Hard to imagine that a few miles over the hill are the mines of Bryn Eglwys and lovely Llyn Talyllyn. An odd, wild-west type wooden building sits on a knoll by the road at Hafodty (summer dwelling)- on the large scale OS it is marked as a hostel. I thought it had the look of an old mine barracks, but then I would, wouldn't I?

Eventually, the forest road does a sharp dog's leg turn to the right. This is the signal to go left, leave the road and climb up to the mine. At SH7207106043, a stile with a sign leads on to a good track, with small footbridges to cross a couple of streams. I don't really like my tracks sanitised like this, but after a few days of soggy bog-bumping recently, we were both glad of the help. The mine is immediately apparent, the spoil tips showing as brown-grey outcrops.

The lower pit. The adit can just be seen, lurking in the gloom.
The full soggyness of the adit in the pit.
 This part of the mine is the old workings. It seems that it was an ancient site, probably first worked in the 18th century. Later, in the 1850's, work began again to open up the original pit. Richards* suggests that this was done because it was on a packhorse route, which the present footpath seems to follow.

The workings here are fascinating, with three interesting adits, remains of weigh houses and other structures, and two impressive pits. We explored the lower one first, at SH720850759. It was very boggy indeed, containing a flooded adit which was well up to tummy height. I wallowed around at the opening, becoming stuck in the mud, but managed a photo, above.

The upper pit tunnel

Looking in...
 Opencuts head up the slope, but at this point we made for the upper pit, which has a nice access tunnel at SH7201905767. The pit here is small, but mighty deep and has a fetching marooned adit in the wall. In the gloom below can be seen another adit entering. The vegetation here consists of drenched, hanging fronds of grass and moss, feeling a little like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. There's certainly enough danger in the pit, as the drop is never far away on the ledge.
Petra inside the upper pit
The marooned adit
Lower access adit to the second pit.

 We went looking for the adit seen below in the pit, and found it at SH7209605799. It was an attractive proposition, but very, very muddy, again up to chest height. It looked as if it might have carried on, although Richards describes the adits as collapsed. An old weigh house sits beside the portal, commanding a fine view across the valley to Tarren Cadian, where another old mine supposedly lies. We were going to have a look for it, but ran out of time. Hmmm... I do so miss those long summer days!

From the weigh house
stocks of cut slates
These workings, as far as we can make out from the evidence on the ground, are the first, ancient workings. There are serried piles of slate in a stockyard, much degraded, and of a friable, ochreous nature that surely didn't split easily. We sat on the cei mulod near the adit and surveyed the scene as a buzzard wheeled above us. I imagined the old miners, loading up the poor old mules with slate, and wondered what it had looked like without all the trees across the valley. Probably pretty wild. There's a ruined house further down called Ty'n'Rhos (house on the heath/moor) which is now engulfed by sitka spruce. It must have been a windy spot.

After we'd demolished our sandwiches, we headed up the hill to the southern and more modern (mid 1800's) part of the site. Here, an impressive pit opens out at the brow of the hill, with a couple of untopped adits leading in. These were probably the very first workings here, since the tips are well encrusted with moss and lichen.

The southern pit, entrance tunnel just visible.

Below, a nice line of buildings front a tunnel into the pit. Disappointingly, although light could be seen at the end of the tunnel, it was too deeply flooded- memo to self, rolling up my trousers and wearing wetsocks doesn't cut it.  As it was, I still got a soggy backside, to Petra's amusement. However, I wasn't the one who had to be hauled out of the mud later on...

The buildings here are lovely, with another stock of slightly better quality slates lying on the ground. There's the remains of what looks like a slate saw and some kind of  trimming apparatus. Cut ends of slabs in the tip show evidence of sawing. There were some impressive slabs here, too, although how the heck they would have transported these down to the valley is beyond imagination.

A sawn chunk of slab
Gloaming view down to the lower adit
The lower adit here is in some ways the best of all. There is a super, small mill (?) building, containing a fine wheel and some other bits of metal. Massive slabs lie against the building, flanking the run to the portal. This adit is stable and mud-free, although I can vouch that the water is at waist height. By now, the light was fading and we had to reluctantly save any more exploration for another time, when waterproof leggings or at least a change of jeans will be brought!

The walk back down the forestry road was magical; the light was fading as the sun sank low, filaments of cirrus clouds reflecting a rose coloured glow. Woodland birds settled down with mysterious calls from the trees and our buzzard kept an eye out for a late snack, high up above. We noticed a couple of old farmsteads, ruined at the side of the track, making me wonder if this had indeed been the original pack horse route. We spotted this mysterious relic at SH7365405415, at a ruin called Ysgubor.

We found the mine site fascinating, but couldn't interpret some of the things Richards mentions in his book, no doubt due to our inexperience and lack of knowledge, although the description he gives is somewhat opaque. I couldn't work out what he described as the old quarry as opposed to the new. But this is why exploring is such fun; there's always something else to find and try to understand. As always, I voiced my oft-repeated cry- we'll be back!

One or two factoids.

The quarry is also known as "Darren" although this is probably a corruption of the original name. It appears in mine records as both.

The wheel in the lower adit could be the "hand cranked saw" that Richards mentions.

The forest here is apparently Wales' first organically managed sustainable forest.

One of the photos in the AditNow database shows the buildings at the mouth of the southern adit still standing. This was taken in 2008, showing how the process of decay continues apace. Link


*Gazeteer of Slate Quarrying in Wales, Alun John Richards, Llygad Gwalch, ISBN 1-84524-074-X

Wilkinson's Gazeteer of mines

Adit Now database

Where's the Path?

A window at the "new" mill. Modern windmills, seen from a 19th century perspective
An apparatus for holding the blacksmith's bellows.
That's all for now...


weston said...

I dont know what to say...just magic!

Anonymous said...

What an amazing set of images. I know that at least one of my ancestor was a miner in Wales before he came to the US, so I really enjoyed the tour here. And such beautiful country. Thank you so much for sharing.

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you Wez :-) Very pleased that you enjoyed the blog!

Katie, thanks very much for stopping by. Your ancestors...well, those miners were really tough, the conditions they worked under were such that nobody would do that hat's off to them. We certainly never forget how lucky we are having this on our doorstep.

Mark A said...

Fascinating, and an excellent set of pictures. The days might be shorter, but the light is better for photography, as some of these images demonstrate.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Mark. The older part of the mine was in shadow a great deal of the time, but once we got to the other side of the hill and the newer mine, the light was much sweeter. And yes, you're right about the shorter days- that's definitely a good thought to console myself with!

Anonymous said...

Nice work, as ever, Iain. Some interesting artefacts there.

I'm especially liking the framing of two of the shots - the first one, with the irregular, jagged silhouette contrasting with the rounded form of the hill on the skyline; and the mill window with its rectangular aperture offering views out onto the conifer serrated curve.

And a bonus slideshow, too!

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you Graham, glad you liked the shots! Those two shots you mention were almost unconscious ones, where I didn't have to think very hard. When I start to think about what I'm doing,it all goes pear shaped...

The slide show- never let it be said that you don't get value for money on this blog!

Hageta said...

I am back. This site is wonderful. The photos are great. It has been a while since we last communicated. I enjoy your site very much. New pictures and stories are excellent. Thank you for sharing.

Iain Robinson said...

Welcome back! Thank you for your very kind comments.

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