Sunday, 4 December 2011

In the shadow of the Rhinogs: Moel-y-Gwartheg and Wern Fach

Cefn Clawdd, with Foel Penolau behind, seen from Wern Fach.
 After a hiatus of something like twenty five years, I returned to Cwm Crawcwellt, just at the foot of Moel Ysgyfarnogod. The purpose of the first visit had been to climb one or two of the Rhinogiau, although the experience had been spoiled somewhat by being bitten by a farm dog and then verbally abused by the farmer for straying (by about twenty yards) off the public footpath.

Well, I'm older, wiser and a lot uglier now, which makes it all the more surprising that Petra wanted to accompany me on this jaunt- perhaps it was because there was the promise of two slate mines- hey, one was even near a road!

The drive up the Cwm was easy, taking the turning off the A470 after the power station at SH7105034535 We drove past the waters of Llyn Trawsfynydd with me taking cheap shots, pretending that I could see the water glowing. We did actually see a purple coloured sheep, but it was the result of the farmer using some odd kind of dye. Strange, concrete lined canals run over the landscape here, rather incongruously, since even at the valley floor level, the country is pretty wild. They aren't the remains of some scheme by Telford to tap the slate wealth of the region though, rather a sign of the voracious appetite that the decommissioned power station has for cold water to cool it's spent reactors.

The adit
 As the road climbed up from the valley floor, the geology of the Rhinogs began to make itself felt with dolerite sills exposed above slaty outcrops, making a stepped series of plateaux. The first quarry soon came into view at SH6836233619. This was Cefn Clawdd, (or Wern Fach according to Wilkinson's Gazetteer). There was a substantial tip, showing signs of having later been used for hard core. An adit ran from the road straight in to the hillside. It was very wet and blocked by rubbish, so we walked up to where the pit lay open to the grey, churning sky.

The exit adit was completely blocked by the rubbish. Obviously the concept of recycling hasn't reached this part of Wales yet.
 It was quite a fine working, although the most astonishing thing about it was the sheer quantity of rubbish that it contained. I hadn't noticed, while I was gazing in awe at the immense variety of discarded stuff, that we had been joined by some wild mountain ponies. They had a foal with them who seemed fascinated by us, although nervous of coming too close. I felt ashamed that these lovely creatures had to share the hillside with the discarded agricultural weedkiller containers and other detritus that hadn't quite made it into the pit. It wasn't even as if the place was a local dump, as it would have taken a determined trip with a tractor to get up there in the first place. Anyway, I'm sorry for ranting. Shaking our heads sagely, we returned to the car, and could see the next objective on the hillside across the valley.

The view across the tips to the Moel-y-Gwartheg mine, on the horizon at top left.
 Petra had a plan to access the mine, Moel-y-Gwartheg, from over the hill at Graigddu isaf, where there is a National Trust owned forest. The car park is at SH6839 3019. We could see the mighty, cloud shadowed bulk of Rhinog Fach from here, and the bwlch towards Cwm Nantcol to the west. We picked our way in a little-walked direction towards the north east shoulder of Crawcwellt. We could see that the ponies had been here, but there were no other signs of life apart from the occasional spoor of foxes. Then, the weather decided to hurl some industrial grade hail and sleet at us as we bog-hopped over the very difficult terrain. I'd left my boots up north on one of my Aberdeen trips and had been forced to buy some wellies, but now was glad of them as I sank calf deep into freezing gloop. Somehow Petra managed, in her customary way, to skip lightly over the pingas, while I gave a good impression of a tired Clydesdale horse.

Moel-y-Gwartheg, looking towards Trawsfynydd. No dead fridges or settees here!

After what seemed hours in the freezing sleet, we made it to the quarry. On any other day it would have been very interesting; there was a blocked adit, some opencuts and a very nice keyhole shelter with alcoves, where we cowered and had lunch. After a desultory recce, we reluctantly headed off back to the car park. Had I been warmer, I might have had a go at the adit, wet as it was, but the warm autumn weather had made me soft. I was glad my son wasn't with me, he'd have told me to "man up". For the record, the quarry is at SH68106 31947, and seems to have been worked entirely by hand. There's no evidence of sawing or a tramway, and Richards reckons that slates were taken away on the backs of the men that quarried them. I would have thought they might have used mules, although the terrain is hopelessly boggy.

Petra in the keyhole shelter. Quarry pit in the background, with an adit over to the right.

We returned to the car as the skies began to resemble a scene from Mordor. I opened the gate for Petra to drive the mighty minemobile out, and noticed that someone had emptied the contents of their car's cabin at the side of the road. A Costa's cardboard coffee cup, some energy drinks, crisp bags, etc etc. Pretty much what had been in our car too...but I got rid of ours in the bin at home. So let me get this straight. These people came all this way to walk in and enjoy the beautiful scenery, yet they have such little respect for it that they decide to dump their junk as they leave. Here I go again, I'm becoming middle aged. I'll be buying slippers from the Radio Times next.

On the gate towards Graigddu ichaf
The remains of an interesting shelter at Cefn Clawdd.
A warning sign at Cefn Clawdd. Quite eloquent, really.


Anonymous said...

I've never understood the rubbish dumping thing either. I guess that we're so used to the idea that 'someone else' will sort it out that we don't stop to think that it may be better to just deal with our own stuff. At least Germany has a deposit on most bottles so there's a motivation to bring them back instead of throwing them onto the ground.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Andy. I've always thought that it was eminently sensible to offer a return on bottles, makes even more sense now. I've reported the pit to the local council now...although I doubt anything will be done.

Anonymous said...

When you said "It was very wet and blocked by rubbish", my initial thought was of spoil. But then I saw the photo. Real rubbish. What a disgrace that is.

And decommissioning of nuclear reactors - I happened to discover today that it will take two years to defuel Wylfa, followed by 13 years on 'preparations for care and maintenance' !

Slippers sound good. Fur-lined, front-zippered bootee ones?

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks Graham. Yes, fur lined slippers. Royal Stewart tartan I think...

I put a photo of the pit up in the Adit Now forum and was shocked to see the response....apparently all over the country there are rubbish filled mines and pits like this.

Ah, yes, Wylfa...13 years for care and maintenance, plus a few hundred for readings to calm down lol

Anonymous said...

At Dounreay they reckon it will be a century before the site can be finally declared safe (and that's only because the really nasty material has been taken 'somewhere else' to glow for the next thousand years or so.

I don't understand how a power station that is productive for 40 years then has to be cleaned up for a century can be considered 'economical'

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Andy. Yes, it defies logic. The only sense it makes is when you factor in brown envelopes and dirty dealings within the corridors of political power. Nuclear is a very short-sighted solution, taken by people with no consideration for those who have to clean up our mess. I don't like windmills much, but they are the best hope we've got at the moment.

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