Following on from our successful recce, we took the path up from Penrhyndeudraeth into the Cae Fali Woods. However, our progress was delayed by the sound of a Ffestiniog Railway train, whistling in the distance. The railway is a familiar presence, especially in the summer within the woods, where mournful wails from the trains mingle with the calls of countless wild birds. We sat a while, weighing up where to set up a photo and munched on some chocolate brownies…well, we were going to need plenty of energy, battering through the woods later.
Until recent forestry operations, it was impossible to have this view, as the hillside was cloaked with mature Spruce trees. Incidentally, “Cei” means a quay or wall in welsh…”Cei mawr” is big wall…does what it says on the tin, really. Whereas “Cae”, as in “Cae Fali” means a field. I don’t know what “Fali” means…it has been suggested that it might be a corruption of the irish “baille” meaning valley…but that’s “dyffryn” in Welsh. It would be interesting to know.
Train spotting over, we headed into the woods, looking for the grid reference that we’d got from Wilkinson’s gazetteer. It’s never easy to pinpoint a grid ref on the ground, even with a google satellite printout. It’s the trees. Lots of them. Brambles, too, catching on your legs and making you pratfall. The ground also has a habit of being far more undulating than the innocent looking contours seem to suggest from the map. Undaunted, we followed a track which headed north through the woods. After a short while, to our surprise, a mine working opened out to our left.
The dry-stone bank, below, was our first hint of the mine. It appears to be some sort of processing area. Above, the shadowy adit glooms from behind moss covered tree limbs.
It was massively overgrown and very wet, but it was a mine. We allowed ourselves a moment’s celebration. So this was it, the eldorado of Cae Fali. Or was it? We checked our satellite printout. It appeared that we had strayed too far north west, and this mine was actually an outlier of the Pen-yr-Allt sett, aka Catherine and Jane Consols. It was a very fine place though, exuding magical mine atmosphere, still and green with moss.
The drive into the hill was curving and filled with stinking mud almost to knee level in places, but we ploughed on to the end of the drive, which terminated in a blind head. Ore was in evidence, but obviously not enough to warrant further digging. After a good root around, we headed east, through the woods to try and place ourselves nearer to the railway, where openwork is supposed to emerge from the adit which goes under the tracks. I’ll spare you the details of the journey through the trees, but we eventually emerged on a lower road, one we should have followed in the first place. A forestry haul road emerged from the right and a path to the railway. We followed, to get our bearings. The mighty Cei Mawr opened up before us, an imposing sight. I’ve been over it many times on the train, but had never seen it at first hand like this. It was massive, and all dry-stone.
Retracing our steps, we followed the haul road, as it seemed to be going in the right direction. It dipped down to the Afon Cae Fali , where a new wooden footbridge had been placed. We noticed some flourescent sprayed poles and graffiti-like marks on the ground, then realised that a new path was being made through the woods.
|The new bridge, below. Right, the other side of Cei Mawr, with the Afon Cae Fali flowing underneath.|
The new path was taking us up and on to the shoulder of an outcrop above the railway. If the openwork was anywhere, surely it would be here. Whoever was making the path was doing an excellent job. Several sets of stone steps and revetments had been constructed, solidly yet sensitively blending in with the woodland. After walking, detouring, scrambling, and falling over, being brambled and scratched, we still hadn’t found anything. The path was heading towards Tan-y-Bwlch and under the rock outcrop of Y Gysgfa, which was too far. We couldn’t find anything here that remotely resembled openwork, whether fallen in or overgrown, but the vegetation is so dense, the ground so uneven…it would be easy to miss it.
|Petra walks back down the new steps.|
Neither of us were downcast as we trudged back to Penrhyndeudraeth. I still had faith in the mine’s existence; there are many references to it out there, (even if some are oblique) and even better than that, Petra has another plan to reach the place. Watch this space! We’d had a fabulous day in some of the best countryside in Britain, we’d seen a steam train and it hadn’t rained. Oh, and we only saw one other person the whole day in the woods.