Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Mysteries of Cwm Bach

 This delightful cwm lies just to the north of Tremadog, above the village. It makes a very pleasant walk, on public footpaths, with a few old slate quarries and other industrial archaeology thrown in. We've had a couple of expeditions up here, the first last year in thick mist, making the walk quite magical and opening up unexpected vistas as the clouds were fretted by the wind. For months afterwards, when driving to Porthmadog, we kept seeing a slate tip on the hillside above Tremadog and cursed ourselves for not exploring it because of the we went back this week, in clearer weather.

Tan-yr-Allt, where Madocks lived.
It's best to start at the layby on the A498 heading towards Prenteg, at SH566403. It's a short walk to the left turn and then up hill to Tan-yr-Allt, the house that Madocks lived in. Infuriatingly, most accounts of it only mention Percy Bysshe Shelley, who lived there for a short period while Madocks was in financial trouble over the cob building project. Renting to Shelley was meant to ease Madocks' troubles, but provided him with more, as Shelley was practically run out of town for his debts and owed Madocks all the rent. The house is presently a hotel and looks very swish from the web site. One notable sight is the sculpture by internationally renowned Blaenau Ffestiniog sculptor David Nash, in the grounds of the house.

We took the road all the way to cwm bach farm, then followed a footpath uphill from it to where it makes a sharp turn to the south east, following an old road. Here is the shoulder of Y Fedw, the shark-like fin on the escarpment when seen from Boston Lodge. I was so taken with the valley here that I ran up to the top, and took a photo of Petra, standing like a miniature figure below. It was then that I noticed the tramway, dam and slate trials, in a hanging valley to the north which point I started running back down again.

The tramway is quite substantial as it runs along the line of a dry reservoir. It is thought that this was built to supply water for the mill that Madocks built in Tremadog, although there were certainly no signs of leats. Perhaps it was piped down hill. To the right of the tramway are several run-in adits and trials, none yielding very much spoil.  We walked down to the dam and descended down this close little valley, where oaks and ash trees flourished. The mist seemed to gather in this spot, making the shapes of trees loom eerily in the mist. Another dam was encountered, this one much smaller, but deeper. Interestingly, there was a run-in adit at right angles to the dam wall, using the top of the dam as a tip run.

The dry dam
The Lower Dam
 Further down and into the mist, we encountered a wonderful set of slate steps, descending in a zig-zag formation. Unfortunately, time and weather have eroded and pushed aside the lower stairs. We climbed again, following a right of way, and found ourselves back in Cwm Bach, near Tan-yr-Allt again, little knowing that we'd missed a slate quarry by a matter of yards.

On the miners path

Petra's turn to run this time, to the spoil tips above Tan-yr-Allt.
 Our next visit took us as far as the footpath that we had descended last time. We climbed up across the fields, passing a small tip and trial adit, towards to the base of the slate tips we'd seen from the road. This was a modest operation, but the tips are fairly extensive and contain many large blocks of waste. Petra spotted what could have been a pit at the lowest level, but seemed more likely to be a catchpond for water to serve one of the mills in Tremadog.

Chunks of sawn slate
We found a few bricks, marked ...Brick and Tile Company, Newtown.
 A much eroded trackway zig-zagged uphill to the main working area of the quarry. I was disappointed not to find an adit, but the place appeared to have been completely taken over by tree growth. There was much waste on the ground, and in one area fines were still deep on the floor, washed here and there by the many rivulets that had coursed over in periods of spate. We discovered many blocks that bore evidence of mechanical sawing, although the slate itself, while of the buttery texture of the finest Blaenau product, revealed shakes and waves, making it decidedly second-rate.
The place seemed to have been stripped clean of any metal, and even the remaining waliau were almost vestigial, but then Petra spotted something significant. A concrete hardstanding and mount for an internal combustion engine, complete with the bolts still cast into the concrete. That explained the sawn ends, at any rate. Curiosity satisfied, we headed back down the hill. I later discovered, from Wilkinson's Gazetteer, that the quarry was known as Cwm Bach slate Quarry, and closed in 1923.

A Brief History of Tremadog web site

The view from the quarry, without mist this time, looking over Porthmadog to the Rhinogs.

A closer view of the reservoir and the slate trials up above Cwm Bach.


weston said...

crikey you two have been busy all of a sudden lovely pics as always,i find the colours this time of year very hard to bring things out, as everything is in transition between winter /spring you certainly hit some interesting places..i must keep checking in to see what you are upto as your blog does not notify me of any updates regards wez

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Wez! Sorry that the blog email update doesn't work...blogger..pah! Looking forward to your pics from Arenig Fawr, and video no doubt. There's a nice granite quarry there too!

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