If you go up to the woods today….
As promised, here are some more photos from our rumble in the jungle above Betws-y-Coed. Coed being the word, as this is definitely a place you can only explore when there are no leaves on the trees!
It's a fascinating site, despite mother nature's aggressive repossession of what was once hers. From the road at SH 78705662 we headed along a forestry access road which runs steadily uphill towards the workings. As we walked up, we could see the remains of a very obvious, long incline leading to a junction with the road, where slate was carted to the railway station. Parts of the incline have been adopted by farmers, but the wall on each side gives the game away.
Once in the woods, past a large covered holding tank for drinking water, the track split and we took the right hand path into the quarry. There was a plan several years ago for the National Park to take these woodlands over and consolidate the ruins as the National Trust have done so sensitively at Cefn Coch, but sadly this has not come to pass. The main area is fenced off, although a public right of way does cut through the site, affording glimpses into the workings.
I have to confess that curiosity overcame us and we put on our safety gear and climbed over a gate into the quarry itself, into a magical lost world of decay and neglect, where brambles grabbed for our ankles and wild rose thorns tore at our clothing. It was worth the scratches and torn jeans, though. There were plenty of things lurking in the trees to wonder at and try to interpret. A lovely old weigh house, a tunnel through a tip bastion...a ruined aqueduct...until we reached the main mill, looking now like some eccentric overgrown walled garden. There were enough clues, though. The walls were built with big chunks of slate, still bearing the marks of a Hunter saw. We found an inscription from when the place was surveyed by Plas Tan-y-Bwlch students, while in the big mill, a rusty overhead conveyor strode aimlessly across the space. It was eerie standing there in the herbage, trying to imagine the area as a working slab mill.
We found an incline in the jungle behind the mill and made our way up to a level where a Denbigh style sheave was buried in the ground with two remote levers to control it at the crimp. A weigh house lay before an opening to a tunnel which led into the pit. The pit was of a considerable size, and yet even in early spring, it was impossible to get any idea of the scale of the place due to the sheer growth of birch trees in the sheltered conditions afforded by the defile. We explored the various levels, my favourite one being the earliest, topmost level, where a shattered drumhouse lay atop an almost completely overgrown incline.
The forge and barracks, too, were of great interest, beset by tree growth, the forge chimney still proudly stumping up through the herbage.
It is still a complex site and it took us several hours to study everything. Personally, I didn't mind the place being so overgrown, it added a sense of enchantment and poignancy to the ruins. That's what nature does best, anyway- and it would be terrible if everything was preserved and sanitised for the empty gaze of the disinterested tourist. It's a dangerous place, behind the fence, with some scary drops for the unwary, but a lovely, bewitching part of the woods nevertheless.
Given the current government's antipathy to the environment and anything that doesn't turn a profit, the National Park is unlikely to receive help to take the woods over any day soon and the quarry will slowly decay and, to my eyes at least, become ever more fascinating as it does so.
The quarry is sometimes referred to locally as Fodlas and is at SH780560.
The pit was first opened in 1855-60 under the auspices of C.E. Spooner, of Ffestiniog Railway fame, and his brother J. S. Spooner.
In 1860 it was taken over by a consortium which included Sir Daniel Gooch of the GWR, whose son became the quarry manager.
The output of the quarry varied, with slates produced as well as large slabs for lintels and cills. A look around the victorian houses of Betws will reveal many door lintels and window cills bearing Hunter Saw marks from this quarry. Latterly, some enamelling was done, and slate lined enamelling tanks are found near the mill area.
The mill itself was initially powered by a pair of 30 foot waterwheels in series, running a variety of machinery, notably the eponymous Hunter Saws. The wheels were converted to turbines in 1896, using water from Llyn Elsi.
The mill buildings, with their intriguing corbelled openings, were designed by Henry Gooch. The earlier mill which adjoins to the west was probably designed by Spooner.
The quarry closed in 1929, leaving two huge pits worked on six levels. Two adits lead into the pits.