Then we smelt it. Mixed with the familiar tang of damp slate, another, unpleasant overtone, becoming stronger. There was a gentle through draught in the passage. No doubt a shaft, or a connection to another adit was helping the mine breathe, so I wasn't too concerned about the build up of noxious gases. It was, however, becoming worse by the minute and as we entered a chamber, the sad, fly-blown skeleton of a dead sheep lay in a maggot-filled puddle. Not a healthy place to be. Light was coming from a shaft thirty feet up in the roof, so that explained the presence of the woolly visitor. I hope her death was a swift one.
Retracing our steps, the air became instantly clearer and we took a turn away from the smell, further into the mine. Again, a gentle draught was passing through this part of the workings. Rails were still on the floor in most of the passages, properly jim-crowed rather than simply laid as chords around a circle.Several chambers opened up, some with galleries above from lost adits. The pointwork was interesting, reminiscent of Dinorwig practice with open, cast iron frogs/crossings. This small remnant of the mighty Cwmorthin workings (lying further below) makes an enjoyable wander, and will be much nicer once the sheep is re-cycled by the resident wildlife. It may take a while.
The shattered remains of Cwmorthin are like any mine that has been untopped, leaving a confused jumble of rock with, here and there, a hint of what might have been. Unlike over the hill at the Oakley quarry, here almost as much has been saved as has been lost - many of the mighty underground chambers are still intact, although gradually crumbling from the effects of water and subsidence. There is a group dedicated to the care of the mine, the "Friends of Cwmorthin" and it is thanks to them that the mine remains open. Like the fragile rock underground, access agreements often lie in a delicate balance and it is thanks to the "friends" that goodwill continues between the land-owners, the park and us explorers.
The shattered upper slopes of the quarry are well-worth exploration too, containing several galleries and adits- there are some unguarded shafts, so care must be taken on the very steep ground.
It was one such adit that we explored on our evening jaunt described here. As usual, Ian Adams had tipped us off about the mine- I'm embarrassed to admit that it is only twenty minutes from our house and once, six years ago, we ate lunch almost outside the entrance without noticing it. No, actually, I went to Spec*****s, I think that's the problem...
Friends of Cwmorthin
Video by Ian Adams, this is one of his UCET productions- excellent.
Some more photos: