Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Hendre Ddu, the Slate Quarry hidden in the Mirkwood...

 Yes, another expedition into the dark legions of trees west of Aberangell, to find the long lost Hendre Ddu slate mine. As always, the adventure began by a few words of greeting to the ginger dog who keeps his post at the end of the tramway. (see previous article here). The road through the forestry uses, for the most part, the trackbed of the Hendre Ddu tramway, constructed in 1857. It was a narrow gauge feeder line from the quarry to the standard gauge Mawddwy Railway.. Deeper into the forest, the tramway splits into several strands as branches go off to various quarries- Fridd Gartheiniog, Maes y Gamfa, Tal-y-Meirin, Coed Cwm Caws, etc.

Tramway Junction
 We parked the car and walked on, following the "main line" which is signed to Hendre Cottages, themselves the surviving barracks for the quarry. It's well worth walking this section as there is much of interest to the mining enthusiast along the way, with old trials and levels appearing at the side of the tramway. The farm of Gartheiniog is passed, with it's outbuildings constructed of what looks like slate waste, then the foot of the incline from Hendre Ddu is reached, all but obscured by those mischief makers, the forestry commission. The trees are mature and very tall here, no doubt due for clear felling soon, heralding more chaos and difficulty, but perhaps the site will be easier to interpret.

Looking East from Hendre Cottages. The rain kept off...just!
 The forestry extraction road does a zig-zag up the slopes of Mynydd Hendre Ddu towards the mill. From here it's possible to see the tramway snaking along the valley. Sadly, the mill area has been cleared by our sitka-loving friends, leaving little but foundations, there being no sign of the turbine bases, or the mill which Richards says had 18 saws, 10 planers and a "Jenny Lind polisher*", whatever that was. The mill office has been spared, it's lower windows bricked up. It would make a fine holiday cottage for mine explorers or coniferous tree enthusiasts.

The less-than encouraging entrance to the level one adit.
 The tips here contain some massive chunks of slate from the chambers of the level one adit, which we found eventually. There is some fine chambering inside, although the fragility of the mine is betrayed by one chamber which has suffered a massive fall. A slate block the size of a minibus had fallen at the chamber entrance. Crawling around and shining the torches upwards revealed a perilous looking roof.

Large blocks on the level one tip.

Old tramway level in the woods

Further up the hill, there are tramway runs to the other three levels. To gain them, we walked up a downhill mountain biking trail, containing some fearsome looking berms and jumps. We decided we would stick to mine exploring, far less hazardous! We met a couple of mountain bikers during the day, both very friendly, despite the fearsome looking body armour.

Windblown trees lay all around, making progress difficult towards the pits. Petra wondered if this was troll damage, having recently watched the film "Troll Hunter" . I was glad I hadn't seen it, as apparently there is a sequence inside an old mine. Meeting a troll sometimes seems a very real possibility when underground due to my very fertile imagination.

A very wet trial adit opens up in the woods beside one of the pits, looking very unhospitable. The FC have erected some massive fences around it which proved discouraging... this time.
The pits were inaccessible from our chosen access point without ropes, which we didn't bring of course. Another foray will have to be made from the western side of the site, which is a little less spruce-infested.

There are several drumhouses in the woods serving inclines, and a mysterious structure near the incline which may have been a has hardly any windows.

For now, a very interesting site which promises to reveal much more, providing forestry operations don't destroy the archaeology. Here are some underground shots always I have to add the statutory message from the mine police, that exploration here should not be undertaken without the proper equipment and an experienced member of the party etc...the mine is quite fragile and care should always be taken not to disturb anything or spoil it for the rest of us..

At the junction outside one of the chambers..light is coming from the entrance. The roof is quite low at this section.

A very heavy-duty climbing chain at the entrance to the deepest chamber. Lights courtesy of Petra, who likes to see where she is going...

A surveyor's mark probably from the latter part of the mine's life in the 1920's to 30's
An old tub at the bottom of a shaft...oops!

Artefacts at the back of one of the chambers.

More artefacts

Looking outbye

* In the 1880s the Jenny Lind polishing machine was introduced (the machine so called from its humming noise, which was likened to the Swedish singer of that name).

This had a steel ring - shooting ring - which rotated over the dressed stone surface while iron shot and water were used as an abrasive. Finer polishing stages used carborundum then emery.

Wikipedia article about the mine and tramway.


Anonymous said...

welcome back to the land of the connected Iain :-)

Interesting stuff & the header image is rather splendid.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham. It's rether good to be back!

nick said...

Hello Iain

I came across the site below and thought of you...

Cheers, Nick

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