Sunday, 16 December 2012

Slate in the Lledr Valley

Moel Siabod from Ty'n-y-ddol slate quarry.
There's a turnoff  marked "Roman Bridge" just before the road ramps up Bwlch Gordinnan (the Crimea Pass) towards Blaenau Ffestiniog, when you are coming from the Dolwydddelan direction. From the other side, you'll likely not see it as you'll be desperately trying to reduce speed for the curve over the railway bridge. Well, after years of passing by, we decided to have a saunter down the road in search of the eponymous latin river crossing. I can't say we found anything that looked like a roman bridge. Subsequent research would suggest that the jury is out on that one. What we did find was a beautiful valley with some fascinating remains, not to mention some impressive views over to the mighty Moel Siabod.

I didn't expect to find anything of mining interest until Petra spotted what looked like a tip in the middle of the flat valley floor.  This kind of working is highly unusual in these parts, being more common in the Nantlle area, so I thought it might be something else, a roman fort perhaps. But the girl was right. As we came closer, it was obviously a tip made of dark slate topped with some ruined walliau. Before investigating, we met a friend from Blaenau who had cycled over via the old railway tunnel construction road. I was a little miffed that he wasn't even out of breath as he told us something of the quarry's history. As we watched our friend cycle off, I didn't envy the ascent of the Crimea pass that awaited him.

Banishing thoughts of toil, we walked over to the tip, where undergrowth masks a deep and extensive pit. There is a collection of buildings which could have been for processing, although one has the look of an engine house. Apparently, this is Ty'n-y-ddol slate quarry, worked between 1871 and the late 1890's. At first, the power for lifting slate from the pit was by water wheel, using water from the Ceunant Ty'n-y-ddol. Lewis* suggests an inverted syphon, but there is also evidence of a reservoir further up the ceunant. There are also some slate trials nearby, so this might be a possibility, although there are no traces of leats.By 1899, the waterwheel had been replaced by a steam engine. It's a fascinating site, especially on a moody-weathered day such as the one when we visited.

 There's a picturesquely ruined chapel nearby- whether it was for the quarrymen, or for the spiritual enlightenment of the locals, I don't know. It was built in 1876 as Blaenau Independent Chapel.

We strolled further along towards the end of the valley where, to my intense delight, more slate tips shone out from under the dense tree cover.This was the much older Hendre quarry, opened in 1838.Again, there was a deep pit, where slate was lifted by means of a horse whim. The remains of this are still to be seen, although we failed to find them this time. Above the pit there are the remains of two wheelpits and  various buildings, as well as an incline descending into the pit. It's a fascinating place, best seen in autumn or spring, as summer vegetation will make the place impassible.

Further up the valley there are more sights to be seen, but I will leave those for another post. I would say that it's well worth turning off the main road and having a mooch along the Lledr Valley- it's definitely one of those unappreciated gems that North Wales does so well.

*Further information: "Gwydir Slate Quarries", M.C. Williams and M.J.T. Lewis, published by Plas Tan-y-Bwlch, ISBN 0 9512373 5 7

Wheelpit at Hendre.

Incline into the pit at Hendre.
The Pit, Hendre.

Ty'n-y-ddol from the road. Extensive tip-plundering going on!


Anonymous said...

Another interesting report that got me firing up the OS maps! Nice of the Romans to build a railway station there.

Iain Robinson said...

It's a lovely valley and I imagine would be even nicer in sunshine! The railway station, complete with hypocaust under the platform to keep commuter's feet warm while waiting for the delayed train due to laurel leaves on the line...

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