Monday, 24 December 2012

The hidden valley, Drum Quarry

The Manod, from Drum South Pit.
 Like anyone else, when I'm far away on my travels, I like to think of home and of returning to walk in the sunlit hills of remembered adventure. But there's one place in Wales that is almost my favourite of all, and although I have wonderful memories of it, I have rarely felt the warmth of the sun there. Well, I did once actually, but the wind was so cold... The hills and mossy marshes around Drum Slate Quarry are fascinating for their diversity of terrain, flora and fauna. There are ancient settlements, too... and many old mining remains. It's part of the Migneint, a place that garners a very high annual rainfall, especially this year. So waterproofs are de rigeur in these parts, unless you are lucky enough to catch a fine, brittle day in March when the bogs are frozen. Even then, I managed to fall through the ice on one occasion, for an early (and freezing) bath.

Tip Run to the North and the Gamallt Hills
The quarry itself lies at SH735431 and can be accessed from the Migneint road, as I've detailed in a previous post here. Another way can be to climb up over the bwlch from Cwm Teigl, crossing Sarn Helen en route and over into the bog. In some ways this is the most rewarding way because of the fantastic views, to the Arenigs in the south-East, and the Moelwyns to the south west. Not to mention the ever-present bulk of Manod Mawr, looming over the proceedings. It is the soggiest route, especially coming down off the ridge that Sarn Helen runs on. If you're lucky, you might find the Sarn Helen slate mine, a small flooded adit leading to a chamber. The mind boggles, how the miners could have got the slate to market from here? Mules, I guess.

Looking over to Sarn Helen and the Manod from the Drum Tip runs. The Sarn Helen Mine is below the dark ridge of rocks about a third from the left; there's a small tip and darker vegetation indicating water from the adit.
 On one visit to Drum, Petra wanted to have a look at the mountain that lies to the north east of the quarry, the small(ish) but imposing Y Garnedd. We'd climbed it before when we'd explored Foel Gron, but this time she thought she'd seen a slate mine on the western flanks while browsing Google Earth again. Alun Richards in his "Slate Mine Gazetteer" seemed to agree although I never quite trust his grid references. This time, his grid reference actually pointed to some trials near the Afon Gamallt Lead mine. Where we were heading towards seemed a fair bit away from this, so we sploshed onwards.

I'm glad we did. The valley north of Drum is isolated and very quiet. Only a pair of Ravens kept us company as we walked up towards Y Garnedd, no doubt chuckling at the sound of us sploshing through the bog. The first thing we encountered was a collection of ruined buildings, barely more than foundations. The plan was wrong for a sheepfold; they seemed very much like habitations, but of a very great age. A little bit further and we found another structure, a small hut, roofless, not much bigger than a powder store or overnight bothy. It was an idyllic spot with no sounds except that of running water, the wingbeats of the ravens and some distant moorland birds. We stopped and had our lunch, not really wanting to move. It was probably a combination of the misty, still weather, and the almost "Wild West" feeling of the terrain, but we both found it a magical spot.

The hidden valley. The Y Garnedd mine is in the centre of the picture.
 As we sat contemplating the peace (we live next to a noisy river) Petra spotted the adit, or rather, the tip run. It was halfway up on the slope of the valley. Sadly, the adit was run-in, as was the one above, while the tip revealed very fine waste, probably from trimming, but the view was rather fine. I wondered if the miners had stayed in the bothy we had easten our lunch in. Drum was started in the 1860's, so perhaps these adits were early trials for slate on the sett. The adits that Richards refers to as the Y Garn Mine might be part of the same concern, although they are half a mile away to the north. There must have been some glorious views, as well as some absolutely beastly days of rain and blizzard up there, mining in the middle of nowhere. I don't think they were quite alone, though, since there are slate trials dotted all over the area, not to mention the lead mines of the Gamallt a little to the north. I speculated that the ancestors of the ravens that circled above us probably watched those miners in the 1860's. I didn't suppose much had changed since. Incidentally, the grid reference for this couple of adits is SH7414 4326

The run-in adits
As far as I know, this glorious area of unspoilt beauty hasn't had an application for a wind farm yet, or major fracking proposals. It is a fragile place, but probably reasonably safe from development because of the difficulty of the terrain. Oh, yes, I know that victorian slate mining is exploitation, but it wasn't done on a massive scale by one or two folk driving titanic diggers. To add to the paradox, I'm fascinated by large machines and modern quarries, but I would like this place, at least, to remain for the almost exclusive use of the Ravens and those who are keen enough to brave the bogs!.

The Moelwyns from Drum South Pit.

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