Friday, 8 March 2013

Ty'n y Bryn - A Gwydir Slate Quarry

A number of slate quarries lie to the side of the A496 as it runs from Dolwyddelan to Betws, most of them shielded from view by dense forestry. However, the Ty'n y Bryn quarry is easily spotted on the hillside to the south east of Dolwyddelan, it's tips sparkling from the woodland on rainy days.

I was surprised to find that it was an open quarry, possessing a massive pit which only becomes evident when you skirt around the level 3 tramway and come upon the abyss, looming through the trees in the defile below. A road built by the forestry commission takes you to the bottom of the main incline. Here the completely flattened mill lies below. It's been so thoroughly "landcaped" that even the mine enthusiast's eye loses it's powers of imagination and wanders, frustrated, to the fine view of Moel Siabod instead. The main incline offers a handy way to explore the quarry and it's levels.
The backfilled adit.
 A backfilled adit, with curious corbelling to the roof lies on one of the levels, with a ruined weigh house and caban. The slate slabs making up the roof of the caban were truly enormous, a testament to the fine slate here; although elswhere it could be seen that rain and frost do degrade the slate over time. Some of the revetting to the incline was turning to a slaty paste, a process that has probably taken since 1862 when the inclines were built.

 The next level had a tramway with no sign of an adit, so Petra and I  wandered along the curve of the tramway, hoping to find one around the corner. Instead, we encountered the pit, and signs that the tramway continued up a steep incline. Most of the lower part of the incline had been obliterated by a massive rockfall. We climbed down  and picked our way to the rock face when to our surprise, the black portal of an adit gazed out through the birches. There was no mention of this in the guide that I had been using as reference, so this was a fine surprise. Sadly, it was only a trial and rather wet, but with a fine compliment of mine spiders.

 I climbed up to a level within the pit, while Petra scrambled about on the tramway taking photos. From the pit level, which looked like something from the Lost World, walliau were succumbing to nature's inexorable persuasion, cloaked in moss and rent apart by birch saplings. It was a wonderful spot, and I lingered there for some time. A Blackbird tried out a few cautious notes from it's repertoire and as the sun warmed my face; it seemed possible to hope for lighter, longer days.

We climbed up to the higher levels, admiring the ever expanding view, to Siabod and to the Carneddiau over in the west. For some reason, a great many Hawthorn bushes have taken hold in and around the old drumhouses and cabans, growing to fine specimens. The highest level seems also the oldest, certainly it is marked as disused on the 1899 map.

We walked on for a while to near the top of the hill (Drosgol, 450 metres) as one of the old maps had indicated mine workings on the upper flanks. We failed to find any evidence, although there were some fine outcrops of rock. On our return to the forestry road we took photographs of the Hawthorns, their tortured branches caught in sharp relief by the setting sun. It was only as we walked back through the village that I noticed the bridge over the Afon Lledr was made of extremely fine blocks of sawn slate, as were almost all the houses. A contrast to Blaenau, where many are made of igneous rocks, the overburden from the quarries.
The Pit
 The Factoids:
A little slate was quarried at Ty'n y Bryn as early as the 1840's, but things began properly in 1861 and continued without cease until 1914. The mill was driven by water brought from Llyn Penamnen, nearly a mile away. Sand saws were mainly used, although Hunter saws and circular ones were added later. The mill was connected to the L&NWR railway via an incline in 1879, making this one of only four other quarries in North Wales to have standard gauge on site, at the mill at least. In 1875 a brand new quarry was started a little distance away to the east, called Penllyn, using the same mill.  Production was quite large by Gwydir standards, output of up to1698 tons a year being achieved in 1876-82, with a workforce of 40-62. The quarry re-opened briefly from 1920 to 1924 without any marked success.


Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff, Iain!

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham! :-)

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