Last time we visited Minllyn, near Dinas Mawddwy, we'd been unable to get in the main workings due to the depth of water in the main adit. A couple of years later, after a dry spell, we ventured back to see if it might be possible. This time, the water was only a couple of feet deep at the low entrance, so with wetsocks and waterproofs on, we crawled into the darkness. The pit that contains the access adit is probably an untopped chamber, as it is reached itself by a wet corbelled tunnel. Above the slit of an entrance, a sheer rock face towers 150 feet vertically and above that is another pit carved into the slope of the mountain.
The adit contains a famous (among mine explorers) abandoned wagon which seems a little more the worse for wear than in other photographs I have seen. It makes a good subject, though - and Petra spent some time crafting her compositions, while I forged on into the mine, unable to contain my excitement.
More distant was the low, menacing boom of water in a chamber some way off down the passage. After a short while, a junction loomed ahead like the branches from some enormous creature's windpipe. I stood, waiting for Petra to catch up, listening to the sounds from a chamber ahead.
We walked into the chamber, gasping at the height, which tested the lighting capabilities of our 1000 lumens torches, normally a match for car headlamps. The air was clean, but full of moisture and our breath sent skeins of evaporation above us. Petra walked on and the sound of slate under her feet reminded me of the noises in a large cathedral, the sound flattened by the size of the void we were in. I couldn't imagine how men could have carved out this chamber, using only chisels, hammers and black powder. Later in the mine, we were to see evidence of other methods, but given the sheer volume of rock extracted, it must have taken men's lifetimes to do this, lifetimes spent in the darkness, winning the reluctantly yielded spoils of an unforgiving, dark and dangerous world.
In the last chamber, we saw the interesting signs of the use of a channelling machine. This was an invention brought in during the late 1870's, a machine that cut a deep groove in rock, accomplished by a group of reciprocating chisel-pointed bars, repeatedly striking a series of heavy blows. It would be operated by steam or compressed air while the machine carrying the mechanism travelled back and forth on a track. Waste was considered to be kept to a minimum using this equipment, but it's use underground was, as far as I know, limited to only a few mines. Penarth, near Corwen, was another user. I can only imagine the fearful noise this must have set up in the huge chamber, with it's already weakened supporting walls.
|A hole in one of the critically thin dividing walls.|
We had hoped to explore more of the upper adits, but these will have to wait for another day. For now, the comfort of the warm sunshine, the view down to Dinas and the song of a blackbird nearby was enough.
|The fallen crane jib. This would have been the portion that connected to the base of the machine.|
|A ventilation shaft from above in one of the smaller chambers.|