Monday, 30 September 2013

Unexpected Treasure: Sunday in the Badlands

Long suffering readers of this blog know that we have a special place in our affections for Cwt-y-Bugail, that mine peppered and punched over the rolling land between Manod Mawr and the headwaters of the Machno. We've been there so often, I kid myself that the resident pair of Ravens have begun to recognise us. But with that familiarity comes a little complacency, in me at least. I had begun to think that I'd discovered all there was to know about the place.
The old magazine, with the mill in the background and the A-B incline to the left.
Graffitti: carved in 1900, eight years before the big fall in the North Twll which held up production for two years.

How wrong I was. We hadn't been at the mill for more than a few minutes when Petra found several passages of graffiti that we hadn't noticed before. One was finely carved in a door lintel, marked 1888 and it's corresponding inscription in roman numerals. Then, we climbed up to the A-B incline head to look at the old Magazine there and found some water collection ponds, probably for the manager's office, that were new to us. At this point, Petra spotted a walker making a bee-line towards us, so we headed quickly for the B floor adit and the safety of the underworld. On seeing this, our pursuer lost interest. Yes, we are a couple of miserable curmudgeons. The very cheek of it, though. Someone intruding on our mine!

Descending the remains of B-D incline. The wal and adit can be seen near the top middle of the photo.

Looking down on level D.
Once in the chaos of the South twll, we mooched around, trying to visualise the incline that had once been here from level B down to level D. Petra was busy taking photos, so I looked for evidence of the junction that was supposed to have been here. There were clues in the untopped chamber. I noted a marooned platform in the gloom, with an adit entrance on the far wall...a little slate hut had been built at the entrance, Clogwyn-y-Fuwch style. Then I realised, this was the elusive remains of the Level C adit from the North twll. I had been trying to find this for years, and here it was, sort of under my nose. At which point my dim bulb brain finally worked out that if that adit was level C, then the gloomy hole below must be level D.

We picked our way extremely carefully down the steep defile, with an even larger drop looming on our right. I realised that it was really stupid to do this without ropes, and I didn't want to trust the hand line put in by AditNow colleagues, with this exposure. From the lower section of the pitch, the chamber looked enormous. There's no safe way to access this part of the mine but at least this was one mystery solved. We climbed back up, resolving to return very soon, better equipped.

Sheer legs crane (fallen) in chamber C4. Note the marks of a channelling machine on the wall, something else I didn't know had been used here.

On to the North Twll, where we pottered about happily underground, photographing the remains. The two big chambers here yawn like pharaoh's tombs, mouths open to the sky. I stood for a while, savouring the atmosphere as our two Raven friends flew over, their cries and woofing wingbeats amplified strangely in the workings, as if they were flying through the adits..

Last time we were here the water was ridiculously cold. This time I was wearing wellies (I couldn't be bothered to take the wet gear, unlike Petra)  and my toes had gone numb, but Petra had wetsocks and even she was beginning to get cold...what is it about this place? I sploshed about at the end of Chamber 2, noting the rather worrying ochre filled shaft. As I stood there contemplating this feature, I became aware of a low opening in the rock further in the gloom at the back of the chamber. Of course...C adit north! Why had I never seen it before?  I crawled in and then immediately found myself almost over critical welly depth. I could see rails underneath, and prodding with the trusty camera tripod, made sure it was safe. I went back for my partner in crime.

Level C North/West
Level C West
Petra made her way in as the water rose gradually up to thigh level. Having a ninja missus is humbling sometimes.  I didn't fancy getting wet wellies, as it was a mile long walk steadily uphill to the Bwlch-y-Slaters car park, so I stayed put like a jibbering  feartie.  I listened enviously as she sploshed along. She  knew all about the hidden shaft in the first chamber, lurking under the water, (thanks, Barney) so I wasn't too worried. I almost walked in behind her, but remembered what it felt like afterwards when I did that at Bwlch-y-Plwm...and there the car was parked almost at the adit! After ten minutes, she returned, smiling happily. Another bit of new ground, and a fab set of photos. She says I have to go and take my own...

Pretty satisfied with our exploring,  we climbed up to the old engine winder at the top of the incline out of the pit and did a round of the North Twll, enjoying the stunning views to Snowdon. As usual, the ravens accompanied us away from the mine, their burbling croaks setting the seal on a pluperfect day. I realised that no matter how many times I return, or study the books and the old maps, I'll always find something to delight me up on the badlands. So watch this space for the next instalment, when hopefully, we will reveal the secrets of the elusive level D chambers.

I've just noted that JAW's excellent "Remains of the Welsh Slate Industry" site has been updated. There's a fine section on Cwt-y-Bugail, highly recommended!


Anonymous said...

Interlopers, eh? The cheek of some people ;-)

Iain Robinson said...

Indeed! :-)

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