Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A stroll around the Penmachno Hills, with quarries.



Google Earth is all very well if, like Petra, you know what to look for. It can be invaluable in finding old mines and quarry sites. A suspicious depression in the terrain, a tell-tale, delta-like tip or signs of a tramway- these things all get the mine senses working. A quick cross check with Wilkinson's Gazetteer of North Wales mines, and an expedition might well be afoot.

I generally prefer to use "Where's the Path" because you can compare the map terrain with the satellite data side by side. They do grid references, too. For someone brought up with the OS these are much preferable to the co-ordinates Google uses. But if you ask me, the real trouble with Google Earth is that, if you use it alone, you will have little idea of the severity or otherwise of the terrain.

This Penmachno trip was a case in point. I was recovering from the unwelcome effects of a cycling injury, (trying to use my knee and hip as an impromptu brake) and we'd both been too busy in work to plan any adventures. So when this one was mentioned, I heard "quarry" and immediately looked up from my elevenses to give a thumbs up. Petra printed out the route (a great feature on Google Earth) and before I had time to make another sandwich, we were in Penmachno.

The drive to the village is beautiful in any weather, but in early spring when we visited, it is near to perfect. We walked through the streets with their fabulous old houses, many of which seem to have been shops at one time or another. The buildings here have real character. We started from a small farm road which leaves Yspytty Road at SH 79120 50476. The track goes along for half a mile until some fine old buildings come into view.



The impressive barn here is a grade II listed structure dating from the C17th and uses massive blocks of rustic slate. There is a beautiful old Manor House, again C17th. (Coflein)
This is Hafod Dwyryd, and besides being a lovely spot, is also the first quarry on the walk. There were some intriguing remains of slate built structures and a loading bank. Meanwhile in the woods, a deep pit loomed. There doesn't look to have been any underground activity, but Richards* states that waterpower might have been used. The pit was very well fenced off, but is obviously the source for much of the blocks of slate used in the barn.


Hafod Dwyryd quarry buildings.


A 1950's road sign used as a fencepost.

We carried on uphill, with views south opening up, better all the time. The road, though, became steadily more rutted and unkempt, until we came to a dog's leg curve at SH 7935 4764. This was near to where Petra thought that the Afon Oernant mine was to be found. We carried on following the stream until the road gave out, and then repaired to the undergrowth. The ground was steep and boggy here, but after a slightly sportif ford of the stream we found a couple of feint, run-in adits. That's definitely what they were, but only a mine enthusiast would be able to tell!


The Afon Oernant Adit.
Looking South to Cwm Penmachno and Rhiwfachno Quarry.
Buoyed up by finding two mine sites, we decided to head for the Llechwedd Oernant quarry; on the Google printout, it was but an easy stride from where we were. In the real world, a great many contour lines lay between us and the quarry, and they were all very close together. We strode upwards through the energy sapping heather and eventually made the ridge, where something like a low wall could be seen half a mile away. The air was fantastic and the sounds of curlews and moorland birds crackled around us. This felt very remote. From the top of the plateau there isn't much of a view, but when we made it to the quarry, a breathtaking panorama opened up. I rested on the wal, (a wall-like low shelter to protect quarrymen from the weather) as my knee was really rather painful now.









Not much to say about Llechwedd Oernant except that it is a stunning location with a shallow, flooded pit. I can't imagine much product was had from here, let alone carted away. It's at SH 7867 4749. The wal is handy. We'd planned to go further south onto the ridge to eyeball another quarry, but the climb had winded us; we were paying for working all those long hours without taking proper exercise. Petra plotted a route down to the machno valley, which would be the shortest way off the ridge and on to a metalled road. It did take in another quarry, of course.

Climbing up...at this point, Llyn Conwy is just a couple of miles over that ridge.


The ground was very difficult, heather and hidden gopher holes abounded, with boggy interludes. Then a barbed wire fence, which we crossed at a corner post to avoid damaging the wire (and ourselves). I was giving a good impression of Spotty Dog from the Wooden Tops by now as my injured knee had decided that bending wasn't an option. Never mind, a quarry was in sight. It was an unpleasant and difficult tramp down and I have to admit that I didn't have the chutzpah to climb over another fence and go and see the remains of  the various fascinating excavations at Pen-y-Bedw. There was one wonderful moment, though, when I spotted a beautiful round powder house, almost submerged in the undergrowth. Another time, perhaps.


The ruined Powder Magazine
Now, our route took us steeply down on a tractor-rutted track to a farm and I was a little uneasy about trespassing. We would be the last people to do any damage, but the farmer wasn't to know that. I also felt pretty stupid, limping along from mole hill to mole hill. We needn't have worried, the farmer seemed very pleasant although obviously thought us pobl gwallgo . The feeling of relief as my boots felt tarmac was rather fine...I don't normally like walking on roads, but this was la guerre and an expedient moment. Petra's routefinding was spot-on, even if the volume of the hills and depth of the bogs was unexpected. But then, this is Wales and whatever else I might say, this was an adventure. The knee is a lot better now, but I was a bit sore for a few days...

Spotty Dog  makes an appearance in this video at 6.20.

There are over sixty listed buildings in Bro Machno. So many gems!

Dilwyn Evans' wonderful models and histories of Siopau Bro Machno.

*Alun John Richards "Gazeteer of Slate Quarrying in Wales " Gwasg Carreg Gwalch



4 comments:

geotopoi said...

Damn those contour lines!

Iain Robinson said...

:-)

lnrmodels said...

wow. This looks like such an adventure. I wish I could join you :)

Who knew Wales was this lovely?

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Lee! Once my knee is recovered...

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