Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Hendre Ddu, Cwm Pennant

Hendre Ddu is in many ways a typical Cwm Pennant slate quarry. Like most here, it wasn't very successful, despite a surprisingly deep pit and a great deal of waste, but at least managed more product than the Prince of Wales quarry up the valley, which was a gigantic white elephant.  As with other sites in the cwm, it has a lovely round powder house and some interesting surface remains; on a fine day it is a pluperfect spot, especially as the surrounding land has been planted with baby oaks and the quarry protected from further development.

The quarry is reached by a steep and rather rough access road, suitable only for 4x4 vehicles and tractors. It's a stiff climb, but worth the effort for the beautiful views. On our visit, we had almost reached the level of the tips when we heard the roar of an engine being gunned up the road. A farmer, I thought, or the National Park folk...whoever it was had no thought for their vehicle. Imagine our surprise then, as we stepped aside to let the vehicle pass, to find that it was a top of the range Jaguar saloon. It contained four ladies of a certain age. They waved merrily at us and continued to the level area of the tip, where they parked.

We walked quickly past and went to explore the pit. I had forgotten just how deep and treacherous the twll is at this quarry. It is reached by a couple of adits, but both are flooded and dangerous, one concealing a shaft under the water. On the top (and earliest) 1860 level, it is possible to walk along a gallery at the edge of the defile, where there is a curving trial tunnel.

The Barracks, with Mynydd Drws y Coed in the distance.
Never mind, there is plenty to see above ground, with drum-houses, weigh huts and a fine barracks. This has very tall windows, for some reason. It is slowly succumbing to the attentions of nature, with internal walls collapsed, but it is still a picturesque sight. On our second visit there, it was a dreich day, more reminiscent of an afternoon in Mordor than "sunny" Snowdonia, but an unexpected ray of strong sunlight lit the barracks up just long enough for me to fire off a couple of shots.

I read in the Slate Gazetteer that there was a steam mill on this site, but this was replaced in the 1870's with a turbine powered mill, possibly next to the road below. However, in 1875, the reservoir for the turbine collapsed. After that, production fell dramatically and the quarry never recovered. An attempt to re-start production in 1898 failed after a short time. So all the surface remains that are left date no later than the late C19th, which makes it a fascinating and intriguing site.

We ventured into the flooded adit from the mill for a little way. It was like something from the Lost World and neither of us felt like carrying on, knowing that there were shafts hidden under the water. There were enough fascinating things to see above ground- the weigh houses and incline were strangely atmospheric, surrounded by moss-covered trees and rocks. It was awkward progress stumbling down from the top level, but lower down the woods were full of birdsong. Petra spotted a Peregrine Falcon high above the trees, quartering the ground for a meal.

A drum house on the incline.
This wasn't our first visit, we had been three years or so earlier and at that point there had been some tip robbing/recycling (depending on your outlook on archaeology!) so I was keen to see to see how things looked...nothing had changed; the little oaks were slightly taller but the views were the same. One of the wonders of Snowdonia is that you can look one way from the quarry and see the coast and the distant ramparts of  Castell Harlech; yet turn the other way and the grandeur of the Nantlle ridge beckons. This time round,  I had a much better camera, so my apologies if some of the older shots are not as sharp as they should be.

Looking South East to Moel y-Gest and Craig y Gesail with the Rhinogs behind Harlech in the distance.

And, what of the ladies, you might ask? They mooched around rather noisily, talking at the top of their voices, but I could forgive them because they were obviously interested in the quarry. It wasn't difficult to overhear one lady recalling that an engine had stood in a certain spot when she had been a girl, then saying something about her grandfather. I wished that I'd approached and asked about her connection to the quarry, but my natural shyness precluded this. All I could manage was a a smile and a wave as we headed off down to the lower levels of the incline. And me only too aware that eye witness, or second generation knowledge of these places becomes rarer by the day. I do hope that Jaguar's suspension was still holding up after the ladies had returned home!

The lower mill by the cwm road.

The remains of a weigh-house.

The Powder Store

The road further out of the quarry, with a weigh-house leaning on one of the spoil tips.

Petra, my fellow explorer, looking out over the remains of the upper mill area.


Anonymous said...

Another interesting report, Iain. And I do like the use of the word 'pluperfect' (I've only ever used that in the grammatical sense).

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham. Even with the lowering skies, it seemed beyond perfect...an amazing place. I hope you get to some interesting locations in 2014...I look forward to seeing the photos!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report, and the stories of the day.

I can identify with your difficulties approaching a stranger, as it is something I have as aell. I have been told many times that I should "Push the boundary" but I figure that I'm an introvert and should stop beating myself up about it.

Iain Robinson said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Andy! Yes, Petra and I are both very introverted, it is a wonder we met, really! Now I have reached "mature years" I figure that, like you, it's just who I am...there's space for folks like us as well as the blowhards!

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