This was our first visit to Dyffryn Nantlle- not really knowing what to expect, but inspired by a post on the excellent "Geotopoi" blog, and some mysterious photographs on "Welsh Ruins" which showed an intriguing rake of crumbling edifices. In other words, just our cup of tea!
Parking in Talysarn, it immediately felt like a proper Welsh mining village, with some fine chapels and a small building for the local brass band. On the outskirts, walking towards the north east, we were aware that serious mischief had been afoot. Several gigantic flooded pits loomed, flanked by huge bastions, holding back thousands of tons of slate waste. It is a large and complex site, overgrown and mellowed by years of tree growth, which adds to it's charm, but makes it harder to get an overall sense of the place.
We followed a well-worn trackway through the woods, aware of tips and ruined buildings above us. Soon a ruin was seen in the trees to the left. It appeared to be a lodge house, repurposed by the addition of extra accomodation to the rear. A massive bastion wall overlooked the building, while inside, sitting next to a pile of lager cans, were some bunches of flowers, votive offerings near a small, wooden remembrance cross. Everything was cloaked in moss and mould and smelt of damp.
In one of the rooms that I thought might be later extensions, there were some strange chimney breasts, jettied out and open on several sides. The place was not big enough to be a forge, and there was no oven for a bakery...strange.
We followed the road on until we came to the ruins of Talysarn Hall, the residence of the owner of the eponymous quarry, Thomas Robinson. The house passed to the Quarry company on Thomas Robinson's death in 1905.
To quote RCAHMW:
"The Hall predates the appearance* of the large-scale quarry workings and originally sat adjacent to the main Talysarn to Nantlle Road, but the encroachment and enlargement of nearby Dorothea Slate Quarry (NPRN: 40539) removed the main road and eventually the complex became sandwiched between Dorothea to the south and the Blaen-y-Cae (NPRN: 40530) and Gallt-y-Fedw Slate Quarries (NPRN: 40552) to the north."
* So this must mean that the hall was built at least before 1820, which was the date when quarry activity in the valley took a great leap forward in growth. The village of Talysarn had to be moved to accomodate the expanding quarry, indeed, even the river was diverted at one point. In like manner, the once fine mansion was given over to lodgings and facilities for the quarry, the stable block being used for showers.
There are many mysteries about the structure: the tiny kennels across from the stables, the arched bays at the rear of the building, and the strange "gothick" chapel being only some of the more baffling sights. We walked a little further before the light gave out and found a forgotten cottage deep in rhododendron growth, hard against a lofty bastion wall from the Blaen-y-Cae quarry above. There was still paint on the walls and slate on the roof, but vegetation had laid seige to it and finally broken in.
The study of this area may take some time. Another instalment will follow soon...