Wednesday, 20 August 2014

NAMHO 2014, Rhiwbach and Cwt-y-Bugail

Every year, the National Association of Mining History Organisations holds a conference to discuss and assimilate knowledge about mining history. This year, the conference was in Bangor and was being organised by AditNow, the premier online resource for mine history and exploration. At these conferences, mine history enthusiasts come from all over the country to listen to lectures by experts in many and various subjects. There's always something to learn, no matter what your level of knowledge.

The only trouble was, this year I was asked to take a field tour of Rhiwbach and Cwt-y-Bugail quarries for NAMHO. Now, my faithful readers will know that I am not the most sociable of people, but after some very gentle persuasion by Dave Linton of the Welsh mines Society and Simon Lowe of Adit Now, I realised that resistance was futile. Besides, I reckoned that it would be nice to share somewhere I love and know pretty well with like minded folk. Except that I wasn't sure I knew enough about the place and I recognised some pretty heavy-duty names on my list of attendees for the day.

With a doubtful mind, I signed off the various risk assessments and safety cases, handed in my call-out time to Simon and then waited anxiously for the day to come, when I would be tested and found wanting.

My daughter Sam and I stood at the car park at Manod Quarry waiting to greet the folk who were coming with me. I hoped they wouldn't notice my knees shaking.  They were a cheerful, friendly group, some of whom I recognised from photos on the web, others whom I knew by their reputations as experts, but I tried not to think about that. We set off and very soon, I felt my enthusiasm taking over from my nerves, especially as people were asking questions and seemed really interested. I realised that the mines on the moor were actually the star turn. They had laid it all on and I just needed to point people at the good bits ( although there are rather a lot of those).


An added bonus was that a local man was with us and he chimed in with a good deal of useful information, filling in the gaps where my knowledge fell short. The enthusiasm of the group was one of the things I will most remember about the day, especially at Rhiwbach. I took the group to see the mysterious pile of metal shards near the compressor house and asked if anyone could think what they could be. A few weeks prior to the trip, Dave Linton had posited an opinion that they could be belt ties for the continuous belting in the mill, and sure enough, someone in the group knew the technology and could give a positive identification.

Later, we discussed the entry for the quarry in the Slate Gazetteer and I mentioned that Alun John Richards had written about an underground waste tramway here. I thought he might be confusing things with Blaen-y-Cwm, further along the Rhiwbach tramway, but as I spoke, two people were lifting a slab and disappearing down a hole, to my cries of  "No, no, that's not in the safety case!" I can confirm that Mr. Richards was right, sorry Alun.

Another stand-out moment was as we stood overlooking the abandoned village and I talked about the core samples taken of the rock and the long building built to store them. I mentioned how I had never seen one. At which point, right on cue, John Griffiths produced a fragment of one from his rucksack!

I guess the highlight for me was Cwt-y-Bugail. It was like introducing people to a close friend you are immensely proud of; I'm glad to say that everyone felt the same as I did about the place and vowed to come back again.

I was also struck by how unassuming my companions were. At one point, I was discussing some firebricks at the Rhiwbach boiler house and mentioned that I knew of an expert on bricks, amongst other subjects. I mentioned his Flickr stream as a source of information and the authoritative work he has done on the history of Poynton Collieries. I know the gentleman through correspondence and by his screen name of "Tarboat". In fact, he was instrumental in helping me get hold of a rare book about the quarries here, for which I'll always be grateful.  A few days later, I was trawling the Adit Now forum and came across a note by Tarboat, from which it became obvious he had been on my trip! I hope I didn't embarrass you, David!

Despite my misgivings, I have to admit I had a blast and met some great folk into the bargain. Thanks, everyone for making it a great day. I wouldn't have managed out of the door without the support from Sam and the encouragement from Petra. Thanks, too, Dave and Simon for your faith in me!


Welsh Mines Society


Looking towards Llyn Bowydd from Cwt-y-Bugail


Anonymous said...

Aha, so you did it. Congratulations!

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham! I am still a very reticent fellow, but will admit that being with folk who share my obsession with mines is quite liberating :-)

Anonymous said...

Well done you...

I tend to find that people who really know their stuff generally don't feel an urgent need to tell everyone how knowlegeable they are, and simply like to be with others who share their passion.

It is the insecure ones who know they don't know everything that make a lound noise: it's usually a sign of bluffing.

Sounds like exploring culture is mercifully full of the former...

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Andy. Yes, the folk on my trip really did know their stuff, it was rather humbling. I agree with you, it's the folk who know least that make the most noise ;-/

Matthew Bartle said...

Dear Iain, Thank you for Treasure Maps. I have been fascinated by stone quarrying since walking up the Gwylwyr Sett Quarry incline with my Dad when I was about 4 in the late 50s. Also I did a project on slate at grammar school. Your pictures are evocative and your descriptions make me feel as if I was there with you and Petra. Living now in Worthing, Sussex opportunities are limited to see slate quarries and other old industrial sites in the flesh (chalk and sand pits aren't the same somehow!). Hope you and Petra will feel able to share more as time goes by. Best wishes, Matthew Bartle

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you very much indeed, Matthew. I always try to write to include the reader in our adventures, so it's very satisfying to hear that you enjoyed the blog. My early memories are similar to yours, a school trip to Snowdonia sparking my interest off - and it was so hard to find information back then, without the internet!
Our day jobs have intruded hugely into our free time recently, but we have some trips to post up, once things slacken off. Thanks again for reading and for commenting,
Iain and Petra.

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