Monday, 13 April 2015

Trefor quarry, part one.

Do you have a "Bucket List"? A list of things like swimming with Blue Sharks, bungee-jumping off the Empire State Building or paragliding naked over the Taj Mahal?

Just lately, turning sixty, I've been thinking about the time I have left and how I shouldn't waste it. Being a man of modest horizons, my bucket list turns out to involve Welsh mines and quarries. (I'll bet that surprised you). I'm lucky, because my partner in adventure shares my list pretty much to the letter. She does get occasionally distracted by abandoned buildings, but at least sharks or white water don't feature. Yes, sure, I wouldn't mind going to New York, but realistically I'd rather explore Dinorwig a bit more. Anyway, my daughter has been to New York and she told me all about it. It was cool, by the way- but so is Dinorwig.

And so we came to the entry on the list that said "Trefor Granite Quarry." We wanted to try and see it by walking from the car park north of Llithfaen, up over the Bwlch yr Eifl and down onto the Minas Tirith-like structure at the bottom. This way, we would get a feel for the place (or so I thought), but the more we looked at the maps and Google earth, the more the list started to grow as more quarries and interesting features emerged. For now, though, I'll concentrate on Trefor Granite Quarry.

A view of Nant Gwrtheryn from Carreg-y-Llam quarry. Trefor quarry is on the mountain whose top rises above the horizon to the left of centre.

The quarry nestles on the vertiginous flanks of a mountain within the group known as "The Rivals", or more correctly, "Yr Eifl" on the Llŷn Peninsula. The Welsh are in the habit of calling any feature higher than a house a mountain, but in fairness, you are aware of  "The Rivals" in the distance from most places on the coast of Cardigan bay, usually glimpsed behind a modest gauze of mist or haze, depending on the weather. Up close, even from the elevated position of the Nant Gwrtheryn car park, the range is impressive. It's hardly Glencoe, but there is considerable charm about these pocket peaks.

Cae'r Nant quarry, on the south facing slopes of  Garn For.
We set off on a very well trodden path- obviously the walk is a popular one, although only one other pair of folk were glimpsed all day, apart from a cyclist with his fists gripping the brake levers, passing us with a haunted look on his face. Walking the path, the remains of two quarries are passed, while down on the coast a few hundred feet below, the Welsh language centre of  Nant Gwrtheryn can be seen, a crazy hairpin road descending towards it. This was a deserted quarry village until recent years and while I like the idea of the Welsh Language centre very much, I can't help wishing I'd seen the deserted village.

There was a special feeling along this section of the route. Perhaps it was the weather, which was beautiful, or the felicitous arrangement of the landscape, but something was working on me. Other people have said how these mountains have offered some of the best walks they have ever done, and I can believe that. A combination of the sea and views into Snowdonia, I guess.  I should also mention the remarkably well-preserved Tre'r Ceiri hill-fort on the east flank of Yr Eifl, a powerfully evocative place. (which now sits on my sub-list, "to photograph" around Trefor Quarry...).

The North top of Yr Eifl, Garn For, was where the interest began for us- in fact it has almost been quarried away and is very exposed. Beneath it, the coastal path curves off, away from the quarry, while we were drawn inexorably down the haul road into the chaos of the workings. Begun in 1830, there is much evidence of working and re-working, the remains of inclines and ruined structures lying everywhere.
Interestingly, the place was first opened by Samuel Holland, the well-known Blaenau Ffestiniog slate baron- his son became prominent in the development of many of the granite quarries of the Eifl area. The story goes that when Trevor Jones became the quarry supervisor, the village at the foot of the Eifl - Trefor –took his name. Trefor quarry developed to be the world’s biggest granite quarry in the 1930's, and by 1931 had produced 1,157,000 tons of setts. It closed in the 1960's. Recently a new operation runs the quarry, taking small amounts of the granitoid stone for ornamental work and for the production of curling stones.

A rather silly tilt-shift view from halfway down the quarry, showing the incline.

An incline operator's cabin teeters on the edge of a sheer drop...
 As we worked our way down the quarry, the main incline could be seen, now a metalled road, stretching like a slender thread to the village of Trefor and further towards the quarry quay. At one time a narrow gauge 1 ft 11.5" (597 mm) railway ran to the quay, with a short branch to the village.

 In recent times, a great many structures have been demolished, including an extensive crusher house on one of the upper levels. Only the steel holding-down bolts for the machinery survive, sticking out of the concrete foundations. Elsewhere a fine compressor house survives. It is built of the quarry stone and is still an impressive structure, with an electricity generating room and a small locomotive shed attached. Inside, a fossilised typewriter sat on a window sill. I wondered about the memo's and receipts it must have typed.

Even on a beautiful day, we were aware of the exposure and I wondered about the tough men who worked here in all weathers. On a level below, there was a double line of "waliau" or shelters for the men to work in as they chipped the stone into setts, but in the winter the cold must have been unbearable. The stoicism of the quarry workers is commemorated with a memorial on Pen y Nant . The author, Myrddin ap Dafydd , describes them thus:

"to work, bent double in the teeth of the wind.
They are tied to earning their living from this rock,
as if they chiselled it with their fingernails, summer
or winter, it’s the same yoke of stone on their shoulders.
But they, on the path in the sky, bending, stumbling
to the top of the mountain, they are the
cornerstones of our walls – and we, so far from the
wind that cuts like a knife, are shaped from what
they once were."

The next installment of the story will follow, where we explore the giant 1920's stone hoppers and the remains of the ancient iron mines around the headland of Trwyn-y-Tal...ticking off more items from the list...


Anonymous said...

Oh, great stuff, Iain! This one has been on my list for quite some time now... perhaps one day, if I can get out and about hiking again. Nice find with the typewriter! My favourite shot is second-last one - really nice framing there.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham. Luckily, the light was very variable, cloudy one moment, sunny the next, so not too many blown whites!

I do hope your injury clears up soon, I would very much like to see your take on the place.

Anonymous said...

Excellent industrial and photography landscape as always. I rather like the "silly tilt-shift view"!

I love the idea of your bucket list around the industrial remains and quarries of Wales. You are in good company with Hogarth who had a similar reaction against the Grand Tour, the bucket list of his day, and decided a massive London pub crawl with his mates was far better. Great stuff - you can read about it here if interested:

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, Alex. That blog link is a fascinating one, thanks for that! I shall follow the blog from now on. I am glad you liked the "tilt-shift", it appealed to me- I hoped somebody else would be amused by it!

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