I should have known better. I'd found a footpath that climbed up the mountain to the top workings of Penmaenmawr Granite Quarry and, checking the road access on Google street view, all seemed perfectly civilised. So when we arrived, why was I surprised to find the metalled road to be at an almost 1 in 5 gradient? Even our all-terrain truck was grumbling a little, although not as much as the Waitrose home delivery van that was following, a centimetre behind.
The road took a tack across the contours, in between a row of quarryman's houses, before striking upwards again. I wondered at how the Waitrose van was managing to fit in the narrow space between the houses and still be glued to our towbar. I spotted a parking space and Petra slotted the truck in, at a disconcerting 45 degree angle from horizontal. The van braked, swerved and headed off down another street, needing someone else to follow. I hope whoever ordered that delivery eventually got their vegetables.
We had parked at the end of a set of three beautiful terraces, obviously built for the quarrymen and their families. I wondered at how folk got about in snow and frost with these gradients, but perhaps winters here are mild. However, a sure sign of winter fun were the handrails on all the pavements...
Still, all this climbing meant some height under our boots, which had to be a good thing. Actually, I don't mind climbing, it's the descent that I hate. Too many Munro's, too many quarries have taken their toll on your patella-challenged scribe. I loaded a couple of water bottles into my rucksack and accidentally dropped one...it rolled down the road at an ever-increasing velocity, neatly illustrating the principle behind gravity inclines, before getting stuck under the tyre of a posh sports car, which itself was listing to starboard under the gradient.
Finally, we set off up the steep path to the quarry. I'd seen the path mentioned on the web as a popular walk with ramblers, and had feared that it might be a manicured and tame affair. As it turned out, I needn't have worried!
The path threaded steeply up the bosky hillside, eventually following an old incline- not one I could find on any of the old maps available at the NLS database. Then, like something from an Alfred Bestall illustration, a strange building appeared, surrounded by trees. It was a long-deserted power-house, for supplying juice to the many inclines and crushers in the vicinity. Unlike some slate quarries, these granite quarries relied on power bought in- and by the look of this structure, they used a fair bit of it. Inside were the tell-tale signs of insulators and switchgear, including a bank of meters, the like of which I wouldn't fancy finding under our stairs!
Of all the many charming things about this wonderful building, the stencilled signage and the graffiti caught my imagination most. I wondered when the music had been put there, especially as there were some imperial measurements pencilled on the wall near it.
Climbing again, the footpath struck a very uncompromising angle upwards. It was here that we met someone coming down the path who had been a little unnerved by the exposure- he'd decided to turn back rather than face the uncertainties ahead. While sympathising with the poor fellow I did experience an inward feeling of warmth- this wasn't going to be a Saga Magazine featured ramble after all! Of course, if this was underground, I would be the one returning uneasily because of the dark, so I mustn't crow.
The path zig-zagged up the mountain and soon left the tree line where it did indeed become a little airy. A jolly message from the usual chap with flared trousers, about falling off the cliff appeared, which cheered us up. This path is marked on the old maps, so must have been a quarryman's route to work.
We headed over to Fox bank where there had been a mill and loading station from 1895- to be honest, the structures looked no older than the nineteen forties. However, this was a charming location if you like old tramways and breathtaking views. It was hard to photograph anything without including the gratuitous view of the Great Orme, which soon began to feel like a cliche. I decided to just enjoy taking the photos and examining the many abandoned wagons lying about. We were both taking photographs in Raw format for a change, as we now have the new versions of Lightroom and Photoshop CC. I was trying hard to concentrate, but slipped a couple of times by under-exposing... generally, though- I like the new way of working.
|You can't make them out here, but there were a surprising number of wild horses roaming the banks between the workings- I suppose this is a natural continuation of the moors over towards Bwlch y Ddeufaen for them.|
|A Side-Tipper, abandoned on the headshunt of the Fox Bank level.|
|The old, abandoned workings of Graiglwyd quarry are in the distance.|
There was another transformer house above Fox Bank, probably to power the crushers and machinery here. It had a strange atmosphere, a dissonance with the other structures, but I couldn't put my finger on what the reason was. Outside, I was mobbed by a couple of Choughs and realised that they were nesting inside- so I moved away, not wanting to disturb them further. While having lunch on the headshunt, high above the town, a hawk rose quickly from the crags below. I couldn't identify it for certain, but it looked like a Kestrel.
One of the more bizarre features of the quarry was that, while it had a network of three-foot tramways, the main quarry at the top of the mountain, an amalgamation of several workings, had a standard gauge railway. (!) Shades of Clee Hill, or the Cromford and High Peak, except this line was in glorious isolation. It ran along the two topmost levels, Attic and Kimberley ( now quarried completely away) from 1931. Some inclines were converted to hoist operation using electric motors (hence the transformer houses perhaps?) and thus the locomotives and wagons were brought to work, along with a crusher and a face shovel. Motive power was mostly internal combustion, although an ex-L&Y (no. 43) "Pug" 0-4-0 was kept as stand by.
With the sun becoming lower in the sky we set off down to the town again. Rather than risk our legs on the patella-breaking descent of the zig-zag path, we headed down the quarry road until it met the official footpath again, at which point it was back to using the walking poles. I guess the elevation at it's highest on our explore was around the thousand foot mark- not much compared to Sgurr Alasdair or the Inaccessible Pinnacle, but the presence of houses close to the cliff below, looking for all the world like a Google earth view, certainly lends a charm of it's own.
* "Narrow Gauge Railways in North Caernarvonshire", volume 3, James I. C. Boyd ISBN 0 85361 328 1
Some more snaps from our day:
|Enjoying the view.|
|The upper Transformer House at Fox Bank.|