Monday, 5 October 2015

The Llyn-y-Gadair Slate Quarry

Thanks to the relatively new Lôn Gwyrfai path, running for for 4.5 miles between Rhyd Ddu and Beddgelert, this quarry is very easy to access. Starting at the Rhyd Ddu car park by the WHR Station, the path skirts the lake, the first few hundred yards along the trackbed of an old tramway.

The path is new and raw, and has all the hallmarks of "best practice" with it's railings and stone supports along the way. The young Afon Gwyrfai is crossed in fine style with an oak and stone bridge. Every now and then there are impressive stone buttresses to hold gates...substantial ones, as this is a multi-use route for horse riders as well as cyclists, ordinary footsloggers...and slate mine enthusiasts. There are even carefully made mounting blocks for the horse riders. Well, if you are going to build something, better build it properly.

The magazine, with the tips of Llyn-y-Gadair in the background. Y Garn and Mynydd Drws y Coed rise up on the Nantlle ridge behind.
 So in no time at all, we were striding across the lower slopes of Y Garn, looking at the remains of what seemed to be a Nantlle style operation with an incline going down into the flooded pit. One of the good things about the new path is that it hasn't sanitised any of the remains and picks it's way through them. (Have a look at JAW's excellent "Remains of the Slate Industry" site here for some photos taken pre-path.)

The pit has various massive, well-built structures above it, mostly for the capture and storage of water. Two wheel pits lie here, possibly to power the haulage incline and machinery at the mill, once sited on the flat area to the side of the incline. The mill was demolished- possibly when  the quarry to the east came into production. From here, you can see the line of an old tramway which took spoil to tip into the lake. This has in turn been built over by the exit tramway from the eastern operations.

The Blacksmith's shop for the Gader Wyllt quarry to the east. A pair of substantial gates on the path can be seen to the left.
The site, while nominally called "Llyn-y-Gadair" is actually a collection of several concerns: Drwsycoed, Gader, Gader Wyllt and Hafoddruffydd. Looking at the NLS maps, the oldest, 1888, has this first pit working as "Llyn-y-Gadair". It was possibly worked out by the time the next concern, "Gader Wyllt" started up to the East. Certainly, Llyn-y-Gadair had ceased operations by 1890, as the HM inspectorate records show. There are records of a machinery dealer selling some of the rails to a quarry in Nantlle during 1897.

Gader Wyllt incline head and drumhouse.
 Gader Wyllt lies to the East, on higher ground. The mill here may use beams possibly from the demolished mill at L-y-G. There's also a ruined machinery room to the western side which would have housed some sort of engine. A line of Hudson track goes northwards towards an incline head and drum house- this is pretty much destroyed by the elements, while some primitive walliau snuggle beneath the level of the tip in a slightly more protected spot. These might have been a later addition, used by men working the tips during the 1930's depression.

 A pit lies behind the mill; it was impossible to see if there was an adit due to the vegetation and extremely boggy nature of the ground, although one is mentioned in Jones and Richards*.  Below, nearer the lake, the foundations of the newer, unfinished mill stand, a quixotic monument to a failed enterprise. Ownership of both quarries is a tangled skein, even by North Wales standards. The HM Inspectorate doesn't list this quarry until 1913, although according to the maps, it was working in 1888.  With the Lyn-y-Gadair quarries in general, various complicated plots emerge, involving among others, the North Wales Unionists Quarries, Cadwallader Humphreys, manager of the defunct Glanrafon quarry and even the famous (infamous?) J H Robinson of Nantlle at one point, until the Gadair Wyllt concern finally ceases in 1928. The interlinked story of the personalities and organisations concerned is a complicated one and too involved to go into here, but it is worth noting that while the Unionists Quarries company didn't come out of things too well, Humphreys bought the Quarry freehold for £2000 in 1924 and a year later sold the land to the Forestry Commission, minus the quarries, for £5000!

The Gader Wyllt mill and pit, with the primitive walliau beside the track on the left.
Going back to the topography, a well-engineered tramway goes off to the East towards a small working, with a weigh hut and an adit, much overgrown and choked with weeds. This is likely to be a trial working only, as there is not a great deal of spoil. Another trial also lies further Eastwards.

The trial adit and ruined weigh house.
Finally, there is a pit behind the unfinished mill, perhaps an earlier excavation, again it was too wet to explore very closely. Scattered around the site are many glacial erratics, left after the last ice age, when the boulder clay that overlies the slate here was laid down. Interestingly, one of the first prospectuses for the Llyn-y-Gader quarry points out the reserves of "fireclay" and an early lessee was Frederick Wallis of Kettering, a brick and tile merchant. However, there is no evidence that any clay was quarried here.

The mystery of the development of this site, like the machinations of the various lessees, will never be solved- but I can't think of many sites so easy or pleasant to access. In good weather it makes an easy trip out, with the added bonus of WHR trains passing across the valley. Of course, when we visited there were none, although the Snowdon Mountain Railway train could very clearly be heard chuffing up to the summit!

The remains of the new mill, unfinished at the time of abandonment.

* "Cwm Gwyrfai, the Quarries of the North Wales Narrow Gauge and the Welsh Highland Railways", Gwynfor Pierce Jones and Alun John Richards, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 0-86381-897-8

Lôn Gwyrfai path link.


Anonymous said...

Lovely stuff, Iain.

03-DSC_1161.NEF.jpg is a particularly fine view!

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham. It was a fabulous day.

Anonymous said...

Images a great blend of landscape, industry and decay

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Alex, yes, the balance is pretty much perfect in this spot!

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