Saturday, 25 June 2016
Pen y Ffridd or Llanrhychwyn Slate Mine
Pen-y-Fridd has to be one of the most enchanting mines that I have ever visited. The daylit chambers open out into the woods near Trefriw at SH776612 and in some ways, feel a little like Clogwyn-y-Fuwch, but on a smaller, more intimate scale. A series of openings follow the vein along a dolerite sill, but the adjoining walls are worked away, so that only the pillars remain to hold the roof up. It's a wonder that the whole place hasn't collapsed before now, but the result is a cathedral-like space, quiet and eerie in the woodlands.
We first visited a few years ago, but In a silly moment, I accidentally deleted all my photographs before I could process them. Petra and I have been meaning to come back for a long time...finally, this spring, we made it. Nothing much seems to have changed. You can still park in a lay-by along from the footpath entrance that leads to the mine, walking along through a farm and shortly afterwards taking the right fork up a steepish path that leads to the workings. This felt like hard going for me as I was carrying my excessively heavy tripod and underground kit, but the wonderful woodland setting made up for the discomfort.
It is an old mine. The first record of it is in 1786, when Pen y Ffridd slates were known to have been exported from Conwy. The slate is black and quite heavy with pyrites, liable to rust and crumble when exposed on a roof, but nevertheless, the mine kept up a good trade and between 1824 and 1840 it mainained an output of over 1000 tons a year. Output carried on spasmodically until it was last worked in 1865.
Walking up to the mine, you are aware of the tips on the left, so overgrown with trees and vegetation now as to be barely recognisable, looking more like river spurs or ridges. There may or may not be an incline, there certainly is a little bridge at one point. The records are coy about whether there were any tramways here, perhaps this was too early...we certainly didn't see any evidence of rails. Output seems to have been processed outside, with no signs of walliau or a mill, although the smithy is marked on the 1899 map. The smithy is a magical place and I spent some time trying to photograph it, although the encroaching trees nearly defeated me.
Getting in to the mine is a struggle, involving clambering over fallen timber and dense undergrowth. The path is well fenced off, too, being a public right of way, so barbed wire has to be negotiated. It's all worth it, though as the place really is breathtakingly beautiful. It is, as Williams and Lewis* say, an "eerie and mysterious place".
This time, we walked up to the top of the workings and found some scratchings and remains of workings on the highest level. I doubt whether this would have been a powder store as I wonder whether powder was used at all- I suspect the slate was hammered and crowbarred away from the gangue rock.
There are also run-in hints of lead mines in the vicinity, quite subtle and only seen with the mine explorer's eye of faith...a tip here, a depression there. It does add up to a picture of the place being very busy at the end of the C18. A new road was built in 1824 by Robert Hughes to take produce to the quay at Trefriw and there are some references to slate workers sawing blocks and splitting slabs on the quayside for onward distribution down the River Conwy.
"Gwydir Slate Quarries, Williams and Lewis, Gwasg Dwyfor, ISBN 0 9512373 5 7