Anyone who has looked at Snowdon on Google earth will be aware of Glanrafon; it shows up as a surreal cookie cutter hole, punched in the landscape. Well, Snowdonia is peppered with all manner of mines, most fenced and gated off to deter the curious- so it's no surprise this little corner has it's share of slate and mineral mines. Unlike some places, at Glanrafon there isn't much to see immediately, and the pit is a way off the footpath- only keen students of holes would make the extra walk to see it. There's also a curious trick of the terrain that the pit isn't particularly visible from the valley, although it's a different matter from higher up!
We started from the path which leaves the A4085 at Rhydd Ddu, heading for the Snowdon Ranger track. This was in the very early spring, and there was a bitter wind, but even so, we encountered a good few walkers. The allure of Snowdon seems eternal. One of the advantages of this approach to Snowdon is the proximity of the Welsh Highland Railway, and we saw a couple of trains. I was hoping to photograph them from the Glanrafon tips, but we just couldn't get away from our work early enough that day. The track meanders over boggy ground, past ruined sheep fanks and on through the tips. At this point we left it to go and look at that hole.
It's not that deep compared to some of the sincs in Dinorwig or Dorothea, but makes an impressive spectacle nonetheless. There are several galleries and the inevitable buttress made of igneous gangue rock that was no use to the rockmen. There is a tunnel to a subsidiary pit and various closed off levels accessed from run-in lower tunnels. This is the thing about Glanrafon, though...while we know that it opened in October 1875 and closed in 1915 (yes, only forty years to make that pit!) it was picked over for another fifty-odd years by a number of syndicates and lone foragers who systematically removed anything resembling workable slate. Similarly anything metal suffered a similar fate. So most of the mills and structures were dismantled rock by rock and split into marketable slates.
|The remains of the barracks, which have survived because they were built with igneous rock, not slate!|
|The Mills area|
It paid off, as the first years of the quarry were remarkable. Rents were exceeded in five years and the royalty rate was £225 to the estate by 1884.
|Waterwheel pit, with Mynydd Mawr in the background|
|Unidentified structures near to the pit.|
|Evidence of latter-day overburden stripping|
|The cutting made by Owen and Iorwerth Thomas|
Their incumbency is marked by scenes reminiscent of the Chuckle Brothers; at first things were little more than hand-to-mouth...slates were sent down the half-mile incline to the railway track bed without the benefit of telegraphic communication to the lower banksman, and in misty weather it was impossible to see the foot of the incline. Many a wagon went hurtling away, a harbinger of the RAF jets who would later fly low through the valley!
The brothers decided to procure a pony and cart from an associate in Nantlle, but unfortunately, this ancient animal died before it could do any work- the journey over the pass from Dyffryn Nantlle proved too much for the poor beast. Attempts were made to use caterpillar dozers and dumpers on the tips, but this was impractical and too expensive for a shoe string operation. The boys went back to carting slates in wheelbarrows and using an ex-army Jeep for transport to and from the quarry. Eventually, they settled on ex-army Morris four wheel drive vehicles to move product to the road below.
|Remains of the half-mile long lower incline to the Welsh Highland Railway|
Much resort has been made here to the late Prof. Gwynfor Pierce Jones and Alun John Richards' "Cwm Gwyrfai" , a seminal work and recommended to the student of slate quarries of any hue. I am most grateful for the information contained therein. ISBN: 0-86381-897-8 2004.
The books by James I. C. Boyd, notably" Narrow Gauge Railways of South Caernarfonshire Vol 2, The Welsh Highland Railway". (Oakwood Press 1989) ISBN; 085361-383-4
"Gazeteer of Slate Quarrying in Wales" Alun John Richards, Llygad Gwalch 2007, ISBN: 1-84524-074-X This is the Vade Mecum, and has details on every site of significance in Wales.