4-8 July 2019 - Nigel Dibben
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The conference in 2019 was held in mid-Wales at a village called Llanafan. The village is not far inland from Aberystwyth and a short distance south of Devil’s Bridge and the Rheidol Valley. The well-known Cwmwystwyth lead mines are not far to the east. The conference was arranged by Roy Fellows of Cambrian Mines Trust. Roy, working very much on his own, booked the halls, the camping area, toilets, showers and car parking in the village and organised leaders for a great variety of trips. He also commissioned the Hafod Arms of Devil’s Bridge to supply meals on Friday and Saturday nights and a bar as well. My contribution was to manage the booking website and then run the reception over the weekend in conjunction with Emma from Wealden Cave and Mine Society and Pete and Joyce Jackson from Nent Head.
Roy’s plan was to extend the trips over a long weekend so I travelled across on Thursday morning arriving about 2 in the afternoon. The rest of the day was spent setting up reception and the hall, and dealing with the first delegates arriving that evening.
On Friday morning, I got away from the site and paid a visit to Henfwlch mine located near the Nant-y-Moch Reservoir, not too far from Tal-y-bont. The drive there was interesting, six or seven miles of single track road up a beautiful valley. At Henfwlch, I met Mike and Eileen Worsfold and we were soon wading in along the adit. (I think all of the trips I did involved water over wellie depth and sometimes chest deep.) After passing some side passages and a shaft to a lower level we arrived at a “Roy” dig down through a collapse into a decent-sized stope. Here, there was a nearly complete wheelbarrow. From the stope, a passage turned back towards the entrance but dropped down following the ore body which here, as in the other mines I visited, seem to be more like pipe workings. We dropped down a crawl emerging in a steep stope with a fixed handline on one side. This went on down through a section with massive fallen timbers, presumably once thought necessary to support the hanging wall. A short traverse led to the bottom of the shaft we had seen before and a blind passage containing a kibble. This was the end of the trip so we turned back, re-ascended the handline and worked our way out to sunshine.
Back at Llanafan, the afternoon was spent checking in more delegates and then in the evening there was a meal, some talks and the bar to keep us occupied.
On Saturday morning, I decided to stay at the hall and then have a trip in the afternoon. For this trip, I travelled with Rick Stewart of Tamar Mining Group up to Tal-y-bont where we went down into the Allt-y-crib Deep Level via an open stope and another “Roy” dig. We were led by Paul Smyth. The Deep Level is not just deep in the altitude sense but also deep in the wet sense. In the floor there were some convenient trip hazards left from the days when a set of flatrods ran along the level to operate a pump. At a cross-roads, we met a stope on one side and a dig on the other. Beyond that the passage ended at a flooded shaft with a pumping arrangement driven by the flatrods. This appeared to involve the rods pulling a chain attached to a rocker (possibly part of a balancing arrangement) which presumably lifted a plunger down the shaft – the chain appears to have run over a sheave at height although this might have been part of a hauling system. Next to the shaft was an unusually large diameter chamber with the remains on the floor of a one-horse driven hauling engine. That was enough excitement for the day so we headed back to the surface up the rather worryingly rigged stope to day.
Saturday evening passed fairly rapidly with a sit-down meal for about half of the delegates followed by the bar until late.
On Sunday morning, I chose to go to Bwlch Glas so leaving the afternoon free to clear stuff out of the hall. Once again, the journey involved a very narrow road which although tarmaced and on the OS map is not even on my SatNav! Bwlch Glas mine was worked in the twentieth century so there are a lot of concrete remains outside and the ladderways are still more or less intact. We went up through the remains of the works to the Upper Adit which led to the top of the ladderway (second point of exit?). Here we were able to use the ladders with a self-lifeline for safety. After two long ladders, we ended up abseiling the last 20m into the main stope. A massive collapse had not only wrecked the ladders but also blocked access to the Lower Adit even though a strong draught showed that there are devious ways through. In the main stope there are the substantial remains of the internal shaft consisting of two cages and the lifting gear but without the winding motor. We pottered around for a while taking photos and then headed out up the rope and ladders. Outside, we did not stay on the surface long but headed into the Lower Adit where we were chest-deep in water after a short while. The adit is straight and has only one junction with two short blind headings before the end. Here it hits the main vein where we had been earlier in the day. The collapse is obvious but just before this, there is a side passage leading to a hauling shaft which was later used to extract water from below. The water was lifted in a barrel which “automatically” filed at the bottom and then was tipped out at the top of the shaft. Despite our attempts, we could not quite work out the emptying system! Returning to the surface, we changed and warmed up in the in typical Welsh sun before driving back to base.
Sunday afternoon was used to clear the reception and the hall except for a couple of tables that we used later when the bar opened. At 10pm, the barman left with instructions to us to empty the last barrel – which we duly did.
On the last day, I had arranged two trips in the Rheidol valley not far from Devil’s Bridge. Our leader was Ioan Lord who had recently published a book about the mines so we were better prepared than for the other trips. The first mine entered was Taylor’s Adit at Pant Mawr containing, you guessed, chest-deep water. After a while, the water became just a few inches deep when we met the first vein and workings which Ioan and others had explored to considerable depth, eventually achieving a through trip to the adit. In the first stope on the left there was a shaft down known as Shaft Glas (blue) after the blue hydrozincite deposit at the top. Opposite the shaft on the other side of the adit is a drive along the vein with an older passage gradually rising above it. We had to be content with staying on adit level, exploring stopes on the same vein. At the end of the adit, there are blind headings as the miners were clearly fishing around for continuation of the vein. Again, the vein only seemed to be rich over short distances.
After returning to the surface for a couple of hours while Ioan led another trip, he then met us again to go down to Rhiwrugos mine and No 2 Adit in particular. This was close to the Vale of Rheidol railway so we waited for a few minutes until the train had passed (carrying amongst others Pete and Joyce Jackson!). This adit was not quite so deep in water so our feet remained dry. Again there was a cross-roads when the adit reached the vein and on the left was a winze down to a lower level and some passage beyond that was inaccessible without a substantial bridge being constructed. On the opposite side was a high stope where the timbering is “interesting” but provides excellent examples of how such a mine would have been worked with platforms many meters above adit level. Back on the adit, it continues to a blind heading again.
After leaving No 2 Adit, we climbed back up through the woods and then down a precarious slope to No 6 Adit (they are numbered upwards from the bottom). This was of interest because it appears to be totally hand-picked and Ioan was interested in our views on it compared with other coffin levels in Derbyshire and Cheshire. We soon completed our visit and returned to the cars to changes.
After this, the only remaining thing to do was to drive home.
Not having been to mid-Wales for some time and not having been down any of the five mines I visited, it proved to be a very interesting weekend. Roy was rightly congratulated on the organisation he had carried out preparing for the conference. Oh! and the weather was really kind to us – something not that common where we were.