|The intermediate drumhouse of the Cwm y Llan incline, looking towards the top. The Watkin Path bisects the incline as can be seen in the centre of the photo.|
There was some discontent in our group when it became known that our master, Mr Metcalfe, expected us to climb halfway to the summit of Snowdon on this Watkin Path, to see some Moraines. We were young and creative- we could imagine them, couldn't we? But Metcalfe was not someone to argue with, having a slightly menacing persona reminiscent of Lee Marvin, so we grudgingly assented. There was much talk about glaciation and drumlins from the Metcalfe, when I spotted the lofty Cwm y Llan incline towering above- and asked our mentor what it was all about.
The lads weren't interested and larked about, but something had got hold of me- and as Metcalfe explained the tramway and incline system, the seeds of an unhealthy life-obsession with quarries and mines were sown. The rest of that day was spent in wonder at the remains of the tramway and mines of the cwm, to the other boys amusement. And it did take the heat off them, as I kept asking Metcalfe about various features.
|A bridge remains where the incline shot over a track, now repurposed as the popular route to Snowdon.|
The Incline belongs to a derelict concern called the Hafod y Llan slate Quarry, or South Snowdon...the actual quarry nestles in a wild region uphill called Cwm Tregalan, where it seems, much weather originates. The quarry was part of a group of concerns that employed some creative accounting in order to justify their meagre returns on capital. Certainly it must have cost a great deal to build the incline and tramway works, let alone dig the holes in the cwm. The late Gwynfor Pierce Jones, doyen of Welsh Slate experts, calls the tramway and incline "heroic" and I wouldn't dream of arguing with that.
Our first impressions, walking up the Watkin path, were of the incline and it's soaring flight from high above. It rivals the Wrysgan incline for length and steepness, although without the tunnel at the top. We were to explore the drumhouse later, but the first thing that caught our attention was the processing area of the copper mine, also called "Hafod y Llan". This was an old mine before the 1840's, when well-known quarry wrangler Alan Searell took over the management. Ore was sold at Swansea in 1825/6, for instance. The layout of the mine was unorthodox to say the least. Copper was mined from high up on the hill, a flank of Y Lliwedd. The stoping can be seen from the Watkin Path. A tramway took the ore along to a point above the processing works, where it was thrown down a chute!
|The Copper mine, with the top platform of the chute, high above.|
Searell did not lead an easy life, often on the go from 5 am in the morning until late at night, riding or walking between mines without rest- and was responsible for more than a few miners keeping their jobs.
Of the processing floor, there were waterwheels, stone crushers and ancillary equipment. The pit for a waterwheel can still be seen next to the building across from the waterfall. A curious stone block railway leads from here, across the river and up to Braich yr Oen copper mine, another one of Searell's charges. It reminded me more of the Haytor granite tramway than anything in Wales. The gauge is nominally four feet, perhaps a little more- certainly unique in Welsh copper mining. It is a mystery, beginning just at the trackbed of the Slate quarry tramway above. The mine itself is a couple of hundred feet further up the mountain. We aim to take a further look at this, so will report our findings in another instalment.
|The stone block tramway|
|The top incline drum house looking down to Nant Gwynant|
|The view from the top|
I owe old Metcalfe a great deal, as he encouraged me and gave me some very hard kicks up the butt as and when required to get me back on the rails. I never thanked him, even though I appreciated his gimlet eye on my school career. He's probably scratching away on that blackboard in the sky now, but for what it's worth, thanks Mr M.
He'd probably smile and say "Don't think twice, it's alright"...
|Next time, the tramway to South Snowdon Slate...|