An eventful couple of days

On Thursday 28th January, I had booked my car in for a service and MoT test at Halfords in Bangor, who know the car well. As it is twelve years old, there is always a degree of suspense about the outcome, even though it has clocked up less than 3000 miles in the last twelve months. Under current restrictions they do not of course wish you to hang around, so I planned to walk over to Menai Bridge, and then to Waitrose supermarket on the far side, which I normally visit once a week. I have driven across the bridge hundreds of times over the years, but never walked across, so this was an opportunity to do that. I always think you never really know a locality until you have explored it on foot. That was certainly true on this occasion, you just don’t register the enormous impact of this bridge until you cross it on foot. Of course, the walkway is well supplied with signs encouraging those contemplating suicide to phone the Samaritans, since jumping into the Menai Strait here is a regular occurrence and always fatal.

Having reached Waitrose and put some items in a basket, I couldn’t find my wallet. Went through the usual routine of checking every one of eight pockets without success, so had to return to Halfords with my rucksack still empty. Although the original service etc had been prepaid, there was an additional bill because of a vital but quickly remedied MoT failure, but how do I pay for it? It transpired that Halfords have the capacity to take payment on a “customer not present” basis, and I had the capacity to remember the necessary figures from the card, so I was able to take the car home.

Three hours later they phoned me to say that my wallet had been found in their car park by a customer and handed in, intact, so I arranged to collect it the following morning.

Twenty minutes after that a call centre offered me a Covid 19 vaccination at the University sports centre in Bangor, “you can come now if you want”. I felt I had had enough for one day, and made an appointment for the following morning.

The background to this call is that postal services here have been seriously disrupted by a Covid19 outbreak at the local delivery office, with relief workers being brought in from 70 miles away. The local NHS had been made aware of this, and my surgery had provided the phone numbers of eligible patients to the vaccination centre. Recent bad weather here had already disrupted the appointments system, and since most vaccinations here are of the Pfizer vaccine which has a short useability life after coming out of specialist freezer storage, there is an urgency about using the phials before they have to be thrown away.

The University sports hall, known as Canolfan Brailsford after a local cycling champion, was fitted out early in the pandemic as a “Nightingale” hospital (Enfys is the Welsh designation) although never used as such. So Friday morning I collected my wallet from Halfords at 0805, did my usual shop at Waitrose, which is virtually deserted at that time in the morning, and got to the Sports Centre a bit early for my 0915 appointment. Packed with nurses and volunteers managing a socially distanced queue, and progress was a bit slow. Like waiting to see Father Christmas, I commented. The actual injection was from my point of view just the same as a flu jab and I was able to leave just after 1000. It was interesting to see the layout as an emergency hospital, the same as I have seen on TV from time to time. No noticeable side effects so far, and I have “paid forward” the fact my wallet was handed in intact (including £20 in cash) and that I have had my first jab, by making a donation to the Samaritans.

Although it will make no immediate difference to my behaviour in lockdown, it did feel like a valuable New Year present, and reflects the enormous amount of work that the UK has facilitated to make vaccines possible.

Nearly back to square one

So we are back to a full lockdown, with the significant difference that vaccinations are starting to happen even up here. With a predominantly white and elderly population locally, take up is likely to be high, as it has been with the flu vaccine.

As well as my usual activities, this is a time of year when I have to invest quite heavily in wood fuel for my solid fuel burner, which provides both hot water and central heating. There has been quite a lot of publicity about the disadvantages of wood fuel stoves, but I have always bought kiln dried wood, and this year increasingly heatlogs . Delivery can be a problem when you live at the bottom of a private track which is itself at the bottom of a steep narrow dead end lane, but I have worked out ways of getting supplies into the back of the car . Loose logs are far too much effort, so I buy bags or nets of various kinds, which I can get into the house from the car by wheelbarrow. A good keep fit exercise in itself. In North Wales there appears to have been a big increase in demand this winter, but I have now got enough to last me until the Spring. If I had known 20 years ago what I know now, I would have set up an air or ground source heatpump, but that’s idle speculation until the system needs replacing.

It is not only bulky items that can generate delivery issues. Like so many others, I am making more use of orders online. Drivers under pressure can resort to several strategies to avoid coming down to the house. This was one delivery of frozen meat recently, a polystyrene box put in the top of my wheelie bin, by my letter box, a hundred and thirty metres from my house. Fortunately I had an email confirming delivery, but had to walk up and collect it in the dark and the rain, before the bin was emptied the following day.

When drivers do take the trouble to come to the house, they can arrive in vehicles too large for the purpose, and have trouble getting back to the road. One recently tried to reverse up, but only the post van and its regular driver has the expertise to pull off that trick. This driver had to call for recovery before I was able to get him down again and turn round to get up frontwise. Some damage to the track resulted. Occasionally a driver will realise that he can’t get down, and spends five minutes walking down with the consignment. The most extreme delivery last year was of three small electrical items which came in a virtually empty 18 tonne van.

Christmas Day 2020

With a family stretched across North Wales, Leeds, and Edinburgh , we made a collective decision some weeks ago to stay in our own little burrows for Christmas, regardless of the ever changing governments’ guidance on the subject, so we made no plans to meet up and were not disrupted at the last minute. The decision was made easier for us by the prospect, even if some weeks away, of a vaccination for the older members.

To compensate a little for not being able to see children and grandchildren, I put energy into food planning, which has taken up a significant amount of time in the last few months. For today’s lunch I had prawn cocktail, mallard breast fillets with a cranberry and port sauce, roast potatoes, Christmas pudding and cream, and some Rose wine grown ten miles from here at Pantdu. The other items resourced from my local Waitrose, Wiltshire game, and Donald Russell in Aberdeenshire.

We will all be hoping that 2021 will be the beginning of the end of all the disruption. Peaceful Chrsitmas and Happier New Year to all.

Terfyn and Lon Garret

Terfyn is a Welsh word derived directly through the Roman occupation of Wales from Latin terminus. Pont (stone bridge), cwrtil (curtilage), caer (castra, fort) are similar examples. In the context of Dinorwig it is the name of the highest formerly occupied area on Lon Garret around SH59216174. Garret refers to the highest area of Dinorwic Quarry, which runs to nearly 2000 feet high. The highest house on the Ordnance Survey plan of 1891 was Tan y Garnedd, but by 1914 its name had changed to Tan-y-Garret (ie below Garret) at SH59396150. Almost all of these houses were abandoned by the time of the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_and_Country_Planning_Act_1947 planning legislation, meaning they cannot be brought back into use now without planning consent, which is very unlikely to be given. They are in varying states of decay, eg Geograph photos https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/298175 and 298186. The photographer notes the contrast between the two, usually like mine they are built with random stones picked out of the fields, but what looks from a distance like dressed stone on closer inspection turns out to be stone with a natural straight edge.

A few years ago an anemometer and associated electrical equipment were installed at Tan-y-Garret presumably to test its suitability for a wind turbine: subsequently it was blown down in a gale, which I suppose was sufficient evidence of its unsuitability since it hasn’t been reconstituted.

The farmer who used to own this land, who bought it from the Vaynol estate when it was dissolved in 1947 for a nominal price, was very particular about his ownership and put up various signs (whitewash on slate naturally) stating no road, no entry, etc, which is technically correct, even now this is not land subject to right to roam legislation. He told me some years ago that a property company had offered to buy the properties on a speculative basis, in the hope that planning laws would change, but he declined. After his death the farm was taken over by his son in law, and the signs have eventually disappeared. Basically this is upland hill farming, just a few sheep on poor grazing land.

A few of these houses were still inhabited after 1947, so that planning consent isn’t needed for them to be resuscitated. They include Bryn Goleu at SH52916146, which is reached by a steep rather terrifying track from Lon Garret. It passed through several hands until purchased in 2016 by a retired British corporate lawyer from Dubai who presumably had had enough of the heat; it is now the registered address of his “architectural activities” company, having been extensively renovated after he bought it. Even has mains electricity and a new septic tank nowadays.

Another upmarket property nowadays is Groeslon Uchaf SH5888197 which was bought at auction for £150k some years ago, has been extensively upgraded and is for sale at £495K https://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-68260851.html.

Lon Garret itself is a public highway as far as the gate leading into the old Dinorwig Quarry, after which it is disused. Parascenders park their vehicles in the small parking area by the gate, and climb up Elidir Fach to jump off and attempt to cross the quarry and Llanberis pass over to the the foothills of Moel Eilio. Otherwise it is used mainly by walkers, and motorists who like to drive up a no through road to see what’s at the end. Occasionally you might get more than you bargained for https://www.flickr.com/photos/hamishfenton/4250818356/in/photostream/. I can remember seeing snow like this 30 odd years ago, but it’s pretty much a thing of the past now. A reminder however of how brutal the climate sometimes was in the nineteenth century.

The road is not shown on the earliest large scale map of the area, OS two inch to the mile drawing of 1818, but it must have appeared soon afterwards presumably to gain access to the higher reaches of the quarry. However, the former presence of a Roman milestone at Caer Bythod SH5645 6360 raises an intriguing possibility. It was found in 1798 and is now, it seems, located at the National Museum of Wales site at St. Fagan’s near Cardiff. There has been speculation about why this milestone was found here, since it is currently about 3 miles from the known Roman road to the fort at Segontium, Caernarfon, which comes from Chester and through the northern end of Llanddeiniolen parish. The find site was roughly at the crossroads between the modern A4244 and a lane running from Llanrug through Penisarwaun and Clwt y Bont. This is direct rather than aligned, although E of Penisarwaun it is “warped straight” and is all but level. After crossing the main road it continues climbing gently until it comes to a steep pitch at 5723 6323. After crossing the Dinorwig Tramroad of 1824 at 5746 6309, the main road bears N up hill, minor road goes straight on, and on S side at 5760 6303 there is Tan yr Henffordd, (“below the old road”) which looks as though it was originally a 2 roomed cottage now much extended. Then again, by Deiniolen Silver Band room, the more used road turns N, and lane goes on and immediately swings through a sharp upstream zigzag over river Caledffrwd (5765 6301). Unusually for a minor road in this area this bridge was built up from 2 central piers, rather than a simple arch or horizontal slabs. It was washed away in a flood some years ago, and has now been replaced by a modern construction. There were also slight traces of edge-on paving below the bridge on N side. At 5795 6294 the road veers N round a mound of earth, but the S field wall goes straight on, and there is an old opening for a wicket gate in it halfway along the line. All this stretch from the main road, through what is now the village of Clwt y Bont, and including the zigzag, appears on the Llanddeiniolen enclosure award of 1813 (GAS). On this plan the track then turns abruptly S at 5797 6292, this still exists as a path, the road going straight on is not marked but logically must have been there. The 1818 drawing is similarly the same. A small stream (now culverted) is crossed at 5824 6284, then at 5351 6282 it crosses the road to Dinorwig built by the Vaynol Estate in 1812 and goes very steeply up the side of a tributary of Caledffrwd, where it is known as Lon Bwlch as it climbs to a small windgap at the top. The terraceway is most pronounced at 5862 6254, where a retaining wall some 8ft high is beginning to fall in. Another minor road is joined at 5870 6231 and then continues S but at 5871 6195 there is an awkward T junction and there are no obvious alternatives up hill to the east. We then come to Lon Garrett itself climbing across the mountainside until it disappears under the quarry tips at 5952 6115. It is not obvious why such a line should have been chosen for a quarry road of the Industrial Revolution, when the main C18/early C19 activity is known to have been down below on the Tramroad at Allt Ddu; this upper area of the quarry being as far as is known a later development. It is then referred to by name in a sketch of Dinorwig quarries made in 1836 (GAS Vaynol 4190). Looked at from the opposite side of Llanberis Pass, it is clear the line is the only possible one on the hillside at this high level and has been surveyed to a very regular gradient.

Does this imply there was older quarrying activity up here? There is no way now of getting proof, but the line does suggest the possibility of a Roman “road”, “path” might be a better description, we do know from the fort at Segontium that the Romans had discovered and used slate at least for paving, so perhaps it came from Garret where the beds were cropping to the surface.

Good fences make good neighbours

The famous Robert Frost poem is actually about a wall not being needed in that particular context, but it repeats a well known phrase in use for centuries. The vision of two landowners working opposite sides of a drystone wall seems rather obsolete from a modern point of view, and I can’t imagine it ever happening in this part of the world. Unlike the regular characteristics of a wall in a limestone area the stone walls in this region were created, with considerable skill, from a most irregular assortment of boulders lying at random in the boulder clay covering most hillsides (which includes glacial erratics from Scandinavia as well as local slate and granite), and would have been very labour intensive. The skills still linger on, and are used occasionally to repair wall or create walls at the roadside, such as this

at a recently completed sewage plant in Dinorwig. A close up view would show that this is not truly drystone, because concrete has been discreetly applied to provide more durability. Most of the original walls here are in various stages of collapse, and the universal way of providing boundaries now is the cheap and cheerful system of post and wire, which is efficient in the short term but starts falling apart within 15 to 30 years, at which point it becomes an eyesore. The posts will eventually rot away, but the wire, including the common addition of a razorwire topping, does not of course. Even the mountain tops round here are littered with the remains of fences put up thirty odd years ago, I think there might have been grants for doing it in those days, so you have this at the top of Foel Gras (Geograph 226145)

and various other summits.

Within a few hundred metres of my home there are examples of fencing that is now past its useability date: none of them are likely to be repaired.

Increasing amounts of this upland land are not so much being rewilded as abandoned. One organization going against the trend is the National Trust, who own Snowdon and much of the surrounding land. The stone walls on their tenanted land in Nant Gwynant are scrupulously maintained, much to the frustration of course of those of us who have lost our way and can’t cross the walls in our path. Some years ago I had to use a sheep creep like this to crawl through such a wall. This particular photo comes from Dartmoor.

The Trust’s tenant farm at Blaen y Nant in Nant Ffrancon near Bethesda has also been the venue for annual walling competitions, as referred to

https://thinking-stoneman.blogspot.com/2018/01/sean-adcocks-continuing-walling-project.html

https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Dry+stone+wallers+battle+to+do+Snowdonia+proud.-a0119896331

There is a third variation known in North Wales as cloddiau http://www.dry-stone.co.uk/Pages/Books/Articles/Cloddiau1.html which combines a stone base with an earth centre topped with a hedge, quite common in the lower land between Bangor and Caernarfon where the supply of stone is not so easy.

Unfortunately these efforts, like footpath maintenance, are becoming a drop in an ocean of neglect.

Return to lockdown

This blog has been rather neglected in recent weeks, owing to various other demands on my time. As lockdown eased, I have been able to get visits from family, including grandchildren, which was very welcome all round. This included a visit from my daughter, the original intention being to run an adventure race which got cancelled at the last minute. She came anyway and her exploits are recounted at planetbyde.com for those of an adventurous disposition. I have also been busy accumulating wood for my solid fuel stove, which runs my central heating. Only use heat logs or kiln dried and early autumn is the time to build up stocks, which I have now completed from a variety of sources, just in time for a “circuit breaker” lockdown to be introduced in Wales, which makes further family visits impossible. So settling in for the possibility of a long hard winter on my own, hopefully I shall survive.

More local stories later.

Collecting that prescription again

Varied the routine this time. After walking down the conventional way, I caught the bus for the first time in months, got off at Nant Peris and walked back up through the fields and quarry to home. The bus was busy because of walkers going to the top of the Pass to climb Snowdon, and a little bit intimidating for that reason.

You then follow the footpath mentioned in my article on the Fachwen estate as a possible old route from Llanberis pass to the Menai Strait. There is a section of the path where an iron bridge has collapsed, and there are council notices telling walkers a to cross the stream at their own risk or “seek an alternative route”. There are alternative rights of way on the map, but as so often happens nowadays, none of them can be found on the ground

It’s a very pleasant climb up through the fields, with a succession of shallow steps built by the quarrymen from Nant Peris getting to work until you get to the Dinorwic quarry boundary, where there is a cast iron gate of the type frequently deployed in the nineteenth century by the Vaynol estate where footpaths cross a wall or boundary. As you can see, it now boasts a danger sign because as it climbs up the tips, loose slate has slowly encroached upon the path. It’s still useable at the moment, but sadly I doubt whether it will be for much longer.

After that you pass through the quarry pretty much from end to end, by passing through “Watford Gap”.

That this is an old route is evidenced by the fact that a sketch of the quarry made in 1836 shows the horse drawn tramroad from Dinorwic to Moel y Don passing through this to reach the far incline no 3. This still exists but is in a potentially dangerous state, as it is made entirely of unmortared slate blocks which are now sagging dangerously. Notwithstanding this walkers still use it to get up onto the flank of Elidyr Fawr .

A few days later on 26th August we were hit by Storm Francis. The damage here was not as widespread as in many other parts of the UK, but there was a phenomenal amount of rain, 102mm (4 inches in 24 hours), in Dinorwig this shows itself as flash flooding albeit of a minor nature. It leaves water flowing down footpaths leaving them in a rather sorry state, but there’s no point in relying on landowners or the council to clear them up, they have more important issues to deal with, so we deal with the problem as best we can.

Getting around my part of the world

Transport can be a problem halfway up a mountain. Before the industrial revolution, you walked. Or if wealthy enough, you owned a horse. If a farmer, you might have a horse and cart. It was normal to walk three or four miles to work in the slate quarries, and three or four miles back. The advent of the railways increased the possibilities in some locations.

Most of the roads in this area were created in the nineteenth century; a few routes would have been developed from packhorse trails (see my article on Fachwen history). Then more to allow slate to be taken to the sea in Caernarfon, Port Dinorwic (now Y Felinheli), or Penrhyn Quay in Bangor. By present standards they are single track with no centre white line. Villages like Deiniolen or Llanberis have pavements for pedestrians, but Dinorwig does not. The most modern development resulted from the building of Dinorwig Power Station in 1974, which necessitated an extensive modernization of the main access roads to accommodate heavy goods vehicles.

The introduction of the internal combustion engine led to lorries, cars and buses, but as vehicles get larger the roads, with a few exceptions, do not. Unlike the Scottish highlands, few specific passing places were created, so meeting another vehicle on a single track lane requires negotiation. A few years ago an oncoming car refused to back down, which would have been good manners in the circumstances, forcing me to reverse some distance up a steep narrow lane, resulting in my clutch burning out and the most expensive repair bill I have ever had. You are also sharing the road with pedestrians, cyclists, horses and inevitably on occasion in Wales sheep, so you need to be alert.

There are bus services in the area, which have a chequered history. Three local companies have gone bankrupt, and in two there has been fraud on claiming payments for bus passes extensive enough to result in substantial prison sentences. Despite public support services here are hanging by a thread, and their future is uncertain.

There are of course taxi firms, but even these are diminishing as demand goes down, and those that survive outside towns like Caernarfon and Bangor are increasingly dependent on the tourist trade. Being able to drive a car, or have the use of one in the household, is increasingly a necessity. You have to be fit and healthy to use a bicycle hereabouts, although the advent of electric cycles will open up another option for some.

Origins of tourism in North wales

I have recently come across two websites about the origins of tourism in North Wales.

https://curioustravellers.ac.uk/en/about-the-project/ which details the results of a four year research project on previously unpublished tours of Wales and Scotland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The common factor is the journeys of Thomas Pennant of Whitford in Flintshire, who as a relatively wealthy gentleman of leisure, travelled extensively in both Wales and Scotland. These early tourists, of both sexes, were hardy individuals who sometimes travelled alone and on foot.

A spectacular example was William Hutton whose Wikipedia entry states “is generally held to be the first person in modern times to walk the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall, twice, producing an account of his 1801 journey in The History of the Roman Wall.[3] Walking 600 miles from his Birmingham home, along the wall, and back home again, he wrote in the preface, “I have given a short sketch of my approach to this famous Bulwark; have described it as it appears in the present day, and stated my return. Perhaps, I am the first man that ever traveled the whole length of this Wall, and probably the last that will ever attempt it” I’ve only glanced at the book, but looks as though he travelled solo, taking five weeks in the summer, walking an average of 20 miles a day. and spent 40 guineas, very roughly £3000 in today’s terms, on food and accommodation, often of a very primitive kind. He was 78! and lived to 91.

Another transcription is from the diary of Ann Lister. who featured in the TV series Gentleman Jack last year https://editions.curioustravellers.ac.uk/pages/show.html?document=0023.xml. She and her aunt went on a tour of Wales, and after staying at what is now Plas y Brenin, on 15th July 1822 they climbed Snowdon with a guide in 3.75 hours  via the Miners track, met up with one or two others who drank copious amounts of brandy at the top, then came down by a “very difficult route” to Llanberis. Presumably therefore not the Llanberis path, which did exist at the time, the only other possibility is via Cwm Glas Mawr, which even now is considered difficult and little used. Especially if you are unwell and have had a few glasses of brandy….

https://sublimewales.wordpress.com is another extensive site, in which William Hutton appears again – there is a lengthy account by him of climbing Snowdon in 1799. His daughter also came to North Wales a few years later.

William Bingley is another writer who visited Wales on several occasions, a young cleric at Cambridge who took a coach to Chester and then walked around North Wales in the long vacation of 1798. His book Tours in North Wales can be viewed and downloaded from University of North Carolina. The painter JMW Turner also travelled to Llanberis and started the now very famous and popular tradition of painting and photography from the bridge (built in 1825) at the northern end of Llyn Padarn near Llanberis.

There are many other examples now accessible through these modern digitisation initiatives. It’s worth recalling that this flowering of tourism in Wales by people of leisure coincided with the Napoleonic Wars, which meant that the grand tour of Europe popular with an earlier generation had come to an end.

Renewable energy in my world

Electric Mountain is a large pumped storage scheme initiated by the National Grid in 1974, when it was still in public ownership. It was one of the largest civil engineering projects in Britain at the time, and is still functioning nearly 50 years later The underground power station is huge, and in normal times open as a popular tourist attraction, even attracting overseas visitors. The vast cavern in which it is built is almost underneath my house and I have been on the tour several times over the years. It works by pumping water uphill from Llyn Peris to Marchlyn Mawr using off peak electricity, then running it downhill to generate electricity when needed. Nowadays it is more a standby than regularly used, since flicking the switch can generate a lot of energy within a few seconds. Unlikely to be built nowadays with the development of mass storage batteries but still functioning as intended.

Renewable energy round here nowadays consists of solar panels both domestic and commercial and micro hydroelectric schemes. There are at least eight of the latter within a 10 mile radius of here, in the National Park and near invisible once constructed, here is a commercial venture on the flanks of Snowdon which earns thousands of pounds a year – a power station with a turf roof

On a more modest scale, the introduction in Britain of a feed-in tariff scheme in 2010 offered considerable incentives for long term investment, and five owners in Dinorwig took advantage of this including myself.

The initial cost of the installation was £12000, and as predicted after 8 years I have recovered this cost. With the prolonged sunshine in April and May the panels has earned a record £935 for the quarter just ended. There is another 17 years of the scheme to run, which will return a profit of around £25000, although I’m unlikely to live long enough to gain by it myself, in which case the remaining profit will belong to a future owner. The scheme was run down over the years and has now closed, although there are still potential returns for commercial solar farms, one of which is a few miles away.

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Last year I had battery storage installed, a relatively expensive undertaking, partly to maximize my use of the electricity generated, partly as an insurance against mains power failure, which still happens occasionally – the grid is much more robust here than it was 40 years ago, when almost every gale led to a power failure – but with overhead wires even an adventurous squirrel can lead to interruption (and a dead squirrel). Since I don’t have gas, that’s a nuisance when cooking dinner.

I’ve also made a modest investment on behalf of my grandchildren in renewal energy cooperatives in the UK.

A thank you to Gwynedd council

One of the consequences of the “Beast from the East” here in March 2018 was that at least a hundred of the sessile oaks that are a distinctive feature of Padarn Country Park, and make it a site of special scientific interest, were uprooted, there being very little soil and a great deal of slate bedrock on this hillside. From time to time a relatively modest wind now will bring down more trees that were destabilized at the time, and on 17th June this came down across one of the well used paths in the woodland.

There had been another casualty on the same path a few hundred metres away in May

but this had been partially cleared by local walkers and was of less consequence.

Since the more recent fall was a larger tree and not very stable, I emailed my local councillor and the country park Warden on 22nd June, not being too optimistic that they could do much about it under current restrictions, but they have responded very promptly, and by this morning it has been cleared. Good to know that some of the less high profile work of local government can still be carried out.

Within the main wooded area too many brambles and feral goats have inhibited the regeneration of these trees, but in more open areas there are lots of saplings, and I even spotted one on my own land recently

This view from my bedroom window shows how much woodland can now be seen here compared with forty years ago – less sheep grazing off new shoots, plus some deliberate planting. It’s a real privilege to be living here.

Little known hill

Moel y Ci

This is a substantial western outlier of the Glyderau range, rising to 396 metres (1303 feet). It is outside the Snowdonia National Park. It was formerly a grouse shoot of the Penrhyn Estate, and was surrounded by a substantial stone wall, to keep the grouse in and the plebs out. Nowadays the wall has been breached and it is open access land, as shown on Ordnance Survey 1:25000 maps.

From the east it is just a minor hill, from the coast and Bangor it dominates the landscape.

The following article is from http://www.heneb.co.uk/merionethcairns/28moelyci.html, with acknowledgement.

28 Carnedd Moelyci, Llandegai

PRN 31 NGR SH590660 SAM

A large cairn, 14m diameter and up to 1.4m high but well spread, with an Ordnance Survey trig pillar on top. It is built of quite heavy boulders requiring great input of effort so is unlikely to be just a walkers’ cairn. The platform-like shape may have been created when the trig pillar was built. About 2m N of the trig pillar is what looks very much like a robbed cist and 0.6m deep with 3 sides formed by upright slabs and a thicker slab lying over these to the S, probably a moved cover slab. The slabs are too large and embedded to have been built by visitors. A fair amount of the cairn has been robbed to build a circular shelter on the NW and there are 3 small outlying recent summit cairns. The cairn is built on the W promontory of the summit plateau, which is the apparent summit or false crest when seen from the nearby lower land to the NW, whereas the actual summit is further to the E. This is good evidence that the cairn belonged to settlement lying in that direction.”

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Fachwen estate


Historical notes on Fachwen

These notes refer to an eighteenth century estate called Fachwen and owned by Lord Newborough, an extension to it to the north and east when common land was enclosed in 1814, and its absorption into the Vaynol estate by purchase in 1840. It is located on the eastern side of Llyn Padarn opposite Llanberis, in North Wales. The Newborough estate, sometimes known as Glynllifon, the name of Lord Newborough’s residence, also owned most of the land around and above Llanberis on which quarries such as Glynrhonwy were extensively developed in the nineteenth century.

References:

Collation of information obtained from an examination of Gwynedd archives in April and May 2003, together with an examination of 19th C Ordnance Survey maps, and some research in the field.

1797 = Evans J – Map of North Wales (ca 1797)

1818 = Ordnance survey drawing 2in/mile in British Library cat no 306. Available on line.

1840 = Ordnance survey 1in/mile 1st ed available as sheet 170 at www.visionofbritain.org.uk,

specifically https://visionofbritain.org.uk/maps/series?xCenter=3093196&yCenter=3007352&scale=63360&viewScale=11338.5888&mapLayer=nineteenth&subLayer=first_edition&title=Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Scotland First Series&download=true

1891 = Ordnance Survey 6in/mile 1st edition 1891.

B = James Bransby – A description of Llanberis & the Snowdon district (1845) (Caernarfon public library)

L = John Leyland, Itinerary in Wales 1536-1539, as ed L T Smith 1906 p79 (Caernarfon public library 914.2964.52)

DinD = Douglas Carrington – Delving in Dinorwig 1994

Land

The approximate boundary of the original Fachwen estate is shown in red, information derived lfrom the enclosure award of 1814 and tithe map of 1840. It was originally about 240 acres. There are still walls in some places, but in others there is no trace now on the ground. The purple line surrounds the addition of 60 acres made to the estate by the 1814 enclosure award. Ruined remnant (original northern boundary) illustrated.

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Packhorse trail described below at “Allt Wen” is marked in green

Packhorse trail described below at “Lon Capel” is marked in brown.

The earliest reference in Gwynedd archives shows that in 1763 the “messuages, tenements and lands called Fachwen, pa.[rish] Llanddeiniolen” pass into the ownership of the Glynllifon estate (subsequently Lord Newborough) for £4089. The 1840 tithemap of Llanddeiniolen shows the whole estate boundary in its pre 1814 form. Some of it also appears in a Vaynol estate plan of 1777. The Llanddeiniolen enclosure award of 1814, increases its size on the northern side by 102 acres.

Communications

Getting slate to market was a major issue for any quarry operation. The Vaynol estate had commissioned a “cart road” built in 1812, which is the present main road up to Dinorwig. It is therefore shown on the 1814 enclosure award and the 1818 OS drawing. It has a semi circular diversion at Chwarel Fawr (eliminated by the 1980s landscaping) which shows that that quarry must have been large even then.

Later the upper part of this road became also the line of the 1824 Dinorwig Railway, a horse drawn tramroad which ran down to Clwt y Bont on a double incline, still in existence although rather overgown, and then across the coastal plain to Nant y Garth and another incline down to Port Dinorwic. (DinD ch3). It is shown on the OS map of 1840 although very little now remains.

In 1836 (DinD ch5) James Spooner, a surveyor who had already designed and built the Ffestiniog Railway (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spooners_of_Porthmadog) was commissioned by Thomas Ashheton Smith to survey a new route from his quarries to Port Dinorwic. The survey survives at Gwynedd archives Vaynol 7142. This was for a railway halfway up Allt Wen and contouring round the hills in the same general line as the packhorse trail and eventually coming out, like the existing road and horse drawn tramway, at the top of Port Dinorwic. A length of it at the quarry end was built and still exists. But to go any further would entail crossing Lord Newborough’s Fachwen estate, and Edwin Shelton (see below) objected to the surveyors trespassing on his concession.

Eventually, after lengthy negotiations Thomas Assheton Smith buys the estate of 300 acres on 29th June 1840 for £13500, around £1 million at today’s prices. At £45 an acre this seems a high price, reflecting presumably the premium he was willing to pay for getting access to land for the railway to Port Dinorwic – during the negotiations TAS describes it as “a rocky small farm, which he (ie Lord Newborough) cannot even let in parts to the quarrymen. The rental value when the estate passed to Vaynol was £188 (Vaynol 1735). Within three years the railway to Port Dinorwic is opened through the estate along the lakeside, being horsedrawn initially (B 1845 p17). Subsequently the waste tips of Bonc or Domen Fawr (that is, what is now the open landscaped area of the country park) were extended across the old Fachwen boundary, according to local tradition burying a Plas Fachwen farm – see below. After 1846 one has to rely on incomplete Vaynol records, however they do show that apart from the railway another reason for purchase was to lease plots to allow quarrymen to build cottages (Vaynol 1735 especially, and the 1869 survey at Vaynol 4194), and T A Smith wasted no time in implementing this policy, in 1843 (XD2/ 20407) an agent of Lord Newborough’s comments “if Fachwen was let since 5 years ago to build houses, how could TAS get the good opportunity he has now, to let houses to his quarrymen”, and B 1845 p17, “on the mountains around has risen up…a number of neat cottages with plots of ground attached to them, from one to five acres in extent. For this measure… It appears to have been Vaynol policy to settle workers on the land in relative isolation from each other, rather than in village clusters, to avoid attracting public houses, and also to discourage union activity.

The name “Fachwen” continued to be attached to this area around the present Fferam Fachwen, as shown in OS 6” 1st edition of 1890, and subsequently. It persisted through to the dissolution of the Vaynol estate in 1967, Ty Newydd still being described as located in Fachwen in 1972 (conveyance in possession of author). In everyday usage the name has now migrated to Lon Fachwen a few hundred metres to the north and its scattering of C19th houses.

Roads

Lon Fachwen

In 1824 following several years negotiations (XD2/6619) Thomas Assheton Smith (ie Vaynol) makes an exchange with Lord Newborough. TAS as owner exchanges “a parcel of land, 1540 yds by 8 yds., area 2 acres 2r. 0p., for the construction of a road from Fachwen to Penyllyn” against “a parcel of land, area 3 acres 0r. 10p., pa.[rish]. Mutual consideration of 10s”. This leads to the construction of the lower part of Lon Fachwen, thereby allowing Lord Newborough or his lessees to develop quarrying on his estate with a more efficient transport exit than the packhorse trail. From the plan it is clear that the preexisting boundary of his estate ran from the upper part of the land allocated for the road, straight down to the lake, as a stone wall in the wood still does. The new road would give him access to what was at the time a quay at Penllyn at the lakeside. The piece of land sold dovetails neatly into the point by the 30 sign at 5700 6195 where the packhorse trail referred to below now leaves the road as a footpath to go over Clegyr. It is clear from the plan that the land Lord Newborough ceded in exchange is part of 138 and 139 from the enclosure award, pasture just W of the main road in the area of Bigil. There is no further reference to roads, but the Spooner survey already referred to (Vaynol 7142) shows the present Fachwen lane as it is now.

At Penllyn itself, Lord Newborough paid for the construction of the present road bridge in 1825, and also the section corresponding for the most part to the present main road into Llanberis. The accounts book survives as XD2/ 13158. In 1838 T A Smith took over the maintenance of the bridge (XD2/ 13161), the papers showing that no tolls were ever charged for its use – although the road to Llanberis itself had become part of the turnpike from Caernarfon to Pen y Gwryd by 1831.

Early routes

There appear to be two, possibly three, pre industrial revolution routes. “Roads” would be an optimistic description, since they were not wide enough for wheeled traffic, they would have been packhorse trails traces of which can still be found all over Gwynedd, and sledges were known to have been used as well.

Allt Wen

This appears to start on the “drag road” later called “doctor’s road” (DinD) at SH58426072. There are no signs of it now further down the hill beyond this, which suggests either that it originally started there, and therefore was built after the drag road; or that it zigzagged W and then SE at that point onto the same line. The rest of the route strongly suggests it is older than the eighteenth century. It would appear to correspond with the road marked on the map of 1797 from the vicinity of Castell Dolbadarn as far as Fachwen, since there are no alternative routes discernible on the hillside. It ascends Allt Wen as a terraceway, now part of the green waymarked route laid out by the country park, and has become slightly hollowed in the exposed slate bedrock at SH58376078 where it briefly turns into the dip of the slope before resuming as a terraceway. At SH58316084 it is joined by the path that comes down from the truncated Spooner railroad works (DinD), and continues up through a disused gateway at SH58126104 before rounding the hill and descending slightly to SH58226094. At this point it now forms the top of the dam which terminated Llyn Pen yr Allt, which was a trout lake created by the Vaynol estate, and shown on later nineteenth century maps.. Further on the dam has been breached, according to local tradition by a flood in 1948. It passes Cae Goronwy at SH58176137, where its status as a right of way has been unsuccessfully disputed in the recent past, and continues on to SH57626174 where it has been blocked: the original track can be seen going straight on under a stone wall, and is still shown as a right of way on the OS maps. At this point it joins what is now Lon Fachwen, although there is a slight suggestion from field boundaries and off road houses that it might originally have run a few metres further down the hill. At SH57006195 it parts with the modern lane and climbs the hillside of Coed y Clegyr some way before descending by a zigzag past the old farmstead of Bron y Gadair, then Plas Tirion (a major embankment here). Past the still occupied Rhydau Duon it may be significant that it retains the status of a bridleroad, and so comes down to Brynrefail. There is then a continuous narrow public lane leading across undulating ground past the Iron Age hillfort of Dinas Dinorwig, through the hamlet of Llanddeiniolen itself and finally descending the hillside very steeply to reach Felinheli, alias Port Dinorwic alias Moel y Don, depending on the use to which this strait side terminal is put – this was a major crossing to Anglesey even in Roman times. In effect this route creates a link from Pen y Pass/Dolbadarn Castle to the Anglesey crossing, which suggests an original use long before quarrying became the driving force for communications.

Lon Capel

This road appears on 1816, and a section of it on the 1814 plan. I would suggest this was originally a continuation of another packhorse trail that came down Llanberis Pass and then climbs from Nant Peris as a public footpath up through the tips at the south eastern end of the Dinorwic Quarry complex and then through the quarry out to the bus terminus. The fact that it has been preserved and remade through the quarrying and tipping processes strongly suggests that as a right of way it predated the quarry altogether. In the quarry itself only the general line has been preserved, but when we reach the enclosure plan it is shown following the present Lon Capel, but instead of turning N at an angle past the modern playground, it carries on just to the north of Ysgubor, where it is a terraceway, and on the other side of Lon Fachwen appears again as a hollow way (still marked on modern OS as a “path” although never used) below the old quarry of Frondirion. There is no further trace, except perhaps for a terraceway by Graig Lywd, SH58706235.

Quarries

PRN references are to the Archwilio archaeological database at https://www.archwilio.org.uk/arch/

There are six quarry sites recorded within the estate.

Two of these, Boundary SH57506140 PRN20078 (that is the boundary between old Fachwen and Vaynol land) by Cei Llydan station on the modern lakeside railway and 20079 Ladas at SH578610 (no archaeology record) were started after the Vaynol acquisition and there is little to be seen, and no public access.

The remainder are

Vaynol (originally Fachwen) SH57856155 PRN20080 is the only quarry which was definitely worked after 1840. DinD p60 illustrates that it was much expanded in the late C19th and it is still active on OS map 1914 1:10560. This is because it was the only quarry on the estate which was capable of accommodating an incline down to the lakeside railway after the Vaynol acquisition.

Chwarel Isaf SH57896140 (no archaeology record) “old quarry” 1914 1:10560

Fronhyfryd SH57906170 PRN20082 “old quarry” 1889 1:2500

Chwarel Goch SH58106181 PRN20083 apparently inactive 1889 1:2500

Lloc SH58206190 PRN20085 . This last falls within the addition to the estate from the enclosure award, it looks on the ground as if there was a “drag” going up to the main road/tramway.

There is also an undocumented trial adit at SH58046132.

Documented history 

First mention of the possibility of quarrying is in 1830 (XD2/16867), when a William Roberts of Llanwnda, applies to Lord Newborough for rights to quarry for slate. The letter implies there are no workings there at the time. A similar application is made on behalf of an Owen Michael the following year (XD2/16924). In 1832 (XD2/17096) the agent for Lord Newborough comments “I will see what can be done with the Bachwen people, though it is very probable that they will be like dogs in the manger, unable to do anything themselves, and unwilling to let anyone else” – although the context doesn’t show whether this is a reference to quarry leases or tenants. Something has started  by January 1834 (XD2/ 17569), which refers to rents being paid for the Bachwen Quarries, amongst others. A month later Thomas Prichard, Lord Newborough’s agent, states (XD2/ 17593)  “Mr Shelton is going on very well at Fachwen so far, but the prospect is not very good.” 5 weeks later he comments (XD2/ 17629)  that a Mr. John Roberts, who had other substantial quarrying leases on the Glynllifon estate,  “was willing to take the positions at Fachwen quarry” but two days later (XD2/ 17633) Edward Shelton “also wants the whole of Fachwen ” and again (XD2/ 17636) “Mr. R. could come to some agreement with Mr. Shelton about Fachwen, if he could secure a proper rent”. Later that year Pritchard, “has to go to Fachwen with Mr. S to arrange how to go on with the quarries as we intend to begin them shortly”. These arrangements are confirmed by the fact that the land transfer of 1840 (XD2/6620) refers to a lease taken out by Edwin Shelton from Lord Newborough in 1834 for quarrying for 21 years, XD2/19077. In the Spooner survey (DinD, Vaynol 7142) the only two quarries shown are “Shelton and Greaves”, clearly the location of what was subsequently called Vaynol, and probably Fronhyfryd., but not Chwarel Isaf or the others . Since Chwarel Isaf is squarely in the way of the survey route, it seems pretty certain it did not exist then. Presumably “Isaf” refers to the fact it is slightly lower down the hillside than “Shelton and Greaves”, and was started later. There were difficulties getting the slate out, and in August 1840 Shelton commented “Fachwen will only pay with a railroad connection” (XD2/19301). It looks as though he stopped work. Lord Newborough comments that “Mr. Smith’s agents have ferreted out everything connected with Bachwen, and know that E.S. discontinued working the slate there”. Shelton, who was in partnership with Joseph Greaves of Llechwedd fame, was most unhappy about the Vaynol takeover of the estate, even before the transfer was completed, see XD2/19070, XD2/ 19572, XD2/ 19626,  XD2/ 19651 –and threatened legal action “will not hesitate to stop the railway from going through Fachwen”.  Eventually, once the railway is open in 1842 (XD2/ 20360) Shelton decides he “must surrender his lease of his Lordship’s quarries [because of a recession in the industry]. The old quarries are gradually becoming more expensive to work and less productive” – the actual surrender is at ZDBE/3405. Thereafter any working that took place was part of the Dinorwic undertaking as a whole. It seems pretty clear from the correspondence that Shelton was in difficulty making his quarry pay, and that Thomas Ashetton Smith knew this and wanted the land mainly to enable the lakeside railway to go through. Shelton after threatening legal action for “breach of quiet enjoyment” of his lease, eventually gives in, and thereafter the quarries are worked using an incline to the lakeside railway.

Tenancies/houses

Plas or Fferam fachwen

This entry refers to the farm now buried under the (landscaped) slate tip of Domen Fawr, not the apparently later Fferam Fachwen about 100m to the west.

There are several items of correspondence in the Newborough estate papers referring to the original tenant (and it would seem sub tenant members of the family).

In 1819 it is asserted that the “tenant of Lord Newborough’s farm at Fachwen exercised an exclusive right on part of the common immediately above that part which on plan is allocated to Thomas Ashetton Smith, as well as lot 138 [ie Bigil] which is allocated to Lord Newborough. He feared that the right had not been exercised for 20 years, but was done 20 years before the passing of the Act , which he hoped would enable Lord Newborough to regain his right”. The significance of this, as I understand it, is that rights exercised on common land more than 20 years before its enclosure, overrode the award. By this time Thomas Assheton Smith, lord of the manor of Dinorwic (hence the name becoming attached to the quarry) and owner of the Vaynol estate, who had worked Chwarel Fawr and Allt Ddu quarries for many years, had opened up the main quarry site familiar to us today. So presumably by now Lord Newborough, like all the landowners in the area, was looking to develop slate quarries, and was hoping this assertion would help him. Issues about who profits from quarrying probably underlie most of the subsequent correspondence. Such quarrying as took place is detailed below.

In the 1851 census there are two households in the area of the present Fferam Fachwen, so one could still be the old Plas:

471 Fachwen Griffiths William Head M 59 Labourer CAE, Llanbeblig
471 Fachwen Griffiths Jane Wife M 51   CAE, Llanbeblig
471 Fachwen Griffiths Jane Daughter U 20   CAE, Llanbeblig
 
471 Fachwen Williams Ioan Head M 45 Quarryman CAE, Llanddeiniolen
471 Fachwen Williams Ellinor Wife M 43   CAE, Llanddeiniolen
471 Fachwen Williams Ellinor Daughter U 16   CAE, Llanddeiniolen
471 Fachwen Williams William Son U 13   CAE, Llanddeiniolen
471 Fachwen Williams Hugh Son U 11 Quarryman CAE, Llanddeiniolen
471 Fachwen Williams Morris Son U 9 Quarryman CAE, Llanddeiniolen
471 Fachwen Williams Ann Daughter U 7   CAE, Llanddeiniolen
471 Fachwen Williams Jane Daughter U 4   CAE, Llanddeiniolen
471 Fachwen Williams Mary Daughter U 4m   CAE, Llanddeiniolen

In the following years there is a record in the Glynllifon papers of disputes regarding tenants and quarrying, as detailed below

Correspondence shows that one William Morris, who died in 1841 at age 78, was under Lord Newborough’s ownership the sole tenant and had lived on the estate all his life, as had also his father. Before the sale a letter from Evan William Morris (apparently the son) complains that his farmhouse is in a very decayed state, the outbuildings need rebuilding and they have nowhere to thresh what little corn he has obtained through perseverance and industry. It is stated that this house lies on the estate “on the other side of Afon Fachwen”, which clearly verifies the tradition of a Plas Fachwen under Bonc Fawr. The tithe map shows the property as being down by the river, not far from the present road end. Another letter just after the sale from Hugh H Morris reminds Lord Newborough that when he applied to his Lordship to become the tenant of lands in Fachwen he [Lord N.] gave him permission to repair the house and, in the event of an alteration, was to mention this assurance. He now asks his Lordship to bring him to the notice of Mr. Assheton Smith’s agent, Mr. O. Roberts,and annexes a petition (20 August 1838). At present, he and his father hold land in Fachwen under his uncle, William Morris. Owing to the pressing need of their house to be repaired or rebuilt he wishes to have the security of becoming his Lordship’s tenant.

The son only remained tenant briefly after the estate was sold to Vaynol, but agreed to being transferred to Tai Isa, Pentir, much to his disadvantage he later claims. Presumably this arrangement was in pursuance of the policy of leasing plots to quarrymen. He claimed to have borne the cost of “enclosing a park” of about 100 acres “from the common”, which must refer to the additional 102 acres of the enclosure award , (ie the purple line on the map) and the correspondence reflects an unsuccessful attempt to recover the cost from Lord Newborough, who asserted he had paid for the work himself.

Ty Newydd

First appears unequivocally on the Llanddeiniolen enclosure award map of 1814 (plan C), but not named: if the sketch is to be trusted it appears to be the original small cottage only. The award allocates it and the surrounding fields to Lord Newborough. There is reference to a house on this land occupied by one John Williams, which Evan Williams claimed to have bought for £33. John Williams himself wrote to Lord Newborough in 1832 about reducing the rent from £2 to £1 per year “on account of improvements he had made”. The only house clearly identified in the enclosure plan (not by name) is Ty Newydd/Tyddyn Bach, so this is probably the house concerned,

It features in both the 1841 and 1851 censi. 1841 – Griffith Jones 25 quarryman, Jessie 25, Margaret 3, Anne 1, Mary Evans 14. It reappears, with the two storey and barns extensions but not the dairy, in the large book of estate plans Vaynol 4194 page 4, where the house is called Ty Newydd but the smallholding (about 4.5 acres) is described as Ty Ddyn Bach. In this plan the present access track is now shown and individual fields are named with their present boundaries. An extract from this document has been published. Most of the smallholdings in this area were made subject of new leases by the estate in 1869, but there is no record in the documents of one for Ty Newydd/Tyddyn Bach