I always look forward to driving along the A55 from Bangor to Conwy; while it is highly dangerous at times, depending on how late the HGV's are off the ferry at Holyhead, it also rewards with some breathtaking vistas. To seaward, there are views of the Ormes and of Penmon Point on Anglesey, but it is to landward that my attention always wanders. The magnificent remains of the Penmaenmawr inclines and drumhouses cover the headland like weathered veins of mineral on a pebble..for years I'd wondered about taking a closer look at them. There's that funny giant clock, as well...
Eventually, we made it and I wrote a blog post...which was subsequently lost on my old Blogger platform, along with a shedload of other stuff.. So this is my attempt at remembering what we did and how we got there- please bear with me if it seems a little sporadic here and there...
The slopes of the mountain are criss crossed with footpaths, some made by the quarrymen themselves in days of yore. The best one to reach the upper levels is the North Wales Coastal Path. If you're feeling bold, you can drive all the way up to the Hanson Aggregates old gateway to the quarry at SH 69907 74735. You have to start in Lalnfairfechan at the crossroads, taking the Valley Road up to Plas Heulog. It's very steep and very narrow! There's parking at the gate for two or three cars. The gate is locked, but there's a way round for pedestrians.
If using the quarry road, peel off when it starts to turn towards the east and into the pit. You definitely don't want that way! Instead head across the moor as it climbs steeply towards Penmaen West, a lovely airy walk through heather and wild flowers.
On our visit, we arrived at a plateau, where a ruinous concrete building revealed a rusty old machine- a fly-wheel could just be made out behind a fallen wall. In front was a small holding pond and evidence of some leats running towards the structure. Inside there was a modern-ish turbine or impeller while in the other, older compartment of the structure was a victorian three-cylinder pump. I looked at this for a while and came to the tentative conclusion that this must have been for "hushing" the rock faces of spoil, the pump providing a strong pressure jet of water. At this altitude the quarry hardly would have needed to be pumped out. On a later visit with my daughter, several wild Carneddau ponies were relaxing in the heat here, their hooves in the water.
After mooching around and looking over the lip of the quarry face, where the wind was strong enough to send you flying backwards, we headed up the hill to a ramshackle range of structures looking as if they had strayed from a Sergio Leone movie. Here, various dire warnings greeted us on signs installed by the quarry company. I guess if I owned the land and was responsible and concerned about litigation, I would put signs up too. I think mine would be worded something like "You're big enough and ugly enough to think for yourselves, so don't come crying to me etc..." I was, however, disappointed that there were no signs featuring the falling man with flared trousers, an omission, I think. These structures here were compressor houses and some smaller buildings that might have been cabans or the like. The larger ones were made of concrete, a material readily to hand on site, while the others, which must have been older, were expertly constructed from Whin Stone, a hard, brittle form of rock which chips sharply and is difficult to build with. It must have overlaid the granite as overburden and used as it was easily to hand.
A very steep incline ran down from this level, leading to many more interesting structures. including the level where the famous De Winton "coffee pot" locomotive, "Penmaen" still slumbers.
The views are fantastic from up here though. I know that the mountain has been despoiled by the quarry- and that the quarry masters are like some mischievious agent of destruction, obliterating not only the pretty views but also anything of worth archaeologically which gets in the way of making money. I admit to being one of those people who love scenes like this, although I regularly get my fingers burnt when artifacts from an earlier and more colourful quarrying era are destroyed by the very process that fascinates me. C'est la vie.
Over a few months, we made various sorties up and down the various levels, but didn't make it over to Penmaen West due to the old quarryman's path being eroded away almost entirely. Looking at the 1890 maps the path seems to have been the main route for workmen coming from Llanfairfechan, but that it is also joined by a steeper path coming up, I can only assume that these old quarrymen were made of stern stuff. The track has collapsed in several places and sometimes progress can only be made by inching along a very narrow ledge- it's very dangerous, but as I said before, you are big enough etc...just don't say I told you to do it.
While wandering around the slopes, we encountered a very fine powder store, one that I've not seen mentioned anywhere else. It's below the top level at SH 69712 75755 and is quite easy to access.
The temptation of the "Coffee Pot Level" was becoming hard to resist, so we made our way down the steep incline from the outer lip of the pit. There was nearly a foot of heather on the slope, but the rails were still in place underneath. Similarly on all the levels, there is still a wealth of ironwork and relicry hidden beneath heather and undergrowth, and long may it relish.
A glance at Google earth will see how this joins other inclines and leads to a cornucopia of structures and other delights, of which I can only hope to give a flavour of here.
And what of "Penmaen"? Eventually, we were standing outside the shed, looking at the old De Winton's remains. What a lovely thing it is, being left to rot away in dignity. The unseemly paint daubs of a few years ago have faded away- after all, these days anyone who wants to know about the loco just needs a browser and Google. The loco reminded me a little of "Alice", left slumbering away in her shed on Australia level at Dinorwig- except that Penmaen will actually be left to rust in peace.
This side of the quarry has such a proliferation of structures; there's almost a feeling of "drumhouse fatigue" after a while- but guard against that, these lovely things won't be here forever. I am conscious that they could be swept aside by some new development, however remote the possibility seems. Here are some shots of the buildings, in no particular order, to give a flavour of this side of Penmaen head. The light is quite critical here, better to be earlier in the day; when it's later the shadows are in the wrong place (as you can see from my "Penmaen" shots above); not helpful.
There are still many areas of Penmaenmawr to explore; I want to have a look at the brick built loaders at Bonc Jolly, but have been chased off a couple of times so far. There's the Pendalar Inclines, whih we almost got to before being stuck in acres of brambles -and then there's that clock, which still eludes us. Soon...
Here are a few more random images of the place...
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