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A Legacy of Lead: getting lost with Kevin Walker in mid Wales

April 26, 2015 · 5 comments

A fabulous 12-mile hike around the disused lead mines near Dylife in Powys, Wales.

Date walked: 26th February 2015

Distance: around 12 miles

Map used: OS Explorer 215: Newtown & Machynlleth

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The mountain road between Llanidloes and Machynlleth must be one of the finest drives in Wales, passing by the Llyn Clywedog Reservoir, the extraordinary Twymyn gorge and finishing with a steep descent with the hills of Snowdonia ahead of you to Machynlleth, one of Wales’ most pleasing market towns.  Drive it sometime but not when you are in a hurry..

Bob and I met at the isolated hamlet of Dylife, now consisting little more than the recently re-opened Star Inn and a graveyard. In 1857, according to Kevin Walker in his excellent “undiscovered Wales”, over 1,000 people lived in the village; there were two chapels and a church, a school, a vicarage, three inns, ninety -two houses a grocery,butcher post office and smithy.

150 years ago Dylife Mine, was one of the largest lead producers in Europe. Production finished in 1901 and the comprehensive demolition of the mining buildings and the village was completed around 1911.

The Car Park at Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

See, we start with the best of intentions of following the route

Crossing the road, and following the river Twymyn, we negotiated the bumpy ground that had been the ‘dressing floor’ of the mine, where the lead ore was crushed to make it easier to process.

The Dressing Floor at Dylife with view to the Star Inn, photographed by Charles Hawes

That’s the Star Inn on the horizon

 Above the river, we scrambled up the spoil heaps to inspect the fenced off remains of a building and a deep narrow pit which was the site of  Rhod Goch (the Red Wheel, more commonly known as Martha Wheel). This once contained a wooden waterwheel with a diameter of 63 feet (said to have been the largest in Britain) which powered water pumps and the haulage system for the ore.

Rhod Goch or Martha  Wheel, near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Time to use the imagination

Apparently we could have seen the entrance to the mine if we had dropped down to the river at this point and walked along its banks for a bit. Instead, we followed a wide track above the river for a few hundred yards….

View to Dylife over the site of the disued lead mine, photographed by Charles Hawews

….contenting ourselves with a view of a gushing cascade opposite.

Cascade above the RiverTwymyn, near Dylife, photographed by Charles Hawes

This ought to have a name but no one seems to have given it one

We did have to return to the river at the top of this little valley and squelched over boggy ground ……

Walking by the Twymyn River, photographed by Charles Hawes

Bob’s shades were not strictly necessary but its a good look.

…..and then forded the river by a broken down stile to enter a steeply climbing reed-filled gully.

Walking near Dylife Lead Mine, photographed by Charles Hawes

He did take the shades off a little later

At the top a pond formed by a dam ….

Dam and pond on the River Twymyn near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

…. and a culvert which would have led to Martha Wheel….

Leat for Martha Wheel, Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

….were signs of the engineering associated with the mine. In fact the culvert drains from Pwll Rhydyporthmyn – a reservoir created to ensure the constant flow of water to the waterwheel.

Pwll Rhydyporthmyn, near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

All this was by way of introduction to the mining works. Walker directed us back to the quiet road which we had crossed  a mile or so back.

Mountain Road near Dylife, photographed by Charles Hawes

Nothing unpleasant about walking on this road for a bit

A modern sculpted mile-post of stunning ugliness ……

Cycle Route mile post on the mountain road near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Who on earth approved such a monstrosity?

…..marked where we took a sharp left turn down a farm track, the peak of Plynlimon ( I think) silhouetted on the horizon. (see my walk from about a year ago)

Track to Glaslyn from the mountain road near Dylife, photographed by Charles Hawes

The sky wasn’t as threatening as it looks

Our route joined Glyndwr’s Way and which headed west off our path (I had walked this path from Knighton to Machynlleth many years ago). The spectacular Dulas Gorge was hidden from sight by the moor, but the views to Snowdonia were impressive enough.

View towrds Machynlleth from Glyndwr's Way, photgraophed by Charles Hawes

Sorry, we didn’t feel we had time to divert for the view

After less than a mile from the road  we  passed by Glaslyn Nature Reserve, a little collection of signs and markers providing the visitor with something to distract them from the wild beauty of the place.

Llanidloes day 1-22

Perhaps they could site this further away. Or maybe have a QR post for it all.

After passing Glaslyn our path turned east; Glyndwr’s Way leaving us to cross a moor and find higher ground.

Glyndwr's Way near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Yep, that’s a bit rough

 

Farm buildings built at the site of the Nantddu Mine, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

The buildings were the site of the Nantddu Mine Mill

We kept to a wide farm track, passing (according to Walker) the remains of spoil heaps and mine shafts, though all we could see was undulating boggy moor. The path descended to a group of modern farm buildings.

To the side of the big shed was the site of a waterwheel pit for the Nanddu Mine Mill, filled with rainwater and probably home to  an isolated community of frogs disinclined to rock climbing.

Water wheel pit of the Nantddu Mine, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

It’s a lot bigger and deeper than it looks here

A stile warned us to attract the machine operators attention before crossing but there was none, so we didn’t.

Stile on  Glyndwr's Way near trhe Nantddu Mine, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

I didn’t think that we were on Glyndwr’s Way here but the acorn says different

The path dropped down the steep side of the Clywedog gorge, bringing us closer and closer to the thrashing water of the river.

Afon Clywedog and the gorge, near Dylife, photographed by Charles Hawes

It’s amazing how little soil some trees can grow in

When we reached the river the spectacular waterfall necessitated a pause for admiration ……

Afon Clywedog, near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Technically this is probably a water slide rather than a fall

…..and presented an opportunity for me to try out a new piece of kit.

Charles Hawes using the Lifestraw in the Afon Clywedog

Yes, it’s a very orange jacket but its very good at keeping the wind and the rain out

This clever little plastic tube is called a LifeStraw and contains a long-lasting filter that makes mucky and potentially contaminated water fit to drink. This river was neither but it was very cold and my fat blue straw worked well after a bit of a suck. Conclusion: every walker should have one in their pack (it weighs about 100 grammes) as an emergency water supply (the company also donates to the good cause of bringing them to parts of the world where it is saving lives). It might also make your knees damp.

A footbridge crosses a tributary of the river and we climbed again up a stony path, the side of the gorge opposite clothed with a plantation of conifers making up Bwlch y Garreg-Wen.

Path above the Afon Clywedog, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

One is always grateful for a well-drained surface to walk on

As we approached the workings of the Dyfngwm Mine the steep scree slopes were bare apart from some rough grass and patches of bracken and gorse.

The Dyfngwm Mine near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Walker says that lead was almost certainly mined here from Roman times, though the busiest period of exploitation was in the early 1700’s. But whereas Dylife ended production in 1901, here, the mine being owned by Germans, the Franco-Prussian War caused it to close in the 1870’s. It got a second lease of life in the early 1930’s but this was short-lived and it was finally dismantled in 1935 as the price of lead had fallen making it uneconomic to continue.

The Dyfngwm Mine near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Not a lot left to see

We scrambled down the loose stone to explore the ruined buildings, trying and failing to imagine what it must have been like when this isolated place was a centre of industry.

The Dyfngwm Mine near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Bob providing a sense of scale for you

A group of sandbags had been weathered to their base, making a honeycomb pattern on the ground.

Remnanats of sandbags at The Dyfngwm Mine near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

And a nice pic for me

Here and there odd bits of rusted metal revealed nothing of their origin or purpose.

Rusted piece of metal at the Dyfngwm Mine near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

A group of metal stakes half way up the hillside could have been a remnant of all sorts of larger a construction.

Remains of workings at the Dyfngwm Mine near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Fascinating and somewhat eerie. I came across an adit (shaft) that perforated the side of the hill, its route now filled with cold green water.

Flooded adit at The Dyfngwm Mine near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

A good use of the little flash unit built into the camera

At the far end of the workings a new gate replacing a discarded stile gave us a marker that we thought Walker had clearly identified but what was not obvious was where to go from here.

Gate near The Dyfngwm Mine near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

It was a jolly nice gate, so we can’t have been wrong to go through it

I was probably giving insufficient attention to our instructions. We took a  narrow path in the scree that proved only suitable for sheep, and thin, armour-plated ones at that.

Sheep track above the Afon Clywedog, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Maybe we should have gone up

Here gorse had taken hold and its sharp spikes were up to chest height at times.

Climbing the side of the hill above the Afon Clywedog, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

There were no recriminations – neither of us had suggested an alternative way

Walkers final two pages were wasted on us; we found ourselves  wandering around  more grassy and pleasant terrain, still populated by the occasional ruin.

Hillside above the Afon Clywedog, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Anyway, we had a good hour or so before it would get dark

A steep ravine with a stream rushing down to join the river required fording.

Fording a stream which runs into the Afon Clywedog, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Bob provided a textbook example of how to do it

My GPS told us where we were but by then there were no clear paths so we climbed up in roughly the right direction until we reached a plateau of reassuringly open countryside and vaguely familiar views.

Fields near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

Now it was just a question of taking the right direction.

We came across a track that was confidently going somewhere and on the basis that from there we could probably work out how to get back to the cars we took it.

Track near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

I don’t remember the sky looking quite so threatening

It eventually reached a farm which we could happily identify on the map (its called Hirnant) just off the road and a mile or so from our car park.

Hirnant Farm, near Dylife, Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

The sun was low by now and its light added an orange tinge to the hilltops.  We had a good finish, though, as the best viewing point for the Twymyn Gorge was just before the car park.

The Twymyn Gorge near Dylife Powys, photographed by Charles Hawes

It was worth having gone a bit wrong just to have this view at the end of the day

It was around 7pm when we finished so we were well overdue a pint (rather more, actually), in the Mount Inn at Llanidloes, where were were staying for a couple of nights. More of that in the next post.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia April 26, 2015 at 8:19 am

rough and rugged and that’s not just yer friend. Like the industrial remains and especially the sandbag imprint – Paul Steer there’s a painting in that image?

Reply

Charles April 26, 2015 at 8:35 am

Yeah Bob can look a bit rough; wouldn’t look out of place in a crowd of marauding football fans. But he’s a kitten. I love these post industrial walks.

Reply

Paul Steer April 26, 2015 at 8:13 pm

There is indeed Julia ! But Charles has the copyright and had the original vision – it’s a work of art in its own right I believe.

Reply

rob grover May 1, 2015 at 8:45 pm

I can’t believe you haven’t had more comments, what with all the action man pics, the drama of being saved by GPS, the really creepy Hirnant farm and a great finale picture. But what are all these displacement activities when you should be nailing the WCP?

Reply

Graham February 1, 2017 at 2:42 pm

Not much point having a QR spot at Glaslyn as there is no phone or internet signal there.

Reply

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