CPAT logo
Cymraeg / English
Back Home
Archaeology in the Forest

Archaeology in the Forest:
Mines and quarries of North Wales

Mines and quarries of north and mid Wales location map

Map of north Wales showing Forest Enterprise land (green) and the Forest District boundaries (red). The locations of forests containing mine and quarry sites mentioned in the text are shown

The uplands of Wales have been exploited for their mineral resources since prehistoric times. However in the forests of Snowdonia there is little direct evidence of early working and the majority of mines date from between the 17th and 20th centuries. Mines were often started by local families of influence such as the Wynns of Gwydyr. Further south, in Coed y Brenin near Dolgellau, some of the earliest activity involved the extraction of bog iron during the medieval period. Nant yr Eira in Hafren, on the slopes of Pumlumon, the earliest mine in the forest, has been dated by radiocarbon analysis to the Bronze Age.

As well as the important mineral resources many of the forests hide the remains of slate quarries. These complexes often cover large areas and contain levels, shafts, winding gear, processing works, housing for the workers and tramways that were used to carry the slate out of the quarry.

Gwydyr Forest (near Bettws-y-Coed)

The earliest metal mines in North Wales date back to the Bronze Age but the main period of activity in the forests started in the 17th century. Sir John Wynn of Gwydyr started mining at sites such as Gwaynllifion from 1607 and by the mid 19th century lead and zinc was being extracted in large quantities from the mines of Hafna, Vale of Conway, Llanrwst, Coed Mawr Pool and Parc mines.

Hafna mine

Hafna mine, Gwydyr, © Forest Enterprise Wales

Much of the ore was processed in Gwydyr and a wide range of buildings survives today. From the shaft or levels the ore was often carried by tramway to the mill where it was tipped into ore-bins before being sorted and crushed. The waste was then separated from the mineral by gravity separation of oil flotation. Large wheelpits powered the crushers and other equipment. No wheels survive today but the wheelpits are a common feature of the mines.

Hafna Mine, built in 1879, has an exceptionally well-preserved smelter with intact chimney. The ore was stored in ore-bins, in front of the smelter, before being sorted, crushed and the waste separated from the mineral.

Miners trail

Gwydyr Forest Park Miners Trail provides the visitor with the opportunity to visit some of the best preserved of the old mines whilst enjoying the quiet splendours of the Gwydyr Forest Park. Beginning at Hafna lead mine the route includes Parc Mine, Bryn Eisteddfod Mine, Vale of Conway Mine and Llanrwst Mine.

Coed y Brenin (near Dolgellau)

Glasdir mine

Glasdir mine, Coed y Brenin, © Forest Enterprise Wales

The mineral deposits in Coed y Brenin, formerly known as Vaughan Forest, appear to have been first exploited during the medieval period when bog iron began to be worked. Several bloomery mounds, the remains of iron-working hearths, have been located and excavation has been carried out by the Snowdonia National Park.

During the 19th century Coed y Brenin was mined for copper, lead, zinc and gold. From Pant Llwyfog gold mine the course of the old leats can be traced and the outcrops of quartz from which the gold was extracted can still be seen.

Glasdir mine, on the side of Afon Wen, is well known as the site where in 1896 George Robson, the manager, invented a new method of separating the copper mineral from the waste using oil flotation. The impressive remains of the mill site dominate the valley and form part of the Glasdir Copper Trail from which can be seen the old tramway, leats and generator house.

Another, more unusual, venture was the extraction of copper from the peat at Dol Frwynog. The peat was burnt in a specially constructed kiln and the copper rich ash sent to Swansea to be smelted. In one year alone 2,000 tons of ashes valued at 20,000 were extracted from the turf mine.

Nant yr Eira

Reconstruction drawing of Nant yr Eira mine, © Forest Enterprise Wales

Hafren Forest (near Llanidloes)

Hafren Forest lies in the upper reaches of the Severn on the eastern side of Pumlumon mountain. Before the forest was planted it was largely an area of open moorland with agricultural land on the eastern edge. The first notable period of activity was during the Bronze Age when the area was mined for copper and lead. Radiocarbon dates have been obtained from excavations adjacent to the open cut at Nant yr Eira and it is suspected that there was also Bronze Age activity at Nant y Rickett. No trace survives of settlements but there are a number of Bronze Age burial cairns and a striking standing stone, Carreg Wen.

The heyday of mining in Hafren, and the surrounding area, was during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the late 19th century the mine at Nant yr Eira was reopened by the Snowbrook Mining Company who recovered 33 tons of lead from the opencut and more from the many shafts and levels. The ore was moved along a tramway to the crusher whose power was supplied by water flowing down a leat from a reservoir further up the valley.

Bryn Eglwys

Bryn Eglwys slate quarry, Dyfi, © Forest Enterprise Wales

Dyfi Forest

Dyfi Forest conceals the remains of many old slate quarries that once provided work for hundreds of men. The best known is Bryn Eglwys at the head of Nant Gwernol where, in 1877, around 8000 tons of slate was produced. The slates were transported from the quarry along an extensive system of tramways and inclines that approached Abergynolwyn station where the tramway joined the Talyllyn Railway. A series of walks run from Nant Gwernol station into the quarry.

Privacy and cookies