Cwt y Bugail Slate Quarry - Introduction
High up (and to the east of) Blaenau Ffestiniog is the remote, isolated and intriguing Cwt y Bugail Slate Quarry. Developed from earlier workings, it was hampered by its remoteness and remained a small concern until it became one of a number of quarries that benefited from the opening of the Rhiwbach Tramway (early 1860s) which passed close to the mills area. Production rose and the quarry had its peak tonnages over the next 20 years - but by the late 1880s it had closed and from then on it passed through a variety of owners, each managing to keep production alive until eventually it closed for good following some minor slate extractions in the early 1970s. My first visit was on a wet september day in 1987 (the Rhiwbach tramway route from Manod was a mudbath!) and it turned out to be worth it following the discovery of so many artifacts still in situ - especially within the main pit!
Please Note: The quarry referred to here is the original Cwt y Bugail and not the modern McAlpine quarry (formerly Bwlch y Slaters) of the same name - which is located to the south.
[Pic 1] Cwt y Bugail Slate Quarry - Mills and Office (Sept 1987)
Arriving from the (abandoned) trackbed of the Rhiwbach tramway the first remains to be seen are the ruinous mill* (see Pic 1 above) and an assortment of other buildings now reduced mainly to outlines only, or in very poor condition, including the site of the barracks** - which once housed most of the workforce during the working week, especially in the quarries heyday. The mill itself stands on a plateau of waste and the course of the tramway from the main workings (emerging from the bottom middle of the photo) is easilly still traceable. Also of note is the Rhiwbach tramway route running across the upper backgound - with Blaenau Ffestiniog (out of view of course) off to the right and Rhiwbach quarry off to the left. It is known that Cwt y Bugail once ran some form of a workmans train (circa 1920' / 30's) on the Rhiwbach tramway, presumeably as far as the No. 3 incline head, and that latterly an internal combustion loco worked parts of the quarry and hauled along the tramway - though it was restricted to pulling just 2 laden wagons up the steep connection from the quarry.
* Today the mill and office buildings are in an even more ruinous state!
** There is a neat account of this barracks (and the workforce) in 'The Slate quarries of North Wales in 1873' / Snowdonia National Park Study Centre (1987)
[Pic 2] Cwt y Bugail Slate Quarry - Mill tramway (Sept 1987)
Pic 2 (above) shows the tramway route behind the mills with the remains of the office slightly above, complete with a short flight of steps up to it. Just right of this building (off camera) is the main incline down from the western adits (really several deep chambers that emerge into the open) with the edge of the tips from this level clearly in view. The tramway (also seen in Pic 1) runs off behind the camera to enter an adit in the hillside (Pic 3) and then on through to the main workings. Note the wagon remains bottom left corner. Plus it should also be noted that an old, very eroded footpath heads east from here to Cwm Penmachno village - probably a route taken by men from that district (and beyond) who worked here and nearby.
[Pic 3] Cwt y Bugail Slate Quarry - Route to the workings (Sept 1987)
Continuing on (from Pic 2) the tramway entered into the hillside through an adit - and onwards to the main workings. This wasn't always the main route into the workings, and possibly wasn't even the last used, as there are two incline remains that drop down to mill level from above (one just to the right of this adit) and another (uphauled) incline from workings lower down the hillside. This adit is now blocked (and waterlogged!) a short way in but the rest of the underground route is passable.
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