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Rhiwbach Slate Mine – Oldies’ Weekend (1st-4th May 2009) Sunday Trip

This one had eluded us the previous year, and only yielded its secret location after 4 and a half hours of frustrating searching. The entrance is an enormous cavern with a huge gate-like barrier across it, but it’s very well concealed in a shake hole that you might miss if you’re looking in the wrong place… Anyway. The weather was truly awful, but it was about time we saw some rain in Wales as the previous 3 weekends we had there were blisteringly hot and we were beginning to doubt the stories we had heard about Welsh weather. We found the entrance without a problem this time, and after the initial nervousness regarding the rotten timber supporting the roof above the entrance crawl, we relaxed and had an excellent trip.

The mine is drained by a streamway which gives it a very cave-like feel, despite it being slate and not limestone. All the levels are extremely well developed with a series of crosslinking passages and chambers, and a lot of time can be spent looking into each one, although it should be noted that the lower ones are more interesting. There are deep blue pools in many of the chambers, and some of the chambers are huge while others are small dead ends where work came to a halt quickly. We followed the ‘incline’ as we called the streamway downwards and each time we came to a side passage we would go and investigate for half an hour or so. Eventually a point is reached where the roof of the stream comes right down to the water (I think it was in a boulder choke). Zara and I decided it probably wasn’t the way on, and rejoined the others who had accessed the next level down from one of the major chambers off to the side. Keeping your bearings is important, it enables you to be sure you’re heading in the right direction to find the bottom entrance.

Al made a discovery of 2 head torches in one of the pools, and succeeded in fishing one of them out, with which he was very pleased 🙂

There are wagons and things which are great fun to have a look at and clamber along, and one of the trolleys can still be pushed along the rails. There are places where you will have to get your feet wet. The water is chilly but it doesn’t last long, and it’s definitely worth carrying on.

The exit adit (or the bottom entrance) is an incredibly long, straight tunnel, at the end of which you can see a spot of daylight that could easily be mistaken for a headtorch if you didn’t know otherwise. You pop out in the forest on the hill, very near the car, which was handy. A nice miner’s path paved with slate leads you back to the slate heaps and down to the car. I think I saw a massive black cat-like animal in the forest, but I may have been wrong… 🙂