Rhosydd - A Ffestiniog Slate Quarry

Transport from and to the quarry

 In the earliest days of quarrying at Rhosydd the route used to transport the slate to market was via a well constructed packhorse track from the West Twll around the east shoulder of Moelwyn Mawr and over the high pass between Moelwyn Mawr and Moelwyn Bach.  This path was only suitable for pack animals and it led eventually to the Afon Dwyryd near Maentwrog.  The path may be clearly followed today in its upper reaches and it can be seen from the Stwlan Dam above Tan y Grisiau.  Stwlan Dam used to be accessed by a private road open to the public, however this concession has now been withdrawn.  (continued)

Packhorse track from the quarry

Two views of the old packhorse track on the slopes of Moelwyn Mawr.  Looking back towards the quarry above and looking towards Moelwyn Bach below.

 As production increased in the 1850's and moved down the mountainside to the north it became impractical to continue to use this track and a better outlet was sought.  The nearest railway at that time was the Ffestiniog at Tan y Grisiau and the present access to the quarry via Cwmorthin was improved by the Rhosydd company.   Despite the ferocious gradients on parts of this route it became practical to use carts to transport the slate with a consequent increase in productivity.   This route however was not without its problems as the owners of Cwmorthin Quarry near the bottom of the valley made life as difficult as possible for their rivals.  A series of long and acrimonious disputes followed and it became clear that the only course for Rhosydd to take was to have its own independent tramway access.  (continued)
Looking down Cwmorthin towards Tan y Grisiau

Looking down Cwmorthin from the Rhosydd access path.  In the distance can be seen Llyn Cwmorthin and Cwmorthin quarry.  The trees on the left mark the site of Plas Cwmorthin - the Rhosydd manager's house.  The remains of the dressing shed in the centre is that of Conglog quarry and the pillars of the launder which carried water to its wheel can be seen.  Just above the dressing shed are the ruins of the Rhosydd stables while the roofless cottages to the left of the launder were also Rhosydd property.  The building in the middle distance, with the solitary tree, is Rhosydd Chapel.  Conglog quarry was linked to the Ffestiniog railway by tramway from 1876.  This tramway was never used to transport Rhosydd slate.

The long term solution for Rhosydds endemic transport problems came about through connection to the two foot gauge Croesor Tramway.  This lay roughly in the opposite direction to Cwmorthin and it led directly to Porthmadog and the sea via Croesor village and the flat reclaimed lands of the Glaslyn estuary.  The tramway was built to serve Croesor quarry which was a mile to the west of Rhosydd and the addition of a branch to serve Rhosydd was a logical development.  The tramway was opened to Rhosydd in 1864 and the quarry's transport costs dropped to less than half of what they had been.  The Croesor Tramway was entirely horse powered in its upper reaches and the track and permanent way was of very light construction.  There was no operating company in the accepted sense and the quarries supplied their own horses and wagons and then paid a fee, based on tonnage,  to use the tramway.   Ironically, this is similar to the position of Network Rail in today's national railway network.  There were a total of four inclines on the tramway from Rhosydd to the sea and the distance to the wharves at Porthmadog was just over eight miles.  From 1868 Rhosydd also gained access to the main line railway through the opening of a transshipment siding at Porthmadog with the Cambrian Railway.  From this date it is likely that the use of sea transport declined significantly.  Part of the route of the Croesor Tramway, in the Glaslyn valley,  was taken over and rebuilt for locomotive haulage in 1923 becoming The Welsh Highland Railway.  This section of line has now been reopened throughout from Caernarfon to Porthmadog.

To reach the level stretch of the Croesor valley from Rhosydd entailed a vertical drop of over 800 feet in less than two miles and truly Herculean engineering works were required.  From the quarry the tramway route heads west over relatively level ground, passing the quarry explosives store on the way.  There are various cuttings and embankments as it pursues a course to the head of Cwm Croesor.  The enormity of the task facing the builders is now clear as the valley floor comes into view several hundred feet below.  The tramway is built on a narrow shelf cut out of the mountainside to the head of the main incline.  (continued)

The tramway at the head of Cwm Croesor

The route of the tramway follows a course along the mountainside to the head of the main incline.  The mountain in the background is Cnicht - 2,265 feet high.  It is known as the Welsh Matterhorn because of its appearance from Porthmadog and the Glaslyn valley.  In reality it is merely the culmination of a long ridge and not a true peak.  There are more views of the tramway route on the Photo Gallery Pages

 The main incline from Rhosydd quarry is arguably the most impressive in the whole slate industry.  It is a balanced gravity incline with the weight of the downwards load pulling up the inwards one.  The incline drum had two wire reinforced ropes wound around it, one of which was for downwards traffic and one for upwards. The vertical drop of the incline is 670 feet and the horizontal distance is 1250 feet.  This gives an average gradient of 1 in 1.86.  However because the mountainside is practically vertical at the top, the upper reaches of the incline have a gradient of closer to 1 in 0.97.  The steepness of the upper reaches meant that the drum to work the incline could not be located at the top, partly because of lack of space,  but had to be placed some 55 feet higher. The brake to control the speed of the wagons was operated from a wheel on a small platform at the top of the incline.  This was connected to the drum by cable.  There was a small wind shelter for the brakesman which may still be seen.  As this exposed spot catches the full force of any Atlantic depressions, the small shelter was no doubt much appreciated!  The track layout at the head of the incline consisted of a small turntable and a loop line.  The downwards loads being segregated in this way from any inwards traffic.  Only one wagon in each direction at a time was permitted on the incline because of the extreme gradients and length.  This was in contrast to less steep inclines where rakes of up to five wagons were common practice.  Most of the outwards traffic was, of course, slate. This was carried in the standard four wheeled wagons with the slates stacked vertically.  The inwards traffic could consist of any of the 101 items necessary to keep the quarry in production.  Examples of this would be wood, windows, oil, doors, machinery, pipes, coal, furniture, candles and food.  The arrival of any long loads was fraught with difficulty as they had to be carefully manouvered to avoid hitting the rock face as they came over the top of the incline.  (continued)

Rhosydd and Blaen y Cwm inclines - Cwm Croesor

In this view looking across the upper reaches of Cwm Croesor can be seen:

1.    The Rhosydd drum house above the incline head.

2.    The head of the incline and the tramway to the right as it heads towards the quarry.

3.    The bottom of the incline some 670 feet lower down.  At this point the tramway joined the incline from Croesor quarry at a Y shaped junction.  There now follows a level stretch to the left to the head of Blaen y Cwm incline.

4.    The Blaen y Cwm incline takes the tramway down a further 180 feet to the comparatively level valley floor.

5.    The building at the bottom of this incline was formerly the hydro electric power station for Croesor quarry.  It has recently been rebuilt and now supplies power to the national grid.  The rebuilt pipeline follows the Blaen y Cwm incline and then heads up the mountainside to a lake above.

Following the closure of the quarry in 1930 it was decided to keep the pumps at the quarry operating in the hope of reopening in the future.  The supply of fuel oil to the quarry continued to use the incline and its upward progress was balanced by equal amounts of waste rock taken down.  This accounts for the large pile of rocks at the base of the incline.  In 1944 the quarry was finally accessed by lorry from Cwm Orthin and closure of the incline soon followed with the track being removed in 1948.  One of the incline cables is still in situ today and the drum itself is still in remarkably good condition.  There are also a number of ruined slate wagons on the mountainside alongside the incline, victims of accidents and derailments of long ago.  It is not advisable to attempt to climb or descend the incline nowadays as the slope is dangerously eroded, instead use the quarrymens track from the head of the valley.

Continue to: The evolution of Rhosydd

Return to the index page