These days the Brecon Beacons National Park is a protected area with restrictions on the development that can take place. However it was not always like this and remnants of all sorts of different industries and habitation can be found scattered around if you know where to look. This post describes some of the remains that can be found on the western end of the Beacons around the area of the Mynydd Du. All of the sites below are reachable on foot from the car park on the A4069, OS grid ref SN730192.
It’s unlikely that the modern explorer will suffer the same fate as David Davies ( left ). I don’t think that there are many lime carts along the A4069 these days. However, although none of these sites is more than a couple of hours walk from the car park, the weather can change quite quickly and there are few well defined paths. For the summer months a waterproof jacket and a good set of ( preferably waterproof ) boots is usually all you need. For the winter more serious preparation is required and there are any number of websites that will supply clothing recommendations.
Some resources that I’ve found useful for research and exploration are:
- OS Maps – the 1:25000 Explorer series are the most useful. Map OL12 covers both the western and central areas of the Brecon Beacons.
- Older maps – The National Library of Scotland has older OS maps online in a very user friendly viewer. There are several versions of maps available going back to the 19th Century. I find that the “OS Six Inch, 1888 – 1913” to be the most useful for this exercise. Unfortunately the OS 25 Inch version from that date is not yet available for all of Wales. The feature to overlay the older map over a current satellite photo and change the transparency of the overlay is extremely useful.
- National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW) – Coflein is an online database containing the national collection of information about the historic environment of Wales. There’s an associated mapping site which is useful for researching sites in a particular geographical area.
- The Megalithic Portal is a volunteer site recording ancient sites ( UK and worldwide ) and has very good interactive searching and mapping features. The Mynydd Du area is littered with cairns, stone circles, standing stones etc. and the Megalithic Portal is a useful reference.
Foel Fawr Lime Workings
The car park on the A4069 is right next to the old Foel Fawr Lime Workings. There’s a marked trail around the workings together with some information boards. Most of the site dates from the 19th Century but some areas, the Rhiw Wen kiln, were in use up to the 1950s. Remains of the equipment used can still be seen at various points.
It’s quite a pleasant walk on a sunny summer day but it must have been pretty bleak up there during the winter even though the view from the “office window” would have been spectacular. The picture on the left was taken after Storm Caroline dumped a load of snow and, with the wind chill, it was probably about -10°C. The modern day Health and Safety Executive would have a fit 🙂
Pen Rhiw-Wen, Silica Workings
Back down the A4069 towards Brynamman lies a disused quarry ( grid ref SN730180 ) linked by a tramway to the road. The Coflein entry states “According to the Geological Survey in 1907, ‘disintegrated Millstone Grit or silica sand was being carted by road in 1900 from Pen Rhiw-wen to Brynaman Station’.” From what I have read silica sand was a key component of refractory bricks. These were used in high heat areas like kilns, furnaces and fireplaces and obviously critical to the local industries of the time. These days the tramway has been lost under a modern track and the quarry itself is a series of grass covered mounds with few clues as to its origin.
Foel Fraith Limeworking Complex
Slightly further afield ( grid ref SN763176 ) is the Foel Fraith Limeworking complex. This consists of several different quarries for both limestone and silica sand and was connected to the main railway line via a tramway. The line of the tramway can easily be seen on aerial photographs and is easy to trace on the ground. Judging by the steepness of the slope some sections at least must have been cable hauled inclined planes. There’s a limestone quarry at the top of the complex which is very similar to the Foel Fawr quarry but on a smaller scale.
One interesting artefact that I found in what looked like an old silica sand quarry was the remains of a digger. I’ve no idea of its age, there were remains of plastic parts which I guess held hydraulic fluid of some sort and may date the digger to the mid part of the 20th C. However, classic car magazines would describe it as “in need of some light restoration” 🙂
Note: the route to Foel Fraith will take you over Garreg Lwyd which is interesting in itself. On the top there’s a large bronze age cairn ( Coflein, Megalithic Portal ) and there’s a great view looking south over Swansea, the Gower and the Bristol Channel.
Fforch Ceulan Longhouse
I got intrigued by the “house (rems of)” text on the latest version of the 1:25000 OS map ( grid ref SN753202 ). Interestingly it’s not marked on either the 1996 or 1976 versions of this map that I have and it’s not on the 1948 online archived version either. There is a Coflein entry which states “A ruined longhut is situated on the W edge of a level spur between two deeply incised stream valleys at c.385m above O.D.” The aerial view on Bing maps seemed to show some walls remaining so I thought that I would take a look.
Well they’re not kidding about the “deeply incised stream valleys” and it’s an extremely steep drop down from Cefn y Cylchau. It was also slightly underwhelming when I got to the bottom as the pictures show:
While I was there I did wonder why anybody would want to build a house here? The Coflein entry states that it’s “Period: Post Medieval, Medieval” so I guess that it predates the building of the A4069 at the start of the 19thC. However if it was connected, for example, with managing livestock then there are much easier ways up onto the higher ground than the steep hill behind the house. Also it’s only a 30 minute walk down to the valley in the background which is a much more hospitable place for building. My cursory research hasn’t come with any more details so I may have to investigate further.
I’ve only really scratched the surface here, there are plenty more remains to see. Every summit seems to have a cairn on it and you could spend years just investigating those. I’ve no particular interest in “peak bagging” during my walking but give me some industrial remains and I’ll have the GPS fired up pretty quickly 🙂