National Trust spends £1m to secure precious archaeological site on Great Orme in North Wales
A chunk of the Great Orme, the imposing limestone headland on the North Wales coast which is home to Britain’s largest prehistoric mine and a herd of Kashmiri goats acquired from Queen Victoria, has been secured by the National Trust... continues...
The largest prehistoric man-made cavern in the world may be hidden under a north Wales peninsula.
The cavern is part of a Bronze Age copper mine complex which was first uncovered in 1987 at Great Orme's Head near Llandudno... continues...
Not sure what I can add to previous fieldnotes so this is just a record of my visit last week 2/6/2015.
Spent the morning walking up to Aber Falls which are truly spectacular. After lunch in Abergwyngregyn we made our way to Llandudno and the Great Orme. By now it was a bright afternoon but very windy - I mention this because the wind on the Great Orme headland was too fierce to stay out in for more than a short while.
However, the Great Orme mine was sheltered from the wind and needless to say non-existent underground. This was somewhere I've wanted to visit for a long time so was able to put my usual claustrophobia aside. Before going into the mine you have to select a hard hat and are invited to watch a short introductory video - which proved to be helpful, informing us that the ancient mines were unearthed in 1987. We were joined by a couple from West Yorkshire and let them lead the way down into the narrow 3,500 year old passages leading to a massive, prehistoric cavern which is lit by coloured lights. The passages eventually come back out into the 4,000 year old Great Opencast.
To say this place is awesome is no exaggeration - the visitors guide to Llandudno quotes Current Archaeology Magazine "Stonehenge is certainly a world class site but now it is joined by the bronze age mines at Llandudno."
In the Visitors Centre there are displays and artefacts depicting mining, smelting and life in the Bronze Age. The gift shop and second hand book shop are staffed by archaeologists and historians working on the site - all profits go back into the project.
For anyone visiting from Llandudno without a car there is the Great Orme Tramway - which apparently is Britain's only cable-hauled street Tramway. The first stop is Halfway Station and probably where you should get out for the ancient copper mine.
Guess it's a pretty well established irony how casual experiences - those unintended, spur of the moment decisions subject to minimal (if any) planning... and no preconceptions - can sometimes end up becoming emotional/artistic highlights of this condition we blithely refer to as life? Of course this may just represent the tangible benefits of a realistic outlook driven by past endeavour, the visitor perhaps subscribing to what the Pet Shop Boys once defined, tongues firmly in cheek, as the philosophy of 'Miserabilism'. Well, if the cap and dark sunglasses fit. Anyway... a visit to the Great Orme Bronze Age mine this morning is just about the most perfect example of this happy scenario I can recall for, oh, ages.
Although Hurricane Gonzalo's winds have thankfully abated somewhat, the North Walian uplands' seemingly perennial companion - persistent hill fog - ensures I do not linger within Nant Ffrancon, the jagged, other-worldly profile of Tryfan too primeval for comfort, thrusting, partially subsumed in all that swirling vapour, into a seemingly parallel dimension beyond human cognition. So, what to do? Ah, I recall the Great Orme possesses a portal tomb. That'll do. Thankfully times have changed since the traveller had to take his/her life in hand to traverse the northern foothills of Y Carneddau as they sweep down to Conwy Bay, tunnels bored in the living rock nowadays affording easy, if somewhat serpentine passage for the A55 heading for Conwy and Llandudno. Furthermore, I'm pleased to say that my suppositions are false, the old school seaside resort retaining more than a touch of its assumed former elegance. A very steep (signposted) road shadows a tram line to ascend The Great Orme. I decide to park up in the obvious Mine car park and seek out the Llety'r Filiast dolmen, the map not that clear as to the tomb's whereabouts, well at least to these eyes.
Nonchalantly wandering into the 'gift shop' to ask directions the middle-aged bloke at the counter - whom it transpires from the introductory video is one of the original archaeologists working here (how cool is that?) - asks whether I want to take the tour? Suddenly put on the spot I mumble 'Er, OK, I guess so... while I'm here' which draws a wry smile from his rather attractive female companion.. as if to say 'you won't be so blase afterwards, trust me'. Or something like that. Anyway, initial impressions of the site are not good, not unless the devastating residue of 'industrial heritage' is your thing, steps directing the visitor to the bottom of a quarry - a big stony pit, in other words - whereby several dark gashes within the limestone suggest gateways to somewhere else not really of this planet.... Yeah, do I really want to venture inside? Not sure, to be honest, so I force the issue and render obsolete further objections in my usual not-so-subtle manner. Crossing the Rubicon and burning the bridge behind me, so to speak.
The initial shaft is surprisingly narrow, the rough hewn ceiling low enough to make me feel rather stupid for questioning the validity of having to wear a 'hard hat'. Subtle - for the most part - lighting by bare electric bulbs renders a torch unnecessary and, although the engineered, 'tourist friendly' floor and wooden staircases may adversely impact the subterranean purist a little, the overall effect is, in my opinion superb, chock full of vibe. In fact my only gripe is the cartoon posters which periodically adorn the passage walls, presumably for the benefit of school parties. Deciding to take my time I pause in the entrance to one of innumerable diverging sub-shafts to let my noisy co-visitors pass. Muppets. As their complaining utterances recede into the distance the sheer scale of these excavations, effected with nothing but hardened stones and bone picks, slowly becomes apparent. Well, sort of... since the thought of hewing solid rock with such primitive tools does not compute in any coherent manner. Paradoxes arise at every turn, leaving the brain in turmoil. Surely such a feat is impossible, but then again it can't be because here am I within the rock as surely as the A55 can be found within Penmaenmawr. So how did they do it? Ouch. A hard hat hasn't been devised that can mitigate that kind of cerebral overload. The effort is simply awe inspiring, beyond comprehension, surely rendering the titanic excavation of Avebury's ditch a mere warm up exercise in comparison?
The shaft descends further into this perplexing, disorientating underworld, the side walls and ceiling contracting and widening at various points as if in mimicry of a natural cave... such as that visited last month within the Carreg Cennen, some way to the south. OK, the vibe isn't as extreme as within that sublime place; but then not only is the scale here beyond comparison... it is all the result of the efforts of humans. Wow. And then the climax of the tour, the piece de resistance proving to be a massive chamber, the gaping interior accorded some definition courtesy of minimalist red and green lighting. It is a wondrous, truly amazing sight to behold, apparently the largest such prehistoric excavation anywhere. I've tried to capture something on 'film', a vague snapshot. Needless to say it really does need to be seen in person. I tear myself away from the opening noting that a skeleton was apparently found beneath the entrance shaft, the sign postulating a possible ritual sacrificial dedication. Or something like that. The excited voices of numerous children announce the presence of a school party... so time to move on and leave this place of my own accord, not swept before an irresistible cacophony of noise like a piece of flotsam upon the incoming tide.
Exiting into daylight I detect a certain unease vying with the wonder swirling around in my head .... what if the Bronze Age peoples who accomplished this astonishing feat (apparently the tour passages represent but a small percentage of those discovered to date) did not do so willingly? Is there evidence to support my initial assumption that this was analogous to 20th century coal mining in the South Walian valleys? Not nice, but provided a living? Or were they mercilessly exploited by newly emerging Bronze Age Big Men, some of whom may have been laid to rest within the great round cairns crowning the undulating skyline of Y Carneddau to the south. A disturbing blueprint for the sub-human actions of Todt and his ilk during Nazism's 20th Century nightmare. It is a sobering thought, disquietude at odds with the cheery cartoon figures depicted upon the posters. A fresh batch of school children's voices fill the air to jolt me back to the present and, following a brief look into the open cast mine from the overhead walkway I head for the Llety'r Filiast.
Passing through the shop on the way out I stop for a brief chat with the staff. The attractive woman catches my eye once more and smiles, this warmer, more an acknowledgement of shared experience. Yeah, we both know she was right. What a place! I leave with far more questions than answers. Always a good thing, to be fair.
This is a great place to visit. It should be towards the top of everyone's 'wish list'. It took me an 8 hour round trip to drive up here and cost me £50 in petrol. Was it worth it? - you bet it was!!!
This has to be one of the wonder ancient sites of Britain. Easily found as well sign posted once you enter Llandudno. The facilities are good with a decent museum / shop and a really good system where you 'self-tour' the mines. I can't really describe the mines here to give them justice; only to say that they are truly awe inspiring. All I would say is that at one point during the walk underground you come to a HUGE chamber which is very well lit - jaw dropping - I couldn't believe what I was seeing! Th think this was all dug out by hand, with bones and stones - unbelievable!!!
I was later informed by someone working at the site that another 8 of these had been found!!!!
Please try to visit this site, I promise you won't be dissapointed.
Absolutely incredible !!!
This is one of those places that should be more famous than it is, as well known as "that place in Wiltshire" or Avebury or anywhere, I think the only reason is, its not easily accessable, its on a mountain, in Llandudno, from the welsh capital its as far away as possible and still be in the same country.
The four of us had the entire subterranian mine to ourselves, hard hats donned, we made our way through sometimes thin low tunnels, we peered down tiny shafts that lead only into darkness.
Malachite still lingers in places and when you go down to level two you begin to appreciate just how big this place might be, some of the miners were only 5-7 years old, shocking isnt it, untill I think, how my kids want to go everywhere I do and do everything I do, these underage miners may have liked working with their parents. Sometimes the tiny tunnels look like its only just been abandoned. The tunnels go down nine levels and god knows how far they go, perhaps the descedants of the bronze age miners are still down there tunneling away, Morlock like.
Upon exiting the self guided tour we find ourselves just five yards away from the entrance, funny how when your underground theres no way to know exactly where you are.
The bridge over the entire place is great. There is a small mine entrance that can no longer be explored due to stalagmites and stalagtites, then when you think you can't be any more bowled over you find out that 90% of the mines are still to be uncovered.
What an incredible place.
This place blew me away (how many time have I said that in the past? This time I really mean it!). I had wanted to visit for years but everytime we planned a Welsh trip, we ended up changing our minds and heading to Scotland instead. So, I finally found myself here, almost by accident, having cut short a weekend/Hallowe'en trip to Chester. We arrived on the last day it was open for the season - it was quiet and almost deserted but the staff were more than happy to talk to us at length about the excavations and history of the site.
We had a nosey round the finds in the little "interactive" room before getting our hard-hats on and setting off into the mines. I was completely gob-smacked by the enormity of it all - each "corrider" we walked down had been mined out by hand (and bone) thousands of years ago, it is just mind-boggling. I am so used to seeing ancient monuments which have been built, mainly for reasons we can not begin to explain but here was real industry; a glimpse into the daily lives of our ancestors. Bloody incredible.
This a fascinating place - glimpsing into the subterranean workings of our ancient ancestors. The usual milking of commercial potential at ancient sites like this isn't as much in evidence here as at some places. There is the usual gift shop and it costs £5 to get in, but you don't get the feeling you are being herded here. The tour is self guided - so you can take your time, even choose to walk round the tunnels more than once. There are working archaeologists here, who are willing to field any questions.
The large chamber about half way through the tunnels is a real eye opener - the amount of work put into it is astounding, unfortunately it was impossible to photograph.
According to the BBC Web site (and who's going to argue with that) Bronze Age miners at the Great Orm could retrieve 50% copper ore with basic tools, while moden copper miners extract only 1% per bulk of rock. It's also claimed that the Great Orme is the oldest industrial complex in Wales.
"The earliest mining at the surface dates to 1600 BC, whereas the bulk of underground workings took place in the Middle Bronze Age ... Finds at the site underline a society in transition. At the start the mine produced mainly tools, but by the end, the focus was on weapons. It was becoming an increasingly competitive warlike world, with people starting to fight for land and food."
I'm not sure how dumbed down this analysis is, coming from Auntie Beeb.