Our next two walks were in the dis-used slate quarry of Dinorwig, and the working granite quarry of Penmaenmawr. These two walks were separated by only seven days, and are connected in my mind by their contrasts.
We began on a grey still day in Nant Peris, in Lindsey’s cosy kitchen, at the bottom of the valley, on flat gentle terrain. It felt safe, nestled and protected by towering steep sides. The villiage church and the graveyard also had that gentle sense of nurture and protection, a sense of strong community. The headstones were well tended, with clasped hands engraved and soft grass wrapped around the feet like a blanket.
We crossed a road, through a gate, over a stile and came across a river, – so many boundaries – to the edge of the quarry tips. There was a mound of old slate carts rusting under the bracken, neglected and abandoned, a distorted echo of the churchyard. Here, we stopped for lunch and I spun around as fast as I could to mark the edge of the quarry.
When we started on the slate path all sense of protection disappeared. The mounds rose up on both sides, huge loose slabs of slate, chunks the size of table tops, piled high like the coins in a penny arcade.
A caricature of domesticity, a slate “sofa” outside a ruined building.
From there to a deep deep hole with towering cliffs and an amazing echo. We shouted and sang and banged slate together but all I could feel was the pull of the hole. There was a strong wire fence with new, sturdy poles so I knew I was safe, but the pull felt strong enough to snap the wire like cotton and I was pleased to move away from there. The rest of the walk became a simple walk away from that hole.
Exactly one week later, on a stunning bright day, we drove through the gates of Hanson’s Aggregates in Penmaenmawr to meet Saj, our guide for the day as we visited the quarry where Jwl’s Taid and Hen Daid worked. This is a world of working men, so we were not allowed to wander unescorted, but were taken on a tour like VIP’s. This lack of contact with the ground makes it so much harder to remember the route and the order of things. A stopping, starting dot to dot journey, though soft dunes and waves of crushed granite, past machines and silo’s.
Everywhere was punctuated with words. “Emergency Run Off” “ Last Lost Time Incident” “Asbestos – Do Not Disturb” We visited a shed full of defunct machines and parts, everything covered in the soft grey dust. We stopped by the amazing “Bonc Jolly”, an abandoned structure that reminded us all of somewhere else.
At the top of the mountain we looked down into the hole, an inverted peak. Neat galleries and ordered piles of bounders on the floor. Such a contrast from the jagged jumbled quality of slate. I realised that I was looking over the edge of the quarry, with hardly even a flicker of vertigo in my belly. The feel of the granite beneath my feet was grounding me completely. I tried spinning, and even then, I felt rooted. Is it the magnetism of granite that makes me feel safer, or it’s hardness?
At this, the highest point of the quarry, we said goodbye to Saj and hopped over a stile and into the mountain landscape. It felt so good to be walking, autonomous again. The quarry was fascinating and spectacular but the rules and regulations and warnings felt so restrictive. We walked until we found the druid circle, following ancient routes and sheep paths, exchanging pleasantries with farmers and other walkers. This landscape has no fences, allowing the wild ponies to range free, and as we walked towards the town and the car, we couldn’t see the quarry at all.