Day 3 of our Trip to Wales was one of my favourites. Essentially this was the back bone of our reason to come to Wales. My Aunty Hazel, lives in a tiny village just outside of Lampeter. It is a beautiful un touched area of Wales, that is truly in the middle of nowhere, but seems to attract magical events! Hazel always entertains us with her stories and is very hospitable.
Dolaucothi Gold Mines
And it is with one of my Aunty Hazel’s stories that I start our trip to Dolaucothi Gold Mines. Around 45 – 50 years ago when my Dad and Hazel were fixing up the cottage she lives in now, they used to go on adventures. One eek of a story that they came across was that there was gold in them there Welsh hills.
One night my Dad and Uncle Les, drove to Pumpsaint, to an open abandoned gold mine. Hazel stood watch at the top of a hill while the two novice miners headed into the mine. Armed with dim torches, they started to explore, when all of a sudden something Gold shined back at them. They’d struck it rich! Several trips back to and from the car they carried as much gold as they could carry. Their Morris 3 was nearly scraping the road with the booty they’d stock piled.
After a 3 hour drive back to their home town of Coventry they analysed the haul, only to find it to be Iron Pyrites (Fools Gold). Which was pretty apt, but a great night adventure.
Dolaucothi Gold Mines – National Trust
The Mines are now owned by the National trust. As National Trust Members, it was an easy decision to visit my Dad’s Gold trail. It was around 2:30pm that we arrived, and were advised to head straight to the tour guides booking office to get onto one of the two tours.
We didn’t have time to do the Roman Gold Mine Tour, just the Victorian Mine Tour. We were advised that this was also a better tour for children, as they can visualise the period better.
With a little bit of time to fill in we had a quick look around the site and spotted the panning for gold sections. There were three troughs and a stack of pans, to allow you to pan as freely as you wished. A sign on the wall offered some directions, but as seasoned Gold Rush viewers, me and Imogen knew what to do.
After a short while we got our routine together and started to pick out tiny specks of gold, although I’m not sure if it was real gold or Fools gold. Either way Imogen was excitedly stuffing it into a tissue packet for later.
The Victorian Gold Mine Tour
Jaxom our tour guide met us at the kit up station. All guests on the tour needed a helmet, battery pack and a head torch. Abigail had an LED head torch to assist with the weight.
The tour would last an hour and fifteen minutes and that was a very accurate time guide. We were told about the reason the gold mine isn’t in operation today and how the national trust got their hands on the property. It boiled down to profitability. For every 11 ton of shale rock that was dug out only 1 tone of gold was found. I’m not sure if it is that bad now when you look at gold prices, but the cost for extraction must be very high.
Children were employed to work on the mines and many of them were from the families that worked here. The minimum age for a child worker was 10 years old, but from the records that had been found the child inspector had only ever visited once, during its operation. So it is likely stronger younger boys may also have been hauling rock.
Our tour took us up the hillside and towards the opening of the mine. Where the visitor centre was now located is believed to have been former open cast mined area.
Into the mine!
Imogen was a little bit nervous about entering the darkness, but our small group of 7 entered quietly. An eerie mist caught the lamp light and added great atmospherics to the tour. Jaxom informed us that this is referred to a Dragons Breath!
Above our heads were glistening silver patches. It wasn’t what we all thought it was. It looked like silver and would have been a nice associate for the gold mine, but was in fact a bacteria / mould that is “only found here and in a gold mine in Brazil”!
The tour continued into the mine where we learned traditional mining techniques of hammering spikes in to the wall. We saw a set of platforms where the rocks would have been thrown down to the children to sort. Jaxom demonstrated the ventilation system that was added to mines at a later date.
Eventually we’d ventured deep in to the mine and were about to make our surface assent again. This time via a Roman staircase. This was steps carved in the rock face. Some where small, others where a reach.
We were given one piece of advice and told of the tradition. “Keep your head low as the rocks hand down, but the tradition is that one person from the group will bash their head on the exit gates. But as this is a small group we may be lucky to scrape through”.
Abigail loved the climbing, Imogen started to panic as the tour guide headed off in front. I stopped to take a photo! We kept stepping and reaching heading closer to the day light outside. I ducked, Imogen ducked, Abigail missed the gate altogether, Catherine… CLUNK! Her hard hat had saved a nasty bruise on the forehead. At least she was keeping the tradition going.
Dolaucothi Gold Mines, offers more than you would expect to find in a mine museum. The tours definitely are worth doing and if we’d arrived earlier, we would have done both. Everything was starting to close for the day, so we quickly nipped into the cafe for a quick coffee and a slice of Bara Brith, a traditional Welsh fruit bread / cake.
Wales has so much to offer and we’ll be heading back there soon.