Posted by: Richard Neale | April 2, 2011

Gorlenni, Wolves and Cobbing Girls

One of the things that make Snowdonia so special is that you get a powerful sense of the past when you explore its hills and mountains.

A painting of the nearby Aberglaslyn copper mine, which worked at the same time as the Llwyn Du Mine.

In my view, nowhere is this felt more strongly than Llyndy Isaf.  A glance at the map will show you that there are no fewer than six sets of sheepfolds on the slopes above Llyn Dinas.  These gorlenni as they are known in Welsh provide a fascinating insight into the way the land was farmed in the past.  Some of them probably date back to when the farmers lived in fear of the wolf, and the small flocks had to be penned for the night, guarded by the shepherd and his dog.

To me, the archaeological highlight of the farm is the Llwyn Du copper mine.  It worked for about 10 years in the middle of the 1800s and its evocative remains  survive relatively unscathed, thanks to the remote location.

Once extracted from underground, the rock was broken up and the copper ore extracted by cobbing girls (named after the hammer they used); twenty of them, working on this mountain, outdoors in all weathers. Robert Byers, the mine manager wrote to the owners asking for a shelter for the girls, saying, “they are the cheapest thing we have on the mine and without them it is hardly possible to know what we should do“.  It is poignant to note that these girls – their names lost in the mists of time – never got their shelter.

Maybe I’ve got an overactive imagination, but when I walk around these hillsides, I can almost hear the chatter of the cobbing girls, the whinnying of the ponies as they carry the ore down the mountain paths and, when the evening shadows grow long, the fearful howl of the wolf .

p.s.  The Llwyn Du copper mine lies close to the boundary of the Trust’s Aberglaslyn estate and was  surveyed by our archaeologist in the 1990s.  He wrote a brief account of the site which can be read here.


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