Canadian author CMG (Susan Croft, G.L. Morgan, E.S. Glynn) is currently working on her fifth novel, Underground, set in nineteenth-century Kingston, Ontario. Updates on her progress in researching and writing the book will be posted here, alongside tidbits on her other literary endeavours. Visitors are invited to read and comment on the chapters of Underground as they are completed.
Check out her website at www.cmgbooks.com.
Tuesday, 28 May 2013
Hill Forts and Slate Quarries
Hill Forts and Slate Quarries
Today, May 22, Dad and I set out again in search of Tre’r
Ceiri hill fort, and finally succeeded.We spent almost an hour last night looking at Google Earth and our GPS
system, and found a much easier (and considerably shorter) route than the one
recommended by Trekking Britain.”
We stopped at a lay-by on the B4417 out of Llithfaen, went
through a gate and headed up a clearly visible path.The path was steep in places, and very rocky,
but the effort was worth it when we reached the top.
Tre’r Ceiri is an iron-age hill fort, built sometime in the
first century BC.It was constructed of
scree from the hillside, stacked up to form the walls of more than 150 round
houses like the ones shown in the photo.The entire collection of houses was surrounded by a 12-foot wall, which
was capped by a stone rampart.
A few of the round houses at
The fort was occupied throughout the Roman period, with
archaeological finds showing it was inhabited as late as the fourth
century.In the prequel to The Harper’s Word, one of the main
characters has his court at Tre’r Ceiri.Although the landscape is exceptionally rugged, with nothing more than
gorse growing on the hillside, the views from the top of the Tre’r Ceiri mount
are spectacular, and would have provided the people who lived here with ample
warning of approaching visitors.
View from the top of Tre’r
The wind off the sea was freezing cold, and much stronger
than I expected it to be.It actually
made it difficult to breathe and almost impossible to hear; Dad had to shout
directions until we left the northern part of the fort and the walls blocked
some of the wind again.If you plan to
visit, don’t forget your gloves!
To reach Tre’r Ceiri, follow the B4417 out of Llithfaen
until you reach the lay-by at coordinates 4°24’56”W, 52°58’14”N.There is a sign that says simply “Tre’r
Ceiri,” and room for 2 or 3 cars to park here.Follow the stone steps to a gate.Beyond the gate is a steeply sloping field.Follow this to a kissing gate.The path then climbs to a stile, which you
won’t have to climb since the barbed wire fence has collapsed.From here, the trail winds its way upwards
over rugged and sometimes slippery rock.There is room for only one person to pass between the thick gorse bushes
(I had to hold on to Dad’s backpack and follow behind).Eventually, you will come to an information
plaque.The hill fort is only a little
further up the path—though be warned: this is the most rugged part of the
trail, with large, loose rocks underfoot.The entire walk, including the short time we spent at the top, took us
about two and a half hours.
On our way back to Llanberis, Dad spotted what looked to be
an old Norman church.We pulled over and
went to investigate.In fact, St.
Breuno’s Church dates from the 1400s, and contains a number of very interesting
artefacts—not the least of which is the chest that would have once held parish
records.Chests such as this, which were
carved out of one piece of wood, are very rare.
St. Breuno’s Church from the
The other interesting thing we discovered was that St.
Breuno’s Church is connected to Canada.One of its congregation members, 18-year-old Edgar
Christian, travelled to Canada in 1927, and died while on a hunting expedition
in the Northwest Territories.His diary
was found ten years later, and has since been published under the title Unflinching.Apparently this is a “minor classic” in Canada.Although I’d never heard of it, the story
intrigues me, and I have every intention of trying to find a copy once I get
In the afternoon, we visited the National Slate museum in
Llanberis.This museum is on the site of
an old slate mine that is no longer operational.In 1882, the quarry produced 87,000 tons of
The water wheel on display at the museum is 50 feet, 5
inches in diameter, and would have been used to work almost all of the
equipment necessary to power the quarry, which was almost self-sufficient.The water wheel powered saws to cut wood to
make repairs to company wagons and ships.Carpenters and joiners made the buildings and repaired wooden tools when
they broke.A patterner made wooden
models that could be pressed into the sand floor of the foundry, where molten
metal was poured into the moulds to make the metal tools and mechanisms
required by the quarrymen and slate splitters.Nowadays, with mechanization, 12 men can do the work of 200.
The only thing still done by hand in a slatequarry is slate splitting.Depending on the grade of slate, the stone
can be split into sheets as thin as 1 mm.Once split, the slates must be “dressed”—that is, cut to a certain
size.Queens are the largest size, and
the only ones not specified by measurement; they can be any size larger than a
princess.In descending orders, the
sizes are: queens, princesses, duchesses, countesses, etc.Dressing is done with a large, cleaver-like
knife, and a notched ruler.A good
dresser could dress up to 600 slates in a 9-hour day, if the slate was of good
quality.The average number of dressed
slates was between 350 and 400.This is
not to say that a dresser was paid for all of these; the company took 28% of
the dresser’s wage to cover the cost of slates that broke while in transit
(though the number of slates that were actually broken was closer to 5%).Apprentices would travel from the surrounding
villages at the age of 12, and live in the barracks at the quarry.For the first six months, they would receive
no pay.The second six months, they
would be paid 6 pence a day.Every year
after that, their pay would increase by a shilling.
Unfortunately, all the photos we took at the slate museum
were on a smaller camera than the one we’ve been using over the course of the
trip, and it looks like I forgot the cable to download the photos.There are some nice ones of Dad learning to
split slate; I’ll post them when we get back to Canada!