The mist had come in the night.
As we had climbed higher the grey damp had all but swallowed us, transporting us through time. No roads, power lines or houses visible, just us and the path beneath our feet, cut into the side of Moelwyn Mawr a hundred and fifty years ago. It had been made for the pack horses that carried slate from Rhosydd, a remote mine on a high col, to the world below.
Some of the miners walked this route to get to and from this and other quarries in the area.
We were hiking on a saturday, the day they finished their working week; on mornings such as this exhausted men would have been walking past us, heading down for the comfort of home.
These were young men with old bones, lucky to get into their forties, they were killed early by hard work or in accidents: A flickering of the lights, a crash, then darkness. Down the mountain one last time. Church bells in the village.
A brief clearing of the mist, a glimpse of dark looming rock, a halo of of watery sun. Newly confident we climb upwards. But as we go higher mist becomes cloud, curtains of grey close behind us and again we’re walking in a half-place, a small, dim world with blurred edges that belongs to us only.
Later we stand on the top of Cnict.
The clouds have lifted as the wind has strengthened and we can see for miles; below, the green Croesor Valley, across, the grey Moelwyn Mawr. Far off, the dull brown sea.
The only hiker we’ve met up here on the ridge has disappeared and now we have only a pair of ravens for company. Large black wings extended, balancing on the air rushing above us as we look around.
At a distance the landscape begins to reveal its secrets.
The long, straight path we’d crossed hours earlier – one of a number of abandonned inclines that still descend the huge glacial spur trailing from Moelwn Mawr. Memorials to the ingenuity and longevity of Victorian engineering.
The old track we’d followed on the valley floor – a tramway linking the inclines to the railway to the coast. From there it left on boats, bound for the roofs of nineteenth century London.)
The lakes on the map we were planning to navigate by later – resevoirs, dammed to supply head pressure for the vast water wheels that drove the quarry machinery.
As night falls we reach Cwm Orthin.
We had spent the day walking on a ghostly transport network for an all but forgotten industry and now we were going to spend a night in its heart – the mine itself.
We wander around the stone skeletons of a barracks, a vast wheel house and a stables. We pass mysterious stone pillars and try to guess their purpose.
Beneath us lies a wet, black, netherworld of tunnels, floods, rotten bridges, broken tracks and rusting machinery. From drips to torrents, water in all its forms is claiming the mine for itself.
The moon rises above the edge of the rock basin we are camping in. It lights up the ruin of Plas Cwmorthin, the house that belonged to the manager of Rhosydd and we forage for firewood in the remains of his garden, the sound of a waterfall filling our ears.
My friend Hamish lights a fire the old way, with birch bark, flint and twig and we warm ourselves under a cold, starry sky. The flames’ orange glow offsets the ominous presence of the millions of tonnes of waste slate that is heaped all around us. It tranfoms our tent and equipment into a camp.
Like other men who were here at other times, we sit, tired out, and talk about our day.