Wales was famous around the globe for its coal mining but did you know there were other types of mining here, including silver mines?
According to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, During the 16th and 17th centuries, silver was extracted in great quantity from the richly argentiferous lead ores of central Wales. A mint was also established at Aberystwyth Castle for striking coins made from Welsh silver.
Cwmystwyth Mines is probably the most important silver mining site in mid-Wales due to its long and varied history. After mining ceased, the site became derelict and land ownership passed to the Crown Estate.
In 2012 a great deal of money was spent on safety and consolidation work before the whole site was transferred to the Cambrian Mines Trust.
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While the historic mines have long been abandoned by miners, visitors can now take a guided tour of the silver mines and adventure into the untouched and dark passages and an unspoilt landscape of silver, lead, copper and zinc mines, some of which date back over 4,000 years.
Organized by Mid Wales Mine Adventures, this special mining tour gives you a unique insight into 4,000 years of Welsh history and what life as a Welsh miner might have been like, working underground in the Cambrian Mountains.
How to visit the silver mines
Mid Wales Mine Adventures was founded by local mining expert Ioan Lord and offers a variety of surface and underground tours which delve into the working conditions, lives and structure of the former mining communities.
See the scale of the huge underground workings which lie hidden under the Cambrian Mountains, and learn about the hundreds of people who once worked in this large industry in Wales.
Taking a guided tour with an expert offers visitors the opportunity to more about the long mining heritage of Wales and what the life of a miner might have involved?
Aerial archaeologist and prehistorian Dr Toby Driver thinks that the historic silver-lead mines of the Cambrian Mountains region still represent a “hidden heritage” to be discovered and explored.
He said: “Many mining sites have their origins in the prehistoric Bronze Age, while others were started in late Medieval times; together these mines represent centuries of history and human endeavour.”
What you can see on the mine tour
Mid Wales Mine Adventures have a number of underground tours to choose from that vary in length and difficulty and are also available in English or in Welsh.
Some of these tours involve uphill climbs and a short crawl through the dark and eerie caverns, so they are not for the easily spooked. Hard hats and lights are provided for visitors and all tours are also covered by their insurance.
I went on The Deep Mine Taster Trip, to see what life might have been like underground all those years ago. The tour begins by crawling through a modern access pipe and then wading through a short distance of knee-deep water, illuminated only by a head torch before reaching a drier part of the mine.
It’s a slightly surreal experience to wander around the underground mine workings knowing that they have been untouched since the departure of the last miners.
As you progress through the rough rock walls of the mine, you can see the abandoned artifacts and relics from the 19th and 20th centuries that were left behind, as if the miners quickly departed, never to look back into those pitch-dark caverns.
Trams, inclines and wooden ore chutes are frozen in time here, left to the gloom of the mine, only to be glimpsed upon by adventurous underground explorers shining a torch into the stale air.
There is also evidence of early mining here, as well as footprints, tools, old shoes and clothing if you look close enough. Trekking through these quiet passages is not your average day out in Wales and is an ideal activity for anyone seeking unusual experiences and bucket list adventures.
When did the mining tours start?
Mid Wales Mine Adventures was established in 2019 to make the important history and remains of the area’s mining heritage accessible to the public.
Lord had spent his life exploring and documenting mid-Wales’ metal mining heritage.
He is a director of the Welsh Mines Preservation Trust, which works to conserve and restore relics of the area’s industrial heritage for years to come. He also works on the Vale of Rheidol Railway as a guard and locomotive fireman; a preserved local industry that grew from the mining boom in the area.
He has always had a keen interest in early mining heritage and is surprised by the lack of spotlight on the subject in Wales.
He said: “I have always been astonished at how little attention is given to Mid Wales’ metal mining industry.
“At least 10 mines in Mid Wales were started in the early Bronze Age, over 4,000 years ago and the industry’s lack of appreciation and representation is unbelievable.”
To book a tour, visit their website, or call 07415 440172
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