Andrew ‘Zeb’ Zerbino
This was to be my first trip underground in a very long time. This time last year, we had missed a lot of caving due to COVID restrictions and I was looking forward to the prospect of caving again in the New Year. I was unaware that in just three days time, I would be looking at a positive test result followed by several weeks in intensive care and a further few weeks on a renal ward before finally coming home in the latter part of March. It’s been a long haul since then and had taken me a long time to recover enough fitness to even think about getting underground again. I was now thinking that a nice easy trip would be achievable and Upper Dinas Silica mine with its large galleries and no crawling with minimal scrambling would fit the bill. Previously, access to the mine has been via either the very steep path up the rock from the car park or by following the river upstream and climbing up the waterfalls. Now though, an old right of way has been re-opened due to the efforts of Roy Fellowes, the owner of the mine and I thought this would be an easy way up.
The Monday was a bank holiday and Zeb and Xavier had said they fancied a trip and I picked them up at a nice reasonable time of about lunchtime and we managed to make reasonable time through the roadworks to the car park at Dinas Rock.
Dinas Rock is an imposing place and legend tells that this is the resting place of King Arthur and his Knights. It is also said that there are many fairies here and in British Goblins, Wirt Sykes wrote of the place’s bad reputation. More recently, the area has seen extensive mining for silica that was used for the production of fire bricks that were used extensively in the steel making industry throughout the world. Now, mining has ceased and the area is more likely to be infested with cavers, climbers and walkers.
There are a number of caves and mines here and we were to visit the largest, Upper Dinas Silica mine. The re-opened way to the mine is to come out of the car park and follow the road over the bridge and up a hill past some glamping pods on the right until a clear path is found leading off to the left. The path is well kept although muddy in places and takes you to the top of the gorge where some old structures that used to support the pylons for the aerial ropeway are to be found. The path takes you down a steep slope that ends at the bridge on the other side of the river from Upper Dinas by the entrance to the smaller mine opposite, Middle Dinas Silica Mine.
Middle Dinas consists of three levels, the lower of which floods, the level of which depends on the river level outside. On previous visits, there has been a large, deep pool in the main passage but this time it was more or less dry and we were able to have a good look around. Zeb climbed an ascending passage that goes up to another passage and a higher entrance. After a look around, we crossed exited and crossed the bridge to enter Upper Dinas itself.
Upper Dinas is a massive, impressive place with the upper, unflooded section being effectively a massive chamber on a steep incline, interspersed with many pillars that support the roof.
We did the usual thing which is to follow the big level just up from the flooded levels until near the end then drop down and continue to reach the furthest point east in the mine to find there had been some other idiots there before us.
Retracing our steps, we climbed up to the remains of the winch which has a large ventilation shaft that slopes upwards to the side of the winch. Zeb went off to explore whilst Xavier and I were more sensible and hung around below taking photos until Zeb returned with a tuft of grass to prove he’d found the the exit to the surface above.
Heading back towards the entrance, we gradually climbed upwards as we went by climbing up a level, following on for a way and then climbing back up again. This way we made it to the top entrances and emerged into the open. A short scramble then to the path that took us back down to the car park.
It was great to get out and get underground again. It showed me that I still have a way to go as I found some of the scrambling and hills difficult. With time and effort though, I am confident that I will be able to get some way back to where I was before COVID. However, for my first trip back, I was thoroughly knackered but very chuffed to be back.
Surveys of the mines can be found in Caves and Mines of The Sychryd Gorge.
Information on access to this mine and others can be found at the website of Cambrian Mines