Dolaucothi Gold Mines

Dolaucothi Gold Mines

Mine head and wheel

Mine head and wheel

 

The Dolaucothi Gold Mines, also known as the Ogofau Gold Mine, are Roman surface and underground mines located in the valley of the River Cothi, near Pumsaint, Carmarthenshire, Wales. The gold mines are located within the Dolaucothi Estate which is now owned by the National Trust. They are the only mines for Welsh gold outside those of the Dolgellau gold-belt, and are a Scheduled Ancient Monument. They are also the only known Roman gold mines in Britain, although it does not exclude the likelihood that they exploited other known sources in Devon, North Wales, Scotland and elsewhere. The site is important for showing advanced Roman technology.

 

Archaeology suggests that gold extraction on this site may have started sometime in the Bronze Age, possibly by washing of the gold-bearing gravels of the river Cothi, the most elementary type of gold prospecting. Sextus Julius Frontinus was sent into Roman Britain in 74 AD to succeed Quintus Petillius Cerialis as governor of that island. He subdued the Silures, Demetae and other hostile tribes of Roman Wales, establishing a new base at Caerleon for Legio II Augusta and a network of smaller Roman forts fifteen to twenty kilometres apart for his Roman auxiliary units. During his tenure, he probably established the fort at Pumsaint in west Wales, largely to exploit the gold deposits at Dolaucothi. Frontinus later restored the Aqueducts of Rome and wrote the definitive treatise on 1st century Roman aqueducts, the two volume De aquaeductu.

 

That gold occurred here is shown by the discovery of a hoard of gold ornaments in the 18th century. Objects found included a wheel brooch and snake bracelets, so named because they were soft enough to be coiled around the arm for display. All the objects are now held in the British Museum, and displayed in the Romano-British gallery. A sample of gold ore was found at the site by Henry de la Beche in 1844, confirming the presence of gold. Evidence from the fortification (known as Luentinum from details given by Ptolemy) and its associated settlement show that the Roman army occupied the fort during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD (from circa AD 78 until around AD 125). However, coarse ware and Samian ware pottery recovered from a reservoir (Melin-y-Milwyr) within the mine complex show that activity at the mines continued until the late 3rd century at least. Since Ptolemy's map dates to about 150 AD, it is likely that it continued being worked until the end of the 3rd century if not beyond. The Romans made extensive use of water carried by several aqueducts and leats, the longest of which is about 7 miles from its source in a gorge of the river, to prospect for the gold veins hidden beneath the soil on the hillsides above the modern village of Pumsaint. Small streams on Mynydd Mallaen, the Annell and Gwenlais, were used initially to provide water for prospecting, and there are several large tanks for holding the water still visible above an isolated opencast pit carved in the side of the hill north of the main site. The larger aqueduct from the Cothi crosses this opencast, proving the opencast to be earlier.

 

The water was stored in the tanks and then released suddenly, the wave of water sweeping away the soil to reveal the bedrock and any gold-bearing veins beneath. Pliny the Elder gives a dramatic account in his Naturalis Historia of the method, possibly derived from his experiences in Spain. The method is known as hushing and survived in use until the 19th century in Britain, and into the 20th century in the goldfields of Africa. A not dissimilar method is used today in exploiting alluvial tin deposits, and is known as hydraulic mining. A smaller scale version of the same method is placer mining, and both may have been used to work alluvial placer deposits next to the river Cothi itself, judging by a large aqueduct which tapped the river a mile or so upstream, and enters the site at a low level compared with the other known aqueducts on the site. The water supply of the aqueducts was also used for washing crushed gold ore, and also possibly driving stamping mills for comminution of the ore (Lewis and Jones, 1969).

 

One of the first aqueducts was built at a high level on the east slope of Allt Cwmhenog and tapped a small stream about 2 miles (3 km) away. There is a large tank at its end, where it sweeps around the brow of the hill onto the west side of the ridge. A gold vein must have been discovered here, because there is a large opencast below the tank. Yet the larger and longer aqueduct (with a gradient of 1 in 800) taps the river Cothi about 7 miles (11 km) to the north-east and traverses the same opencast, so must be later in date. By contrast, several tanks found on the site did not show a vein, so were abandoned. The tank shown at right occurs not far from the north opencast and was probably intended to find the limits of the deposit located in the adjacent opencast. It clearly didn't find the vein, and was thus abandoned. The water supply may have been obtained from a small leat run from a stream up the main Cothi valley before the much larger aqueduct was constructed.

 

Prospecting was successful and several opencasts are visible below the large tanks built along its length. The only exception is the final and very large tank, below which are two reservoirs. It is likely that this complex was used for washing powdered ore to collect the gold dust. More leats and tanks can be found below the line of the main aqueduct, some of which are shown on the map of the site. They surround the lip of the very large opencast and the tank shown at right is one which was built on the main aqueduct. It was successful in finding a vein, judging by the opencast below, but must have been modified later to feed a washing table built to the left-hand side, probably to wash the crushed ore from the same opencast working. Similar tanks occur below as the Romans followed the large vein down to the road and the main opencast. Most of the opencast workings must therefore be Roman in origin, since one of the aqueducts has been confirmed by carbon 14 dating as to predate all modern workings. Just by the road itself the Carreg Pumsaint has been erected in the space beside a large mound, now thought to be a dump of waste material from mining activities.

 

The existing ponds above and below the minor road from Pumsaint to Caeo, were probably part of a cascade for washing ore, the upper tank having yielded large quantities of Roman pottery from ca 78 to at least 300 AD. The upper pool is known as Melin-y-Milwyr, or the soldiers' mill, an intriguing name that implies that watermills may have been used here during the Roman period. Alternatively, it may have been a sequence of washing tables for the crushed gold ore. A large-scale mill complex is known from Barbegal in southern France, where no less than 16 mills (in two lines of 8 each) were built into the side of a hill and supplied with water from a single aqueduct. There were two lines of parallel overshot mills, the outflow from one feeding the next below. The mill supplied flour to the region. Moreover, Roman engineers used sequences of reverse overshot water-wheels to dewater mines, and the deep workings at Dolaucothi produced a fragment of such a wheel during the 1930s when deep mining operations were resumed. Sequences of such wheels increased the lift, and one extensive sequence of 16 wheels was found in old Roman mine workings on the Rio Tinto river in the 1920s. The wheels were arranged in pairs and could lift water about 80 feet (24 m) from the bottom of the mine there.

 

The tank at the head of the small road from Pumsaint to Caio was thought to be modern since it still holds water. However, when the level of the water was low in 1970, it yielded large quantities of Roman pottery which show that it is of Roman origin and built early during their exploitation of the mines. The section shows that it was connected to a smaller tank just below the modern road by a drystone culvert in a cascade. The lower tank also holds water but is in an advanced state of eutrophication. The collection of fragments included Samian ware and coarse ware from over 100 separate pots, and must have fallen into the reservoir when the mines were in full operation. Analysis of the pottery fragments showed a distribution of ages from the late 1st century AD through to the end of the 4th century.

 

Since the fort and fortlet under the present village of Pumsaint ends in the middle of the 2nd century, it shows that mining continued for a long time after the military evacuation. It implies that there is a large mining settlement in the vicinity of the village of Pumsaint which has yet to be found. The exact function of the cascade is related to the methods of extracting the final traces of gold from the crushed ore. There were probably washing tables between the two tanks so that a gentle stream of water could be used to wash the ore on the rough surface of the tables, the finer gold being caught in the rougher parts of the tables, and removed at the end of the process. The cascade would probably have been built towards the end of the 1st century when underground mining commenced following opencast development.

 

Carreg Pumsaint yields some of the earliest evidence anywhere for the Roman use of water-powered trip hammers to crush ore (Burnham 1997). The ore was probably crushed on the famous Carreg Pumsaint, a block of stone erected many years ago before the Romans had left the site. There are parallels with similar stones at other ancient Roman mines in Europe, and the hollows in the block were formed by a trip hammer probably worked by a water wheel or a "water lever". Such a water-powered hammer would have been moved regularly as each hollow became too deep, so producing the series of overlapping oval hollows in its surfaces. The hammer head must have been of substantial size judging by the width of the hollows shown in the drawing. The stone is the only example so far discovered at the site, but is not unique, and Burnham refers to others of similar shape from Spain. As one side of the stone became worn, it was simply turned to reveal another side, so the block could be re-used several times. When found years after the Romans had left, in the Dark Ages, it gave rise to the legend of the five saints, who left the impression of their heads in the stone after being found asleep by the devil.

 

They followed the veins with shafts and tunnels underground, some of which still exist on the site. The remains of Roman dewatering machines were found during the 1880s and the 1920s when the Rio Tinto mines in Spain were being mined by opencast methods. At Dolaucothi, a similar discovery was made in 1935 during mining operations, and it included part of a reverse overshot water-wheel which is now in the National Museum of Wales. It was found with burnt timbers, suggesting that fire-setting was used to help break up the hard quartz in which the gold was trapped. A similar but larger wheel was rediscovered during mine operations at Rio Tinto in Spain, and is now in the British Museum, where it is displayed prominently in the Roman gallery. The Spanish example included a sequence of no fewer than 16 reverse overshot water-wheels, each pair of wheels feeding water to the next set in the sequence. Each wheel would have been worked like a treadwheel, from the side rather than at the top, but it would have been a hard and lonely activity for the miners working these wheels lifting water from the mine bottom. Since the fragment of a reverse overshot water-wheel was found 160 feet below any known adit or stope, it must have been part of a similar sequence at Dolaucothi to that in Spain. Gold mining was sophisticated and technologically advanced at Dolaucothi, suggesting that the Roman army itself pioneered exploitation at the site. The construction of such dewatering machines is described by the Roman engineer Vitruvius writing in 25 BC, and their use for irrigation and lifting water in thermae was widespread.

 

At another part of the mine, on Pen-lan-wen, water would have been in short supply; a siphon could have transferred water from the main aqueduct or one of its tanks, but remains unproven. The vein carries along the hill for some considerable distance, and has been trenched out. This method involved excavating the vein vertically down while keeping the top open. However, ventilation becomes a problem when fire-setting is used, so three long adits were driven in from the hillside to the north. They are much wider than normal galleries, suggesting that their primary purpose was to allow circulation of air through the trench and permit safe fire-setting. The upper two adits are still open to the trench, but the lowest one is currently blocked.

 

There is some evidence that some of the gold was worked at the site, judging by the finished brooch found, as well as other finished gold products. A part engraved jewel has also been found in the vicinity. Such activities would have needed skilled, not slave labour. No workshops or furnaces have yet been found, but it is likely that both existed on site. Ingots of gold would have been easier to transport than dust or nuggets, although a high-temperature refractory furnace will have been needed to melt the gold, which has a melting point of 1064 °C. Pliny mentions such special furnaces in his Naturalis Historia. A workshop will have been vital for building and maintaining mining equipment such as the drainage wheels, flumes for washing tables, shuttering for aqueducts, crushing equipment and pit-props. Official mints would have produced gold coins, a key component of Roman currency. After the military occupation the mine may have been taken over by Romano-British civilian contractors some time after 125 AD, although the final history of the site has yet to be determined.

 

Following the Roman departure from Britain in the 5th century, the mine lay abandoned for centuries. There was a revival in the 19th century and attempts to make successful ventures at the site in the early 20th century, but they were abandoned before the first world war. In the 1930s a shaft was sunk to 430 feet in an attempt to locate new seams. Falling into disrepair and unsafe due to flooding at its lower levels, the mine finally closed in 1938. It was during this period that ancient underground workings were found, and the fragment of the dewatering mill discovered within. The extensive surface remains, especially the traces of hydraulic mining, were to be discovered only in the 1970s by intensive fieldwork and surveying. The lead mines of Nantymwyn near Rhandirymwyn village some 8 miles away to the north may also have been first worked by the Romans, judging by hushing tanks and aqueducts found there in the 1970s both from fieldwork and aerial photographs. They occur at the top of the mountain called Pen-cerrig-mwyn, and the veins were followed underground by several tunnels leading to the workings. Inside, the veins have been removed and debris carefully stacked within the stope. The workings lie far above the later modern mines and processing plant (now derelict). The later mine was once the largest lead mine in Wales.

 

Guided tours are available. You can have a go at panning for gold. There is Free parking with an overflow car park opposite the main entrance. There is a Drop-off point. A Braille guide is available. The mine has a ramped entrance. An Audio/visual video is available. Access to the Long Adit is on level ground but over gravel floor. Access to part of the mine is possible (advisable to book in advance), gravel floor can be difficult for PMVs. Access to Roman and Victorian mines is via 70 steps. Assistance dogs are welcome. Dolaucothi Gold Mines is now closed for the winter season. They will re-open for the 2017 season in March. Meanwhile you can enjoy many wonderful walks before heading to the Dolaucothi Arms pub for some excellent food.

Over the Cothi River

Over the Cothi River

Dolaucothi parkland walk

A gentle stroll around the grounds of the Dolaucothi mansion, taking in a riverside walk and the main approach. This walk is classified as Easy, is about one mile long and takes around 30 minutes. It is dog friendly. In spring the ground is carpeted with bluebells and in autumn this is a great place to find fungi.

Start at the Dolaucothi Gold Mines car park. Cross the road from the car park and go through the gate into the clearing. You'll see lots of stumps in this area where trees have been felled. Native trees like birch, ash and oak will grow up here to replace them, changing this into a wonderful wood. Follow the path. On your right you will see the beautifully tranquil Dolaucothi Estate Caravan Park.

Nestled in ‘Ogofau’ opencast pit; a landscape created by the Romans using nothing but the most primitive of hand tools. This caravan site is surrounded by history, geology, wildlife and wonderful scenery. The site is fondly referred to as one of the hidden gems of Carmarthenshire and a great place for a holiday escape. Follow the path along by the River Gothi, looking out for kingfishers and otters which are sometimes seen on this stretch. Go through the gate onto the track and turn left, down to the bridge.

Ornamental bridge. Why would you build such a pretty bridge to take a farm track over the river? This used to be the east drive to Dolaucothi Mansion. The bridge was built to this pattern in 1836 to take pony traps and carriages, reminding visitors that they'd come to a fine estate. Cross over the bridge and turn right through the gate, heading for the corner of the walled garden. Behind these massive stone walls is a grass paddock grazed by sheep. 200 years ago, though, it was an elegant garden, stocked with exotic plants, where the ladies of the house took their exercise.

Follow the path, keeping the walled garden to your right. There are all kinds of shrubs and conifers growing here, the remains of the garden that was here in the 1800s. Climb over the stile and carry on along the path. Before you climb the next stile, can you spot the grotto amongst the tree roots? This too was part of the garden design. Go up the steps then turn left off the track onto a narrow path through the trees, above the river bank.

Follow the path to where it joins the main drive near the gateway to the road. The visitor centre (and toilet) is just along the road to your right. Here you can find out more about the area and the Dolaucothi Estate. Turn left at the junction to return to the Gold Mine car park.

View from Miners Way

View from Miner's Way

Miner’s Way trail at Dolaucothi

Retrace the steps of gold miners through the ages, from the mine entrances used by the Romans to the remains of the crushing mill used in the 1930s. See some great views and unusual plants along the way. This walk is classified as Moderate, takes one hour and is about one mile long. It is dog friendly.

Start at the Dolaucothi Gold Mines car park. Below you on the right you'll see the entrance to a Roman mine shaft, or adit. The Roman adits. They have a distinctive coffin shape, wider at the top than the bottom, because the ore was carried out on the miners' backs. In later times, tramways meant that the miners could push the ore out in trucks.

Cross the road through the gate opposite and follow the track through the woods. This will take you through some of the oldest mine workings at Dolaucothi, used by the Romans to extract gold to send back to the Imperial Mint. Take the steps to the right of the winding shed leading out of the mineyard. Dolaucothi mineyard. The mineyard is a huge hole dug into the hillside by the Romans in their search for gold nearly 2,000 years ago. They left behind a complex of pits, channels, tunnels and tanks. Mining resumed here in the late 19th century but no fortunes were made. In 1938 the mine closed for the last time.

Go through the gate into the hay meadow. Hay meadow. You’re now passing through ancient pasture that's not been ploughed for generations. During spring and summer this landscape is carpeted with wildflowers such as hay rattle, eye-bright and orchids. When you come out onto the track, go over the stile into the field ahead, where you will see the remains of a 'crushing shed'. Go over a second stile back onto the track. Follow the road down until you reach the junction. Turn right at the junction.

Follow the trail. It leads you through the remains of the miners’ bunk houses or barracks, built in the 1930s. Go right and follow the path till it joins the old drovers’ road. The drovers' road. For centuries Welsh farmers sent livestock to market in England along these networks of drovers’ ways. Geese had their feet tarred for the journey whilst cattle were shod - one plate for each part of their cloven hooves. Turn left along the road. If you look down to your left you’ll see into the mine yard at Dolaucothi. Follow the waymark down the steps and explore the 1930s machinery.

Dolaucothi Estate

Dolaucothi Estate

Dolaucothi woodland trail

A wonderful trail for those looking for a moderately difficult walk in a beautiful woodland. You may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of some of Britain's most elusive creatures including badgers and woodpeckers. The walk is classified as Moderate, is about 3 miles long and should take about one hour 45 minutes. Tea-room, shop and parking at Dolaucothi Gold Mines. Dogs on leads welcome. Toilet facilities at Dolaucothi Gold Mines and at the Coach House. It is a Steepish climb, with sloping grass and woodland paths, stoned tracks, slippery boardwalk and a country lane.

Start at the car park at Dolaucothi Gold Mines; cross the road and go through the gate to start your trail. Gold Mine. The mine was used by the Romans as early as 75 AD. Some evidence suggests that it may have been mined before that, and was intermittently mined in the 19th and early-20th century. Follow the path. On your right you will see the beautifully tranquil Dolaucothi Estate Caravan Park. Nestled in ‘Ogofau’ opencast pit; a landscape created by the Romans using nothing but the most primitive of hand tools, this caravan site is surrounded by history, geology, wildlife and wonderful scenery. The site is fondly referred to as one of the hidden gems of Carmarthenshire and a great place for a holiday escape.

Cross the bridge. This is a beautiful place for a picnic. Picnic site and bridge. The bridge was originally built over the Cothi in 1836, as part of the drive to Ogofau Lodge. If you sit quietly, you may catch a glimpse of an otter, sand martin, kingfisher or heron. Walk along the walled garden. Walled Garden. Dolaucothi Farm and remnant of the mansion and ha-ha. All that remains of the original mansions are the servants' quarters and kitchen which form the current farmhouse. The ha-ha, wall and ditch kept livestock away from the lawns while preserving the view across the parkland. The large wall surrounded a walled garden attached to the house.

Follow the blue waymarkers to continue your journey on the woodland trail. The Grotto and ‘Old Lumpy’. Beneath the sycamore, by the boardwalk, is a small grotto. Above, stands 'Old Lumpy’, a venerable oak, probably the oldest thing alive on the estate, perhaps 300 to 400 years old. Walk up the steps and continue to follow the blue waymarkers. Follow the trail though the Dolaucothi Woodland. This is a great place to stop for a break and listen out for the tapping sound of woodpeckers.

Picnic area near two large trees. Have a rest near the two large beech trees on the border of the beech and fir forest. Both trees could be more than 200 years old. Follow the blue waymarkers through the woodland. You may also be lucky enough to see a badger in this area. There are plenty of setts near here. Timber extraction paths. These paths were well trodden by horses dragging timber behind then in order to extract it from the forest. The timber was used for charcoal and pit-props, some taken to the local saw mill. Look out for the numerous tree trunks that have been deformed by honeysuckle ‘strangling’ the tree. Enjoy the view of Pumsaint village.

Pumsaint stone. Pumsaint means Five Saints in Welsh. There are many myths and legends about when five good men walked through the village. It is said that one of the men stopped to rest on Pumsaint stone, located near the Gold Mine, and left an indentation on the side of the stone. What do you think? Follow the trail past the old Coach House in the village of Pumsaint and continue your journey back to the Dolaucothi Gold Mine car park. The old Coach House. The old Coach House is now a visitor and red kite centre containing more history about the village and estate.

 

Location : Pumsaint, Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire, SA19 8US

Transport : Llanwrda or Lampeter (National Rail) then bus (from Lampeter). Bus Routes : 288 and 289 stop close by.

Opening Times : Closed for the winter season. Re-opens March 2017 Daily 10:00 to 18.00.

Gold Mines peak season: Victorian tour 11, 12, 1, 1:30, 2:30, 3 and 4:30; Roman tour 12:30, 2 and 3:30

Opening Times Walks: Dawn until dusk

Tickets : Adults £8.00;  Children £3.95

Tel. : 01558 650177