Workers dig deep to give slate quarry a future: Amid Snowdonia's beauty there is valuable rock to be exploited, writes Oliver Gillie

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The Independent Online
QUARRYMEN at Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales are slowly moving a mountain but the more rock they shift the more difficult it gets. The good slate that can be cut easily has gone and now they must move factory buildings to extract high quality rock beneath.

For more than 100 years slate was extracted through tunnels that honeycombed the rock around the village, leaving the surface intact. The old mine, which finished in 1969, used a small gauge railway with two-ton bogies.

Now the mine is being exploited by an opencast method, using roads to get access to the slate and 45-ton trucks to move it. To reach the good slate that was left behind as pillars to support the ceilings of the caverns, workers must move many tons of surface dross or pump out water to get at the level below.

The quarry has a large catchment area for water and Blaenau is one of the wettest places in Britain. To exploit the lower levels the Ffestiniog Slate Company will have to move some 50 million gallons of water.

The slate quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog are completely surrounded by the Snowdonia National Park. Workers fear environmentalists could try to stop them from encroaching on the mountainside or create such stringent rules that mining would become uneconomic.

Elfed Williams, manager in charge of extraction, said: 'Tipping is the main problem. We have to put the waste somewhere. The quarry was here first. Ffestiniog would never have existed without it. Soon the quarry will be the only employment left here.'

The quarry was working on short time in the winter months as the recession reduced the market for slate, but demand has since recovered and the men are optimistic.

(Photographs omitted)

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