Bogart

Dolaucothi Gold Mines

In Industrial heritage on October 24, 2011 at 7:31 pm

An excellent National Trust Property between Llandeilo, Carmarthen, and Lampeter. Here lies proof that not every Welshman is a coal miner – some of them are digging for Gold!

I have to be honest – Dolaucothi Gold Mines are a bugger to get to – Mid Wales is notoriously poorly served by public transport and roads (although it is possible, according to the NT); it is undeniably a fair trek out in the countryside. However, I would say that the trip is worth it, especially if you have access to a car.

The site is small, but beautiful – as with so many former industrial sites, nature has forgiven Dolaucothi for its sins, and it is now overgrown with greenery and full of bustling wildlife, from bunnies to bats (we saw none of these, however – they are shy creatures so if you’re even if you’re a little uncomfortable about flying rodents – and who isn’t – you don’t have to worry too much). There are numerous mine buildings (donations from a defunct mine elsewhere in Wales) and some impressive machinery lying around. Not a lot of explanatory interpretation, and the site had a skeleton staff when we visited, so no building stewards either. Bit disappointing in that regard.

However, the real strength of this site is its guided tours. Our guide, Sandra, clearly loves her job and is enthusiastic about everything from the rare wildlife to the plight of the coal and tinmining bretheren of Dolaucothi’s gold diggers. She gave an interesting, humorous, and educational tour of the Victorian Mine (there are several other tour routes available, depending on what time of day you visit), which is reached by a gentle wander through the surrounding hills.

I did have the scariest moment of my LIFE on this tour, however. I’m a volunteer at Big Pit National Coal Museum, and as such have spent more time in a mine than your average 24-yr-old girl in the 21st Century, and I quite like being underground (so much so that the Curator at Big Pit calls me Mole). However, there are some key differences between gold and coal mines – as well as being very shallow, the Dolaucothi Mines are hard rock mines, which means that a) Metallica is played with the volume all the way up to 11, and b) that structurally and chemically, this mine is MUCH more stable than a coal mine, and dangerous gasses are practically non-existent*. Knowing all this did not, however, stop me from having a minor brain anneurism when Sandra struck a light and lit a candle deep inside the mine. Taking contraband down into Big Pit, which includes everything from matches to battery-operated gadgets,  is a criminal offence and you will be fined or even prosecuted for doing so (although it is far more likely that you will be killed – either in an explosion or as a warning to others by the Miner Guides). As such, I’m programmed to expect death instantaneously on seeing a flame underground, and very nearly keeled over.

However, as you may have guessed, we all survived the lighting of a small candle, the bats, the rare and sparkly fungi, and even the “Indiana Jones” way out (see above) to be rewarded with some more fantastic views at the top of the mine complex. I can’t speak for the other guides, but ours was brilliant, and we really enjoyed the experience. Also, it must be noted that the cafe does does a crackin’ Rhubarb Crumble, and if you’re feeling lucky, you can have a go at panning for gold while you wait for your tour to start. And you get to keep the stuff you find! (Please note: the National Trust will not accept the spoils of prospecting as payment of your annual membership fees. I checked.)

As much as I recommend a visit, I have to get one niggling issue off my chest. It’s not to do with visitor experience, but more to do with the price of entry. If you’re not a National Trust member, the admission price is around the £3 mark; members get in free. However, you are promised the world and his wife for free if you join the National Trust (which I did a few years ago – to be fair, their young person membership is especially good value if you visit more than three or four properties in a year), but there are a lot of hidden extras, I find. The best bit of the visitor experience at Dolaucothi, and I would argue the main body of the visitor offer, is the guided tour. That is extra to the admission fee – £3.80 for an adult or £9.50 for a family.

This isn’t a lot, I grant you, but I think it’s quite cheeky to ask people who have traveled to a very isolated site to pay extra on top of the gate price. Somewhere around £5-6 for the total visit is justifiable for an adult ticket, but I think that £3.60 for the site without the tour is NOT value for money. In addition, I think it’s unfair to charge a National Trust Member (paying between £23.50 and £50.50 per person annually)  extra for the tour. Without it, I would have been annoyed that I had made the trip to Dolaucothi. You almost have no choice – the ONLY way to see the mines is on a guided tour. Some historic houses charge extra for a tour whilst offering the chance to wander around for free, which is fair enough, but I just can’t agree with the additional charge in this instance.

This is a personal grievance, and perhaps I’m just tight. It’s not the first time I’ve had to pay for ‘optional’ extras at Trust properties though, and it makes me feel rather hard done by. Do I cancel my membership after this year? Not sure I could handle going back to the constant hard-sell in the ticket office though. But that’s a gripe for another day…

*Please note that one of these hard rock-related facts may be inaccurate…

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  1. Great writeup! But what in the heck is going on with these crazy comments?? Anyways bookmarked 😀

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