This was one of those perfect surprises – meant to be merely a “break the journey stop-off point” on a drive between Swansea and Aberystwyth, randomly chosen and based entirely on location, it turned out to be the most fabulous afternoon. We all loved exploring this Welsh gold mine and we were all in total agreement that this place, nestling in the heavily forested hills of West Wales is a hidden gem.
Gold has been mined at this spot near the village of Pumsaint since the Bronze Age and maybe even before. The Romans were here too between 78 AD and 300 AD and this was the only place in Britain where they mined for gold. After the Romans the mines were idle until Victorian times then a succession of companies worked the mines until they closed forever in 1939. There is still gold in them there hills – it’s just way too expensive to get it out. I loved the whole feel of the place from the moment we stepped out of the car. Atmosphere by the spade load it is not hard at all to believe you’ve stepped right back in time.
A series of rustic looking buildings were dotted around, each had different exhibits and information all about the site and its history. The buildings are not original but are in the correct places and give a great idea of how things would have looked once upon a time. Machinery, tools and other such stuff are scattered around too.
We tried our hand at panning for gold – unsuccessfully I might add, not helped by my (and Son’s) lack of patience.
After an enamel mug of strong coffee in the rustic canteen and a close-up encounter with a very tame Robin, we headed off to get kitted out for our underground tour. Hard hats, miners’ lamps and heavy battery packs were the order of the day. The mines were extremely wet – our footwear was of the extremely unsuitable variety- but they had a plethora of Wellington boots in all sizes so no problems there.
There are two tours available – either the Roman mines or the Victorian mines and run at different times throughout the day. If (like us) you are a National Trust member it is free of charge but you still need to book on arrival. Timings for us meant we went for the Victorian tour. With twelve people in our group we set off at a rapid pace up a moderately steep hill. The guide told us all about the history of the mine and the Victorians. Fascinating stuff, also fascinating was ascending a steep hill to go into a mine – for me that was a first.
Bats live in the mine – a frisson of terror ran down my spine as we were told this at the entrance. However, she added, only in winter do they make it their home – much relief from my end that this was a summer visit. Inside the mine we switched on our miners’ lamps and made our way through the dark, wet and dank tunnels, stopping off at various points of interest. We saw quartz seams and even some Welsh gold – nobody was tempted though when we were informed it was left there because had they taken it out, the whole mine would have collapsed.
At the end of the tour we were presented with a choice of exit. Either the flat route – which I (wimpish and proud of it) took, or as the guide referred to it, “the Indiana Jones way.” Steep steps, ropes and a multitide of ladders was the order of the day. Son loved it, Husband not so much. A peek in the gift shop and we left with some Roman coins and a little bottle of gold. Son was very keen to buy this – apparently Welsh gold is worth more than platinium – so imagine his face when he saw a label on the bottom declaring this stuff was from Brazil.
Just a stones’ throw from the mines we found the quaint hamlet of Pumsaint. Also part of the National Trust estate and well worth a quick look.
We made our way to the coaching inn – beautiful inside and out, it dates back more than 200 years and has big fireplaces, original tiles and what looked like delicious pub grub. Drinks all round we headed outdoors, sat in the gorgeous garden and made the most of the glorious Welsh sunshine.