Just back from the fantastic Dolaucothi Gold Mines in mid-Wales – the only Roman gold mines known in Britannia. This tunnel looks fine in the floodlights, but the original miners would never have seen it like that – they’d have had to manage with little oil lamps. Things hadn’t improved much by Victorian times, when the miners in newer tunnels were issued with candles – as long as they were over 16. Since a boy could start work in the mines at 10, it doesn’t say much for Victorian Values.
Not all the Roman miners would have had the luxury of working in wide tunnels. Some of them were hauling out ore from inside tiny little holes like this one. The diggings behind it seem to have collapsed since: hence the dip.
The hills around Dolaucothi are riddled with this sort of thing. At first sight they look like little mossy fairy dells, and the modern site sits in a peaceful valley surrounded by trees full of catkins and birdsong.
That’s not a natural valley, though. It’s a massive hole left in the hillside by hundreds of Roman miners – slaves, condemned prisoners, perhaps some paid workers – hacking out tons of rock in search of gold from which they themselves would never benefit.
And here’s a woodland pond….
…which was once a water tank. Dolaucothi’s beautiful setting in the Cambrian mountains masks a history of work and struggle, and it’s well worth a visit.
As if that weren’t enough, the Dolaucothi Arms (just down the road, on the site of of the Roman fort) is Countryfile’s Country Pub of the Year, 2019. And deservedly so: I’ve checked.