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Ski Club of Manchester SWelsh Walk Report — Sunday, 30th July 2023

Leader: Bernard Kassell

Reporter: Chris Fildes

It was initially planned for April but we met at Bernard’s house instead of Loggerheads. He calculated we could fit all our cars on his drive. Extending our walk by a mile or so but saved on parking charges. After some shuffling, we just managed to squeeze all six cars in!

The weather was perfect. Nine of us plus three doggies set off at 10am down Hendy Road for a ten mile anti-clockwise loop of the Alyn Valley including Loggerheads Country Park.

Bernard cleared the nettles for us before hand but Brian didn’t escape them!

En route was Gwernaffield–y-Waun, and a section of the disused Mold to Denbigh railway, opened in 1869. It served a rural area, but never attracted much business so the passenger service closed down in 1962 (pre Beeching). We stopped for a coffee and an excuse to play with the trains. Andrew couldn’t resist pushing a wagon down the track. Then “All Aboard” was the cry! Some of us clambered into the ‘Tin Turtle’ a neglected diesel loco-shunter, sold to the Alyn Works in1965.

Play time over, we were ‘back on track’ to continue on to Rhydymwyn (Ford of Ore) and the old mustard gas manufacturing works.

The year’s between1940 & 1945 were involved in the manufacture and storage of Mustard Gas bombs for use in WW2. By 1948 all mustard gas in the UK was reduced, and 5,000 tonnes of this was stored in the Valley tunnels. In the post war year’s vast quantities of lower grade mustard gas were prepared for sea dumping or burning.

There were many reasons why Rhydymwyn was chosen by the Government and ICI, as one of the best sites in the country.

It’s situated close to Runcorn & Widnes chemical industry complex. One side of the valley has a limestone hill pitted with underground chambers. The Alyn valley is a flood plain, the meandering river coursing through it for 6 miles before reaching the tidal Dee estuary & convenient for dumping low level waste. The nearby Hawarden sub-station provided an ample power supply. Plus there was an urgent need to find bomb proof shelter in a remote location where mustard gas could be stored and not easily viewed from the air.

The Atomic Bomb Connection. It was decided to test the gaseous diffusion principle. Metropolitan Vickers in Trafford Park were contracted to build three pilot test units for the site in 1941 which took 2 years to construct. The only recorded radioactive material ever shipped to the site was 2kg of Uranium Hexafluoride, which was transferred to Harwell Atomic Energy Research in 1945.

The Rhydymwyn site remains a reminder of an outlawed method of warfare and is now a nature reserve hiding over 100 of the original buildings and over five miles of rock-cut tunnels. Seven miles of fencing that surround the site allow access on a managed basis.

Bernard arranged a room for us in the Visitor Centre (the old gate house), to have our lunch. Cups of tea provided by Bernard. A film was arranged showing the history of the depot. Information boards were on display with quite a bit of history to peruse. The site is now maintained by DEFRA. No dogs allowed.

After WW2 until the 1960’s, the Wirral Hundred Motor Club held car and motorbike races here. The ‘Antelope Track’ is now an industrial estate. The ‘Club’ regularly hold meets at Oulton Park & Aberffraw, Anglesey. If you’re on holiday in the area during the races, take some earplugs!

Mike Hailwood MBE 1940–1981, competed at Rhydymwyn in the early days and was considered one of the world’s greatest motorcycle and Formula 1 racing drivers. He became World Champion in 1962 and the first to win four consecutive 500cc championships. Tragically he and his young daughter died in a road traffic accident in 1981.

After lunch we walked through the village, heading for the Leete path, passing a plaque for Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, one of the greatest composers. He visited Wales while on his travels staying at Coed Du Hall with the Taylor family. ‘The Rivulet’ is believed to have been inspired by his frequent walks along the Leete path which runs alongside the river Alyn. But where has all the water gone? The Alyn (Alun/Afon) loses its flow in dry summer months because of swallow holes in the limestone bed rock.

The area is a nature reserve, Flora & Fauna signs were displayed but few birds were seen on our visit. What’s a Blue Striped Wotsit? Doh… It’s a flower not a bird Phil!

Lead, zinc, & limestone were formerly mined in the valley, so a leete was constructed to supply water to power the valley mines due to the unreliability of the Alyn. There was a constant battle with mines*flooding as the*deeper*the*mines*the more the problem. The Glan Alyn lead mine was abandoned in 1871 as the great 40ft wheel used to pump the water out was unable to cope and funds for a more efficient powered pump failed.

Unfortunately sections of the Leete were devastated by forestry clearances 2019/20.

The Leete path took us through the woods. We crossed the river near Nant Alyn and gradually made our way up towards the Alyn Gorge. On a footbridge over the Devils Gorge we watched climbers scaling the impressive vertical limestone face below us.

The Alyn gorge, caves and woods are a designated site of special scientific interest.

Two more caves were discovered near Cilcain in the 1970’s due to water table changes caused by earlier mine workings.

Eventually we descended to Loggerheads Country Park and Caffi Florence, busy with families enjoying ice creams etc, so we joined them!

Rain drifted in as forecast, so up went the brollies as we walked up through the woods by 103 steep steps, returning to Bernard’s by 4.15pm. Guess who left her car window open? The seat was covered, so no damp ‘posterior’.

Thank you very much.

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