Looking for a unique day out in Wales? Why not venture underground and learn more about Wales’ fascinating mining heritage at Dolaucothi Gold Minesthe only known Roman gold mine in the UK which is managed by the National Trust.
Spend a day exploring ancient gold mines dating back to Roman times at this fascinating mining site near Pumsaint in Carmarthenshire.
Don a helmet and walk through atmospheric mines with one of the knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guides and discover mining artifacts surrounded by woods.
The Romans mined here on an industrial scale, and commercial mining continued until the 20th century, but now the only prospectors are tourists who aren’t afraid to go underground.
Are you ready to explore the dark caverns of these historic Welsh mines? Here’s what you need to know about the gold mines of Dolaucothi.
Read more: The secluded Welsh castle with a hidden cave you can explore
Welsh gold was mined here
Incredibly rare and very expensive, Welsh gold has a long history and is also quite difficult to find. There is a custom of using Welsh gold for royal wedding rings, which was started by the Queen Mother in 1923 and has been used by royal wives ever since.
The Queen Mother’s wedding ring, the Queen’s wedding ring in 1947, Princess Margaret’s wedding ring in 1960, the Princess Royal’s wedding ring in 1973 and Diana, Princess of Wales’ wedding ring in 1981 were all made from the same nugget.
According to Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW)there are 23 gold mines in Wales and each has its own unique history and characteristics.
Dolaucothi is known as a Roman-era mine, although archaeologists have suggested that gold mining at this site may have started in the Bronze Age.
the National Trust states that between AD 70 and AD 80, the Romans began the first extensive mining of Dolaucothi, creating large open pit workings and digging several tunnels (adits) to exploit the gold veins.
Most of this work was done remarkably well using nothing more than pickaxes and hammers in what must have been very hard and tiring work. Some of the original markings, nearly 2,000 years old, are still visible when visited by Romans.
No one is quite sure how the Romans first discovered or heard of Dolaucothi, although we do know that precious metals ceded to Britain, and in particular Wales, were a reason for their invasion.
The Romans, however, did not stay in the area very long. By 125 AD the Roman army had largely abandoned the fort, but there is evidence of continued activity in the area through the discovery of Roman coins dating from the late 4th century.
There were mines in Wales before the Romans
Mining in Wales has a much longer history than many people realize. Dr Toby Driver, aerial surveyor for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales, points out that mining in Wales began before the arrival of the Romans.
He said: “Many mining sites have their origins in the prehistoric Bronze Age, while others were created in the late Middle Ages; together, these mines represent centuries of history and human endeavour.
“Visitors to the area can see some incredible mining sites very close to the road at places like Cwmystwyth, at Pontrhydgroes via the Miner’s Bridge, and on a walk around the Nant y Moch Reservoir or along the valley of Rheidol.”
Mining at this site continued into the 20th century, ending in 1938. Documented mining activity began with small-scale work from about 1853, with two major phases of activity from 1888-1912 and from 1938-9.
Their guided tours by reservation start from the 1930s mine workings where you will see buildings and mining machinery dating back to that era.
You can take a guided tour of the mines
The National Trust offers tours of these Roman and Victorian mines where you can step back in time and imagine what life as a miner must have been like.
Your guide will tell you how the Romans left a glimpse of their gold mining methods and how the harsh mining environment continued into the 19th and 20th centuries, ending in 1938.
This is truly an awesome skill for bringing dark and eerie caves to life. The guides paint a vivid picture of life underground and the difficulties and challenges miners would have faced over the centuries.
The National Trust has also done a great job of maintaining the remoteness and authenticity of the site, rather than turning it into an overly garish tourist attraction.
You can also try your hand at gold panning and experience the frustrations of finding real gold!
How to visit the gold mines
Although the Dolaucothi gold mines are currently closed for the winter, the estate’s walks and woodland parking are accessible to the public year-round, without reservations.
The Gold Mines will reopen on Sunday 3 April, offering pre-booked guided tours exploring our surface archeology and taking you to the only known Roman gold mine in the UK. Reservations will open two weeks before we reopen, so be sure to call back sooner. For more WalesOnline news, you can get our newsletter here.