Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Less than 1%...

SWCC Team: Duncan Hornby, Allan Richardson & Claire Vivian

Trip Date: October 16th 2018

Following directly after the SWCC Yorkshire trip meet, Claire and I stayed up North for a few more days. On a wet and miserable Tuesday we headed over to Nenthead mines to meet up with Allan who had kindly offered to lead a trip into the system.

I had heard from others that Nenthead was impressive and was keen to visit it. On our way out of the mine system, having been underground for nearly 6 hours I casually asked Allan what percentage of the mine did he think we had visited…

… Oh probably less than 1%

We entered via an up and over gate into a level called Smallcleugh, which as it was a Horse Level was relatively large, with welly deep water in the first section, there was a reasonable draft and the temperature was cool but not cold. Allan showed us various chambers, these are horizontal mineral veins which are known in this part of the world as “Flats” some with historical artefacts, most contained a fair amount of Galena as well as other minerals in the walls.

The Entrance of SmallCleugh.

Allan in one of the many initial chambers we passed through.
Throughout the system were impressive examples of “drystone arching” built to store the “deads” above and to support the walls in areas where the walls needed some support . So you walked through these thinking “this is all very nice”... unaware of the crushing weight above it all holding it in place.

Claire looking a tad worried when realising what is above the archway…
We eventually arrived at a circular shaft, Proud's Sump, rigged for a descent. A second shaft had a tricky exit, requiring the previous person to pull the rope in so the person on the rope would not descend too far past the ledge. This took us into “Prouds Flats”, one of the later areas to be worked, here there were quite a lot of artefacts to be seen.

The pitch down from here to the Hangingshaw level, was via a fixed ladder which had been installed in a combined ore shoot and manway.

Hangingshaw is another Horse Level, and is the the lowest level which is normally visited. This is a colder and wetter level, in several sections the water was waist deep.

Claire abseiling down Proud's Sump.

Reflection of Claire in pool.
This lower level was packed with colourful mineral deposits and in places fine crystals.

Selenite crystals growing from a low roof in a chamber.

Amazing colours and patterns on low level formations.
This level too had impressive stone arched passages, now with flowing water. Throughout the trip we came across ore shoots, often in an advanced state of decay. Some of the stone arching had been reinforced by concreting, this was done by the Veille Montagne Company (Belgium) in the final phases of the working of the mine. Hangingshaw level eventually joins Rampgill level which is another horse level to the surface, this is the only level which was enlarged to take a locomotive, all the others relied on horses until they closed.

Stone arched tunnel, black stain on right hand side indicates past water level!

Allan passing collapsed ore shoot. Don't touch!
On the surface before our trip Allan had shown us an abandonment plan and explained the route to be taken. Whiskey Bottle Junction was as he said “you can’t miss that” and he was right! An impossibly unstable pillar seemingly held together by old whiskey bottles! A definite landmark, at the junction of Hangingshaw with Rampgill.

Whiskey bottle junction. The clue is in the name!
On our way out we took a detour into the Scaleburn horse level, an old level guarded by narrow passages with much mineral deposition. After going up some steps to a higher level and seeing some miners initials from the 1790’s, we carried on along the horse level and eventually popped out into a chamber with a large and fairly intact Horse Gin wheel, this is one of the best preserved underground Horse Gin’s in the country. There is a drawing shaft next to it in the chamber, the shaft is about 60 feet deep to water and had some lengths of rail line across it for safety.

Passage in Scaleburn
Scaleburn Horse Gin
Back on the final route out we were treated to crystals in the ceiling and my first ever Snottite! 

Crystal formations in Rampgill level
Snottite video, click on it to watch.

We eventually exited the mine 6 hours later, 99% short of seeing the rest of it and thankfully very near the bunkhouse where a tea was on the brew.

Thanks Allan, an amazing experience, it’s not all grim up North!

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