22nd - 26th May 2015 - Nigel Dibben - NY 7814 4382
The 2015 conference was based on the Village Hall at Nenthead and was on the topic of War and Mining although the two lectures I managed to attend between trips were about a steam loco and the Cleveland iron mines! The rest of the time (5 days) was spent on trips starting Friday afternoon and ending on Tuesday. Pete, James and Daggers were also up but apart from seeing them at the dinner and at other odd times, our paths barely crossed.
The trips I went on were all well organised and of ample length to get a really good look at the mines, better than I have managed before.
On Friday, the trip was to Carr's Mine beyond the tourist section. We went in the normal tourist entrance and then branched off left into the limestone flats via a short upward climb. We traversed along these to near the end before back-tracking to the drop down to Carr's Level again. The trip was only about 3 hours and provided a welcome introduction to the area as well as some nice formations of hydrozincite including encrustation on fungus. The leader was Helen Wilkinson.
Below 1: Helen Atkinson outside Carr's Mine Below 2: Hydrozincite deposits Below 3: Deposits of calcite on fungus Below 4: Tub in reasonable condition
Saturday was an opportunity to explore to the far reaches of Rampgill with Alan and Vicky Robinson leading. After a brief look at Brewery Shaft (lit up for the weekend), we went forward to Whiskey Bottle Junction and turned left along Rampgill Vein. When we reached the County Gate (Cumberland to Northumberland), we doubled back a little and climbed up into some flats above the level using old Norpex rails as ladders. Some samples of Witherite were found and having a geologist on the trip proved very useful. The flats have been badly smashed around by mineral thieves (i.e. those who take the mineral for profit) but we were soon through to another dodgy wire-rope ladder. Dropping down this, we were back on the main level on the other side of an engine shaft where we stopped for a snack. Afterwards, we went back through the County Gate for another look around then started out.
Below 1: Rampgill entrance Below 2: The County Gate Below 3: Crossing the engine shaft Below 4: Typical double arching
On Sunday, I took the option of a half-day Brownley Hill trip going in the Bloomsberry Level to the Wellgill Cross Vein. Part way along, we went up into an interesting area of flats (name not known) which gave a very clear picture of the working methods. After roaming around for a while, we went back to the Wellgill Cross Vein and looked at the descent to Hagg Level (left for another day). A short detour took us to the "Blue Lagoon", a flooded sump with distinctly blue water in it. This was as far as we could go in the time so we reversed the route out to day. Our leader was Nick Green.
Below 1: Bloomsberry (Brownley Hill) Level Below 2: More hydrozincite in the stopes Below 3: Stone arching Below 4: High stope on the vein
For Monday’s trip, I joined Steve Holding on a trip to the further reaches of Smallcleugh. Entry was via the normal route, Wheel Flats and Hetherngton’s cross-cut. At Gypsum Corner, we went a way down the Middlecleugh Vein including seeing a short section of wooden air trunking. Going back to Gypsum Corner, we avoided the Ballroom Flats and carried on down the Middlecleugh Second Sun Vein. Shortly after Carr’s Cross Vein, we climbed up into Mitchell’s Flats and had a good look around at the workings on the flat and also on the vein. Steve pointed out a pile of waste which had come from a dig of his in Middlecleugh mine. At another point, a short detour was made into a sub-level before continuing the exploration of the main level. The turning round point we chose was where the level changes from stone-arched to concrete and we started the long journey back. After Wheel Flats, where we met another group who were doing a through trip from Middlecleugh to Rampgill, we continued to Smallcleugh Flats and looked at some old workings above the level. We also climbed a temporary ladder up into New Fan Flats, a painfully low section of the mine, which was briefly explored before we returned to the main level. From there, we followed the trade route into Incline Flats and down to Hard Cross-cut and back to day.
Below 1: Climbing the old man's ladders Below 2: Wooden trunking for air Below 3: Looking up an ore chute Below 4: Team photo at the exit
Tuesday was my last day and having been camped at Haggs Bank, I chose a through trip from Brownley Hill to Haggs led again by Alan Richardson. Although I had to walk to Brownley Hill (a pleasant walk along the fields on the north side of the Nent river), I could at least walk almost straight from the entrance into a hot shower! As before, we went in Bloomsbury Level but having more time, we started by turning right at the end into the Wellgill Cross Vein, following it until it met the Gudhamgill Cross Vein. There, we turned sharp left and followed a railway track north until after a bend to the left, we were back at the junction with Wellgill Cross Vein. We went straight along this vein and had another look at the flats visited two days before. Back to the tramming level and then on past the Haggs link to the Brownley Hill Vein where we climbed up into the Italian Stopes. These provided some interesting photo opportunities with a barrow, nearly complete, and a set of miner’s tools leaning against the wall. Returning down (involving a climb up and then down again into an ore chute), we started out towards Haggs. The descent to the water is not difficult even though the ladder is hard to see when you approach the connection. We were soon on our way along the partially flooded horse level towards the entrance beside the road at Haggs Barn. Eventually, we emerged to daylight and sunshine.
Below 1: Fairly well intact barrow in the Italian stope Below 2: Abandoned tools in the Italian stope Below 3: Arch in Haggs Level with former still in place Below 4: Emerging from Haggs Level
Throughout the weekend, the weather had been kind to us with sunshine on most days, not too much wind and NO RAIN. The local leaders were extremely helpful and although there were a lot of other tourists around (it was Bank Holiday weekend), I don’t think we got in their way or vice versa.