Volume 36 Number 3 Article 2
Milwr Tunnel Extravaganza
Red Rose Team: Tim Eastwood, Steve Round, Jane Collier
Grosvener CC Team: John Parkinson, Barry Johnson, Dave ?
The Milwr Tunnel is in North Wales close to the town of Mold about ½ an hours drive from Chester.
The tunnel was started in 1897, 8 feet below high tide level on the coast and runs inland 10 miles draining over 50 metal veins (mostly lead and zinc) and creating a network of over 60 miles of tunnels. At its peak, over 650 men were employed by the mines, decreasing to about 40 when it finally closed in 1987.
The mines also intersected two natural cave systems; the River Alyn Cave system in the south and the Halkyn Mountain system in the north. These two systems contribute two thirds of the water entering the tunnel which disgorges between 23 and 36 million gallons of water into the Dee estuary every day !!!!
In 1939 Pilkington Glass of St Helens began extracting high grade limestone from the mine at the rate of about 80,000 tonnes a year, resulting in enormous underground quarries up to 25 meters high and which if joined together would stretch for two miles.
Following the mines closure in 1987 the Milwr Tunnel was bought by Welsh Water as a source of water for local industry, and the workings outside of the sea level tunnel reverted to the mineral owner, the Grosvener estates. Access to cavers has been negotiated by the Grosvener Caving Club to the northern part of the tunnel, although access to the workings is still under negotiation. Cavers must be insured (BCRA) and have a Grosvener CC guide.
For further details, there is a book on the Milwr Tunnel in the club library by Cris Ebbs.
"This trip better be good" I thought as I prised myself out of bed at 6.30 am (that's 3 hours after bed time for farm regulars) and headed down the M6 for North Wales.
It was an interesting trip as my 1980,s road map didn't have the last 30 miles of road on it! However, navigating by smell, I arrived at Rhydymwyn bang on time. We then waited around for an hour for Tom Thomas from the Craven who had a good map, came the right way but got stuck on the M56 for an hour and a half and missed the trip!
The entrance to the mine is at the rear of the old mine buildings where a 70 metre adit intersects the shaft 25 m below the cap and 120 m above the bottom!
The descent was made on the existing fixed ladders for about 60 m until the shaft intersects the old drainage. Here we left the shaft and took off into the old workings. We descended several small shafts on home made electron ladders that Jim would be proud of; ½ inch high tensile crane wire and 1 inch steel rungs! (All the fixed gear is in excellent condition but the amount of work involved is mind boggling.)
Eventually, we emerged down a scree slope into the huge limestone workings. WOW! - impressive or what, the main "tunnel" is about 80 feet square and ½ a mile in length. FX5's were like candles and it was only with Barry's hand held spotlight that the true proportions of the place could be seen. Off to the side of the main drag are smaller quarries, all in beautiful white limestone, reminiscent of a huge cathedral with towering buttressed walls.
Exiting the quarry's we joined the main tunnel at the shaft bottom. Here all is still as the last shift left things with a diesel loco hitched to a string of trucks on the tracks and battery loco's on charge in the workshop waiting patiently for a driver.
We were heading downstream for a mile and a half to a major branch tunnel, which then heads upstream for a further mile and half to intersect a huge natural cavern with a lake in it (Powells Cavern). The lake is over 200 feet deep and crystal clear, despite about 150,000 tons of spoil being tipped into it when the mine was operating !!!
Jane was lucky and was offered a lift in the club canoe with Dave & John, the others slogging the 3 miles through knee deep water. We had the last laugh though as they struggled back upstream against the current, narrowly avoiding capsizing several times.
Eventually we all returned to the foot of the shaft to return the 400 feet to the surface for a well deserved pint.
This was a fascinating and spectacular outing to study some of our industrial heritage. For those interested, Roger is hoping to organise a club outing there in the near future.