RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 38 Number 3 Article 8
October 2001

A day out ‘in’ Nenthead!

Saturday 28 April 2001

Present : Pete Dale, Duncan Jones, Andy Whitney, Ian Eeles, Shelley Brook.

This week was a change from caving as we went investigating mines instead, the venue being the extensive lead and zinc mines of Nenthead, in Weardale (north Pennines)

As usual it was just me, Dunc and Andy adventuring underground, with Ian meeting us at the heritage centre with a survey. I was quite surprised that Andy hadn’t phoned with an excuse not to go but, sure enough, Friday night the phone rang and Andy was on the other end trying to convince me to abandon Nenthead in favour of White Scar. Due to me already having booked White Scar for July I convinced him to turn up for Nenthead.

Saturday morning arrived and once Duncan turned up we loaded the car and were ready for off. As we were about to leave, Shelley (my girlfriend), who was feeling left out, decided that she wanted to come with us for the ride! Thirty minutes later, we finally left for the north.

During the drive up Andy phoned me because he was lost!! (No sense of direction!) So, I handed the phone to Dunc who tried to explain the right way to him. Since Andy would be late it was voted by all to make a butty stop in Penrith!

Arriving in Nenthead we located the heritage centre and, spying Ian’s car, parked up and waited for Andy. Ian’s car was there, but Ian was nowhere to be seen. We didn’t think he would have gone underground in the tourist mine; (his zimmer frame was still in his car!)

We walked up to the heritage centre shop and booked in our destination and estimated time out, (unlike others!) Upon asking in the centres shop and giving a description of the missing person, she said that she had seen him and, yes, he was underground. She informed us that he wouldn’t be long now, so we headed back to the cars where we got changed into our caving / mining gear and awaited the return of the Eeles.

Eventually he arrived back and upon asking him for our survey, we found out that some other Red Rose had come and gone, with our survey! (I suppose we’ll just guess our way around then?)

With a quickly drawn map we set off towards the entrance which Ian kindly said he would lead us to. On our way up he also explained most of the features of the area. We had chosen to enter via Smallcleugh Mine, leaving Shelley in the more than capable hands of Ian?

Once our eyes had adjusted to the dark, and me trying to fettle my stroboscopic light, we could finally admire the excellent craftsmanship of the old Dalesmen. Following the direction of the adit for some few hundred feet, passing a couple of shafts on our right and negotiating a couple of roof collapses (very doggy), we reached a junction and, remembering what Ian had said about the right hand route, we took the left. After another couple of hundred feet we emerged into a large chamber with various ways to exit. As we were inspecting the map the sparkle of minerals in various places around the chamber caught our eyes. Overwhelmed by the power of the shiny stuff we were left with no choice but to proceed in trying to mine it to add to my collection. Failing miserably and noticing a few lumps here and there I decided these would be easier to collect. (Lead ore, zinc ore, pyrite and some nice crystals.) Piling up our trophies somewhere safe to be collected on our return, we carried on with our search for the ‘Ballroom Flats’

Following the tracks to the right eventually ended in a roof collapse so we returned to the chamber and consulted the ‘survey’ which was now starting to disintegrate. The map definitely said to go right so, since the lower level was not passable, we searched upwards for an easier route. Finding what looked like the right way we carried on towards our goal. Reaching another junction we carried straight on, only to be confronted by a shaft with a few old rails lying across it! Tip toeing over the rails we explored both ways but where not convinced this was right and turned back. Over the pit again and back to the previous junction and left this time saw me in front and emerging into the ‘Wheel Flats’ where I waited for some considerable time for Dunc and Andy, but they did not arrive. I had no choice but to go back and look for them as they must have gone straight on at the junction. Eventually I caught up with them again and led them in the right direction this time!

We had reached the ‘wheel flats’ so checking the map we where now only a few hundred metres from our goal. Straight, right then left followed by another left would lead us to the flats, although Andy wasn’t so sure, as usual! We made it, and what an impressive place it was too. After signing the visitors logbook, Andy proceeded to photograph the chamber. Thirty-two roles of film later, with me and Duncan suffering from flash blindness, it was decided to make our exit.

On the way out Andy wanted to take a few more photographs of the arched stone passages, but Duncan had other ideas as we both new how much faffing it would entail! So convincingly, at each arched area, we assured Andy that the next one is more impressive! Reaching the entrance he realised that he had been conned and decided to take a picture of the entrance arch from the inside instead.

Emerging into the daylight I noticed Ian and Shelley walking up to a small stone building. (Suspicious?) Anyway he was only showing and explaining the history of mining to her. All safely back at the surface, we walked back down to the cars, and as we were passing the entrance to ‘Rampgill’ Ian persuaded us to go and have a look at the Brewery Shaft. Reaching the head of the shaft we edged towards the drop and peered into the gloom, WOW! What a long way down.

Having satisfied our needs for the day we got changed (just as it started raining!) and made our way home through blizzards of all things! In April as well. A good and satisfying day with lots to come back and explore.

Pete Dale

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