RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 38 Number 4 Article 6
December 2001

Coniston Copper Mine

3 September 2001

Samuel Carradice, Andy Whitney

Having been deprived of much of our usual caving activity by Foot and Mouth and by my father’s illness, Andy and I decided to make up for lost time by having a week of caving at the beginning of September. We managed eight trips, including some old favourites and some new areas, at least for one or the other of us.

On Monday we decided to visit Coniston Copper Mine. It was Andy’s first visit, and only my second, (in spite of being relatively local). On my first trip, thirteen cavers, and thirteen sets of caving gear, were driven all the way to Levers Water in one Land Rover! Anyone who knows the path will appreciate what a challenge this was! It had some disadvantages; mainly that I couldn’t see out to remember the route. Fortunately, it is fairly clear. A second was that we jammed the transmission about fifty yards from the top and had to reverse the top section on the way back, in the dark.

On this occasion we intended to return to Levers Water to explore the Backstrings of the Paddy End mine. It’s a long walk, and steep in places. It was very warm, but a cool wind coming down the valley kept things just tolerable.

We entered via The Crater, a small opening to the left of The Funnel, which leads fairly quickly down a fixed hand-line and ladder to Arete Chamber.

The Funnel Entrance to the Backstrings

I believe the old through route, (now blocked), descended from this point, but I cannot profess any detailed knowledge of this. We intended to remain in the Top Level, so turned left towards the first of two infamous features in this part of the mine. “MAG’s Catwalk” is a stemple traverse across a 30m deep stope, and requires some nerve! A friend of mine called it the “Stemple of Doom”, which I must say is rather more imaginative and evocative.

MAG's Catwalk
or "The Stemple of Doom"

Once crossed, you enter the area also accessed from the Jackroll Stope, from which there was a draft almost sufficient to extinguish Andy’s carbide.

We continued down to investigate an extension re-opened in 1987 by Cumbria Amenity Trust Mining History Society. This is somewhat reminiscent of Gavel Pot, a gully down to an excavated and shored-up shaft, with a crawl off the bottom, and a sign saying “DANGER” at the top. It leads to further workings and a restored mine truck. I believe there are further levels beyond this, but we were not that adventurous when it comes to crossing rotting planks above very deep holes in the floor.

Returning through the shaft, we climbed up to Woodend’s Level to see the second of the infamous features; a wooden plug which prevents half of Levers Water from draining down the mine! In fact, this has now been sealed by sand bags and concrete, following a failed attempt a few years ago by persons unknown to blow it up with a home-made bomb.

Access to this level requires SRT on fixed ropes. I climbed first, disturbed by a strange scraping noise from above. It turned out to be a plastic pipe arranged as a rope protector. The rigging is actually still in reasonable condition.

No longer being able to reach the plug is a little disappointing, but there was compensation in the form of ‘gour’ pools of salt crystals washed out of the sand bags. These were very soft and we had to take great care to not to damage them.

Salt "Gour" Pools at Woodend's Level

We exited by retracing our steps and returned part way to explore Hospital Level. This is very extensive, on multiple levels, but we did not intend going far. We crossed an area where the wooden floor has collapsed into a deep stope, with a fixed traverse line along the wall, and an enormous cavern known as the Great Open. It’s very tempting just to go on and on, but we turned back at what appeared to be a long and fairly deep pool, with red slime on the top.

Upon exiting for the second time, near the water works, we were just in time to get a lift back down to the village in a Water Board van.

Coniston Mine is very extensive and exciting - parts are definitely not for the faint-hearted. Particularly striking are the vivid blue formations, coloured by the minerals. Obviously, the black and white reproduction of the photos doesn’t do justice to the place. Anyone wishing to visit would be well advised to seek expert guidance, if only for the sake of finding the most interesting places.

Samuel Carradice

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