Volume 39 Number 2 Article 1
Sir Francis Level, Swaledale
6th and 7th April 2002
Present : Katie, Roger, Neil, Tanya, Ben, Dalek, Johnny, Jim, Eileen, John, Sibyll
Roger, Ben and I arrived at the Punchbowl in Low Row just minutes after 11 o'clock. Luckily the landlord didn't seem to mind and we consumed a beer or two with the others who had planned their arrival more carefully.
The next morning was sunny but incredibly cold. We braved the freezing wind to have breakfast in the mysterious 'Smokey's' paddock - an absent creature who usually gave childrens rides at the farm visitor centre. At the car park Roger and I agonised over whether to wear our wetsuits for the half-hour walk up Gunnerside Gill. Everyone else sensibly didn't. It turned out to be a cheap version of weight-loss steam therapy. Roger and I had checked out the area the week before and knew where the open entrance to the level was. We had even bought a book on lead mining and Roger freely expounded about the various mining landmarks in the area. Luckily no-one contradicted him. Neil couldn't resist getting inside a large compressor receiver which was promptly hit with the nearest rock. Disappointingly Neil emerged without stars and bluebirds spinning round his head.
Now came the amusement - watching Ben put his wetsuit on. After half an hour of hard effort and the help of two strong men it was done. I looked forward to him trying to remove it. After a while we realised we couldn't put off going down the mine any longer. We climbed 25 ft down the ventilation shaft into the adit level. The level was straight and flooded up to about waist level as far as the eye could see. It was incredibly intimidating. The floor was level and as I was at the front the water was crystal clear. It was easy to walk along between the intact railway tracks. After walking forever, we came to a heavily propped up section and squeezed carefully between the timbers. This was obviously where the work got done. There was an eerie flooded shaft (about 250 ft deep) complete with one half of the cage system suspended above the water. A short walk down a passage and up some rickety stairs brought us to the winding house and pumping room. The winding drum in particular was huge. How did they get it down there? Considering that the mine was abandoned over 100 years ago the machinery was fairly intact and recognisable. We spent a while trying to work out how the hydraulic pumping engine worked. Jim provided the first plausible explanation, which everyone agreed with but could not repeat later on.
Not wanting to tempt fate several of us made our way out while the others investigated up a stope. A suspended compressed air line provided a useful handrail on the way back, when the water was considerably more muddy. The compressed air was used to work the modern air tools used in later mine levels. The air line was attached to the roof via slightly dubious timbers, so we didn't pull too hard on it. The roof was in generally good condition, apart from a few areas. There were some impressively large, colourful formations which had formed surprisingly quickly given the mines age of only a few hundred years.
Everyone emerged safe, including Johnny who had worn a furry suit for the mile walk in waist deep water. Sadly Ben got his wetsuit off with relatively little trouble, although the feet remained the crux move. Dalek had similar trouble with his wellies, and entered the pool to wrestle with his wellies underwater.
We had a pint in Gunnerside before returning to the campsite to kill some time before dinner at the pub. Ben failed totally to get Neil's stunt kite airborne, mind you it was flat calm.
The next day we decided on a trip down Windegg Mine Caverns. It was a lovely warm day and I decided not to go down. I was glad I hadn't when the others emerged caked in mud. The mine level was fine but the natural cave was chossy and tight.
We finished off the day at the Tan House Inn - the highest in England. Jim extolled the virtues of pickled walnuts, we bought some on his recommendation. We'll drop the rest of the jar back to him some time.
It was a fantastic weekend and the caving was very interesting. The journey back was marred only by a kamikaze minibus and a bit of road rage from an Ali G character in Sheffield. Swaledale is lovely and a sadly ignored part of Yorkshire.