Alderley Edge Mines Ė Wood Mine to Hough Level through trip
Andy Hall, Steve Gray, Pete & Julie Mohr, Emma Wilson, Emma Key, Dave Ottewell, Edvin Deadman, Adrian Horrell.††† Leader Migel Dibben DCC.
I have known Nigel Dibben since the early 1970ís when we were both in Birmingham University Speleo Society together. It was good to meet up again. I was looking forward to this trip for some time as we cancelled it last March due to snowy weather. We were due to meet at Alderley edge on the National Trust car park near the Wizard pub at 11 am. In the event everyone was early so we quickly got changed and set off for the short walk across the road and through the wood to Wood Mine entrance. We were underground well before 12 oíclock! The plan was to explore most of Wood Mine, get to the lowest level and traverse the Hough Level, exploring Brynlow Mine on the way, followed by Engine Vein Mine on the way out with an exit at the eastern end of High Level below the Alderley Edge† escarpment.
The mine was re-opened by the Derbyshire Caving Club in the autumn of 1970. With permission from the National Trust a small shaft was dug in the roof of the original adit. This was the only entrance into the mine until the adit entrance was reconstructed by Derbyshire Caving Club members. A 8 metre shaft leads down into the top levels of Wood Mine. Nigel lead us through a confusing network of passages and fixed ladders round in several circles past a variety of features including the Green Waterfall, Blue Lake at a lower level and several large chambers (Sand Caverns). This all took an hour or so. We eventually made our way down to the lowest level. This connected to the Hough Level and our way on to the next section of mine workings. Everyone was kept entertained my Nigelís excellent knowledge of the history and re-exploration of the mines by DCC.
From here the Hough Level follows a fault which can clearly be seen, eastwardfs towards the Brynlow Mine. The level is mostly two metres high but muddy and wet in places as it does partly drain the mine. Much of this level was blocked by silt and huge quantities have been dug out over the years by DCC to return it to what it was like when he mine was in its heyday. Eventually you reach a large rock fall and blockage at Brynlow Mine. Here a series of fixed ladders lead up and along the fault into 18th and 19th Century workings. Most of the party ascended into the upper workings, while a few of us stopped in the shafts taking photographs. In the 1930ís it was one of the main ways into the mines until it became blocked with leaves and other vegetation, it was reopened by the DCC in the 1980ís. The Hough Level continues from here but the blockage mentioned above has dammed up the water flooding the level to over two metres deep in places. You do not need to get wet as a Canadian canoe and two plastic bathtubs are provided for the boat trip along the flooded level for about 150 metres. A climb down a fixed ladder Onto a landing stage with graffiti on the walls from the 1930ís The boat trip using the canoe and two bathtubs provided some entertainment for various members and Steve got shouted at for going too fast as he might capsize one of the bathtubs. The roof is quite low in places and you need to keep quite low in the boat to avoid smacking your head on the roof! At the far end theatre is shallow and there is an old rotten boat from the 1930ís. The level continues drier for several hundred metres towards Engine Vein Mine.
Engine Vein dates back to Roman Times in the upper workings and in fact the surface workings are thought to be Bronze Age. Access to the mine from Hough Level is via the Blue Shaft, an inclined shaft with several ladders, so called because of its blue copper flowstone covered walls. This climbing shaft bypasses the main 50 metre deep Bear Pit shaft originally from the surface and now capped. A series of inclined workings and steps lead up into some large workings and an impressive bridge structure built by DCC for taking in tourists on their open days.
They built a railway with small trucks here for clearing out some sections of blocked level. This gave a great opportunity for the ten year olds in the party to play with a train set as Dinny, Steve and Edvin pushed the trucks up and down the passage. Here the party split into smaller groups as we wandered around this section of the mine exploring parts for ourselves for some considerable time.
The time eventually came for us to exit via the rest of Hough Level. Again several hundred metres of walking level with a working railway lead to the locked exit gate at the base of Alderley Edge. The level contains several large working ore tubs and this gave the ten year olds chance to play at being Indiana Jones. The noise of the trucks up and down the level gave us a good idea how noisy the working environment must have been, when the mine was fully working. Once on the surface a short walk up a steep hill leads up onto the top of the Edge and takes you past the Bronze Age surface workings of Engine Vein and several other features described to us by Nigel.
We returned to the National Trust car park at the Wizard pub after a trip of four and a half hours and adjoined to the Tea shop, where Nigel took the opportunity to sell a few copies of his recently published book on the Mines of Alderley Edge, a copy of which is in the club library. I really enjoyed the trip and I think everyone else did.