Mine Overload by Adele Ward

The Greater Nenthead Traverse: Ian Cummins Fay Hartley Adele Ward

Aware this trip has been on Fay’s to do list for a while noting her enthusiasm, and hoping to avoid Fay deciding to solo it herself, such was her past enthusiasm for mine trips – plans were made.

Arriving 15 minutes later than anticipated, Fay had already met most of the locals and arranged a “back up” trip with mine explorers she had spied – they turned out to be the Mine Heritage guys and Mine Rescue and we promised to catch up in the Miners Arms later.

Much discussion was had as to the attire required for this trip. Me and Ian eventually held a joint plea to Fay to wear a shortie at least; they breed these lady cavers tough. Kit change and check – Ian armed with a 70m back-up rope we headed underground shortly before 12.

Racking my brain as to what I actually know about this place historically I can only muster “that’s a powder store there Fay”. Moving through this initial section is a pleasure; it’s been done so many times now it feels familiar. As always I can hear the sound of the incline way before I see it. I like to hear and see my familiar markers. There’s plenty of water awaiting us and I’m aware it’s going to slow progress. Ian has been kind and let me take the lead… what speed should we progress through these areas holding the most remarkable formations that however are cold, wet and unstable so that our new traveler has the best experience?

Introducing a friend to these mines was a true pleasure, Fay’s inquisitive nature was apparent. As the path turns to the left, let’s see what the shale falls have in store today. Ian provides a

quick run-down to Fay about this area, which basically consists of “don’t touch anything”. The water is clear, silt sits on the numerous shale boulders (is that what you call a lump of shale? – I’d call them flakes IC ed.), the water still remains high. Stooping passage leads to some crawls and general unpleasantness. Looking down at the path, I think I can tell what’s new and what’s old, as it once travelled a few times the fallen shale appears to turn into a muddy ground-up track.

Slightly lost in these thoughts, I’m confronted with something that definitely looks fresh – we gingerly skirt to the right-hand side. I remember one of these areas last time, but the first is followed by a second area of falls. Moving briskly on, Ian’s favourite cracked rock follows. We amble forward chatting about Fay’s previous trips, bats and our other friends.

Reaching Toilet Box Junction, pausing for a drink of pop – I spring into historical guide mode and point out the eponymous artifact. Promising more toilet boxes along the way our journey left continues. The next areas are shoulder-deep cold water to start off with … this is followed by slightly deeper, colder water at the next junction and further floating experiences. No respite is had before these delightful conditions are further spiced up with knee-deep mud under the chest-deep water. It always proves a little more taxing carrying a wellie full of mud.

The stones are magnetically attracted to the interior of my boot, I announce! Fay trumps this by announcing she no longer has a sole in her shoe.

At Double Rise, I attempt to beach myself anywhere in order to remove some water from my seemingly very waterlogged wetsuit. Depositing several thousand gallons of water from my wetsuit, and wellies in order to make myself a little lighter we head up the shaft. Metal ladders to start are greatly appreciated; they afford a reassuring start, which is quickly brought into focus when I view the next little lovelies. Perhaps I will just try and miss those few out…… onwards and upwards. I can’t say these 100-plus-year-old ladders hold much fun for me…. then I’m reminded of my dislike of SRT and they don’t seem that bad. Least said about the top of this rise the sooner forgotten. It’s a tad rotten, but to be expected. Guiding Fay over the hole and a quick chocolate stop, is followed by the step up the final rebar ladders to a large working.

This is a remarkable area; carefully the heap of deads is passed and the finer areas are appreciated. Heading towards the squeezy bits I wonder if Ian’s cave digger skills will be required. Oh I love these crawls! They are great fun; always carefully negotiated, they make me chuckle.

Passing the collapsed bridge – the penny finally drops that it looks better from this angle than the other.

Proud’s Sump-bound, I’m feeling determined. Most trips I lumber my mate with my mild concern about SRT descent. Me and Ian need to kit up; Fay is off like a shot down the pitch, to the call of “rope free”, and it’s my turn. Not sure how much mild concern I expressed, but I reckon it was less than other times. Arriving at the bottom of the pitch, surprised not to see Fay – I can hear her just ahead confirming what I know is the path. Fay is off down the next pitch, isn’t this the one you have to swing a bit on? Confirming she is safe with “rope free”, I’m feeling impressed – descending the rope, I’m quickly dangling over the bit you are supposed to swing a little and land on a … log? Fay clearly has already and offers to pull me in.

More ladder delights follow and we are moving at a steady pace. We pass some areas that feel old and isolated. With thoughts of more SRT delights in store we have a pause at the junction of Rampgill to Scaleburn. All feeling fit – Top Sill-bound – yippee.

Break at Top Sill

Ian leads the way as of now I don’t rightfully know the way, picking up the pace.

The next pitch greats you with a muddy sloppy bank that leads to a short descent, the rope is thick and hacky.

This is followed by a further 30-40 m pitch through a narrow section. Prior to descending this shaft, the rope is recovered and checked for damage. Rather than losing something this rope has actually gained something much to my surprise – it’s beginning to turn to rock, becoming part of this place. It’s been there 1 year and will be removed. Fay heads off down the pitch, as now seems to have become the case on SRT sections followed by me, head in hands throwing a leg over the side and wishing I was braver. 

Top Sill

Descending is made unusually taxing attempting to get the metamorphosing rope though my device. I have a quick look down and spy light. Landing on my feet / arse, cursing, I am glad to be done with that.

Brownley hill holds some wet sections followed by some not quite so aqueous. We chose to exit the Mine via Brownley hill, as it suited plans best, and offered a more pleasant walk back.  I recall my first time through this area; my friends had been encouraged by the water levels. They seemed a little higher today than my first trip there; however; careful negotiation sees these areas passed – but jeez it is cold. It’s worth saying the air isn’t to fresh in these areas and the smell of sulphur is noted at several points – we keep a good pace. Passage turns to gradually less water till it’s possible to skip through some areas. This section seems to take a fair time, even moving at a reasonable amble. If only I managed to understand the plans. The sound of water running down what looks like the pit of certain death, beckons fresh air. Ian leads the arachnid pied piper march to open the rather heavy adit gate.

Walking back we have had a grand day out. Fay has enjoyed her traverse experience and promises liquid refreshment at the Miners Arms.

Good to meet up with the mine rescue lot and their huge ambulance. Keen to hear what each other’s day have held we have quick refreshments – Ian has 2 pints! Driving back with an extra chatty Ian – we agree Nenthead still has lots to see.