Coniston Coppermines

by Jane Bradbury

A through trip from Levers Water to Hospital Level led by Peter Fleming and Tony Holland of the Cumbria Amenities Trust Mining Historical Society.

We met our guides at the Coppermines YHA just after 10 am and, after a brief talk in the Barrow Ski Mountaineering hut, set out up the steep walk up to Lever’s Water. On the way, Peter explained some of the history of the area and pointed out various entrances, both open and closed, to the mine.

We reached the entrance at about 12 noon and took our first steps into the mine through a gash in the mountainside originally excavated in Elizabethan times. We soon discovered that Coniston Coppermines is not for the fainthearted as we picked our way down wooden ladders and across widely spaced and slippery wooden stemples jammed across dizzying drops. There were whimpers!

The team (Jane Bradbury, Mike Clark, Gordon Scott, Rob Wake, Steve Capes, Pete Atkinson and the two guides) soon settled down though to enjoy a truly memorable experience. We first explored the tunnels that led off from near the entrance before climbing into Arete Chamber for lunch. From here, we dropped down the first of the big abseils (and the first SRT abseil ever for Pete and Steve!) and with some trepidation pulled our rope down after us. What if our way on had become blocked? It was some time since either of our guides had done the through trip.

At the bottom of the first pitch we did some more horizonal exploring to warm up a little and then it was time for the second abseil, which took us into middle level with its green pool and stunning blue rock chamber. At every turn it seemed there were new sights to wonder at: deep holes in the floor, sometimes empty, sometimes filled with water; remnants of old passageways clinging to the side of enormous chambers; false floors suspended above our heads; and massive stopes, the vast holes excavated by the miners. In one place, we followed a long passageway cut through the rock that suddenly terminated when the miners finally decided that there was no copper vein to find.

The Mine

The Mine

Eventually, we carefully picked our way past pinnacle rock and down a steep and loose slope to the head of the final abseil. This was probably the trickiest part of the mine as any rock dislodged here clattered down the slope and over the abseil. No-one lingered long at the bottom of the rope (which is now some 5 metres shorter, having got damaged near one end, presumably by a falling rock).

We had one more long passageway to nowhere to explore and then we reluctantly made our way out of the Hospital Level towards the daylight. But even this level had a final twist in the tail with two deep pits to pass, albeit with the reassurance of a wire cable to clip into.

All told, we were underground for about 6 hours. A fantastic trip. Many thanks again to Pete, Tony and the CATMHS.

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