Mines (dis)

This post was originally published over on the By Duddon’s Side project blog: http://byduddonsside.wordpress.com

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being guided around the Duddon Valley by Ed. I’d only encountered him online up until now, but was pretty confident that he’d be able to reveal a different aspect of the landscape. I wasn’t wrong!

After an early morning start we headed out towards the Wrynose pass. On our way Ed pointed out the piles of stone on the side of the hill behind Little Langdale Tarn.

mining spoils

I’d dismissed these as naturally-occuring slate scree.

Wait, no, that’s not true: I’d probably not even registered them at all, just reading these and all the other piles of slate as ‘something you see in the Lake District’ and not given any thought to what they were or how they got there.

As soon as Ed pointed them out as being spoil heaps from quarries, I was suddenly looking at a whole new landscape. I mean, look at it! Look at all those quarries on that section of the map!


I’m assuming they’re all disused now. A bit of searching online suggests they were mostly active around the mid 19th Century – so Victorian times – probably not in full swing in Wordsworth’s time, but there would have been mining and quarrying taking place.

I’ve read about water-powered crushing mills, tramways and compressed air drills. Even if the stone and ore was still being bashed out by hand, can you imagine how different the soundscape must have been then compared to now?

Links: Wikipedia entryCathedral Cave | Greenburn copper mines

Towards the top of Wrynose we paused at the three shire stone. Initially confused by only Lancashire being represented on the carved upright, we then found the three flat slabs on the ground and had a bit of an “ah-ha!” moment.

County stone(s)

Source around here somewhere

We paused just over the watershed and looked at several possible sources of the Duddon. We also looked at all the plastic tubes protecting tree seedlings. I’d made a few comments about February not being the best of times to be doing fieldwork in the Lake District, but Ed pointed out that it’s a lot easier getting about at this time of year compared to later on when all the bracken is up around waist height!

Duddon Valley

Thinking back to my earlier blog post about bridges, I snapped a photo of this track that has to contend with a gate and then a fording in quick succession.

A while later we arrived up on Kiln Bank in the Dunnerdale Fells not far south of Seathwaite where our aim was to explore some of the abandoned mines.

Mines   Mines Mines Mines

There was a bitterly, bitterly cold wind up on the top, so I was quite glad to get underground into the relative warmth of the caverns.

Ed was familiar with the mine, so was able to guide us through a series of about three connecting caverns. I imagine the miners (quarriers? quarrymen?) were following the rich seams of either slate or copper ore when they were digging here, so it shouldn’t really be a suprise to find that the caverns didn’t link together in an obvious way. Without Ed there, I don’t think I would even have realised there were passages leading out of the first space, since they weren’t visible from the ‘main road’ by the entrance.


I regularly found myself dumbfounded by trying to imagine these as working quarries: finding it near impossible to comprehend them filled with people, machines and NOISE!


I mostly parsed the spaces as natural caves, but every so often there were drill holes like those above and then, for a moment or two, the spaces were undeniably manmade.

We had to be careful moving around on the loose slabs and scree, but the biggest hazard was the broken glass dotted around the place, as it turns out that, more recently, the caverns had been used as a hangout of some sort.


In the furthest back cavern we went into, we even found traces of a fire.

I’m curious about the quarry’s life as a place people would go to. Was it as a place to shelter? Did someone live here for a bit? Did teenagers come here to get their kicks? (It’s not the easiest of places to get to – they’d have to be fairly determined teenagers!) Perhaps it was older thrillseekers, or just those wanting to get away from things for a while?



Back up on the surface, Ed had a nibble on some wood sorrel he found growing near one of the mine entrances.

Duddon Valley

Before getting back in the car we took moment or two to look around us and enjoy being able to see further than a few metres ahead. We were intrigued by the small area of fell that had been walled off. Both Ed and I were aware that there is a Quaker burial ground in the valley, but neither of us knew its precise location or enough about it to be able to make an identification. Ed remembered that this particular area had previously had trees in it, and that didn’t quite seem to fit, so we went back to the OS map and, after a while, eventually identified it as a sheep fold.

Duddon Valley

Ed had done some drystone walling for the National Trust nearby so, heading towards the Newfield Inn for lunch, we got into a conversation about how the stones from different valleys had their different characteristics and pros and cons for walling with. Round stones could get a bit tricks, whereas the flatter sheets were easier to stack but the thin layers meant it took ages to build them up to any height…

After lunch we worked our way down towards the estuary end of the valley. I had to stop the car to take a photo of the building below, having remembered from my research at the Wordsworth Museum a description of buildings that blended into their surroundings and William’s explanation that this was because the crevices in the slate afforded good spots for seeds to lodge and grow.


Duddon Valley

I’m liking the moss and the ferns on the roof tiles, but I also particularly appreciate the green shelves on the vertical of the main building behind!