Yorkshire Dales – Geocaching at the old lead mining sites


In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Britain was the main producer of lead. Lead mining was a big industry in the Yorkshire Dales and the landscape is now littered with remains of the mining which was once a very busy industry here. There were a few caches hidden near old mining remains in the Dales so we spent a few days exploring the area and caching…

Grassington Lead Mines Trail

We started our tour of the mining remains with The Miner’s Trail (GC1D74K) which took us on a 7 mile walk along where Grassington Lead Mines once operated and up to the old chimney at the top of the hill. It was a long walk to the first cache from Grassington Village and on the way there we passed a lovely waterfall and bridge over the stream.

Waterfall on the way to the first cache

Waterfall on the way to the first cache

Bridge over the stream on the way to the first cache

A pretty bridge on the way to the first cache

When we got to the first cache we were quite surprised to find two other people at GZ “looking for something” πŸ˜‰ It was Karen and Andrew of 63kazza and we continued the trail with them and Boycie their geodog.

It wasn’t long before we bumped into remains of the mining buildings as we walked past office buildings, smelt mills and dressing floors.

An office building

An office building

Dressing floor remains

Dressing floor remains

At the dressing floors, the raw material that was extracted from the mines was sorted. Women, older men, and boys as young as 10 years old would separate deads (rock containing no ore) onto spoil heaps and passed the good materials (rock which contained some ore, or was pure ore) on for smelting. The ore was reduced in size to about the size of a pea using a hammer or later via a mechanical crushing wheel powered by water (which explains the locations of the mines we visited being along streams). Once pure ore was ready and the correct size, it was transported to the nearest Smelt mill.

Cupola Smelt Mill

Cupola Smelt Mill

More remains around Cupola Smelt Mill

More remains around Cupola Smelt Mill

At the Smelt Mills, the ore pellets were heated until they reached melting point. The molten lead was then left to drain into a collecting pot and poured into moulds to create pure lead blocks. To power the hearths, the miners eventually started using moorland dried peat as a fuel source (Which is found all over the Dales) and used a water wheel to drive a constant stream of air to aid combustion. As heated lead gives off poisonous fumes, horizontal chimneys, or “flues”, were built underground up hill sides and often topped with a vertical chimney. The flue in Grassington is over 1.7km long. The earth around the flues helped to keep them airtight. Any condensed lead on the walls of chimneys was scraped off and hen sent for resmelting.

After passing Cupola Smelt Mill we then ascended past the flues, condenser house and finally reached the massive vertical chimney which was saved and repaired. It now stands preserved as a local landmark.

I can see the chimney!

I can see the chimney!

Remains of a flue

Remains of a flue

The chimney was absolutely huge. Naturally I had to jump down inside and have a look around. Once inside you could see where the flues joined on to it.

Grassington Mines

Grassington Mines

Looking up inside the chimney

Looking up inside the chimney

We successfully found the 10 caches in the series. They were all nice hides along interesting points of the trail with a lot of the containers being of a decent size. Once we’d finished the series we headed to a lovely Cafe in Grassington to celebrate series completion with our new caching buddies 63kazza. They told us that if we enjoyed that walk, then we’d love the remains up Gunnerside Gill. It’s an area I’d never heard of some in the evening I Googled it. It looked like an amazing walk and there were also a few caches there at the interesting points along the walk so guess where we headed on one of the days!!! πŸ™‚

Gunnerside Gill

There were only 8 geocaches along Gunnerside Gill so we planned the 10 mile walk up and down the gill in order to find them all. It really was a day for scenery rather than numbers!

Our walk up and down Gunnerside Gill

Our walk up and down Gunnerside Gill

As a bit of an experiment I’ve adding this trip as a Garmin adventure. Click here to view or download it.

We started by parking in Gunnerside village and after following the path the wrong side of the river to start with we soon back tracked and found the clearly signposted route up!

Footpath to Gunnerside Gill

Footpath to Gunnerside Gill

Looking up the Gill in Gunnerside village

Looking up the Gill in Gunnerside village

We passed through Berbeck Woods and then carried on up the path past some old barns and over the stream. There was also a particularly interesting old log we had to climb over to get past which had coins pushed into it.

A derelict barn near the footpath (Yes I tweaked the colours a bit!!!)

A derelict barn near the footpath (Yes I tweaked the colours a bit!!!)

Strolling along past the stream

Strolling along past the stream

And they say that money doesn't grow on trees!!!

And they say that money doesn’t grow on trees!!!

We finally got to Sir Francis Dressing Floor (GC1PE0M). Here was where the lead ore was crushed and sorted before being smelted.

Sir Francis Dressing Floor

Sir Francis Dressing Floor

Looking down the steps at the Dressing Floor

Looking down the steps at the Dressing Floor

We carried on past this and spotted some remains in the distance and something which looked like a bomb! Lol! Ignoring our GPS we clambered across the stream with some rock hopping for a little adventure.

Views of the Office Building

Views of the Office Building

Rock hopping across the gill

Rock hopping across the gill

Across the stream we found the “Mine shop” as shown in the picture above. This was the office building for Sir Francis Mine. The “bomb” turned out to be “Sir Francis Level air receiver”. This is quite revolutionary because whilst other mines were using hand bored shot holes and black powder blasting, Sir George Denys decided to introduce the controversial concept of compressed air drills. This was the first mine that these were used in. A waterwheel driven compressor and air receiver were used. The exhaust air from the drills also ventilated the mine and allowed the men to work without needing airshafts which also saved time and money.

Finally at Sir Francis level

Finally at Sir Francis level

Sir Francis Level Tunnel

Sir Francis Level Tunnel

Peering through the tunnel

Peering through the tunnel

The "bomb" or rather "air release"

The “bomb” or rather “air receiver”

After we’d finish our exploration we looked at the GPS and realised that we were actually just a few hundred feet from the cache! We walked up to Sir Francis Mine Shaft (GC1PE16) where we found the remaining mine shaft and the cache shortly afterwards.

Ooh, I wonder if this opens...

Ooh, I wonder if this opens…

Indeed it does! Looking down the mine shaft.

Indeed it does! Looking down the mine shaft.

Next we headed to Bunton Level mine, dressing floor, crushing mill and smithy. This level was the main access into the workings on the east side of Gunnerside Gill.

Views of the gill from Bunton level

Views of the gill from Bunton level

Approaching Bunton level

Approaching Bunton level

The Bunton level smithy

The Bunton level smithy

Peaking out of the smithy window

Peaking out of the smithy window

After then finding the Gorton Level (GC1PN82) cache I had a bright idea that we would ascend a good few hundred feet up to 1900ft and find Old Gang Smelting Mill which should be about a mile’s walk from where we were. So up we climbed (It was hard work) and traveled to “Old Gang Mines” as they were marked on my OS map. There was nothing there though 😦 Once at the top it decided to rain heavy and got very cold indeed. We turned back and headed down to the next cache instead. Further research showed that the Old Gang Mill was a lot further on than I had thought and probably wasn’t possible to incorporate it on this trip. That is going down in my book of “Unfinished Business” and I *will* be visiting there next time I’m in the Dales. Our long trip wasn’t completely wasted though as we got to see the remains of a stone breaker at the top. That was very cool! There were also some very nice views at the top.

An old stone breaker at 1900ft!

An old stone breaker at 1900ft!

Close up of the old stone breaker

Close up of the old stone breaker

We paid a short trip to Blakethwaite dams (GC1PN7W) to find the cache there before heading back down Gunnerside Gill on the other side of the stream and picking up the last couple of caches there. These took us to Blakethwaite Smelt Mill (GC1PE10), Priscilla Level (GC1PE11), and Dolly Level (GC1PE12).

Waterfall on the way to the smelting mill

Waterfall on the way to the smelting mill

We approached the mill and had a bit of a “Wow!” moment when we saw the remains. This time around we found the cache before exploring.

An old kiln near the cache site

An old kiln near the cache site

I went into photographer mode and found a beautiful spot to set up my tripod that I’d already lugged about 8 miles ready for “THE shot”. I was very pleased that I’d finally found it.

Me getting the right angle!!!

Me getting the right angle!!!

Blakethwaite Smelt Mill and Waterfalls

Blakethwaite Smelt Mill and Waterfalls

The building with arches was the Blakethwaite peat store. The arches helped produce a draft which helped dry the peat ready for burning. The smelt mill at this site had two ore-hearths fueled with the peat and a small amount of coal.

Looking back at the smelt mill

Looking back at the smelt mill

Our next stop was Priscilla level for the next cache. This was quite awkward because the level wasn’t along the footpath and we had to go through the over grown moor along a hillside on a path that was falling apart!!! We got there in the end though and were greeted with Priscilla Level and the fabulous old cart. The tunnel looked like it went quite deep and we popped our heads in, but further research suggests that if we were prepared we could have gone through this tunnel, waded through some water, and ended up deep in the mines to see the old mining remains underground. We could have also explored Sir Francis level as this account suggests.

Entrance to Priscilla level

Entrance to Priscilla level

We carried on cross country and then up a very steep hillside to the final cache, Dolly Level. There was a tunnel here too which a rabbit disappeared into. We didn’t follow it!

Views from Dolly Level

Views from Dolly Level

Dolly level, the last of the day!

Dolly level, the last of the day!

The cache was soon found. Mission accomplished! Well, that was after ascending another very steep hillside to a proper track footpath for a 2 mile walk back. It was a relief to be climbing back down as our feet were very tired. It was interesting to spot the stream that we’d climbed alongside on the way up.

Looking down at the gill

Looking down at the gill

We were soon back at Gunnerside village after navigating a herd of cows who really didn’t want to mess with a lady who needed a good sit down! πŸ˜‰

Back at Gunnerside village

Back at Gunnerside village

12 miles of walking later (It would have been 10 miles if we hadn’t done the misinformed detour) with 8 caches found, many pictures snapped, and a great day exploring I’m really looking forward to revisiting the Dales and checking out a few more of the mines in the area. πŸ™‚

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