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.
When we got to the first cache we were quite surprised to find two other people at GZ “looking for something” 😉 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!! 🙂
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!
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!
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.
We finally got to Sir Francis Dressing Floor (GC1PE0M). Here was where the lead ore was crushed and sorted before being smelted.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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! 😉
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. 🙂