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Report - Coniston Copper Mines - Paddy End to Hospital Level - December 2017

Discussion in 'Mines and Quarries' started by The Lone Ranger, Jan 4, 2018.

  1. The Lone Ranger

    The Lone Ranger Safety is paramount!
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    Coniston Copper Mines – Paddy End to Hospital Level – December 2017

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    Levers Water high above Coniston and home of the legendary bung (explained later).

    My Visit (With 2 non-members)

    As 2017 rolled rapidly to a close I headed up to my usual New Year retreat in the Duddon Valley just over the hill from Coniston with a few other families to stay at our climbing club hut. Over the years I’d visited most of the mines in the Duddon Valley, but these are all small scale when you compare them to the Coniston Copper Mines just over the hill.

    I’d spent a fair bit of time in the Coniston Copper Mines in my youth, first going into them when I was 13 and they were always a fall back when it was too wet to do any rock climbing in the Lakes up to my early 20’s. After a brief gap of 27 years I revisited them 2 years ago, it was after that visit we discussed doing the Paddy End to the Hospital Level through trip while up there at New Year.

    So 3 of us off we set this year on New Years Eve, to do the through trip, enter the old mine workings near Levers Water by The Crater and then descend about 160 metres through 4 separate levels of old workings to finally emerge back to day at Hospital Level. The main cunning plan was not to see the New Year in still in the Copper Mines. Safety was going to be paramount.

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    Me heading up to Levers Water and the start of the through trip, hopefully to emerge near where the stream vanishes in this photo (Rich's photo).

    History (Very Brief)

    The history of the Copper mines go back over 400 years but extraction of copper will go back much further than this, probably to Roman times or even earlier. The most prosperous period was the 1850s and by the 1870s the mine went in decline. For most of the mines history only gunpowder was used, hand drilling, and only tallow candles as light. The country rock is volcanic so progress would have been painfully hard and slow. Getting to the copper veins at depth could only be done by descending wooden ladders and stagings. Some of the workings were over 1100ft below the surface and around 500ft below sea level.

    Although over 1000ft of the mine workings are now under water it is still possible to descend over 500ft through the complicated vein systems. It is like stepping back in time. As well as a good knowledge of where you are going it is necessary to be fully competent in Single Rope Techniques and be fit. Ascending a 180ft vertical pitch at the end of a long day underground can sometimes not be put off!

    The primary copper ore that was mined at Coniston is called Chalcopyrite (Copper/Iron/Sulphide). This is a yellow brassy colour similar looking to Pyrite or "fools gold" as it is often called. Since the mines closed over 100 years ago a considerable amount of post mine mineralization has taken place (Supergene). For a long time it was assumed that these were the copper carbonates Malachite and Azurite but it is now known that the vast majority of the stunning blues and greens are copper sulphates. These "supergene" minerals have a much higher copper content than Chalcopyrite. There are a number of these stunning formations in the mines and luckily they are in quite difficult places so have remained relatively undamaged.

    The miners followed the veins down and would put in false timbered floors to tram the ore to the engine shafts. At various points a man-way would be built so the miners could descend ladders to other parts of the workings. These false floors are one of the major hazards to mine explorers today. They are covered with rubble and sometimes it is difficult to tell if you are on a false floor or not. When you are in new ground and you suddenly realize you are on one, with a big drop beneath your feet, it can be a sobering experience!

    Contrary to what you would expect there are not many artefacts to be seen in the mines. This is because most were sold off for scrap as the mines suffered the slow decline and inevitable money problems, however some areas of the mines suffered from collapses due to the unstable nature of the ground and it is in these areas, where it was not worth tunnelling to retrieve them that you can find the odd mine wagon, jack roll, tallow candles and other small items.

    The Trip

    After wandering up to Levers Water in the howling wind we got geared up and quickly descended into the Crater; a large gash cut into the hillside about 15m away from the lake. This took us up into the Paddy End Workings.

    2.jpg

    Entering paddy End Workings from The Crater.

    From here we wanted to try and find the once legendary oak bung. There had been a rumour that the miners had almost broken into the base of Levers Water, a repair was made with 2 wooden bungs and this section of passage was aptly called Woodend Level. It was a friend of mine who was part of the team who ascended the shaft into the higher levels and discover the legendary Levers Water Bung. Northwest Water didn't seem to concerned about it at the time; however after a homemade bomb was discovered next to the timber bung a permanent bung was installed by the company I worked for at the time.

    Extract from the Westmorland Gazette "In 1995 a bomb, made from a camping gas cylinder packed with fertiliser and sugar was found deep in Coniston Copper Mines against a concrete plug which formed part of the Levers Water Dam. If it had gone off around 20 million gallons of water wouldhave flooded into the mine and then turned the becks down into Coniston into raging torrents.", and a link to the article http://www.thewestmorlandgazette.co.uk/search/display.var.238248.0.po/

    The solution involved drilling into the tunnel from above and dropping a mixture of sand, aggregate and cement down the hole; filling sandbags and making a retaining wall with them. The equipment was to be taken up with a 4x4 and a helicopter, I pushed to get on the job pointing out my interest and connection with the history of the Bung. Alas I ended up hanging from a tower block in Hackney, while the lads working in Coniston had a pub crawl around the Lake District by helicopter that afternoon, as everything had been moved to site and the pilot pointed out that he was being paid for the full day!

    On with our visit. To get to the bung you have to cross over a deep shaft by stemples (timber posts braced between the walls), this is an airy traverse, especially if you are first man across.

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    This took us towards the Belman Hole Vein and some interesting features and the odd hole in the floor.

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    The next section lead us to the base of a 15m shaft leading upwards to the location of the bung, stunning deposits on the walls at this point.

    6.jpg .
    It was then possible to ascend some ropes encrusted in mineral deposits to reach were the bung was located. This is all that is visible now of Woodend Level apart from the sand bags I'm stood on. Was great to finally see something I'd heard about for a long time, the mineral deposits in the pool were stunning.

    7.jpg

    From Woodend we backtracked to get to the start of the through trip.

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    Looking down the shaft we had ascended, plenty of the blue minerals running down which had coated the rope in about 10mm of deposits..

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    After crossing the stemples again we made the first abseil to the levels below.

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    After a look around the Top Level we made the next abseil down to the Middle Levels.

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    I presume there is a story behind this sign, but couldn't find any information.

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    The Middle Level was stunning, plenty of mineral deposits on the walls.

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    The Green Pool lived up to its name.

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    There were a few passages here we explored, but also some saved for a future visit; a rope traverse line disappeared into the darkness above a large shaft, but means I've got an excuse for a future visit to see where it goes. From near the Blue Chamber Rock we made another long abseil to the levels below.

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    After looking around this level we made the final abseil down to the Hospital Level (Rich's photo).

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    We spent about an hour here exploring the Grey Crag Level and the passages which connect with the Hospital Level on the way out. Grey Crags Levels were pleasant, old tracks running throughout. I'd left my camera in my bag at the base of the last abseil not realising how extensive these passages were. It was nice when I started recognising sections I'd been in previously 2 years ago while exploring the Hospital Level, all too soon we saw the light shining through the exit.

    22.jpg

    A quick walk down the valley lead to a well earned safety brew before heading back to the hut to see New Year in and plot for next year.

    The through trip is a classic, but not for the inexperienced as the rope work and navigation is interesting, one of the best trips I've done in a long time and a perfect way to finish 2017.

    Cheers,

    TLR.​
     

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  2. Baggy trousers

    Baggy trousers 28DL Full Member
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    Really enjoyed that, cracking way to end the new year.
    Brilliant pictures and an all round great report :)
     
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  3. tarkovsky

    tarkovsky 28DL Full Member
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    Great report. The green pool looks great in your photos and I’ve even learnt a new word (‘stemples’).

    All good! :thumb
     
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  4. Lavino

    Lavino 28ÐŁ ƦEGUŁλƦ U$EƦ
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    Exellent enjoyed that looks a top mine.
     
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  5. EOA

    EOA Exploring with Bob
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    Cracking report and photos, TLR :thumb - looks like an interesting through trip.
     
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  6. The Kwan

    The Kwan Easily Led
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    Enjoyed reading your report, a fantastic trip and nice way to round off the year too :thumb
     
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  7. UrbanZ

    UrbanZ 28DL Regular User
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    Awesome report, looked alot of fun that one, thanks for sharing. :thumb
     
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  8. Lenston

    Lenston Bajo Tierra
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    Very nice :)
     
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  9. albino-jay

    albino-jay 28DL Regular User
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    This is bloody awesome. Some excellent shots too. Spot on
     
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  10. tallginge

    tallginge 28DL Regular User
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    This looks a lot of fun! An enjoyable read and great photos too. Thanks
     
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  11. b3n

    b3n onehundredandthirtythree
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    How odd, I spent last night reading about this and booked a barn up there this morning!

    Did you not do it as a pull through?

    Might have to pick your brains about what's in situ if that's ok!
     
  12. Calamity Jane

    Calamity Jane i see beauty in the unloved, places & things
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    What a corker. There are some tricky traverses there. I did traverses many moons ago, cant now, but huge respect on this one. Fantastic report, photos and all round wowness. ( If thats a word, which I doubt lol) Love the colours on those walls/faces.. No damn it, I loved it all :Not Worthy :cool::cool: . Noteworthy imo.
     
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  13. stonemonkey

    stonemonkey 28DL Regular User
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    cracking report and photos TLR:thumb

    Glad you got to do it at last.

    Good to see it, without even getting off my arse, felt like i was there again, we missed the bung bit out but may need a revisit for that;)

    Just wished i could get photos like that...... amazing!!
     
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  14. The Lone Ranger

    The Lone Ranger Safety is paramount!
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    Cheers all, think my enjoyment of the Copper Mines gets reflected in the report :D

    I wouldn't count on anything being in-situ, all it takes is 1 small rock fall, feel free to drop me a PM :thumb

    I'm glad I got it done too, was great to join areas I'd been to before with sections I'd just read about. This was more an explore so photos were secondary, but as there were 3 of us I could get the tripod out at times, but also got lucky with a few handheld using the flash while shining my torch in the general direction! Will head back and get some better photos and explore some of the passages we didn't venture down this time.
     
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