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Report - - Moss Head & Spion Kop slate mines, Coniston - August 2015 | Mines and Quarries | 28DaysLater.co.uk
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Report - Moss Head & Spion Kop slate mines, Coniston - August 2015

Mutagen

28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
#1
History

There has been slate mining going on in and around Coniston for hundreds of years (rumours abound that working here started in the 1200s), starting out as simple surface quarrying then developing into the driving of adits and levels deep inside the mountains in search of the famed green Lakeland slate. Various quarries were opened up during the 18th and 19th centuries, levels were driven into the hillside and tramways were constructed to carry tubs of slate out of the mines. From here, an intricate system of aerial ropeways were set up to send the dressed slate down to lower levels on slate clogs (a little bit like Alton Towers on crystal meth). These mines were largely worked out and abandoned late in the 19th century but some of the quarries were re-opened in the twentieth century and still produce slate of international standard now.

Geography

I explored four main sections during my visit: Moss Head has three separate levels (Upper, Middle and Lower): the Moss Head Middle level runs into the bottom of the massive (and I do mean MASSIVE) cavern: Moss Head Upper runs into this cavern about seventy feet or so up from Middle Level. Spion Kop has one level which splits in two after fifty metres or so: the left hand branch brings you out at the extreme high point of Moss Head cavern; the right hand branch brings you out onto a shelf and incline about thirty or forty feet above Upper Level.
Moss Head Lower doesn't run into the cavern at all but does open out into its own little chambers in its own course underneath all the others. Bearing in mind that these mines are at around 2200' up on the mountain and are relatively inaccessible, they've escaped the pilfering clutch of pikeys and are therefore littered with relics and artefacts, making it a very interesting explore.

The report

There is as much on the surface of interest as there is underground here, but I'll restrict the photos here to a fraction of those I took in the various mines: I'll stick some surface ones up later on as a separate comment to this thread. I'll split them into the four sections:

Moss Head Upper

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An S-bend in the level just before the 'small' antechamber ... at this point, I had no idea of the scale of what awaited me in the 'main' chamber!

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The main Moss Head cavern, looking back to the entrance adit - the air was full of dust, making me wonder whether there had been a recent rockfall (there were some HUGE chunks of rock littering the far end) and this made long-exposure shots really difficult as the light reflected off all the dust. This photo can't convey the immense scale of this place: the shelf in the foreground carries Upper Level into the back end of the stope; above the entrance adit, you can just make out one of the Spion Kop adits, complete with original ropeway; the huge drop to the right marks the abyss between Upper and Middle levels.

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A little side tunnel leading out to the brink of Moss Head cavern, showing some of the original ropeway equipment for conveying loads across the void of Moss Head. The drop at this point is about ninety feet to the floor of Middle Level.

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Old compressed air pipe back into the main chamber.

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Old air/water valve just about buried in an old fall.

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Heading back towards the antechamber.

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Water tank in the antechamber. At this point, you can scramble down the precipitous and loose slate rubble into Middle Level .....

Moss Head Middle Level

Scrambling down the slate rubble, you first spot the remains of an old slate tub:

IMG_1862.jpg

At the bottom (eighty feet or so down from Upper Level), you hit Middle Level midway between the entrance and the enormity of Moss Head cavern. Before you reach the bottom of Moss Head cavern, the tramway leads you into a big chamber complete with some proper industrial porn:

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The adit into Moss Head cavern runs away behind the steam winch - following it through, you end up at the very bottom of the cavern, marvelling at the sheer damn size of the place.

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I spent ages in here, grabbing shots and just sitting there with my jaw open, staggered by what I was seeing and knowing full well that nothing I took on my camera was going to convey the majesty of the place. Incredible stuff.

Eventually, I had to get out and explore the other levels but grabbed one more shot on the way out:

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Moss Head Lower Level

This doesn't run into the cavern, as previously mentioned but cuts its own path into a large chamber with a lot of water falling from the roof and making an incredible noise! The entrance is wet and lined with moss ....

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This was the wettest part of the day's exploration but, by walking on the rails, you can just about get away with dry feet if you have good Goretex boots (I wasn't prepared to wear or carry wellies or waders as my gear was heavy enough already).

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There is a great deal of block/tackle hanging from the ceiling in here, presumably for helping to shift enormous lumps of slate.

Spion Kop level

When researching these mines and their locations, a guy had mentioned that Spion Kop wasn't worth the effort to get to. I say he's full of bullshit as it was by far the most interesting for me - the exposure at the roof of Moss Head cavern was superb and made me feel like I'd found Moria. The remnants of the old gear in here also proved to be really interesting. And any mine with a tramway incline always gives me a semi .....

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The entrance. Forty metres or so in leads you to the junction:

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Left takes you to the very highest point of Moss Head cavern; right takes you to an exposed shelf, the incline and a huge stope that overlooks the cavern. Incredible stuff that needs to be experienced to be believed!

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Taking the left junction brings you out right at the top of Moss Head cavern. Here you can see the continuation of Spion Kop, connected to the right-hand branch by an aerial ropeway. Below that, running from the bottom-right is the shelf that carries Moss Head Upper Level. Lower-centre has some dangling steel ropes - they run from the little side tunnel I was in earlier (see Photo 3). Below that is a whole lot of nothing until you meet the ground at Moss Head Middle Level.

IMG_1921.jpg

Taking the right hand branch takes you past these old doors and onto a shelf carrying the old ropeway, a ladder/water tank section and the incline up into the stopes.

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This last one shows the ropeway stretching out across the abyss to the Spion Kop continuation (which again comes out into the Upper Level stope further in).

These are my favourites from the underground stuff. Thanks for reading. I'll lob some surface stuff up in a comment later on. Cheers!
 

The Lone Ranger

Safety is paramount!
Staff member
Moderator
#2
That's a cracking report and some stunning photos, a very enjoyable read :thumb

Good to see some new stuff (for me) from the Coniston area, lots of hidden gems around here and as you say not too trashed if you don't mind a wander up a hill or two.
 

The Lone Ranger

Safety is paramount!
Staff member
Moderator
#5
The top side looks just as good :thumb

Was heading up the Copper Mine Valley in October for a few days, I have a feeling I'll also be heading here too :D
 

Mutagen

28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
#6
The top side looks just as good :thumb

Was heading up the Copper Mine Valley in October for a few days, I have a feeling I'll also be heading here too :D
I'm going back up this month to explore Coppermines Valley. Spent so long in Moss Head cavern on this trip that all my lights were just about dead by the time I left Spion Kop. Enjoy!
 

ACID- REFLUX

28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
#7
So you made it then i take it :D Makes a change from Ironstone i suppose ;)

Nicely done managing to light the place mate :thumb

Ditto the Spion Kop levels my fav" but it"s all impressive stuff & obviously very much like Dinorwic on the surface for obvious reasons :)

You just need a lighting Bitch with ya :D
 

Mutagen

28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
#8
So you made it then i take it :D Makes a change from Ironstone i suppose ;)

Nicely done managing to light the place mate :thumb

Ditto the Spion Kop levels my fav" but it"s all impressive stuff & obviously very much like Dinorwic on the surface for obvious reasons :)

You just need a lighting Bitch with ya :D
I've seen some shots on a caving forum where they had some serious lighting in the cavern. It was SO dusty in there though. Tried a few bulb exposures so I could light paint but that just ended up reflecting all the light back due to dust. Definitely need a few lighting birches next time - you volunteering?:D
 

ACID- REFLUX

28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
#11
They"ve sold & relisted the same Camera 13 times since Thursday and Ebay say don"t worry about my money......WTF????

Need a Ironstone trip i think :)
 

Paradox

28DL Regular User
Regular User
#14
Thats a beltin' report, really like your photos, they are proper lovely :thumb and where I normally skim read reports I actually properly read that :D
 

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