Report - - Swaledale Lead Mines 4 - Blakethwaite (Yorkshire, Apr, 2022) | Mines and Quarries | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Swaledale Lead Mines 4 - Blakethwaite (Yorkshire, Apr, 2022)


28DL Regular User
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Another walk with things to see, although the only underground bits I found to explore turned out to be muddy fiascos.

Blakethwaite is at the top of the Gunnerside valley, a well known lead mining area.

Starting from the bottom left of the map below I went down Blind Gill to the Blakethwaite smelt mill then up the stream to inspect some dams.

Both the smelt mill and the dams are listed, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1015857, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1015855.

Pictures are phone for outside, and phone or camera for inside.

Two levels (mine entrances) are shown at the top of Blind Gill.

The top one was blocked, although still discernible, with a shaft up the hill behind, presumably for ventilation.

I didn’t find the next level, but passed a hole in the side of the valley which turned out to be a deep limestone cave - lots of these in this region, sometimes intersecting mine workings.

The picture on the right is looking down into the cave, which had a length of iron tram rail outside.

Next is Blind Gill Level. This is really part of the Lowenthwaite mine, working a lead vein on the other side of the valley to the main Blakethwaite vein but included here since it was on the route.

Old tub near the entrance.

The tunnel is only about 4 ft high, somewhere between a stoop and a crawl, and became steadily muddier.

I got about 20 yards beyond the last picture before the mud threatened to pull off my wellies.

The waders were back near the entrance but this thing was showing little sign of getting any drier or higher so I didn’t bother going back to get them and admitted defeat.

Lead mine 1, urbanchemist 0.

I subsequently found a mine plan showing the entrance straight is c. 400 yards long before hitting the workings although there don’t seem to be any pictures of what’s down there.

The Blakethwaite smelt mill, which operated from 1821 - 1878, is directly on the normal tourist route up Gunnerside valley, but worth a few pictures anyway.

Looking north with a ruined peat store on the right - peat with a little coal was the fuel for lead smelting in these parts. There are a couple more smelt mills with peat stores in the next valley over.

The remains of the flue can be seen running up the hill behind.

Looking back down from part way up the flue.

Iron columns which originally supported stone arches above the ore hearths, blown with bellows powered by a water wheel.

A well preserved lime kiln, one of many in Swaledale, perched up on the hill behind the mill to catch the breeze.

This one apparently provided mortar when constructing the mill and other buildings.

Further up the stream are the dressing floor for the mill and a smithy/office, but there’s not much left.

The dressing floor was where the crude ore from the Blakethwaite mine was crushed with water wheel-powered rollers and then fractionated into smeltable concentrate.

There seem to have been five levels in this region: Lonsdale’s Level (pre 1797), Low (Raper) Level, Top Level, Blakethwaite Level (1812), and Blakethwaite Low Level (1814).

I could only find the Blakethwaite Level driven under the main limestone band.

Entrance with a sign saying ‘Blakethwaite Mine Reopened ADG 2000’.

A quick look suggested this was another muddy one, so waders on.

The initial section was a bit sticky but straightforward enough, with some small worked-out areas off the main tunnel.

Through the tube things didn’t look so good, with backed-up silty mud.

I got about 10 yards beyond the raised mud section in the picture below before giving up - it took about 5 mins just to turn round and get my feet back into the wader boots.

As The Joker might have said "this mine needs an enema !"

An interesting aspect of Blakethwaite is that it had two water-powered pumps to stop the mine flooding.

One was a water wheel pump (‘The Victoria Engine’) for which plans survive - the water for the wheel went in one of the higher levels and came out, along with the pumped water, down the Blakethwaite level.

There are pictures on AditNow of the underground launder supports and wheel pit but I didn’t make it that far.

The other pump was an early type of reciprocating water pressure engine which drained the west end of the system, said to have been removed by 1873.

I don’t know if anyone has ever made it into that area to see what’s left.

Water for the pumps and the dressing floor came from a pair of dams further up the valley, and the final port of call.

The lower dam was topped up water from a reservoir (Moss Dam) some distance away by a long feeder leat.

The lower dam in the foreground with the upper one behind - both dams are now breached.

The spillway for the upper dam seems to have collapsed in the last couple of years judging by other photos on the internet.

Finally, a view down Gunnerside valley from above the smelt mill.

There are at least 10 explorable mine entrances down there - the waste tips of several can be seen in this picture.


Calamity Jane

i see beauty in the unloved, places & things
Regular User
Lovely images. Like the remains. That mud looks horrendous. I think you did well considering. I dont think Id be strong enough to move with mud like that!