Report by Jules Barrett
Cavers: Jules Barrett (EPC), Dave Gledhill (EPC), Bob Toogood (EPC), Toni Murphy, Jim Alder
The Nenthead mines are a very extensive set of abandoned mines in Cumbria which Dave Gledhill knows well (this is fortunate as they are incredibly complicated). Dave, Bob and I had recently enjoyed the Croesor-Rhosydd through trip and Dave's description of the Nenthead mines lured us up north a couple of weeks later when the forecast for Derbyshire and the Dales was terrible. Toni and Jim joined us with limited information but a positive outlook! According to Dave the classic sporting trip in Nenthead is the through trip from Caplecleugh to Rampgill via Smallcleugh and Proud's Sump. Now if that sounds complicated, wait until you're trying to remember the way 'cos that's much, much harder. To summarise: enter Caplecleugh on one side of the car park, wade along a level in deep water, climb a long way up old calcited ladder, pull-through abseil of two pitches down a shaft (Proud's Sump), and exit Rampgill on the other side of the car park. There are kilometres of passages to traverse between the two mine entrances and we were very fortunate that Dave knows Nenthead well. We met up on the Friday night and Saturday morning saw us changing into wetsuits in a cold visitors centre car park. Dave ran off to leave a rope and rigging gear at an entrance close to Proud's Sump where we would do two pull-through abseils. When Dave returned we walked twenty metres from the car park and headed underground into Caplecleugh Main Horse Level. This level was used by horses to remove ore from the mine and starts off as a spacious passage with water in the bottom and an impressive stone-arched roof. After a short time we came to Hopper Number 9 where a set of old ladders led up into the workings above. We made our way up the ladders and had a good look round in the workings where there are ore trucks, old man's tools and some worrying false floors. We came back down the ladders and continued along the Main Horse Level. We made progress along through a number of collapses and the water started to get deeper. At times the water was neck deep but the going was easy enough along here. Reaching the branch with Caplecleugh North Vein we detoured down here to arrive at the bottom of another set of ladders with a load of water coming down them. It reminded me of The Bung in Speedwell but with substantially more ladders. We climbed up and into the workings at the top which were very extensive with some very impressive ginging. Back down the ladders and wade to the Main Horse Level where more deep water led to the calcite-covered ladders that lead up into Smallcleugh. These ladders aren't in the best condition and need to be treated with care. We all arrived at the top and made our way along dry passages to a place where we could rest for a bite to eat. Continuing on into Smallcleugh the route gets very complicated and it's pointless me trying to describe it because I don't really remember it. However, we arrived after a while at The Ballroom. This is a large area that had been left by the miners for corporate entertainment! From here some dry crawling and walking led to the top of Proud's Sump. A 'sump' in Cumbrian mining vernacular is a shaft that has been driven downwards. Proud's Sump is descended in two nice dry pull-through pitches. We rigged the first (bigger) pitch and all abseiled down. A short connecting passage leads to the top of the second pitch where we all abseiled again down into Proud's Workings. Here we went to explore the workings and Dave pointed out a hopper that was blocked by smallish loose rock above our heads. Apparently the prod-and-run technique is de riguer when digging this particular blockage so Bob and I picked up a piece of old rail and prodded. Initially we didn't get much response but a few seconds later a hasty retreat was made as good-sized boulders were released from the bottom of the hopper and came towards us at some speed! From Proud's Workings a wobbly aluminium ladder leads down into the Rampgill Main Level and we headed downstream towards the exit. On the way out we passed Whisky Bottle Junction and a window into the impressive Brewery Shaft. We reached the Rampgill gate to surface after around seven hours underground.
The thing that surprised me most about the mines at Nenthead is the scale. There is substantially more passage than I ever imagined and we only really saw a very small part of the total. The Caplecleugh to Rampgill through-trip is a superb trip which feels like a big day out with loads of variety. I would suggest visiting the Nenthead Mines with someone who knows them well. To try to find your way using a description or survey would be extremely difficult and time-consuming.
Click [here] for Dave Gledhill's photos from the trip.