And So It Begins…

The decision to explore the Grassington Mines came after a short conversation down at the Fell Rescue Hut in Grassington where both myself and John are team members. At the time John and I did not know each other very well, only engaging in polite small talk during rescue training on Monday nights and on weekend exercises. Since joining the team in early 2015, I’ve always had a fascination with exploring the mines, as well as rediscovering the now inaccessible Lost Caverns of Grassington Moor. Not much is known about the lost caverns and there are only a couple of brief mentions of their location and description within the NMRS books on the area. After speaking with some of the older members of the team who lived in the local area, it seemed clear that there was very little known about the layout of the mines, other than to say that most of the shafts were capped with rotten railway sleepers and with no fencing warning of their presence.

For the most part, I was dissuaded from attempting to explore the mines due to their age and inaccessibility. Most of the people I spoke to in Grassington advised me to leave them well enough alone as they feared what could happen if something went wrong. Unlike a lot of the lead mines further north which have drainage adits dug into the fellside, most of the Grassington mines are only accessible by descending from above. This would involve hammering anchors into the ground and abseiling in from the shaft edge which poses a huge amount of risk if the shaft walling is insecure. Another mystery was how deep the brickwork collars were at the top of the shafts and how they were constructed. In some cases, the brickwork is seamlessly moulded into solid rock and in others, the brickwork sits on top of a wooden platform. The latter type of collar construction can be extremely precarious especially as the wood will have rotted over the past 200 years and any slight disturbance could cause the whole shaft lining to tumble down on an unsuspecting explorer.

With this in mind, I came up with an idea of first assessing the mines without actually putting myself in any danger. By constructing a small platform containing a powerful torch and my GoPro, I was able to lower the camera down each of the shafts to measure their depth and stability.

The project proved a huge success, and following a couple of surface walks of the area to identify which shafts were still open, I lowered my camera rig down both New Peru and West Peru shafts. From reviewing the footage, I could see that the drystone collar only descended to a depth of no more than 10 metres without the presence of a wooden platform. Further to this, the footage also gave me an idea of the amount of water within the shaft, and from reviewing the footage from New Peru, I could see the dark void of a level leading off from the main passage.  

After discussing my findings with John, on the 11th of August 2017 myself and John made our inaugural trip up to the mines in order to tackle a couple of open shafts near to the end of Old Moor Lane. We descended Taylor’s shaft and a manway close by which I believe connected with Taylors, and another small shaft on the Castaway Vein.

Our first descent was down the unnamed shaft on the Castaway Vein. I assume it must have been some sort of manway or air vent, as the shaft was very small and oval in shape. Unfortunately, after securing the rope using Johns metal stakes, and descending down to the bottom of the shaft, I found no passages leading on, and only a deep pool of mud, water and animal carcasses at the bottom.

Both Taylor’s shaft and the manway had been filled with landfill waste and were truly unpleasant experiences. Taylor’s shaft itself is a large round void measuring approximately 6ft in diameter and only about 10 metres in depth before landing on a large heap of god knows what. There was some benefit in descending this shaft, as John found an entire fitted kitchen containing a number of fancy cupboard handles that he promptly stuffed into caving suit before heading back up to the surface. Descending down the manway on the other side of the track about 50 metres from Taylor’s shaft, was the small oval shaped manway. Less than 10 metres in depth, I was able to climb down using my wire ladder fixed to the fence posts which surrounded it. On my decent I took the time to take a picture facing back up the ladder, and which coincidentally became the template for the official logo of the Grassington Mines Appreciation Group. The shaft ended in a small chamber with one passage leading off and another shorter passage leading to a clear pool of water. Most of the chamber was filled with landfill waste and the smell turned my stomach. I began to regret my choice of exploratory work and wondered if this was the reason why there had hardly been any exploration of the mines in the past. Looking across the chamber, I could see that the ground slipped away, and most of the landfill seemed to be edging across to this side of the room.

Picking up a large rock, I threw it over to the lowest point in the chamber. The rock crashed through a piece of rusty sheet metal and instead of hitting the ground with I dull thud, I heard the rock begin to bounce from wall to wall as It cascaded down a hidden shaft that the landfill waste had been covering. Finally, I heard a resounding boom, as the rock hit the bottom of the shaft shortly followed by the clatter of a couple of pieces of scrap metal that had fallen with it.

After a short discussion with John, it was decided that we would not continue any further down towards the hidden shaft. There were plenty of other mines to look at across the moor and the huge pile of landfill waste presented another danger to our descent.    

Last but not least, we walked over to another shaft that I had identified on the Chatsworth Vein close to Chatsworth Mine. It measured about 35 meters deep, and allowed access to numerous passages leading off from the main shaft. However, to date, this mine was probably the most dangerous trip we have undertaken. The bottom of the brickwork collar was in such a precarious state that I dared not shout too loudly for fear of disturbing the lining. Most of the passages were built upon false floors propped up by rotten timbers, and made sure to keep my feet on the edges of the walls as I edged my way down each of them. A number of passages were followed, however none continued further that about 10 meters and the entire mine was quite a disappointment if I’m honest.

After a long and arduous day, John and I made our way back to the surface at which point it had begun to rain lightly. As was to become a tradition for all future trips, I washed my face in a nearby beck, changed out of my caving suit, and we both headed over to the Black Horse pub for a celebratory pint. It was from here that I proposed the idea of a group, dedicated to the exploration of the mines before they became too dangerous to document. I discussed taking as many pictures a possible and for some of the larger mines, creating surveys.

It was from here that the Grassington Mines Appreciation Group came into existence.