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Brownley Hill Mine, Round Trip via High Level (11/01/14)

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After almost 10 years since the last round trip, first done by me and Charlie and with Helen Wilkinson guiding us I thought that it would be good to have a closer look at what there is to see at the extreme far end of Brownley Hill mine. At the time it had been as a whistle stop tour with no time for any exploration. The night before we had a quick look at the complete plan of Brownley Hill as the one I was taking was only the eastern part. Yes, everything fell together on the lay of the land.

We headed for Brownley Hill Middle North Vein and climbed up the deads to get into the Great Limestone, carrying on we reached Guddamgill Burn Cross Vein, took a swing to the left crossing over a sump that has some rail tracks over it. Climbing up a bit higher we entered workings right at the top of the Great Limestone. From here we prusseked up a rise, with brought us into the Brownley High Level. Heading south, we took the first left junction and the start of the crawls began. After around 20 minutes or so Karli shouted back to me that he thought he knew where we were. 'Impossible, you're getting confused' I shouted to him. When I had a look at what he was looking at, doubts came into my head. It was a large shale chamber with a blocked sump and a way on. Just like the one we came to about three years ago when exploring Tatter's String. We knew what was coming next in the continuation of the passage and after 10m it was confirmed. I had taken the wrong left, Arrrhhhhh. Karli then proceeded to take the mickey about having looked at maps and saying that I knew the way - yeah yeah. At least we now know this link is open.

A quick reverse and up of pace saw us back at the junction we had taken wrongly and we then took the second left. The air draft in this was howling past and was obviously the right one this time. More crawling with a few stand up sections and after 550m we finally came to a roped sump heading down. Before going down, I had a quick look past the sump to see how far the level went on. After a short while the water started to get deeper and going past a fall looking up the level the water was approaching to the roof. I came back to Karli and we abseiled down the first pitch to the dog leg. At the dog leg I had a quick crawl through some back filled deads and that opened out into a stope, but the way on was over a sump that would have needed rigging. I crawled back and we abseiled the rest of the sump and landed in a level on Jug Vein in the Great Limestone. The way on for the round trip was north, but we wanted to have a look at the southern end of Jug Vein so headed south. We soon came to a dogleg in the level that had rail tracks in it. There was a lot of rotten timber on the floor that looked to have come from boxes. Past the dogleg the level carried on until we reached a partially built or dismantled wall. Climbing over this we progressed further south and soon the air started to feel thick. Wanting to see the forehead and knowing it was not far along we carried on. Shortly coming to it, nothing of major interest was seen and we turned back. Taking a breath in this section felt as if you just couldn't get a good lung full, and we were glad to be back past the wall and fresher climes. We sat down at the dogleg and had a welcome lunch.

After being replenished, we started south and saw a few rises back up into the stopes. Karli managed to climb up one and reported back that it was quite spacious up there, but I had no mind to climb up - something for next time. Whilst waiting for him to come down I noticed 2½ sticks of dynamite in a small cavity. Once back down, we moved on along the level and looking up at the roof we saw stone stemples, something we have never seen before in Nenthead. Had some Derbyshire miners been on a visit? A short walk further along and we came to Graham's sump, the way on. Climbing down it, we dropped to right below the Great Limestone. The horse level beckoned us on to the north east, but I saw a way up into the stopes again and we had a detour to the north end of Jug Vein. This part almost seemed cave like, as we had to climb up through the Great Limestone in a tight stope that ended in a small hole you had to bend round and up. Once through this we got higher still and found ourselves right at the top of the Great Limestone. The working here had lots of stacked deads and had been obviously stripped bare for the Brownley Hill yellow fluorite by mineral collectors. In a little side working we saw an old cosmetics box, wondering what was inside (a mineral stash perhaps?) we opened it up to find it empty. The owner had not even bothered to fill in the name tag and return address if lost. Annoyingly we got no photographs of this area as I had left my camera at the horse level.

Returning back down to the horse level we ended up dropping into knee deep water, which up on looking back to the 2004 trip was around 30-40cm higher now. Immediately to the left was a flooded sump with a pair of clogs, partially submerged in water. In the horse level, which was driven in shale the water became deeper reaching our never regions, but it did not last and coming to a large chamber it more or less disappeared. The chamber had rails and a set of points and on the left there was a major looking rise. Climbing up it we gained entry into stopes and a sublevel, from here it was possible to climb higher. This was just a quick look around, and we got the impression that the whole stope had been back filled and was intersected with levels. Back on the horse level we headed north until we reached a four way junction. On the plan the way on was to head east to pick up the Brownley Hill High Cross Vein, taking it we hit a dead end. Errr, what's up doc? Returning to the junction we took the north branch, which was following the Brownley Hill West High Cross Vein. On the plan this apparently petered out and went to another horizon, hence not taking it. Second take, heading along it, it soon became apparent that this was the way on, and we needed to pick up the Brownley Hill High Cross Vein via a crosscut. Bearing slowly to the east we eventually came to a major four way junction with a sump in the middle. Looking at the plan there were a number of such junctions, however all had the same thing in common, to turn left was to head to the Brownley Hill Vein and familiar territory. After a while we ended up at a tee junction and I recognised it, finally on the way home.

Turning west at the junction we shortly passed the entrance to the Brownley Hill West High Cross Vein, and carrying on we came at last to the Brownley Hill Moss Cross Vein. Heading away from this passing through a short section of arching, on exiting it I caught a loose key stone. About 0.5m of arching came down on me. My gut reaction was to just keep on going out of it. Karli had turned round at this point after hearing the noise and grabbed my arms to speed up exit. Thankfully I was not hurt. The tackle bag on my back reduced the height that anything had to fall and protected it as well! Karli was surprised that I had not been hurt as he saw big chunks of arching coming down on my helmet and neck. The worse thing that happened was that I got grit in my eye and loads of small loose shale between my helmet and head that needed washing out. Whilst I composed myself, Karli tried to rebuild part of the arching to stop any further run in and to keep back the shale. Please watch this area if you're going to be going through it. On our way out when we hit the really bad shale falls there seemed to be one bit which was far worse than I could remember from last time coming this way. You had to get on your hands and knees in the water in a short section of arching to avoid brushing against a under hang that was coming in from the top of the arching. On exiting this, you had to sort of shimmy up out of the arching at right angles and up into shale. Karli seemed to think that it was always like this and that my encounter before had made me jittery. I'm not sure. The rest of the way along the Brownley Hill Vein until we hit the Guddamgill Burn Cross Vein was full of fresh shale falls and tight squeezes that you had to pass through hoping nothing would move. Not a nice section of the mine. Once past all this, it was a straight dash for the exit along Wellgill Cross Vein, oh and how nice it was to be able to walk upright.

Having the benefit of studying a couple of different plans after the trip, it was apparent that the false connection between the West High and High Cross Veins did not exit on one copy. It looked like good old VM had assumed to draw a connection on the passage that died a death for us. The proper details should have been a rise and a connection via workings above.