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Fleming's to Taylor's Level Through Trip, Coniston Copper Mines (08/04/08).

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Being in the Lakes on a family get together lends itself for the perfect opportunity to get underground and see something new. I asked Tony if he would show me a bit of the Coniston mines, and he came back with a proposed route, which got the old mine exploration blood going. We met in Coniston village and parked up, not too far from the YHA. Walking up the valley following Red Dell Beck, I was shown Deep Level, Old Engine Shaft Wheel Pit, Bonser Level, and the New Engine Shaft. Finally we reached the dug out entrance to Fleming's Level. Entering the level plunged us into thigh deep water for a short while, then it became dry. The crosscut in soon disappeared and we were in the stopes, these are on a massive scale, not only do they reach high up, but down deep into the complex. Our first obstacle was a stope where a lot of the floor had dropped away. We crossed this carefully making use of stemples that CATMHS had installed. This led us via a short prussik to a large stope gallery where the Thriddle Shaft could be seen. We retraced our route and climbed back onto the stemples, where we proceeded to abseil some 9m down. Here we carried on along the stope passing under stemple supported deads, until we reached a second pitch some 15m deep known as the Narrow Stope. At the bottom of this we came across a large chain hanging from a stemple. Whilst I was snapping away Tony found in the deads a little wooden box and a piece of colourful ore, my first bit of blue!

Following the route on, we ended up abseiling another pitch this time 17m deep. About 6m from the bottom we came off, making sure to keep hold of the rope. Climbing up a large boulder slope brought us out into an intersection with the Thriddle Shaft, which is known as the Thriddle Shaft View Point. Looking down and up in the shaft we could see timber work towards the bottom and top. Above us were stemples spaced by planks holding back many tonnes of deads. The floor here, along with one face of the shaft, was made from pack walling. We climbed back down the slope and abseiled to the bottom, stopping just before another pitch for lunch. Tony pointed out that this was a nice safe area with no supported deads above us, nice. After lunch we abseiled down the last pitch to Taylor's Level, 9m below.

At the bottom, a ledge greeted us with more stoping plunging down to unknown depths below. Here we came across a barrow wheel. The route took us through a crawl of mishmashed collapsed deads and stemples taking us further into Taylor's Level. Past the crawl we entered a large stope which had an intersection with the Thriddle Shaft. The stope was roped with a life line and on the far side I was pleased to see a blue flow coming out of a level - more blue! We both crossed the shaft using the life line. Not having done anything on this scale before definitely focused my mind. With both of us across we made our way along the (glad to say) solid level. Rounding a corner I saw my first proper view of blue flows of copper salts. A little further on and the famous blue cascade came into view. This formation was so striking with its blue colours - such vivid colour was a revelation to me, after years of seeing only orange and white formations. A few metres past the cascade we reached the forehead of Taylor's Level, topped off with an iron stained pillar of calcite. Whilst photographing various angles of the formations we noticed a little tallow candle stub in a shot hole and what looked like to be a woven doughnut shape, a candle holder? Afterwards we traversed the Thriddle Shaft back to the bottom of the pitch that brought us to Taylor's Level.

Rounding the corner the ledge continued on with the stope falling away below. This was quite an impressive feature, almost a scene from Indiana Jones. Passing this we came to some flooded stopes and had to cross planks to get over them. A little further on, we came a cross a smashed ore truck and a large sheaved wheel on the floor. Looking up into the stope, the wooden remains of its fixing gazed down upon us. By the wheel it was possible to look into the New Engine Shaft which intersected the stope on the side. From here we climbed up a 18m high boulder slope, at the top of which we ended up abseiling back down into Taylor's Level. The rocks here and the stoping gave a true indication of the shear size of the mining activities. At the bottom there was a life line for getting along a rubble strewn ledge, and past this there was a traverse. I watched Tony get across it, and then for the first time had a go myself, not as easy to do as Alpine Caving Techniques suggests! I had a bit of a problem getting off it, due to tension of both cowtails, but apart from that managed it, with great relief. I was then informed that there were two more, joking? No, really. I was a bit more up to speed on the next two, but glad we did not have to do anymore, my forearms were aching. Having an active imagination, during the traverses I was thinking about shock loads, rope failure, and other pleasantries - not ideal stimulus for such activities. Now on the home straight, we had to climb a few more rubble slopes and cross one more gaping stope along its ledge. Here the stopes were exposed to the surface and you could get a glimpse of daylight in places. The floor was littered with heather and looked like the bottom of a pot in the Yorkshire Dales. The last part of the trip was more like pot holing than mine exploration.

Finally we entered sensible passage and made our way to the portal, receiving a dousing in knee deep water, then day light and the fresh air. This first introduction to the Coniston Copper Mines was a bit of a whirl wind that left me, do I dare say, a bit shell shocked. The size and depth of stopes was amazing, the colour of the blue cascades mesmerising, the technical aspects of SRT involved, and the work put in by CATMHS over the years coupled with Tony's and Wendy's bolting exploites inspiring.