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Blackburn Level Engine Rooms, Rotherhope Fell Mine (25/05/14)

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Blackburn Level is used as a water supply and is not accessible, but every so often it is drained for maintenance, and access can be arranged if you happen to know it will be occurring. As it turns out, the owner of the land is the grandfather of Karli's friend, so with that introduction made it was only a matter of time until we were able to get in.

The level is basically a long drive of 1210m to Rotherhope Fell Vein with a single kink in it. The first section was typically stone arched, and after a 100m or so it gave way to rock. At this point we passed under the first surface shaft. The water wasn't that deep, 20cm at the most and the way on clear. The most striking feature of the level was that the walls were really heavily calcified with lots of nice formations; flows, crystal pools and mine pearls. After walking what seemed like for ever, finally we came to an intersection and a kink. This was at the 900m mark. On the left was a heavily silted up short crosscut to a rise and on the right was another rise with a ladder in it, however the amount of water coming down it made it impossible to climb or see anything. This intersection seems to correspond with the Victoria Vein, and the wet rise with a surface shaft, confirmed by the very peaty coloured water. Just a bit past the intersection, the strata changed and we entered a limestone level, here the water got a little bit deeper. Another 300m saw us arrive at the engine rooms, and the start of gapping mouths and mad running around trying to see everything all at the same time.

There were three engine areas. The first we looked at was the small engine room, which would have driven the cages on the No1 Shaft. All that was left was the engine beds and some pipe work. The No1 Shaft itself was flooded and had a small amount of water welling up from it. Looking inbye, the left compartment had a full cage at floor level, waiting for something to transport that would never come. The right compartment was open with no cage. At the back of the right compartment the shutter for it could be seen. There was also a sheaved wheel lodged in the metalwork that must have come down from above. To the right, there was a connection that leads to a parallel passage. This contained a multitude of pipe work and provided a safe way round the shaft. Between the shaft and engine room, hanging from the roof there was a grand display of long straw stalactites.

Heading away from No1 shaft, we had a look along the north eastern branch of the Blackburn Level. The entrance was in good condition, concrete arching, which gave way to stone arching and then more concrete. Once out of this we entered passage that had a few falls on the floor from the unlined level. In fact it was quite high, stope like. Shortly we reached a larger fall that looked to have come from a rise above. Karli climbed a bit up it and then decided that going higher would have risked dislodging rocks down, so it was left alone. This really was the end of the line, as past the fall you entered more stone arching for around 10m and then a final fall stopped any further progress.

Back at the main level we then headed to look at the second engine room. Taking some steps up, passing over some fallen shale we entered an impressive large and high brick lined chamber that was painted black. This had a flooded sump in the middle of it, which was the No2 Shaft. We believe it was used for dewatering the lower workings. Inside an alcove on the south wall, pipe work and valves could be seen. The pipe work went up a rise that connected to the Middle Level, which was used as a drainage level for waste water from the hydraulic machinery. In one corner there looked to be the remains of a wooden cupboard and next to that an 'oil drum' container. In another corner we came across some old leather gloves and boot / shoe remains. This looked like a good place to have lunch.

After lunch we exited the No2 Shaft chamber via a passage opposite the one we had come in from. Climbing down some deads we entered the start of the south western branch of the Blackburn Level. The level started off in poor rock with a number of small falls, then it was followed by block and stone arching, leading up to concrete arching and a fall causing a full blockage. It looked like some attempt at a dig had been made in the past, but to no avail. The total length of open level was around 30m.

Returning back to where we exited the No2 Shaft Chamber, we noticed impressive brick arching over the Blackburn Level and the exit point from the chamber. It was like something you would have found in catacombs. Following the level outbye we came to the third engine 'room', which was more of a siding on the level. Here there was a metre high engine bed. Next to it we found some flexible rubber piping and a length of old large gauge electrical cable. On the actual bed, there was an old glass bottle and galvanised bucket. Reading a report by Dunham, it is probable that this may have been the site of an electrically powered air compressor, as evidenced by the rubber piping and electrical cable nearby.

We followed the level past the engine bed, emerging out of the right hand side of the first junction before the engine rooms. It was time to reverse and head out. Along the way, I wondered what things could be discovered if the level was left open and not flooded with some digging efforts. Please be aware that Blackburn Level is on private land and it is used as a water supply. Access is only possible by prior arrangement.