Date & Time: Thursday 26th July 2007. Midday start. ( NY 222 244 )

Location of Start : Noble Knott Car Park, Whinlatter, Cumbria, Uk.

Places visited : Force Crag Mine, Coledale, Braithwaite.

Walk details : A guided tour of the mine buildings and their valley environment.

Visited with : John Paterson.

Weather : Wet while we were outside, dried nicely when we went indoors.

The Force Crag Mine Complex from above.


The National Trust, more normally associated with looking after posh stately homes, has acquired the Coledale Mine Complex near Keswick and has attempted to preserve what was the last working mine in the Lake District.

A series of 'open days' have been advertised during the year, when visitors can have a guided tour of the site and to better understand the history of the old mine so we parked on Whinlatter and caught the minibus for a short drive up the mine road to the head of the Coledale Valley where everyone gathered for our tour.

A workman trudges up to his place of work at Coledale Mine ?

No . . . it's John, head down against the rain on a local mine visit.

The Mine last worked in 1991 and suffered a catastrophic roof collapse in 1992 which finally closed the mine.

Today's visit would be purely above ground, seeing what was left of the mine entrances, spoil heaps and the old mill buildings.

We gather by the old office to hear about the mine site.
The old Processing Mill, where we cross the brown stream.
The many rivers flowing here were an important source of power.
A mine entrance high on the crags opposite.

Note: the line of a pipe trench ahead, and the square concrete building on the left hand picture.

Looking back from the Explosives Store to the mine complex.

Our volunteer guide (in the blue cap) explained how the explosive was stored here 'out of harms way' before being transferred for use underground.

Level Zero mine entrance and an old engine shed
Level zero was important for draining the mine in it's later days.
An old Mill site and spoil heap showing a band of mineral colour
We walked up the mine roads as high as Level Four

Holding the camera between the logs I caught this view of the entrance tunnel of the old part of the mine.

Levels three and four were the earliest part of the mine complex where the miners were following the quartz vein in search of Lead

( The lower levels were added later and subsequently the
The collapsed entrance of Level Four
whole system was re-numbered from the bottom level up)

Looking down on the Mill Complex from our elevated position.

We now made our way back to start the second part of the visit - to the mine buildings themselves, starting at the entrance to Level One, where the stream issues from the base of the spoil heap. The water draining this part of the mine by the way, is fresh and virtually unpolluted despite a deposit of orange Siderite onto the stream bed over the years.

This lady, and the gentleman below (sorry but no names remembered) would be our excellent volunteer guides for the second half on the visit.

The site was mined for lead from 1839 until 1865, and for zinc and barytes from 1867, with varying success by a string of different companies. (Barytes is widely used as a white pigment, e. g. in cosmetic products and in paints. Also a major source of barium. It was used in explosives, and is a non metalic ore like Quartz)

A brief view into the more modern entrance of Level One.

The railway track system that would have served the mine was removed and sold for scrap some time ago.

This mine entrance was extensively used in the 20th century to extract the
Zinc ore and Barytes gathered from higher levels of the mine.
Our guide explained the various types of minerals found on the site.
The top of the Grizzly Hopper - the first crushing plant.
From below, showing the conveyor to the next part of the process.

Once extracted from the mine, the ore went through a process of mechanical crushing into smaller and smaller pieces until it was finally reduced to a fine powder.

At the start of the process, the Grizzly Hopper here only accepted any ore that would fit through the bars. Any larger lumps had to be broken by hand.

The secondary crushers reduced the size of the ore pieces . . .
. . . till they fitted through this grid.
Electric motors drove the archimedean screw and conveyor
. . . carrying the ore through the plant for more processing.
John by the rotating Ball Mill . . .
. . . in it's day, driven by an old lorry engine.

Cannon-ball weights, like the one John is holding, finally crushed the ore to a fine powder.

In latter years this purely mechanical system was later augmented by a chemical floatation separator. The powder was dropped into the solution in the tank, agitated by the central rotating plunger (with the holes to create bubbles) and skimmed off using the paddle wheel system in the second photo.

The refined ore was then flushed down the grey pipe to the final process floor below.

Here rotating paddle wheels extracted the ore from the slurry . . .
. . . where it was was gathered into sacks or into hoppers in the shed below.

Full marks to the National Trust here because the site had been cleared of equipment after the last mine company closed, but just in time the equipment was bought back and reinstated in it's original location. We could therefore see the Mill as it was, and understand how it worked. There has obviously been a lot of hard work by Trust workers and volunteers alike to recover the Processing Mill to the state it is today.

Despite individual parts of the equipment being capable of working, there are no plans to return the Mill to a working state at present.


A Brief History:

1578 - First traces of surface workings for lead high above level 3

1839 - Fist processing Mill on site powered by water wheel

1848/65 - The 2nd Mill was built.

1871/81 A horse drawn tramway built to Braithwaite to carry ore.

1912/14 -Improved or separation by floatation, and power from a new Pelton Wheel.

1915/22 - New processing plant installed.

1939/48 - Big war effort for mining Barytes for explosives. Road built to levels 5-8 above the crags and an aerial ropeway system installed in the valley.

1949/52 - La port invested in underground chutes (stopes) to move ore due to problems with the road and the ropeway in icy winter weather.

1984/91 Chemical separation process installed but the mine eventually closed in 1991.

This made it the last working mineral mine in the Lake District.

Further information from English Heritage

The Web site for mineral information, Ian Tyler's Keswick Mining Museum, an acknowledged expert on Lake District Mining,

The Rock-Site Cumbria web site for more Lake District information

and of course The National Trust Web site giving details of the next open day.


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Technical note: Pictures taken with a Canon Ixus Digital camera.

Resized in Photoshop, and built up on a Dreamweaver web builder.

This site best viewed with . . . A bloke . . . most girls just don't understand (get ready to duck the flack) !

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Previous walk - 24th July 2007 The Torver Fells and Beacon Tarn

A previous time up here - 29th March 2006 Grisedale Pike - and a view back and fore

Next walk - 29th July 2007 A Red Cross 3 Peaks Event - Scafell Pike