Present: Al Cook, Ilya Kuprov, Mssr. Leech
Firstly, may I begin by letting you all know I am no mineophile. I like caving. This one however was great.
I arrived in Borrowdale at ten in the morning, then drank tea until the others arrived at ten past eleven. But we’ll not dwell on such a setback – the morning was fantastic and a later start meant we were able to get changed without a myriad of walkers eyeing our backsides. To get to the entrance, we had to gain some height. Quite a bit of height really, but by zig-zaging our way up the slope past some old tailings, the remains of the guard hut by Gilbert’s Level, the entrance (our exit) at Farey’s Level we were enthusiastic enough to overshoot our target Gill’s Stage. If you were of an inclination to climb directly from Farey’s Level to Gill’s Stage, don’t head directly for the spoil above you but instead keep left, watching for the broad ledge leading into the Newhouse Gill gully. This ledge will lead you straight into the level. You want the second entrance which you’ll find cut into the side of the gully (fig. 1). The first entrance also connects into the mine, but to explore this level you would have to traverse over the first pitch. Much easier to enter the gill side entrance, explore the level then approach the pitch from the inside.
Fig 1: Looking into Gill’s Stage
Inside the mine, our eyes took ages to adjust to the gloom though it was much warmer after the crisp cold on the fell. To give our eyes time, Ilya indulged in a spot of photography (fig. 2) and Al had some light difficulty, before impressing us no end with his ‘warm’ LED. Before descending the first pitch, we explored the level above Gills stage by climbing Goaton’s pipe.
Fig 2: Looking out of Gill’s Stage
Goaton’s pipe spirals upwards and had a stream running down it, giving it a profoundly natural feel, although the dark graphitey slate gives quite a different atmosphere to a limestone cave. Both Al and I commented on the similarities to the lava tubes we had explored in Iceland. Here through a window in the roof we found a few fragments of graphite in the spoil on the floor (fig. 3). Dropping back through the window we explored the labyrinth of interconnecting passages that make up Harrison’s stage before returning to our entrance adit by a connection we had briefly explored on our way into the hill towards Goaton’s pipe.
Fig 3: A piece of graphite
The pitch was rigged pull-through style (fig. 4) from a pair of P-hangers and descends at about fifty degrees, spiralling slightly. Since we only had two SRT kits between us, Ilya descended on a life belt and stop arrangement, walking backwards down the pipe really quite effectively. Though risking being accused of teaching Grandma to suck eggs, don’t stand underneath anyone on this pitch as they will descend accompanied by a rain of dislodged slate pebbles.
Fig 4: Head of the first pitch
The stage you land on is not extensive so there’s not much sightseeing to be done before rigging the next pitch (again P-hangers) and dropping to a more extensive level. You’ll know when you get here as there are the remains of the rail lines used for moving the graphite and spoil out of the hill. This level is more extensive and well worth a good explore before dropping further to Farey’s level. There are two routes down to Farey’s level – one is a short, chossy abseil from P-hangers, the other is a handline climb and scramble, rigging the climb from some rusty bolts. To find the abseil, stand with your back to the pitch you’ve just descended and take the left passageway. If you’d rather handline and scramble take the right hand passage, following the rails until you find the rusty bolts on the left.
Our little group abseiled down from the P-hangers, but this is not great and the pipe twists resulting in a fair bit of jiggling being necessary to pull through. Next time, it’s the climb for us.
Though we explored the passages in Farey’s level, we were running tight on time so instead of dropping the daylight pipe at the mouth of the level down to Old Man’s level with the potential pull-through to Gilbert’s Level, we traversed over the pipe, exited the mine (fig. 5).
Fig 5: Farey’s Level Entrance
It’s a cracking trip, one of the best mines I’ve explored – very little of the usual roof-related terror and made fantastic by it’s Borrowdale location (fig. 6). Definitely worth a repeat visit with more time to at least explore Old Man’s Level and potentially have a shot at the full pull through to Gilberts level to emerge into the guard hut’s ruins.
There’s not a lot of graphite left, but your oversuit and ropes will emerge coated in it’s distinctive slippery grey. Rope washing is an absolute arse! (Speaking of which, we did our pull through on a 40m rope with three or four metres left on each rope on the longest (third) pitch.