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Trip to Smallcleugh Mine -- 31st Dec 2008

Group: Dennis, Ian, Paul, Graham, Dave

A final trip for 2008 organised to prune some of the Christmas excesses was fairly popular and five of us made the journey in freezing weather up the M6 to Nenthead. The journey was uneventful apart from the need to stop regularly to clear the screen as the washer liquid froze. The final part of the journey towards Alston was very scenic with frost covered trees.

We got changed in the visitor centre car park and had a bite to eat before heading to the mine up the track. The contrast between the temperature outside and that in the mine was amazing, it was like someone turned on a fan heater.

We headed through the pivoted adit gate and on towards the junction by waterblast shaft.

Turning right at the junction we headed along Smallcleugh Cross Vein passing a lot of sumps on both the left and right. There was a bit of water on the floor which was just about welly depth, but there was generally plenty of headroom which made for quick progress. After about 500 yards a section of passage was reached where the floor had collapsed leaving the railway lines spanning the passage. A careful traverse was needed as the lines wobbled a bit. Shortly after this a large hole in the floor on the RHS and some bits of rail on the side signified Luke Hall's sump and the side passage down Flatt Cross Cut. This was taken and required a bit of stooping and crawling over collapses before the passage enlarged and the stone lined junction was met.

The RHS arch was taken and led to wheel flats, fairly large chamber filled with lots of spoil and sporting lots of small vugs containing crystals of galena and other minerals. After a quick look around we headed on following the main route to the right and into Hetherington's cross cut, which is actually a crawl for most of the way. This ended at a junction with First Sun Vein and the RHS passage was taken. After short distance a passage to the LHS was taken and this led after a few hundred yards to an opening on the LHS just before some deeper water. We entered the Ballroom flat, which is a massive rectangular chamber with a few side passages. The walls were decorated with graffiti and there were countless spent night-lights and a visitors book. It proved impossible to get a sensible picture of the cavern with the weedy flash on the camera. After signing the visitors book we headed back along the passage and had a look in Elliot's String which contained a couple of deep shafts and some mineral deposits. We then had a quick look at the 'other' end of Smallcleugh Cross Vein before heading back to Wheel Flats. After a further look around we headed back the way we came, pausing only to have a quick look at the continuation of Smallcleugh Cross Vein from the junction with Flatt Cross Cut. This was through very poor ground and there was a lot of stonework lining the passage which was quite small, tight and involved flat out crawling. It did look like it would go all the way through to the First Sun Vein, but it would be a lot of effort and the route through Wheel Flats is a lot quicker and safer.

We exited the mine and headed back to the car park. The temperature was well below zero and we didn't hang around for too long after chatting to one of the staff from the visitor centre.

On the way back we had some excellent views of the sun setting over the Cumbrian mountains with a sea of mist in the foreground. This was a really good trip and there is a huge amount left to explore and so we will be back in the new year.

Total trip time about 3.5 hours