Monday dawned, wet, miserable and with poor visibility. But never mind, we’re off down a mine. 11 intrepid members met up at Snailbeach Village Hall car park suitably kitted out in wellies and heavy weather gear. Here we were greeted by Peter Sheldrake, our guide for the visit. Peter has been involved with the mine and it’s preservation for over 20 years and was both entertaining and informative as he painted a picture of life at Snailbeach over the past 2000 years.
We began with a tour of the surface works, climbing up past the stabilised and landscaped spoil tips till we reached the restored Loco Shed. The landscaping is obviously succeeding as Joy, who knows about these things, identified a Spotted Orchid. Onwards and upwards then, past the Blacksmith’s (complete with working forge) and our first Pumping engine house. This dated from 1790 and served ‘George’s Shaft’ that reached a depth of 750 ft. Or 250 yards as for some arcane reason Snailbeach worked in yards!
At the visitors’ centre we collected our helmets and lamps and, Heigh Ho, it’s off to the mine we go.
After a climbing a track, passing the old reservoir, we reached ‘Perkins Level’. With a rattle of security keys Peter checked us into the Adit. A narrow, low and damp passage led us into the darkness where a series of high caverns had been carved out as the miners followed the seams of Barite, hard and often dangerous work. On Peter’s word we dowsed our lights to get a taste of the darkness they worked in. As they had to buy their own candles then, they used them very sparingly.
Returning back to the visitors’ centre the scale of the operation became evident as we passed powder stores, crushing and compressor houses, carpenters shops and offices. After handing back our helmets at the visitors’ centre a short film detailed some of the mine’s history. A lot to take in and for many of us a return trip is on the cards. We live in a beautifully green and peaceful area of the country. It is visits to such sites that remind us of how industrialised the landscape once was.