Sir Francis Level, Gunnerside: Abigail Rhodes & Gary Rhodes (10 May 2008).
Once again we were on the quest for mine levels. For ages I have heard about a mine that still had all its engines and things in it! So, by the power of the tinternet I had a quick search and found Sir Francis Level up in Swaledale. The grid reference is 940999ish.
So on yet another glorious day Abby and myself were parking up in the village of Gunnerside. It is a bit limited parking here, but a very nice gentleman let us park up on the side of his lawn on the condition that he and his wife could have a look around the Tin Tent! (our VW Auto Sleeper). He was very impressed. Well, after a long natter we set off in T-shirts, shorts and wellies and soon came across a small spoil heap not far out of the village. Here a portal was spotted and a quick pop in down some very fine examples of walling and arch work, soon ended in a collapse. Nobody has looked at this, sure it would be a short dig to reach the continuation but as we were still in shorts and T-shirts we didn’t push it. Also in here we came across some of the best miners balls we have ever seen! (cave pearls). Back out we continued up the valley through the woods. You know, it’s a really vice place just to come for a walk, not over populated with day trippers like Wharfedale. After a coupe of kilometres we were up at Sir Francis Dressing Floor having an historical look around.
Just outside the entrance to Francis Level is the receiver tank for the compressed air that was used to power the drills. First of its kind up the Dales! Now, according to the locals, a few years ago a group of enthusiasts from a museum tried to nick this tank for themselves! Got a right rollicking and sent home with their tails between their legs for it! Anyhow, the portal to Francis is not the way in as it is blocked. Go up stream, past a fenced off hole and it is the second hole covered with rails and slabs of stone, about 10 ft away up from the stream. We laddered this (about seven metres is plenty) and we were soon in. About one minute later we were back out. Better put the wet-vests on! Oh, almost forgot to mention that here we came across a very angry and quite rare bird – a Ring Ouzel.
Back down we went, soon up to our nips in water! This continued for a very long time. Down long passageways of varying depths of water from nips to arse deep, from knees to nose – well not quite. After around 10 hours and fifty miles of passage we finally came to our goal. The Winding House. It is big and impressive. Lots of hydraulic pipes, cables, winding drums and metal cage things. This is built on two levels, the upper level is reached by a stone built staircase. The cage was used for lifting up the wheely cart thing from the lower levels when full of the whores that the miners were looking for. I have seen photos of the miners from this era – they were dirty devils! I took some photos here and destroyed camera number seven. Then we had a rummage around up into some scary levels. Up in these levels were lots of large boulders on small mouldy sticks. Nothing really to worry about as the water on the way out will wash away any stainage from the inside of my oversuit.
Eventually we tired, and so decided to make our way out. Still lots of water. I did hear on the way out a scraping, scrabbling sound above my head, but this just turned out to be my testicles trying to keep out of the water. I asked Abby if she had a similar problem but her lady lips were clamped tight shut. After another long wade through water for ever we eventually came out into the sunshine. I checked the time on my wrist watch to see how long we had been down and could confirm that about twenty-three hours had passed and it was now January the 1st 2000! There goes watch number 75!
The rest of the day was spent on a slow wander back down valley. Abby spotted another Ring Ouzel, male one this time, then proceeded to try to stomp on five little tiny young baby cutey wooty snipe chicks with her size 15 wellies! Fortunately she missed. (Didn’t really try to stomp them, left them alone, sweet little cute things). Eventually we got back down to Gunnerside. The place was a riot due to there being a wake that day. Road was blocked, tables out on the street, and drunken grannies all over the place. Three of them were laid on the road! We ignored them and carried on to our car only to have an elderly man in a wheelchair speed past us down the road. As we turned around to see what he was up to he hit two planks propped upon some milk crates and cleared the three ladies with five feet to spare. However he was a little short on the brakes and was most grateful for a pull out of the village pond! Eventually when things settled down and the road was reopened and the locals decided not to bring out the wickerman, Abby and myself made our way home. The day was still not over, party time in the Turkey to endure later. But that’s not a tale to be told!