Nenthead Mines by Ian Cummins

Nenthead Mine: Ian, Chris & Geoff Dudman (26 September 2010). 

I’d been into the tourist part of the Nenthead complex 5 years back on a family day out and having been recently inspired by Mike Hrybyk’s excellent website ( I was keen to investigate the complexities of this monstrous system for myself.

Mike had mailed me one of his plans and advised me to take an adjustable spanner in case the adit gates were fastened up – turned out Chris had bought the same plan and admitted that he’d opened it out on his kitchen table and couldn’t make any sense of it!  This was my first impression too  – I’m sure it’s much clearer now Chris!

The drive up Weardale is always a pleasure, with a few yearning glances over to the Fairy Holes quarry as I passed through Eastgate, before gaining altitude and pulling into a murky Nenthead.  I’m always amazed – but not too displeased, that Teesdale and Weardale continue to escape the hordes that clog the Lakes and Yorkshire Dales – they’re missing a treat.

Meeting the Dudman clan in an otherwise deserted mine centre car park, we were soon changed and making the short walk to the Smallcleugh adit, where I was initially foxed by the metal gate until I figured out that it pivoted!

We were aiming for the mined-out chambers of the Smallcleugh flats, guessing that the best way would be to take the left fork of the Hard Crosscut, which unfortunately seemed to end in a collapse.  Retracing our steps, we took the right fork, passing the familiar sight of the Barron’s Sump  – a pitch, not an underwater passage in mine parlance – which sported, if memory serves me correctly, 15 fixed anchors!  We were impressed by the fine formations along the wetter parts of the passage – including some large gours and cave pearls – just goes to show how quickly they can form.  After walking over some rails suspended over a short drop, we eventually we got to a point where several collapses had to be passed, just after a route close to a shaft on the left, which was demarcated by 3 rails along its edge.  I continued on, passing some flat-out crawls where the collapses had been dug through, with the capping stonework perilously close to one’s body, until clear passage was reached.  I stopped for a coffee and waited for a few minutes, but my companions didn’t show.  Retracing my steps and finding nobody around, I decided to check out the passage past the railed shaft.  Bingo – the superb walled passages from Mike’s reports were opening out before my eyes and passing under the superb hanging block, I continued through a remarkable wooden ventilation door to explore for a few more minutes.  I was truly impressed by the scale and substance of the workings – amazing!

Interesting stone work without any mortar Smallcleugh mine.
Matt crossing a hole using rail track held up by a couple of bits of 3X2 Smallcleugh Mine. Photo by Geoff Dudman

I reckoned I’d better find the rest of the party and returning to the way out, found Geoff, who was trying to find me.  I suggested that we all go back to view the wonders beyond.  Looking back at the plan, I guessed that we had found the Gullyback Crosscut, leading to Smallcleugh Flats – but the complexity of the workings makes precise identification difficult on a first visit.

After a good root about, we headed out, rather satisfied with the day’s exploration and finished off with a quick look into the rather wet Caplecleugh adit next to the car park, stopping when the water depth suggested that wetsuits might be a more comfortable option.  This section had a more cave-like feel with some high rift passage and nice formations, combined with fast-flowing water.  Having scratched the surface, we agreed that we would be back for more.

Pics by Geoff Dudman.