Caplecleugh by Leif Andrews

Caplecleugh Low Level West Vein (1st October 2017).

Caplecleugh Low Level West Vein, an often-overlooked section of the Nenthead Mines complex. Originally suggesting Frog Shaft – a route none of us had attempted before, these plans were soon cast aside. Prospecting some of the many ore chutes along Caplecleugh West being a much more popular option. Deciphering the best way to protect and ascend a brick-lined shaft proving to be an unusual challenge, we armed ourselves with an extra assortment of climbing paraphernalia; and a liberal amount of hope that any promising lead would still be open its top.

Caplecleugh #03Nenthead can be a bleak place at the best of times. The barren expanse of Alston moor often being far from welcoming. Any frustrations about not visiting Frog Shaft instantly vanished upon arrival. Attempting to locate the renowned surface shaft would no doubt have proven to be a desperate lesson in tolerating misery. I was glad our walk in would take less than two minutes. Caplecleugh Adit, located on the south side of the river Nent, would rarely be described as welcoming, but at least it would offer immediate respite from the blowing gale.
The trip along the Horse Level as far as Toilet Box Junction, in reality is reasonably short, usually taking an hour at the most. I found myself at the back of the pack, my current level of fitness ensuring I was constantly playing catch up. Passing the old powder store, Dowgang Levels and Caplecleugh Incline, the first discarded shale slabs appeared. Normally a little apprehensive of this inconvenience, today I felt much more at ease. Noting that yet again they had shifted, I soon refocussed attention upon regaining my companions. Predictably, I discovered them at Toilet Box, patiently waiting for their straggler.

The only major intersection along Caplecleugh Low Level, we would now depart the usual route, taking the right-hand option. Navigation within this section of Nent should be a reasonably straight forward affair, the whole route being accompanied by two wall mounted iron pipes. Interestingly, almost all of this level is uniformly brick-arched, only occasionally interspersed by small shale falls; the arching at the end of the mine must be some of the best preserved and most unique contained within Nent.

Caplecleugh #01Onward, we made rapid progress, any obstacle proving insignificant. I had missed the feeling of isolation that the far reaches of Caplecleugh so easily deliver. Stopping only occasionally to allow Ian a closer examination of some more promising ore chutes, the brick masonry gradually gave way to newer VM concrete arching. Indicating that we were approaching the end of the mine we made a cursory inspection of a large flat. When worked this expanse had to have been lucrative, containing two sets of iron rails to ease loading of the miners’ prize. Returning from this welcome deviation, we slithered through a disgusting and rather worrying little dig leading to the remarkable expanse that is Caplecleugh shaft.

Once an integral component of the Caplecleugh mining operation, this isolated wonder still contains its iron pipework, a deluge accompanying their descent. Allowing the pitch-dark blanket to reclaim this derelict chamber, it was time to retrace our steps. We decided on a much more leisurely pace, allowing Ian opportunity to photograph the exquisite colours and formations decorating the vicinity. Directing Adele and I to various poses, our friend reminded me of an over-zealous far eastern tourist.

A short deviation directed us toward a climbable manway. Adele, having previously attempted this vertical derelict jigsaw puzzle, being especially keen to discover its delights. Greeted by a huge space, this working only enforces the amount of revenue extracted from this forgotten corner of the Pennines. We spread out, each adventurer following their own agenda. Ian off exploring, Adele poking around and myself searching for a personal objective.
Calling for Ian, I had happened across exactly what I had anticipated, another ore-chute up. Cummins being a much better than average climber he eagerly ascended my discovery. Reporting back, my suspicions were confirmed. This particular chute had a lot of promise. It also hadn’t been climbed previously, dispelling the popular belief that ‘every chute in Caplecleugh’ had been climbed by an earlier pair of adventurers.

One for another day?

An intense lesson and a lot of encouragement saw Adele complete her first abseil. What a way to do it! Retracing our steps along this forgotten mine, I gradually dropped behind, my pensioners ailments finally beginning to rear their ugly heads. Arriving in the safety of an early October day satisfied, a stop in the Miners. Ian delighting in more than one ale, and gleefully poking fun of my now substandard (and Adele’s superior.) fitness, I see this underground stalwart has succumbed to Adele’s influence in my absence…
And rightly so.