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Tim’s Retreat - an ochre mine at West Horrington

OR - EMI Electrocutes SRT caver….

The following report by the B.B. regular – Graham W-J – describes the exploration of a newly discovered mine near West Horrington.  It also puts the BEC well ahead in the digger’s barrel competition with the WXXXXX….

We heard about this mine from Prew, as it was discovered by his son.  It had been looked at by Albert Francis and Tim Large but large quantities of ginging had fallen, making the entrance shaft even less safe than previously. Some of Albert’s new climbing rope was destroyed by the falling boulders and Tim beat a hasty retreat from the shaft when it attempted to bury him with stones.  With that any ideas of exploring the mine were abandoned and forgotten. However, some of us are stupid enough to believe that the odd boulder on the head is incapable of sever harm. Besides, Prew IS the MRO, so he could rescue us.  There was no reason or excuse not to descend.

It was decided to use single rope technique largely because with this method it is possible to move extremely slowly and carefully and thereby avoid touching the ginging. Martin Grass obviously did not like this idea.  He therefore cunningly left his key with me saying he would follow us over to Horrington. Thus he was unable to get his SRT gear and could not make the descent.  And he had the audacity to blame me!

The mine is situated on the south-eastern edge of Horrington Hill, amongst cow-trampled mud and unkempt coppice.  Best bluewater was belayed to a couple of dead looking, shallow rooted bushes. Just in case these should make us over-confident we laid a piece of angle bar (meccano?) over the shaft and hung the rope over this, causing it to bend in a slightly disconcerting way.  By tensioning the rope to another bush we managed to get hanging plumb down the centre of the shaft.  Tim had made the mistake of hanging his rope on the edge of the shaft.  Descending gently John reached the bottom at -17m without incident, leaving me no excuse.

Avoiding touching the sides was fairly awkward in the confined shaft (less than 1m in diameter) and we both caught beards in racks at the same point, trying to look behind us. Below the ginging, which looked as it a puff of air might bring it tumbling, it became clear that the mine was worked in an orchreous filled rift.  While the width of the shaft diminished to about 30 or 40cm at one point, its other horizontal dimension increased to over 3m.  The soft mud at the extremities of the rift showed many pick marks, while the solid rock walls were cut with occasional shot-holes.

John has hidden himself from falling bodies and boulders in a low, narrow passage which headed roughly east.  Crawling by several animal skeletons he came to the end of the working after 20m. Across the rift from this passage and slightly higher was another working, both wider and higher, but ending after 16m. I climbed a short drop over ginging at the base of the shaft and entered a third working, heading roughly north-west. After 14m there was another shaft, but the top was blocked with large boulders.  Old, black, rotting stemples could be seen across the shaft, which seemed to be about 10m deep.  Lacking rope, ladder or a means to remove the boulders we surfaced into the chill evening air.  We were led back to Prew's via some devious route through the brambles.  The rigours of the day were compensated by one of Brenda's superb Sunday teas.

Week 2.  My turn to back out of the trip, but if I’m not going then nor is anyone else. "Isn't it cold”; I don’t fancy walking over there in the rain”; In front of the fire, cat burring its tail; “That rain looks its turning to snow"; "Look, that's sleet on the windows”; Prew began to assist, "Temperature's dropping.  This is just what happened before, and the village was cut off for three days:" They eventually succumbed.

Week 3 - John's turn, "I've left my boots behind". Unfortunately for him, Martin drove him back for them.  20m of bluewater was fed down the shaft while the remaining 50m was wrapped and knotted, macramé-like, around several bushes.  As John descended, first again, the multitudes of knots began to tighten, juddering him down the shaft.  We were soon gathered at the head of the second pitch, also with an acro-jack, ladders, hauling rope, hammer, chisel, etc.  John tried to break up break up the boulders blocking the top of the pitch, and these fell to the bottom, taking with them several stemples.  We descended to find the boulders blocking the way on. John and I swapped places and we de-rigged and lowered the acro.  With its help or hindrance, John moved the boulders aside and squeezed head first into the hole, only to find the horizontal continuation closed down after 1 metre.  After we had carefully retrieved the acro and fixed the ladder once more John decided o free climb out.  Typical.

On the surface Prew arrived with half of Mendip plus a new communication device.  While we surveyed the mine he lowered his device down the hole. We could hear Prew reasonably clearly, but when I pressed our transmit button it gave me an electric shock. Prew apologised and informed us that it operated on 110 volts!  “Perhaps you have wet feet,” He suggested.

Martin is of the opinion that the miners were after ochre.  The mine has been worked in a yellow mud-filled rift trending wnw/ese. Some of the rock at the sides of the rift, mostly limestone, is very soft and contains patches of a red mineral, presumably haematite, or red-ochre.  Above the second pitch a narrow band of calcite could be seen running along the line of the rift.  There are several other spoil heaps on this southern side of Horrington Hill, evidence that this area has been well worked at some time in the past.  However, we know of no records of mining activity here.

A survey of Horrington Hill Mine – Tim’s retreat

NGR  ST 44/45 – 5775.4775       an ochre mine, West Horrington, Nr. Wells, Somerset.


Length of the mine is about 250ft.

Surveyed by John Dukes, Martin Grass and Graham Wilton-Jones.

BCRA Grade 3   Scale 1:200