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Snailbeach Lead Mine Trip

Being a CPC groupie as well as a BEC member I decided to attend the Meet at the Dudley CC hut near Dudley Zoo. Emma Porter was the Meet leader along with Mike Clayton.

Accommodation was provided by the Dudley CC in the shape of a converted Windmill called Ruiton Mill .The original mill was built in 1682 but actually fell down in the 1800s so Ruiton new mill was constructed in approx 1872. There is some doubt re its use, certainly it was not milling seed or corn, the general view is that it was used to grind stone.[ this is borne out by the lack of machinery].

Dudley CC have been fortunate in that the local council have spent large sums of money in renovating it. Making it a very cosy clean place to stay, with 10 bunks and an upper room with z beds.

About 18 people turned up for the meet including a BEC group [Sean Howe, Nick Gymer and myself plus a potential BEC member, Dino the Hungarian.] Quote “I love digging.” The rest were a mix of CPC and Dudley Cavers.

Saturday saw us all driving to Shropshire for a trip down the Snailbeach lead mine. This is one of the biggest mines in Shropshire and is reputed to have produced the greatest volume of lead per acre than any mine in Europe. There was an ingot found nearby in 1796 weighing 193 lbs and marked IMP HADRIAN AVG. Mining ceased here in 1955.

The mine is now managed by a local mine exploration group who kindly offered to act as guides on the trip, as the workings are maze – like and flooded in places [in fact the lower levels beyond 90 metres are impassable.]

The entrance is on one of the upper adits and runs into a series of criss-crossing galleries. To reach the next lower level it is necessary to abseil down a steep slope to a re-belay. Here is where the routes split. The LH route is the classic way and the RH is the scenic route. We had originally decided to effect an exchange but due to the number of people on the trip, some not confident on string we just split up into various groups going different ways.

I went with a party who were going the classic way and spent a few hours exploring the 40 metre level and then went on to join the group who were descending to the 90 metre point. By then time was running out so we slurped along this gallery which had the most amazing glistening roof I have ever seen.

Obviously mines don’t have much in the way of pretties but this mine had lesser barites and calcite seams, which are quite beautiful. Apparently the barites was mined extensively as a sideline.

Back on the surface we looked on an old survey and found we had only scratched the surface of the system. The 342-yard level being the deepest part of the mine. These levels were only able to be worked because a drainage adit had been mined into the side of the hill at the 112-yard point in the Hope valley. This shaft was 1200 yards long and augmented with a pumped system [beam engine.]

We all toddled back to the hut and went out to eat at a recycled pub in Dudley where you can eat all you like for £10.00. This includes Indian Thai and Chinese cuisine. Thence into the local called the Crispin where there were 8 real ales on sale. Neville Lucas decided to drink from left to right so that he wouldn’t miss any.  The ales included Tom Tiddleys Lancaster ale and a fine local stout.

Back at the hut we watched a slide show on Lebanese caving and the China expedition in 2005.  Some beautiful views of tower karst and vast cave systems.

Sunday we walked around the entrances to the vast limestone mines near Dudley Zoo. These were fed by a canal system, which enabled the miners to extract large amounts of the limestone for the iron industry for which Dudley is famous. We asked how the Black Country got its name. Rumour has it that Queen Victoria travelled through this industrial region by train and asked for the blinds to be pulled down so she couldn’t see this black region!!!!!!!!

It is possible to enter the caverns by tourist barge which we duly did, finishing off a pleasant weekend. We also got an invite for a special trip into the Wren’s Nest system in the future.

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Many thanks to Emma and Mike for arranging the trips and for Brian the dog for sleeping in my bunk I felt quite at home. [Brian is the much-travelled CPC stuffed dog who normally overlooks the Gaping Gill Meet.]

See you there.

By Mikle Wilson