Date & Time: Thursday 22nd May 2008. 8.30 am start. ( NY 115 295 )

Location of Start : Mitchell's Auction Mart Cockermouth. Cumbria, Uk.

Places visited : Nenthead Mines Heritage Centre near Alston in the Pennines, then Sanders Close Farm, Alston, and The Auctioneer Pub, Carlisle.

Walked with : Myself plus sixteen other members of the Loweswater Discussion Group.

Weather : Sunny and dry becoming overcast later in the day.

The signboard at the entrance to the Nenthead Centre


During the winter months there are regular meetings of a group formally called the Loweswater Discussion Group, but known locally as the Farmers Discussion Group. They chat over a beer or two on alternate Monday evenings at the Kirkstile, and invite speakers on a wide range of subjects to talk at meetings. The group is one of the oldest established Cumbrian village groups of it's type as it started over fifty years ago.

At the end of the winter season they organise a day out which usually involves a farm visit, a bus trip, a meal out and time away from the ladies !!

This year they organised a day out to include a Heritage Mine Tour and Farm Visit. Though not a farmer myself, I was welcomed along and had a great day out.

Arrival at the Nenthead Heritage Centre courtesy of Ken Routledge Coaches.

After a coffee at the reception cafe, we visited their museum.

The school children were panning for lead as we crossed the yard to the indoor display.

Scale Model and mineral display
Old implements and signs found on site.

As the first half of the party walked directly to the first mine visit of the day, our group studied the exhibits and sites on the way up the valley.

Signboard on the Brewery Mine Shaft
The relatively modern building protecting the shaft itself.

Looking down the 300 ft shaft.

Press the button and drop a "virtual stone" down the shaft. The lights cascade down the shaft and splash at the bottom.

The pipes are original and carry water and air down to the base of the mine, for power and ventilation.

Back down in the valley they have constructed a series of working examples of water power.

Pull the handles and release the water to work the wheels.

Click here or on the photo above for a short video

( The 30 sec video should open a new window and play in your Windows Media Player)

( It may take half a minute or so to download on slower connection speeds - please be patient )

@ 2008

Overshoot and undershoot wheels.
Pull the release handle and get the water working the system.

The London Lead Company developed the site to include the processing and refining of the ore into lead ingots.

For every ton of lead they refined, they also separated out about half a pound of silver as a secondary but very valuable second metal.

The site plan here shows the process, from raw material on the right to smelting in the centre and refining on the left. The wall across the picture is an inclined chimney built up the slope to remove the poisonous smoke away to a chimney high on the hillside.

The inclined flue can be seen in the centre of the photo, the old hoppers to the right.

A cleared smelt mill area showing the foundations of each of the processing sections.

Mine trucks of the sort used to bring out the raw materials.

Our head man for today, William, standing next to a mine engine used to load raw materials underground.

Carrs Shop, the last building before the mine entrance where the miners would have signed on for work, recorded their output, and probably left tools for repair at the end of their shift.

Today it was the point from which we collected out hard hats before being led underground to see the old workings.

Sandstone arches protect the walls near the surface.
Further in the natural Limestone plus a few pit props generally suffice.

Wooden railway points at a parting of two tunnels
A stone arch giving support to an upper level.

We have the advantage of electric light.
In the old days it would have been tallow candles.

Three examples of the lead veins
that the miners were searching for.
Note the grey metallic colour of the ore.

These are remains of the unworked lead vein left behind by the miners. The working veins would have been even more impressive.

Finally we climbed the ladders to an upper level . . .
. . . and after a little more exploration, exited the mine into the daylight.

The waterfall and signs of more workings below . . .
. . . as we exit to the public part of the underground tunnels.

The river bed has lost its natural look as the spoil heaps crowd the banks and the water is diverted to feed the wheels.

Click here for more information on the Nenthead Experience

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After the Mine visit we adjourned to the Miners Arms for a rather nice lunch.

The village was built and influenced by the early Quaker Brethren and so the London Lead Company was very caring to it's employees and their families.

Even today there seems to be a very rich community spirit in the village. Here the children's adventure playground is new and full of things to do.

The Community Shop is run from the old Quaker Reading Rooms.

All the village youngsters were educated up to eleven years old and welfare was well planned including pensions for retired workers, those that lived long enough to reach the required age that is. Life expectancy by virtue of living and working in a lead mining environment was slightly shorter than the national average.

However a certain Mr Bainbridge and his wife did survive into old age and he received a testimonial for his work at the mine.

This Village drinking fountain stands testament to his efforts.

1877, that's 131 years ago this coming September.
The Crocodile relief on the inside of the shelter was intriguing.

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After lunch we continued our journey

and drove to Sanders Close Farm near Alston

where William Watson and his son Adam

keep a prize winning herd

of Limousine Cattle.


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Out of the warm bus on this hot day and a chance to visit the farm and hear it's success stories with cattle and sheep.

Sanders Close Farm is about 1450 acres (or was that hectares) of which 1200 acres is open fell.

William Watson spreading a little cattle feed to attract the herd closer to us.

Pure bred Limousine are the brown cattle, the blacks being those crossed with Friesian I believe.

The cattle are wary of such a large crowd and when one of the youngsters takes fright, they all run off across the field.

Even the large bull is nimble of feet and moves quickly with the rest.

One of their two prize winning bulls, taken with a telephoto lens due to the distance they ran across the field !

In the cattle sheds more of the herd, not yet out in the sunshine due to lack of sufficient early summer grass in the fields

The Watsons farm about sixty head of cattle for the pedigree and beef trade.

This other bull must weigh nearly two tons and would be worth over a thousand pounds at the beef market.

As a breeding bull, it's value could be as much as five or six thousand pounds.

They have great success rearing 3/4 Limousines (black half crossed, bred with pure)

This produces a darker brown offspring with great potential as beef cattle.


In addition to the cattle, the Watsons also have a flock of about 900 sheep.

They have recently invested in a Lambing Shed which at 150 x 100 metres will hold six to seven hundred sheep in a modern, dry working environment.

As a result they are able to lamb all their flock indoors which results in a high birth rate and low losses.

The shed is equipped with folding lambing pens around the walls which can safely house new born lambs and their mums during the critical first few days of their lives.

There were many slightly jealous eyes amongst the Loweswater crowd, not only for the quality of the lambing shed

but also for their inability to find 1500 sq. metres of flat land anywhere on their own farms to place such a magnificent building.

A great working environment.

After a very pleasant afternoon, and some excellent refreshments, we said our thanks and our goodbyes

only stopping briefly once more on the way home to enjoy an evening meal at the "Auctioneer" in Carlisle.

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Our thanks go to William and Johnny Vickers for organising the day,

to Nenthead Mine Museum staff for their guided tour,

to William and Adam Watson of Sanders Close Farm for the invitation

and to Mrs Watson and family for their hospitality afterwards.

Last but not least, to Ken Routledge and their driver who ensured a stress free day out to Nenthead and Alston.


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Technical note: Pictures taken with my Cannon G7 or Ann's Ixus 75 Digital cameras.

Resized in Photoshop, and built up on a Dreamweaver web builder.

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