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"  Loweswater Farmers Summer Trip 2017  "

Date & start time:    Thursday 25th May 2017,   9 am start, 9.45 pm home.

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

Places visited :         Threlkeld Mining Museum, The Sportsman, Bridge End Farm and The Sun Inn

Walk details :             Short strolls around the Mining Museum, the farm, to and fro the bus & the pubs !

Walked with :             Our group of twenty plus the driver.

Weather :                    Lovely summer weather and the possibly the hottest day of the year so far.

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The Loweswater Farmer's Group is historically a discussion group of local farmers

who meet in the Kirkstile of a winter evening to discuss 'matters agricultural'.

Over the years the number of local Loweswater farms has declined so the group now includes farmers from a wider area plus folk like myself

who have moved into the area, yet wish to take take an interest in such local matters.

Topics of discussion have widened considerably from purely farming matters . . . as today's summer outing will illustrate.

Our meeting point, as usual, was the Mitchell's Auction Mart car park, Cockermouth,

from where we had a Routledge Coach to take us around for the rest of the day.

[ Thanks to Mitchells for the use of their parking area during the day ]

Our first stop, apart from the road works on the "A66 west of Keswick" was at the Threlkeld Mining Museum.

The Threlkeld Quarry site is located above the old mining village and opposite the dramatic slopes of Blencathra.

A group photo . . . standing on the bank today so there's no hiding over the back out of sight !

(l to r) Chris H, Chris, John, Robin, Ken (behind), Richard, William, John (behind), Alec, Neil, Nick,

David, Brian, Ted, Andy and Martin, with Jos, Jonty and Richard seated on the grass . . . . plus myself made twenty.

A quick look at the information board . . .
. . . and down to the lower parts of the museum site.

Threlkeld was an open quarry site but the nearest underground mine was in the small triangular wooded location opposite,

at the foot of Blencathra, where a mile of tunnels provided employment for over a hundred local people at one time.

[For those interested in the mine history there's an exhibition currently on in the Keswick Museum about Blencathra and its mining past.]

Our large group was split in two for the convenience of all concerned . . . this first group would initially ride the train

and the others would start with an underground visit.

Diesel hauled today but often steam hauled on busy visitor days.

The quarry line will take us up into the heart of the main quarry, the other rail line is the start of a planned extension

to bring visitors up from the lower car park by railway rather than them having to drive their cars up the from a lower Visitor Centre.

The quarry is also home to the Vintage Excavator Trust and the site is packed full of old diggers and quarry equipment.

There is an incredible amount of equipment on site, some is in a rather poor state it must be said,

but it holds a wealth of history and treasures including a large number of working examples of the various types of machines.

The excavators with the jibs that we pass on the rail journey to the top of the site are technically known as "drag line excavators"

and though seemingly basic, they were regarded as very fast and efficient machines in their day.

The excavators here are all working examples and so a visit on "working weekends" would be very interesting too.

Note the Ruston Excavator, a classic steam driven, railway based digger . . . you can just imagine it excavating cuttings on the early railways.



I have subsequently discovered the history

of the Ruston Excavator.


It spent time digging chalk in the Bedfordshire but was abandoned

when the quarry closed and it spent the next 40 years underwater,

only the topmost part of the jib showing above the surface.


It was rescued in 1977 and is now restored to working order.

Click here or on the picture to read the story

This makes the 1909 Ruston the oldest working excavator of its type in the world . . . and it is here in the Threlkeld Museum.

The end of the line . . . and chance to get off and walk about.

[ Remember these rail lines are always changing in a quarry environment and were moved and installed

according to need.  This line is newly laid and was not necessarily part of the original quarry layout. ]

Many of the exhibits are owned by the Vintage Trust or the Museum

but these two were examples owned by one of several private individuals.  It is stored, used and displayed here on site.

However not all equipment is 'vintage' . . .
. . . our guide would describe many of them to us.

Time to be heading back down to the Museum shop . . . and to look a round the other end of the rail line.

The quarry's crystalline granite raw material.
Points lever for controlling the wagons.
The sidings next to the crusher site.

- - - o o o - - -

The old quarry trucks were loaded and brought down here to the crusher site where the stone was broken into size depending on need.

The main production was for clean railway ballast, road ballast and general chippings and they still sell small amounts of these materials.

A high clay coating of the 'dug and processed stone' (rather than blasted rock) makes it a ideal for heavy duty trackway situations.

Plans are afoot to reinstate the crusher equipment . . . the engine awaits.
The old rock shute down which the stone would have been lowered.

Our second group suddenly appeared from their mine tour via a tunnel and bridge below.

Half way through and chance to browse the book stall and shop.

Now our turn to walk down the museum site . . .
. . . and enter into their underground world.
Our mine guide shows us examples of lakeland minerals . . .
. . . and an example of an early mine addit . . . tall and narrow.
As the mine grew they needed buckets to lift ore to the surface . . .
. . . larger tunnels and mechanisation was needed.
Early manual drills were replaced by power drills . . .
. . . the "widow maker drill" due to the amount of dust they created.
We climb up a level using authentic wooden steps.
Explosives made building bigger tunnels possible.
Early work was done by tallow candles alone.
An old waterwheel drives a rag pump for lifting water out of the mine.

We emerge from the darkness back into the strong sunlight.

[ The whole mine experience was neither signposted nor illuminated except by our own torches.  We were shown around by our expert guide who explained that the workings were artificially created

to allow visitors to understand the various stages of Lake District mining.  This did not distract in any way from the experience,

in fact it enabled an improved understanding of the history of mining in general. Many thanks to our lady guide and to our host on the rail trip too]

The old crusher site and the door from which we emerged.

Time to walk back up , alongside an old double inclined rail track.

A last look at some exhibits . . .
. . . and old road roller . . .
. . . and glimpse their working steam engines.

All together an excellent choice for our first visit of the day.

- - - o o o - - -

Time for some liquid refreshment on this, the hottest day of the year so far.

The Sportsman Inn between Threlkeld and Penruddock offered a fine sandwich lunch as well.

Time for our second visit of the day as our driver Dave took us out along the A66 towards Temple Sowerby.

- - - o o o - - -

Bridge End Farm at Kirkby Thore is the home to a prize winning herd of Holstein dairy cattle.

We are being hosted by Colin and Yvonne Dent and their son Mark

who introduce our group to the farm and their family history of Bridge End Farm.

- - - o o o - - -


Over the generations the farm has grown,

by buying or renting fields in order to expand their herd size.


They concentrate their efforts on milk production

and have mechanised the production process

to a remarkable degree.


They run a herd of around 920 pedigree milking holstein cattle,

plus around 200 others currently non-milking.


These form part of their breeding stock of the farm.

These are the heifers and calves

that will carry the farm production on in the years to come.


- - - o o o - - -

Inside the milking parlour we find the latest up-to-date rotary milking carousel.

Milking parlours can often be ten or twenty stalls . . . this one is circular and holds 80 cattle as it slowly revolves around the huge modern barn.

- - - o o o - - -


Mark explained that the cattle live in the outer barns

and three times a day

and walk across and load themselves into the stalls.


They are cleaned and the milking cups attached by the farm staff.


By the time they reach the other end of the circle the milking is finished

and they reverse themselves out and walk back across the farm.


The basic process is achieved using three indoor staff on the carousel

and two outdoors staff who transfer the cattle

across from the barns to the milking parlour.

- - - o o o - - -


The whole process goes on in a relatively clean environment . . . as clean as cattle can be !

( There's always a handy hose pipe to wash away any mess.)

Mark was proud that the incidence of health problems,

particularly mastitis in the cows, has been dropping in recent years due to their hygiene policy.

Each cow is electronically tagged, recognised and its milk production recorded on the computer.

Mark could identify each cow, its history and its current milk production in real time.

We walked down the steps and through a tunnel into the centre of the rotating carousel.

The next cow enters and is recognised by the computer.
The milk is gathered by the vacuum system and stored outside.

Each cow is given a feed into its stall, according to its age, weight and current milk production.

The cattle soon get into the way the system works and are encouraged in by the feed and the relief of the milking process itself.

At the end the milk cups fall away and the cattle back themselves out . . .
. . . and the whole process starts again.

The process take about two and a half hours and they milk all 920 cows three times a day.

The end produce is sent off to be bottled for your local supermarket or shop.

They produce somewhere in the region of 29,000 litres per day !

- - - o o o - - -

Outside the milking parlour now and we have a tour of the rest of the farm.

The second fence across hides the presence of the River Eden which passes close to the farm.

During recent floods the water did reach into the buildings but fortunately didn't disrupt production in any appreciable way.

The farm operates a zero grazing policy for the lactating herd.

Rather than take time (and staff) in transferring the animals to the fields in between milking, trampling the grass and muddying the fields in bad weather,

the grass is machine cut and presented daily to the cows so they can wonder across and eat their fill.  Zero grazing makes best use of the grass.

(The down side is the effort needed to cut the grass and then spread the slurry waste afterwards.)

Non-milking animals where appropriate were given access to the fields.

The cows are also fed enriched silage from a mixture of their own cut grass,

wheat syrup, rape and wheat meal and the brewer's by-product of "Trafford Gold".

The silage store and the industrial "food mixer".

The feed is loaded in by a tractor and the mixed silage is spread via the smaller side door direct onto the barn floor.

Milk is only produced once a cow has calved so we visited the nursery shed.

The farm needs to have a continuous breeding policy so that means each cow produces one calf per year.

They keep a percentage of their calves for future production . . . they need about 300 per year to replace the older cows that are sold on.

With the mums away milking, the youngest calves use computer controlled artificial feeding machines.

The old calves are transferred to solid food and can be fed in their stalls in the traditional way.

They are housed in new barns with the best hygiene.

Back through the milking parlour now . . .
. . . milking has finished and the staff are cleaning up.

- - - o o o - - -


Colin, Yvonne and Mark then entertained us

to tea and cake in the farmhouse.


We were able to ask even more questions,

learn more of the farm history and techniques

and for those that were part of the direct farming community,

catch up with farming friendships and stories.


- - - o o o - - -

A big thank you to the family and their ten employees who have entertained and informed this afternoon.

- - - o o o - - -

It has become a real tradition to dine at the Sun Inn at Red Dial near Wigton on the way home.

They cater well for our large group and we stayed until our driver called time . . .

not on the bar hours but on his daytime driving limit . . . he's still got half an hour to drive before we are all safely back to Cockermouth.

- - - o o o - - -


Technical note: Pictures taken with either Ann's Panasonic Lumix TZ60, or my Panasonic Lumix Gx8 Camera.

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

This site best viewed with . . . 19 other fellas and a bus for the visits.

Go to Top . . . © RmH . . . Email me here


2007 Barrow

2008 Nenthead

2009 Galloway

2012 70th Diner

2012 Air Museum

2014 Carlisle

2015 Bio Power

Previous walk - 24th May 2017 - Low Ling Crag with Jo and Alan

A previous time up here - 24th May 2016 - Loweswater Farmers 2016

Next walk - 3rd June 2017 - Ennerdale lake with Pete, Ian and Nicky