British Classic Mineral Specimens

Drygill and fabulous Campylite

School gets in the way of things like collecting. You only have holidays in which to escape. By the time I was in my early teens, I had a ring of friends who lived mainly in the north, and spent most of their time underground. My mum would take me up, dump me, and return a week later to pick up a grubby boy with boxes of specimens containing fluorite, sphalerite, barite, calcite and pyromorphite. It was heaven. I learned to drink beer, and a few years later, the local policeman came up to me on my birthday night bash in the pub - The Crown, in Hesket Newmarket, with a foaming pint. 'Pete.... we've drunk together all these years, you and me - here's your first LEGAL pint!!' I had some great friends in Hesket - Richard, who owned the little garage in the centre of the village, Grant and Noel Waller - who both later worked in Carrock - Grant now lives in devon, and Noel over in West Cumbria, where he runs a drystone walling company. We'd have lively debates with Chris Bonnington - who always argued to close the mines - saying they were dangerous and should be bulldozed - we nearly got thrown out of the pub one night after a particularly heated exchange when I reminded him that he killed more people on mountains than any mine in the Caldbecks had killed explorers and collectors. His wife, Wendy took him home, still grumbling! They still live up there now, all these years later.

I'd seen some bright red crystals from Caldbeck - a place called Drygill. I wanted some. Badly. It was about 1976. Dick intervened. He'd started a dig and here were some contacts. Grant lived at the farm at the foot of the fell, and we soon struck up a friendship that resulted in me almost living on the farm. Funny - I lost contact with Grant for years, but this year (2008) we finally found him again, happy as ever, living in Devon. Our first visit to Drygill was on the old Massey Ferguson tractor - the collecting gear stacked in the sheep carrier on the back. It soon became apparent that this was a major locality. More digs were organised, and I became Campylite King - boxes of the stuff piled up at home - almost every week I'd be up there digging away - sometimes on my own for days at a time. My mum came up to one dig - it was a fine summer's day and she sat in the opencut picking away at rocks. She came over with a little piece of quartz with a lovely blue mamillary coating on it. Grant grabbed it and his face split into a laugh - 'Hey - Guys... look.... it really DOES come from here - Plum Bog ummite ...' My mum was a hero...

This was the first plumbogummite specimen found in recent times, and it confirmed that the mine really had produced good material. I still have it, in pride of place, sandwiched between trays full of specimens we mined in later years, together with the lovely material that Ralph Sutcliffe found lower down in the bottom stopes - they collapsed on him while he was in there - to this day we dont know how he got out alive.

Drygill attracted a lot of people - I've found most of that old crew who were there in the late 1970's - Ian Plenderleith, Haggis Murray,(both in photo to right) Chester Forster, Grant Waller of course, Les Jackson, Guy Heelis - we had some grand times down the old stopes, bashing out orange crystals.

Dick Barstow..

Dick was getting worried. I was finding as much as he was - if not more. The monthly lists were carrying campylite, pyromorphite, sphalerite, fluorite, barite - all dug during the many visits I was making up north. My collection grew steadily - I'd swap my boxes of specimens for a single piece - usually a corker of a West Cumberland barite, or an ancient Witherite. He started to accompany me on some of these trips - especially Drygill. One day, we'd gone down the shaft and Dick was burrowing in a hole on the south side of the shaft. There was a little wooden platform there, and he was perched on the end of a plank of wood which crossed the shaft. I was digging into the pillar which held the stope open, and with a huge rumble, a pile of stacked deads and vein material fell out of the pillar and crashed down onto Dicks' staging. He disappeared in a thick cloud of choking black psilomelane dust... I picked myself up from the rubble pile at the bottom of the shaft where I'd fallen, and started to look for him. After a while, I heard a plaintive squeak from above my head, and looked up to see a pair of white eyes peering from a sooty black face - at the TOP of the shaft above where I'd been working. He was safe. The rock had hit the end of the plank, and catapulted him upwards to land in a small recess cut into the side of the stope! Many of the campylites shown on the minerals page of this site were found during those trips with Dick.

About this time, Chester Forster entered my life - my mum used to take me up to Scotland to meet him - but he was one of the original crew who were in Drygill in the early 70's, almost before Ralph and Lindsay started doing anything. Chester was a stalwart of Hilton mine, and still knows every nook and cranny there, together with Murton. The photo here shows Geoff Smith looking into a mud filled cavity of huge tabular barite crystals - in amongst the sprawl of fallen blocks that is the Carbonate Shake.

Dick, and his dog - at Mexico mine in the pyromorphite trench

The rescue of Les Jackson..

Another member of the old guard who appeared around this time was Les Jackson. We found the big cavity that's at the top of the website - about a foot across, full of huge green and orange campy crystals - world class...

Geoff Smith and I had been down in the bottom of the opencut for about a week, at the bottom of a little shaft we'd dug, working the cavity. I'd had to hire a generator and kango hammer to drill holes around it, so we could split out the specimens without damaging them. Les appeared one day, jumped down the hole, and squeezed past us with barely a word... I shouted after him that the level further on was dangerous, and barely were the words out of my mouth than a low rumble of falling rock reached our ears. Incredulous, we crawled down the narrow tunnel to where Les had last been seen. It was filled with rock. Somewhere underneath was Les. Geoff scrambled out of the hole, muttering curses under his breath about the fruit cake who had just stopped our extraction of the best cavity of campylite ever found - he headed for Calebreck, and roused Harry and Grant Waller, who sorted the rescue team. Meanwhile, I dug... and dug. By the time the rescue team arrived, I'd found some fingers, and followed them through the rock to a hand. I squeezed it, just as the rest of the team arrived with Grant and Harry. It squeezed back - he was alive! It took many hours of digging to get him out - the roof was a mass of running rock, and he was pinned beneath a huge slab which had protected his chest and kept him alive. He kept shouting at the top of his voice ' I can't breathe.... I can't breathe!!' So good old Les was ok - they airlifted him to Carlisle in the rescue helicopter, after everyone had a jolly good time on the fell, and Geoff and I crawled into our sleeping bags in the landrover, exhausted. Next day we managed to finish getting the rest of the cavity out - mind blowing specimens, one after another, just kept dropping into my trembling hands.

The story nearly ended there.. but it didn't.

When I came back from Australia in 2000, I started to collect again, and ended up at the Bakewell mineral show one year. I was wandering around when a hand appeared on my shoulder and a voice behind me said 'I never did thank 'ee for savin my life...'  I turned around and there was a grinning Les. We both hit the floor in tears really - it was an emotional moment. After a few weeks, Les started to call me almost nightly, telling me he had 'This amazing project Pete - only you can do this - I need you to come and meet me in Weardale'.  After a few months of this, I finally gave in, and arragned to meet Les at the farmhouse at Greenlaws. There were according to Les, fabulous mud filled cavities that stretched for miles, crystals like you've never seen before, a sort of mineral Holy Grail.  Apparently there was a blocked shaft that led to the workings, and he'd briefly been down it many years ago until it collapsed. That day, I agreed a deal with the mine owners - the Pattinson family. Little did I know that it would dictate the course of my life for the next 20 years.