British Classic Mineral Specimens

Early days in the North - Alston and more

The north of England was an amazing place then... The Alston moor mines were huge - everyone was digging in them and finding things. There was seemingly no end to the place - mines just connected to other mines - which connected to others. They said that the postman used to walk up Allendale until he got to Coalclough and Barneycraig workings. He'd go underground there, and eventually emerge about two miles futher on, having gone past the county boundary in Rampgill (where there is actually a Boundary Gate) and he'd emerge from Rampgill entrance in Nenthead. You could go into Capelclough, up to Middleclough, through Smallclough, down into Rampgill, down again to Brownley Hill, and from there to Nentsberry Haggs. Its about 9 miles all up - I know - cos we've just done it in 2009 - the trip took 10 hours, and we all got very wet, tired, and cold - but finally emerged triumphant at Haggs horse level entrance. What a trip! Smallclough, was of course, home of Hydraulic Shaft. Just about every one of those shiny black sphalerites that you see with a hydraulic label on it, came from a series of cavities that were dug by Grant Waller, myself, Dick Barstow and a few others - back in the 1970's. There's still a scribbled note on the wall in Hydraulic that reads 'Sphalerite all Gone! Grant...' The cavities still keep appearing though - and some of the nicest pieces I've seen from there came out in 2008 from a new area where they were covered in calcite and had to be leached out. Geoff Smith used to spend weeks up there with me - we explored and dug - taking dozens of photographs - this one is of an air door in the main flats at Smallclough - typical of the sort of thing you see down there - the stone arching is amazing - I wonder if anyone knows how to do this sort of work these days? I doubt it. The photo on the left is of Grant Waller, Geoff Smith, Noel Waller - Grants girlfriend Linda, and his little brother Scottie. I think Scotts torch had gone out, and he'd already taken the lid off his jar of sunshine that he'd carefully taken in with him, so he was a bit upset at not having any light! Noel later went on to work with Grant at Carrock mine in the Caldbecks - theres loads of photos and stories about the two of them in Ian Tylers book about Carrock.