Under a leaden sky, Larry, Grace, Ian and myself stood at the fabulous entrance to Wapping Mine. Certain places inspire awe. The rocks loomed and the plant growth was luxuriant. Hardly surprising that such landscapes inspired the picturesque, encouraged an aesthetic sensibility and turbocharged 19th century Romanticism.
A chance to see early lead mining in the Moletrap Rake, the later fluorspar excavations and a cracking show cavern. Over 4500 ft of passages in Wapping Mine and over 2200 ft in Cumberland Cavern, according to an excellent 1972 survey by Roger Flindall and Andrew Hayes. The mine and the cavern connected by the Funnel Cave and Devil’s Pit. Bikers inhabited the mine, Queen Victoria visited the cavern. Spiral staircases, a pool chamber and a wishing well. Not forgetting the Maze. This place had the lot and had seen the lot.
A small vertical climb, a bit of a squeeze, a short descent and we had entered Wapping Mine. The space quickly opened up and what a space! Four cavernous stopes, mainly fluorspar excavations, resembled enormous cathedrals, each one massive and magnificent. Flowstone and mineralisation in abundance. Incredible to think these caves were shaped by human endeavour. More like a fairy kingdom or the mines of Moria. Definitely not fairy was the graffiti on the walls. The Troggs, a biker group from the 60’s and 70’s, evidently liked to make their mark. A historical record of sorts. And there was plenty of it.
I couldn’t wait to see the Cumberland Cavern. ‘Beat a path of retreat up them spiral staircases, pass the tree of smoke, pass the angel with four faces’ (Bob Dylan). It proved to be a heady, disorientating experience enhanced by the three spiral staircases. A trip in every sense of the word. All things possible in this magical theatre. Opened as a show cave in 1780. Visited by Queen Victoria, no less. More steps led up to the blocked adit entrance, the only access to the cavern now being the way we had come. Close to the outside world, yet far from it. The Pool Chamber was interesting. Then we found the Wishing Well. These were superb spaces.
Retracing, the area of Wapping Mine called the Maze lived up to the name. Larry did a superb job of navigating this baffling section of passages and tunnels. Much evidence of mining – rotting timbers, pick marks, stacks, deads and the occasional shot hole. The most bizarre remnant was a railway track with sleepers above our heads. The train to nowhere always a potent image. The mineral deposits were simply stunning. Sparkling crystals of baryte, fluorspar and especially calcite lined our route and formed countless wonderful grottos.
Back through the stopes and into the cutting for a cup of tea, a sandwich and a pot noodle. Plenty to think about. So many layers of geology and history. It is said the Jacobite army marched nearby. The New Bath hotel was an early health spa later benefitting from the staycation caused by the Napoleonic Wars. John Ruskin had a mental breakdown there, where he experienced visions and premonitions. So much information to process. Lord of the Rings meets social, economic and political history. Another trip to Wapping and Cumberland? Most certainly. At the drop of a wizard’s hat! Many thanks to Larry, Grace and Ian for a magical day out.