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Saturday, 10 July 2010

Slit Mine Archaeology and Other Interesting Things

a slit wood orchid
Today, at quite short notice, I assembled by the Post Office in Westgate in Weardale and conjoined with Brian and Charlie and several Westgate residents, the landowners of Slit Wood and various archaeologists, hydrologists and other kinds of ologists for an exposition of an industrial archaeology project which is taking place high up Slit Wood.
slit wood bouse teams wheel pit
Slit Wood is and ancient bit of woodland which is absolutely heaving with wild flowers, including quite a lot of plants which don’t mind a spot of lead pollution.
slit mine from above
It also has an ancient mill at it’s foot, which may well have a longer history of being other things, and Slit Mine which is one of the biggest and most important mines in Weardale, with a history of about 250 years of activity.
English Heritage and Natural England (careful Peewiglet…..) are spending about a quarter of a million of yer Queen’s spondoolies making sure the place doesn't disappear into the beck, which occasionally sports some monster floods.
slit mine dam
The work is centred around stabilising the buildings – in particular some Bouse teams (stores for lead ore for each team or gang of miners), a 600 foot shaft, a wheel pit and the site of a hydraulic engine and it’s dam, plus dressing floors, a smithy and some culverts.
slit wood mine 008

This rose is carved into a tree next to a memorial bench for a local who died in Spain in 2001. Unfortunately the tree is now dead. This photo may well soon be all that's left of it.
So, lead by Tom Gledhill, we learned a lot about the place and made some unexpected discoveries.
melancholy thistle
After the walk during which we sent Brian off to pick some litter from the beck, where we discovered this fossilised beach
fossilised beach slit wood
litter pick
And then some of us met with 88 year old Charlie Armstrong planting out in his garden by the beck. I should explain that the path up to Slit Wood goes through Charlie’s garden. We got chatting and Charlie asks us in to see inside the mill….. which turns out to be probably originally built as a Bastle house, probably with some building material from the Bishop of Durham’s castle just downstream a bit.
We started almost underground in a byre with a kitchen next to it, but, apparently, no way to get upstairs.
Upstairs were the controls for the mill wheel and hoists and ancient fireplaces and floor levels. And Mr Armstrong is the possessor or the head wheel for Slit Mine a mile upstream, showing damage from the cable which must have been too small. Apparently, this wheel had worked its way downstream over a number of years and was rescued just before it fell into the pool where Brian was picking litter. The pool is quite deep and rescue from there would have been more than tricky.
A short sojourn in the Hare and Hounds was called for and enjoyed.
We have, of course, been to Slit Wood before haven’t we blogreaders?  But now we know more about it.


The Odyssee said...

What an incredible place.
Mike you must of had a great time there. Lovely pics and the one of the beach especially.
My kind of day out.

Mike Knipe said...

This little side valley manages to be both facinating and beautiful at the same time, Alan. Quite good for informal camping up at the top end too, but don't tell anybody I said that, though...

The Odyssee said...

Nudge nudge wink wink say no more.

Humphrey Weightman said...

If you've a burpday coming up, ask for "The Making of the British Landscape: How We Have Transformed The Land, from Prehistory to Today", by Francis Pryor. Published a few weeks ago, £18.58 on Amazon and worth every groat . . .

Word= rapond

Mike Knipe said...

Thanks for that Humphrey - I'll start dropping hints in October....

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Knipe said...

Anonymous -I'm very sympathetic about the issue you mention. (I'm a bit nervous about publishing the post on the blog, though) If you were to email me using the email address in my profile, we could probably discuss this fairly constructively. The bottom line is that it seems to be a Rights of Way issue (its a public footpath and abusing walkers is not allowed)