Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Hebden Beck & The Grassington Leadmines

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Route: Burnsall Bridge, Loup Scar, Suspension Bridge, Mill Lane, Hebden, Hole Bottom, The Rakes, Cockbur, Duke's New Road, Dam, Cupola Corner, Chimney, Duke's New Road, Yarnbury, New Pasture Edge, Grassington Moor, Grassington, Sedbergh Lane, Linton Falls, Dales Way, Burnsall

Date: 08/11/2015
From: Burnsall

Parking: Burnsall
Start Point: Burnsall Bridge
Region: Yorkshire Dales

Route length: 10.5 miles (16.9 km)
Time taken: 04:27
Average speed: 2.4 mph
Ascent: 551m
Descent: 572m

Summits: None

Other points of interest: Loup Scar, Hebden Beck, Cupola Corner, Chimney, Yarnbury, Linton Falls

The dreadful weather forecast put paid to any plans to head up to the Lake District this weekend but gave me the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with the southern Yorkshire Dales, an area that I've been neglecting a bit recently. Sara and I have done a lot of walking in this area and know it well so it came as a bit of a surprise to find out about the plethora of old mining works that hides on the moorside above Grassington.

The mines have been in existence since the late 1700s and parts were still operating until the late 1950s. Lead was a major export from the moor with more than 20,000 tons being excavated between 1821 and 1861. Cheap imported lead and the depletion of reserves ceased the lead mining on the moor, leaving behind the remains you can see today. English Heritage recently pledged £50,000 to the area to safeguard many of the ruins which you can make your way around by following the Leadmining Trail, parts of which we would use today.

To make a day of it we started some distance away from the mines in the small village of Burnsall. There is ample parking along the road on the other side of the magnificent bridge that spans the River Wharfe or, if you are lucky, in the village along the main road. Inevitably, it started to rain as we were getting ready and the forecast was for persistent rain throughout the day - reason enough to don a full set of waterproofs from the outset.
Burnsall Bridge
Burnsall Bridge and the River Wharfe
We left Burnsall along the Dales Way using the path that runs alongside the River Wharfe, passing the tall limestone outcrops of Wilfrid and Loup Scars on our way. The rain that was promised seemed to be holding off, which is always a bonus; however, the wet weather in the preceding days meant that the stepping stones at Mill Bridge were impassable. We would be using the suspension bridge instead.
The swollen River Wharfe
Wilfrid Scar
The Dales Way runs along the river bank
Submerged stepping stones
The bridge, despite appearances, is over 100 years old and was built in 1885 by a local blacksmith, William Bell, using redundant steel rope from the mining companies on the moor and public funding. It has been recently refurbished by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.
The stepping stones and the suspension bridge
The 100 year old suspension bridge
From the old bridge, the path leads north, away from the River Wharfe, along Hebden Beck to the small village of Hebden. We passed a rather impressive cascading weir which I can only assume provides a constant supply of water to a local salmon farm. These salmon, some one million every year, are raised from eggs before being sent to sea pens in Scotland, ultimately making their way onto someone's plate (I assume).
A passing shower failed to dampen the mood
The weir near Hebden
A gold post box in Hebden - Andy Hodge's
Out of Hebden, travelling north still, the character of the landscape changes markedly as you make your way along Nanny Lane. The green fields of Wharfedale begin to make way to the darker, more rugged moorland. Grassington Moor is a large area, capped by the elusive peak of Meugher which lies outside the National Park boundary. As English peaks go, Meugher is one of more inaccessible ones though we wouldn't be heading quite that far today though.
Nanny Lane leading out of Hebden
Hebden Beck
Waterfall on Hebden Beck
A riot of autumn colours at Hole Bottom
After passing through the hamlet of Hole Bottom, we found ourselves on the miners track that follows Hebden Beck into the valley. The track is wide and easy to follow, passing beneath the dark crags of Care Scar. Fallen drystone walls and spoil heaps litter the valley, further evidence of areas mining past. The most impressive features were yet to come.
The miners bridge
Rocks beneath Care Scar
The miners track alongside Hebden Beck
Hebden Beck
We crossed Hebden Beck and left the track, heading into a rock strewn valley. At the top of the valley is a large earth dam which we scaled to reach Duke's New Road which leads to the enticingly named Cupola Corner where you can find the remains of the Cupola Smelt Mill, built in 1972.
Spoil heaps
Looking down Hebden Beck
The dry valley below the dam
The earth dam
The smelt mill and surrounding buildings form part of the extensive mines that cover the moorside. The first records of mining in the area date back to 1604 before the mines prospered in the 18th Century, quickly reaching the water table. A drainage adit was required but would take over 20 years to reach the desired location.
The Cupola Smelt Mill
In the meantime, a new mineral agent was hired in 1818 who built the dam we scaled earlier which provided water to turn a large water wheel. This wheel was subsequently used to pump the water from the mines to allow production to continue years before the adit arrived. Prosperity returned and the mine produced over 20,000 tons of lead. After 1861, the outputs fell steadily with cheaper imports making the problem worse. Much of the mining ceased in 1880 though the smelt mill continued to use previously mined stocks of ore.

There were few attempts to reopen the mines though attempts have been made to retrieve minerals from the spoil heaps; the most recent being in the 1950s and '60s. Up on the moor, away from Cupola Corner, are the remnants of the 1960s mill, a reasonably well intact grinding mill and water tank. The highlight though is the tall, slightly wonky chimney that dominates the site.
High Grinding Mill and circular water tank
The chimney carried gases away from the smelt mills via a long flue, much of which remains intact. Some 20m high, the chimney has benefited from some refurbishment in the 1970s that should mean it stands for another 100 years. We followed the flue back down to Cupola Corner, satisfied with the diversion of poking around the ruins. If you're still paying attention, it's time to get back to the walk.
The chimney
Looking down the flue
Sara walking down the line of the flue towards Cupola Corner
We returned to the earth dam, crossing the top of it along Duke's New Road which leads around to Yarnbury, a large pair of houses in a sea of old mine spoil. Heading north west from Yarnbury we followed a narrow lane that passes close to trig pillar on New Pasture Edge, tantalisingly out of reach behind a high stone wall. The wind had picked up but the promised rain was still holding off which was bonus.
Crossing the top of the earth dam
Duke's New Road
A shallow mine entrance
A moody sky above Wharfedale
The lane at New Pasture Edge
A faint trod leaves the track, almost turning back on itself, leading to a long stroll down the more traditional green farmland that the Dales is famed for. It's quite a long section with little interest aside from the remains of ancient field systems. It's difficult to make them out but the map assured me that were stood within them. All I could really see was a field full of scattered rocks, but I'm not an archaeologist, evidently.
Dark clouds gather
The fields above Grassington
Looking down to Grassington
We Grassington during a brief shower, passing through the village to find the Dales Way, the walker's version of a motorway. The path passes close to the magnificent Linton Falls - it would be rude not to stop and have a look. Otherwise, the stretch along the Dales Way is fairly uninteresting until reaching the suspension bridge I mentioned earlier. We retraced our steps back to Burnsall and the car just as the rain finally arrived - what a stroke of luck.
The River Wharfe at Linton
Linton Falls
The Dales Way
So, a walk of two distinct halves. The magnificent Grassington moor and ruins of the leadmines contrasted with the sedate open fields and green space along the Dales Way - a great way to spend a cloudy, grey day out of the house. I'm glad we took the decision to leave in the morning, despite the unimpressive forecast as it turned out reasonably well in the end and Hebden Beck is well worth a visit. I suppose it could be called a hidden gem, one that I recommend you check out.