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Scars of the old lead mining industry in Gunnerside Gill
Scars of the old lead mining industry in Gunnerside Gill

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Route No.244 - Saturday 10 May 2008
Gunnerside, Gunnerside Gill,
Blakethwaite Dams circuit - 13km
Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales . . .

Ordnance Survey route map on the Landranger series map base
View the route in Google Earth

Map: OS Explorer OL30 Yorkshire Dales Northern & Central areas


Bridge over the Swale where it meets Gunnerside Beck
Bridge over the Swale where it meets Gunnerside Beck

At about 10.15am we set off along the road (B6270) into the village where we turned left to follow a narrow lane heading towards the hamlet of Ivelet.

This morning the weather was fine and bright again and my wife and I drove to Gunnerside where we parked near the bridge over the River Swale where Gunnerside Beck joins the river.

Leaving Gunnerside
Leaving Gunnerside

Looking up Swaledale from the steep climb out of Gunnerside
Looking up Swaledale from the steep climb out of Gunnerside

Wild orchid by the path
Wild orchid by the path

Once over the cattle grid we turned right off the road to make a steep climb about 600m long to a bridleway at SD945986.

After about 150 metres we came to a cattle grid at the edge of Gunnerside.

One of many violets by the path
One of many violets by the path

Almost up the climb from Gunnerside to the bridleway above Gunnerside Gill
Almost up the climb from Gunnerside to the bridleway above Gunnerside Gill

Primroses by the path
Primroses by the path

After a few minutes we set off again along the bridleway track above Gunnerside Gill with great views up the valley.

At the bridleway we sat on the edge of the track to admire the view, but really for a rest. It was quite hot and stayed hot all day around 23 deg. C.

Looking across Botcher Gill to the bridleway we had just walked
Looking across Botcher Gill to the bridleway we had just walked

Looking across Gunnerside Gill to the lead mining relics in the valley
Looking across Gunnerside Gill to the lead mining relics in the valley

In the valley bottom there are ruined relics of the industrial buildings of that time. We continued along the bridleway for over 2km to a steep sided gully with a waterfall at map ref. NY933006.

The whole area was worked for lead ore (galena) for about 150 years to the mid 1800's. and the valley sides are still scarred with the old workings.

The whole area is crossed by paths some on the map some not
The whole area is crossed by paths some on the map some not

Approaching Blakethwaite Smelt Mill
Approaching Blakethwaite Smelt Mill

Stone clapper bridge over Gunnerside Beck
Stone clapper bridge over Gunnerside Beck

Just beyond the gully we took the right hand fork in the track which led us to a long straight incline down to a group of industrial ruins called Blakethwaite Smelt Mill at map ref. NY936017.

Looking back to the Blakethwaite Smelt Mill
Looking back to the Blakethwaite Smelt Mill

We walked along the narrow path above Gunnerside Beck for about 300m where the path crossed the beck at map ref. NY937021.

We crossed the stream coming in from our left and stayed on the left hand bank of Gunnerside Beck. We climbed up a path by the ruin with the information board attached to it

Waterfall on Gunnerside Beck
Waterfall on Gunnerside Beck

Waterfall on Gunnerside Beck
Waterfall on Gunnerside Beck

After about 750m we came to the first of the Blakethwaite Dams. This is a stone structure with an earth infill.

We followed the path climbing up the valley. The valley side are so steep here that in places the beck runs along the foot of a series of cliffs.

Cliffs beside Gunnerside Beck
Cliffs beside Gunnerside Beck

Approaching the first Blakethwaite Dam
Approaching the first Blakethwaite Dam

About 250m further on we came to the higher of the two dams.

You can see a good cross section of the construction where the dam has been breached.

The crest of the higher Blakethwaite Dam
The crest of the higher Blakethwaite Dam

Lunch break on the Blakethwaite Dam
Lunch break on the Blakethwaite Dam

We sat on the large stone blocks on top of the dam for our lunch. It had been a long climb in the hot weather coming up from Gunnerside and we were ready for a rest.

This is of a similar construction and has also been breached so that above the dam is a large marshy area where the old reservoir has been silted up and overgrown with cotton grass.

Wood Sorrel by the path
Wood Sorrel by the path

Relics of the lead mining industry as we returned along Gunnerside Gill
Relics of the lead mining industry as we returned along Gunnerside Gill

After about 500m we came to more ruins of the lead mining era set in the middle of a desolate area of huge stone waste tips down the steep valley side. The weather was still hot so we sat in the shade of a ruined wall for a drink before continuing along the path down the valley.

After a good break we retraced our steps back to the Blakethwaite Smelt Mill except that this time from map ref. NY937021 we kept to the east side of Gunnerside Beck. We followed the public footpath well above the industrial ruins by the beck.

An old adit amongst the industrial remains
An old adit amongst the industrial remains

Looking down Gunnerside Gill towards Gunnerside
Looking down Gunnerside Gill towards Gunnerside

The "Sir Francis Dressing Floor" in Gunnerside Gill
The "Sir Francis Dressing Floor" in Gunnerside Gill

Heading for Gunnerside along Gunnerside Gill
Heading for Gunnerside along Gunnerside Gill

A meadow pipet. It waited just long enough for a photo
A meadow pipit. It waited just long enough for a photo

This was the "Sir Francis Dressing Floor", an area where the lead ore was separated from the waste rock. We continued to follow the beck downstream and through some woodland back to Gunnerside.

After another 300m we took the right hand fork in the path down the valley side towards the beck. As we made our way along the valley bottom near the beck we came to more lead mining relics.

One of the Swaledale barns being renovated
One of the Swaledale barns being renovated

A wood Sorrel flower - so delicate
A wood Sorrel flower - so delicate

A carpet of wild garlic
A carpet of wild garlic

Our last stop for a drink in the woods near Gunnerside
Our last stop for a drink in the woods near Gunnerside

Forget-me-nots by the path
Forget-me-nots by the path

It seemed from their dress that there had been a very large funeral in the village that day. I thought how sad it is when we have to leave this beautiful world behind, there are so many things I still want to do.

We continued to follow the beck downstream and through some woodland back to Gunnerside. There were crowds of people in the village.

A young Roe Buck too curious to run away
A young Roe Buck too curious to run away

Gunnerside Beck just upstream of Gunnerside
Gunnerside Beck just upstream of Gunnerside

The walk of 13km had taken us about five and a half hours in the heat with several stops for drinks and to take in the scenery.

Both my wife and I had found the walk quite strenuous and we were pleased to be back at the car after our walk.

Path through the woods on the edge of Gunnerside
Path through the woods on the edge of Gunnerside

Background Notes:
This is a route of about 8 miles, 13km, from Gunnerside in Swaledale up to the Blakethwaite Dams and back along Gunnerside Gill. Originally Gunnerside was a small farming settlement belonging to a Viking chieftain called Gunnar who settled here in the 900's. The great feature of this walk is the lead mining industry and of course the amazing scenery. Gunnerside Gill has had a history of lead mining from the 1400's and possibly since pre-Roman times. The industry was most active in this area for the 200 years up to the late 1800's. The old Blacksmith’s Shop in Gunnerside is still working. It used to provide the mines with tools, equipment and casting moulds for the pigs of lead. From Gunnerside we climb up to a moorland track high above Gunnerside Gill. The track crosses a little side valley called Botcher Gill and from there drops down into the valley. As the path drops down we pass a great scar gauged out of the hillside on the left called North Hush. This was caused by one of the traditional mining techniques whereby a dam was made on the hillside and allowed to fill with water, then when the dam was full the water was allowed to pour down the hillside in a great rush erroding away all the overburden and exposing the underlying ore bearing rock. There are several other hushes across the valley from the North Hush. In the valley bottom we come the remains of the Blakethwaite smelt mills. These smelt mills were built in about 1820 to deal with increased output from the mines. There were two open hearths used to smelt the ore and they were fuelled by peat taken from the surrounding moors. The hearths were blown by huge water powered bellows.The ore being mined was galena or lead suphide. The ore was first crushed and sorted on a so called "dessing floor" and the crushed ore was then smelted to extract the lead. At the Blakethwaite Smelt mills we cross Gunnerside gill on a stone clapper bridge, a single large flat slab of rock, and follow the path upstream to the two Blakethwaite dams. There were two major mines in Gunnerside Gill, the Blakethwaite Mine and the Lownathwaite Mine and each mine worked several different viens of galena. Both mines used water power for winding engines to access the mines, for water pumps to drain the mines and for crushing the ore on the dressing floors. The Blakethwaite dams provided the source of water to power the machinery at both mines. Both dams have been breached and behind them there is now a silty marshland on the old bed of the reservoir. The crest of the upper dam makes a fine spot to sit and enjoy your packed lunch before starting the return trip to the Blakethwaite smelt mills. From there we continue along Gunnerside Gill passing through an area of lead mining relics with spoil heaps, ruined buildings and the entrance to a mine adit. Further down the valley we come to the Sir Francis Dressing Floor where lead ore from the Sir Francis mine was crushed prior to the smelting process. The information board at the site states that this mine was opened in 1864 to exploit deeper seams of lead ore lower down the valley. At the Sir Francis Mine water power was used to make compressed air to power rock drills for the first time replacing the old method of using hand drills to make the holes for black powder to blast the ore bearing rocks. From here our route crosses the fields to enter some very pretty woodland. Once when I did this walk I was lucky enough to get an excellent view of a Roe deer on the path as we made our way back through the woods into Gunnerside and the end of our walk.

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