Go anywhere in the high Dales and sooner or later you will come across an old track, often rambling on it’s own across the fells. There are lots of them – some are just drovers tracks which meander on for miles, often taking the high ground to the markets at the nearest towns.
Some are trackways which the old miners (t’old man) used to travel on to get to work. To me there is nothing more delightful than taking a camera, a bite to eat and a drink and walking for miles on these lonely tracks with just the sheep and curlews for company.
Certain parts of the Dales were mined for lead ore and although some workings were extensive with many miners and surface workers employed, some small mines were worked by one or two men. The work was extremely hard, wages were very poor and the dangers were many. The average life expectancy of a lead miner in 1845 was 45 years.
Most of the mines closed about 1880 and some of the buildings were torn down and the stones reused by the farmers. Many of the levels are still open and the brave or curious can explore for miles in some of them – although they are very dangerous. Many shafts have not been capped and the entrances are lying open, or covered by rotten railway sleepers..
The photo below is of a track near Stump Cross Caverns in North Yorkshire (which was discovered by lead miners) and it leads to some small mine workings near Storiths. The road is miles from the nearest village and I can only imagine the poor miners having to walk all this way in bad weather just to get to work, and then back again. Sort of makes you realise how lucky you are…
The valley is grim and dark and the landscape is torn and scarred, but on a nice day it is a joy to explore.
But then again, you are never totally alone…