Burning Drake Mine, Winster - Phil Wolstenholme

Saturday, 3 November, 2012

Present: Phil Wolstenholme, John Wood (PDMHS), Lisa Wootton

Burning Drake Mine is part of the famous Yatestoop complex of mines, and is connected via various soughs and coffin levels to both Horsebuttocks and Yatestoop, and is worked via natural caverns and pipes under the shale cover. I urgently needed to photograph some of the workings for the upcoming Jim Rieuwerts book. Permission for the trip was kindly granted by John's neighbours, as the entrance shaft is in their back garden! Acess via this entrance is generally impossible, so it was a real treat to get down there. The shaft is grilled, and quite large - about 1.5m X 1m, and 85m deep. It's mostly gunpowder-sunk and then hand-enlarged with picks, and of roughly square section.

The main workings we were taken to are on the 65m level, and you're immediately greeted by a perfect coffin-level as you get out of the shaft - incidentally, the shaft also has a hand-picked 'garland', a spiral stone gutter for taking water away at this point. The coffin level splits into two, with one branch heading downhill into water, and one uphill, which is spectacular, especially given the whole thing is hand-picked.

After photographing the level, we then headed downhill though one of the many pipe-working passages, mostly crawling height, with a couple of small areas where one can sit up in. The main mineralisation follows a bedding plane, and most of the ore was from pipes and cavities above and below this horizon. We were following the down-dip series and so were under the same bedding for most of the journey. A few stacked deads float overhead here and there, but mostly the passage is solid rock, and very dry and 'clean'.

The passages meander aroud, with side-branches going off in every direction, and after some time, we reached a cross-cut going through a blank section and back into another mineralised zone, where lots of shale then entered the equation, and larger chambers appear.

Near this point, there is an amazing 'leat' - a water-channel made by the miners out of clay to divert drips into a small reservoir they could use for ore-washing, with the finger-marks of the miners clearly embedded in the clay. Over 30 mins was spent trying to photograph this feature, as it was squashed under an overhang with a short shaft beneath, and I had to wedge the tripod across the shaft and then jam myself around it to avoid moving the camera and not fall down the shaft!

After this section, the passage enlarges considerably, and soon after, the bottom of 'Motorbike Shaft' is reached, so named because most of a motorbike was thrown down it at some point. Household refuse abounds here, and I was half -expecting to find a body too, had John not already cleared up that question. Hilariously, to one side, a coffin level starts and then finishes after only two metres, as the miners had clearly screwed up their surveying, and were driving 90° to the required direction! The main passage continues below and perpendicular to the coffin level in a rather embrassing manner.

This leads to the largest chamber we visited, with a bedding-plane roof, and lots of miner's activity, including a small dam and several branch passages. The main entrance to the passage has shale running along one wall (top passage in photo below), so ore was clearly extracted from around this, even though the two are rarely intermingled in most mines. The lowest passage from this chamber leads to a mostly flooded level connecting back ultimately to Yatestoop Sough.

Retracing our steps part of the way, a short-cut was possible via a flat-out crawl over deads, and took us back to the initial main cross-cut than thence back toward the entrance. Now I've seen the survey, I've realised we did less than a quarter of the entire site, which is absolutely mammoth. Amazing that Winster is visited so little, especially with the huge potential for natural caverns within the mine workings.

A fascinating trip, with very well-preserved mining remains within semi-natural passage, and a great shaft to begin and end the visit with. Some good photos were taken too, and many thanks to John Wood for arranging the trip, and to Lisa and John for being such willing models.