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Countrystride #105: THE OLD MAN and the SLATE which we are joined by industrial archeologist supremo Mark Hatton to talk all things slate as we ascend and then tunnel deep into the fellside of The Old Man of Coniston. Picking through the abandoned remains of old working floors and tips, we learn about the long history of slate quarrying in the Lake District – an industry spread over 200 sites that yielded a range of highly-prized stone. Discussing how slate is formed, we make our way to the powerhouse, smithy and working floor of the Old Man workings, where millions of tonnes of stone were shaped into prized roofing slate by generations of miners. As we wander, we hear about the likely Norman origins of the industry; the revolution wrought by compressed air; the perils of journeying home in the snow; and the Sunday-morning miracles that collapsed caverns – and saved lives.

It would be remiss not to note that we recorded underground in the company of an experienced guide, and kitted with helmets and torches. Exploring these workings is immensely enjoyable BUT INHERENTLY HIGHLY DANGEROUS unless you are in the right company and with the right kit. In all cases, leave the workings as you found them.

Mark in Coppermines Valley.

Long view of The Smithy; note the water pipe feeding into it that comes down from Low Water.

Our guest for the day, Mark Hatton, in The Smithy. You can see the furnace, right, and the drill holes in stone below the furnace stack.

The powerhouse: where hydro power is used to drive a motor, which in turn drives a compressor (right) and generator (left).

The pipe leaving the powerhouse (in slightly botched manner) takes compressed air up a series of pipes into the different levels, where it was used to power pneumatic drills.

Abandoned ropeway cables on the main tourist route up the Old Man.

Rusting gantry that once held part of the ropeway.

Remnant 'side pitching' - once used to allow swift transport of slates in sleds down the mountain.

Tracks leading to the end of a spoil heap - from where waste would be tipped.

Collapsed cavern.

Entering the mountain.

Inside the quarries.

Rail lines in the level.

"Beautiful remains" of a hauling lorry.


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