Bubblegum-blue – Visiting Coniston copper mines

The mines pose a real danger to inexperienced and should not be entered half-heartedly. The Cumbria Amenity Trust Mining History Society has done a lot to explore and preserve the mines but ropes and safety equipment should be carried by those who enter the mines.


“Have you done via ferrata style before?” my mate asks me when we reach the point where the ground suddenly disappears into the damp underground blackness. “Not really,” I say and clip my carabiner on the wire fastened on the wall of the tunnel, “but I know how it works”. I hold on to the wire and step on the beam sticking out from the wall. The floor of the tunnel has fallen deep down inside the hillside leaving the wooden beams of the mine exposed like old bones.

We are inside Coniston copper mines, on our way to check out the spot where the bomb that could have maybe, perhaps, possibly been planted to assassin John Major. (If you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, you might want to read my previous blog post.)

The use of any sort of explosions here seems unsafe. You’d think that mines are all the same, low tunnels, dark mine shafts, grey rock – like the graphite mines I visited earlier this year. But this copper mine is a whole different world.

Often the tunnels open up high or continue a long way down beneath our feet. We abseil deeper down into the scars on the rock. Wooden beams and constructed tunnels remind of the human touch and long days of labor in this underground world. Yet, the collapsed floors and piles of rock make me uneasy. The whole place has a dystopic feel. We are the explorers in head torches and harnesses, walking through the remains of civilization in a sci-fi novel.

Since the mines were closed, acid surface water has dribbled through unstable sulphide mineral deposits dissolving minerals and causing new copper formations. These post-mine supergene formations have painted the walls with bright colours from turquoise and blue to purple. The contrast between the dark tunnel and the wet vivid blue rock looks unnatural. Glimmering alien substance. I want to touch the wall just to make sure it is not slimy.

I don’t go underground to photograph, but having a proper camera with a flash would have been nice here

These blue strikes decorate the walls in several places within the mines but are especially abundant in the area where the makeshift bomb was found in 1995. Water is constantly dripping down the shafts as we walk through puddles to look at the sealed end of the tunnel. This is where the bomb was. A little bubblegum-blue nest for the bomb that never designated.

On the other side of the seal lies the Levers Water tarn. Thinking about the pressure of the water pushing on to the concrete plug makes me shiver even though the spot doesn’t look any different from the rest of the tunnel.

I suppose I shiver because of the thought of the possibility that someone might have exploded that wall and caused serious damage by flooding the Coniston village. Whether that damage had been caused intentionally or unintentionally doesn’t matter: the end result would have been the same.

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