Post: Today you are going to learn a lot about the difficulties of mining copper, again following in the steps of trusty Roman centurions, these guys knew a lot about mines and making things. And when the Roman occupation ended in Britain, we natives went back to not even being able to write, and generally were an uneducated rabble.
Sunday, September 27 Alderley Copper Mines
Broomedge, 9.30am was our meeting place today, for we had decided on a potter and a late start. That meant that for once we could stay in bed until 6.30am. That was the time that I got up, and at 7.45 I made a start, and soon got out of industrialism. A race was in progress whilst I was crossing Chat Moss – a novice’s ‘25’ I believe. Crossing Warburton Bridge, the trysting place was reached soon after 9.0, and at 9.15 Tom came up.
“Anything new for today?” he asked. Now that was a difficult question, for we have just about worked Cheshire out. I do not mean that we have seen everything worth seeing in the County Palatine. Not by long chalks, for though we have for three years made the Cheshire bylanes a speciality, and have therefore become authorities on the said maze of lanes, we have not traversed half of them. What I mean is, that to get to something comparatively new, we have to travel such a long way on familiar roads. Therefore, on almost every run of about 100 miles, at least 80 are known to us – that is in Cheshire of course. Some ask why we do not go north more often. The reason is that for Tom, a run north means altogether about 36 miles of towns and setts. Is it worth it very often? Derbyshire? Ah yes, we have a lot to see, but we were there last week. Soon we hope to start week-ending about one in four, then, our scope will be immensely enlarged. Fancy a weekend in Snowdonia – or amongst the great earth-clods around Dinas Mawddwy, or the wooded hills of south Shropshire, or the more distant parts of Derbyshire, the wild Yorkshire Moors and sweet Dales or the beautiful Lake District. All can be achieved by a series of Saturday-Sunday runs. But, today, here we are at the start – “Anything new for today?
Then I suggested Alderley Copper Mines with a walk round the Edge, and it was settled. We have a growing enthusiasm for underground exploration, as an interesting phase of cycling – forming a ‘ride with an object’. I have been down the copper mines before, and have managed to get about one and a half miles down one passage. In 1923, three of us traversed about half a mile of tunnels and caverns to an underground lake, managing to get round it and climbing a long ladder, which gave access to a long low tunnel. Halfway along we crossed a deep pit by means of a plank, then passing a spot where a ‘roof-fall’ had occurred, we at length reached another pit which could just be stepped across. Working our way along a ledge, we descended some steps into a huge cavern, where we gave up exploration, after walking a mile and a half from the entrance. What lay beyond? This we meant to find out today, even if it took all day!
We decided to get to Alderley Cross for lunch and then leave the bikes, so, as it was yet only 9.30, we had tons of time for a roundabout journey. Turning through the lanes we came to Mere Corner, then pottered along Knutsford road, by Tatton Mere where we watched the wild geese and swans and water hens fishing. Along the old road were many blackberry bushes at which we stopped for a time. How Joe would like to be here! Then through ancient Knutsford, with its memories of ‘Cranford’ and the quaint style of houses across the River Bollin, onto Chelford road, where a race was in progress. Between Ollerton and Chelford, we wandered down a bridle road, which was deep in mud, and which precipitated us on the Alderley-Chelford road. Another footpath proved to be blind after we had crossed a field of mangle-worzels and waded through a slimy morass. Then again lanes to Alderley Edge and so to Mrs Powell’s. It was but 12.30 when, after lunch, we sallied forth with our oil lamps. There was a remarkable change in the weather, from the past week, for brilliant sunshine flooded the fields and woods, the air was warm and clear and the sky faultless.
In half a mile we reached the huge tips that herald the approach to the workings, then a big quarry with its many burrows and the big main entrance at the bottom, fastened by a gate and barbed wire entanglements. The keeper would have let us in for a small consideration, if he had been there, but as he was not, we decided to let ourselves in and accordingly vaulted over, aided by ample footholds in the rock. As soon as we got inside, we could feel the difference in the atmosphere – it was colder – what did Drayton say?
‘Ye dark and hollow caves, the portraitures of Hell
Where fogs and misty damps continually dwell’.
Finding some half-burnt candles on a ledge, we appropriated them and then lit our lamps and the candles, and then made for the third cave on the left, which is the long one. Owing to recent heavy rains, a stream was flowing from outside into the caverns and down the main passage, but our way was quite dry. We walked down a long straight tunnel into a large cavern, round a ‘shelf’, below which was a heap of rubble, and then into another tunnel, still shelving steeply downwards, until at length we reached the second cavern where are the stepping stones and the ladder. The bed of soft sand led us down until we reached a subterranean lake. “So this is where the river goes, is it?” exclaimed Tom as we stood with our candles and lamps reflecting deeply in the still depths. It was impassable unless we wanted a bathe – and we didn’t! So we had perforce to return to the next cavern, from where we explored several shallow levels without success, finding a way, however, into the ‘main’ road. Right away in the distance we could see the dazzling brightness of daylight in the entrance.
We systematically explored every hole, every tunnel, every cavern, with results more or less fruitless. Once a deep pit below, once a crawl on all fours – but always – except once – a dead end. This once we followed a long low level, until we heard the gurgling of running water rapidly growing louder. Then another passage crossed the end, along which a river was running. It was an eerie experience watching the dark water rolling past and hearing the hollow splashing higher up. Then again back to the main caverns, with a short rest to straighten the kinks out of our necks.
We noticed several new chisel marks on the rocks, and found, near the entrance, a hammer and chisel. I heard later that a company has been over with a view to buying the mines and restarting the workings. Then we discovered that the keeper was stood near the entrance, so we hid for a few minutes, because there would probably be a dust-up if he saw us, for he would know that we had climbed the barrier. But he settled down with a paper and we got fed up of waiting, so we climbed over the barrier and dodged into a small cave. He saw us coming out of there, and asked if we had been in the mines. We said we had just been looking round the quarry (which we had) and that put him off. “I didn’t see you come”, he said!
After that we took the footpath which leads on to Alderley Edge by the Wizard’s Well, which lies beneath a bulging mass of rock down which the water drips into the stone trough and on which is chiselled the legend: ‘Drink of this and take thy fill, for the water falls by the Wizard’s will’.
In an almost illegible scrawl. From the low cliff that is called the ‘Edge’, a fine view of pastoral country is obtained even to the moors above Bolton. Our search for more old copper workings, (which I have once before seen) led amongst some beautiful scenery. The countryside just now is in the throes (if it may be called so) on that renaissance of wonder known as Autumn. Twice in the year Nature undergoes a change – a miracle occurs. In Spring one sees the tender greenery of a new life spring forth from a dead countryside. Autumn brings out an array of colours of every conceivable shade, tinting the woodlands and making the countryside a veritable earthly paradise. In one place we trod on a carpet of dead leaves; the sun slanting through the tall slender trees and making a pattern on the sloping brown carpet.
The scenery of Alderley Edge is something worth seeing – indeed I think that the National Trust should appropriate the ground for the public, and put an end to the vandalism of the builders who are slowly but surely converting the beauty spot into ‘desirable villa’s’. Several small caves yielded nothing, so we turned back towards the ‘Edge’, and were surprised to see how soon we had reached it. We had not gone far enough for the other workings. In a valley near the ‘Wizard’, we discovered a long tunnel, perfectly straight, but when it went into two after about 250 yards, it petered out. Another was deep in water, and yet another. In one level, far from daylight, we discovered a primrose in full bloom, perfect in detail except that the flower was perfectly white in colour instead of yellow, the result of growing in perpetual darkness. So ended our search on Alderley Edge for underground adventures.
Returning to the bikes, we made our way via Chelford to the Peover lanes and wandered onto a filthy private road belonging to Peover Hall: this led us to some prize piggeries, and after examining the ugly beasts, we squelched on to Peover Superior and Knutsford. Then by many beautiful but rough and messy lanes to the Chester road, where we passed the Bolton Wheelers. Joe had left them and gone blackberrying! From Lostock Gralam we went to Great Budworth for tea.
The pleasant lanes led us home via Arley and High Legh, I returning home across Chat Moss. Our thirst for subterranean wandering is growing – we expect a deal more of it soon. 88 miles