Exploration of the old copper mines and slate quarries in the Coniston area can be a fascinating day out; however, caution should be exercised.
The underground slate quarries, locally known as ‘closeheads’ are predominantly inside the Old Man of Coniston and Brown Pike. These slate quarries can hold hidden dangers, there are internal steep passages and near vertical shafts and a large quantity of spoil heaps which can be unstable.
The copper mines, scattered around most of the rest of the Coniston fells, have similar dangers to the slate closeheads but there are significant other issues to be aware of. The copper was in almost vertical stopes (veins) and was extracted by building false floors. These are suspended on thick poles, covered with tons of ‘deads’ (spoil) and then a layer of clay. These false floors can appear to be solid to the uninitiated but they are now getting very weak, the supporting timbers have been exposed to damp for well over a hundred years. In places the vertical drop can be in excess of a hundred feet down some of the shafts and open stopes. The water in some of the open stopes and shafts can be over 1500 feet deep.
We would not want to suggest that you should not explore these workings but before going underground please ensure you are wearing a proper safety helmet with a head torch fitted to leave your hands free, wear sturdy boots, ensure that someone knows where you are going and when to expect you back. If at all possible please arrange to go with someone who knows the mines, not only will this be safer but they will be able to make the visit more interesting by giving background information on the things you see and find.