Tim Nixon, Geoff Ward
Sir Francis Level is located on the west side of Gunnerside Gill, north of the village of Gunnerside in Swaledale, North Yorks. Walking up from the village after about 45mins an air receiver can be seen, this is at the portal entrance to the level. The level has collapsed just inside the portal, access can be gained beyond the fall by descending a second air shaft from the surface about 75 meters further upstream, requiring an 8 meter rope or ladder, a newly installed lid is fine for rigging off, close the lid behind you to prevent sheep joining you. Due to the collapse at the portal, water in the level has backed up and is chest deep for much of the 1500 yards to the engines and winder. We both wore wetsuits, wading for such a distance is quite tiring and would be seriously cold in normal dry gear.
When we reached the end of the level we set up the camera and spent a couple of hours photographing, trying out radio triggers for the flashes which were very easy to use and infinitely better than fireflies slaves. Geoff was a real stalwart not complaining at the countless shots taken again and again. There are some fantastic examples of stone arches with many interesting artefacts along the level, the flooded shaft still has two cages, one at the top and the other at the bottom below the water.
Above the flooded shaft at the end of the level is the engine chamber which is in a remarkable state of preservation with its winding engine and water-pressure pump, designed by Henry Davy installed in 1879, apparently the pumps, designed to give a working pressure of 200 psi, could raise a load of two tons from 360 feet below level at 60 feet per minute and pump 500 gallons at six-and-a-half strokes a minute from the same depth.
The mine was abandoned around 1890 when the sump had reached a depth of 120 feet. There are a few areas in the level where the stability is less than perfect, take care not to touch and a refrain from whistling is advised. We had a very good trip and managed to get a few photos of a nearly acceptable standard. (soon to be added to the BBPC gallery which is now under construction).
We got back to our 4 star Hotel at Low Row just in time to prevent Thelma calling the rescue, but in plenty of time for a gourmet meal and a session on Timothy Taylors …perfect day…