How to get there:
Service 505 bus (the Coniston Rambler) from Windermere, or the X12 bus from Ulverston
Nearest railway station: Windermere
Please note that Walking the Coppermines Trail requires a good degree of physical fitness; the walk has a height gain of well over 1,000 ft on steep, often uneven, paths and there is a cattle grid on the way up to the start point - which is itself a good half-hour's walk from Coniston itself.
Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Text and photographs: Naomi Stevenson
Page updated March 2013
The Cumbrian Lake District is one of the most scenic and most-visited areas of Great Britain, as well as one of the most geologically interesting. At the heart of the area are exposures of the mid-Ordovician Borrowdale Volcanics resulting from the closure of the Iapetus Ocean; thick successions of lavas, ashes and tuffs were laid down here. Later tectonic activity resulted in folding and cleavage (clearly visible in local slates). Later still, hydrothermal activity associated with a granite intrusion caused mineral veins to be deposited in the area.
At Coniston, two main copper-rich vein systems (the Bonser and Paddy End veins) were mined. The Copper Mines, north-east of Coniston itself, are now a large Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). A variety of tuffs, andesite sills, ignimbrites, breccias and an ash-flow tuff are present.
The Mines stretch from the valley floor up to Levers Water (a reservoir), from where a waterfall and stream run downhill. In terms of geology and more so in terms of mining history, there is quite a lot to see– in addition to the outcrops themselves there are major mine dumps, the remains of historic mine structures (entrances etc), and the “Irish Row” cottages which used to house labourers. There is a Youth Hostel which is adjacent to the Bonser Dressing Floor and a huge dump of wallrock and quartz-rich veinstone with sulphide minerals which look to have come from deep within the mines.
Walking up the western side of the valley more large dumps are visible; the one below Simon’s Nick is derived from Paddy End Vein. Adjacent to Levers water, mine openings in an area of altered wallrock can be seen – and the difficulty of accessing the mines day after day, and the effort of walking up from the village, can truly be appreciated!
Having reached Levers Water and heading back to Coniston along the eastern side of the site, the majority of the disused structures including engine shafts and wheel pits can be seen. The Bonser Vein is exposed in-situ in an area of ignimbrite resulting from a pyroclastic flow. There are further dumps, of iron- and sulphide-rich waste, near the Old Engine Shaft.
A leaflet with information about the local geology, the mines and detailing a suggested circular walk is available from the Tourist Information Centre in Coniston, adjacent to the bus stop and toilets.
Click to enlarge