Actually, on my reconnoitre around Allenheads yesterday, to prepare for today’s diary entry (recall that we’re featuring free things to do for the family, on successive Saturdays, having already diarised The River Path, Allendale Smelt Mill, and The Chimneys), I was pleasantly surprised at the offerings there; it really would make a delightful family day out.
On arriving at Allenheads, visitors usually park right in front of the big Armstrong engine. What I didn’t realise is that the Allenheads Trust has made the engine room available for friendly visitation, as long as visitors remember to close the doors after them and turn off the lights! The Armstrong engine room houses two engines, both driven by water pressure from the two reservoirs some 66 metres above: one of these pumped water out of the mine workings, while the other one provided electricity to the village and the estate house. Often on High Forest Show Days, the water pumping engine can be seen working, but it’s worth a gander around to admire the high Victorian engineering even in static mode.
After oohing and ahhing at the big engine, it’s also worth a walk to your right up 80 meters of easy path to the Blacksmith’s Shop, where more of the lead mine workings are on display; it’s free and open, but again, don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave! I didn’t know, for example, that Allenheads had its own smelting operation, which apparently ceased around about 1860, when the ore was transferred to Allendale and Langley by pony trap. There were lead mines all over the place up in these ‘heeds, and even a lead mine here at Elpha Green, as well (I suppose in what I’d always assumed was just a stone quarry). There’s so much to read and ponder about, between the big blacksmith’s fire/forge downstairs and the explanatory boards upstairs, along with some displays of fluorspar and miner’s findings. So by this time the family’s mind should be filled with all the lead industry of the nineteenth century.
Walk back down the little hill to the Armstrong engine room, and then turn right on into the Hemmel Courtyard, where today, incidentally, the first dance of the eponymous Dance the Dale project kicks off at 10:30am. If you’re admiring the clog dancers, great, but when they’re finished, the kids could enjoy the lovely playground, while you refresh yourselves with a cup of coffee under the sunshine beside the café. The next part of the family adventure awaits!
It’s the walk, of course! Follow the path on up beyond the play area, and enter into the higher heights of classic Victorian engineering, as you experience the walk around the upland meadows, the pine plantations, and the views of the reservoirs that drove the big Armstrong engine down large pipes straight to the village. Fortunately, the walk meanders around and about and eventually (after a kilometre or so, not so strenuous, really) drops you back to the Hemmel Café from whence you started.
Allen Valleys Enterprise Limited commissioned an extensive survey of the reservoir capacity in terms of returning a cost-effective hydro-electric power source to useful function for the village, but unfortunately the survey proved to be negative; there’s not enough water up there anymore, and the ditches that collected the water resource into the reservoir are in desuetude as well, so that sort of project is a non-starter really. But in the olden days, the mine workings and the village itself were powered, even before Newcastle, by electricity generated from the drop between the high reservoirs and the Armstrong engine in the village below. Never mind, the walk itself is innervating, and will certainly get your family’s blood flowing. How about an ice cream at the café?
Or, probably everybody’s ready for a lovely lunch! You can have that too, and enjoy the history all around you in the courtyard. After a delightful repast, with everybody bundled into the car, surprise yourselves again by heading off down the lower road past the pub, but turning immediately right into the Mine Yard. Here are the big bingsteads we saw at Allen Mill, that housed the bouse (sorted ores) for further washing and grinding. And at the end of the parking lot, a big explanatory board, recapitulating the diorama everyone admired upstairs in the Blacksmith’s Shop. The sense of concentrated mining industry hangs heavily over the little village, but finally it’s time to head home for the end of the afternoon. The walk will have exercised the family, and the lunch will have done everybody good.
And think of the history everyone has imbibed, willy-nilly with scarcely realising it! A great day out for everyone, and you can’t really say better than that.