Eight volunteers from the Beneath the Ridge project ventured beneath Alderley Edge one Tuesday night in April to visit Wood Mine, one of the famous copper mines that have a history that stretches back to the Bronze Age. Equipped with wellies and miners' helmets and torches, and expertly guided by members of the Derbyshire Caving Club, we followed a maze of winding passages, often crouching and sometimes crawling deep underground, to reach extraordinary places where the remains of Nineteenth Century mining activity are still to be seen, reminding us of the men, women and children who worked down there in such difficult and dangerous conditions.
Highlights of the adventure were fascinating waterfalls where the copper and other minerals had oxidised to form exquisitely coloured blue and green patterns on the rock face.
In one place, we were told that soot-like material in cracks in the rock indicated thermal vents from deep within the earth's crust. In another we saw the outlines in the roof of a fossilised tree and, at the end of our journey, we came face to face with the North Boundary Fault with one side smoothed by the sliding motion where two rock masses meet at the edge of the Cheshire Plain. Throughout the trip we could often see rounded pebbles in the sandstone, some of these are believed to have been brought in by rivers all the way from northern France.
Our lesson in geology and mining will have given us some insights into what also lies beneath our own Sandstone Ridge. Copper mining was once practiced on a smaller scale at Gallantry Bank, Bickerton. That mine is closed and derelict and so we cannot see below as we can at Alderley. There may be other places on the Ridge where copper was mined in the distant past — it was certainly smelted at Beeston in the Bronze Age — and so the Trust hopes to raise awareness of that forgotten industry and other activities that have taken place beneath the Ridge. We are currently forming small parties to search the escarpment for caves, rock shelters and possible shafts. Anyone who would like to join us would be very welcome.