The Mystery of North Cote Mine

“It’s about time you changed this car Dan” said Amy as she clambered into the back seat of his pale blue 1962 Mk 1 Ford Cortina, “it’s a wreck, my feet were soaked when we got here yesterday. There’s a hole under the carpet that I can see the road through”. It was 7.30am and the rain that had poured continuously the previous day had stopped during the night and it looked like it would be a lovely August day. “Sorry Amy”, said Jack trying to start the car for the fourth time, “I can’t afford anything else just yet but it will be worth a fortune one day”.

On attempt five the old car sparked into life, Pete ran out of the pub eating toast and jumped in the passenger seat. “Morning pals. What a night. Did we really have to set off this early, I’ve got a shocking hangover”. The others just ignored him as he played with the radio trying to find a station. The three friends finally set off on the narrow dry stone walled valley road towards the head of Silverdale, with “Son of My Father” by Chicory Tip blaring from the old radio as loud as Pete could make it go.

The three friends had been looking forward to this trip for months, it was the culmination of a year’s work by students from Leeds Polytechnic Caving Club, surveying and mapping the old lead mines of Silverdale in the Yorkshire Dales. Small teams of club members had been given several mines each to explore; this was the third the friends had done that summer and the results would be published in early 1973.

North Cote mine had been closed since 1875 and was only accessible after a one hours walk from the valley bottom. The walk was hot and not helped by the ex-coal board boiler suits and old work boots they had changed into in the car park at the head of the dale.  It was a beautiful summer’s day and despite their hangovers and heavy bags of equipment the three friends were in high spirits and made good progress.

The track soon took them out of the valley onto open moorland where they reached a small plateau. The area was a confused desert of broken rock and glinting minerals that resembled an alien planet.  It was still early, yet the heat was rising and the world felt big to Jack with the vast blue sky above and miles of open moor all around. In the middle of this desert were the outlines of old mine buildings and large pieces of rusting cast iron machinery; at the centre of all this was a heavy steel plate that covered the entrance to the mine. “Are you sure we have got the right place”, said Pete. “Yes, it’s never been surveyed and there’s no record of anyone going down there since it was closed,” said Dan. The plate and rocks were soon moved aside revealing a shaft descending into darkness.

Pete took a few tentative steps onto the steel cable ladder that they had lowered 70 feet to the mine. He steadied his nerves and climbed down. The first person to enter the mine in nearly one hundred years. The difference was instant, as stark as leaving the earth’s atmosphere and entering space. Gone was the sun and blue sky, green landscape, the grey and white of the rock. The heat and gentle breeze of a summer’s day gave way to cool, damp and dark. Not just dark but sheer impenetrable blackness.

The three friends had soon adjusted o their new environment and one by one worked their way down the ladder to the main tunnel and on into the mine. They knew it was a small mine that had closed due to regular flooding. This soon became apparent about a mile from the bottom of the entrance shaft. The group found the remainder of the mine flooded. While checking out an area of collapsed boulders nearby Pete felt a gentle breeze blowing from a crevice at roof level. Upon closer inspection it revealed a small passage that looked like a natural cave.

It was just big enough for Dan to crawl into flat out, looking forward only by tilting his head sideways. This was why he loved caving, totally exhilarated but scared at the same time. He crawled, pushed and pulled himself through the dark, wet, muddy passage. Always aware he might have to back out if his way forward became blocked. He was in luck, after only thirty feet or so the passage emerged into a much larger cave. The others soon joined him and three friends found themselves sitting in a vast cavern by a lake, their lights barely penetrating the blackness. It was hard to tell how long it was but they weren’t going back without a tentative swim out. Discovering a new cave like this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They were to go one at a time with Dan the most experienced of the three going first, he attached himself to the longest length of rope they had and waded out into the cold black pool. He wasn’t alone, he could hear his friends calling and encouraging him but could no longer see them. He had never felt so alone or remote from the world, yet he was only half a mile from that lovely summer’s afternoon in Yorkshire.

It was hard going and he knew he would soon have to go back as the ninety feet of rope tied to his waist was running out, just a few more feet. He was about to turn and re-join his friends when he thought he could make out the far side of the cave. He was a strong swimmer but the cold water was starting to sap his strength. The water was still too deep for him to stand in and he had no more safety line.

What he saw made up his mind, there ahead was a stunning, pristine array of cave formations. They were everywhere. Pure white, hanging from the ceiling and rising from the floor. Going on into the cave as far as he could see. On the shore was a skeleton sitting leaning against the wall of the cave looking in his direction, as white as the formations around and dressed in tattered tweed jacket, shirt, trousers and hobnail boots.

Dan was speechless, he couldn’t call to his friends but knew he must go forward. He untied his safety line determined to press on. He swam a few strokes then the cold, the fear and adrenaline all seemed to kick in at the same time. He passed out which very quickly turned to drowning. He came around and took a deep breath but was already three feet under water. As a boy he had dreamed of sinking slowly to the bottom of a deep pool and coming to rest gently on the sandy bottom. The reality was not going to be like his dream. It was violent and terrifying. He choked and gagged trying to breathe once more. Instead he just inhaled cold water. Dan fought screaming, with his last ounce of strength he pulled towards the far shore. His foot hit a rock as he neared the shore and then something else. A hand, a strong firm grip holding his arm and then another on his shoulder. He was being dragged out of the water, he passed out again.

Dan opened his eyes and was aware that he was still in the cave and not dead. He was on his back, exhausted, looking up into the vast cave, the thin beam of light from his helmet lamp merging with the darkness. “That was a close shave lad, I thought you were a goner. Sit up take a sip of this”. Dan struggled to sit up and saw a hip flask being passed to him. His eyes worked their way from the flask along the strong tweed clad arm to the body and face of a man in his 40’s, with a hard strained face. “Go on I think you need it; I know I do”.

“Who are you and what are you doing here”, said Dan, feeling a little better as the effect of the strong liquor kicked in. “I could ask you the same question”, said the stranger. “There was a skeleton I saw it from the water”, said Dan but looking round he could see only the pristine cavern and the man who had saved him sat opposite.

“There is only you and I, no skeleton. You are in a pretty bad way you must have imagined, it” said the man.

“Who are you”, demanded Dan.

“I am Detective Sergeant Charles Henderson from Skipton Police, lost and alone in this dammed cave. I am on the trail of ‘Spring Heeled Jack’. He has been the scourge of this nation for years now and in the past month there have been many sightings of him in Yorkshire. Most recently he was seen in this vicinity. To the common man he is a fairy-tale, a devil, a bogey man but I know he is nothing but a common thief and murderer. I will see him hang”.

“Hang,” said Dan.

“Yes, Hang for the cruel deeds he has committed,” said Henderson.

“Two days ago I got news that he had been seen entering a small crevice, in the limestone pavement above the village by a local farmer. He described it as the Devil running to ground. I was guided to the spot and equipped with only my side arm and paraffin lamp I set off after him. I cornered him by this lake and was ready to take him in. He fled across the lake into the blackness from which you appeared. My lamp ran dry and I was lost, certain I should die when I heard such a commotion coming from the lake. It was then I saw you clearly drowning sir. Much against my better judgement I joined you in the lake and dragged you out. It seems that neither of us is ready to die on this day,” said Henderson.

Dan explained he was with friends and they had entered from the old mine, Charles looked perplexed. They looked out at the lake but it was silent, Dan shouted and pleaded but there was no response from the empty blackness. He was sure he couldn’t make it back across. It was clear Amy and Pete were not coming after him. He had no choice. Charles had got in the cave with just a paraffin lamp, Dan figured they would have to get out the same way.The two men although skeptical of each other, agreed to try and find a way out.

The way out of the cave was along wide open passages with beautiful formations. The only tricky bit was at the end, with a tangled climb up through the cracks and crevices of the limestone pavement. They emerged into the warm late afternoon sunlight several hundred feet lower than the mine and about two miles away. Dan was still shaken from his experience and his only thought was to return to the mine entrance. Amy and Pete must have called out the cave rescue by now. He must let them know he was safe. The now exhausted and somewhat disgruntled Detective grudgingly agreed so the pair turned and set off uphill.

The sun was warm on their backs and they began to dry out. Fortified by several more nips from the hip flask they were soon back in the vicinity of the mine. The same plateau, the same carpet of broken rock and shattered minerals but it wasn’t the same. Dan was astounded for the second time that day. What he saw shook his world to the core.

“We must have gone wrong” he said doubting his normally excellent sense of direction.

“This is it, Northcote Mine the only lead mine for miles around”, said Charles Henderson.

Gone was the scene of desolation and ruin he had witnessed that morning. In its place were the stone buildings and machinery of a working lead mine. There were men and ponies, smoke and noise. It was a busy working environment. Thoughts were racing through Dan’s mind what did this all mean, what had happened in the short time he had been underground.

The two men approached the buildings and could see inside the winding house. A hopper full of ore was being raised from the shaft that Dan and his two friends had earlier that day climbed down. He could think of no explanation for what he was seeing unless he was dreaming.

“If this is Northcote Mine then what is the date,” said Dan.

Charles Henderson was tired and a little annoyed at how his day had turned out. He could see though that his new acquaintance was genuinely perplexed and seemed a little afraid.

“What strange questions you ask my friend; it is of course Saturday 2nd August 1832,” said the detective.

This was the first of many surprises in Dan’s life over the next few years. Charles was a man of honour and although he thought his new friend completely mad he knew he had saved him from certain death that day. He never believed the wild stories that he was stranded from another time and suggested he keep these thoughts to himself. He did though take pity on Dan who lived with Charles and his wife for a while until he had managed to establish himself in the community.

‘Spring Heeled Jack’ was never seen in those parts again nor did Charles see him Hang. However his exploits good and bad continued to be recounted through Victorian England for many years.

Eventually Dan gravitated back to a very different Bradford from the one he had left and made a life for himself as a foreman in one its many textile mills. He never married and kept himself to himself. He returned to his beloved Dales many times, sometimes calling in on his old friend Charles Henderson and his wife. Most times though he just walked in the hills or visited the cave and explored its many passages or would just sit at the edge of the lake staring in wonder at the breath-taking formations around him and the black murky water disappearing in the distance.

It had happened – he didn’t know how or why but it had, and he realised now he would never go back. He was seventy years of age and his end came quickly, with a sudden massive heart attack brought on by the exertions of the day, sitting by the edge of the lake looking in the direction from which he had once come.


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