Alston Moor is a remote and sparcely populated region in the eastern part of Cumbria (formerly Cumberland) just to the west of Weardale. Numerous mines are located throughout the region, with a particular concentration around the village of Nenthead. While much of the region lies within the central fluorite zone of the orefield, fluorite has been, for the most part, only a minor component of the ore deposits found there, and the Rotherhope Fell Mine is the only mine in Alston Moor that has been worked commercially for fluorspar. Between the 18th and early 20th centuries considerable amounts of both lead and zinc have been recovered from these mines, however, and supported a thriving local mining and smelting industry until the years following the First World War.

Further to the southwest is the Western Pennine Escarpment, beyond which the Pennine Mountains give way to the lowlands of Vale of Eden. Though less concentrated, numerous old mines, primarily for lead, zinc and barium dot the escarpment. The most significant as far as specimens are concerned is the Hilton Mine, located near the head of Scordale Beck in the old county of Westmorland. The mine is anomolous in that, though located well outside the central fluorite zone, it has been a source of some of the finest yellow-amber fluorite found in the orefield. The Scordale mines are also the only deposits in the region where significant amounts of both fluorite and barite have been found together.

A map showing mines in the Alston Moor area of Cumbria, and East Allendale in Northumberland. Map by Peter Briscoe.

Mines Around Nenthead

Most of the major mines around Nenthead were developed during the 18th and 18th centuries by the London Lead Company, with the exception of Brownley Hill. The London Lead Co. was also largely responsible for building the village of Nenthead, itself. With the collpase of the lead market in the 1880s, they gave up their leases in the area, and by 1905 were out of the mining business altogether. Many of the leases were subsequently acquired by the Vieille Montgne Zinc Company of Belgium, who switched from lead to zinc production in the area. Active mining continued until just prior to World War Two. Many of the major mines in the area were eventually joined underground, with ore (and specimens) brought to surface through the most convenient level from any of a number of different actual mines. Fluorite is relatively scarce in the deposits around Nenthead, but good specimens of other minerals, including galena, sphalerite, witherite, and alstonite have been recovered. Below are described some of the more important mines for specimens production.

Nentsberry Haggs Mine, Nenthead

The main entrance to this mine is th Nentsberry Haggs Horse Level, about one mile north of the village. During the life of this mine, a number of different, interconnecting veins were by an extensive network of tunnels, which eventual extending northward over the county boundary into Northumberland. In 1925 Veillie Montegne Zinc sank the Wellhope Shaft to allow better access to workings at the face, which by that time were a considerable distance from the horse level portal. An aerial tramway was also constructed to transport ore from the shaft to a treatment plant in Nenthead. Difficulties with both the tramway and the processing of mixed sphalerite-witherite ore eventually caused the mine to cease operations in 1938.

During the life of the mine, the principal ores recovered were lead, zinc, and to a lesser extent, barium. While fluorite is largely absent from the veins accessed by the mine, some excellent specimens of both barytocalcite and witherite have come out of the mine. The latter are often at least partially pseudomorphed by barite. Particularly productive has been the Admiralty Flats area of the mine.

A group of pseudo-hexagonal witherite crystals, 9 cm across, from Cox's Vein, Nentsberry Haggs Mine. Witherite has been partially pseudomorphed by barite.

Brownley Hill Mine, Nenthead

The Brownley Hill Mine (sometimes called Bromley Hill) is located approximately 1 km northwest of the village of Nenthead, Alston Moor, Cumbria. The mine accesses a number of associated veins and flats, with workings developed primarily in the Great Limestone. The earliest records indicate that work at the Brownley Hill Mine dates back to at least the first half of the 18th century. During the latter 18th and most of the 19th centuries the mine was worked for lead by a succession of independent lease-holders and small mining companies. By the latter 19th century high grade lead ores had become depleted and production shifted to zinc. The final leasee was the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company, who operated the mine until 1936. The main entrance to the mine was the Bloomsbury Horse Level. This same level was used to access the workings of the Gudhamgill Mine, which is reported to have produced yellow fluorite from flats encountered on the Gudhamgill Moss Vein.

Alstonite (crystals up to 6 mm) on barite from the Brownley Hill Mine, Alston Moor.

The Brownley Hill Mine is located at the outer boundary of the Weardale fluorite zone, and though somewhat rare, specimens of amber fluorite have been recovered from mine workings on the Jug Vein. The mine is perhaps best known as being the type locality for alstonite - a relatively rare barium-calcium carbonate. First described as a variety of barytocalcite in 1835, the mineral was correctly recognized as a new species in 1841. The exact location of the original alstonite occurrence was not recorded, but was rediscovered in the late 1980's by Lindsay Greenbank. Alstonite has also been found at the Fallowfield Mine in Northumberland, but can be distinguished due to its association with witherite, where-as that from Brownley Hill is often associated with calcite and/or pink to tan barite.

A cluster of untwinned amber fluorite crystals up to 3 cm on edge, with minor chalcopyrite, from the Jug Vein, Brownley Hill Mine.

Rampgill Mine, Nenthead

The main horse level of the Rampgill mine is located in the village of Nenthead. During the 18th and 19th centuries the mine the mine was one of the largest producers of lead in Alston Moor, and by the end of the 19th century underground workings had been developed on several intersecting veins, and extended northeastward to the head of West Allendale in Northumberland, where a rich area of flats was discovered in the Great Limestone. While fluorite is relatively scarce in the mine workings, attractive white quartz epimorphs after fluorite, often studded with small lustrous crystals of black sphalerite have been found by collectors in recent years. Some pockets containing pale amber fluorite were also found by collectors on the Boundary Cross Vein in the early 2000s.

Not far from the Rampgill portal is the Brewery Shaft, which was sunk in the mid-19th century to intersect the southeastern end of the Nent Force Level. This level was driven tward Nenthead from the town of Alston, starting in 1776, with the purpose of providing drainage for the Nenthead mines and exploring for new mineralized veins along the way. Very little new mineralization was discovered, and after driving around 7 miles (11 km) of tunnel, the project was abandoned in 1892 at a considerable financial loss to the companies involved.

Untwinned fluorite crystals with a partial coating of siderite on quartz. Minor amounts of sphalerite are also present. From the Boundary Cross Vein, Rampgill Mine. 10 cm across.

Smallcleugh Mine, Nenthead

Located just south of the village, the Smallcleugh was another major ore-producing mine in the Nenthead area. Worked for both lead and zinc, large amounts of ore were produced from flats encountered on both the Smallcleugh and Handsome Mea Cross Veins between the late 18th and 19th centuries. The extensive underground workings included a chamber known as the "Ballroom" in which formal dinners were once held. Portions of the mine are still accessable to those with caving skills, and specimens of galena, spahaerite, and cream-colored ankerite are occasionally recovered.

Galena crystals on ankerite from the Smallcleugh Mine. 8 cm across.

Sphalerite with calcite on ironstone from the Smallcleugh Mine. 10 cm tall.

Rotherhope Fell Mine, Alston Moor, Cumbria

The Rotherhope Fell Mine (also known as Rodderup Fell) was one of the most prolific specimen-producing mines in Alston Moor, and the only one to be commercially operated for fluorspar in the area. Lead mining on the Rotherhope Fell and related veins dates to the late 18th century, and Fairbairn (1993) lists a continuous succession of lease-holders and operators through the 19th. The property was acquired by the Vieille Montagne Lead and Zinc Company who operated the mine until 1947 when the mine was sold and dismantled. Reprocessing of old dump material for fluorspar continued into the 1970's.

A twinned fluorite crystal, 3.5 cm on edge, with calcite, from the Rotherhope Fell Mine, Tynebottom flats, ca. 1930. The fluorite shown the amber over purple color zoning characteristic of specimens from this find.

The most recent workings were accessed by an incline known as the Blackburn Level. From this level a number of drifts and underground shafts worked the vein at levels from the Five Yard Limestone down to the Whin Sill. During the late 1920s and early 1930s extensive flats were encountered in the Tynebottom Limestone, which produced some spectacular specimens. Fluorite, galena, and calcite were the most common minerals found, along with lesser amounts of other sulphides. Various shades of purple were the most common colors of fluorite, though amber fluorite was found as well. Fluorite crystals are often twinned, and associations with galena and well formed calcite crystals are common. A good selection of specimens from the mine was acquired by Sir Arthur Russell, and are now with his collection in the Natural History Museum, London.

A group of twinned, purple fluorite crystal up to 4 cm on edge, with associated calcite quartz. From the Rotherhope Fell Mine, Tynebottom flats, ca. 1930.

Hilton Mine, Scordale, Cumbria

The Hilton and adjacent Murton Mines are located at the head of Scordale Beck (sometimes also called Hilton Beck), approximately 4 km NE of the village of Hilton in Cumbria (formerly Westmorland). The Hilton Mine proper is located on the east side of the valley, while the Murton is on the west. Both mines accesses ore-bearing veins and an extensive belt of associated flats located at the top of the Melmerby Scar Limestone. The earliest known workings in the area are an open cast known as Mason's Hole, located a little ways down the valley from the Hilton, and likely dates from the 17th century. Both the Hilton and Murton Mines were worked by the London Lead Company for galena between 1824 - 1876. The mines were reopened in 1896 and worked by a succession of owners for witherite and barytes (barite ore) until 1919. Though largely inactive since, the mine was held under lease until 1963 when it was finally abandoned and the site cleared.

Mining crew with a steam-engine tractor at the Hilton/Murton Mine complex, sometime around 1900.

During the late 1960s and 1970s the Hilton Mine became a popular destination for field collectors and numerous specimens were collected from both the Dow Scar and Middle Levels of the mine, The area surrounding the mines was incorporated into a military manoeuvers range in the early 1980s, and since that time access to upper Scordale has been highly restricted.

A large twinned yellow fluorite crystal on barite. 13 cm across. Collected by Lindsay Greenbank and Mick Sutcliffe in 1970 from the Dow Scar Level of the Hilton Mine.

The Scordale mines are unusual in that, despite being well outside of the "Fluorite Zone" centering on Weardale, fluorite is commonly found in association with barite in the flats of both the Hilton and Murton Mines. In addition, the Scordale mines are one of the few localities in the region where fluorite and barium minerals are found together. The Hilton mine has been the source of the finest specimens of yellow-amber fluorite found in the North Pennines, and while a few specimens are known to have survived from the period of active mining, most seen today were recovered from the mine more recently by private collectors. Sadly, the area is now off limits to collecting.

A well-formed, twinned yellow fluorite crystal, 4 cm on edge, from the Dow Scar Level of the Hilton Mine.

A panorama looking southwest down Scordale Beck from the Hilton Mine. The terraces to the right mark the site of the Murton Mine.