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My journey into the land of the Dim Grey King

I have been thinking recently about how I ended up 20m down in a copper mine on a Saturday morning….again! If someone had said to me a year ago that I would be doing this, I would have laughed in their face!

My mine loving journey started when two of my favourite things to do collided at Alderley Edge National Trust while taking a simple dog walk!

I love a visit to a National Trust site and I became a member some years ago. We were looking for lovely places to walk the dog locally and we’d never been to Alderley Edge woods, so we popped over. Whilst there I saw an advert for a copper mine visit, and I jumped at the chance! I adore copper, as you probably know, and to see where it originated within the earth was a wonderful opportunity.

My other favourite thing to do involves my creative journey which started in 2017 making clothes. Shortly after I moved on to making beaded jewellery and then during the lockdown, I began silversmithing. Most metalsmiths learn the skills using copper, and I was no different. I did however develop a natural affinity for the material and continue to use it despite some silversmiths side-lining it for more precious metals.

a white A4 poster with red writing that says alderley edge historic copper mines open days wood mine 2-3rd April 2022.

So my love of copper + my national trust membership = I’m now a fully paid-up member of Derbyshire Caving Club!

white woman in a bronze jacket and brown leggings and purple wellies sitting on a sandstone ledge in a mine with a hard hat and torch smiling.

THE LAND OF THE DIM GREY KING

My most recent trip to Alderley Edge was to West Mine which is perhaps the biggest at the site. Our guide, Olly, said this was his favourite and it did not disappoint. The cavernous…..er caverns amazed us and there was also a fair amount of copper ore to be seen. Nothing like the beautiful blue waterfalls of Hough level in Wood Mine but still magnificent.

We spent almost 4 hours down there in total roaming around the different levels. They even had a ‘beach’ down there where some members of the club made their own sand castles!

sandcastle with a moat in an underground cavern

While we roamed Olly told us of the writings about and influenced by the mine including ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen‘ a children’s fantasy novel by Alan Garner. The story, which took the local legend of The Wizard of the Edge as a partial basis for the novel’s plot, was influenced by the folklore and landscape of neighbouring Alderley Edge where Alan grew up.

Olly also told us the strange and wonderful names of various parts of the mine workings such as the “The Valley of the Dawn” (where miners used to be able to see the sun coming in), “Street of forty-five” (a steep climb!) and “Plank Shaft” or “Devil’s Causeway which looks deep down into a shaft of about 20m! He’s actually putting together a piece of work about these and I hope to share that soon.

One of my favourite passage names is the “Trail of Broken Memories” as Olly tells us this appears to be where many cavers lose their bearings when learning the route for the first few times!

The longest cavern (and perhaps my most memorable bit) spans over 110m long, 16m high and at times 20m wide and I can tell you I stood agape for some time before moving on!

the land of the dim gray king - a woman stood in the bottom left foreground and a man stood at back right background exploring a sandstone cave at alderley edge

We also saw lots of artifacts left behind by miners from 1850s onwards. Bottles, teacups, packets of cigarettes, and weirdly a door handle! We even saw graffiti from 1866.

glass bottles from 19th and 20th centuries lined up on the sand in the underground cavern
Bottles left behind by miners and explorers
cave wall with 1866 scratched into it
Graffiti left behind by a miner

But you know me! I only have a love of copper and I was not disappointed. “The Green Stream” was my favourite bit!

small low cave with teal bluey green copper ore deposits forming a stream of colour
"The Green Stream"

And if you’ve got this far and you’re wondering who the “Dim Grey King” is well wonder no further! Brian Hampson who surveyed this mine in the 1940’s called the place “The Land of the Dim Grey King” and the king himself was a rocky outcrop that looked like a sleeping lion who has sadly been demolished by someone or has succumbed to the ravages of time. Can you make out what is left of him?

the land of the dim grey king
"The Dim Grey King"

Needless to say, I had such a great time and I’m definitely going back as we only saw about half of the cave system that day. 

Would you go underground for 4 hours or does the thought of caving fill you with dread? Let me know, you might get invited along!

sources

Alderley Edge Mines – DCC Website

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen – Alan Garner

A Journey’s Tale Into the Land of the Dim Grey King (unpublished draft) – Olly King

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Hi, I'm Sam!

I’m the creator and passion behind Rock & Rose Jewellery. Inspired by different cultures, ancient history and memento mori, my designs are motivated by a personal desire to create pieces for people who want a little delicate touch of gothic with their everyday outfits. 

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