This multi-award winning museum works very hard to give a true impression of the hardships endured by miners in a 19th century lead mine. It was the first ever recipient of the Guardian’s Family Friendly Museum award in 2004.
Thanks to the meticulous restoration of buildings and machinery actually used at the time – including the huge water wheels working above and below ground – this is an authentic, educational, captivating and unique experience. Children will be fascinated to see how the miners lived and worked. They can explore the mine shop, dress up as a washer boy and use Victorian tools to look for ore, see the replica machines working in the ‘jigger’ house and even go down into the mine kitted out with hard hat, head lamp and Wellington boots (which can be supplied if necessary). However, children under four years old are not permitted down the mine. Extremely brave adults and teenagers might want to sign up to go underground for a paranormal nighttime mine visit! All this is backed up with exhibitions and workshops and at every step of the way the keen and helpful guides are on hand with information and explanations. After the rigours and darkness of the mine, the woodland walk is refreshing. You may well spot some red squirrels in the trees and frogs in the ponds – and the backpack available to borrow (£10 returnable deposit) contains all you’ll need to discover plenty more.
For a site set on a slope fifteen hundred feet up in the rugged splendour of the North Pennine Dales, this is a surprisingly accessible site – everything above ground has been made as easy to access as possible, without impacting on the integrity of the historical site. There are dedicated Blue Badge parking spaces as well as a drop-off point in front of the entrance. From the car park, a lift and ramps lead to the visitor centre and mine shop, which has automated doors. Smooth, firm tarmac and generally level paths connect the different sections of the attraction. A Shopmobility powered scooter is available free of charge, but donations are welcomed. A large part of the woodland route is wheelchair and pushchair friendly, and there is an accessible wildlife hut too – but the ground leading to it is rough and this part of the woodland is on a hillside. The trip into the mine may be awkward for some visitors, although access is level, the tunnel is narrow and the ground is rough and wet. The helpful staff will do all they can to make a journey underground possible for everyone though – so if you have concerns about the mine or any other aspect of your visit, contact them in advance to talk through practicalities. All the publicity and welcome leaflets are available in large and contrast print; all doors have contrasting trims and plans are in place for an induction loop. The weather in the area is changeable – take layers, waterproof clothing and sturdy footwear.
Food & drink: The café serves a welcome array of steamy soups, indulgent scones and other tasty snacks, all made from organic and locally sourced ingredients. For a full meal with all the trimmings try Nent Hall Country House Hotel at nearby Alston.