seem to have become the unofficial tour guide for the
Natland Caves and Treacle Mines!
you, some people think I have made up the tale. Others
have protested that Natland has "pinched"
their story. I knew about the ones at Binsey and
at Sabden but it was news to me that Barrow-in-Furness
also claimed a treacle mine. My suspicion is that
this a recent adoption deriving from the 1995 children's
television show The
Although set in a northern town, the cartoon is based on Sabden
and the only Cumbrian reference of which I am aware
lies in the names of the programme's two villains, Barrow
me reassure the doubters of the longevity of the Natland legend.
Kelly, the Lowther Street Silversmith, told me that
in the 1950s when he was staying with his uncle who lived
in Kendal he was taken to the field behind Holmes'
Nursery and shown the site of the Natland Treacle Mine.
Presumably, the then dried up storm pond.
even earlier reference was provided by Susan Bowness
of Kendal who phoned in response to the
article to tell me about her aunt who had been
evacuated from South Shields to Levens during the Second
World War. Her aunt had told her about cycling
from Levens to Natland in search of the Treacle Mines.
Unsuccessfully, it seems.
Cannon's memories of the Treacle Mine go back even
further, to when he moved to the village in 1935 and
learned about it from an old farmer, Johnny Wilson.
if it is photographic evidence you want,
have a look at this picture kindly provided
by Daphne Lester. It shows the Treacle
Miners proudly marching around the Village
Green as part of the Natland Jubilee Fete
slogan on the banner reads: "Loyal
Greetings to Her
from the Natland Treacle Miners".
Treacle Miners on parade
the legend is an old one and, in my opinion, based on
two possibly related facts that will become apparent
on the tour.
setting off, however, let me issue a warning. If
anyone is motivated to explore any of these openings,
there is one piece of advice I have for them.
do it! Not unless you are an expert caver. The
tunnels are very shallow in places and quite unsuited
to casual exploration.
Our starting point
is at the summit of Helm.
down towards Natland and ask yourself
the key question: "How does the
rainwater get off Helm down to the river?"
does the rainwater get off Helm down to the river?
simple answer is that nobody knows. However there
will several clues that will emerge shortly.
begin with a geology lesson from Stuart Hinton.
the most recent
of the area dates from 1869 and is overlaid
on an 1890 Ordnance Survey map.
Victorians no doubt did a sound job with
the equipment of the day and significant
movements in the rock are unlikely to have
happened since, much has happened on the
Consequently the detail and the presentation
bear no comparison with, say, the geological map for
north of Kendal which is modern and much easier to interpret.
advised me that Helm
is not, as I had mistakenly thought, a limestone outcrop.
In common with much of the Lake District, it is much older dating from the Silurian
age, some 400 million years ago when the area lay somewhere
below the South Atlantic!
geological fault line runs along the line of the A65.
To its west lie the limestones of the lower
we are talking of maps, let's clear up one
common misunderstanding. The summit of Helm
and the whole of the West side of the ridge
(i.e. the common land) is in Natland, not
The strange shape of the parish can been seen
in the boundary map as shown in the Natland Parish Plan
The summit of Helm, its ridge and most
of the west side is clearly in the civil parish of Natland.
to popular assumption, is that Larkrigg,
the farm and riding school, is not in Natland,
nor is it in Sedgwick. It is actually
in the civil parish of Helsington, the only
part of that parish west of the River Kent.
to the tour! We now know that Helm
is made of hard compact rocks and it
is easy to imagine water flowing across them then reaching limestone and forming a cave system.
downhill along the road but before reaching the A65 regard on your right the large boggy area known
as Helm Sink Wells. It is hoped that this basin will
be confirmed as a County Wildlife Site in the near future.
also the strange depression in the ground
to the left of the cattle bridge as you
emerge out to the main road. Might
there be something of interest under there?
Sink Wells from above.....
and from the A65
the A65 turn right. If you stay on the Helm side
you have an extended (and better) view of the sink followed by a
smaller one near Castle Steads Lodge.
On the other side
of the road is the seldom visited open area of Little
Helm with its opening to The
Helm Gate Cave and, I am told,
some other strange features.
on along the A65 to the railway bridge and stop to examine
the limestone banking with its bricked up sections, presumably sealing
off interesting orifices that Railtrack does not want
anyone to explore.
Gate Cave entrance
first bricked up orifice.....
and the second
travel south-south-west along the footpath by the railway to the corner of the
field with a boggy section and sink where the cave is
believed to go under the railway.
a few yards west from here, follow the line of the railway
spoil that leads away from the lines to where it reaches
a flat section and you are at the site where the Pipeline
Cave opened up and was subsequently concreted over.
Pipeline Cave field sink
Bradbury identifies the Pipeline Cave
the fields by the wall to Long Meadow Lane. At some future
stage the tour may
go via Abbey Drive but so far I have had no evidence of
the alleged appearance of a cave opening when the houses
were being built there in the late 1960s; just a denial
from the then farmer.
a cave open up when Abbey Drive was built?
sign of it here!
for the time being, turn
right and right again up Oxenholme Lane for a hundred
yards or so to marvel at the Treacle Miner's cart and
Helm Pit Treacle Cart
your steps down hill and on past the school, immediately
after which is a former farmhouse called Lower House. In about 1960
the then owner was digging foundations to build a garage.
The day before the concrete was due to be laid,
a well was discovered. It was brick lined and
about 12 feet deep but dry. Sadly this was then
lost to become the garage floor.
do know of one other well in the village, that marked
on the O.S. map at Cracalt House. When I
cleared the vegetation, the ground was a little boggy
so I called in Richard Mercer to examine it. He
excavated it to a depth of some three feet or so, which,
as it is very narrow, was as far as he could sensibly
He was disappointed not to reach bedrock but
was surprised by the outcome- despite there being no
obvious sign of a spring, the well has filled to a depth
of about thirty inches.
down the well
Lane stream emerging
on down the hill until you reach the Village
It is unlikely that you will
see the Treacle Miners marching there today!
yourself between Compton
House and Green Tree House, near the site of the old
there was a sawpit here.
& Oxenholme; the Story of a Westmorland Village,
Whin Inglesfield suggests that an accumulation of sticky resin in the old sawpit
might be the cause of the treacle legend.
in an old saw pit here?
the other hand, I have heard rumours,
so far unconfirmed, of
a cave passing directly under the Village Green.
past the Post Office, stocking up as necessary with ice cream or other
essential sustenance before heading down Hawes Lane.
passing the canal and rounding the two bends, note the stream emerging from
a culvert on your left.
From whence has it come?
We may find out later.
to the river and turn right through the fishermen's
car park that used to be the village tip.
Now explore the river bank looking for
distinct signs of water emerging from the bank.
Riverbank Cave Entrance
on the last tour,
we bumped into the Human Mole, Richard Mercer and his
friend Alan (the Badger?) who had been tunnelling 40
feet mostly laid flat.
The strange things people
do for fun!
the strong water flow linked to the cave system?
is it an ancient underground Ox Bow of the river?
why does the flow never cease even in drought?
it be that it is actually fed by a leaking United Utilities
I am told that water samples have
been taken but as yet the analysis results have not
friend of Stan O'Connor who lives in the vicinity has
spoken of witnessing workmen cementing in
this outlet. Could this have been the same waterboard workmen who concreted up
the entrance to the Pipeline Cave? However Richard Mercer tells me that there
is no sign now of any such action having taken place
go back up Hawes Lane and pause at the canal bridge
and look south while I relate that tale of the missing
had heard of rumours of cattle
falling into the treacle mines or cave system
but the only verified incident of which
I am aware was reported in the Westmorland
on 13th August 1971
bullock from Natland Hall Farm disappeared
for three days before being found in what
the Gazette described as a "partly
concealed underground drain".
to the farmer, John Dodgson, the hole appeared
in a field near the canal and they had
to winch the animal out with the tractor.
believes the hole was related to the field
drainage system and not the Natland Caves.
Reproduced with permission from
After the canal bridge take
the footpath that goes diagonally across the fields
to pass between Cracalt Farm and Little Cracalt. Note
that once again there are signs of running water, which
answers the question about the culverted stream earlier
but poses another. Or rather the same question again. From whence has it come?
Head up out of the footpath onto the Cracalt drive and
back to the Sedgwick road. Turn right but immediately climb
the wall to take the footpath
to cross the field that, in winter (and in summer 2008), turns
into a large pond eventually flooding out onto the road.
There must be water running
underground all the year round
but where is it going? Presumably down by Cracalt Farm.
But by what route did it reach here? From the Pipeline
cave? Perhaps, but there is another possibility
as we shall later see.
tip for identifying the local geology is to examine the
dry stone walls. These will almost certainly have
been made from stone gathered locally. However,
the situation can be confused by glacial debris. Here,
close to the storm pond, we see a wall topped with limestone
but with lumps of Shap granite at the base, brought
down in the ice age..
wall with limestone and granite
the footpath to Helm Lane and, as you reach it, note
on your right the two cottages built out of Natland Treacle. Or
at least, treacle looking stone. Stuart
thought the lintels came from Whitbarrow.
the top of Helm Lane is another house partly built out of treacle.
This time it is a new one, or at least substantially new-
most of the old house at Yew Lodge was demolished to
make way for a much bigger dwelling built out of stone,
some of which does not, at first sight, seem indigenous but looks
to me like pure Natland Treacle! Some of the stones
show signs of having been under water- they carry "sole
marks"- like sand on the beach after the tide recedes.
Lodge- a treacle House?
property is currently empty and for sale.
inspecting the house and garden might want to look at
a kink in the boundary near the A65 where they will
find the "sink" in which Kendal Caving Club put dye
to try to track the route of the water off Helm but
Local residents talk of hearing
through the rock the sound of approaching trains.
right along the A65 as far as the Punchbowl and turn
Immediately behind the pub is a piece of
untended ground. Once upon a time this was a vegetable
patch. Then one day in 1855 a twenty foot deep
hole, the Barrows
appeared. Inside were two passages off. One
pointing north east to the summit of Helm, the other
northwest roughly in the direction of the winter flood
pond on Sedgwick Road. Are they connected? We
back up past the Punchbowl, across the A65 onto the
little lane that climbs to the back of Helm.
after Helm Mount farm, on your left is a bridle path.
Once through the gate take the steep path back
to the summit of Helm.
how different are the dry stone walls up
here. Made of a much more regularly
shaped rock with a reddish tint.
diagonally down, facing due north, heading for a small
Treacle Quarry on Helm
examining the spoil
The rock face looks
grey but closer examination shows this to
be weathering. You can see the true
colour better in the masses of broken angular
shaped pieces of stone lying on the floor, looking
like discarded piles of shattered
treacle toffee. It is actually Red Siltstone
of the Silurian age. The red comes from
the iron ore it contains. Some of
the samples seem to have traces of iron.
rock would have been quarried in the days
before mechanised transport- it being cheaper
to bring it from Helm than, say, from Kendal.
Could this be the real origin of the Treacle Mine
rock that looks like and fractures like treacle toffee
prized from the earth in Natland?
It gets my vote!
that, for now at least, concludes the tour. However,
why not take the opportunity to explore all of Helm
now that it is all Open Access land?
thanks to all who have contacted me with information
about the caves or the treacle mine legend. I
will close with a contribution from Ian Hardman who
set up the Westmorland Office of Provincial Insurance
in Kendal in 1983. Ian told Natland.info:
job was to sell the Provincial wares in the locality. I'm sorry to tell you that
the underwriters were not prepared to accept the Treacle Mines business because
of the subterranean fire risk. Colin Hazlehurst, who sadly is no longer with us,
and I had many laughs on the
if you will, but it is my belief that the legend of
the Treacle Mines derives from the existence of the
cave system under Natland, coupled with the strange
rock resembling treacle toffee that used to
be quarried and possibly mined on Helm.
there is a better explanation, I would love
to hear it!
want a piece of Natland Treacle?
Natland.info thanks Ingrid Beattie,
Keith Bradbury, Susan Bowness, Jim Cannon, Joanne Dodgson,
Ian Hardman, Stuart Hinton, Tony Kelly, Daphne Lester, Richard Mercer and Stan O'Connor for their help in the production of this
you want to find out more, you should also visit:
Natland Pipeline Cave
Helm Gate Cave
Barrows Green Cave
page has been converted from the previous Natland website:
here to return to Natland