Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A great day out - Museum of Lead Mining Wanlockhead.

The school holidays are rapidly approaching, the end of this week for those of us north of the border, and the long holiday is stretching endlessly ahead, and we are all looking for things to do with the children to keep them amused. I would like to share a different, but great day out, with you.

Hidden Treasures - Museum of lead mining at Wanlockhead 

HIDDEN TREASURES, Museum of Lead Mining, is a Visit Scotland 4 Star Visitor Attraction set in the picturesque village of Wanlockhead, which at 461m / 1531 feet above sea level is the highest village in Scotland. The village is set amid the Lowther Hills, directly on the Southern Upland Way just minutes from the amazing Mennock Pass, which offers some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland and only 9 miles from the M74.

Picturesque is an understatement. The drive along the road is amazing. Steep hills offering stunning colours at this time of year, from the amazing shades of green to the purples of the heathers.

the view along the river driving up

the hills looking along the road

On either your way up or your way back down there are plenty of stopping places along the road where you can play in the river. It is shallow enough to be safe, though supervision of your children is always recommended no matter how shallow the water. We have always found the water to be a pleasant temperature to paddle in.

There are also plenty of sheep wandering round the roads which our children always loved to see when we took them up there when they were young, I'm sure your children will find them interesting and amusing as well. The sheep are well use to cars and usually move out of the way.

in the middle of the road, look at those hills!!!

wandered off 

So we arrived at the Visitor Centre, ample parking in the free car park next to a river with amazing views over the surrounding countryside.

The Visitor Centre offers an amazing display of mineral, gold and silver, the history of the lead mining process, a social history display and many other artefacts. The Visitor Centre was once the Village Smiddy. 

The visitor centre has a reception desk where you book your tours, or get any other information you require.  One of the things we have liked about this in the past is you can book parts of the tour if you wish, you don't have to book it all. On our tour for the mine there were nine of us but only four of us went across to the library, so you really can pick and choose as to what may appeal.

Upon arrival at the centre we booked in for our tour. We were advised that the mine can be cold and at times wet underfoot and it was suggested to us to fetch a jacket and put on sturdy footwear, so we went back to the car pulled on a jumper each and put on our hiking boots and went back to meet with the rest of the group

We were shown across to where our mine tour would start and introduced to our guide Margaret.

me dressed for the mine

our group ready for the mine

Margaret supplied us all with hard hats, which are compulsory for H&S, and gave a few of the others with less adequate footwear blue disposable covers to help keep their feet dry. We then got a H&S talk on what to do down the mine, and warned to duck so as not to hits our heads as we went in. We were also given a background history of how and when the mine started.

receiving our H&S talk

Margaret radioed across to reception that we were about to enter the mine, and we all followed along down the fairly narrow tunnels where we stopped at various places of interest to learn more about the mine and the miners.

inside the mine

 Despite it being dark down the mine their are some air holes back to the surface in which mosses will grow

the green moss growing on the wall

looking up the air hole

There are also signs of stalactites these take hundreds of years just to get to this size.

the stalactites 

The mine is only safe so far along, and so when we got to the end we got told more interesting facts and saw two life size models.  It was also interesting that they have an emergency box down there with bottle water and Mars Bars in, and as I eat/breath/think allergy twenty four seven then I did ask did they have any allergy friendly snacks down there. Margaret asked for me and no they don't, so I suggested they may be interested in some Nakd bars of Frank bars that are (most known) allergy free. These have a long shelf life and would be a great add to the emergency box.

shovels and water bottles

At times it was a wee bit difficult to hear what was being said, but some areas were not wide enough for us all to stand round in a group, its was more a line of us. Margaret gave a great deal of interesting facts, from the days when the men lived in tents and mined in the short summer they have up there to the building of the village and housing so they could then mine all year. Their summers are not long enough for vegetable growing so the miners and their families were highly dependant on food being brought in to eat. 

a model of a miner

Once back outside we removed our helmets and walked across to the miners cottages.

well sign posted 

At the Straitsteps Cottages you can experience what it was like to live as a miner in the 18th and 19th centuries. One cottage depicts a cottage interior around 1750 and the second around 1850 with the third and final cottage at around 1910. The artefacts on show, illustrate how the people of Wanlockhead lived, worked and played.

Margaret did a fabulous job of explaining how they lived what their beds and floors and roofs were made off, and how things changed over the centuries.

Outside the Straitsteps Cottage is the Beam Engine.  This unique piece of hydraulic pumping equipment which pumped water out of the Straitsteps mine, is the only remaining water-bucket engine to be seen on a mine in Britain.
the row of cottages

inside the cottages 

Once we had seen round here we were left to explore for ourselves. We had the chance to wander off and look closer at one of other other mines, have a look round the old graveyard, and for us to disappear off at getting the highest cache in a village in Scotland.

We wandered back across and had a sandwich, a cake, and a drink in the tea room. The tea room was nicely laid out, the food well presented, and very reasonably priced.
Visit our bright, comfortable tea room for a wide range of hot and cold food served all day in the season. We have a mouth-watering range of home made soups, snacks and main meals plus freshly baked scones and cakes to tempt you away from your diet!
There is a daily selection available for our vegetarian guests. The tea room is easily accessible to our disabled guests. 

One of the joys of this tour is you can dip in and out of it as you feel  like, so we went back to the reception desk to find out the time for the next visit to the library. We joined up with Margaret and another couple from the mine tour and headed off to the library, a two minute walk up the hill round the back.

The Miners LibraryWanlockhead Miner's Library  is the second oldest subscription Library in Scotland and indeed Europe and was established '....for our mutual improvement'.  on the 1st November 1756 with 32 men. The Library was funded by subscriptions from the Miners,  but a contribution was also made by mining companies too in order to encourage 'self-improvement' in the miners.
Membership of the Library was a privilege and new members were subjected to a rigorous interrogation by the Librarian before being admitted to membership. Wanlockhead Miners’ Library was very progressive in that it allowed women to subscribe!  In 1784 it is recorded that there were 32 male members and 1 female - Isabella Rutherford 

inside the library

I love books and libraries, the smell is just amazing. Margaret put an audio tape on for us to listen too, a supposed conversion by the librarian and his customer. The library opened once a month and the books were inspected upon their return to ensure they were still in good condition.

the view across the village from the library

Lastly for the day we went to do some gold panning. This is paid for over and above the entrance price as an optional extra. Our instructor for this was David. He talked us through the technique, showing us as he went, and then set us up with pans to try for ourselves.

me panning for gold
I'm sure any children would enjoy this.

OH panning for gold

Once you have found your gold you get to pop it into a bottle of water and take it home with you 

the gold in the bottle

You can learn how to pan for gold in the river with an experience panner if you wish and even hire equipment and go out for a day or two. You can also buy a license and pan for gold along the river and we saw various people panning along the river when we were driving up.

We must have been up at Wanlockhead for the best part of four hours, and seriously could have happily spent longer up there just enjoying the scenery. Why not take a picnic and go for the day?

Disclaimer - we both received free entry into the mine, cottages, museum and library in return for this post. But the findings and thoughts are my own and not influenced by this We paid for the gold panning ourselves.


  1. We went there some years ago (pre H). Found it very interesting, but it is in the middle of nowhere.

    1. it is literally in the middle of nowhere, but that was half of the appeal for us.

  2. What a great review and suggestion about the bat


Nice to see you stopping by. Thank you for your comment and I hope you stop by again.