Box Quarry is somewhere I visited 3 times in the Autumn of 2011, but haven’t returned to since. A few friends of mine expressed interest over time in getting into exploring, and I decided it would be a good place to take a budding explorer because it’s a fantastic location that you’re allowed to be in and would be a great way for them to experience a visit without worrying about security, barbed wire and so on. Unfortunately only one could make it this time, but I wanted a revisit anyway and one is much easier to manage.
This report covers only my recent visit, however there are older images on Flickr if you’re interested in seeing more. I’ll link to images of some of these features as I talk about them.
The comedy started early thanks to all the snow and ice covering the ground. Sliding down hill to the Back Door entrance was an interesting way to begin the day, quickly followed by a muddy crawl through the entrance, then a muddy walk towards the Cathedral, and a muddy day to follow. Because of all the rain we’ve had over the last few months a lot of water has been dripping through the quarry and it was incredibly mucky throughout. Lovely jubbley.
The area around the Back Door is some of the hardest to navigate in the whole mine so my technique was more or less "head east and we’ll hit Cath". With the amount of tags pointing towards it on the walls, you pretty much know you’re on the right path (if you are).
Box Freestone Quarry has been quarried since the 18th century, however stone has been removed from the area much earlier than that, dating back to medieval times when stone was extracted from pits in the hillside where the stone reached the surface. Later the area was quarried in vertical shafts, which provided one of the most stunning features of Box – The Cathedral – which was shaft quarried between 1830 and 1850.
I have photographed this feature before, but I think this is worth updating with the figure of my exploring companion for scale.
Originally the quarry was probably several smaller quarries which over time were combined into one larger complex, and at one time there were a total of ten entrances to the complex, but after 1900 workable supplies of stone in the mine started to become exhausted and the complex started to close. In 1906 the largest East Gate was closed, with West Gate, North Gate and Bridge Gate closed around the same time.
On the far side of the hill, Spring Quarry was requisitioned during World War II, and Box Quarry was used as a "lung" for this newly established military complex. There are two tunnels connecting to this complex, which are the Wind Tunnel in the south west, and Brewers Drift in the mid west. Brewers drift was set up by the MOD specifically to supply air through from Box, and so is one of the most modern parts of the site. Both tunnels into this military complex have now been sealed and replaced with vertical air shafts.
We headed towards Brewers Drift, but found signs and cones at the bottom of the entrance denoting the area as having an unstable roof. Presumably due to the amount of water coming in, but I don’t know. We decided that a long tunnel with a few pillars wasn’t worth the risk, and headed for the northern Clift works.
The Clift works is the most modern section of the quarry and was used up until 1969. This area still retains a large amount of the original workings – intact cranes, a crab winch, rails, large collections of tools, and so on. This area even had stone removed by a small steam locomotive, and a water tank was built to service this locomotive.
This is a junction in the Clift workings, featuring some rare railway tracks which are hard to find elsewhere in the quarry. On the left you can see a tunnel which leads to a Crab Winch still on the rails, and on the right a tunnel leading to a roof fall. The graffiti on the wall in the center labels this as "Rocky Boulder Pass".
Then we headed further into the north to an area saturated in crane remnants in various states of decay. This area was completely new to me, having run out of time in the past, so we spent some time to look them all up. Mostly they are just rotten wood with the gearing and other parts scavenged.
The most attractive though was Crane 5 which was one of the most modern cranes in the mine, featuring hand guards, brake bands and twin gearing.
In 2006 the crane fell from its Chog Hole – the slot carved in the ceiling which the crane mounted into. The lower parts and wooden boom were crushed under it’s own weight and the bottom has since rotted away to mush.
On the right you can see numbers written by the workers on the quarry wall, counting blocks and calculating future excavations.
On the left you can see some tags left by a group labeled "SMCR" in October 1977. I can’t find much information but my guess would be that CR stands for Cave Rescue and that they were a group of early surveyors / explorers of the quarry.
From here we intended to try to head up into the further north east corner and try to see the 3 remaining cranes marked on the survey. However upon reaching the main tunnel we found a fall had completely blocked the route and we were tired and unwilling to navigate through lesser tunnels at this point. Those will have to wait for another visit.
We headed back down the main passageways until we were ~200m from Back Door and the outside world once more, only to find another major roof fall again blocked out path. We had to navigate our way around the falls and eventually back to Cathedral, and head to Back Door that way. We lost our way en route and in the end relied heavily on the tagging once more to lead us to the exit.
Back Door is easily the hardest feature to find in the quarry!