When Carrying Out Writerly Research, Check Map First

As part of my PhD research into the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, I went to visit the old furnace and calciner/kiln at Allensford today. This was my third attempt. The first time, I set off too late and found myself in the woods in the dark (scary and a bit unwise). The second time, I set off earlier, and after scrambling across rocks and then wading upriver for some time, got stuck and gave up. The third time, I took my trusty guide.

As I climbed down some crags that looked ready to collapse at any moment, and traversed (yes, traversed) a small ravine, I was not comforted by the words ‘Don’t worry, it’s not going to come down, it’s held together by roots’. Mainly, I was not comforted because I was facing an uprooted tree, whose root base was twice the height of me.

Uprooted tree at Allensford
Uprooted tree at Allensford

During the whole horrible excursion, I wondered aloud who on earth would build a furnace in such an inaccessible place – how mad would you have to be exactly to hump iron across such treacherous terrain?

Crags at Allensford
The road less travelled

Finally, after crossing at least one beck, finding a lovely mountain stream and squelching through a bog, I made it. Instead of being stunned by eventually being faced with this 17th century furnace, my eye was drawn to the gently sloping path that led down to it, without any risk to life or limb. ‘Oh, yes,’ replied my trusty guide, ‘we could have come that way. Still, you’ll know for next time.’

Allensford blast furnace c. 1683

The remains of the furnace looked like a not-very-tasty gingerbread house, but in place of icing, the roof is a ‘temporary’ cap of concrete that has been there for probably almost as long as I’ve been on earth. I suppose I’m also quite temporary…

Calciner/kiln at Allensford

The calciner/kiln is a little bit further up the hill, and bits of it are still in relatively good condition (for a ruin).

If you want to go and see the furnace and kiln for yourself, and you don’t want to set your neck going via the adventurous route, here is a link to the OS coordinates: http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-240616-allensford-blast-furnace-on-n-bank-of-r-#.V_lU5uArI2w

Happy hunting, Helen

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