After some time away from exploring we decided to get back into the old ways with a few easy explores. One of these was a trip to Castlebridge Colliery in Fife. For those of you who don’t know what a colliery is, its a coal mine and and the buildings and equipment associated with it. Castlebridge Colliery was part of a larger deep coal mine complex in Fife, which is more commonly known as Longannet. The shaft was sunk at a cost of £57 million in 1978 with production starting 6 years later in 1984. It was the last deep coal mine shaft to be sunk in Scotland during the National Coal Board era, but also the first one to be sunk in 20 years at the time. The site was closed in 2001 with the shaft filled and capped leaving the topside buildings empty.
We set out on an average Scottish day (grey, overcast with no sign of the sun) and after a short slog through the nearby woods we arrived at the site. We made a bee-line for tower as, needless to say, this is what we came to see. We were not disappointed with what we found.
What made Castlebridge Colliery slightly unique was the winching mechanism. Not so much the equipment used but where it was physically positioned. A normal coal mine would have the winch mechanism at ground level with the cables running to a large pulley above the shaft, much like a large A frame. With Castlebridge, however, the winch mechanism was located at the top of a 6 storey tower directly above the shaft. It was housed in a large metal cube, which is built on, what effectively look like stilts, as you can see in the photo above.
When wandering about the site we met with a number of different groups exploring the place. One group consisted of a Mum, Dad and two pre-school children who wanted to see what remained of the British Coal Industry. Bumping into other groups seems to be a much more regular occurrence in recent explores than it was when we first set out to visit the abandoned places of Scotland.
As I mentioned Castlebridge Colliery was part of a much larger mine network stretching across a large area on the north side of the River Forth. This included the mines of Bogside, Castlehill, Solsgirth and Longannet. All of the produce from the mine network was used to supply the now closed Longannet Power Station, with the coal being transported to it by several miles of underground conveyors. It was reported to have the world’s longest conveyor belt at the time, stretching almost 5.5 miles from Solsgirth to Longannet. The mine was also one of the most productive collieries in Europe, breaking all productivity records in Scotland. Many aspects of the site were duplicated in other collieries in the UK and around the world as it was seen as a blueprint for modern mining.
With the closure of Castlebridge Colliery in 2001 all access to that part of the mine ceased, with the complex being sealed off and flooded. As part of this Dams were created to isolate the Castlebridge section from the active mine workings. In 2002 the remaining section of the mine was flooded with millions of gallons of water. Fortunately the workers were in a different part of the mine and were safely evacuated. The owners of the mine Scottish Coal (Deep Mine) Limited went into receivership, and with no buyers coming forward the remaining pumps in the mine were switched off leaving the remainder of the mine to flood. They never found out the cause of the flood as there was no longer access to the mine, leaving it a bit of a mystery. This was the last deep mine in Scotland and with its closure effectively ending underground coal mining in the country.
The site has seen many visitors over the years, both explorers, metal thieves and vandals. We popped in again when passing the site at a later date and found some of the office space to have been spray painted with even more damage done to it. A lot of the documentation and maps which we carefully put away again had been pulled out of the cupboard and thrown about the place sadly. It won’t be long before most of the buildings are just empty shells.
More images are available at our gallery as well as a video of the site and drone flight.