ITS not everyone's idea of a nice evening out, especially when its blowing a gale and pitch black outside, but a visit underground to mine workings at Greenhow proved to be a memorable experience for senior clergy members, including the new Bishop of Ripon.

AREA Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley went deep underground recently - and named it one of her most memorable evenings as a bishop.

Ripon Bishop Helen-Ann was amongst a small party to visit the Gillfield lead mine at Greenhow Hill, between Grassington and Pateley Bridge.

Along with the Archdeacon of Craven, the Ven Beverley Mason and vicar of Upper Wharfedale, the Rev Darryl Hall, it was the first ever parish visit to the 18th century mine.

It was also believed to be the first time a service had been carried out in the mine workings.

The bishop, who has only been in post since February, admitted visiting a mine was not something she had expected - and was actually going against a promise she had made to herself never to go underground again.

But, despite all that, she described the experience as 'awesome'.

“In my diary I had judging hounds with the Young Farmers, not going into a mine," she said. “This is probably going to rank as one of the more memorable evenings of my time as bishop."

She added: “It was amazing – truly breath-taking. We got a real sense of the history bound up in this place. It’s not just what happens on top of the land, it’s what happens inside it and this evening we had a tangible sense of going into the ground which was pretty awesome."

The visit to the mines below Greenhow Hill carried out by the group of 12 took place during the evening.

It was dark, there were gale force winds, sleet and heavy mist on the remote moorland.

Once inside, in the calm of the mine and out of the winds, the low narrow passageways were lit only by helmet lamps as the group followed tunnels hewn out of limestone, shale and gritstones more than two centuries ago.

The visit was the idea of Vicar of Upper Nidderdale, the Rev Darryl Hall.

“I came down for the first time last year as chaplain to the local Young Farmers club,” he said. “It was such a wonderful experience that I thought we should open it up to the parish.”

It was the first time a parish group had been down the mine. It was also the first time an impromptu service had been held with both a bishop and an archdeacon.

In the depths of the earth, Bishop Helen-Ann led a prayer of blessing.

“I wasn’t expecting this at all, but I am very grateful to Darryl for leading me down the path into the mountain, up a ladder or two and over one or two interesting obstacles," she said.

Mine Manager Richard Clayton led the group into the mine, which is now looked after by the Greenhow Local History Club.

Rev Hall added: "Greenhow is the highest church in Yorkshire and is part of our heritage, but Greenhow only exists because of the lead mines. So it made sense for us to come down here and give thanks for this wonderful inheritance. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty – both outside and inside as well. Despite being stark and bleak there’s something quite beautiful about it.”

Mining of Gillfield, or Coldstones Low, began in 1782, producing both lead and much later, fluorspar (fluorite). Fluospar is a common rock forming mineral used for a wide variety of purposes in the metallurgical, ceramics and chemical industries.

Commercial production ended in the 1960s and in the 1970s the mine was leased to Leeds University Department of Mining and Mineral Engineering to provide a place where budding mining engineers could practice their underground surveying.

The 'stopes' (open spaces created by the mining) were cleaned out of all loose rock, and the mine made safe.

With the decline of the British mining industry in the late 1990s, the university closed its mining department.

In 2004, the local history club obtained a lease from the landowner, enabling it to preserve the mine. It is now the only accessible underground workings on Greenhow.

St Mary's Church, Greenhow, at 420 metres above sea level is the highest church in Yorkshire.