Ancient sunken coal mine on the Cumbria coast where legend says fairies dance under moonlight

Just metres from the cliff edge overlooking the Irish Sea is a crumbling, curious brick tower. The ancient building on the Cumbria coast is the former engine house of Saltom Pit mine.

It was the first large-scale undersea mine, and its at the base on Fairy Rock in the port town of Whitehaven. Today, the tower is the clearest evidence that the mine existence, and the rocks on the cliff are gradually slipping towards it.

Much of Fairy Rock fell into the sea during a storm in 1872, more than 100 years (1729) after the mine was built on the dramatic shoreline. One explanation for this rock movement is that it is caused by the soft layer of coal and shale beneath the heavy sandstone of Fairy Rock becoming slippery by rainwater seeping into the ground and foundations, through the cracks.


It causes the sandstone to break and fall down into the crashing waves below. But that is not the only theory. Because one magical myth is what many believe causes the rocks to tumble. Local legend, understood to date back to the 17th century, says that it is an ‘act of revenge by fairies’ and is where the area gets its name.

The grottos hidden within Fairy Rock were originally the homes of fairies, who unlike in fairy tales such as Tinkerbell in Peter Pan, were believed to be human-sized. They lived happily with their real human neighbours.

But they were light-footed and of course magic, so never left any impressions or footprints behind. It is understood they wore white robes, sang and danced under the moonlight. Centuries-old tales imply the fairies would invite handsome young men to watch and enjoy their dancing.

Saltom Pit from above, as it sits perilously close to the cliff edge
Saltom Pit from above, as it sits perilously close to the cliff edge
(Image: MyWhitehaven/Wiki)

But disaster struck when one man from nearby St Bees pledged everlasting love and devotion to the ‘Queen’ fairy. She accepted his hand in marriage but on the condition that he only visited in a full moon.

And although he pledged to follow the rule, he broke his promise and as a result, a horrific storm engulfed from the sea while he was crossing in his boat, it capsized and he was killed. His wails of terror are said to still be heard to this day during storms, by people visiting the cove where his body was washed ashore.

It is also rumoured the fairies can be heard singing during bad weather. The last sighting of a fairy was reported several hundred years ago, when a witness allegedly said ” “G-d! weel loppen, cofe”.

The mine was worked until 1848. Visitors can learn about the history and heritage of the site, which is on the edge of the Lake District, on an information board.


Lancs Live – Cumbria