Depth through thought
OUCC News 14th November 2001
Volume 11, Number 5
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Couple of trip reports below: thanks to Simon and Geoff. Which reminds me: surely some of you went caving over the summer, and might like to write a story for those of us who were more or less armchair-bound?
This weekend, there's a trip to Wales. For those of you unfamiliar, Wales is a kind of side-ways Spain, with huge, deep caves tilted flat on their side. Hence its much easier than Spain, and doesn't require much gear. Big streams too. Unlike Spain, the sheep are now all dead. Come and find out what all the lack of fuss is about.
Finally Swildon's is re-opened and Car loads of enthusiastic Oxford (and other)cavers gathered on Saturday morning at Priddy Green ready to do Swildon's. Chris organised the rabble in to three teams and OUCC set off in mass to once again enter the great Swildon's Hole. Personally, I couldn't wait to get my self back into this cave. Sorry to go on about it but, Swildon's is the best cave in Britain !
Chris, Alison and myself formed a team with two freshers. Swildon's here we come....All lights working for once and in we went. surprisingly it was not very wet at all. (very disappointing) We slowly made our way to the top of Jacobs Ladder and proceeded to take the short dry route while other teams had taken the long dry.. I think?
Jacobs's ladder was descended with out any problems and continued to the water chamber. Both freshers seamed to be enjoying themselves. Well they weren't complaining anyway. Onwards, and to the old forty foot pitch, down the waterfall and now I've got properly wet so I'm happy. No sign of the other groups yet so off towards the ladder pitch. Where Tim's group have just finished descending the ladder. Alison climbs down the ladder first followed by the rest of the group and myself. Again, no complaints from anyone so continue down to sump one where were meet a lonely Fleur sitting on a rock. The rest of here team have gone through the sump. No one in our team is up for the brisk dampness of sump one other than myself, so through I go. Wonderful. Out into dark passage, no sign of Tim or others so I stomp along signing to myself. Up the large roped slab to find Tim and Co descending. My self and another head off to sump two while Tim and others head back through the sump.
We return through sump 1, and Tim plays the very old, lets bang a stone on
Simons head trick..haha. We return up the cave and while I continue up to the
top of the water rift, Chris takes the others through Barnes Loop. We continue
up through the cave and taking the different route of the wet way out to a clear
afternoon on the Mendip Hills.
T'owd men that is! 'Cos that's what's bin in them smeggy Peak district holes.
Well, as you might have noticed if you were recipients of my increasingly desperate & pleading E:mails during the summer, I didn't get to go to foreign climes, and was thus left kicking my heels in dear old foot & mouth infected blighty. So, whilst you might have been dropping shafts in The Picos, meeting Montezuma in Mexico, picking Edelweiss in Austria, or doing things 'The Chinese Way', I was left doing things up to me eyeballs in mud in glorious Wensleydale.
I got pally with Buster Wright 'cos he knows lots and lots about caving in Sardinia. His other great passion, however, is re-discovering old lead mines in Derbyshire! So when he wanted someone with SRT experience to help him with a dig at the bottom of a shaft, I felt obliged to help. What else did I have to do anyway?
On my first trip Buster showed me around the several hundred feet of passage he'd already discovered, which included a few miners artifacts. Then onto the dig site, a small level about 18" high, half-backfilled with mining spoil. There was a promising draught and the digging was quite easy. We made 10 feet of progress on that trip, and before we left I wriggled up along the top of the spoil to a constriction where Buster hoped it opened out into a chamber. I couldn't see any sign of that, but the draught was encouraging and there are were many other shafts in the vicinity.
Over the next few weeks Buster continued his dig solo, and when he next called was incredibly excited at having broken through. He'd re-discovered 400' of passage and there were numerous leads to push. All he needed was someone to back him up & push the smaller levels. The next Sunday evening I was amazed to find he had dug out a further 40 feet of level to reach his breakthrough point, not a chamber, but a 4 metre drop down a funnel shaped internal shaft.
Squeezing down through this I dropped into a small natural streamway, low and wet to the left, but roomier downstream where the miners had enlarged it. After a few feet Buster was pleased to show me his prize, a fine length of hand picked coffin level going off at high level to the left. The clay floor still bore the grooves created by the miners drag trays. Through this were a series of workings, looping round to an impassable stream inlet, the water flowing off into another low section, almost certainly the other end of the stream already passed through. Our first objective, a run in shaft looked a long term prospect, so we returned to the open leads.
The first was a narrow natural aven, 15-20' high, and narrowing at the top. Unsurprisingly, squeezing up past all the chert nodules revealed that it was blind. A second larger aven was discovered after pulling the rocks out of a small level. An upward trending muddy rift opened into the side of a circular chamber, with a trickle of water coming from it's roof 20' above. The floor of the chamber was spectacular in its own small way. Fantastic mud formations gave the impression of a fairytale castle, spires of mud being capped by their individual little stones. A few cave pearls drew the eye onto what appeared to be a flooded level on the far side of the chamber.
Another solidly choked passage drew our eye because of the pick marks on its walls, indicating that it had been engineered from the far side. It also curiously lay in the centre of our loop of passages. Pulling out a few rocks revealed the base of a hand picked shaft, and over a very short space of time we were able to pull out several hundredweight of rocks using the 'tug & run' technique! Eventually though, the mass of backfilled boulders hung up too far in for even the swiftest of legs, and we will have to return with a pokey stick.
Being the thinnest I was thrust into the next level which after a short squeeze opened up into 'comfortable' crawling over a bed of loose rocks. Eventually the passage became more triangular and progress easier. After about 150 feet of progress passing various old stemples and deads, I was beginning to feel a bit guilty, this wasn't even my dig, but here I was feverishly pushing the 'new' stuff. I shouted back towards Buster & either he couldn't hear me or had wandered off. The open passage tempted me forward again and another 50 feet revealed a small stream inlet on the right, sinking again on the left a few feet further on. The passage changed shape, now requiring a climb up into a narrow rift, and I reluctantly decided to turn back here. I'd rather hoped we would open up the entrance a bit more & both push it onwards to a conclusion, but Buster decided it was best left for when we had more time (it was getting on for midnight by now).
We returned through the coffin level and before departing followed the larger stream down to its conclusion at an impassable slot. Further pipe workings lead off just before this point, and there were far to many leads to follow given the time. Of interest (?) in this area were a rusty old cup, and the sole & hobnails the only remaining part of a miners boot.
It's worth mentioning that there are no records whatsoever of this mine, although it is suspected it was worked out before 1650. Given that no-one has set foot in it for 350 years, it's a bit spooky seeing T'owd Mans finger marks in the clay, as fresh as the day he made them!
Whilst I'm no fan of mines, re-finding passage was quite a buzz, and there's
always the slim chance some open cave passage will be intersected. I'll let you
Editor's note Actually, Wales has the deepest cave in Britain. And the Longest. And the best formations. And the biggest passage, and the second biggest, and the third biggest... Actually.