This was an arrangement to meet in Derbyshire at the Orpheus Caving Club hut for a prosecution of three venues in the area. These venues all had in common bottomless pits, mud, water and no light.
Day One Plan was to bother Maskill Mines in a crossover with Oxlow Caverns. This is a descent of about 140 metres using miles of rope with endless knitting to offer safe, convenient and comfortable access to the massive West Chamber, where the cafe serves wonderful espresso.
Day two in the Big Trouser caving hut was to be Nettle Pot, at 170m a good follow on for the Saturday’s efforts. Arrival at the Hut on Friday PM showed, A: Not enough rope, B: Not enough backs to caryy it & C: Not enough surveys to know where to put it. My rigging guide was having its customery vacation in the Oort Cloud when I came to look for it, so it was going to be a Saturday driven by sparse information, unreliable recollection and the devil looking after his own to shunt us into Maskill, and maybe out again.
Descent Order was RH, DM, SK, JC and finally Craig, with Richard rigging and me adjusting. Richard discovered the joy of rigging with the team behind hurling abuse and endless ‘is this Pitch Free?’ questions while lassooing in-situ p-hangers, and the miles of rope – from memory 80, 47, 30, 56 ,18 and finally a 20 something metres being consumed in the process. All fairly straight forward with a little aerial gymnastics here and there as ‘Red Group’ assaulted the darkness. Hey, I’m trying to make this sound interesting.
These venues are interesting, they are natural caverns combined with worked mines following a vein of quartz and hopefully galena a long way down. The hardness and effort of the people who worked this stuff can only be marvelled at. Down the bottom the cafe was shut & the gold bars locked away, but Good News! A recent massive rockfall without warning from high in the roof of West chamber had bought down fresh clast, allowing a short while of pointless fossicking to produce very little. Two members of Craven Pothole Club down there from Oxlow demurred on my invite to derig our more involved and longer Maskill route for us to scurry out of Oxlow. Leaving behind the hail of hurled rocks thrown by the CPC members to stop us seizing their way out we grabbed our pitiful collection of muddy stones and started to ascend, JC first. (I’m going to leave that one). Up we shot, free and light as summer balloons on a fete day, featuring, RH doing a handball on a fist size rock from height, slight mischief on my arm following inverted rope soloing, DM seeing starvation and loneliness taking its terminal course while being stuck for ever on a re-belay, and finally some, err, interesting ropework at the top of the entrance shaft while two of us did our best to shoo a sheep off the lid so we could get out. To a howling gale full of cold rain. All back to the farm to change, and watch the uber cute chick scooting around doing the cheep thing under the nose of the farm cat with its tongue visible hanging out. Sort of Tom & Jerry but probably without a good ending. A fairly weary team down after 6 hours of down and back, without a pick being swung or an hours gainful work. Unlike the miners, who would also be carrying a bucket of lead up.
Back to the hut for a wild night in, nosebag, small beer, hot fire & turn in. Racy! Thanks to Craig for pulling out the ropes & sorting the gear that evening. Sunday bought the observation that unlike the rest of us, DM has a proper job & would like not to be totally wrecked on Monday morning. This lead ( There’s a pun there) to different mines on the day’s agenda, rather than the far larger project of Nettle. Not far from the hut, in Monyash, are Knotlow Caverns and Hillocks Mine. Both feature a 60m or so engine shaft with a second climbing access shaft for the small, hard, shortlived miners that had to work there. Knotlow is where all the water goes, mainly into Waterfall Chamber at the bottom of the Engine shaft, which is full of wind and spray. The engine sump is a pit of crystal clear water with a big pipe rising in the middle, of, I believe about 20m depth. It’s about 6m long and 5 wide, the full width of the chamber, and to be treated with maximum care. Falling into that with caving metalwork on will lead to dissapointment for all one’s unborn children. Leading off the chamber is a coffin level, 4 feet high coffin shaped passage hewn with great accuracy through solid rock. I don’t know why it’s called a coffin level. This goes off for hundreds of yards, but three minutes following that is quite enough. There’s another passage off the main chamber, across the Pit of Death, with a further POD in that, leading to a flooded passage. This has a diving line. And you think we’re mad.
Craig dropped the climbing shaft and I trotted down the Engine, with a view to a crossover, while JC and Richard thrashed Hillocks through its climbing shaft. This is a very interesting muddy wet hole, with a subsiduary entrance cavern worked since Roman times also giving access. Down below the passages and chambers, along with an elavated coffin level opened out to a cartway below, again show the effort and endeavour in hooking lead out of the hills. Large areas in the chambers are deads stacked behind drystone walls, with access routes and work areas following the vein as it passes through. All this work so the upper classes could have pencils. Where’s my red flag? DM decided the bees and skylarks needed an audience so directed base camp and the sherpas, while the four of us shimmied up and down, swapping mines and pulling gear. With the weather being much more benign than the day before, it was a very pleasant and interesting day out. Driven home in comfort and style by Craig, while RH & JC proved that flat tyres on the way up don’t yet come in threes. Thanks everyone, and I don’t want to hear the word Can’t again.
Posted by : Simon Kay. 20th May 2009 20:47.
Yes a great weekend, thankyou to Simon and the gang for making it so.
See you on the next knitting trip!
Posted by : Craig Olive. 15th Jul 2009 13:02.Posted by: Laszlo. March 30, 2014