Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Less than 1%...

SWCC Team: Duncan Hornby, Allan Richardson & Claire Vivian

Trip Date: October 16th 2018

Following directly after the SWCC Yorkshire trip meet, Claire and I stayed up North for a few more days. On a wet and miserable Tuesday we headed over to Nenthead mines to meet up with Allan who had kindly offered to lead a trip into the system.

I had heard from others that Nenthead was impressive and was keen to visit it. On our way out of the mine system, having been underground for nearly 6 hours I casually asked Allan what percentage of the mine did he think we had visited…

… Oh probably less than 1%

We entered via an up and over gate into a level called Smallcleugh, which as it was a Horse Level was relatively large, with welly deep water in the first section, there was a reasonable draft and the temperature was cool but not cold. Allan showed us various chambers, these are horizontal mineral veins which are known in this part of the world as “Flats” some with historical artefacts, most contained a fair amount of Galena as well as other minerals in the walls.

The Entrance of SmallCleugh.

Allan in one of the many initial chambers we passed through.
Throughout the system were impressive examples of “drystone arching” built to store the “deads” above and to support the walls in areas where the walls needed some support . So you walked through these thinking “this is all very nice”... unaware of the crushing weight above it all holding it in place.

Claire looking a tad worried when realising what is above the archway…
We eventually arrived at a circular shaft, Proud's Sump, rigged for a descent. A second shaft had a tricky exit, requiring the previous person to pull the rope in so the person on the rope would not descend too far past the ledge. This took us into “Prouds Flats”, one of the later areas to be worked, here there were quite a lot of artefacts to be seen.

The pitch down from here to the Hangingshaw level, was via a fixed ladder which had been installed in a combined ore shoot and manway.

Hangingshaw is another Horse Level, and is the the lowest level which is normally visited. This is a colder and wetter level, in several sections the water was waist deep.

Claire abseiling down Proud's Sump.

Reflection of Claire in pool.
This lower level was packed with colourful mineral deposits and in places fine crystals.

Selenite crystals growing from a low roof in a chamber.

Amazing colours and patterns on low level formations.
This level too had impressive stone arched passages, now with flowing water. Throughout the trip we came across ore shoots, often in an advanced state of decay. Some of the stone arching had been reinforced by concreting, this was done by the Veille Montagne Company (Belgium) in the final phases of the working of the mine. Hangingshaw level eventually joins Rampgill level which is another horse level to the surface, this is the only level which was enlarged to take a locomotive, all the others relied on horses until they closed.

Stone arched tunnel, black stain on right hand side indicates past water level!

Allan passing collapsed ore shoot. Don't touch!
On the surface before our trip Allan had shown us an abandonment plan and explained the route to be taken. Whiskey Bottle Junction was as he said “you can’t miss that” and he was right! An impossibly unstable pillar seemingly held together by old whiskey bottles! A definite landmark, at the junction of Hangingshaw with Rampgill.

Whiskey bottle junction. The clue is in the name!
On our way out we took a detour into the Scaleburn horse level, an old level guarded by narrow passages with much mineral deposition. After going up some steps to a higher level and seeing some miners initials from the 1790’s, we carried on along the horse level and eventually popped out into a chamber with a large and fairly intact Horse Gin wheel, this is one of the best preserved underground Horse Gin’s in the country. There is a drawing shaft next to it in the chamber, the shaft is about 60 feet deep to water and had some lengths of rail line across it for safety.

Passage in Scaleburn
Scaleburn Horse Gin
Back on the final route out we were treated to crystals in the ceiling and my first ever Snottite! 

Crystal formations in Rampgill level
Snottite video, click on it to watch.

We eventually exited the mine 6 hours later, 99% short of seeing the rest of it and thankfully very near the bunkhouse where a tea was on the brew.

Thanks Allan, an amazing experience, it’s not all grim up North!

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Yorkshire - SRT training, rain and plenty of mud!

SWCC Team: Derek Cousins, George Linnane, Helen Hooper, Duncan Hornby, Mark Rees, Lee Smith, Claire Vivian

Dates: 12th October - 14th

A smaller team of SWCC cavers descend upon the YSS for a weekend of SRT training and trips. Very wet weather limited our trip options to known “dry” entrances whilst Mark and George attended an SRT training session run by Helen using the excellent YSS indoor facilities.


Helen arrived early Saturday for SRT training with Mark and George at the YSS.

George looking confused at the start of the SRT weekend. He was a pro by the end!
Due to the poor weather the rest of us took several cups of tea before deciding to visit Lancaster Hole and explore the immediate surroundings including the Colonnades and the Wilf Taylor’s passage of the Ease Gill system.

A Josh White was staying at the YSS and asked to join our trip as he had never visited the system, little did he know he had also unconditionally agreed to rig the entrance… ;)

Arriving at Bull Pot Farm it was clear how serious the issue of flooding in the system would be as what is normally a muddy but dry foot path had turned into a full on stream...

The footpath from Bull pot farm had turned into a stream rushing into the nearby Bull pot of the witches cave!
Arriving at the entrance we discovered another team was also using the same entrance so we had to rig over their rigging. Whilst standing around on the surface we could not get over how mild the weather was which made for entering the system less inviting. The draft coming from the cave was particularly cold.

Team preparing to enter Lancaster Hole, we needed to rig over another teams rigging.

The main pitch was quite wet, you could keep out of the spray for most of the descent until the last few metres then you got a face full!

With the team collected at the bottom of the pitch we went in search of the Colonnades. After a few wrong turns we found our way to them. I took a few photos and accidentally captured an Alice in Wonderland moment where Claire the smallest in the team grew to an enormous size whilst Lee shrank in size!

The Colonnades. Claire ate some cake whilst Lee drank from a bottle with “Drink me” written on it...
We then went in search of the Wilf Taylor’s passage, stopping to admire any pretties.

Josh admiring a section of pretties.
We found our way to the section of passage that leads you to a sump to Bull Pot of the Witches. A stream was thundering through this section stopping us from progressing any further. We took the opportunity to grab a team photo as the air was relatively free of mist.

The team (Claire, Duncan, Derek and Lee) with Josh providing back lighting.
Returning back to the entrance we stopped to grab a couple of photos, Lee next to a curtain and Claire next to the shower bath.

Lee and some curtains.

Claire at an inlet.

We returned to Lancaster Hole main pitch (30m) and then it got all a bit complex. As our team were attempting to exit the other team came down the entrance to collect their rope (they’d done the traverse to Country pot via Manchester Bypass). A third team had rigged over our ropes and used a slightly different route so when they arrived, to exit the system, it all got a bit “busy” at the constricted entrance with three people all trying to exit at the same time.

Trip time: 5 hours 30 mins

We returned to the YSS, cleaned up then meeting the others headed over to the Helwith bridge pub for a night of food and beer!

Harvey joins us at the pub.


Mark and George left quite early to meet with Helen and put into practise the SRT skills they had learned on Saturday by visiting Jingling Pot. The rest of us had a lazy start with sore heads from too much beer…

Mark testing out his new found SRT skills.

George on his first Yorkshire pitch.

Mark finding vertical caving fun.

Abseiling with style.

Derek, Claire and I (Duncan) went back to Bull Pot Farm and visited Mistral Hole, another system that can be accessed in wet weather conditions. We bumped into some freshers from SUSS at the car park and determined that they were heading to the same cave. It was then a race over the moor as to who got to cave first…

Neither Claire nor I had visited this cave before and our visit to the system was based on Derek’s memories from 21 years ago! Amazingly he could remember key junctions and was able to guide us to key locations. Nice one Derek!

We passed Hall of the Ten where Duncan and Claire had a look at the exit from Pipikin pot- wet and foamy. Our next stop was Hall of the Mountain King which has some glorious mud. On leaving the Hall we bumped into the SUSS group who were about to enter the Hall for a mud fight. We continued into the cave towards Gour Hall.

Someone had deliberately placed a saucepan on a stal boss which was being dripped upon. It produced an eerie tapping sound as we approached Gour Hall, something out of a horror film…

Click on video to hear the tapping sound.

Derek in Gour Hall.

Derek in a section of Mistral which had many stalagmites.
On the way back we stopped a couple of times to photograph the stalagmites that had grown along the passage.

Claire in Stalagmite section.
We made it out to wonderful evening sunshine a stark contrast to the previous days weather.

Mistral team at entrance after a very muddy trip!
Trip time: ~5 hours