Sun 16th Dec ’18

Present: Corin, Louise R (NUCC)

Me and Michael had a sliding scale of trips planned depending on what time we ended up in bed after the sociable and delicious NUCC Christmas meal at the TSG. We were well past the ‘big through trip’ threshold at midnight, and into the ‘short project trip’ territory, but the night wasn’t wild enough to get us into the 4 am ‘going for a walk’ mode.

Our carefully made plans were abandoned immediately when Michael woke up feeling unwell and went home, I also felt rough, but not quite enough that I could justify drinking tea all day with Tony in the Chapel even though that is what I longed to do.

I quickly found that Louise (the NUCC one) was also lacking a caving partner, and so an alliance was formed. I had made arrangements to go into Speedwell via the boat, and although I wasn’t sure what the water level would be like given the previous days’ rainfall we decided to go and have a poke up the Pilkington’s Series. After some largely pointless faff on my behalf we arrived at Speedwell late morning, and were quickly tootling along the canal. Me laughing silently at the nonsense on the tour. Before long we were over the barrier in the Bottomless Pit and wading along Far Canal. The moment I dropped into the waist deep water I decided that my impulse purchase of long wetsocks from Tony that morning had been a spectacularly good idea, and I kept congratulating myself until we reached the little gate that connects to the Assault Course area and the route to Pilkington’s. I’ve since learnt that this squalid, muddy crawl was dug out by Trevor Ford in 1944 (Shaw 1983) and t’owld man had to go the long way round via the streamway, which had been our plan, but the late start ruled that out.

The crawl leads to Pilkington’s Cavern, an aven with a refreshingly new looking in situ rope, and Louise set off upwards while I desperately tried to wash grit out of my Omni, using a muddy puddle, so that it would actually close. This pitch leads rapidly into an annoying 160 m hands-and-knees crawl*, which is natural but the miners helpfully blasted some of the corners off. This reasonably pleasant, but fairly featureless crawl mercifully came to an end after 12 minutes and from then on this trip is mostly lovely.

(*for me, but not for Louise who immediately disappeared off into the tunnel singing)

A series of short cleanwashed shafts leads towards Waterfall Cavern. Again, the rigging is pleasantly new and quality-looking, although the miners’ stemples piled at the foot of each pitch were a bit unnerving. Slightly more so when I remembered that a scenario concocted for the previous day’s rescue training asked what to do if ‘one of a party of two was hit by a falling stemple in a remote part of the Peak-Speedwell system’. The climax of this is near the end, when you climb off a pitch head and look back to see a decent sized rock suspended over the pitch on top of three ancient stemples. Wonderful.

Next comes a short climb through a boulder choke, which feels just like it has been dug through and scaffed by modern cavers like in other places in Peak, but instead of scaff bars it’s held up by original rotting wooden beams. Excellent.This ends in a couple of good-sized chambers, Mud Hall and Watricle Cavern, with some pretty bits, miners’ artifacts and digs, though sadly I managed to miss the leather miners’ harness that is up there. Plus it would have been even prettier before the miners knicked all the stalactites (Watericle = water icicle = stal) (Shaw again). I did take my SRT kit off and squeeze through a very sharp, clean, natural section which looked promising but only went to a tiny chamber. I decided to go and read about this bit of the system as it was high time to return, we needed to keep a reasonable speed up on the way back to catch the last boat out. Otherwise Colostomy was the only way home what with JH and Titan being de-rigged simultaneously, and we really didn’t fancy that.

On the return Louise sang Christmas carols in the crawl behind me which was an encouragement to go quickly. We shot back through everything, pausing only so I could do a spot of gardening. Back in plenty of time to get a lift out from Rob on one of the last tours of the day.  I even had time to shower and dine on last night’s leftover veg before running off to Peak to help steward a concert.

Nice bit of Peak, felt like classic Castleton caving. Firstly, in that a lengthy crawl popped out in a great big chamber, and secondly in that you go away wondering how the old man did it all with tallow candles and stemple ladders.

Time underground: 2.5 hrs excluding the show cave bits.

Shaw, R.P. (1983) Pilkington’s Cavern, Castleton. Bulletin PDHMS Vol. 8 No. 5. [I have just discovered the downloadable PDHMS archives and they are really good]