By Tim Webber
(taken from Tim’s website)
Situated in a significant Shakehole not far from Long Rake Mine, (200m deep) on Bradwell Moor, Crem was first investigated by Monty Grainger in1939. EPC dug it further in the 50s and SUSS had a go during the 70s, spured on by two resistivity surveys that pointed to cavities in the underlying rock. Digging ceased because SUSS explorers prioritised abandoned mines when they realised that natural cavities are often associated with mineral veins.
This assumption lead to the reopening of Long Rake at the expense of other work in the area.
Crem was left with a 7m pitch through rocks leading to 8m of mud choked descending passage. It had always been a horrid place to dig anyway, mainly because the then farmer had a habit of dumping dead sheep there whenever digging lapsed. One attemp to dispose of the putrid remains by fire made no impression on the carcasses, but led to the name that has stuck ever since.
So why bother with Crem now? Bradwell moor is part of the surface of a horizotal block of 200m thick limestone marked by dry valleys. Surface water drains South to Bagshaw Cavern, resurging near Bradwell, and also North to Peak Cavern. This block of limestone extends as far as Eldon Hole and Winnats Pass, both sites of good vertical development, but apart from Long Rake, there is no decent cave on the moor itself. Long Rake itself ends in a huge pile of miners spoil, a common feature in lead mines where the ore was wshed before removal, and the tailings allowed to run into the deepest part of the system. Crem has the bennifit that it was never mined, so it should be clear of spoil lower down. It is near a confluence of dry valleys and so should be associated with a decent water catchment. Finally drips in the system drain well.
With these facts in mind, and looking for a local project to soak up summer afternoons, the dig was restarted in 1993 by Miles Thornton and Norman Flux. Dragging out the long dead sheep took the shine off the summer afternoons, and for months afterwards the population of frogs living on sheep slime soup made digging a disgusting process. However the mud-choked passage turned out to be a washed out fault leading to a small chamber. This too was full of mud and rocks, but digging was easy and down we went, assisted by a 20′ high counter balance on the surface.
Above the chamber was a rift full of boulers. One weekend in late ‘95, short of other diggers, Miles and Glyn Roberts pushed this, making three body lengths of progress quickly, hoping to bypass the mud choke. Unfortunately there was no way on and when the excitement had passed they realised they had filled the main route with immovable rocks! Here ended the dig.
In 1997 Mark Brown read through old journals, saw the potential and began encouraging others to start again. I had been digging intensivley with Moose and knew that big rocks rapidly got smaller if vigorously beaten with a sledgehammer. Mark and I combined our efforts and the pile of rocks was dealt with. A more farmer-freindly hauling system was setup, we focussed again on the floor of the chamber and down we went …
At that time spoil was hauled out by a surface team battling with a muddy, frozen rope and the digging tub would swing widly about in the shaft. One day it dislodged a huge boulder that knocked me over and would have flattened the digger if it hadn’t got jammed on its way down the passage. We spent the next year stabilising the shaft with scaffolding, cemment and breeze blocks. Happy that we were no longer about to be entombed, it was back to the floor of the chamber, and down we went…
We had hoped our chamber has solid walls, but digging reveled that the end face was just a big slab embedded in mud. Was the best way forward or down? We went forward following the same fault line as the entrance passage. Four meters and lots of scaffolding later we broke into a tiny flat out chamber with 3m of solution tube above. The way on closed to nothing so we dug the floor further back and uncovered a tiny draughting slot, also following the fault line.