We needed a non-SRT trip that lots of people could go on, Gamble wanted an easy, dry trip and I wanted to do a trip I’d never done before. The sum total of these parameters lead to us driving out from the TSG to Matlock Bath for a trip down Cumberland & Wapping Mine.
After a long drive (Gamble missed a few turnings) we parked up in the hotel lay-by, got changed and followed the trodden path up to the mine. As soon as you enter over the concrete wall (complete with a sign confirming the mine’s SSSI status) you are met with the first of many indicators towards the dodginess of this abandoned mine; a bloody great collapse in the entrance, featuring splintered, bowing buttresses and erratic rusty metal bars jutting out from the walls. Passing through the relatively large vein (4m wide x 10-15m high) you start to get a whiff of the complexity of the mine network as you are forced to make choices to go above or below the splitting passages – do you follow the suspicious minecart track or chance a climb over and unstable boulder pile?
All of the offshoot passages eventually rejoin the central spine so there is little chance of getting lost at this point – the opportunities for frantic rushing around interwoven mine levels comes later… Heading further along the main passage we explored various cavities and nooks where the miners of yore had dug out galena – leaving behind the quartz, forming huge areas of mine where the walls, ceiling and floor are comprised entirely of quartz, making quite the spectacle.
We ambled over and under boulders from roof collapses to make it to the next area where there were a few small etchings of graffiti on the ceiling, scratched by metal into the pale white regions of dry calcite. Dozens of dated names indicated that most of the visitors that had left their mark on this area had been from the 1800s when the mine was in full operation, however the most surprising (and indeed impressive) was a rust-coloured marking that seemed to be from 1782, this was roughly when the mine was first excavated.
The next room had a bedding plane shelf that had clearly been used as sleeping accommodation quite a lot over the years (a literal ‘bedding’ plane har-har). Various bits of graffiti on the walls confirmed these suspicions – we didn’t stop in this room, however, and moved onto a following chamber which hosted wall-to-wall-to-ceiling scrawls of eclectic sorts. All seemingly written in soot – or burned into the ceiling with candles, they varied from simple gang tags (a local group of miscreants known as the “Trogs” apparently hid out in the mine for months on end), to vaguely political slogans; “Legalise it! Give us some dope, Arthur!”, and even references to children’s literature, as several gang members had listed their names as “Jack, Ralph & Piggy” – seemingly referencing Lord of The Flies. The room is somewhat unnerving as you stand in it, surrounded by the manic scrawlings of over 50 years of criminals hiding out.
A consequence of the interesting nature of the criminal legacy of Cumberland & Wapping is numerous article, in fact Phil Wolstenholme of the TSG has spoken to one of the members of the now-disbanded Trogs gang – apprently he finds it rather hilarious that there was so much historical interest in his old group of mischievous friends. “We were just kids fucking around in an old mine back then” he says. Most of the Trogs will be of retirement age now, and occupied the mine shortly after the tourist section collapsed in the 1960s – causing the show-cave to be abandoned.
We continued through into the show-cave area where collapsed staircases & handrails mark the path. You can follow the stairs along several passages, up spiral stairwells to the collapsed entrance. The shoring is largely dubious throughout most sections of the show-cave and care must be taken to avoid collapsing it. There are a few interesting and pretty parts to this area, but not that much to hang around for, so we retraced our steps to the bottom of the tourist area once again. We stopped briefly to admire the murals on the flat wall at the bottom, along with the Trogs there is graffiti from “The Gullys” and the East Midlands Chapter of the Hells Angels, who had made several hilarious failed attempts to draw their logo before succeeding in painting a large and colourful rendition of their logo 6 feet high.
A few of us were now beginning to get hungry – and luckily our gorgeous leader Gamble, Bringer of Pies, had packed a picnic. We ate it in the bedding area, washed down with a bottle of something that wasn’t alcoholic at all. After this brief rest and chat we dropped down a lot in the floor (coincidentally, Julia dropped her light down a different slot in the floor, which confused Gamble when it landed in front of him)
The lower levels of ‘Cumbo’ (as its previous occupants had nicknamed it) are a twisting convolution of interconnecting passages that all look alike and often end in a blank quartz wall. They are not without their own points of interest, however, and a keen explorer with an eye for navigation will be justly rewarded with sites of archaeological, geological and biological interest as the labyrinthine network boasts rotting buttresses with intricate and extensive fungal hyphae growths, there are old lamps labelled ‘highway safety’ and several stagnant pools with some form of calcite layer encrusting the surface.
After bimbling around for a while and exploring most of what there was to explore Gamble lead us out, remembering the way from a trip he had taken in here just a few weeks ago. Emerging into glorious sunlight we wandered back to the cars. Despite the whole day consisting of warm sunshine, the cruel fates of weather decided to shower upon us a plague of hailstones exclusively for the two minutes we spent getting changed – soaking our nice dry clothes, this pissed us all off.
Trip date 5-3-16