David Wilson, Fiona Hartley, James Wilson, Zaeem Najeeb, Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Johannes Girsch, Astrid Rao
We left at half 6 from Beit which helped with the traffic and drove to Bicester Village to pick up Zaeem and to go shopping. We arrived at a very lush looking hut and with so much time before our 1am bedtime and even planned tomorrow's caves
This trip started a little earlier than normal for me - two months early. Matti asked me a simple question: “Do you know if the club has ever been to the Derbyshire Pennine cottage?”
A third caving cottage in Derbyshire? Colour me intrigued.
To be fair, I know little about Derbyshire. The Giant’s Hole roundtrip is a dulled memory from a novice brain. Eldon Hole is just SRT. Oxlow? I was ill afterwards.
But there are other caves there. Peak Cavern. James Hall. Titan. I’d heard stories, of course. The cloying mud of Colostomy Crawl in Peak, swallowing your screams. The depth of Titan, awakening the FearTM from seventy miles away. The bottomless pools beneath the deads in JH. I’d never seen them for myself. Perhaps this could be the weekend.
With renewed determination to delve to new depths - especially the depths of sleeping badly in a hitherto unvisited caving hut - I turned my vague interest into a real commitment. I jotted my name in the accounts spreadsheet, and waited for the weekend.
Two months later the day came. I arrived at the very cute DPC and ran around investigating. Pros: cute parking, dartboard, nice bunkroom with quiet bunks, luxurious bathrooms. Cons: luxurious bathrooms, no sofas, loud stairs, no gear storage space, no drying facilities beyond draping gear on the walls outside. Needs a spin dryer and a washing line to make it friendlier for wet caving.
Cave group sorting and description laminating occurred in the early hours to avoid faff making us late to the TSG in the morning. We decided on JH to Peak and Oxlow, with the bus to be parked at Rowter farm while my car would be left in Castleton to shuttle the through-trippers back. Astrid was assigned all of her clothes, two spare undersuits and an emergency blanket from my car to make up for the lack of a sleeping bag. Bed swiftly followed.
Oxlow Cavern: David Wilson, Zaeem Najeeb, Ana Teck, Johannes Girsch, Astrid Rao
After a rapid morning to get to the TSG for the Peak permits and a brief wait in a coach park we were up and changed at Rowter farm. After a photo opportunity with a particularly photogenic bin, team Oxlow started on our walk, via the farm to pay for Oxlow. Oxlow was easier to find than we made it out to be. Walk along the road, over a private stile, left and then most of the way back to the farm where at a right corner Oxlow is at the bottom of the only bit of cliff in sight.
Ana led, rigging competently away with Zaeem following and I supervised our two srt freshers. Astrid and Johannes managed fine and we were soon in. Oxlow was nice, friendly but not boring SRT, with some big spaces. The swing down into the West Chamber gully was nice, and we saw the pull-up to the Chamber of Horrors (one day, one day). After checking out the wet climb to a final sump after the last pitch we left.
I derigged and sang, terrorising everyone with my animal noises. Outwards was uneventful with only a single deviation tangle by Johannes on the way out, very good for a first srt cave. Out by half 7, and glorious 4g at the Oxlow entrance meant we could cancel our callout immediatley. We walked back past Nettle Pot which was almost as long as walking the normal way, but we did see some cute lambs and their mother.
A nice darts evening was had with good food.
JH to Peak: Fiona Hartley, James Wilson, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey
A desperately early start - I left my bunk at 6:50. Everyone else was downstairs by 7:20. While the chefs made breakfast the rest of us packed ropes and prepared gear. We were eating by 8:20 and left the hut at half 9. Luckily I easily found the last free parking space, just up from the TSG on Back Street.
Into the TSG to meet Charley to sort Peak chits etc. The rules for a trip in Peak include obeying your trip leader without question or hesitation, so I should have always done whatever Matti said... Whoops...
While there a TSG member gave us advice on the through trip, complete with helpful pointing at the survey: The only ‘complicated’ bit of route-finding is in the Speedwell section. After leaving JH you should go downstream. The first right turn at a junction has timbers holding up the roof and this should be ignored. The next right turn goes to the Bung ladder and you should take this. Carry on downstream and ignore the first oxbow on the left (this is the long dry bypass). Take the second oxbow on the left - this is the short bypass. Rejoin the streamway and continue downstream. Go up the ladders into the ceiling (Egnaro Aven) to get to Colostomy crawl. Thank you, TSG man.
Advice noted and monies paid (Derbyshire requires cash, obscene), we located the minibus and headed up to Rowter, managing not to hit any cyclists, lambs or errant children along the way. We parked right by a big skip filling with rubbish. I briefly worried as we entered the farmyard and found no farm humans to pay, but then the farmer appeared. We gave him the money and he asked if we knew where the mine was and then gesticulated vaguely in the direction of JH.
A group photo gave prominence to the bin by which we’d parked. We bid adieu to the Oxlowers and set off to JH, with an excessive 80m rope for the entrance, and not forgetting the heavy Derbyshire spanner.
The JH pitches were much nicer than I was expecting, but the rift between the first and second pitches was a twat with a bag of rope - as I was in PVC and wearing a thermal, this exertion made me extremely warm. It also contained no bottomless blue pools as promised, just dry holes with obvious bottoms a few metres down. 3/10. Matti rigged Bitch Pitch with a series of re-belays and it seemed like not a bitch at all? Leviathan was barely scary once I was on it and could see a big ledge halfway down. When we reached the bottom, we all hoped we wouldn’t have to prussick back out all of that.
Onwards then, through a metal door warning of the increased cancer risk from radon (oh Derbyshire) into the Speedwell streamway. Followed the advice of the TSG man to the Bung - water was nowhere near slopping over the top and going down the ladder. Downstream we found the Block Hall on right, I presume, because there was a rope going up, presumably to White River. The short bypass is indeed the second left into an oxbow. It is a step up into a low/flatout wriggle, which is a bit wet at the beginning then turns sandy before meeting the stream again.
Up, up, up the ladders and into the only way on. Colostomy was about what I expected from something called Colostomy: a bit grim, and very muddy, but mostly just tedious. I cannot recommend doing it with an SRT bag on each hip, but needs must. The main junction I noticed was a turning on the right with a little ladder. I think this is where the White River pull-throughs pop out. Anyway, the advice to keep left is sound. The Trenches were somewhat indistinguishable from the Colostomy bit to me. We reached an iron ladder down - Fawlty Tower. Then through a real life squeeze machine in the form of a metal gate with a bar removed, into Treasury Chamber.
Peak was an easy stomp along nice stream passage interspersed with some thigh-deep ducks. There was a lot of airspace. I didn’t contribute to navigation. We came to a ‘ladder’ constructed of one scaffold bar going straight up and little rungs attached in the centre. It had scrubbing brushes attached to it which none of us used, because we didn’t realise how close to the show cave we were and were more interested in the strange ladder construction.
When we hit warm orange lights we turned back and washed in the stream going into the nearby sump. Once sufficiently clean (read: fed up of scrubbing ourselves down) we started up the slope to the show cave and became a talking point for a guide and a group of tourists. I fully slipped over just before reaching the gate that the guide was kindly holding open for me, which was funny but humiliating. Matti was still in the streamway so we awkwardly waited at the back, pretending to be normal people. The guide said Speedwell was ten hours away. Seems like a wild overestimate - we had taken five hours to do our trip. Maybe it takes five hours to get there and then five hours for them to report your body after they kill you for trying to exit via Speedwell. (this is joke!)
The entrance to Peak is certainly quite nice. Castleton was warm. We stripped to undersuits, which I’d argue does not constitute changing in Castleton (which we are apparently not allowed to do). After confining the other three to the back of the car on a piece of plastic sheeting, I perched on a towel to drive back up to Rowter Farm.
Once changed we headed back to the hut. The others were back by half eight and after tasty pasta bake and a round of hot chocolate, a darts competition started. Nobody won via bullseye, but Astrid did get the required 2 points one round sooner than Matti and so defeated him.
A late arrival the night before and an early rise due to permit arrangements meant that the entire group was on ~5 hours sleep whilst cooking breakfast in the morning. I would blame the horrific display of incompetence the eggy bread reflected on that, but it was ultimately just poor pan management. Once a black layer of charr had formed on the base all proceeding attempts at lightly browning egg were futile. Nevertheless, the groups had mostly been decided the night before so faff was fairly contained before leaving for the TSG to meet our Peak key holder.
Getting the permit sorted was fairly straightforward, and I enjoyed forcing everyone to sign a form declaring they would ‘follow every instruction given by the leader (me) immediately and without question’. Within minutes we were changing in front of all the glampy campers in their converted VW transporters by Rowter farm. Paying our dues to the farmer, and remembering the pretentiously named ‘Derbyshire key’, we walked the 5 minutes to the entrance. It had been a couple months since I had rigged so was a little shaky on the alpines but after triple checking everything I gingerly lowered myself into the 50m entrance shaft. I’m going to blame inconsistent rigging topos for the fact that I missed the rebelay halfway down, since some had it and some didn’t, and the one I had had the dot printed but the rope went straight past it. Oh well, its only really necessary when prussiking anyway so that’d be someone else’s problem tomorrow.
We had printed out a brief transcription of Rhys’ ‘route finding tips’ from 2017, but Ellie had been down JH earlier this year and I had been down in 2020 so I didn’t bother writing down any tips for the JH section - possibly a little carelessly, since it turned out I didn’t remember much at all, but Ellie assured me the route finding was easy so I led the way without difficulty.
A shock came halfway to bitch pitch though – the infinite pools of sparkling blue temptation that we had been looking forward to traversing were bone dry. Turns out they’re not that deep, only a couple metres. I preferred to not know. The rigging topo for bitch pitch seemed to be more of an impressionist work of what could have been possible rather than a reflection of reality, so I more or less improv’d that. Leviathan’s was slightly more true to life, however it did require me to cross to the other side of the pitch halfway down, climbing over some water-collection equipment to do so. For some reason this felt very wrong – everyone else seemed unfazed but having the rope trail awkwardly across this huge gap made me uncomfortable. Nevertheless we made it to the bottom without issue, where I interrogated Fiona and James on how my rigging was. It came down to ‘learn bowline-on-bites and use them’.
Into Speedwell we delved, using a combination of Rhys’ tips, some advice we were given at the TSG by divers and the map. In classic Derbyshire fashion we immediately reached a trapdoor that was to be kept closed at all times to reduce radon levels in the show cave. Down into the main speedwell streamway, the iconic sparkly blue water more than made up for the lack in JH – slowly trudging through the thigh deep water was quite relaxing. Passing by the passage ‘supported’ by fake wooden struts and water management systems, we reached the infamous bung. We knew it was a dry weekend, but even despite this it was quite underwhelming – I had seen awesome photos of epic climbs through waterfalls, and it turned out to be a pathetic trickle dampening only my excitement. Never mind.
There was some deliberation about whether we should head up to the streamway, but reading the description revealed it would end in a sump only, and Fiona quite reasonably stated ‘if there were an easy way to get out of Colostomy I’m sure we’d be aware of it’, so into the muddy crawl it was. I had one of those ‘what am I doing here’ moments after half an hour of crawling and wading through thick mud but we did eventually make it into Peak. Some easy route finding and some duck-ish pools of low-ish airspace took us to the last stream before the show cave. Supposedly we’re meant to clean off as much mud as possible here which I find quite insulting to be honest. Reluctantly I made a half-hearted effort at cleaning off the colostomy mud, but eventually got bored. The others went ahead as I needed to relieve myself, leaving me to dramatically walk up the steps alone to the waiting tourist group.
Back at the hut excellent dinner was had and an extensive darts game began, where I was leading for the entire game until the very end, when Astrid beat me by one round. Unbelievable. A 3am walk was walked with Ellie as has become typical, where the narrow pavements and blinding 60mph headlights made it a bit less relaxing than usual.
Carlswark into Merlin: David Wilson, James Wilson, Matti Mitropoulos
I felt like an easier trip on Sunday to a cave we didn't have to drive to. Carlswark seemed perfect. As it happened only me, James and Matti went for this option, so we got dressed and walked up the hill to the cave. Saying goodbye to Johannes who'd walked up with us, we sat outside the cave for about 15min as a group of about 20 children and a few adults slowly exited. It was just as our slightly old-man-esque description had warned us.
We had a pleasant stoop up Eyam passage, but turned left too soon and after a grim ball-wetting squeeze ended up stuck between two boulder chokes at a lower level somewhere near Eyam Dale shaft. Matti squeezed through one but to no avail and getting back out looked quite difficult. We reversed out, finding the bypass to the unnecessary squeeze. We found the correct junction and got to the bottom of Eyam Dale shaft. Talking of connections we decided to see if we could find Gimli's dream. Entering a small crawl at the far side of the Eyam Dale shaft chamber we found ourselves in a boulder choke. Splitting up we pushed different tight tubes, with James finding the correct one on his second attempt.
Me and Matti followed, doing a tight wet crawl at the bottom of an unstable muddy hole, and through a second hole we emerged in a gallery. We kept going following the polish up and down various muddy climbs, through two more wet grovels, eventually emerging in obvious mined passage in Merlin's mine.
Upstream from the chamber, with the water being low, a free-dive line was seemingly rigged through dry passage and we went onwards and peered into Shag's sump thinking this would be the end. However going the other way the sumps were dry. It's an odd and exciting feeling following dive line through muddy tubes but we passed sumps 1 and 2 and a free-dive line completely dry. Sump 3 was low and sump 4 would have been a duck into the Merlin's streamway but alas we were out of time.
In true ICCC fashion we bombed it at full speed out of Merlin's mine, through Gimli's muddy dream and back into Carlswark, only taking a slight detour before Gin entrance to some rubble hole that smelt like piss. That probably wasn't clever.
We washed off at the hut with the hose, and I had a rare post-cave shower. It was an excellent trip, and should be repeated in drought conditions again.
Davey suggested this in the morning as a freshers trip which I immediately jumped onto, being quite happy to do a chill trip after yesterday’s long’un. Unfortunately there didn’t end up being any freshers to go on this trip as Astrid was keen to do SRT, and Johannes was keen to be over ground. So it was just me and the Dubz, on a ‘chill’ trip. No doubt they would find some way to make it grim and awful. The description was also hilariously pretentious, slandering it as ‘a mecca for the uninitiated’ and other demeaning phrases.
A quick walk down the road from the DPC is a large natural climbing wall with a series of small holes along its base that all lead into the Carlswark cavern system. As was foretold, we were halted at the entrance by a large group of scouts exiting at an extremely comfortable pace, all complaining heavily, but relentlessly encouraged by an enthusiastic adult duo.
Throughout the trip I was quite entertained by the back and forth bickering between the twins and was more than happy to let them do the route finding. They had had a vague plan set out but improv’d most of it after the initial section.
About 30 minutes in – I give a squeeze a go that both twins couldn’t get down, slipping through due to my slightly shallower waist. It died just around the corner, leaving me to awkwardly turn around and try to manoeuvre my waist back out, which proved more challenging than I expected. Luckily Davey was there to stand by me in my time of need, softly singing lullabies like ‘Relax, take it easy’, and ‘Enormous Penis’.
About an hour in – we had done a bit of exploring, but so far had found nothing hugely exciting. The place gave me quite Burrington Combe-y vibes, but a lot more extensive and containing less wildlife. That is until James looked at a horrible wet squeeze in the floor and dove in with glee. Sigh… It turned out to be the fairly short connection through to Merlin’s mine, but we were very much lying in a puddle for most of it. Davey’s commentary from behind me: ‘argh why does it just have to reach the tip of my…’
After it opened out, we were briefly treated to a vaguely decorated chamber, but it quickly constricted us back into more wet squeezes this time leading to what looked distinctly like a dry sump. Both twins were exceptionally excited by the thought of ‘free diving’ a dry sump so we followed it on, and on a bit more, and a bit more, getting exceptionally muddy. Some more deliberation (i.e. the dubz arguing a bit more) occurred once we reached the final actual sump about whether to try to find the alternative exit to Merlin’s mine, but we had stowed our SRT bags in a chamber some ways back and were starting to push for time, so left it for another day. We exited at an astounding pace – I thought we’d take an hour or so to leave but we were back in daylight within 20 minutes. Just before the exit we climbed over a hole that stank of piss so of course Davey dug around in it for a short while to see if it went anywhere.
It turned out to be quite an involved trip with lots of muddy and wet crawls which was not what I had signed up for, but worst of all I actually enjoyed it. As is tradition we hosed each other down, and I was treated to a rare display of brotherly love as Davey didn’t spray water in James’ face despite the golden opportunity.
JH derig: Fiona Hartley, Zaeem Najeeb, Ana Teck, Ellie Pizey, Astrid Rao
The day started a little later than Saturday, after 8am. The DPC has a very technical setup to dry caving kit using solar power and air movement... Luckily this morning provided the solar power and the sun helped to dry out my wet gear. Deliberation resulted in two trips, one to Carlswark walking from the hut, and a derig trio (Ana and bag slaves Ellie and Zaeem) plus fresher duo (Astrid and myself) to JH from my car.
I spent an equal amount of roaming around looking for a farm human to pay. This time it was someone different. I chose to wear fabric and no thermal on account of how warm I got in the rift on Saturday.
Ana, then Ellie, then Zaeem slid down the long rope into the darkness. A group of people came over to ask questions about the cave while Zaeem was descending, asking whether they could look down the shaft, to which I said no and they obeyed! As if I had power over them.
Once the audience was dispatched it was Astrid’s turn to go down, and I followed, closing the lid behind me. Astrid led along the rift and over the traverses, then we swapped places, and then swapped back at Bitch Pitch. The rift is way nicer without a bag. Astrid did the pitch head, passed the first deviation and went to the first rebelay before suggesting she would come up to see how it was. Excellent awareness! I got to be very chill and stand at the top supervising. As she ascended she asked about derigging, so we talked through the principles and actions of derigging the pitch head without actually doing so, and I said she could derig the head of the entrance pitch.
We went back along the rift to a point where Astrid could get past me and lead again. At the entrance pitch I adjusted her chest harness a lot and offered lots of advice on prussicking a long way until the time came for her to experience the rope bounce for herself and to just get on with it. Some time later the lid banged open and Astrid soon called rope free.
Steadily and steadily I prussicked into the daylight. Zaeem appeared at the bottom of the pitch ten/fifteen minutes later. The sun came out as he arrived on the surface, happy to see him. Ellie and Ana then arrived at the bottom; when Ellie emerged, however, the sun went in. I employed the old ‘pick up the rope and walk across the field’ method to pull it up to the surface, and Astrid did a supervised derig of the entrance as agreed.
Got back to the cottage at about half 4 and consumed pasta, crumpets, guzzled leftover milk etc. Then came the drive home, not nearly as long for me as for the minibus. Best Derbyshire weekend I’ve had with the club, by far.