Nenthead, Spring 2017

Nenthead, Spring 2017

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since I was last here. I love Nenthead, every time I have been here it has been to stay for a weekend, and we always get a decent amount of exploring in, and this would be my ach mine has something completely different to offer. This time, for the first time, I would be the only one there who has been to Nent before, and as such, kind of, sort of “leading” the trip. Maybe. Saturday morning saw me out of bed for a criminally early start to collect Matt, and head North. Two and a half hours later, we arrived at Mill Cottage Bunkhouse to be shown around by our kind host, and wait for the others in the sunshine.

Max has arrived.

Richard, Max and Gabby arrived in true mental style, and in exceptionally high spirits. Everyone was pretty hyped to get underground, and I was looking forward to showing the Nent noobs what Rampgill Mine has to offer. With Gabby leading the way and me following, it didn’t take long for exclamations of delight to start echoing up the adit behind us, and we were soon seperated from the others. Leading and route finding underground gives you a completely different perspective on any extensive cave or mine. Even though Rampgill is very straightforward we were unable to find the horse gin even with Ed’s directions (which I read completely wrong)!

Richard at the top of a shaft in Prouds

When someone else is doing it you don’t pay as much attention to where you are going, the focus is just not there. Max and Matt were extremely pre-occupied with the shiny things everywhere, no matter how many times I tried to explain it gets better the further in we go, that the mine tomorrow would be even better again… alas to no avail they would not listen to me and we didn’t get further than the Engine Shaft. By 5pm thoughts had turned to getting out and enjoying the last of the sun, a chippy tea, and a pint at the Miners Arms.

After Rampgill

A good portion of Saturday night was spent star gazing and photographing. Nenthead and the surrounding area is England’s only internationally recognised dark sky area. On previous trips I have seen the milky way clearer here than anywhere else I’ve been, it’s truly stunning. We walked up to Smallcleugh, took some more photos, then lay back and switched the lights off for 10 minutes to allow our eyes to adjust. Magic.

Max Stargazing at Smallcleugh

Sunday came bright and early, with a plan to be underground for 11am latest. We took the opportunity to enjoy the morning sun on top of the water wheels, and had some fun climbing on them. Phil from the bunkhouse brought us breakfast in the form of bacon and sausage barms. We could not fault the Mill Cottage, it cost £20 each for the night in the most comfortable and roomy beds I’ve ever experienced in a bunkhouse. It is in an ideal location for mine exploring, and plenty else to see in this highly picturesque and quiet part of England. Plus we were able to wash and dry all our gear ready for the next days exploring, always a big bonus on these sort of weekends. There is nothing worse than having to put on a slighty damp undersuit the next day after a sweaty mooch underground!

Richard on one of the Waterwheels

After much packing and many faffage later, we were finally on track for getting down Brownley Hills by midday. This I had planned to be more of a chilled mooching day, one where we could park ourselves in the flat and spread out, explore, hunt for minerals, and take photos. I have never taken my camera in Brownley Hills before so I was looking foward to spending some time getting shots, so often on underground trips, and actually most things we do, you are rushed, pushed for time, conscious of others, etc. Being able to properly take your time in the company of another photographer is a luxury.

Gabby at the Blue Lagoon

Despite going to Nenthead with little intention of collecting any rocks, I still ended up with some quartz stuck in my eye. An hour later it hstill not come out so I tried to wash it out with water but no joy. Several hours later it was still bothering me when we got out of the mine but not enough to stop me driving. An hour or so from home it was getting painful, and my eye began to water uncontrollably on the motorway. Apart from a quick stop I drove straight to Stepping Hill hospital, arriving at 9pm, to be told there was a 4 hour wait to be seen in A&E. This soon turned into an agonising 5 hour wait; my eye was swelling up, I couldn’t see anything but blurred light, and every movement caused intense discomfort. Finally, almost 6 hours after arriving, I was seen by a nurse who checked out my eye using a slit lens, and confirmed I had tiny pieces of quartz stuck in my cornea. He tried to wash it out, it didn’t work, so he called for a doctor. The doctor looked at it then told the nurse to anaesthatise my eyeball, he was “going in”.
Me- “What does that mean?”
Doctor- “It means doing something that makes me feel sick.”
Me- “Makes you feel sick? (doctor putting gloves on) “…that doesn’t sound good, what is it… how do you… what are you doing?”
Doctor- “We will have to pick it out with a needle.”
Me- “What? Seriously?”
Doctor- “Mmm. You need to stay very still”
Me- “Whoa.”
Doctor- “Put your chin on the rest and clench your teeth.”
Me- “Oh god….”

Then followed what has got to be the most sickeningly unpleasant hour of my life while the doctor held my eye open and slowly picked the quartz out. Being poked in the eye with a needle is a very weird experience. I couldn’t feel any pain, but I could sense, or almost hear the flicking sensation, and it is fucking freaky, at first I just couldn’t not blink everytime the needle touched my eye. Trying to stare at a spot and not move my eye at all while he was digging around my cornea with a needle… just uffff. After each bit came out the nurse would wash my eye out, give me time to try and blink the rest out, then re-anaesthatise and go in with the needle again. This was repeated three times until at 4.30am he gave up and I don’t blame him. “Right, 95% of it is out, but I can’t do anymore. You will need to see optahmology in the morning, they have better tools there.” Once the ordeal was over my jaw was killing from clehing my teeth so hard for so long.

Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced pure pain many times greater than this, however this was exceptionally uncomfortable, incredibly annoying, and moreover just very scary. Losing your vision is a terrifying thing to deal with, even just for a couple of days. Sat in A&E on my own for 6 hours, and driving home with one eye was awful, sleep was difficult, I couldn’t close my eye properly and kept waking up in pain with a soaking wet pillow. The next afternoon I went back to opthamology and saw a specialist who managed to get out the last tiny piece of quartz, lodged where the cornea meets the iris. Although the consultant didn’t know what quartz was (?!), he managed to anaesthatise and get it out within a minute, giving almost instant relief. The quartz has permanently scarred my eye, but fortunately not he said, in my line of vision. My iris now has a tiny, unnoticable dent in it. Ah well- alls well that ends well.

Safety goggles guys!

After Brownley Hills



Damian has had this trip in mind for years, so many times he told us about the salt mines in Poland; the size and grandeur of them is a must see for underground enthusiasts. The cheapest flights available to us northerners was Doncaster – Katowice, and ten of us ended up on this particular flight. There were also five others going from Luton, and two from Liverpool. This made our group in Krakow eighteen, as Damian’s lovely cousin Karolina would also be joining us on our excursions. The weekend started well, with me passing my driving test the day before, I would be driving to Ed’s house on Friday afternoon, and leaving my car there for the weekend. Five of us would be going to Doncaster together to meet five more at the airport. The rest of the group would be united at Katowice airport; Joel in true style, appeared lying on the baggage collection conveyor. Our transfer minibus had the world’s angriest driver. He shouted at us for singing the wheels on the bus go round and round, he shouted at us for singing along to Michael Jackson on the radio, and he shouted at Tom for needing a wee and trying desperately for ages to ask him to stop the bus. He didn’t speak English, but a very patient Polish lady eventually took pity on us and made him stop. He did pull over at an actual serviced toilet, however this fact was sadly lost on Tom, and more unfortunately Emily. We did finally get to Krakow, and our hostel at around 1.30am on Saturday morning, successfully pissing off more angry/sleepy Polish people.

Rynek Główny Market

The next morning we were up at a not unreasonable hour to find breakfast, and catch our train to the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine. On the train out of Krakow centre, a few of us were spying old locos and tons of retired rolling stock, getting excited about the prospect of taking a closer look at these. Wieliczka is about 30 minutes away from central Krakow by train, interesting to note that Wiki says the first settlers in the town were probably Celtic, later driven out by the Slavic population. However the town very quickly became known for it’s huge deposits of salt, with the mine becoming a key focus of “white gold” as it was once considered. Wieliczka is one of the oldest salt mines in the world, and is absolutely bloody massive. You could not fail to be blown away by the sheer scale of the place. 1.2 million people visit this mine every year, and it’s easy to see why. The tourist trip started with a walk down a long wooden staircase shaft, if our tour guide told us how deep this was, unfortunately I don’t remember. Our tour guide then led us through a series of air lock doors, passages and chambers dating from the 11th to 14th centuries. The chambers were quite amazing to us, decorated with salt rock sculptures by the miners, plus various models and artefacts to illustrate the methods of working through different time periods. Our tour guide was excellent, very knowledgeable, and it has to be said very patient with the more childish members of our group, and I don’t mean Damian’s children!

Casimir the Great Chamber

We descended further down more beautifully crafted wooden stairs, through shaft bottoms, past winches, equipment and more big chambers. One of Wieliczka’s main attractions is the huge Chapel of St Kinga, the patron saint of mining. This is the main chapel of many in the mine located 101 metres underground, and it is possible to attend mass, concerts, or get married in the church. It is quite jaw dropping, big, detailed sculptures, reliefs, the floor, and the altar all carved out of the salt rock. We were allowed around 15 minutes to photograph and wonder at the marvel of St Kinga’s Chapel, before being ushered onwards to more impressive chambers filled with too many marvels to try and describe on here. The photographs and videos we took simply do not do this place any kind of justice, it must be seen to truly appreciate the scale and majesty of the chambers.

Chapel of St. Kinga, Wieliczka

After we had been underground in this wonderland, it was time for dinner. A three course dinner to be precise for some of us! We were shown to a table in the restaurant already laid out to seat 18 in the Budryk “Miner’s Tavern” Chamber. We were all surprised to find free wifi popping up on our phones, and some of us took this opportunity to call and facetime family members back at home in Britain. Quite a novelty 125 metres underground! We were served wine, beer, and traditional Polish cuisine, with plenty of time for the mineral collectors among our group to go and buy some crystals from the well stocked souvenir shop. Our guide then led us on to the museum, which houses historical artefacts and documents, artwork, specimens of very large coloured salt crystals, and more salt sculptures. As the tour was coming to an end, our guide said to the group “You have the option here, there is one more chamber to see, or you can choose for us to end the trip here…” Of course we chose the latter and she led us into a chamber with the biggest horse gin I have ever seen, and I am willing to bet will ever see. Our trip down Wieliczka ended with a modern elevator ride back to the surface, and many thanks to our (now slightly harassed looking) tour guide.

Michalowice Chamber

After our trip, a few of us were feeling tired, I was still recovering from a bad flu and aching, needed to lie down for a couple of hours, most of us retreated to the hostel. In the evening we went for pizza and a few beers, then walked around the city, taking in the sights. I was most impressed by the statue of Smok Wawelski outside the castle, the seven headed Wawel Dragon of Polish folklore. As I approached the dragon there was a ticking sound followed by an explosion of fire spat from it’s mouth! Woooow, I loved this! We stood and waited around 20 minutes to try and catch the fire breathing on camera, but sadly it didn’t do it again and we couldn’t stand around all night. It is only later after some googling I found that you can trigger the natural gas fuelled fire by sending a text to the dragon! On the way back to the hostel me and Phil found an open door into a empty apartment block. We had a quick look around and concluded it would be a perfect squat. I loved the buildings in Kraków, there is very little modern architecture to be found, and it gives the city quite a unique feeling for me, compared to other cities I’ve visited. Apart from some of the group getting chased by the police for jay walking, and a slight issue for three of our group involving a power station, most people we encountered were very friendly and happy to help us.

Bochnia Salt Mine

It was a case of early(ish) to bed, early to rise for all but 5 of our group. Bochnia Salt Mine on Sunday was an altogether different experience, we would be surprised and amused by this mine and our fabulous tour guide Jakub several times during the course of our day underground. This started with a cage lift down to 70 metres deep, I love these lifts, the darkness and swoosh of air gives a real sense of speed descending the shaft. Then the real fun started as we discovered we would be going on a train ride, the excitement among our group built as we waited, listening to Jakub’s warnings safety information. The miner’s man-riding train carriages are basically just wooden benches that you straddle, with a bar that comes down on either side. It’s very loud and rattles your bones, but so much fun we had to contain ourselves; we were warned don’t scream too loud or the driver might think there is a problem and stop. At the end of the train ride we were shown another access shaft, not normally used for public trips, and inside the air lock doors, a deafening multimedia exhibition about the beginnings of Bochnia and the mine. The mine trip took in various exhibits about the history and methods of working the mine, as we worked our way through passages, stairs and chambers. Bochnia is one of the oldest salt mines in the world, and certainly the oldest functioning salt mine in Europe.

Bochnia Main Passage

In Bochnia Mine there is another Chapel of St. Kinga to be seen, which must surely be the only functioning church in the world with a real live railway line running through it? Jakub told us that they hold mass in this chapel every Sunday for up to 200 worshippers. We were led on to an attraction in this mine which was completely unexpected- the world’s longest underground slide! It’s made of polished wood, looks much like a bench, is 140 metres long, and 65 metres high! After listening to the supervisors translated safety instructions, it was time to dump our bags, grab a mat and go for it… Some of us definitely went further and faster than others! Afterwards I had a quick spot of footie on the sports court, and we grabbed burgers and chips from the excellent cafe. The last adventure of our day underground would be a boat trip 250 metres deep, floating down a brine flooded passage that’s saltier than the dead sea. This was easily the most atmospheric part of the mine for me, Damian and Karolina translated the boatman’s narration for us, as we passed petrified sculptures and half sunken vessels in the quiet dark. After this it was time to start making our way out, and have a good look at the steam engine housed on the surface. Once back at the lift shaft, we waited with 2 other groups of visitors for around 40 minutes watching the engineers go back and forth making phone calls and looking slightly worried. We realised that there was a lift full of people stuck in the shaft, and were told with apologies by our Jakub that we would have to get back on the train and use a different shaft to get out. We thought this was an excellent idea, another train ride, and a new shaft! Win win! Off we went, crammed onto the train this time, and up the shaft which I gather is normally used by staff and the miners. Upon exiting the lift out into a different building, 2 sad facts became apparent to us; we weren’t seeing the steam engine and we wouldn’t get to thank our guide Jakub properly and tip him for being awesome. Damn.

Chapel of St. Kinga, Bochnia

Back in Krakow, Damian had a table booked for us all at a cool basement restaurant serving traditional Polish food. We had a bit of a mooch around the city again but the rain soon saw us back at the hostel happily drinking cherry soplica wodka. Monday morning came around far too early and quickly, the majority of us looking worse for wear and fighting the wodka induced haze. Most of the group would be going to visit an underground market before heading off to the airport. However, me, Emily, Joel, Phil and Rob would be heading in search of disused trains. The rain was not enough to put us off, and after a 10 minute train ride we found oures walking amongst hundreds and hundreds of abandoned trains and carriages. Most of the doors were welded shut, but there were a handful of accessible carriages. We also went up an old concrete tower of some description, right next to the railway lines. I don’t think any of us quite worked out what the tower was for, it had the look of a silo about it, and offered a good vantage point to watch the trains, and rail workers doing a spot of welding below.


For me the highlight of the day was finding the steam locos. We had spotted a couple from the train on Saturday, but weren’t sure where to find them. Thanks to Joel-nav and google maps, we found them just as the rain stopped. Massive, old, rusty, dirty, beautiful things! I wonder when they were last used. After playing on the trains, and some new(ish) tampers, we headed to the nearest station and back to the hostel. Time to meet the others, say goodbye, and reluctantly make our way to Katowice airport.

Choo Choo Motherfucker

What a properly amazing weekend! Damian was an absolute star in organising this whole trip- the airport transfers, hostel, trips to the mines and meals too. I found myself wishing for more time in Kraków, to explore the beautiful city, for the extended mining trips, and to visit Auschwitz. Sadly money and work constraints meant that a return trip is most definitely in order at some point in the future. Thank you so much, in no particular order to: Damian, Karolina, Magda, Filip, Tom, Ed, Max, Joel, Emily, Jodie, Phil, Matt, John, Robert, Anton, Gina, and Jack.

Matienzo Summer 2016

Matienzo Summer 2016

Arrived Tuesday 2nd August via flying from Manchester to Bilbao

Wednesday 3rd August
Via Ferrata in Ramales
Expedition Meal

Thursday 4th August
Mostajo tourist trip
Crane near Ramales

Scott, Mostajo

Charlotte, Mostajo

La Grúa

Friday 5th August
Fresnado II with James Carlisle

We got to “The Howling” mud duck in record time (every bit as lovely as it sounds!), and on to where the current survey ends to start new exploration and surveying. Crawled into a small yet high chamber, which initially looked to have good potential with ways on. James climbed the C.10m loose boulder pile while I hid under a ledge avoiding any likely rock fall. Once James was up, I crawled out and found a short climb down into a lower section, and heard water. I shouted up to James that I had a streamway in a rift and was climbing down to it. The rift passage is very loose in chossy limestone, I started chimneying down to the streamway, around 8-10 metres or so below. I gingerly placed my toe on a boulder wedged in the rift, which started moving so started backing up looking for a better place to climb down, when suddenly without any warning the boulder came crashing down and the whole passage collapsed around me. At this point James had climbed back down the boulder pile, deciding it was unsafe to continue alone, and he found me climbing out of the streamway looking and sounding rather shaken. Fortunately I came out of the fall with a couple of scrapes only.

We started surveying the small chamber, and then both climbed up the boulder pile one at a time. At the top were two big slopes, slippery looking and very loose, it reminded me somewhat of the slopes filled with deads I have seen at Nenthead. James started climbing/crawling up the first one, and was almost at the top when he shouted “BELOW LAUREN MOVE” or something to that effect. I jumped out of the way in time to look up and watch a TV sized boulder come rolling and sliding down the slope, with all the loose sandy stuff running in behind it. It tumbled down the boulder pile we had just climbed up, and took some of it out on it’s way. After obtaining a survey point, James told me to come up, as it was safer up there. At the top we were presented with a large chamber, and more loose climbs. We decided it was too much like “death on a stick” and cautiously climbed back down the pile, and went back to survey the streamway passage. This proved quite difficult as everything seemed to be on the move, and we did our best before calling it a day, and started heading out. The way out proved to be a lot more difficult than the way in, once covered in mud from The Howling duck, there is no dry sand on the other side to roll in and get the mud off, as is the case on the way in. The protected traverse was a comedy act of slippery feet and hands, then a long slog out with a stop for some food and water in the “Ecstasy Chamber”. Once out we met everyone at Bakers before a quick shower and typically fantastic meal at Bar Tomas.

Saturday 6th August
Walk with Pete Oneill, Phil Papard, and Hilary Papard to look for previously found, but unexplored shafts in the hillside.
Site 3627 partially descended by Pete Oneill, decided a ladder and some gardening was needed.
I looked down a couple more holes nearby that we found along the way to site ????
Phil put a bolt in the top, and I was first to descend the rather beautiful shaft.

New Cave, First Down

Sunday 7th August
Swimming in the Rio Ason near Riva de Ruesga

Crystal Clear

Monday 8th August
Beach day at Noja
BBQ at the Apartment

Tuesday 9th August
Walk with Pete Oneill, Phil Papard, Pete Clewes and Tom Howard to drop the shaft we found on Saturday. Various other holes found and investigated.

Wednesday 10th August
Ramales with Liz
Meal at Bar Tomas

Thursday 11th August



I have wanted to do Titan ever since I heard about it, but as a newbie caver 6 years ago, I presumed this was going to be out of reach for a very long time, and wondered if I would ever be capable of such a trip. For those that don’t know and are interested, a brief bit of background and history:
Titan is the deepest natural cavern that has been discovered so far in the UK, previously thought to be Gaping Gill. Titan forms part of the huge Peak Cavern cave system in Castleton, Derbyshire. Also known as the “Devil’s Arse”, the huge entrance (the UK’s largest) known as the Vestibule, is also the entrance to the popular show cave. Also connected to the system is Speedwell Mine; another public show mine which you can take a boat trip into (I still haven’t done this!).

It’s been known since the 1980s that there was ‘something’ beyond the Far Sump Extension connecting Speedwell to Peak Cavern. In 1992 extracts were published from an obscure recently discovered manuscript diary, written by the 18th Century academic James Plumptre. He describes in some detail his trip into the well known parts of Speedwell. But also large caverns and mine workings long thought to be in existence, but were supposed as blocked past the Boulder Piles. Cave divers had explored the far Sump extention, however the elusive dry route the miners must have used was still missing. After reading Plumptre’s account, there was renewed interest in James Hall’s Over Engine Mine Shaft found by the TSG in 1963; Plumptre describes what is now thought to be surely JH Mine: “There was another way out, by climbing one hundred and fifty yards farther to the top of the hill, but, as the way lay through another proprietor’s mine, the miners never go by it, unless insisted upon by strangers…” Moose led a dedicated team of Derbyshire cave diggers to search for “Caverns Measureless”. They excavated the workshop area of the mine, with many tools and relics left in situ, as the miners left them. The team spent a further 3 years removing boulders the bottom of Leviathan chamber, before achieving access to Speedwell in 1995. This area of cave was previously accessible only to cave divers from the Far Sump extention.

After years of grafting, and finding their way through a huge boulder choke near the piles, Moose and his team finally discovered the gigantic cavern of Titan from below in January 1999. They then proceeded to climb it over 6 days. Following reaching the top and surveying, 4 years was then spent digging an access shaft down from the surface. The existence of Titan was finally revealed to the wider caving community in November 2006. The entrance shaft is 46 metres deep, and Titan itself is split into a 62 metre pitch down to a landing point called the Event Horizon. Then a few metres down this ledge and onto a hanging re-belay point 58 metres from the bottom.

Diagram by Olly King

Fast forward to September 2013 and after a lot of SRT practice, I felt almost ready. We booked the trip for the first weekend in October and planned to do James Halls over Engine Mine through trip out of Peak Cavern on the Saturday, then go down Titan and back up JH de-rigging along the way on the Sunday. The JH trip went well, we completed the through trip and got out of Peak Cavern in 4 hours and 45 minutes. Sat in a pub in Castleton afterwards though it dawned on me how much I was aching, and how much of a mission getting out of JH would be the next day. I realised this was beyond me at this time, and unfortunately pulled myself out of the Titan trip. This was upsetting for me, and I struggled with the decision I made for weeks afterwards. Next year though… next year I would do it.

Preparing for the JH through trip, October 2013

The next year another trip into Titan was planned, which I unfortunately missed due to a family occasion. I was hoping for another trip last year which never materialised. Then late last year it was announced that there were some problems apparent in the entrance shaft, and the fibreglass rings needed replacing, so it had to be closed for repairs. Many thanks to the team who stabilised the shaft and installed new concrete rings. Finally it was announced in March this year that Titan was “back open for business”. As soon as I heard this I wasted no time in asking our chairman Tom Howard to book the trip, and so we had a date – Saturday 2nd July. This came around quickly, but I was more than ready for it this time… or so I thought.

On Friday Pete and Beth Knight of Peak Instruction asked if they could tag along on our trip, but only halfway… they didn’t plan on ‘bottoming’ Titan with us. We were really happy that Pete brought his camera along, as none of us had one – taking pictures of this trip was the last thing on our minds. Titan is notoriously difficult to photograph, and requires a lot of fire power to light even half the shaft up, and none of us fancied carrying any unnecessary kit. The whole of the UK has seen a lot of rain this last 6 weeks, and there was a worry that the bottom would be sumped with water, in which case the only option would be to climb back up and out of Titan. None of us much fancied that idea either, the trip was planned as a through trip out of Peak Cavern, but it was something we had to be prepared to do.

Anton rigging the entrance, me checking my gear. Photo by Pete Knight

After a short while of wandering in the fields, we found the completely innocuous looking lid to the entrance of Titan. Anton cracked on with rigging the 50 metre entrance shaft, while we discussed what to do about the key. Seeing as Pete and Beth would be coming out, but we also needed access in case the bottom was flooded and we had to come back out. After this had been sorted, Anton and Olly descended the entrance shaft, with me following. By the time I got to the window into Titan, I found a nervous looking Anton, and Olly had rigged the first pitch. I asked Anton if he was ok and he kind of mumbled something like “just look at it”. So I proceeded to clip into the safety line and peek out of the window for a look. Never before have the lines from my favourite poem had so much meaning.

“Into this wild Abyss, The womb of Nature, and Perhaps her Grave. Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire, But all of these in their Pregnant causes mixed. Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight, unless the Almighty Maker them ordain. His Dark Materials to create more worlds, Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend, Stood on the brink of Hell and looked awhile, Pondering his voyage; For no Narrow Frith, He had to Cross.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost

Anton and me looking nervous. Photo by Pete Knight

Titan is simply massive. 130 metres deep and unfathomably wide from the beam of my headlamp, I could just about make out the far wall in the distance, but when I looked down, my light was simply swallowed up by the black void below. Beth was the first to very bravely abseil down to the Event Horizon, 62 metres below, followed by Tom to go and rig the last 60 metre pitch. During all of this Anton was talking himself out of actually doing Titan and going any further. I could see why. We have all been down much deeper underground places- mainly mine shafts and the like, but nothing like this. The exposure is like being high up outside, but you’re underground and it’s somehow worse. You can’t see much of it in the darkness, and I found this fucked with my head. We told Anton he was going next, not to think too much, just to do it, and to not look down, because he would be able to see Beth and Tom’s lights on the Event Horizon. He bravely heeded Andy Farrow’s eloquent advice, “manned the fuck up” and went for it.

Then it was my turn. I really enjoyed the first pitch, and specifically wore my glasses which I don’t normally take caving. On the way down I marvelled at the beautiful formations, the echo of my exclamations of delight at what I was doing, but mainly the amazing size of the gigantic cavern. I struggled to get my head around placing myself in the context of this chamber, dangling inside it on a rope, I hope that makes any sense, it’s difficult to describe. I enjoyed the pitch very much, although landing on the Event Horizon was quite weird. I bellowed up to Olly that the rope was free and watched Anton preparing himself to go “over the edge”. Once again, my turn…

Me looking down into the great abyss from the top of Titan itself. Photo by Pete Knight

This is a very good example of why testing your descender with a cowstail still attached is a sensible practice, and one I have always followed on re-belays. As soon as I went to unlock my Stop I realised the problem, locked it again, attached my hand jammer to the top rope, and then had more than a slight panic when I realised all my weight was hanging on a stop rigged through one bobbin 60 metres high. After a shit shit shit shit shit shit shit, no no no, I stood up and managed to compose myself enough to stick my croll on, stick my short cowstail in the knot, sit back down on the croll, take a deep breath and sort the damn thing out. Then when I sat back down on the Stop it was loaded on the corner of my D-ring rather than the middle, so I had to then sort that out too. Shook me right up, wasn’t shaking at the top, but by ‘eck was I trembling after finally getting off at the bottom! At first I had no idea what had happened – never happened before, never rigged my stop incorrectly before. It dawned on me that the weight of the wet rope pulling the stop downwards had pulled it out of the top pin, despite me knowing I had rigged it correctly. So when I closed the stop and locked it off, was clearly not paying enough attention to realise the rope was not fully underneath the pin. Anyway I didn’t die, just gave Olly and Beth above me a bit of a scare!

At the bottom of Titan you get cold pretty damn quick, there is spray from the waterfall, and it’s not a nice place to stand around for too long. I was glad of the extra base layer and balaclava I had stashed away in a dry bag. Once everyone was down we didn’t waste any time in looking for the connection, us silently praying that it wasn’t sumped, and also that the “Cow Arse Worms” duck wasn’t too full of the nasty wriggly things. After some questioning of our route finding, we were very pleasantly surprised to find our wishes had been granted, and we could get through. Although Cow Arse Worms duck was absolutely rank and smelled foul, we were all happy to finally find our way into the Speedwell Streamway and have a good wash off. Seeing the old mining stemples on the way to the Streamway, and passing through Leviathan in JH, serves as a stark reminder that cavers were almost certainly not the first to find Titan, and we are all indebted to their hard toil.

Painting by SUSS in the TSG kitchen

Despite me having been in Speedwell Streamway twice before, I found it a bit disorientating wearing glasses (I don’t normally wear them in wet caves), and kept falling over. I’m also very grateful to Olly for the piggy back through the deeper bits! What I should have done was taken my glasses off at the bottom of Titan, ah well. I found colostomy crawl much easier than last time, mainly due to not dragging a bag behind me and instead wearing my little personal 5l bag clipped to my hip, and also probably due in some part to it seeming slightly bigger than when I last tackled it 3 years ago. Each caver that goes through must bring a certain amount of mud with them right? I think we were all happy to see the bath in Peak Cavern, signalling the time for well deserved beer and BBQ was nigh. It’s always fun to pass the tourists in the Devil’s Arse, sopping wet and muddy, with no indication of the horrors endured to traverse underneath the hillside and emerge, triumphant into the sunlight of the Vestibule. They all stare at us, the look on their faces confirming the truth – they must be mad!

The Sunday de-rigging team of Tom (sleeping beauty), Olly and Cow friend (surface “support”) and Andy Farrow (ROPE FREEE) encountered a few issues with the next team along who had rigged over us instead of using the extra bolts. But it seems they would have had enough to worry about at the time with knot passes! Despite me offering to help de-rig on Sunday, I went to Bagshawe Cavern with some new club members instead, which I will tackle in a separate little write up at some point.

Photo (Via Snapchat) by Olly King

Many, many thanks to our Titan team – Tom Howard, Olly King, Anton Petho, Andrew Farrow, Pete Knight and Beth Knight.

Thanks to the Technical Speleological Group for their usual fantastic hospitality, their much improved Club Hut, and of course the BBQ on Saturday night.

Also thanks to Steven Mills, Robert Stevenson, Yvonne King and Callum Ewan for coming down Bagshawe Cavern on Sunday 🙂


Belgium – Ropes, Caving, and Brussels

Belgium – Ropes, Caving, and Brussels

Stephane Fontaine very kindly invited the DCC to a rope event that his caving club run each year in Senzeilles Quarry in Cerfontaine, Belgium. Initially, and for 3 months, I was the only person who took this offer up, until a month before the event Andrew Farrow booked himself a plane ticket too. Stephane came to collect us from Brussels Charleroi late on Friday, upon arriving at Senzeilles, we found everyone asleep and so had to have the quietest BBQ ever – thanks to Stephane for much needed beer! This was my fist night sleeping in a hammock and it was great! I like arriving in a destination at night, and then waking up to see where you have come to. In this case big smooth faced marble quarry with what from a distance looked like giant spiders webs rigged across it in every direction. We were up bright and early, keen to get ourselves signed up, and get on the ropes.

Groupe Speleo Centre Terre are known for being “rope monkeys” in Belgium, and this was no surprise when we were handed the rigging guide, which wasn’t really a rigging guide. But it indicated the three different levels of rope practice in the quarry. Green: very easy, for kids. Orange: “soft route”. Red: “pro route”. Myself and Andy started on the very easy ropes to get a feel for the place, take a closer look at their rigging, and make sure all our gear was set up correctly for the course. And so onto the “soft route”. This consisted of walking halfway to the top of the quarry to the starting point, then what can only be described as 40-50 minutes of fairly tricky rope work!

Andy on the “Pro Route”

The afternoon saw us attempting the pro-route and getting to various stages of completion before jibbing out. I chose to get off about halfway in, in a “not so designated getting off point”, before getting to the over-water section. My arms at this point were aching, and so I took the opportunity in the afternoon to walk up to the top of the quarry and get some action shots of Stephane, Andy, Laurel and Paul on the walls. That evening was followed by a smashing BBQ, and Euro cave talk all night!

Stephane in Monto St. Etienne 

On Sunday Stephane organised a caving trip for us into a lovely little cave called Monto St. Etienne, in the Huy region of Belgium. We met 4 of his young caving colleagues – Nico, Salome, Piet, and Arthur, kitted up and headed underground. This cave is protected due to the presence of bats, and gated with access only allowed during the summer months. This is a very pretty little cave with many decorated areas, that has sadly been slightly spoiled in places by spray painted graffiti. After pausing for a photo in the large chamber, we quickly found our way down to the first pitch. Salome was in the process of gaining her first stage in rigging practice, and so we waited and took some more photographs and enjoyed Piet’s music, while Salome expertly rigged the safety line and traverse, before we all descended into the second half of the cave. Once down, we had a good wander around the various routes, and then climbed up a pre-rigged shaft into the most well decorated part of the cave. Upon leaving the cave, Nico presented with cans of Jupiler lager, and we happily sat in the sun eating bread, chorizo and cheese.

Andy in front of Brussels Cathedral

Monday saw myself and Andy wandering around Brussels being tourists in the rain, I really enjoyed the city, there was so much to see even with most of the major attractions shut on Mondays. Fairly disconcerting seeing the military literally every half an hour or so; armed personnel on every other street corner. At least we felt quite safe!

Many thanks to Stephane for his wonderful hospitality!

The Corsican Crawl – 282 metre Zip Wire

The Corsican Crawl – 282 metre Zip Wire

Enormous thanks to Steve for hosting and organising his tree rigging weekend. Steve worked very hard to organise a brilliantly fun couple of days. I think he deserves some sort of special club stunt award for his “Corsican Crawl”. (And maybe his outdoor toilet too). Huge thankyous to Tom Howard, Olly King, Cath, Sophie & Sean, Charlotte Meakin, James, Pete & Heather Johnson, Nigel Dibben, Robert and Louise Stevenson, Geordie & the kids, Paul Richardson, and especially to Scott Bradley of the TSG who we all agreed needs a proper DCC thank you.

Olly abseiling down the tree for the first time

Steve had wanted to rig a zip line in his garden for a very long time – years in fact. Back in October, I suggested we set a date for it to finally happen. There was much discussion in the months before it about the logistics and safety concerns. Myself, Olly and Dave Dillon went to Steve’s a few times to look at the tree and discuss plans in the 2 weeks leading up to the weekend itself. There has been a rope up in Steve’s tree for the last 10 years or so, and apparently this rope came from the Berger expedition of 1991, so this obviously needed to be replaced before anything else could happen up the tree. We agreed though, if the zip line wasn’t possible or didn’t happen for any reason, we would still have a damn good weekend at Steve’s playing on ropes and giving the DCC Rocket a fresh lick of paint.

Me 100ft up on a cold and windy Friday night

Unfortunately the weekend had a disappointingly poor turnout for a big club event that has been in the calendar since October. Not getting at anyone in particular, it turned out to be a bad weekend for many- of course I know there are very good reasons why. Sorry to say many missed a truly incredible weekend. And the weather was perfect, sunny no wind. For any of you that haven’t been to Steve’s place it is awesome and quite special…

Magical English Bluebell Woods

Upon arriving yesterday, a small group of us were mingled underneath the tree wondering where Steve was. I rang him and was given the cryptic instructions “walk down the meadow and follow the mouse trail”… So off we went and followed the white mice directing us over the bridge, we went through a beautiful woodland filled with thousands of bluebells, there is so much to see. But shortly after Scott arrived at midday, we got on with having a crack at this crazy zip wire idea. I think we are all in agreement if Scott had not come it most likely wouldn’t have happened, or at least not as successfully. We needed someone with more experience rigging zip wires than us, and he gave us the confidence in what we were doing. None of us were sure it was possible to do safely, less so in one weekend, and even less considering all the other individual factors involved in putting a 10mm steel zip wire 90 feet up a Corsican Pine the best part of 300 years old, with a bit of a dodgy lean to it?! Fortunately the tree is healthy, and the lean is backwards away from the wire. The tree has been anchored to two other large trees behind it, so that the zip wire cable does not pull the old 100ft tree over. It was under tension by Saturday afternoon, however it was reduced yesterday morning. The main cable is rigged directly to the tree, 27 metres up using planks to protect it’s trunk. The forces involved here are big- tons of pressure at either end of the line. At the far end of the meadow 282 metres away the cable ends 20odd metres up another tree, with the main tensioning anchor redirected from there to the bottom trunk of another huge tree. By 7pm on Saturday, the cable was fully hoisted up the tree at one end. It still didn’t look great though, we knew there was a lot more work and testing to be done yesterday. Nevertheless we had the traditional DCC knees up with a moonlit midnight walk around the mouse trail, and late night around Steve’s dustbin fire. Falling asleep in my tent next to the river with the sound of the waterfall was magical.


So after a leisurely breakfast we got on with it, hoisted the cable up the lower tree, and I gingerly weighted the lowest point to see what happened. I sank to the floor. Higher it went up the tree. Less tension though, the real danger clearly being over tensioning rather than being too slack. Olly and James were towed up the line, with more adjustments and eventually after looking at everything, we decided to go for it. Scott slowly lowered Olly down the zip wire from the top of the tree, along with a saw to get rid of the branches in the way at the top. After some extreme high wire tree surgery, the 80 metre belay rope then came to an end, and it was time to let him go! (There is one small branch in the way still that was just out of reach, but it’s not particularly painful unless you’re wearing shorts!) Olly rode gracefully down the rest of the line, with the long rope acting as a gentle brake on the long grass. Then it was James’ turn, from the top this time. He went bloody fast but slowed down almost as quick and came to a comfortable stop on the floor about 200 metres down the wire. My turn next and I went the furthest, came nowhere near the floor and ended up coming to a stop hanging about 20odd metres away from the end, Charlotte followed me screaming, and then Tom with a zimmer frame for good measure.

Extreme high wire tree surgery

The method we used is to connect yourself to the pulley with your locked stop on a 15 metre or so length of rope, which is attached to yourself coiled in a bag, when you come to a stop, you can abseil down the rope to gradually release yourself from the cable. Clearly weight is a huge factor in this zip wire as to speed and landing. Everyone involved did a bloody good job with simple yet effective rigging. There was no hoist system installed, you had to prusik to the top of the tree, and connect yourself to the cable whilst stood on a branch. All in all a fantastic weekend, many thanks again to all who were involved! Needless to say, we didn’t get around to repainting the rocket, maybe we can organise another weekend to get the job done before the September open weekend?


Giant’s Hole

Giant’s Hole

Tom and I found ourselves at a loose end this weekend, on Friday night we decided to go down the classic Giant’s Hole near Castleton in Derbyshire. Tom came to pick me up at the entirely reasonable time of 9.45am and off we went, stopping for breakfast…

SR high T: DCC Stunt of the Year 2015

SR high T: DCC Stunt of the Year 2015

In September this year some DCC members went to Hidden Earth, as they often do. Much shit red wine was drunk, many bruises were gained, and all of the swimming pool alarms were set off. Amongst the madness, I managed to cobble together some photographs to enter into the competition, and even found a comedy shot of Tom from 2 years ago drinking a cup of tea whilst doing some SRT practice in Bear Pit at Alderley Edge. SRTea Break didn’t win the comedy fun shot category, but it did rekindle an idea in Kieran and Charlotte that had to be done. They were having a full SRTea Party.

October 2013
October 2013
We knew that it had to be done before the DCC’s annual dinner at the end of November, in time to be considered for the club’s Stunt of the Year award. Planning started in earnest on Saturday 10th October at an SRT practice day in Alderley Edge. Kieran, Charlotte, Pete and James went to scout out potential underground locations in the copper mines that we look after, and settled on West Mine. Only problem was the entrance- it’s a small lid with a short ladder and there was no chance of getting a decent sized table down there. We set a date so Kieran set about cannibalising and rigging an old pine table and chairs, and ended up sawing the table in half to be reassembled underground later. Meanwhile Charlotte, Pete and James were busy sourcing various items of fine china, candelabra, cake stand, table cloth, napkins and of course, appropriate clothing. It was decided that a personalised DCC teapot was just the thing that was needed, and I must admit this was my only job apart from photographing the whole thing!


At this point I would love to tell everyone exactly how this was rigged, and how much work I put into it. But instead I turned up fashionably (ahem) late after a party the night before, but in perfect time to take photos of the whole bonkers affair with some flash props and help from Joel and Adam. Fortunately the table was suspended in a spot high up the main chamber, which already had some bolts in place. I cannot describe the utter hilarity of watching Charlotte and James descend the pitch whilst sat down and strapped to chairs in their harnesses, which were hidden underneath their clothes. Before they could get down, the table had to be cleared by means of winching a big bag up and down the pitch. I don’t think a single thing got dropped or broken, surely a feat in itself! Then it was Kieran and Pete’s turn at the table. I think I speak for everyone present when I say how happy I was that Kieran wore shorts underneath his tea dress. He seemed rather comfortable in the heels though. Enjoy…!

Thank you to all involved for another crazy DCC stunt!



We were supposed to be joining a few members of UCET today to do the Dinorwic Snakes and Ladders climbing route around the quarry. Unfortunately due to it pouring down with rain, Ed, Me, Olly, Briony and Simon decided against it and headed to Cwmorthin…