Experiencing the Peak - Speedwell Connection

Sunday March 8th 1992.

“All this country is hollow. Could you strike it with a gigantic hammer it would boom like a drum.” wrote Conan Doyle about the cave area around Castleton, Derbyshire.
However to join up some of these hollow bits a lot of committed digging is required and in March this year I found myself floundering in exactly one of those connecting passageways
I must be one of the most luckiest people In the world, I thought as squirmed in Colostomy Crawl, an oval, excessively muddy tube slanting slightly upwards and forcing ones bum and nose to the floor. I had somehow become wedged between two people carrying ammo boxes. The one ahead had arranged his on a sling which allowed the box to lie between his feet

“When I move forward shove the box at the same time.” , he ordered.

“Yes, of course” I complied, admiring his wetsuit clad calves and wondering what advantage such gigantic feet conferred to the average caver.

“Pull my box with your feet as you move forward.” , said the one behind.

“Yes, of course”, I puffed.

Preoccupied, I must have lost my rhythm at some point and a sharp yelp ahead resulted in a three minute enforced stop. “I think I can manage myself now”, said the voice in front and we all launched forward once more. Unimpeded by boxes I concentrated on the moist, fecund, sticky mud slowly seeping into my ears, eyes, nose, mouth and every other crevice my holely suit would allow. A feeling of intense happiness and delight flooded me as I confined my outlook to that of some flagelattory organism wallowing along in a miasma of mud. In other words I surrendered myself entirely to my surroundings. Confused I arrived at Engaro and fighting to gain control of a more human perspective I strode aggressively down the series of ladders demanding to know how this magnificent aven had acquired its odd name. “They decided to reverse the word “oranges as they were eating one at the time.” came back the startling reply. I was completely taken aback by this cavalier approach to the important business of cave passage naming. Those of us who had been well brought up made every attempt to wash their clothes of mud- completely unsuccessfully, the rest of us peered into the gloom over the boulders behind us and finally set off up the shallow stream ahead. Leaving the stream by way of a perfect crawl-height bypass with a superb smooth sandy bottom (a sort of designer crawl really) we regained the streamway just before the climb up left to Block Hall, a truly towering circular aven.

The compelling sound of water falling drew us on to The Bung, an artificially built dam designed to maintain the water level in Speedwell. Today the ladder could just about be seen though this is not always the case we were told. We were warned not step off left at the top because that is where the Bung Hole lurks and would shoot us down again making our ladder climbing efforts a complete waste of time.

Wading through The Whirlpool and climbing the short waterfall towards Cliff Cavern I was surprised to see Clive Westlake admiring the inscription “A health to all Mines and Mountaineers of Mines” near a drawing of a bottle and glass. I had last seen him in The Treasury and he certainly hadn’t overtaken us.

“Yes”, he explained patiently, “we came the easy way via the sump, it only takes a minute.”

It is not however, free dive able. He took a massive gulp of air to begin with and required another large gulp from his bottle midway.

Transfixed we stood at the base of Cliff Cavern aven looking up at what the Kwmdwr
Club, some ninety years ago, described as dark impenetrable rifts and we wondered
exactly where the rope hanging between the two waterfalls would lead had any of us thought to bring along some tackle. After a full and very frank thirty second discussion on the meaning of life we returned to find John Beck brewing hot ribena over one of many stoves scattered throughout the Peak Cavern- Speedwell system. That this one was at its farthest point from the Peak Cavern entrance added to its interest.
Fortified by our drink and a variety of sandwiches, everyone of which tasted of gritty mud, we negotiated the passageway to The Bathing Pool. Ignoring the almost but not quite irresistible request to peel off my wetsuit and cavort in the green depths in whatever I was wearing underneath I admired the steep sided walls in this almost circular pool of enchanted colour.

Wallowing under the Leaning Pillar we hived off down the attractively shaped and beautifully scalloped passageway to Whirlpool Rising. Locating the surface point above us, a little to the left of the first right hand bend in the road to the Winnats we commented on the different aspects of Main Rising. This is a large gloomy area of water covering a vertical shaft surrounded on three sides by dark, austere looking walls and Whirlpool Rising, a craggy hole in a very unimposing chamber. We reflected on the perverse hydrology that allows Main Rising to flood the system for several consecutive years and then for this role to be taken over by Whirlpool Rising.
Retracing our steps I contemplated our route back through Colostomy, The Trenches- considerably widened by the passage of cavers from which the ladder can be seen leading to the White River Series, Faulty Towers where Ben had the foresight to keep digging in his successful attempt to avoid the Wind Tunnel the entrance to which looked completely out of the question as I squirmed past it this morning. Climbing Egnaro I blissfully cut out all thought as I slipped mesmeric ally into the beguiling world of Colostomy, gliding as if in a dream almost effortlessly down the slightest of slopes, oozing the mud ahead of me and I thought yet again.

 “I am surely one of the luckiest people in the world.”

Margaret Beresford.

 

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