RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 37 Number 1 Article 3
April 2000

Into the "Devil's Arse"

James Hall Over Engine Mine (JH) to
Peak Cavern exchange trip.
Castleton, Derbyshire - 23 January 2000

Do not wake the Leviathan from its sleep,
Do not call it from its cavern in the deep,
If you dare go down to the monster's lair,
Then take care, that it does not keep you there!

JH Rigging team: Pete Dale, Bruce Stone, Duncan Jones, Iain Simpson.

Second JH team: Robert Garrett, Nicky Skidmore, John Couch, Dewi Griffiths.

Derigging Team: Paul Swire ("Beardy"), John Cooper, Helen Blyth, Dave Foxton, Dave Otterwell.

Peak Cavern streamway team: Jack Taylor ("Hero"), Amy Clarke, Carmel Ramwell, Andy Hall, Andy Pringle, Mike Hale ("Slug"), Pete & Julie Mohr ("Zig & Zag").

The Devils Arse, near Castleton in Derbyshire
..... that wonderful Arch, commonly call'd the Devil's Arse, near Castleton, in Derbyshire, the Area where the Persons and the Houses are, where a great many of the poor Inhabitants live, is within the Arch, and reaches to the first Water which runs cross it, as you may observe by the shadowed Figure stretching in that Line.

This was a popular trip (twenty club members and one guest), and it could become a regular event. All credit to Roger Watkinson for obtaining the permit and permission to enter Peak Cavern, but there are a number of hidden obstacles and hitches waiting to catch the organiser out - secret access codes, hidden keys, locked gates, farmers to placate, cave owners to be "sweetened", hut wardens to locate, disclaimers to sign, parking "World peace" would have been easier to arrange!

Anyway the plan was for the main party to abseil down JH and exit via Peak Cavern, while a small, elite, team would enter via Peak and derig JH. Those who did not want to go on the SRT trip formed a third party, which romped around the streamway. About half the group met in the Peak Pub the night before and later retired to Chapel for a warm, restful night's sleep. (Zig & Zag did not want to stay anywhere so warm and comfortable as the Chapel, and had to put up with a local B&B). The rest of the team arrived the following morning, and so the fun began.

James Hall Over Engine Mine

(NGR 13518200) - Depth approximately 244 metres.

The amazing history of the rediscovery of JH can be found in Iain Barker's Classic Caves of the Peak District (1997) and in a series of articles in "Descent" and "Caves & Caving" dating from 1994. The JH shaft near Rowter Farm was one of many old 18th lead-mine shafts. The Technical Speleological Group (TSG) descended and capped the 50m shaft in 1963, but there was no further progress until 1993 when it was realised that JH was located above the Peak/Speedwell system. A great deal of hard digging by Dave Nixon ("Moose") and his team, opened up the Cartgate Level to reveal the second "Bitch Pitch" (about 30m), which landed in the "Workshop", an area of old mine workings and mining artefacts, including the remains of a 200 year old wheelbarrow. A short natural passage leads to the massive final 80m pitch, the "Leviathan"* which is split into upper and lower sections. Moose and his team dug from the bottom of Leviathan, making a breakthrough into Speedwell and Peak caverns in August 1995. A great achievement, topped only by their more recent discovery of Titan!

The four Red Rose riggers were dropped off about 10.30am at Rowter Farm where they collected the key for the JH lid and for the gate at the bottom of Leviathan (normally there is a charge of £1 per caver to the Farm). The team found the capped shaft with only slight difficulty, located a few hundred metres South East behind the Farm. This pitch should be rigged straight from the transverse scaffold bar across the top of the shaft. The lid should be closed, but not locked, and the keys given to the derigging team on their way out. Four bags of rope, 55m, 50m, 60m and 75m were used. This was probably a bit excessive, but the last 75m rope allowed the Lower Leviathan to be rigged via a new route (avoiding pipework and a dam) described in the new Crewe Pothole Club Peak Rigging Guide (4th edition, p.18-19). It perhaps all takes a bit longer than you might think? Anyway when the riggers reached the bottom, the derigging team was already waiting patiently behind the locked gate!

Peak Cavern and Speedwell System

(NGR 14868259) Approximately 1,600m of passage.

Peak Cavern, the "pearl of Peak District caving", is easy to find in Castleton, a short walk from the TSG Chapel. Peak has the largest cave entrance in England, but some of toughest access restrictions. Access for cavers is only permitted via the show cave on Sundays between November and March. Cavers must not only have a BCRA permit, but must also be over 18 years old, be approved by the TSG, sign an indemnity, pay a £4 fee, not use carbide or smoke, sign in and out, and be in the cave before 10am!

The history of Peak cavern is long and complex, but good short accounts can be found in: "Classic Caves of the Peak District", John Cordingley's "Peak Cavern System - a Caver's Guide" (1986), and "Peak Cavern, a Guide" by Brian Woodall (1979). The "Devil's Arse" (the Cavern's ancient name) has long been associated with Satanism, witchcraft and highwaymen. Medieval peasants herded their livestock in the entrance, and from 16th century a small hamlet of cottages and workshops occupied the huge entrance, which later gave rise to a community of rope makers - an ironic occupation for cave dwellers! A moving account of the life of one of the cave's families during the 1780s-90s is told in Theresa Tomlinson's "The Rope Carrier" (1994). A demonstration of the techniques of rope manufacture is a popular part of the modern-day Peak Cavern show cave trip. Charles Cotton (1630-87), a Staffordshire poet, in his "Wonders of the Peak" (1692) wrote:

Now to the cave we come, wherein is found,
A new strange thing, a village underground:
Houses and barns for men and beasts behoof,
With walls distinct, under one solid roof.

During the 18th century, a few adventurous souls took guided tours by torchlight as far as "Roger Rain's House" in the present show cave, however it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that explorers reached the Buxton Water Sump and the Mucky Ducks, not far beyond the end of the show cave. These watery barriers were not passed until 1949, when a combination of diving and siphoning by the Sheffield University Mountaineering Club, the Cave Diving Group, and the British Speleological Association gained access to the Upper Gallery and the main Streamway. The first major inlet into the Upper Gallery is Pickering's Passage, which leads to Moss Chamber, where Neil Moss, a twenty-year old student, became trapped and died in 1959. A full account of this tragic event can be found in "Race Against Time" by Jim Eyre and John Frankland (1988).

The second major inlet leads to the Treasury Chamber, from where a long crawl through a broken gate eventually leads via Liam's Way and Colostomy Crawl to the Bung in Speedwell, and on to the bottom of JH. It apparently took over 25 years of digging by the TSG and others to make this link, but the Red Rose derigging team did the crawl in two hours! They should have waited at least another hour before setting off, but they were worried that they might not be admitted into the Peak show cave. These racing cave snakes were so keen to get going they arrived long before the riggers at the bottom of JH! Helen, who greatly enjoys being cold and wet, managed to use all her excess body heat to warm the cave up while they waited behind the locked gate; her face and hands turned a fetching mottled blue-white colour, which lasted for several hours. Eventually everyone met up; the deriggers soon warmed up dragging the gear back up the pitches, and the JH teams found their way out of Peak without incident (the laminated surveys may have helped!)

What of the rest of us? Those of us who chose the easy option of visiting the Streamway had our various personal reasons - bad ankles, bad knees, bad back, bad batteries etc. To be fair Amy & Slug should really have gone on the SRT trip, but volunteered for the Streamway because of the large numbers already in JH. Andy Pringle got his lamp working with the third battery he tried. Amy, Carmel and Slug, explored every little passage, but Andy Hall declined at Lake Sump - "I'm not going down there just to see another sump!" Zig and Zag dragged their bad ankles and knees along the huge Streamway as best they could. We were ably guided through a maze of passages and round the Peak Streamway by Jack who has recently joined Red Rose, but has had much experience in exploring Peak Cavern. Jack knew all the twists and turns, but was not very good at remembering the names of the various landmarks - "ye, we could be there what's-it-called?". The one exception was the Treasury Chamber, which he remembered all too well: Jack is the "Hero" who some years ago was trapped by the rising sump in the Treasury for over seventeen hours! Sat on top of a boulder pile, he watched the water rise twelve metres, go down a bit, and then rise again! He could remember every little rock with affection!

After this tale most of us decided to head out, although Amy and Slug, eager for more thrills decided to do the crawl through to the Bung-and-back to finish-off (yes the one that took 25 years to dig!). We surprised some visitors as we entered the show cave, and the guide made Andy Hall slide down the muddy slope to amuse them.

By about 4.30pm everyone was out and changed. No problems, no epics, and all the gear intact, so we went to the George Hotel in Castleton for a final drink. Helen was still a mottled blue and white colour despite the open fire! Oh well, it was a good weekend.

Peter and Julie Mohr

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