Volume 41 Number 1 Article 2
Devis Hole Mine, Swaledale
15 February 2003
Team: Neil Pacey, Tanya, Lionel Rice, Andy (smoking) Walsh, Bill Holden, Bill Sherrington
Although this trip was a club meet, all attending were Notts II diggers. Could it be that this rugged obsessive crew held some vain hope of linking this Swaledale Mine with this system on Leck Fell? Or was it the case that we had bonded so closely in digging that we were instinctively drawn to be at the same place at the same time? Did we sense potential glory in finding the missing link between this Mine and the next valley that had been reported in old times and is supported by local stories? Or was it that we were used to being frozen solid whilst changing on the exposed road to Leck Fell and were the only members of this club hardy enough to attend a meet on an icy day?
Devis Hole is a lead ore mine around 100 years old. It had been a huge "dig" involving a cast of thousands including women and small children. I guess we turned up a bit too late to join that fun. The mine was mostly dry. It was littered with debris left by the original miners - buckets, grease mugs, spikes and rods, rails, old ropes, chisels and a few ore tubs. The mine was well cleaned out. We only found a few small pieces of Galina or residue in veins. The floors are mainly silt and compressed mud. The mine interfaces with a natural cave system and some passages are walking size. The passages show evidence of drill markings and chisel chipping. Some coral fossils can be seen. Clog prints are everywhere.
This account includes a caver on fire. Yes, we had a mobile smoking gun of our own. Lionel and Bill S had mutinied on the Moribund dig the previous week. Would Neil show enough leadership authority to keep the team together this time? Read on...
For some, the day started with a civilised full English breakfast at the Sherrington household. Mrs Sherrington had her coffee in bed, junior was fed and Bill had his browny points for the day. En route we stopped for a coffee and due to a lack of local entrepreneurial spirit everywhere - all cafes closed, we ended up at the Serendipity Café in Leyburn. This was a cross between a Laura Ashley store and the Acropolis. It was a bit posh and we were very self-conscious that we were a bit scruffy. We admired the murals, including pictures of Greek columns and white doves, exchanged Valentines Day stories of love and sex and paid the £2.00 a cup bill.
It was a very cold day and changing by the roadside was not a happy experience, with damp gear icing up as unloaded. Bill Holden's oversuit zip was broken but we were impressed with the imaginative use of criss-crossed shoe lacing, somewhat kinky but appealing in design.
We made our way to the mine entrance. This is along the Cogden Gill above the Old Smelting Mill. We followed the right hand branch of the Gill (western direction) for a few yards. The entrance is a timbered shaft dropping into a level passage. (Any talk of Notts II was banned for the duration of the trip and Andy was physically resisted from trying to shore up the entrance with plastic, scaffold, paper Mache and bricks). The team climbed down and crawled a short distance. The roof is unstable and roof beams have rotted away. Great care is needed to avoid physical contact with roof boulders, or "dead ends" as sometimes called. Looking back after the crawl makes this clear.
The passageway becomes higher, an oil drum lined (very rusty and degraded) left-hand passage is passed and after about 400 ft we turned left into Pearson's passage. This lies under a huge central maze. This maze is phreatic and made up of over a mile of natural cave passageways which are concentrated into no more than about 400ft by 150ft. At one point, some kind soul has scribed a map on the walls. We followed it and ended up at exactly where we started. Thanks mate. The maze is very complex and resembles a "New York road map".
Bypassing this maze we continued along the main level for 385ft to a 4-way junction. Andy "Sid Perou" Walsh had made the effort to bring some video equipment and we occasionally performed for the camera, Bill Holden showing the acting skills of his Hollywood namesake.
Hollywood namesake. I think that it was at this point that Andy showed what HOT STUFF he is. As the crew gathered at the junction, Andy then arrived. A strange smell arrived with him. It wasn't obvious at first. Neil was the first to shout out to Andy that something was wrong. The plume of smoke arising from his tackle bag was now obvious to all. Not noticing, Andy gave a look of confusion and possibly suspected a wind up. We were very serious and the smoking bag was inspected. This revealed that the powerful battery used to provide a light source for video work had been shorting strongly, burning plastic and cables. We were pleased to discover that this would not be the first case of caving human spontaneous combustion as we had feared.
Andy's coffee flask was rescued from the bag, as it seemed a good time for a "Maxwell House" moment. The flask looked like a used cannon shell and it was not a surprise that its thermal qualities were compromised but the cold coffee was better than nothing at all. Andy - get a new one!
At this 4-way junction we took a left into the east level into a series of mine passages which had some natural features. We passed over several shafts in the floor, which ended in a previous "dig" area in collapsed mine passage. This had only just been breached a few weeks before around Christmas. Going through this we entered another section of mined passage. This was partly railed and we walked on the rails to avoid trampling the many clog prints. We passed another shaft and then rigged another shaft, which was over 80ft deep to the water, a large wooden ladder protruding from the watery depths.
Some descended by SRT, others by ladder to a 50ft point at which we swung onto a rusty iron scaffold bar onto another level. We followed the left railed passage to a junction and walked right. This led across a shaft. Some shafts could, with care, be traversed along the unstable edges. Some metal rails had been used to support a person's weight crossing the ledge. We came to a shaft where the miners had dug down and then upwards into a vein. To get into the mined rift you need to take a brave jump/leap across the void landing on some rusty rails. Neil and Bill S made the brave step whilst the most intelligent of the group watched prayerfully awaiting news of their finds. The return journey was made safely. Some huffing and panting on the ascending of the shaft. Neil gives a really good lifeline. In fact you don't need to even try to climb - just let Neil do the work.
There was one incident. Somebody (who cannot be named for legal reasons) caused a small boulder to roll onto Tanya's foot. Mr Valentine, instead of giving a verbal lashing to the perpetrator of this hideous crime or threatening this clumsy oaf, could only manage a quiet "Oh dear". What a paragon on symphony! Tanya - wear clogs next time you visit Devis.
If you would like more advice on this mine then speak to Neil. I cannot vouch for the directions described and any resemblance of the above account to real persons living or dead is purely coincidental.