Wardlow Sough 15/7/20

Three buzzards circling overhead, the spectacular gibbet of Peter’s stone nearby and the weirdest pub in Derbyshire at the head of Cressbrook Dale. Quite a location to end my lockdown. Sadly missing was the vulture which was visiting the Peak District from Mont Blanc. A 9 foot wing span apparently.

Paul, Larry, Sean and myself met and socially distanced at the corrugated pipe entrance before descending the 4 metre ladder into Wardlow Sough. An easy trip to start back. Maybe not. Mud. A lot of it. Sticking, cloying mud. A veritable bog in places. It sucked you in and really didn’t want to let go.

Stooping sections were interspersed with some lovely crawls. Up to the elbows in water in places. Where it had dried, the mud possessed a lovely texture and constituency. Good for a facial pack said Sean. No time for beauty treatment. On with the boot camp.

Paul had spoken about a bit of a squeeze with characteristic understatement. Here it was. Time to get flat out. ‘I stretched myself out in the mud. I dried myself in the air of crime. And I played some fine tricks on madness.’ (Rimbaud) A determined push and we were through. Only the penitent may pass. Beyond the squeeze, the tunnel opened up and kept on going. Shot holes and pick marks were reminders of the hard work and toughness of the miners.

The water level was low enabling full access to the 295m+ of tunnels. At times, many sections can fill to the roof. With no end in sight, Larry negotiated a collapse and pressed on through pristine mud finding evidence of a sump. Retracing, at the end of a short offshoot passage, a superb shaft went upwards for quite a long way. A rope dangled tantalisingly inviting further exploration. A shiny mass of calcite crystals formed a fabulous grotto. Nice to have some standing space.

Time to retrace our steps. Stoops, crawls and squeezes through the relentless clart and the unforgiving quagmire, back up the pipe and out into the fading light. The buzzards had gone and still no sign of the vulture. At the head of the dale, with night drawing in and The Three Stags Head shut, it seemed a desolate place. Impossible not to think about the gibbeted body of Anthony Lingard swinging in the breeze. Such is the imprint of history and the power of landscape. Above and below ground. (ed – the Moon Inn was open and very welcoming)

An unforgettable trip in many respects. Many thanks to Paul, Larry and Sean.

Andy H

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