Group1 – Andy H, Larry, Dave W, Helen, Grace – Group 2 – Dan H, Tom F, Sean, James – 2nd trip Sean, Peter, Jude, Larry
Group 1– Top of the hill, up a track, through a massive quarry, down a rope and into the Great Masson Mine. ‘O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark. The dancers are all gone under the hill’ T.S. Eliot. It was a fitting way to enter a monster of a mine. An abode of giants. Almost Wagnerian. But art and fantasy soon gave way to the realisation that life as a working miner was a tough one. You could almost hear the clinks of their hammers and picks. A life of hard work, graft, toil, skill and guts. Supermen said Grace.
Larry, Dave, Helen, Grace and myself entered an intriguing passage high to the right. The others continued into the belly of the mine. A superb coffin level led to a shaft at the end. Where’s Dave? Daft question. Up the rope and gone. [ED- superb climb by Dave]. Amazingly, he had found a short through trip. After a quick retrace, a tight squeeze, crawls and stoops led to the top of the shaft. Grace and myself were lowered into the coffin level, thanks to good work by Larry, Dave and Helen. Here, there was a really nice section of deads and flowstone. A quick dip through a pool of water and we were on our way.
A passage of high deads led into the belly of the mine. We met the others coming up. An enormous space with stopes and many chambers branching off. So much to see. Old lead workings and evidence of more recent fluorspar extraction. A real mining palimpsest. Pickmarks, exquisite coffin levels, shot holes, a sled, a kibble, a massive saw and other metal remains. There was even a submerged wheelbarrow. The adjoining show cavern, separated by a barred metal door, seemed a world apart.
And there was natural beauty too. Crystal chambers, an underground lake, pale green pools and wide bands of minerals. In one magical cave, we sprawled out on a bed of calcite chippings, like dissolute 18th century fops. Tramps said Grace. Fair point. Still, it was a good place to contemplate all that we had seen. A place of reflection, if you like.
Time to retrace, passing layers of sedimentation, through layers of mind blowing geological time and mind bending human endeavour. The Romans were here, the miners were here, the Victorians were here. A bit of a squeeze and we were back up the rope and into the quarry. To the pub. An excellent trip. Many thanks to everyone, especially Larry.
Group 2– A glorious morning in August saw nine of the Masson crew meet for breakfast at the rather nice Fountain Café in Bonsall, before heading up to Masson Lees Quarry to scuttle down a rope past the impressive entrance, through a short drop and crawl into Crichman Chamber, where some surprised bats acted as welcoming committee before we split into 2 groups.
Larry’s cohort went up a rope and through ducks, crawls, coffin levels, to some unexpected extra entrances, while Sean, Tom and James – with the ever unreliable Dan hungoverly golluming behind them – went under the stemples and down to a series of flooded sections that were less than usually flooded. We could even hear the tour going in in the showcave at one point!
The amount of mining debris left within Masson is first rate, and intriguing, particularly for anyone who hasn’t seen it in situ. Items like buckets, saws, and even wheelbarrows – at the bottom of a lake! – are testament to the amount of work that took place to create this complex.
The two groups met again close to one of the coffin levels, which Sean’s group ill-advisedly had a painful and ultimately fruitless excursion into. Meanwhile, Larry and his gang went down to look at the various shafts, coffin levels, and lakes that make the larger Masson Cavern system such an intriguing and worthwhile day out.
Clambering out of the quarry entrance made Sean’s team very glad they’d been left a rope, and despite the hungover Dan taking a tumble in the quarry, everyone was very glad that we hadn’t embarrassed ourselves too much in front of the climbers. The disparate groups reconvened in the Greyhound in Cromford, where, despite social distancing, more beer was drunk, mines discussed, and future trips planned!
2nd Trip – A few days later, we enter through Dave’s “new” entrance and generally bearing right, we soon found ourselves back at the short pitch into a coffin level. I started to rig the pitch and then noticed that there was a P hanger past the pitch, indicating that persons might approach from the other side and decided to investigate.
Through various squeezes and crawls we soon found ourselves at the other larger coffin level that emerges not too far from Dale Shaft. Peter and I retraced our steps to retrieve the rope and bags and descend the small shaft etc. back to Crichman Chamber, while Sean and Jude went for a quick explore. We worked out how we had missed this connection in previous trips – a low crawl on the right appears to be a dead end until you practically hit the end and look up.
On reuniting, Jude and Sean were sent through the short duck and coffin level before an easy exit via the end quarry entrance. Afters enjoyed again at the Greyhound, Cromford.