Met Larry in the picturesque village of Bonsall with the cottage gardens still in full bloom. A scramble up the hill above Burton Place led to the upper entrance to the mine. Almost impossible to suspect that 300m of pipe workings lay beyond this narrow fissure.
Only a short way in and we were halted by an unusually wide shaft. Larry rigged. It was necessary to abseil 6m in order to enter the middle level. A second 3.5m abseil quickly followed for me, Larry free climbed, and we were in the lower level. Passages went off in several directions. Alongside the pipe vein workings there was spectacular calcite mineralisation. Also, the remains of rotting wood, bits of metal, stacked deads and the occasional shot hole. Really cramped working conditions in places. More calcite. More deads. More crawls. [ED Just before the left passage to the shaft, there was a passage on the right, that at first glance looks blocked, with two left turns off, one of which leads back to the main route]
Close to the end of the through trip i.e. close to the lower entrance, an even narrower passage led to the left. A bit uneven said Larry. Mainly crawl, some stoop and quite a few squeezes. More fabulous calcite bands and stacked deads. Progress was slowed by the presence of rocks on the mine floor and some very tight squeezes. At times, we were flat out. Like a bizarre ascetic ritual. The passage went on and on. Over 100 metres. More rocks to crawl over. Thoughts of Sisyphus. The occasional waft of cool air was welcome. Finally, the end was reached. I contemplated a marvel of a shaft that led up to the surface. Larry inspected a 30m section of the mine that led off to the left.
We headed back along the crawling passage. Head down. Dig in. Get in the zone. Keep on keeping on [we used the upper passage following the same line on the way in and followed the lower on the way back from the shaft]. Penance completed, we exited via the lower entrance into warm sunlight. A good all round workout and I felt oddly purged. Out of the shadows and into the light. Perhaps it had been an initiation into a mystery cult after all. After collecting the gear from the upper level, we headed to the Fountains Cafe for a pot of tea.
Before leaving Bonsall, we returned to the hillside above the Clatterway Levels, where Larry covered the exposed shaft that he and Peter had amazingly tracked down on a previous outing. Strange to think that we had been at the bottom of that very shaft and that we were walking above where we had been crawling below.
Thanks to Larry for an interesting trip and to Nige for the suit and especially Larry for the extra knee pads.