Waterways Swallet 29/8/20

Andy M, Larry, Peter, Ollie

Larry, Ollie and I met at the Runway Cafe in Ashbourne. After a hot drink, a chat about the day’s anticipated caving and a bite to eat for me, we headed off in convoy to meet Andy M who was waiting for us at the car park and was to be our leader for today. The car park itself was in a small wooded clearing and Andy guided us all in, assuring us that there was hardcore underneath the grass so we shouldn’t get stuck (hopefully!). {Ed one member got totally stuck there in the past and bought a 4×4 afterwards]

After kitting up, we followed the permitted route through the field towards the entrance, stopping for a quick look at the massive shake hole and also the pond just up above the entrance proper. Despite the previous few days of rain, nothing was over-flowing from the pond today and we headed over the fenced off section to the grill and cave entrance. [Ed. The fence was covered in flood debris and it was present throughout the entrance series]

Dropping feet first in to the cave, therein continued a pattern of feet first caving, winding down firstly to a small chamber, followed by further scrambles until we reached a tight crawly sloped bedding plane. Continuing the feet first crawl onwards we emerged into the large ‘Main Chamber’ – a sizeable rock-strewn chamber with many large boulders each encrusted with hundreds of fossils. To one end there was a possible pitch down and the other, which we followed, is ‘Rift Passage’, climbing down boulders and curving back round to take us in to ‘The Gallery’, which is the bottom of the pitch we had just seen in the chamber above. Lots of evidence of previous digs here in The Gallery and Andy informed us this was once the furthest it was possible to descend. Our route down further followed a rift that had been opened up and dug out, with boulders being secured by some impressive scaffolding. Down we went manoeuvring through the scaffolding following the twists and turns as they arose.

We came out at a small 2 metre or so ledge, beneath which lay the roped entrance to ‘Room 101’ – the most recent find – after a little debate as to whether to go in to Room 101 now, or on the way back we decided on the latter and headed down to ‘Floodgate Pot’, making our descent by the narrow fixed ladder before on to ‘Blore Street’. All around was evidence of fossilised wood/trees with the dark rock it had formed standing out magnificently. Further crawly sections and we were at a gallery above ‘Toad Haul’. An in-situ knotted rope [Ed vertical 8m] assisted our climb down and we were in the sizeable chamber, with lovely arched strata. Below could be seen ‘Wot No Streamway’ and after a short rest we headed down another crawl just below the knotted rope to make our way right down to ‘Wot No Sump’, now being around 415ft below the surface. Lots of foam lined the walls – evidence that the water had been much higher fairly recently, but today was thankfully low. Andy explained about the potential to dive and for further exploration/digs down here and pipe-work was in place for perhaps pumping out the sump to allow passage through. Although there don’t seem to be any current digs in progress, the feeling is there’s more to discover down here still.

After a short rest we started our ascent. Larry and Ollie headed up the boulder climb to the left of the knotted rope and myself and Andy took the rope climb back up – each leading to the same place. Larry now in front followed what seemed to be the obvious route, but rather than Blore Street we ended up working our way through a somewhat sketchy boulder choke climb and in to Room 101 – a huge chamber and hard to believe it’s only a (relatively) recent discovery.

Room 101, perhaps not named for what’s inside, but the torture of trying to get out! A tight wet upwards climb ensued. Whilst a rope was in place to assist, the difficulty really lay in the combined factors of it being tight, vertical, wet and the over-riding issue of a lack of good foot holds to give you any traction. Nevertheless, all made it through in turn and we then pressed on with our long return ascent up the scaffolded crawls, twists and turns to emerge back in the Gallery. A short rest and Larry then led the way back up to Main Chamber and the crawly bedding plane and out.

All in all, the trip took a little under 3 hours. Hard work in places, but great fun and impressive that it descends so far with no SRT gear being required.

Peter

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