Clatterway Levels - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 30 August, 2016

Clittering, clattering, coal-hole cavalry,
Galloping, rain or fine.
Clittering, clattering, coal-hole cavalry,
Galloping down the mine.
(Ted Edwards)

6th July 2016 - I suppose that this trip started life as part of the 2015 DCRO "Ralph's Revenge" exercise; generally a wide-spread cave search style exercise combined with a meal and social event, all in the fond memory of late lamented rescue controller and fellow caver, Ralph Johnson. The event combined a search of many of the mines in Via Gellia and Matlock Bath with a meal and get-together at the Miner's Standard in Winster, and Ann, Jess and I were tasked with placing items to be located in a fairly lengthy list of mines and in this we all but succeeded, except one got away. I had difficulty finding a suitable parking spot in Bonsall, I wasn't too sure of the location of the mine and, because of the other locations we needed to visit, time was against us.

The mine in question was Clatterway Levels. The entry in Caves of the Peak District is short and sketchy, and, while Iain Barker's excellent selective booklet of Classic Caves of the Peak District is slightly more informative, the entrances to Clatterway Levels do take a bit of finding in a sloping jungle of woodland where 100 metre square indicated by a 6-figure grid reference is not very helpful at all. Wednesday caving trips tend to fall into one of two categories: either project and maintenance work in Peak Speedwell, or simply a visit an underground venue we haven't been to before. Clatterway Levels had been preying on my mind since the Ralph's Revenge episode, and I wanted to find it, and see what it was all about.

Once again, Ann, Jess and I met up at the Chapel, where we had breakfast after cleaning off the gear and rope which had been used in Eldon Hole the night before. It's amazing how tenacious the black stuff from a Badger Sett can be!!! Once washed, fed and watered, we set off for Cromford, Via Gellia and the Clatterway road up towards Bonsall. I'd been playing with the "wee man" in Google Maps, and had an idea where to park, and where the path led off towards the upper entrance and, sure enough, we found room to park a couple of cars at a widening of the road near a grit bin by a house with a substantial and imposing garden.

Having changed into caving gear, we decided against taking full SRT kit (apart from Ann, who took hers in a bag "just in case") for the pitch and opted to take a rope and a ladder instead. Walking up the road, we soon came to a small green off to the right, which was surrounded by cottages and featured a well of sorts, or, to be more exact, a spring set in a small monumental surround. Between two of the cottages ran a small public footpath which we followed to the last cottage, which was called Burton Place.

The path continued beyond Burton Place to a small stone stile adjacent to the wall at the end of the garden, and, twenty metres or so beyond this, a "way" could be seen where it looked as though people had ascended the shrubby bank upwards, and slightly back towards the house. Fifty metres higher up, we came across a mine entrance which I thought might be Clatterway Levels upper entrance, but this turned out to be blocked after a few metres. Leaving our gear at this entrance, we searched to the right, and found several more small entrances which presumably belong to the old mine, but which were also, unfortunately, blocked.

Searching to the left of the original entrance, Jess soon spotted a more substantial entrance, and I entered as far as a pitch, which had in-situ rigging, and which confirmed that we had found the right spot. It also meant that I had to nip back to the first entrance to retrieve the ladder! When I returned, Ann and Jess had already entered the adit, and were looking down the pitch. This meant having a very intimate game of Twister before the ladder could be rigged! It's not a big pitch, and the passage we needed was only 6 metres down the winze, but it felt safer to use the ladder, and, pretty soon we were all down and working our way along a lower passage to the next pitch, which was a knotted line down an awkward 3 metre climb.

This landed us in the centre of a junction of several passages typical of the small diameter pipe veins common in the Matlock area. Unsure of exactly which passage to choose, we selected a "well used" one and followed it for quite a distance. I left a cairn at one junction which I thought might be awkward on the return, and carried on, trying to select the most obvious route at the various junctions along the way.

Eventually, we came to a T junction where left and right looked equally promising. After a short discussion an arbitrary decision for right was taken, and this was followed to another junction with a passage dropping downwards into pipe workings on the left, and a square cross-cut going straight on. I chose the latter, and, after a fair distance, the passage started to lower, and the floor was covered in leaves and there was a low exit to daylight. The bottom entrance!

Now, in 2008 the DCA issued a notice referring to Clatterway Levels which said, "Please note that one of the three entrances to the system is in the garden of Hollowbrook Cottage and, while the owners do not want to restrict access, they would like you to ask permission before you cross their garden" and it was with some trepidation that I squeezed out from the mine. To my relief, we weren't in somebody's garden, but in woodland, below a craggy cliff and above a steep bank; probably quarry faces associated with the mine. The garden in question was below us, and we worked out where we were by looking at the various buildings. In fact, my car was parked just the other side of the garden wall!

Above the entrance was a large cave-like cavity, which would be useful if we were to try to locate the lower entrance in the future. The DCA notice does say that access this way is permitted, so long as permission is sought in advance.

Once we'd worked out the location we returned into the mine through the low entrance, and travelled as far as the junction between the crosscut and the slope to the pipe-workings. Here Jess opted to lead us downwards, and into the pipeworkings. Again we followed the most obvious route, and noticed various cairns and arrows which did lead us to believe that there might be an alternative route back through to the upper entrance. The route itself was very interesting passing various pack walls, calcite floors and examples of mineralisation. Eventually after much crawling, and after a low, rocky section, we came to a junction where to the right was a low arch leading through to the foot of a raise (internal, upwards shaft) which looked like a future climbing project (maybe leading to the third exit mentioned in the DCA notice?), and, to the left a low crawl. Ann led us through the low crawl to bigger passages, with stal and other speleothems, but this eventually closed down.

We had no option now, but to return to a point where we had noticed a low crawl going forward at a lower level. We followed this through to larger passages, and, eventually, it looped round to the junction with the cross cut!

From here, we retraced our steps back to my cairn and thence to the foot of the knotted rope, where we worked our way back up both pitches and out to the surface. We were all pretty amazed that something given such a short section in Caves of the Peak District should provide such a long and interesting trip in reality. It would be interesting to go back and investigate some of the passages which we didn't probe; it would be great to see a survey! COPD says this mine is 600 metres long, but that must be entrance to entrance - it cannot include the length of every passage. Barker's Classic Caves says that this was part of the Ball Eye Pipe, but I can find very little description for this venue in any of the mining literature.

But, as we all know, a caving trip which raises more questions than answers is the very fuel which all subterranean explorers seek to feed their appetites for adventure!

Practical notes.
As stated, park on the east side of Clatterway just below the junction with Black Tor Road, near a yellow grit bin (room for 2-3 cars). Walk up Clatterway to the little green on the right just beyond the junction with Black Tor Road. Turn right here, and seek the path going between the right hand pair of cottages, following this until the last cottage. Keep on the path until the end of the garden where there is a stile, or the stone posts for an old gate. After a further 20 metres, find a way through the bushes to your left, uphill, and slightly back towards the cottages. Follow this line to a mine entrance (blind) and then contour left to a prominent rocky cliff with a low adit entering it.
Grid references.
Upper Entrance (open access): SK 28212 57789.
Lower Entrance (seek permission from Hollowbrook Cottage first) SK 28299 57692.

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30th August 2016 - No less than 13 cavers turned up at the car park for tonight's trip, and we were all privileged to see the world famous Bonsall Red Barrows practising on the adjacent football pitch. How they do that stuff without collision always amazes me. Back to the caving! Having found the entrance to this collector's item a month or so back, I thought retracing my steps to the top entrance would be a doddle. Wrong! In the intervening weeks, mother nature had provided double the vegetation, and, by the time I had finally made it to the tiny entrance, I was beginning to wish that I had brought a machete! Sliding delicately into the narrow adit, I soon located the winze with its in-situ black rope, and rigged an electron ladder down the shaft. I left a sling on the traverse line, to act as a mobile cow's tail, and left a bagged rope for a lifeline, although most preferred to descend this narrow pitch unprotected.

Stepping off the pitch (which is ultimately a dead end) about half way down, the way on led me to the short knotted rope climb into the pipe workings. Here we all waited for everybody to re-group before heading off into the mine proper. At this point, Pete asked me if it was all as small as this, to which I replied in the affirmative. "But you said it was pipe workings!" he wailed - apparently he'd immediately thought of the Wapping Mine below Cumberland Cavern when I'd said that! Ah, well, there's another caver who will never trust a word I say!

Eventually, after passing through "the wet bit", we arrived at a T-junction which I remembered well from our earlier exploration. Noting its position and thinking that it would be good to explore the left leg on our return journey, I took the right route which I knew would lead eventually to the lower entrance. Soon we passed a passage entered downwards to our left via a steep toadstone slope. This was the long intricate branch which we explored on our previous trip and which led via various coffin levels and low, rocky crawls to the foot of an internal shaft - a raise. Not long after this we encountered a section adorned with leaves on the floor and infested by a crowd of partying gnats and, soon after, we met the low crawl out onto the surface below the short steep limestone cliff, in dark woodland.

If you exit here and wish to continue downward towards the Bonsall road, you need to have organised permission from the house below so that you can pass through their garden - see DCA access details; the owners are happy to give permission, but do like to be asked. As it happens, we didn't organise any "exit permit", largely because a reversal of the through trip would give us opportunities to look at the many side passages which we had traveled past on our way through the first time. So back we went, and the first detour to be taken took in the previously mentioned toadstone slope, Chris and Bernie having a quick gander. They didn't go all the way to the shaft we visited (that would have taken too long), just far enough to whet their appetites for future trips.

Jess led a bunch down the left-hand branch of the T-junction, to discover that it closed down after a short distance. She then had a look down a passage off to the left which led to a winze going up and down. Upwards was quite a distance, while downwards curved back underneath the approach passage. Chris and I had a look at this passage, and I wondered if this was the shaft reported by Phil after his recent trip into this mine. When we got back out into the main through route, we suddenly heard shouts from back in the side-passage - this was Christine, who had found her way to the foot of the winze from another side passage further along the main route.

When I got to Christine's side passage, she suggested looking at the right hand fork in it ( the other way was her route to the winze) and I crawled into this to suddenly see a light at the other end. It turns out that this was Steve, who had entered yet another side passage, and I managed to crawl through to meet him, and in doing so, by-passed about half of the "wet bit". Other detours included a couple of high-level bypasses, and a few small dead-ends nearer the foot of the knotted rope. All in all it turned out to be quite a good examination of the system, and certainly not a bad effort for the time allowed on an evening trip, and considering the sheer number of people involved. We generally agreed that a survey of this place would be very useful indeed, and might even give rise to new finds, making Clatterway Levels an even more absorbing place to visit.

It was still a warm night when we finally de-rigged the ladder and made an exit from the top entrance. The sky was very starry, and crystal clear; the sort of view that makes these summer underground forays special. And, to cap the evening off, most of us retired to the King's Head in Bonsall to review the trip and plan further trips, including next week's (watch this space). But the highlight of the pub session must surely be Chris' "taste bomb", created by mashing a pickled egg in a bag of crisps. It has to be tasted to be believed.