Lower Bung Stopes, Speedwell - Phil Wolstenholme

Sunday, 23 August, 2015

Lisa and I were still running behind on the checklist to get more photos made for the next book I'm working on with Jim Rieuwerts, and had time for a 'quick' trip after the AGM into Speedwell - however, the short notice meant blagging a lift on a boat was probably a bit rude, leaving us the only practical option of the Trenches/Colostomy - both ways. The grim truth having been accepted by both of us, we finally set off in about 2pm, with 2 bags of camera kit and lights. The trip in took the usual 'long time', with much grunting and swearing as we dragged the bags through - my bad back wasn't helping in the confined space, and so Lisa kindly took over dragging the larger bag, with me behind pushing it over the frequent steps and other obstacles. Eventually we reached the ladder down Egnaro Aven, and quickly crawled up the Short Bypass, and then back down the streamway to the Lower Bung Stopes, which are situated on the left side just before the low duck, and above 'normal' water level.

The sandy 'beach' didn't look too disturbed and was bone-dry, so the water hadn't been too high for a while. I wanted to have a quick look at a descending floor-level crawl at the back of the lower stope which I'd noticed on the last brief visit in there, so dropping the bags, I got down there feet-first and starting kicking deads and small spoil downslope and out of the way so there was room to slide in. Once under the overhang it opened up slightly, allowing oneself to turn round and crawl about. Initially, the sound of gurgling water in the floor went unnoticed, having just left the streamway, but eventually I realised this had to be different water, as the sound was completely different to the dull roar of the stream, and was situated at least ten metres away from the main stream line. At the back of the 'chamber', a hole in the deads could be seen, big enough to drop stones down, although it was too cramped to crawl over to and look down. The sound of running water here was louder still, and seems to be emanating from a small stream running under the floor of the stopes. A dig to clear deads out of the way to see down the hole would be easy with two or three people.

To the left, a gap between deads and a pile of mud showed empty space ahead, and a quick 'boo' returned an echo. Dragging a couple of rocks out of the way revealed a natural wall in the shadows beyond, so Lisa got into the quite small space and shovelled gravel porridge and rocks back to me until she could get through. Once I could see she was standing up, and the echo was real, I slithered through to join her. We were in a small natural chamber, partly mined, with what looked like a small choked shaft or ore-chute in the roof a couple of metres above. The mud had clearly fallen from here, and water was steadily dripping through the jammed rocks and crap. At floor-level on the right was a low entrance to a passage, clearly natural, with a sandy floor, and revealingly, a line of stemple sockets spanning the passage, only 20cm about this 'floor'. One could only assume that the passage was once much deeper, and had been backfilled, though by how much is unknown, as the streamway level can't be far away! Crawling ahead a couple of metres, floating deads of large size overhead made us gulp, and the next feature made us gasp - an arch cut through a cemented pile of large pebbles and sand, somehow strong enough to support itself in the roof of the passage. How they got there is beyond our reasoning, and how they became packed like that is baffling. But they are there, and will be photographed soon.

Beyond these floating pebbles, the next section was almost completely filled with deads, flowstone chunks  and mineral, including a very large chunk of pure white calcite, too large to pick up. The prospect of being buried alive was great, and so we gently retreated from this section, still puzzled as to whether this was 'new' passage, having never seen a survey of any of this, nor having any idea what digging took place and where. It's way below the White River 'connection', so the chunks of flowstone and mineral must have fallen from different workings/caverns. Listening again to the loud gurgling water on the way out, Lisa stayed there whilst I climbed back out until I could hear the main streamway again - I can't see how these two could be the same, and there's a good separation between the two. After these small triumphs, we realised we needed to get some photos done, and spent some time struggling to the top of the main inclined passage to the old dig/choke right at the top. After teetering gamely in various positions for a couple of shots, we then moved downslope - I at one point far quicker than planned, as a rock shifted under me and I fell flat on my arse and slid downslope at high speed, just stopping before I hit Lisa, but not before I whacked my elbow rather hard, and which, predictably then got more and more painful as the trip progressed.

We were both getting cold now, being thoroughly soaked and in Cordura suits, and having also realised that time was getting on, managed to blast off another couple of shots before setting off on the miserable return trip - the only consolation being the slight downhill gradient of Colostomy, if that can ever be considered consolation! Still, we managed to get through without too much swearing, although my newly painful elbow and now very painful back managed to keep the 'ordeal' frame of mind very much alive. The eventual sight of the Fawlty Tower ladder, was, as it always is, joyous.

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9th April 2015

LIsa and I returned to the Lower Bung stopes recently - this time in the company of John Gunn, Wayne and Christine. The sound of running water was duly noted, and the arch cut through cemented rocks marvelled at. The bands of pebbles glued to the walls in the natural chamber got John excited, as they looked like fluvial inwash, rather than glacial - or something. Wayne made a survey of the new passage line, and it seems to be trending away from the main streamway, but toward its later junction with the Long Bypass, presumably under the Short Bypass, which it almost reaches on the plan. I checked with Moose today on the 'pebble arch' passage we found, and whether he'd ever seen it, and he said he hadn't - again, it looks like there might be a new bit to add to the main survey! I've written a short report for the next PDMHS newsletter 'Observations and Discoveries' section, as it's always nice to add more Speedwell, although it's becoming a regular thing these days - I hope we're not boring the readers!

Below are two photos of Lisa in 'Pebble Arch Passage' - though they're not really pebbles, but it sounds nice.

Lisa Wootton in Pebble Arch Passage. Photo: Phil Wolstenholme

 Photo: Phil Wolstenholme

Lisa Wootton in Pebble Arch Passage. Photo: Phil Wolstenholme

Photo: Phil Wolstenholme

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11th July 2015

Nigel Ball and myself went back into here today to have another look, and poke about at a few other sites - a very short-notice trip as Nigel had a few hours to kill in Castleton. The water was quite low but disturbingly cold, and we went as quickly as possible to Whirlpool Passage to pick up Nigel's crowbar and spade from his dig near the knockstone. We'd already picked up a tank, mask and harness from Shaun P, and the first job was to have a look at the probable crossing-point of the Assault Course streamway with the Far Canal. Nigel kitted up, and I was assigned as 'extra weight' to keep him down, whilst he grovelled in the floor in two feet of water. I had to plant my foot firmly in his back to hold him on the floor due to the air in his suit, even with a lead weight on the harness. The water was so cold (or we were too warm) that even with a wetsuit under his suit, he could only do a few minutes, but managed to clear out an obvious arch a little into the wall. After coming up, he thought it best to attempt a dam or water-deflection wall to try and make this more manageable in anything other than extreme drought, as this section never dries up.

After that, we moved back upstream to the alcove on the south wall just before Whirlpool, and where we suspect the original stream-course may have deviated south toward the Pit Props series before the Far Canal (and its PP branch) were blasted out. There are shotholes in the roof all the way to the silt plug, so the miners had some good reason for doing this. Attacking the silt plug with the shovel, we dug out a metre-wide trench of half-metre depth and got to pretty much water level, possibly just below the current water level in the streamway before stopping. Interestingly, once we got through the top brown layer, the silt immediately turned to grey, with an orange layer. Whilst this looked like ancient cave sediment, it couldn't really be, as this section is regularly altered by the floods that come though. So we're unsure why such a dramatic difference in colour. It stunk too, with more than the usual pungent oily limestone smell when you break a fresh piece. I took some photos of the colour banding, just in case.

After this we finally made our way downstream to the Lower Bung stopes, where I showed Nigel the new natural passage, with the cemented arch of stones, flowstone chunks and the usual collapses of mine debris from somewhere above. The water was still gurgling along in the holes beneath us, and Nigel thinks it probably is the main streamway, undergoing a strong widening at the duck. He went out to do a voice connection from downstream with me in the terminal choke chamber, and I could just hear him shouting - though he got much louder as I returned back out of the passage, so I'm still not 100% certain. We really need to do a survey of this whole area so we can tie it all together. Whatever, he was impressed with the new modified natural passage, and says that it is possible it's the other end of the passage he and JNC entered some 20-odd years ago. Only time will tell.

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23rd August 2015

Present: Nigel Ball, Dave Shearsmith, Wayne Sheldon, Phil Wolstenholme, Lisa Wootton

This surveying trip with me and Wayne rapidly expanded to encompass photography too, with Lisa available, and then a last-minute offer from Nigel to help out - who then unexpectedly brought Dave along too! With a party of five we were well over the number we'd promised John H, but with an early start on the first boat, we were off and away before anyone could get shirty. And with five it meant we could divvy up the tasks, so Lisa and I could concentrate on the photos whilst Dave and Nigel helped Wayne with the surveying. Water levels were very low indeed, so the Bung ladder was no problem, with only ankle-deep water for most of the trip downstream.

As the stopes are complex, but densely-packed, to avoid too many 'collisions' we let the survey guys go in first, starting from a known station at the upper end of the Short Bypass. Lisa and I then went into the new Pebble Arch Passage to re-photograph it properly. This section is both cramped and very muddy in some places, so threading the camera and two flashguns through the squeezes, and crawling without getting mud on our hands was quite a challenge. However, we made some great shots of the passage in both directions. Lisa also found a lump of galena stuck in the arch itself, which suggests that it may be naturally-concreted tailings rather than ancient inwash, although alluvial galena has been shown to present in many sediment dumps in Speedwell, as the Pit Props explorations have proved.

Lisa Wootton, Dave Shearsmith, Wayne Sheldon and Nigel Ball surveing the Lower Bung Stopes entrance. Photo: Phil Wolstenholme

Lisa Wootton, Dave Shearsmith, Wayne Sheldon and Nigel Ball surveing the Lower Bung Stopes entrance. Photo: Phil Wolstenholme

As we exited this section the survey team came down from above and moved into there, whilst we went 'upstairs' to do the phreatic passage that heads uphill toward White River, having photographed the main uphill stope on the first trip. That done, we all met up back at the 'beach' which forms the entrance to the stopes. We were all well aware of the passage downstream of the low section of streamway, which Nigel and JNC entered 20-odd years ago, and which appeared to partially bypass the duck before ending at a choke, and we were beginning to suspect that our new passage was in fact the other end. To be certain, we knew the low section of streamway had to be surveyed accurately, as it occupies a wide leftward bend in the stream - and that fact now clears up our running water sound in Pebble Arch Passage - it is the main stream. So Dave went downstream of the low section via the Short Bypass to serve as a target for Nigel and Wayne to shoot the DistoX through the streamway roof-gap, which was about 30cm airspace. We got some great photos of all this being done.

Then we moved downstream of the low section to survey and photograph the other end of the passage, which is actually a slope, and is phreatic in origin, downcut by lowering water levels to leave another dry bypass for the miners. This one however had access to stopes and/or caverns above, as the mega-choke which blocks it has come in from above, and includes large chunks of flowstone. Our end of the passage also has much of the roof removed and replaced by stacked deads or blocked collapses, whereas this end is solid rock, and a vadose-cut phreatic tube. The survey should show that the blockage cannot be directly derived from the White River connection, but there must be other stopes and/or caverns between this section and Cuckoo Clock Ski Slope in the Nameless series. It also shows the choke is about 1-1.5m thick, and if moved, the passage would connect. Frankly what's above is more interesting, but there's fridge-sized lumps in that choke.

A fascinating trip, well worth doing - we can add all this to the main Peak-Speedwell survey now. As we got back home, a tropical storm hit Sheffield, so lord knows what happened in Speedo this morning - but I'm glad we did it when we did! Photos to follow eventually - I did a lot.

Lisa Wootton, Dave Shearsmith, Wayne Sheldon and Nigel Ball surveing the Lower Bung Stopes entrance. Photo: Phil Wolstenholme

Lisa Wootton, Wayne Sheldon and Nigel Ball surveing the duck in the Speedwell streamway. Photo: Phil Wolstenholme