Mandale Mine - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 18 October, 2016

Despite some pretty heavy rain, a total of 28mm, so I'm told, no less than ten cavers turned out on a wet Tuesday night for a great trip into Mandale Sough. Parking in the layby down the quiet road which winds its way down to the old corn mill in Lathkilldale, we changed and, because of the rain, quickly made our way up the dale to the mine. The intention was to enter the mine via the Aqueduct, a route which I had not used before, but first Ian and I were dispatched to the usual (cat flap) entrance to use the Derbyshire key on the gate to give an easier exit later.

Re-united at the Aqueduct, we entered the passage and undid the bolt on the inner gate. This route into the mine is very interesting, and includes some absorbing scrambling, as well as some excellent stonework. It appears to be following a well-defined vein with the true right hand wall showing signs of its being natural cave at one time, before it was expanded to accommodate ingress, and, of course, the supply of water.

Eventually, we joined the normal route at the top of the incline down into the waters of the sough itself. But there were no waters. Despite all the recent rain, the water channel was dry as a bone! A recent conversation with T-Pot at Peak Cavern, who regularly measures water levels at Watergrove Sough in Stoney Middleton, revealed that current water table levels are some six to seven metres below normal. So it may be some time before the rains can replenish the waters in the dales. All this dryness made the trip into a totally different experience for me. All the usual scrambles were still there, but the passages below, which were usually low and wet, seemed much bigger and airier, and the footing was easier too.

We followed stope by-passes as well as the sough, and eventually came to the chockstone climb below the old rusty drum, which marked the awkward climb down to a traverse over deep waters. Here the water was evident, but much lower than usual, and, because you could see the ledge you were standing on (it is normally a couple of feet under water) it seemed much easier.

Following this, some well decorated high passages led through to the second traverse and more high, mineralised passageway, including a buddling chamber fed by an interesting leat. Not long after this we came to the large Forefield Shaft, which is usually a deep lake of water, fed by an active stream issuing from the further reaches of the sough. Tonight the lake was empty, and it was possible for us to descend into it and gaze up into the blackness of the shaft. 

The continuation of the sough was equally dry, except for the occasional residual puddle, and we followed it beneath some excellent stone lintels, and past some well-built packwalls to a low partly collapsed section adorned with black wooden props which looked a little fragile and out-of-place. And well they might, because this is wood which was sawn and brought into the mine as part of a rescue which took place last century, involving both DCRO and DFRS. At this point, we turned round and made our way back to the surface, and, on the way, as it was so dry, Brendan had a quick foray into the low muddy Water Cave before we all exited via the cat flap gate. On our way back down the dale, we dropped into the sough tail, which was also dry, and followed it up, beneath the engine house, to the point of collapse.

As always, Mandale was an excellent trip.