Mandale Sough - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 9 June, 2015

A small group of seven met up at the lay-by below Over Haddon for this week's mid-week trip, which was an excursion into Mandale Mine. First, however, we decided to have a look at water levels in Bateman's House. Bateman's House is a curious edifice which was built to house a Dakeyne disk engine which would be driven by water delivered from a leet or goit fed from the Lathkill, and which would drain the nearby mines, which were well beneath the river. There is some doubt as to whether the Dakeynes ever even delivered the engine, as it was eventually superseded by a water wheel, but the house remains as evidence of the incredibly ingenious engineering which went into de-watering what was one of the more successful lead mines in Derbyshire.

Nowadays it is a tourist attraction, and has a hand-turned electric generator installed, so that people can crank the handle to light and view the shaft. Indeed, back in the "Coffin Dodger" era, Ralph had me descending this shaft to replace a lightbulb - and, surprise, surprise, when we abseiled in this week, the same bulb needed replacing!
The shaft itself is quite large in cross section and, at its foot, it now holds a large amount of water, with a low, sumped tunnel leading off. Further up the hill, behind Bateman's House, beneath the remains of a fallen tree, you can find a small adit which leads to a winze which should give access to the other side of this sump. We visited this adit after rigging Bateman's, and examined the adit.

The passage leading to the winze has recently been gated, and requires a quite large Derbyshire Key (spanner) to get in. My spanner wasn't big enough, but I managed to turn the nut by jamming a krab round it, and tapping the krab with my stop. The winze itself is "capped" with a substantial and heavy iron grill, which needs to be lifted and tied back to a spit in the ceiling above. There are three other spits which may be used for a very wide Y-hang, or as back-up to a belay from the grill itself, but we didn't descend the shaft, as time was running out, and our main objective was Mandale Mine itself.

We entered the mine via the Incline Entrance (the sough is blocked) using the large "cat flap", reminiscent of Mouldridge Mine, and we were soon wading along the fantastic passage which leads beneath (and occasionally through) t'Owd Mon stopes to the impressive Founder Shaft, a long, long way from the entrance. After this fascinating spot, the passages get lower, with more pack walls and slabbed-roof levels, but you can still carry on for a long time before you reach the low section where the earlier DCRO rescue took place. This is marked now by the remnants of some of the now blackened wood which was brought into the mine to assist in holding up the roof so that the trapped cavers could be led to safety. (The BBC "999" program documented this shout, and can probably be found somewhere on "YouTube".)

It's been a few years since my last trip into Mandale Sough, and I was surprised how good a trip it was. My main memories were of marching through sough passages, knee deep in water, but, in reality there were quite a few scrambles through stopes, and plenty to see too. This was a fascinating trip, and we retreated afterwards to the Lathkill Hotel for a pleasant chat and a pint.