Pilkington's Series - Phil Wolstenholme

Saturday, 17 January, 2015

Present: Dave Smith, Phil Wolstenholme, Lisa Wootton

I've long wanted to do Pilkington's, and the added incentive of it now being a photographic location for a new book I'm working on with Jim R meant it was imperative I get up there asap and check it out - the pitches were all P-bolted last year, so we decided to throw a last-minute trip together for a recce. I foolishly decided to take the camera kit 'just in case', which proved to be a mistake. We'd managed to blag a trip in on a boat, but lack of visitor numbers and a freezing morning meant no-one was in any great rush to take us in. That coupled with a 3pm deadline for the last boat meant we were already running well behind when we finally stepped into the utterly freezing (and quite high) Far Canal.

We decided to time ourselves from the Pilkington's hatch to the top, just to see how long it takes, though we were hardly blasting through. As I'd never been before, the temptation was to take my time and have a look at everything, but as first one through, that wasn't really fair! So at the first pitch we reshuffled, and I went up last, which meant I could have a look around and plan some photos. The pitch was pretty wet, so didn't really want to get the camera out there, and climbed up into what I knew would be the nasty part - Pilkington's Passage. Dave had already kindly taken my two lights in his bag which made things easier weight-wise, but the bulk of the Peli case and small tripod in my Beast bag (which was nearly always the exact width of the passage) meant I had to keep lifting it up to plonk it into the next wide space before I could crawl forwards - dragging it behind me would have been impossible. So it was an effort to say the least, but I'm pleased to say I manage to keep up with the other two less-encumbered members, and just as I was about to explode with frustration, we arrived at the base of the next pitch.

At this point everything starts to get pretty, and the phreatic vein-cavities and massive calcite mineralisation reminded me in places of Gentlewomans Pipe and Pit Props, although interestingly this pipe-work is higher than Pit Props, suggesting the pipes are not confined to the lower levels, and may extend much higher, possibly close to surface in places. The pitches were fantastic - well-rigged and very straightforward given the topography, and congratulations to Jim L for sorting that out. The camera kit was no problem now, and when we got to the bottom of the pitch into Mud Hall we stripped off our harnesses and climbed up through the bouldery shaft into the cavernous room above.

At this point we checked the time, and it had been exactly an hour to get up from canal level, though we could have done it quicker if we had to, and with less kit. But this meant to get out for 3pm meant we now only had one hour up there, which meant photography was pretty much pointless, especially as every direction was interesting, and just begging for a look. So I basically just dropped the camera where it was, and started exploring instead. I followed the westwards vein-passages in Watricle Cavern to the rither-point, and then followed the natural crawlway that leads further west, into a very interesting natural section, with razor-sharp scalloping on the rock, and broken skim of flowstone everywhere - clearly a lot of water had been through here at some point and then just stopped very quickly. The final crawl through was a bit tight for me alone, so I went back to get Lisa and she crawled through into a small chamber with no obvious way on. This is all detailed in the guide on the Peak-Speedwell site, but it was nice to see it anyway.

After that we went off in the other direction past the 'stone sofa' made by the miners for dressing ore, and no doubt, for sitting on to eat their sandwiches. The cavern closes down to a crawl leading to a collapse of roof sediment, but crawling over the pile reveals a small hole at floor-level which is probably the continuation of the passage - I believe the shaft entrance used by Pilkington is probably beyond here, in the next section of passage, but it would require a dig with roof-support to get there - if the remaining sediment in the roof collapsed, it would probably bury you in. After that we returned to Mud Hall and investigated the crawl on the east side which leads to Axe Aven, with a tempting rope hanging down and some beautiful white stal columns reaching right to the roof. The crawl beyond was investigated further to where the water disappears down the floor hole, but we were by now running out of time, and sadly had to set off back out.

The return trip was great, as obviously wet rope meant very fast descents of all the pitches, and we were back at the crawl in about ten minutes - even the crawl was much easier, being slightly downslope - but the bends seemed more favourable for the return trip, suggesting the bulk of the enlargement may have been done from this direction. In no time at all we were back in the freezing water of the Far Canal., and after a quick scrub-down, practically ran back to the visitor platform for 2.45, to be informed by the guide that there were still plenty of boats due in, owing to a sudden surge of interest from the general public, probably as it was still sunny outside and they were still happy enough to pay the fees. So we could have taken our time a bit, and maybe got some photos too, but I'm happy with what we accomplished, and now know that with a longer trip, I can get some awesome photos. Many thanks to Dave and Lisa for a great trip.


16th May 2015

Present: Christine Wilson, Phil Wolstenholme, Lisa Wooton - the three Ws.

Saturday's trip was a long-postponed visit to Pilkington's Series to photograph the top workings and chambers for the new Castleton mines book I'm working on with Jim. As gear had to be carried, we used the boats to get in, accompanied by Wayne who was planning to re-survey parts of the Far Canal. The water was reasonably low and not as cold as it has been recently, so good progress was made to the hatch where we parted company with Wayne. Not much to mention about the trip up except that Pilkington's Passage is damn annoying when you have a wide kit-bag with a cubic immoveable object like a Peli 1300 case and camera in it! It's just too wide for most of the floor-level tight parts, and so has to be lifted one-handed over every obstacle - dragging it is just impossible.

So I was thoroughly hacked-off by the time we got to the remaining pitches, where I managed to regain my temper on some really pleasant SRT, and met up with the other two at the base of the climb into Mud Hall. One by one we slowly picked our way up the very dodgy stempled boulder choke with a hole in it, that some experts may call a 'winze', though others may just describe it as a death-trap. Nevertheless, we got up OK, and went for a familiarising stroll around most of the workings before getting to work on the photos. We also checked out the two digs in the NW corner of Mud Hall that are accessed from a huge phreatic passage, with a vertical hanging-death boulder choke at the end. This was draughting strongly, and the scalloped surfaces on many of the boulders suggested they came from a streamway above. Very interesting. This section, and the crawl at the western end of the workings leading into yet more sharply-scalloped rock strongly suggests one or more surface swallets, made even more likely by the presence of sandstone pebbles spilling onto the floor from a now-abandoned high-level bedding stream.

We finally got to work on some photos, covering the main part of Watricle Cavern, the worked-out vein-loop (with the leather and chain dragging harness still hanging on a wooden peg) and a couple of shots of the very large Mud Hall. After a while I realised to my horror that I'd lost two of the three rubber feet on my tripod, and it now wouldn't stand up properly, but I had to improvise and managed a few more shots. I then managed tofind both rubber feet again, which if you've seen the floor in there felt like a miracle. We also did the crawl through to Axe Aven (me several times as I kept forgetting stuff), and made one really nice shot of some of the flowstone at the base. All the avens and pitches are really tight in terms of photographing them upwards, but I would like to do a few more photos up here another time, and maybe even climb up Nigel's ancient but brand-new looking rope...

After that it was time to do the long haul out - John Harrison had already informed us they were closing at 4pm, so we had no chance of catching a boat, and were resigned to do it the hard way out of Peak - even more crawling. After dropping all the pitches back to the Assault Course, and now rather dazed, we all set off merrily downstream toward the sump - until I recognised where we were heading, and arranged a hasty retreat, remembering that there's a brief right turn at the end of the Pilkington's/Assault Course connection passage before turning left for Whirlpool Passage. Luckily we saw the funny side, having only crawled yet another 60m of insanely winding tight passage for absolutely nothing.

After that it was all plain sailing - well, crawling. The Bung wasn't flowing at all, which was nice, having seen it a good foot over the dam not that long ago. Colostomy to the Trenches was its usual miserable majesty, with my bag again jamming constantly - though it does seem to get shorter every time you do it, which must mean something. Eventually Lisa took pity on me just before the Ventilator and swapped her bag for mine for the final push. I was amazed to find that her bag seemed to weigh absolutely nothing, now explaining why I was struggling to keep up. By the time we got out of Peak at 7pm, with the realisation now dawning that all the cars, and our clothes, keys, phones and my tobacco were at Speedwell, my legs were starting to wobble, so Chris and Lisa set off to get those sorted whilst I went to the Chapel to put the kettle on and wash mud out of the tripod! Now my body's recovered a bit, I can finally accept it was a great trip, and many thanks for Chris and Lisa for the patient posing and putting up with my endless crawl complaining.