Old Jant Mine - Alan Brentnall
The chosen venue for this week's trip was to be a repeat of an earlier (unreported and sparsely attended) midweek trip into Great Masson Cavern visiting a very aqueous and sumpy passage leading to caverns measureless to, if not man, certainly your average caver. However, Katie, who was on that earlier trip and is now returning to caving after a short family-expansion interlude, had other ideas for her first post-natal Tuesday nighter, and proposed an optional "other trip" into Old Jant Mine, entering via Gentlewoman's Shaft, and exploring through to Youd's Level.
Not surprisingly, but with one solitary exception, all this week's cavers chose Katie's option. For my part I have had Gentlewoman's Shaft on my must-do list for a decade at least, having had several excellent trips into Old Jant via either Youd's Level or Day Shaft. So it was all change, and, because it is a through trip, we met at the Artist's Corner car park so that we could sort out the vehicular logistics. I set off from Hayfield very early as it's quite a long drive and I didn't want to be late. However, owing to a large number of communications from several folk, and the added complication that Via Gellia was closed between Bonsall and Cromford, I was quite late getting there.
Once there, we sorted out which cars were to stay, and which were to be driven up to Salters Lane, where Jess and Alex were waiting patiently. Access to Gentlewoman's is via the same lane as for Masson Lees Quarry, except you do not go down into the quarry, but branch left on a thin trod when the main track descends. This trod traces a line through a jungle of brush to a fence crossing, where the trod continues to the shaft which is well hidden in the undergrowth, under a huge boulder. I'd been told that this pitch was very scrappy, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that, once through an awkward feet-first entry (which was definitely a little loose and scrappy), the actual 50m or so pitch was a fine specimen, very smooth, with plenty to look at on the way down.
The landing is in an area of fairly large abandoned pipe-workings, not unlike the Wapping Mine. It took quite a while for all nine cavers to descend the pitch, and we re-grouped further into the workings, somewhat beyond an awkward little climb assisted by an in-situ knotted rope. More pipe workings followed until, suddenly, we were climbing up into smooth and sandy brown-red passages way above, leading to a section of very pretty (and large) white crystals. This was fascinating, as was the beautiful traverse which followed and it all led to a contrived descent into a roomy passageway where we once again re-grouped.
The passage continued in a downward fashion, very dry and sandy, until, quite suddenly, it lowered to a bouldery climb down ... and we met the stream. From here onwards it was quite a bit lower, and (obviously) wetter - but not too wet. Eventually the passage became a crawl and, soon enough, we came across a pile of digging and raking tools which I recognised as the upstream end of "the connection" - this being two low, wet squeezes which, from time to time, get clogged up with tailings and scree and need to be "reamed out". But tonight they were fairly easy, if a little damp.
The crawl soon entered the main Old Jant streamway, and from here onwards it was a question of following the draught, the stream or your nose (delete as applicable), and, sure enough, we were eventually back in the familiar Youd's coffin levels. These are of a varying (but always awkward) height and while we were discussing whether miners were more diminutive in those days, I started to spot the odd egg and eye, and I reckon that this section (as well as acting as a sough) might also have been used for tramming. Soon, but not soon enough for some, we met the old stonework which announced that we were beneath the A6 or thereabouts, and there was the ladder up to the manhole in the kiddies' playground at Artist's Corner. My word, that was a cracking trip! But we missed the pub!