Holme Bank - Alan Brentnall

Saturday, 6 February, 2016

On Saturday 06 February, after the AGM, Lizzie had organised a trip into Holme Bank, a chert mine where the hard-wearing rock was mined by cutting away the limestone beneath it; the resultant chert blocks then being transported to the Potteries, for Josia Wedgewood to use in his slip mills. Six of us met in front of the lower mine gate below Oldfield Design near Bakewell, and there we met up with Pete Dell who had decided to join us on the trip. Lizzie said that our trip coincided with a couple of divers (the venue is very popular with divers), so I went to see if the gate was unlocked. Well the main chain lock was open, the key was balanced on the gate - but a new yellow U-lock (the kind cyclists use) had been added to the bottom of the gate, and this was well and truly locked.

Wondering if this was something to do with the divers, I slipped between the bars of the gate and wandered down to the dive base, where I could see lights. However, when I got to the water, the light was coming from a single headlamp on a helmet pointing into the depths. The divers were obviously diving. By this time, I reasoned that the divers wouldn't have added the lock, and that they had either slipped in as I had, or else used one of the emergency entrances. Back at the gate, Cat and Lizzie had both managed to get in, but it wasn't looking too promising for the rest of the party, so Pete offered to lead them in through one of the other entrances, while the three of us went round the internals of the mine to meet up with them.

A pleasant walk, and a trundle on the "rolling stock" (so Cat could benefit from the full Holme Bank Experience) took us round to Smith's level, where a sheet of old hessian hid the way out. I emerged, but there was no sign of Pete or the others. On to the next emergency exit, and, again, no sign. Eventually, we met them higher up the mine. Apparently they hadn't managed to find either of the lower emergency entrances, and so had gone right to the top quarry and entered via the oil drum. They had also done quite a bit of exploring before meeting up with us. Once united, the whole group had a good tour of the mine, including a mass ride on the trolley, before following the blue pipe to the exit. Here we met up with the divers. Fiona confirmed that they had nothing to do with the new lock, and had used Smith's Level to gain access.

As a sequel to all of this, I reported the issue to DCA, and Jenny Potts told me that, although Mr Oldfield had the lease for the quarries, including the mine entrances (leased from Chatsworth Estates), the owner of Holme Hall is disputing this. The latest news on this issue is that Chatsworth are looking into the problem, and that visitors will be allowed access via Smith's Level. (N.B. Smith's level would not be too easy for wheelchairs, and it isn't an approved route on PICA's mines inspection survey. But it's OK for cavers.)

Many thanks to Lizzie for organising this trip