Maury Sough - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 18 April, 2017

A pleasant evening in a quiet Miller's Dale saw five cavers turn out for this week's midweek caving trip: Edvin, Julian, Pat, Jolie and me. Parking in the little, single-track lane which weaves its way down to Litton Mill is pretty scanty at the best of times, but it was more so last night as the good weather had brought a few climbers to the towering rocks of Ravenstor. So we parked independently, and I opted for the slightly longer walk back from the foot of Tideswelldale - but it was a nice evening for a walk. At the appointed hour, we all met, kitted up, at the little footbridge opposite the YHA track. The flagged bridge leads over the Wye to steps which lead up to the Monsal Trail, a cleverly engineered railway line which has been recycled as a cycleway with tunnels. This is all concealed within the bushy flank of the Miller's Dale valley, which also conceals the once-obvious workings known as Maury Rake, the lowest entrance of which was our venue this week.

So, passing between the gaps in what remains of a fence, we ignored the steps and walked along the true right bank of the Wye until we met a stream coming from the sough tail of Maury Mine. Crossing this, we toiled up a steep bank of what is probably spoil from the mine to a cliff with a small cave at its foot. The cave wasn't what we were looking for, it is a small cavity with little to explore, but to the left of the little entrance, beneath a few inches of leafy soil, we uncovered a thin metal lid attached to the rocky cap by its one remaining bolt. The cliff holds two spits, one with an in-situ hanger, and an odd expansion ring bolt. Supplying the empty spit with one of my hangers, I rigged a Y-hang for the rope, while Julian fitted the wire ladder to the left hand spit. Half-loading the rope onto the stop, we were ready to roll!

It's a straightforward 10m pitch which lands you on a small bank at the side of a deep, water filled channel. Downstream leads to a brick wall which was built, I am told, by the PDMHS group who capped the air shaft, and is responsible for the depth of the water. Upstream leads beneath a low ceiling to a chamber with the stream flowing between huge packwalls. An examination of the ceiling here show that this is a natural cave of quite reasonable proportions which has been backfilled by the miners. Indeed much of the sough is lined with walls of stone which will have been removed from the stopes beyond.

The deep water carried on for a long way, and, reminiscent of a conversation I had in Speedwell with a paramedic on a recent callout, somebody said that I wasn't joking when I had recommended neoprene. With my scrawny build, I never joke about the cold and wet. Well, not very often. Tonight the water was particularly deep, making the initial low sections feel quite "ducky" in parts, and the occasional boulders and sudden deep drops in the floor kept us on (or should I say off) our toes as we made our way deeper into the mine. A roof fall with a pair of boulders suspended and barely touching as they hung menacingly above our heads reminded us that these places need care. Soon we reached a rise, an internal shaft connecting to galleries above. By now we were in less deep water and we could see the tramming rails, some complete, others uprooted and set at crazy angles. A bend in the passage was well endowed with a pair of perfectly arced rails suspended over a deep, blue hole where the false floor was beginning to break up.

Shortly after this section, the roof began to lower and the floor rose to meet it as it was strewn with limestone blocks. Ahead could be heard a thundering waterfall, and a rope hung in the spray-lashed raise announcing the main source of the water. We carried on forward, Jolie leading the way past a squeeze by some wiggly tin holding back a tottering packwall, to a section of stopes and high passageways showing the calcite vein above us. Previous trips have usually turned back here-abouts, but Jolie had the bit between her teeth and we carried on through ever lowering sections in glutinous red-brown mud to the final, back-filled section. Pat announced that it had taken us an hour to reach this conclusion, which surprised most of us; time certainly flies when you are enjoying yourself. Deciding that we didn't have time to push any of the upward leads, and being reluctant to face the deluge coming in from the roped raise, we retraced our steps to the entrance, and made our way back to the cars. Afterwards we joined the climbers at the Anglers Rest and discussed other trips and trips to come.