Merlin's Mine - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 2 February, 2016

I'd forgotten what a cracking trip Merlin's Mine can be. Nine of us met amid some quite heavy sleaty showers on the road up to Eyam for a trip into Merlin Mine. The plan was to try to find the way through from Gimli's Dream to the foot of the Eyam Dale Shaft, so, while everybody was sorting themselves out, Christine and I climbed up the slippery bank to Eyam Dale Shaft and rigged it with a rope and a ladder in case we were successful.

Once the other seven had joined us, we set off in search of the Merlin's entrance.Following more slippery paths up the sodden hillside, the first obvious entrance I found was neither of the two Merlin's entrance, but a natural looking cave with two low crawls leading off. Something to explore at a more appropriate future date? Traversing left and climbing again, we came to a more mine-like entrance, but this turned out to be Merlin's Upper Entrance, and that requires more equipment than we had, so we did a descending traverse and quickly found Merlin's Lower, with it's petite dog's doorway which gives way to some very roomy passageways, and, eventually, the three P-bolts indicating the pitch down to the stream level.

We quickly set up a Y-hang for the lifeline, and clipped the ladder to one of the P-bolts before Christine clipped herself to the belay and life-lined me down the pitch. Once nine of us were down, we continued down the bouldery passage way towards the very noisy stream at the sump chamber, but, before we got to the sump, we threaded ourselves feet-first into a low wet crawl - the entrance to Gimli's Dream. Back in the 70s when this section of the cave was first discovered, it must have been a marvelous sight. Not so nowadays, as all the calcite formations are well-covered with thick black mud. Some new pegs and tape indicate a possibility of some future clean-up? Or is it an invitation? Restoration of the beauty of this grotto would be a great project for a group from TSG. Any volunteers?

Once we were all in the far chamber of Gimli's Dream, Chris and Brendon set about pushing the far crawls, to see if the newly opened route could be found. Nobody on tonight's team had been through the new connection, which is a different route to the one which John Beck plugged with concrete to preserve the pretties, and is one which is reputed to go through an unstable section which is prone to re-collapse!Several others among us joined in the search, looking down various ruckles and squeezes, and, eventually most of us gave it best, and returned to the grotto. Alan and John headed out while Steve, Sigi, Brendon and I waited, listening to the ever-decreasing sounds from Ade, Chris and Christine who were exploring deeper and deeper into the maze.

After nothing had been heard from the explorers for quite a long period, Brendon expressed the view that they had probably made it through to the shaft. We discussed options, and, based upon the time, we decided to start heading out. Most would surface and check the Eyam Dale Shaft for signs of life while I waited at the top of the pitch for either the three explorers to return, or for somebody to come back in to let me know that they had exited the other way. Once back at the ladder, I clipped onto my shunt and self-lined up. Before I reached the top, shouts from below let me know that the three explorers had returned, and so I lined everybody up, de-rigged with the help of Christine, and left the mine.

A very satisfying trip, which we all agreed should be followed up at some point in the future by a foray from the Eyam Dale Shaft side.