Stoney Middleton - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 29 March, 2016

Seven of us turned out on what started as a pretty wet night in Stoney Middleton. Our objective was to take a look at a bunch of caves around the little lane which goes up into Furness Quarry (Horseshoe Quarry to our climbing friends). As all my previous visits had been in the dark, and in the company of folk who knew where each of the entrances was, I decided to arrive early and in daylight, and make sure I knew what was where. unfortunately this was when the worst of the rain was descending from the sky, and (also unfortunately) I set out without my caving gloves, as I wasn't bargaining for the sheer quantity of slippery bramble I would have to fight my way through to achieve my intentions. But, when everybody had arrived, we were fortunate to have in our midsts Pete Dell, who had been instrumental in being in on the original discovery of several of our caves tonight.

We started off with Hanging Flat Mine, just up from our RV car park, and the scene of a desperate "cave rescue" on the popular television soap, Peak Practice, starring Kevin Whately and Amanda Burton. This fluorspar mine, last mined in the 1980s, is still very extensive, and still holds some of the props used during the filming of the epic - including some very convincing, but light, "boulders", which some of those present used to great effect tonight. Next on the menu was Layby Shelter, scene of the late lamented John Beck's last dig. This muddy, but roomy, tube was followed for quite a distance to its current end, just after the only point where it is possible to stand. A promising dig, which has been taken over (using John's tools) by our friends from SUSS, under the expert guidance of Will Whalley.

After this, it was straight over the road and up the steep and brambly bank to Rubble Rift, a very promising dig, started by Pete and Ian Bishop some 20 years ago, and pushed a little further by Keith Joule, just before his untimely death. We descended this, and examined the dig face, which is after a slightly aqueous, but roomy, phreatic tube. It would be a great opportunity for somebody else to take over this work. It looks very promising.

From her we contoured through the now-darkened, wooded slopes to Hangover Hole, where we descended into one of Stoney Middleton's great little secrets. A fairly steep climb down led to a squeeze and a further climb to a low wide chamber, with red and white "bomb" tape indicating the best route forward to a junction. Initially, we went straight forwards to a large breakdown chamber called Pizzaland, which curved round to a further chamber, enterable via a tight squeeze (which tonight defeated all of us!!). Back at the junction, we explored the other route, which led under a huge boulder, which seemed to be held aloft by little more than spit and good will. This was Inferno Chamber, a very impressive place. At the far end was another descending rift leading to a crawl into a further, smaller chamber and a bouldery passage to the final dig-face .. which must be just about underneath the road.

Once we were all back on the surface, we struck up the hillside to seek out the mine which, according to John Beck, was an aragonite mine which had been active during World War II. Looking at a satellite picture of the fields above this mine, which had been sent to me by Mick Earle earlier today, it would appear that this extensive remnant of the mine must the top of an extensive stope which would have gone much further into the hillside during its operation - and the lumpy floor we were standing on would be very, very false. An interesting end to a very interesting evening, which left us with the question ... what was aragonite used for, and why was it important during WWII?

We retired to the newly refurbished Moon to discuss these issues.