Devil's Cellar, Peak Cavern - Phil Wolstenholme

Monday, 28 December, 2015

Present: Wayne Sheldon, Ann Soulsby, Phil Wolstenholme

This trip was meant to be headed for Cohesion Crawl and Toadstool Aven, on Wayne's ticking-off survey list for the Peak-Speedwell 3D model, but high water levels in Peakshole Water put us off any inner-cave riskiness, so we opted for an 'easy' trip surveying the Devil's Kitchen passage instead - I use the word easy in a relative sense, as it's hardly comfortable. However, it's a bit of Peak that fascinates me, not least as there are mineral veins everywhere, and I guess, small-scale vein cavities in places. Also tiny nubs of stal are present here and there, so there's clearly a hole in the lava above, or it's right on the margin of it.

The showcave was quietish, so we didn't have an issue going in, and once up the climb (a bit hairy since the plank collapsed under me last trip and no fun for short-leggies), we all crawled into the passage, with me yet again admiring and wondering about the miner's shothole at the entrance. The passage is tight and awkward, so we were doing a bit of a human centipede routine, with Ann the head, Wayne the body, and me the arse - not much for me to do but follow, as Wayne fired legs towards Ann('s legs). We had some fun remembering the move to get through the first squeeze (up and then sideways and then up again) and then some more fun worming over the big boulder just before the exit into the small aven at the end, reached via yet another sideways squeeze.

The aven is a small vein cavity, formed on an almost totally calcite vein, and which heads up about 8m in a reassuringly easy climb, despite the drop - it's rough-textured and with numerous hand and footholds and a spiralling route, is really good fun - reminds me of the Faraway Tree, in that it looks a daunting climb, but isn't. Once at the top, I volunteered to crawl into the continuation, reaching farther than I expected, right into that small sump pool until a right-hand protrusion halts progress. This could be easily capped off though, and there is a draught. I managed to fire a leg with the Disto another 3.4m ahead of me, so that should give us a pretty good estimation of the total length to date.

As always with these kind of passages, the way out is easier than the way in (apart from the vertical squeeze!), and it didn't take long before we were back in the showcave, emerging right into a party of tourists, one of whom was a French guy I know from Sheffield - who also knew about EA Martel, so he was well impressed when I told him he'd been standing right there 120 years before. Then I had a re-climb of the slippery phreatic chimney under the overhang on the east wall, and Wayne fired a leg up it. I still want to dig/explore this, and may have to slip a bolt or two up there soon - if we can get some evening access re-arranged!

The final revelation came when I was examining the west side of the vein that cuts through Roger Rains, directly below the Orchestra Passage - I'd already noticed there was pickwork and some obvious galena extraction there on the last photo visit, but what I hadn't noticed before was a shothole in the vein, and quite a small one too - it could be very early. This vein, as far as I can tell, is the one that cuts through Cavedale with the solution cavities visible. It may also be, or is closely related to the vein that the Michill Bank mine is on. If not, that one is closer to Puttrell's Dig in the Great Cave. I'm not sure if the vein that the Devil's Kitchen passage is developed on is another one further up the dale, but you can see why it's all interesting to me.