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Peak Cavern Again

 a report of sorts by Graham Wilton-Jones.

In the midst of the Winter snow Wilton-Jones and Grass fought their way to Derbyshire while ‘Wig;’ and Dukes played safe by staying in comfort here on Mendip!

Traffic news.  Friday March 16th.  1830 hrs - The following roads are now blocked due to drifting snow; Derbyshire - A6, A57, A61, …… Ashbourne and Buxton are completely cut off. Artic blizzards and gale force winds are making driving conditions treacherous.  Drivers are advised to stay at home unless their journey is absolutely essential…..

Since Peak Cavern is not in our part of the world, and was booked for the 18th, it was necessary, nay essential, to go to Derbyshire.  Journey justified.  Besides, some of us have more respect for BEC tradition (everything to excess) than for our necks.

The, Squire of Yarley, having had his fill of snow in the Lakes, proffered the feeble excuse that he was saving for a day’s to trip to Malta.  Rumour has it that he has given up caving unless the cave is brought to his doorstep. However his worthy chauffeur, Greg, set out alone in the Midget at 5 pm.

Martin, Glenys and Graham (hereinafter we) sped up almost empty M1, when Glenys speed watching and the partially blocked carb allowed.  Through the incessant blizzard we watched huge cornices forming on the edge of the motorway cuttings.  Deepening snow on the road surface began to force us over towards the hard shoulder, where a snow plough crept along (did you realise that snow ploughs cannot clear motorways except. in convoy?)  Think about it.  In spite of every thing we reached the Chesterfield Junction at 10.55pm. Unfortunately the snow really began there - and we missed the pub.  Great drifts above us and any tarmac was deep beneath the snow.  We passed the Stags at midnight and ran straight into deep, drifting snow.  On with the instant snow chains and we were away again, passing abandoned lorries and weaving around half buried cars.  Less than four miles from the Pegasus Hut at Peak Forest someone had abandoned a truck right in the middle of the road making it impossible to all but high clearance vehicles. After freezing to death helping a Derbyshire Mr. 'N' and his sergeant push someone out we parked ourselves, in the Stags car park, shifted all the gear to the front seats and settled down for the night.

A cry from Glen, 'I can’t find my contact lens box'.  We rooted though all the buried gear and Martin found a film cassette tin to use instead.  Settled down again.  Then another cry, 'I dropped them again'.  Glenys is always doing this – I believe she enjoys the thrill of the search. Dig for a torch, find the lenses, and beck to repose posture.  Martin spent his waking hours chasing drips of condensation or burying his head in his sleeping bag hoping he’d wake up in one of his villas.  Graham, sandwiched between Glenys and a shock absorber, wiled away the hours watching snow flakes on the window (they’re not all different you know) and commenting on the progress of the snow ploughs.  Glen dreamt she was still in a 5 star hotel and she slept like an inebriated log.

We thought of Greg, either with his car creeping along the drifts or marooned at the Pegasus, and felt it was our duty to try and reach the hut.  A gaggle of snowploughs and various other vehicles passed by so we reckoned it had to be OK to reach Peak Forest.  A few hundred yards up the road we ran into deep snow again – no one had been through that way.  The snowploughs had come up a side road from Tideswell (they breed) where they must have been stuck over night.  We turned round (those snow chains are wonderful).  Thank you, Buckett, and decided to head for home, abandoning Greg to his fate.  In fact he reached Birmingham the previous night, but decided that the snow was too bad to warrant his continuing.  Turning back on a motorway in drifts and blizzards is not that easy.  Greg took an hour and a half to negotiate a roundabout from one carriageway to the other.

Back to the heroes, now struggling through the wastes of Stoney Middleton.  'Ah, Eyam,' muttered Martin, 'John Beck lives there.  I had to write to him to book the trip.  Let’s scrounge some coffee (we had no cooker for breakfast) and tell him we will not be here on Sunday for the Peak trip.'  John Beck is a Derbyshire version of Wig.  His house is a magnet for cavers.  In short we were easily persuaded, over hot soup and beer in the Miner's Arms, to stay, in the house next to the Miner's Arms, home of Mark Noble - his address, The Cottage, Eyam!  It is amazing how many cavers can be crammed into a minute 17th century cottage.  We spent the rest of the day depleting the alcoholic stocks of the village, seeing the historic sites of Eyam, tramping through 12ft high drifts, visiting Waterfall Hole, avoiding catching the Plague and learning barbaric Derbyshire games and customs.

A warm mist crept in overnight and destroyed the Christmas card beauty of trees weighed down by ton of snow.  The combined effect of the mist and snowploughs meant that most of the major roads were now clear, and it was easily possible for us to reach Castleton. The only worry was that the cave would now be flooding.  Arriving in Castleton we went in search of Wig and John Dukes, who were coming up that morning.  However a quick recce of the village revealed sign of them.  Could it be that we were the only representatives of the BEC to reach the place?  Come to think of it, where has Wig been caving of late (carry on thinking -Ed). But we must not be too hard on Wig. Coronation Street, cats, cacti and knitting take up much of his time these days we should not have to expect him to make a special caving trip just to Peak Cavern.  After all, he has not been there before.  John has no excuse though.  He could have stolen, Wig’s car (no comment – Ed.)

I realise that the whole point of this article was to slate the others, but we should mention the cave. Half the TSG (who control Peak) had been with us at Eyam and the other half waited at Castleton.  Glen made for the hotel/pub while Martin and I followed the others up to the cave, where small avalanches were cascading down the cliffs, and the Jackdaws were unleashing lethal icicle missiles which came stabbing down from the heights above.  The cave floor was muddy but the water-level seemed unaffected the thaw. We quickly made our way to the Treasury. Just beyond this, below an aven to one side of the main passage, the TSG have a dig in progress, presently involving the removal of tons of large boulders which are then rolled into the main passage.  Martin and I did not like to interfere with their, dig so we carried on towards the roar of water at Surprise View.   Making a note of the water level, we quickly followed the water down to Buxton Water Sump. This undoubtedly ranks among the finest stream passages in the country.  Today the water was icy cold and we rapidly made our way back upstream to the Far Sump, where one optimist has made an enormously long trench stretching way downstream in an attempt to pass the sump.  It has been reported that it used to be a draughting gravel choke. Back downstream, we entered Lake Passage as far as Lake Sump, which is actually a duck.  Disliking anywhere with less than six feet of airspace I began to remove various boulders and lowered the water somewhat, but it was very cold, so I dissuaded my impetuous companion from continuing. Back at the dig we helped for a while and then carried on outwards till we heard sounds of digging in another passage off to the left.  This hitherto ignored passage is similar to Pickering’s though slightly larger.  It is totally blocked with mud, but I was surprised that more effort has not been made to pass the choke at the end of Wind Tunnel.  Perhaps we should visit Peak more often – those of us that get there, that is.

Back in the main cave we washed off the mud of the chilling stream.  Ours was the penultimate trip before the cave was closed for the tourist season.  Unlike Wookey or DYO apartheid is practised at Peak, but it seems that the present management may be more enlightened.  Who knows; maybe even diving will be allowed again before long.  Treasury Sump, the backdoor to Speedwell, may be old hat but Ink is reputedly to lead into an enormous cross passage, while Far Sump must lead to the continuation of the original main passage.