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Darfar Pot

As I read In a recent BB that I was soon to be supplying a write up on the above find in the Manifold Valley it looks as though I'll have to cough one up.  Although I have visited Derbyshire on relatively few occasions, the secretary of the Trent Valley caving Group, who made the find, is a patient of mine.

The TVCG consists of a small core of young caving enthusiasts whose keenness and methodical approach more than makes up for their lack of experience.  They have been digging in the Manifold Valley for about 4 years and the result of their work has been a significant contribution to the knowledge of the underground drainage of the Manifold, and the excavation of a very attractively decorated dry system at Darfar Ridge.  For those curious about this Tolkienesque name-it means badger.

For those who do not know the Manifold Valley, most of the river sinks in dry weather at Wetton Mill and resurges at Ilam 4 miles away and 160 feet 1ower.  During spring and summer, as the rainfall diminishes, the river is progressively captured by a series of swallets in the river bed further and further up the valley.  It is fascinating to watch these swallets in action because they behave like bath plugholes.  The river bed is dotted in some places with little gurgling whirlpools.  In wet weather or flood these swallets act as resurgences and in fact one or two finds have been made when concrete cappings placed optimistically over swallets to stop the river drying up have been blasted off by resurging flood water!  The best known cave sites in the valley are Redhurst Swallet and the severe Ladyside Pot, both thought to be part of the same drainage system.  The resurgences have also received the attentions of a number of cave divers but have both proved dangerous and impenetrable.

Despite the fact that the Orpheus had attacked the main sink at Wetton Mill on a number of occasions (one dig in the river bed went 5 metres through boulders), the TVCG were undaunted, and after some initial poking about in the valley, began a dig just below Wetton Mill at the base of Darfar Crag, on the river bank.  They received help and encouragement from Simon Amatt, an Opheus member.  A trial trench led to the excavation of a choked entrance at river 1evel.  This was found to happily take the entire river without backing up so the diggers pressed on.  As one would expect with a dig in such a location, wet weather digging was impossible so effort was sporadic.  However, in I986, a series of tight crawls and squeezes was entered and the river reached.  Unfortunately it rose and sank in boulders and in dry weather completely disappeared. Some avens off the second chamber were briefly examined before the weather deteriorated and the cave became un-enterable again.  The cave was not then accessible until mid 1981 when in the far chamber, a rift was extended to a point where through a cleft, the dull roar of the river could be heard again.  Again bad weather and other digs meant little progress until the drought this year when the breakthrough was made.

As is often the case, the breakthrough was unexpected.  The avens were being re-examined when a previously unnoticed hole in the wall of one of them was noticed to swallow stones.  It was opened up and progress was then swift.  I am a little hazy about the exact details but it appears that a series of rifts above the Manifold streamway were entered which give access to it at various points.  The initial section reached revealed the stream roaring down a tube with little airspace.  It was so intimidating that nobody pushed it, but fortunately a bypass soon found and a 25 metre section of streamway explored to a sump.  Although short, it is apparently impressive, being a steeply inclined 5 metre wide 1.5 metre high bedding cave with a meandering phreatic tube in the roof.  The water flows into the sump with incredible force – only suicidal cave divers need apply. A possible draughting bypass to the sump is in the process of being excavated - weather permitting.  Altogether Darfar is now about 1300 feet long and 135 feet deep - one of the longest: caves in the valley.

Current work is being directed; at finding a drier route into the system.  There are one or two potential sites nearby which have already been partially excavated and I am sure diggers will not be in short supply after the recent finds.  One curious feature of the discovery is that the cave is at present going up valley instead of in the direction of the risings!  If anybody wants to know more about the TVCW’s work at Wetton Mill, contact their secretary, Steve Johnson, who lives at 27 Bracken Way, Fernwood Estate, Rugeley, Staffs.

Peter Glanvill  Oct. 83