Eldon Hole – Lost River Project
‘Fissure on right has been dug out for 60’ (18m) but has run in since.
Lloyd (1780) reports a lower shaft with a stream in the bottom, but
this has not been seen since.’ CotPD 2010 p88/89.
I’m sure many cavers will have read the above description or even
the similar Eldon Hole descriptions in the many previous editions of CotPD.
Back in the 80’s the TSG seriously considered taking on the challenge
of finding and exploring this lost river. Having only recently
purchased an old wheel mounted crane from Litton Mill they were
keen to try and get some value out of it. Looking back, the plans
were a little farfetched and involved employing loads of people through
the Youth Opportunities Scheme to fill skips full of what is effectively
dry stone wall material at the bottom of the entrance shaft. It was
suggested we should lower down a mini digger to help with the excavations.
The crane would winch out the skips and we would sell the stone for both
dry stone walling and as souvenirs for the many tourists who would
visit the site following a massive publicity and sponsorship campaign.
The project would have required a temporary metal track to be laid
all the way up to the cave to allow wagons to take away the many
tonnes of rock that would be pulled out. As well as numerous dry stone
walls, it’s reported that at least two cottages were thrown down the
shaft over the last 300 years. Great ideas with a few pints inside you
but once sober the idea was soon forgotten and the crane eventually
sold for scrap.
There have been many attempts to find this lost river, as the numerous
abandoned dig sites in the floor of the Main Chamber will testify. I’ve
been down Eldon Hole a few times but have mainly concentrated my
efforts on exploring the high level parts of the Main Chamber by bolting.
In the early 90’s, former Eldon Pothole Club (EPC) member, Martin Veale
and me did a large bolt route around the left wall of the chamber but
found nothing of any significance. A new passage was entered from
part way up the rope into Millers Chamber but it was only an oxbow
dropping back into the Main Chamber. Starting a digging project in the
floor of the Main Chamber was definitely not on my list of potential projects.
25 years later,
In 2014 a number of EPC members took on the challenge of finding
the lost river. Knowing where to start was their first problem and their
first two ideas have since been abandoned. The scale of the project
and lack of progress resulted in the inevitable dwindling digger numbers.
The final option was the previously dug out fissure, already 18m deep.
The way this site was originally dug has a familiarity with the original
Gin Shaft in Rowter Hole with bits of scaffold tube stuffed into nooks
and crannies at peculiar angles down a very narrow and awkward shaft,
typical of the many dig sites before clubs had access to the modern tools
of today. In its current state 8 diggers would be needed to make any
progress at the bottom and as I’m sure many regular diggers will agree,
its hard enough getting 3 cavers to commit to a digging trip.
I had mentioned to Paul (Paz) Vale and Dan Hibberts of the EPC that
the Buttered Badgers Potholing Club (BBPC) were keen for another project,
following their success in Rowter Hole, and might be interested in a joint
venture in order for the large and daunting project to stand any chance of
success. The project was an agenda item at the recent EPC AGM and a
date was set for a trip to weigh up how to proceed.
Saturday 2nd May.
Following Graham Proudlove’s post on ukCaving regarding appropriate
energy foods for caving we met in the café at Wardlow Mires and had
a Full English breakfast before driving to Peak Forest.
No access restrictions, other than its SSSI status, and more importantly,
no access/trespass fee. Trespass fees for the Rowter Hole project were
well over £1,000.00 and that was after negotiating a 50% discount for
half of the 4 years we were digging it!!
The EPC were there in force, Paz Vale, Dan Hibberts, Bob Toogood,
Nigel Strong, Sam and Jon Pemberton with me representing the
Buttered Badgers digging team.
With there being 7 of us we double rigged the entrance shaft and
proceeded to survey the digging options. No matter which way we
looked at the dig site the options were clear, there will be an awful lot
of digging to do before we even start pushing beyond the current
limit of exploration.
The Pemberton brothers wasted no time in stripping the old scaffold
from the previous digging attempts giving us a healthy stash of tubes
and fittings to make a start on the project once the necessary SSSI
permissions and timbers have been acquired. The key will be to make
the place big enough to get people in and out easily but more
importantly to be able to get the many tonnes of rock out easily and,
ideally, with a 3 person digging team.
We attempted a small trial dig to see how deep the mud was and
determine how well packed the rocks were. As it turned out the mud
layer was only on the surface rocks and they were pretty loosely packed
so, apart from the inevitable engineering obstacles and the many
tonnes of rocks that need moving, it should be a ‘relatively’ easy dig
with the possibility of some major discoveries.
We tidied up the dig site, had one last look at what we were letting
ourselves in for and started to head out to the Wanted Inn to finalise
our plans for the next digging trip over a pint of Farmers Blonde.
Watch this space.