Darfar Pot - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 26 June, 2018

After our last trip into Staffordshire, we decided to go again, and, taking advantage of the long dry spell, to try one of the Manifold river caves. We chose Darfar Pot, and, in the sweltering heat of the early evening, eight of us met at the parking area at Wettonmill. First find the cave! This was a very rare occasion, eight of us, with an enormous combined experience, but nobody had been down, or even been to, our selected venue. Steve and I were the first to arrive, half an hour before the others, and, before changing into our kit, we decided to locate the entrance. As it was known to be located above the north east bank of the river, just east of the Wettonmill Cafe, we crossed the little bridge and entered the cafe car park. There is a right of way through and up the hill, and a sign saying no public access along the bank, so we stuck to the right of way, hoping to drop down a little further along. However, because of fencing and thick woodland, our chance to descend didn't materialise until we were too far south, and we ended up on the little road back to Wettonmill.

Shortly, however, we came across a field with an obvious path across to the west bank of the Manifold and a sign: "Staffordshire RIGGs - Geology". So, over we went to find a dry river bed, a gridded cave entrance with the sign "Riverside Sink" and further up the bed we found Wettonmill Sink, with a lively river entering a mirky pool, and a faint path leading up to a rocky gully and a knotted handline. At the top of this we found a lidded entrance (Moonmilk Pot) and a gate with a Derbyshire Key style lock - Darfar Pot, with a nice inscription to the late Mel Milner, who put so much work into this project.

Back at the car park, our numbers had increased so we changed and sorted out the tackle. Now we were six, but two more were expected, so Steve and Robert waited at the cars for Cat and Adam, while Julian, Rowan, Chris and I set about rigging the first pitch. Once through the gate, the pitch is met almost immediately. The limestone is red and sandy and doesn't inspire confidence, but the Fixe glue-in bolt seemed very sound and certainly looked better than the spit and twist hanger which was the only backup. After I had rigged the pitch, Julian elected to go down first and I belayed him down to the next bolt, where he said there was a dubious knotted rope. This sounded like pitch two, so he descended, but said it got too steep, so we agreed that he should add his ladder to the first one. Chris then descended to the bolt, and belayed Julian down the next section.

By this time Robert, Steve, Cat and Adam had arrived at the entrance and decided to take a look down Moonmilk Pot while they were waiting to go into Darfar. Meanwhile, I tied off the lifeline so that Chris was doubly protected, and sent down the rigging bag on a separate line. Julian wasn't sure of the way on, and said that the river was very much in evidence down there. As there wasn't a great deal of room on the "stance", Julian came back to the top, and I descended to Chris and continued down to be presented with a choice of a jumble of ladder above what was probably pitch 3, or another dodgy handline. I chose the latter, assuming it to be the pitch 3 by-pass, and sure enough, it led me down a muddy, bouldery climb to another dodgy handline, another muddy climb and the bottom, where a very noisy river was rushing in and disappearing among the boulders. The whole place was a maze of muddy boulders, and there was evidence of other routes, with a stemple at one point, and a double, knotted line leading upwards, but, by now, Rowan had descended to Chris and was wanting to know the score.

I returned up the climb to Rowan who also went down to the foot of the pitches. After a conversation with Chris, I re-ascended to the surface and Cat entered the pot and, eventually, line Rowan back up and descended so that she and Chris should take a look at the lower parts. All this, of course, took quite a bit of time and we ultimately agreed to give it best and retreat. By the time we had de-rigged everything and returned to the cars, it was well after 10pm. Darfar Pot reminded me very much of Waterfall Hole, near Foolow, which is another boulder-filled cavity with lively water features and maze-like layout. In the case of Waterfall Hole, I'd been fortunate to have been there with Keith Joule, one of the original explorers. It would be great to have a trip into Dafar Pot with somebody who knew the place really well - but then it's also good experience for folk to have to find their own way through a system - almost (but not quite) like exploring it for the very first time!,