Eyam Dale House Cave - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 14 February, 2017

Ever since the peculiar case of the lock that would not open (was it a mechanism failure, or sabotage?) which aborted our late December trip last year, we have had a deferred appointment to re-visit Eyam Dale House Cave, and last night seven of us managed to keep that appointment. A reasonably dry, if windy, day left us with an evening which wasn't too cold, and kitting up in the little layby below Fireset Mine wasn't the ordeal it might have been at this time of year. Most of the cars managed to squeeze into the layby, and a couple had to make do with the substation opposite Merlin's Mine lower down the road.

The change of ownership at Eyam Dale House, and the recent DCA negotiations, have meant that the house car park is no longer available for parking, changing or access, and therefore the the new route from the Fireset Layby was designed and suitably gardened. Ascending the muddy track through the trees, it was obvious that the articles in Descent, on UKCaving and in the recent DCA Information Leaflet have popularised this venue. Indeed some of the steeper sections where steps have been cut in the earth may need revisiting later in the year, especially if we get a lot of wet weather. But I must admit the new access route is quite pleasant, and gives an air of "jungle exploration" to the trip. If if weren't for the cars blasting up and down the dale just below the woods, you could imagine that you were indeed in some far-off rain forest!

As we arrived at the lidded entrance and beginning to rig the pitch, shouts from the road below indicated that Glyn, our seventh caver, had arrived, and, not knowing the access route, was attempting a steep direttissima version of his own making. Steve quickly gave him some safer directions, whereupon he retreated, and joined us via the way-marked path. The entrance pitch is awkward because it slopes, and isn't straight. It also has some heavy duty metal supports below the initial oil drum section which leave a narrow slot which makes access awkward, and would certainly need "amendment" if DCRO were to ever need to recover a stretchered casualty from the cave. Because of this, I brought some old (ish) 11mm IRT-style rope for this pitch which made for a slower descent than many were used to.

Of the seven of us, three had never visited the cave before, so we waited until five were down before moving off through the awkward passages which lead to the second pitch. This is a short 6m free-climbable pitch, but I like to put a rope on it to ensure that there are no mishaps. The pitch head is blessed with two bomber threads which give a wide Y-hang, and last night we had a short lesson in creating a Y-hang using the Caver's Butterfly knot and involving no less than three cavers positioned specifically for the purpose. It was poetry in motion ... well, maybe a Limerick then!

As we arrived at the foot of the pitch, we each de-kitted and headed up into the pretty North West Chamber - always worth a visit, but often ignored as parties head down to the more meaty stuff. Which was our next target, so we all got down and wet (if not dirty) in the puddly, flat-out crawl which leads to the Pearly Gates. It's still fairly pretty through this section, despite the muddy smears, and there are plenty of fairly big stalagmites to work your way through.

I've visited Eyam Dale House Cave lots of times, but the next section, where you take a sharp right turn and look through to the Other Side, never ceases to amaze me. What it must have looked like to John Beck and Co when they first entered the huge chamber I can only imagine. But it's still there, still impressive - and it makes all the efforts of getting there really worthwhile. After a brief visit to the Room With a View, we climbed down onto the traverse and followed it as far as was reasonably practicable, peering up into the high places where Tom Proctor used his well-known climbing skills in vain, seeking a way on.

Returning to the start of the Other Side, Clive set about taking some photographs of Jess bridging precariously high above the traverse while Bernie and Steve provided the necessary illumination. I'd tried to get some picture of Clive himself as he shuffled his peli case and shoulders through the Pearly Gates earlier, but they are very blurry. I'm sure that Clive's own pictures will be excellent. Once sufficient pictures of Jess had been taken, Clive went to take some shots in the Room with a View and four of us started the moves back towards the surface.

A pleasant trip, with great company finished, as is often the case, in the Miner's Arms.