Halfway House Photoshoot, Speedwell - Phil Wolstenholme

Monday, 21 December, 2015

visitorPresent: Nigel Ball, Dave Shearsmith, Phil Wolstenholme

At last, the return visit to do book photos had arrived, and with Wayne also needing to complete the Bottomless Pit survey (with Ann as assistant), we had the first boat at our disposal - with only three tourists to ferry, we had no issues docking at the Halfway House so we could disembark - and which caused some amusement as our guide (a girl for once, which was welcome) also had no idea there was anything down there to crawl to - she told us later when we got picked up she assumed it was a dead-end, so hopefully a bit more education may go a long way in improving their 'tourist story'. Nigel is trying to take as many guides into the system as possible so they actually know what's beyond the visitor platform.

Anyway, inside the level, we got to work snapping away the accessible portions, as the pithes up are quite tight, gnarly and rather loose, making photo equipment a very risky and difficult accessory! Then Nigel set off up the third rise, followed by Dave, with me snapping away frantically beneath. That done, I packed up and started climbing up. Halfway up there's a short section of stable false floor, forming a short passage before the next pitch up - however, most of the roof is jammed deads, only a few feet above, so it's always a tense place to be waiting. I got some more shots of Nigel climbing above, and then packed up again for the final stretch up to the main level, about 40m above the canal. The plan was to take photos of the terminal east choke (which almost certainly is coming from the Longcliffe workings, as all the shotholes are driven downwards and inwards), and then photograph the blocked traverse into the now-inaccessible extensions that Tony Marsden and Nigel entered back in 1991.

However - Nigel decided to have a go at stabilising a horrible bit of false floor before the collapse, managing to kick down the overhanging blocks (without sending them down the exit pitches and sealing us in), and once that was done, announced he was going to have a go at unblocking the collapse, where the rope just disappeared into a pile of rubble. Not having any tools, and with the provenance of the rest of the rope uncertain at best, Dave and I gulped at each other, and then Dave managed to persuade Nigel to at least clip his hand jammer on our end of the traverse, just in case. Amazingly, the rope was fine, and Nigel managed to remove all the offending rocks in ten minutes flat. This left a space of less than a metre high, traversing over balanced slabs of rock and then onto another section of (fairly) stable false floor, all the time crawling under hundreds of tons of jammed rubble just overhead, with the occasional bit of solid vein to give temporary relief.

Once through that, the satisfying and exciting sound of water dripping in a large empty space, and the increasing draught both combined to let us know we'd made it - Justification Chamber had finally been regained. In the distance, on a rubble slope, a red kit-bag could be seen, which Nigel remembered losing, but not where! Sadly, although the bolts on the ropes looked 'ok', the ally krabs he'd left on the rigging were trashed - one just literally crumbled in his hands. So we couldn't go any further, but we are going to go back soon and rebolt and re-rig all of this, and hopefully if John H is cool, regain more regular access to this very important (but rather unsafe) bit of the system. Longliffe is only 50m above and 100m east...

We had to wait ages for a boat, traffic being decidedly 'light', and Nigel had brought coffee, Christmas cake and Cheshire cheese, so we had some of that and then waited some more. Eventually Nigel got fed up, and announced that he was going to wade back and get us a boat! Dave and I were both shivering by this point, and although we meekly protested he might get wet, definitely didn't try and stop him. So off he went, and there we sat. Eventually there was a light 'thump' outside the door as a boat hit the clay dam, and out we crawled into the welcome arms of our new 'girl guide'. Actually, she was at the other end of the boat, laughing at our muddy state, but she was still more pleasant than one of the usual crew. Nigel was already dressed when we got out, so we popped back to the Chapel to find Ann and Wayne there, having 'completed' their trip. I'll let Wayne do that one though.