Nickergrove Mine - Alan Brentnall
Seven of us turned up at the small parking area opposite the Delph in Stoney Middleton, with the intention of having a good look around Nickergrove Mine. The history of the mine, and the more recent history of the work and exploration by John Beck and many others is alluded to in Iain Barker's excellent book "Classic Caves of the Peak District". By the time most of the group had arrived, Pete and I had walked out to Didsbury Shaft at the far end of the Delph, opened the lid and rigged the shaft in anticipation of our exit. Our only hope was that the intervening passages would be clear, as we intended to do a pull-through!!
Half way to the Adit entrance, I realised that I had forgotten the rope for the winze, so I headed back to the cars for it, while the main group ascended the slippery path up the hill. Re-united, we headed in and, passing the short passage (Old Grove Scrin) from the squeeze bellow Pallet Shaft, we soon found the head of the winze, where I hung the rope bag for use later on. First, we intended visiting "the railway". All the passageways from the adit entrance via the winze to Rift Chamber are fairly tall (higher than your average Derbyshire coffin level), and, together with the levelness of the flooring, this usually indicates that this is a tramming level. Prior to Rift Chamber, there is a short section where the passage is lower, due to in-fill, but the sudden rise of both the passage and the roof when you arrive at Rift Chamber is always a surprise - even though this kind of chamber is actually quite common in the various mines and caves around Stoney Middleton.
Beyond Rift Chamber we came across a much more modern "tramming level", this being the small railway built by the self same John Beck to service a dig at the far end. Tonight we eventually came up against an abrupt collapse which hadn't been the final point on previous trips, and looked as though it may have run in fairly recently. Indeed, reading the notes in Iain's book, this may have been the point where John's dig began too - at a run-in. History repeating itself? I'm sure somebody will be keen enough to repeat this dig in the future. So back we went to the winze. This leads to the through trip exiting via the Didsbury Shaft, but that route takes a passage half way down the winze. Pete and I were taking gas readings for the DCA Air Quality Database, so we had the added goal of sampling the air quality at the very foot of the winze - the passage through to Clay Chamber.
I dropped the shaft as far as the horizontal passage halfway down, and Pete re-rigged the rope as a pull through, retrievable from my passage, before dropping all the way down the winze. I followed on down, and others variously joined us, or simply took the route towards the through trip. At the bottom, Pete and I nipped along to sample the air above the ladderway down to Clay Chamber. Looking down, the oil drum section at the bottom looked pretty sumpy (and definitely squalid) so we decided to leave that for a future drier trip. Soon, we were then joined by Kenny, and then by Nick and Chris.
Eventually the four of us started to prussick back up the winze, only to find that the pull-through had been re-rigged, but it now rubbed a little. Fortunately it is not a huge pitch, so there is very little bounce on the rope and there was no danger of damage to anything critical - and everybody managed to re-climb the pitch and follow through, via a short down-climb and up-squeeze, to the leafy chamber below the Hillside Entrance where we re-grouped. There's (currently) a good fixed rope on the next little pitch which some used for SRT and some as a handline. At the foot, two or three of us explored a passage to the left which leads, eventually, to a forefield, while the rest sought out the rope which was hanging down the Didsbury Shaft.
Although technically easy, Nickergrove is always interesting, and has a long history of enticing cave explorers; it does throw up some interesting "problems" too, as it is the missing link between Merlins Mine and the Streaks Streamway. I'm sure that there's more to find here and that, sometime in the future, somebody will surprise us all by discovering even more within the mine-cum-cave system below the Delph. Meantime, it's still an excellent trip below!