Robin's Shaft Mine - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 2 May, 2017

A good turn-out of nine cavers including, among the regulars, Cat and Adam, who had decided that a trip so close to their home was a chance not to be missed - especially as Cat had never sampled the delights of Robin's Shaft. For once, I didn't need to do any rigging (or de-rigging, for that matter); the jobs were shared amongst the group, and I had a very pleasant and relaxing trip, chatting on the spacious ledges, taking oxygen readings and generally marveling at my surroundings. As SRT trips go, it's a very easy trip. Possibly a little too easy in parts, and an unwary caver could easily slip in an unguarded moment, and the shaft, while not vertical (mostly) is still well over 100m deep. It would be a long way to fall.

At the very base of the shaft, we explored the sharp, spiky passage to the west, with its huge scallops. Dark spaces beckoned in the roof and, at one point, below us, but this sort of passage is very tough on over-suits and any serious exploration would need much more commitment than a cursory evening trip. It does make you wonder though whether every lead here has been pushed to its conclusion. But there was a strong and very noticeable draught throughout this section; in fact, the air here is probably the best quality in the whole mine (but I left the meter at the foot of the shaft, so I cannot prove it!).

We then turned our attention to Lords Chamber, some of us free-climbing the start of the shaft to get there, others using jammers on the rope. This section is almost all natural stuff, with great solution chambers, phreatic passageways and a feeling of the power that water must have played here long ago. We examined the old SUSS dig, but none of the ex-SUSS members present fancied a trip in to see how far Tim Webber and Co got in their explorations. My memories of pulling Keith Joule out of there by the ankles, when he succumbed to bad air, certainly didn't make me want to! We also scrambled down to the very foot of the Chamber, where it looks as though a couple of crawls have been enlarged.

After a good look around the place, we started the re-ascent of the shaft, with a variety of odd-looking techniques dealing with the slope. Not much use for a foot loop here! Eventually we all surfaced to a beautiful evening, dusk just starting to turn to night, with a starry sky and a very bright moon to light our way back to the farm. Oxygen readings were between 18.7% and 18.0% against a surface reading of 20.9%, indicating an assumed CO2 presence of between 2.2% and 2.9%, which is significant.

Originally a 19th Century mine extracting copper and lead, Robin's Shaft is a curious, deep, sloping mine in a field behind Hilltop Farm near the hamlet of Stanshope, high above Dovedale. This strange place has attracted many over the years, with DCC doing a great deal of work, clearing and exploring, and many other clubs, DPC, SUSS and even Crewe, all having a go at trying to reveal its mysteries. After all these years, Robin's Shaft still leaves you asking questions and wondering what really is down there.