Slaley Sough - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 28 February, 2017

Having missed a week while working up in Scotland, I wasn't sure if anything had been organised for this week, and I didn't get any hints from the usual sources. All of the Peak was very wet, thanks to recent snowfalls, thaws and plenty of showers, so I was looking for somewhere weatherproof when a few recent postings on UKCaving were talking about Slaley Sough, and memories of a trip a couple of years back made me think, "Why not?".

At a DCA meeting early in 2015, Adam Russell mentioned a problem with bad air in a shaft in Slaley Sough known as Thunder Shaft, and I agreed to go and measure the CO2 there. And so, on 21/03/15, after a DCRO meeting with the Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service at their Matlock Station, I took a party of DCRO up to the Goodluck layby with the intention of doing the job. Jess Stirrups and I set off up the Dunsley Springs path, on the corner near the layby, leaving Bill Whitehouse, Rick Lewthwaite and Danny Murray to catch us up at the mine entrance. We didn't know where the actual entrance was, although we'd been given some heavy hints from Adam, and we contoured along the top of the woods from Dunsley Springs in a North Easterly direction, above Tufa Cottage. Along the way, we found much evidence of mining, including shafts and spoil heaps, but it wasn't until we passed a major spring after almost half a kilometer, that Jess shouted to me that she'd found what was almost certainly our "sough".

After a fairly long wait, we were eventually reunited with Bill, Rick and Danny, and all the various meters were activated in the fresh air. We then entered the mine, thoroughly explored it and measured the gas levels in the afore-mentioned Thunder Shaft (using Rick's fishing tackle as a good method of lowering the monitor). Afterwards, we followed the stream straight down the steep wooded hillside to the road, and came out just 20m or so north east of the large Bonsall Leys Level. Surely this would be an easier approach?

And so, tonight, when seven cavers braved the wintry showers for the midweek trip, I suggested we simply followed the A5012 in the direction of Bonsall as far as Bonsall Leys Level, whereupon we could locate the stream and follow it up to the mine. As you might imagine, the A5102 on a pitch black, wet night is probably the most dangerous thing we were likely to do, and so we carefully traversed this road, keeping an eye out for traffic, and found the entrance to Bonsall Leys Level quite easily. However, the stream just beyond this didn't seem big enough to be the one I'd followed downhill two years ago, so I carried on along the road, and it wasn't until I started to see the buildings at the Colour Works that I realised that the stream I had passed up was actually the one we wanted.

Retracing our steps, we hopped over the tiny rivulet and started up the very steep hill - really good exercise, and, with the recent heavy showers, the ground covering of mossy rocks was very slippery, and we had to do a fair amount of "tree hugging" to make progress up the hill. But progress we certainly made, and I was very relieved to pop out at the top of a spoil heap right outside our target, Slaley Sough. Once everybody had clambered up the jungly hillside, Pete activated his QRAE 4-gas monitor, and we headed into the Old Man's Crosscut. A stoopy passage, with a good roof, and a fairly sloppy, wet and muddy base. This soon led to drier ground, and a bit of hands and knees which popped out in the side of a larger passage, which had obviously been a tramming level.

To the right led to a deep (30m) shaft, on the far side of which was a dead end trial. To the left was the main level, with evidence of sleepers and a good walking height. Eventually this led to the foot of a stope, which looked to go quite high and contained stemples and the usual stacked waste. At the foot of this a low crawl led into t'Owd Mon's workings on Great Rake, and round the corner, a good passage led to a recess followed by a junction (partly blocked by a pile of toadstone) where a side passage led to the Thunder Shaft.

In the roof of this side passage were quite a few "egg & eyes", and we wondered if the recess might have been a buddling chamber, and the shaft a source of water, via a rag pump or some such. Over the top of the toadstone pile led to a continuation of the tramming level, and there was even a broken cast rail-tie on one of the ledges. After we had followed this passage for a fair distance, we came to another pile of debris, this time below a raise to higher levels. This looked eminently climbable, and plans were made to return to ascend the pitch to see what could be found at the top. Eventually we came to a dead end where the passage halted, and we stopped and discussed what we had seen. We hadn't seen any evidence of lead, although there was a definite vein of calcite, barytes and possibly fluorspar evident along the latter part of the passage. I believe that the evidence of what minerals were mined will be found in the higher parts of the mine, when we climb them. The name "Sough" certainly seems a misnomer, as the slope of the passage wouldn't drain the place at all.

Adam has suggested that the place was "unemployment relief", which might be true if it was simply a tunnel, but the infrastructure of sleepers and tracks wouldn't have been added unless it had a use. But it is unlikely that minerals would have been carted to the crosscut through which we entered - and then dragged out to the hillside. The whole place is a bit of a puzzle. Definitely worth a visit. Pete's atmosphere readings gave a surface O2 value of 20.9%, with this same value showing more or less throughout the tramming level (and a good draught) until the very end, where O2 dropped to 19.2%. After we surfaced, we descended the slippery slope and visited the Bonsall Leys Level, a huge trial leading nowhere but definitely worth a visit, before we retired to the Miner's Standard for a drink and to make plans for forthcoming trips.