Old Ash and Lords & Ladies - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 6 September, 2016

Eleven cavers met near Oaker for an evening trip into Old Ash Mine, a gated venue in Northern Dale with a maze of passages which can also be entered via a 50m shaft (and pendulum) in the top of the western hill top above the entrance. It's a few years since we last visited Old Ash and split into two parties with one group dropping the top shaft, while the other entered the mine via the lower adit. Unfortunately, because the shaft work took up quite a bit of time, we didn't manage to explore the whole mine and, in particular, failed to find the Cavern, a natural section originally entered via a tight passage in 1982.

Although I had brought a scaff bar and rigging for the shaft, tonight, because of numbers, we decided to give the top shaft a miss and concentrate on exploring the horizontal parts of the mine. I use the word horizontal advisedly, as there is a great deal of interesting scrambling to be had in this entertaining place!

Once we were all through the adit, we followed the main way, and sought out the tight passage into Old Ash Cavern. After squirming into a small, wet muddy tube, which ended awkwardly in a boulder choke, we eventually found the real deal just beyond a flat-out crawl. A small, gently descending fissure led to a squeeze, and Steve eased himself into the passage and tried various postures before giving up. I had a go, and managed to pass the squeeze to a sharp drop in a slightly wider and taller spot. Beyond this it narrowed to a tall rift, bending slightly rightwards as it continued. I had various attempts at forcing myself into this but, to be honest, my heart wasn't in it and, even with my kneepads off, I knew that I didn't have the right "head" to push this tonight. Alex then had a crack, and then Rowan managed to get a little further but came up against a section which defeated him - so we eventually gave it best and carried on into the main part of the mine, where there are two main ways on.

We followed the larger of the two which led down a slippery slope to a huge chamber - all black depths and muddy ledges. This was Bridge Cavern, the foot of the Top Entrance Shaft, and the tottering muddy ridge in front of us, with deep black drops on either side, was the Bridge of Doom. We would usually have a rope for the slippery descent and the bridge, but Pete had forgotten this and so we spotted each other and most of us opted to cross the bridge "a cheval".

On the far side of Bridge Cavern we entered a small complex of descending muddy chambers, before climbing up into an old stope which connects back to Bridge Cavern via an entertaining traverse. Here a couple of lengths of scaffold guided us into a series of climbs and squeezes which brought us back to the entrance series and, after a short foray into a rising section of pipe workings, we left Old Ash for the warm night in Northern Dale.

Still having a bit of time in hand, Pete offered to take us into Lords and Ladies Mine, a complex of mined cave passages on the opposite side of the dale. He said that we would only go as far as the duck, but, when we got into the place, we had a great time exploring the small rounded passages and, while Pete was having a look at a lower section, I push on through the duck, and everybody followed. After more exploration of this fascinating place, we eventually found the top entrance and completed the through route. At one point in the trip, evidence of brown leaves attracted my attention and I found a ginged shaft going up to what is obviously another entrance, covered with wiggly tin, but I didn't climb the shaft (although it did look feasible).

After a very satisfying night's caving, we retired to the Miner's Standard to discuss next week's trip!