Eldon Hole – Lost River Project
'‘Fissure on right has been dug out for 60’ (18m) but has run in since. Lloyd (1780) reports a lower shaft with a stream in the bottom, but this has not been seen since.’ CotPD 2010 p88/89.
I’m sure many cavers will have read the above description or even the similar Eldon Hole descriptions in the many previous editions of CotPD.
Back in the 80’s the TSG seriously considered taking on the challenge of finding and exploring this lost river. Having only recently purchased an old wheel mounted crane from Litton Mill they were keen to try and get some value out of it. Looking back, the plans were a little farfetched and involved employing loads of people through the Youth Opportunities Scheme to fill skips full of what is effectively dry stone wall material at the bottom of the entrance shaft. It was suggested we should lower down a mini digger to help with the excavations. The crane would winch out the skips and we would sell the stone for both dry stone walling and as souvenirs for the many tourists who would visit the site following a massive publicity and sponsorship campaign. The project would have required a temporary metal track to be laid all the way up to the cave to allow wagons to take away the many tonnes of rock that would be pulled out. As well as numerous dry stone walls, it’s reported that at least two cottages were thrown down the shaft over the last 300 years. Great ideas with a few pints inside you but once sober the idea was soon forgotten and the crane eventually sold for scrap.
There have been many attempts to find this lost river, as the numerous abandoned dig sites in the floor of the Main Chamber will testify. I’ve been down Eldon Hole a few times but have mainly concentrated my efforts on exploring the high level parts of the Main Chamber by bolting. In the early 90’s, former Eldon Pothole Club (EPC) member, Martin Veale and me did a large bolt route around the left wall of the chamber but found nothing of any significance. A new passage was entered from part way up the rope into Millers Chamber but was only an oxbow dropping back into the Main Chamber. Starting a digging project in the floor of the Main Chamber was definitely not on my list of potential projects.
25 years later.
In 2014 a number of EPC members took on the challenge of finding the lost river. Knowing where to start was their first problem and their first two attempts have since been abandoned. The scale of the project and lack of progress resulted in the inevitable dwindling digger numbers. The final option was the previously dug out fissure, already 18m deep. The way this site was originally dug has a familiarity with the original Gin Shaft in Rowter Hole with bits of scaffold tube stuffed into nooks and crannies at peculiar angles down a very narrow and awkward shaft, typical of the many dig sites before clubs had access to the modern tools of today. In its current state 8 diggers would be needed to make any progress at the bottom and as I’m sure many regular diggers will agree, its hard enough getting 3 cavers to commit to a digging trip.
I had mentioned to Paul (Paz) Vale and Dan Hibberts of the EPC that the Buttered Badgers Potholing Club were keen for another project, following their success in Rowter Hole, and might be interested in doing some sort of joint venture in order to stand any chance of success with such a large and daunting project. The project was an agenda item at the recent EPC AGM and a date was set for a trip to weigh up how to proceed.
Saturday 2nd May.
Following Graham Proudlove’s post on ukCaving regarding appropriate energy foods for caving we met in the café at Wardlow Mires and had a Full English breakfast before driving to Peak Forest.
No access restrictions, other than its SSSI status, and more importantly, no access/trespass fee. Trespass fees for the Rowter Hole project were well over £1,000.00 and that was after negotiating a 50% discount for half of the 4 years we were digging it!!
The EPC were there in force, Paz Vale, Dan Hibberts, Bob Toogood, Nigel Strong, Sam and Jon Pemberton with me representing the Buttered Badgers digging team.
With there being 7 of us we double rigged the entrance shaft and proceeded to survey the digging options. No matter which way we looked at the dig site the options were clear, there will be an awful lot of digging to do before we even start pushing beyond the current limit of exploration.
The Pemberton brothers wasted no time in stripping the old scaffold from the previous digging attempts giving us a healthy stash of tubes and fittings to make a start on the project once the necessary SSSI permissions and timbers have been acquired. The key will be to make the place big enough to get people in and out easily but more importantly to be able to get the many tonnes of rock out easily and, ideally, with a 3 person digging team.
We attempted a small trial dig to see how deep the mud was and determine how well packed the rocks were. As it turned out the mud layer was only on the surface rocks and they were pretty loosely packed so, apart from the inevitable engineering obstacles and the many tonnes of rocks that need moving, it should be a ‘relatively’ easy dig with the possibility of some major discoveries.
We tidied up the dig site, had one last look at what we were letting ourselves in for and started to head out to the Wanted Inn to finalise our plans for the next digging trip over a pint of Farmers Blonde.'
Since the above was first published on ukCaving.com a fair amount of work has been done on the project as other club members have posted.
Today with Paz Vale, Sam Pemberton and Bob Toogood of the Eldon Pothole Club (EPC) we dug out a fair amount of rock from the bottom of the boarded out shaft. An additional handrail height upper scaffolding ring was installed which will need boarding and a bolt has been installed above the shaft and has a lockable pulley installed. The EPC have a trip planned for this coming Tuesday and, as well as taking down scaffold tubes and fittings it is hoped they will be able to dig out the bottom of the shaft further. A BBPC trip is planned for this coming Thursday where we will hopefully get then next ring installed and fully stabilise the top of the shaft.