Saturday 19th July 2014 - Olly King
Gentlewoman's – youd's
After our last failed attempt at finding the shaft for Gentlewoman's, Gary Bertola, Terry Stockton, Andrew Farrow and myself decided we would not fail on this visit. Armed with a more accurate NGR, we all met up in Matlock Bath to plan our trip.
We parked in the car park adjacent to Youd's exit, and then made our way up Mason hill above Matlock to find our way in to this elusive system.
The good news is that we soon found the shaft, and so we proceeded to send a rope down and without any delay descended the 30 or so meters to the bottom of a fairly narrow and undulating shaft!
Upon reaching the bottom, and being careful not to disturb the huge spiders (some of Britain's biggest, M menardi), along with their egg sacs hanging from the ceiling) found spread across the small chamber, I waited for the others to arrive ..
We would not need our kit from here on, assuming a route was found through the mine, so we tied everything to our rope and made our way forward.
We followed a passage round and soon found our way in to the main stope of Gentlewoman's Pipe. This is a part of the trip that I had been rather perplexed by, as descriptions vary, but one thing they all have in common is that there would be a lot of high exposed climbing at the end of the stope with little room for errors, so I was rather intrigued to know what we were letting ourselves in for!
When we got there, the best way I could describe this stope, was that of Swiss cheese really! The initially part was spacious, but it was clear to see it was not typical of what you might see in Derbyshire. The miners had clearly found pockets of mineral and removed on those rich veins, whilst leaving behind much of the host rock. This meant there were a few holes to squeeze, and a few possible ways on in some circumstances. One thing we did know, is that shortly following some bones, after a duck, we were to make our way up into the roof of the 'Swiss-cheesey' stope.
Our path was found (more like guessed) so up we went. There was much scrambling and the way on was awkward, whilst every effort was made to hold on to features within the rock you were also looking for your next step. Occasionally there was a short drop below our feet, but other times you got a nice clear view of the floor 30ft below with very little in the way of rock to hold on to. It was all easier than I had imagined though, and after a couple of wrong turns we realised we were on the right track!
One thing that is worth noting before I move on, was the 'Dog tooth' spar we encountered in this part of the mine. Never have I seen such large and impressive specimens, they were very impressive!
Our next stop was the bit I was waiting for, that being some graffiti left by the old man sometime in the 18th century.
A quick picture and we were off to the bit I was not waiting for, a nice tight squeeze through a very wet section. I had remained largely dry until this point, and so after some time attempting to enlarge the squeeze with supplied shovels and scrapers, I had to resign to the fact I was about to get rather wet!
We all scraped through this section and now we were mostly hands and knees crawling. The geology had changed at this point to what I think might have been Basalt, leaving the limestone behind, the environment was much looser and darker, gloomier than before.
We were now following the stream way in Old Jant mine and heading for the sough. A quick detour to have a look at an old jigging box used to wash the lead, and some further exploring, before heading for the sough and our way home..
The sough really is quite impressive. All hand picked and only enough rock removed to allow minimal access, things were fairly tight. While this made for a rather uncomfortable trip at times (bent double, twisting sideways) you could really appreciate the effort the miners went to to carve this passage out of the rock. I think it stands as being the longest 'coffin level' (named for its shape) in Derbyshire.
We were nearing the end now, and as we checked out some shafts and other features, a light ahead caught my attention!
Upon reaching the source, we found one of our colleagues setting up to dive one of the shafts within the sough. We had a chat, watched him disappear underwater, then made our way to the end.
The exit to Youd's is in itself quite interesting, as the lid opens up in to a public playground! As the weather was rather poor on this day we did not get any surprised onlookers, so we made our way to the car to get dressed, and then we could head back to Gentlewoman's to collect the gear.
A superb trip was had by all, one of my favourites to date. A really interesting mine both for its history and Geology. Andy described the place as “Bonkers” - I can find no word or term to better describe it myself, so Bonkers it is!