Waterways Swallet, Derbyshire - 13/11/2006

Written by RobEavis.

Report by Jules Barrett
I'd heard bits about recent extensions to Waterways Swallet over the last year but never been in it. I had a vague idea that a lot of new cave had been found by the Keyhole Caving Club and that there was a lot of scaffolding involved. As an Eldon member it's obligatory to get excited and rub your thighs about scaffolding. It was typical that when I asked around at an Eldon meeting nobody remarked on the size of the chambers or anything like that. Apparently the 'scaff work' was excellent though.

There's a sump at the bottom of Waterways and A Diver (this is CDG-speak I'm using) had taken two diving cylinders to the bottom of the cave about twelve months ago with the intention of diving the sump at the lowest point of the system. Since I owed The Diver a favour and quite fancied an easy jaunt into a new cave I offered to retrieve them. Col hadn't been down (or heard of) Waterways but since we now had a good reason to make the effort we planned a trip. Prior to the trip Andy Foster of the Keyhole Caving Club kindly fielded a few questions. I had a (typically vague) description from The Diver which talked about the cylinders being hidden under a pile of rocks in a choke near the bottom of a ladder. Armed with this limited information, a grid reference, an OS map and a copy of the survey we ventured south of Castleton.

The first thing I noticed on arriving at the parking was that the beautiful survey that I had downloaded from the Keyhole Caving Club's website only covered the extensions. We hoped that the route to the extensions was straightforward. We found the entrance with very little trouble and looked into a hole that had something of Stoney Middleton about it; being small, tight and hot. We climbed in and followed the obvious route steeply down dip to the small first chamber. A couple more climbs down and a scramble across a sloping bedding leads to more small climbs into the large Main Chamber. This is very impressive with a boulder floor and a few passages going off. An easy climb down leads to the Rift Passage (we learnt later) which leads to The Gallery where the Keyhole extensions begin. From here the route is down through a boulder choke of impressive proportions. The route is tight, pretty tortuous and mainly straight down. No connoiseur of underground scaffolding could fail to be impressed by the extent of the work that has gone in here but I did wonder how we were going to get the cylinders through. We followed the route down past The Doghouse and emerged at the top of a fixed ladder. After some discussion we decided that this must be Floodgate Pot and carried on down into larger passage which led to another choke. This section is fairly strenuous and leads to the top of another short pitch with a handline on it. By this stage I didn't fancy finding the cylinders but we continued hoping that we were in the wrong cave. All of a sudden, things started to look worryingly like The Diver's description. I looked down the first obvious hole and was dismayed to find a line reel. Below the line reel I could see the cylinders. Col tried to hide the anguish on his face as I passed them up to him. I spent a while carefully tying on some cord to use as a carrying handle and gave him a quick pep talk about carrying cylinders which majored on flying metal dust caps, embolisms and the results of dropping a cylinder of high pressure air down a pitch. I'd not had any experience of any of this but didn't think it would enhance our afternoon.

We set off up the handline carefully mauling the cylinders between us. They're not light and man-handling them vertically up through the choke was hard work. Whenever I'm carrying cylinders I'm haunted by the fact that each one contains roughly the same energy as 400g of high explosive. I pointed this out to Col whilst he had two of them between his legs and clambered over them. He said he'd bear that in mind and clambered carefully. We emerged struggling at the bottom of the metal ladder and climbed up that and into the next choke. Generally things went, Col climbs up - Jules passes up the bottles - Col places them above him in the boulder choke - Col realises that he now can't move anywhere so passes them back to Jules - Jules holds them whilst Col finds somewhere else for them - continue.... A fair bit of swearing got us up to the Main Chamber and we had a rest there and contemplated how much effort the diggers must have put in. We were happy with the progress that we were making but weren't exactly moving fast. The cave goes a bit more horizontal here and we slowly made our way out. We exited about three and a half hours after we entered and went for a cup of tea in Ashbourne.

Waterways Swallet is a very interesting cave. The steeply dipping beds remind me of Mendip and there aren't many caves in Derbyshire that gain depth so quickly. I didn't see much Stal but we weren't really looking for it; the chambers and boulder chokes are impressive. There are flooding issues to be aware of and I'd suggest that the boulder chokes need ALOT of care. Remember that it's an on-going dig. The Keyhole Caving Club know lots more about the place than I do. For information about the Keyhole Caving Club extensions to Waterways Swallet see: where you can find photographs and an up-to-date survey.