Saturday 16th April 2022 Sir Francis Level Gunnerside Gill
This was a special trip today as it was Pats birthday request and he had been wanting to go here since he was 7 and first got a copy of the Swaledale mines book and had walked past the level entrance from his grandparents caravan in Gunnerside.
Started the day out by picking pat up from Darlo and drove over the Stang into Gunnerside village where Chris and Adele were already prepped. We sorted bags to carry and set off to the entrance shaft much to walkers amusement and Pat provided them with a history lesson. We all kitted up at the top of the third air shaft, whilst everything of Pats rolled down the hill one by one toward the beck. Chris decided to check the second air shaft and soon appeared underneath us so we abseils down to join him and with the 4-gas meter beeping away we slipped into the waist deep water and set off along the mile walk to the engine room with the water levels ranging from ankle to nipple height.
I was on photo duties so i went in the engine room first before it got all steamed up, at this point the gas meter was bleeping away with 02 levels at 18% however i couldn’t feel any difference and nor could anyone else. We made Pat pose for multiple photos where he has the most happy face.
Then we went up the little steps to the winding room; i was surprised as to how big this chamber was with the wooden drum winder and the head gearing wheels suspended on enormous timbers.
Chris tells us that the one that is split and bowing wasn’t like that when he first visited and will soon fall down and be lost forever.
Back in the level Pat, Chris and i climbed over a collapse to see the spare winding wheels and gearing, then over another collapse where the O2 levels went down to 17% so they retreated back. I had went back to the engine room and met Adele and she said she was heading back as she was feeling the cold. I stood around for a bit on my own admiring until i saw the lights of Chris and Pat coming back, we had one last look around and commenced the walk back.
When we got up the air shaft , Adele had a caterpillar out for Pat however with the wind the candles were proving difficult to light. He settled with one and promptly blew it out and then served up a slice to everyone. We then got changed and more of Pats stuff rolled into the beck again ….
Walked back into the village and had a drink in the kings arms where Pat was presented with a pile of birthday books of which he was very chuffed. When i had got home Pat rang me and asked me to send him the photos from the day as to show his family as they were all impressed and excited that he had been down to see the engine room; very wholesome
First port of call (after attempting to stop at every motorway service station for a burger) was Zip World at Penrhyn Quarry, where its possible to reach over 100 mph flying over the flooded slate quarry.
The practice zip wire can be seen just above the lake, the full zip wire is 1.5km long and starts right at the top of the hill. Not cheap but well worth it !
A long days travel and zipping down wires was topped off nicely in the Brondanw Arms at Garreg.
Followed by a restful evening in the Clogwyn Mountaineering Club Hut
The next day we went somewhere that can’t really be shared on the internet, as such we tried our very best to look inconspicuous, with varying results.
The next day the group split into two for the legendary Croesor – Rhosydd Through-Trip (CRTT) with the SRT Ninjas driving up via Landrover to Croesor and the Rhosydd group approaching on foot from Tanygrisiau.
With it’s mix of zip wires, collapsed bridges and flooded chambers. It has become somewhat legendary in mine exploring and caving circles. The abseil into a canoe is somewhat unique !
Shortly after locating the Croesor – Rhosydd connection, the two group re-united, with the distinct advantage of already knowing the way out, although a few detours were made to see major artifacts such as the head of the 3/6 incline.
Shortly afterward we emerged into the Twll where rain and cloud swirled around in the vast openings, I had wondered about the name in the past and Google Translate now informs me it means “Hole” which is very fitting to be fair !
After locating the 5/9 incline we descended and inspected the remains of the horizontal sheave wheel (as well as having a lengthy stone skimming contest in the nearby flooded chamber)
An easy 677m walk along level 9 followed, much quicker than the eight years it took to drive, followed by a mandatory group photo.
Completion of the trip required a celebratory drink in the nearest pub, unfortunately those who came via Croesor didn’t have a change of clothes, so a pub visit in SRT gear was required.
The evening involved another extended session in the Brondanw Arms, followed by an extensive cheese board in the Clogwyn Hut
One final trip as the group exploded in a mess of poor navigation at Cae Coch sulphur mines, which left us smelling only marginally worse than normal.
Lead had been mined at Nenthead before the 1700s, but the first boom came with the London Lead Company in the 1750’s.
Their Quaker heritage meant a high standard of welfare for the time, with the company building shops, schools, a clock tower, a post office and cottages for the miners.
The London Lead Company gave up their leases in 1882 and were followed by a short unsuccessful spell under the control of the Nenthead and Tynedale Lead and Zinc Company until 1896.
Major modernization occurred around the turn of the 20th century when the Vielle Montagne Zinc Company of Belgium began to rework the old lead mines for zinc, with the company remaining in the area until around 1950.
Some minor attempts were made to carry on, but the glory days were over and the network of passages from over 250 years of mining activity are now a major attraction of mine and cave enthusiasts.
The only choice for Bogg Hall and Jenga’s new extensions. Warm when wet, immersed and moving – but offers little insulation and easily chilled when subsequently smoking fags and surveying. The wetsuits thick second skin provides significant protection from knocks and abrasion and allows a smooth, sleek profile. The latter is an advantage in a horizontal muddy squeeze, but in a vertical muddy chimney simply gives much needed amusement to others wearing Cordura. Wetsuits are often used by Wild Swimmers to great effect and the sleek profile is best observed in the likes of Elle Harrison and Professor Alice Roberts. Normal male cavers are advised to use a boiler suit (see below) to mitigate against the usual “when’s the baby due” jibes from female members.
New (and later old type) Meander.
Waterproof but “boil in the bag” so you can’t afford to get sweaty. Simply the only new fabric suit available if you value waterproofness over toughness. The seams are heat-sealed and are generally tougher than the fabric itself. PVC type suits are also generally easier to clean than textile ones. The big downside is a tear can now prove difficult to fix without stitching with fishing line and doing something to prevent the stitches tearing. The use of these modern eco friendly materials means a decent crotch tear could prove terminal if the user is shy.
ICI green acid suit.
Previously used by the bellwether of the UK economy and the company that brought you indestructible socks. The green suits are meant to protect you from chemical attack so anything found inside a cave (other than Ridley Scott’s Alien) is unlikely to be a problem. Stitched and heat sealed seams, waterproof and does not shrink. These are tough, vintage, and fixable with patches of all sorts of material from DIY shops. The acid suits; when available, are sized for ICI process operators – so are a slack fit on most cavers and not sweaty. While not as sexy as an AV they are manufactured from unobtainium, are made in England, ultra rare and highly desirable. Originally they came with a 1-year warranty that did not include caving and potholing. Used examples could be purchased for a few pence on an ICI scrap chit for those cavers who were not on first name terms with the gatehouse security man.
Petzl and TSA
As per the original Meander (or Troll) for those old enough to remember them. Seen as the Gucci version of the “boil in the bag” suits with the advantages of the AV in being sexy and the advantages of the Warmbac in being tough. Manufactured from defunct eco damaging materials that are fixable with easily available eco damaging solvent-based adhesives and assorted patches bought from DIY stores.
Rarity value pushes the prices up and they tend to be kept for Sunday best. Petzl’s and TSA’s do not come up on the market often and ownership can result in a non-invasive version of underground rape if used in the presence of others wearing Cordura.
The standard suit is tough but does not remain waterproof for long. It is also more flexible than the Warmbac Digger but has a zip as opposed to Velcro seal. The Digger is hugely tough, but again it does not retain its waterproofing. Essentially the Digger is Bomb Proof – but the big downside is the fabric is not supple and you can actually stand a suit up on its own after a month of use. The stiffness of the fabric develops over time and can prove to be irritating on trips longer than North York Moors classics.
Both standard and Digger suits shrink like buggery and need to be bought at least two sizes oversize, which is a major downside for Large People. Basically having to ask Ursula for an XXXXL special order could prove embarrassing. Many people do not believe the extreme shrinkage – hence the good 2nd hand availability of cheap used suits from individuals who think they have put on weight due to Covid lockdowns.
A very well cut Gucci level design and Very Sexy kit on the right person. Especially suitable for lady cavers as the female version shows off feminine curves very well. The arse is the weak point; eventually producing a large loose flap that rather negates the above advantages.
Waterproof for a while but eventually soaks in water, allowing the wearer to become damp. The AV Titan is very flexible, so if you are female and can do the splits – then this is the suit for you. Please be aware that Tony won’t sell Rachel one because she will definitely break it – unlike Warmbac Diggers, which she eventually breaks anyway.
Males owning AV’s have been miss-informed by sales people.
Commonly referred to as “Dry Grots” by anyone capable of remembering Debbie Harry singing Heart of Glass on Top of the Pops. Boiler suits are cheap, light, flexible, compact and easily washed. They form the staple outer clothing of mine explorers and are very breathable. The downside is they are not at all waterproof and once wet increase in weight dramatically. The strategic purchase of a suit with reflective stripes means that underground photographers will avoid oneself like the plague – which is a plus point. The superabundance of pockets is a significant bonus and they are often emblazoned with company logos so other users can tell where they have been stolen from.
Although the above items have their uses – Tweed is destined to make a comeback.
Jackets are available from charity shops and E-bay, but one must take care in choosing the correct fabric. Irish Tweeds such as Donegal Mist are high end, hand woven items but the cashmere, kid-mohair and wool blend is totally unsuitable for anything other than a club dinner.
The Harris Tweeds are available in many weights and come in assorted naturalised shades of colour. The browns and heather’s being more suited to caving than the grey’s which foreign language teachers or artists usually wear. The Scottish Border Twist’s represent the pinnacle of Tweed caving suits. These stylish jackets, made from three-ply thorn-proof & pure virgin wool are both stylish and tough. When accompanied with breeches and an orange bailing twine belt the outfit provides both ladies and gentlemen smart attire for both caving and post caving pub use – negating the need to get changed.
Tutman’s Hole feels incredibly remote, being about 3km from the nearest road or public footpath. The walk up Gildersdale is stunning, if a little tricky with multiple crossings of the river due to lack of footpath.
I have found the cave mentioned as early as 1818 in “The scientific tourist through England, Wales, & Scotland, Volume 2” which states “On Gildersdale fell is a cavity called Tutman–hole” and it was said to have been explored to about 1 mile by the mid-1800’s
I found references to the word “Tutmen” in connection with Cornish tin miners in the 1850s, so it seems likely to me that they may have named/explored it when the moved to this area to mine lead.
The cave was surveyed for YURT Journal 2 in 1969, then extended by DUSA in 1975 (which is recorded in MSG 8, both of these journals/surveys can be found on our website)
Much of the cave is a pleasant hands and knees crawl in fast flowing water, tide marks and scum at ceiling level suggest it would be a poor idea to visit on a rainy day. We were unable to pass the ducks on this occasion as the passage was completely sumped .
Before the first low section where you get properly wet, we noticed a large amount of graffiti, some dating back into the 1800s, although one that caught my eye was “Ellen Richardson, May 26 1921” It looks like it was written in pencil, but subsequent calcite now seals it into the walls.
A female explorer nearly 100 years ago without the benefit of neoprene was interesting, so some searches on Ancestry have turned up a 1901 census including an Ellen Richardson, a dressmaker living at Overwater, Nenthead. Her three brothers are all lead miners.
Looking at details in the book ‘Pennine Lead-Miner, Eric Richardson of Nenthead’, I believe that Ellen Richardson was his Aunt. On the 1911 census she is listed as ‘Ellen Kelly’ but already a widow at just 33, so it possible she reverted back to the family name later.
Why exactly she was in Tutmans hole in 1921, I guess we’ll never know, but perhaps the mining family were out prospecting as the Vielle Montagne Company were in big trouble back in Nenthead at that time.
The book it’s mentioned in is :- The Vale of Mowbray: a historical and topographical account of Thirsk and its neighbourhood by William Grainge, published in 1859
“Over Silton. In the precipitous cliffs, a short distance north-west of the village, called ‘the Scarrs,’ is a cave in the rock, known by the name of Hobthrush Hall, which was formerly the abode of a goblin of somewhat remarkable character, who appears by the stories yet current relating to him, to have been possessed of great agility, as he was in the habit of jumping from the hills above his dwelling to the top of Carlhow Hill, about half a mile distant. He was not of the malignant kind. . . . On the contrary he was one of those friendly to man. . . . The Silton goblin was a true and faithful servant to a person named Weighall, who kept the village inn, and rented the land on which his hall was situate. It was Hob’s invariable practice to churn the cream during the night, which was prepared for him the evening before, for which his reward was a large slice of bread and butter, always placed ready for him when the family retired to bed, and always gone in the morning. One night, the cream was put into the churn as usual, but no bread and butter placed beside it. Hob was so dis- gusted with this piece of base ingratitude, that he never came to churn more, and appears to have entirely left the neighbourhood. His dwelling yet remains, a rugged cave among the rocks, dark, wet, and uncomfortable, but extending a considerable distance underground.”
Today our own little Moldywarps Hobgoblin was dispatched to check the location and its still there 160 years after Grainge and 45 years after the last Moldywarp didn’t check !
An NYMCC member was recently able to purchase a number of vintage North Pennines caving slides . We believe we have been able to identify the majority as Fairy Holes in Weardale, but the identities of those pictured are still unknown.