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Explore the Peak-Speedwell Cave System

Listed under Caves & Caving in North West England, United Kingdom.

  • Photo of Explore the Peak-Speedwell Cave System
  • Photo of Explore the Peak-Speedwell Cave System
Photo of Explore the Peak-Speedwell Cave System
Photo by ralphjohnson
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With more than 16 kilometres of passage the Peak Speedwell system is the longest in Derbyshire and with the current pace of exploration and digging is destined to be extended. There are currently four entrances, Peak Cavern and Speedwell Cavern are show caves but access is possible via Peak Cavern by contacting the TSG (Technical Speleological group). With the opening of James Hall Over Engine Mine and the sinking of a 50 metre shaft to connect with “Titan” , which at over 140 metres it is the deepest underground pitch in the UK, there are now two entrances accessible on Hurdlow above the Winnats Pass. Neither of these is for the faint hearted.

The most interesting expedition is a through trip from Titan to Peak Cavern. A 50m rope is adequate for the entrance pitch where a short passage leads to Titan. An 80 metre rope lands you on a large ledge, which is followed by a further drop needing a 60 m rope. The exit from the large chamber at the foot of the pitch is not obvious, the way on is through a questionable pile of large boulders which leads into “Far Sump Extension” which until the 1995 was the preserve of divers coming in through Far Sump in Peak Cavern. Easy going leads to a junction, where the right hand passage leads to Stemple Highway a tortuous and muddy route leading to the foot of JH Over Engine Mine. One can exit here via a series of vertical pitches, the most spectacular being the 65 m Leviathon Pitch but this requires a second team or a previous visit to rig this route.

From the foot of Leviathon an obvious climb down leads into the Speedwell Streamway at The Boulder Piles. Upstream leads to Cliff Cavern and Main Rising (divers are still exploring this and have so far reached a depth of over 70m). Heading downstream leads, after an interesting rope traverse across the Whirlpool, to a junction, straight ahead leads to Speedwell Cavern whereas turning right leads to the Lower Speedwell Streamway via the Bung. In wet weather the passage from the Boulder Piles to this point becomes impassable and The Bung can be exciting even in moderately high water conditions! A short distance beyond The Bung is a route up Block Hall leading to the spectacular White River Series. The climb of around 60m up Block Hall is normally rigged and, armed with a rope of 50m, it is possible to take a short cut to Peak Cavern missing out the unpleasantly muddy and flat out Colostomy Crawl by abseiling down The Ventilator.

A short distance beyond Block Hall the Short By-Pass avoids a sump in the main streamway and one soon lands at the foot of a fixed iron ladder leading up into Colostomy Crawl which itself leads via a tight squeeze close to the foot of Ventilator to the low squalid crawl known as The Trenches. Immediately after dropping down Fawlty Towers (fixed ladder) one is in the Peak Cavern part of the system. Turning right leads to Surprise View and the main Peak Cavern Streamway which is well worth a trip in its own right. A short distance after turning along Upper Gallery left one passes the entrance to the low Pickering’s crawl which terminates at Moss Chamber where Neil Moss sadly lost his life in 1959. Despite a lengthy rescue and a further attempt to recover his body his remains lie at the foot of a tight vertical tube in the wall of this chamber.

Continuing along Upper Gallery one passes the wet Mucky Ducks before entering the far reaches of the show cave. The next section of passage is no longer accessible to the public due to frequent flooding , which often reaches the roof, depositing copious amounts of mud on the floor of the passage. A short slippery walk leads to The Devil’s Staircase where one joins the end of the present show cave to the amazement of the fee-paying public.

A through trip can take up to 8 hours depending on the size and ability of the party, longer if unfamiliar with the route.

For a selection of the best places to stay in Derbyshire visit The Hotel Guru.

Written by  Ralph Johnson.

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