Reminiscences on taking-up climbing and caving in Derbyshire during the early 60’s and attempts at underground photography.
Bari (Mick) Logan
Having retired from my professional career in 2005 and taking the decision, on entering my 70th year in 2017, not to contribute further in the production of books on the subject of Human Anatomy, it was prime-time to de-clutter the study. A little way through the task, I came across a cardboard box in which, amongst other things, I discovered an envelope containing some old black and white negative films of my caving adventures back in the 1960’s.
Curious as too what the negatives would actual reveal, I had them printed and on seeing the images for the first time in over 50 years, memories of events came flooding back, hence the following short article which I hope readers will enjoy and perhaps also ‘jog’ a happy memory or two of days in Derbyshire.
Although born virtually in the heart of the City of Nottingham, on the edge of St Ann’s, from an early age I always enjoyed being in the countryside, a pleasure gifted by my parents.
They were both hard working during the week, father a gun-maker at the Royal Ordnance Factory, Wilford and mother a lace-finisher in her family’s long-standing business; but at least one day at the weekend would be dedicated to getting out into the open air of the countryside.
Excursions in all weathers were commonly to either the Trent Valley or Vale of Belvoir both regions made easily accessible by short affordable journeys on a Trent or Barton’s bus from the Broad Marsh Terminus.
Thus, I truly got ‘bitten by the bug’ as they say, for the outdoors and soon went on to develop a fascination and deep interest in natural history in general which remains with me today at the age of 71 years.
Following a basic but very sound education, failed GCSE’s and therefore no ‘O’ Level’s to speak of, I was at least well versed in the rudimentary essentials of English, Mathematics, Geometry, Science, Geography, Art, Music, Religious Studies, Technical Drawing, Wood-working, Metal-working and Sports.
Each subject taught with a very strict attentive strap and cane, definitely “no carrot” policy, during my miserable last four formative years at the notorious Huntingdon (Street) School for Boys (HUNTO) as it was colloquially known, offering bare minimum facilities for studies. It was a run-down ‘back street’ institution to say the least!
I started work in 1962 at the age of 15 like many of the post 2nd World War ‘baby boomers’ at the time and took the first job that I was lucky enough to be offered which was a parcel packer in the basement of James Snook’s Wholesale Warehouse in Houndsgate, for which I received the weekly wage of £2.17s.6d.
This seemed a fortune at the time being far in excess of the usual two shillings and sixpence weekly allowance from my parents which I supplemented with five shillings pay for Saturday work at the local greengrocer’s. I was eager to make best use of this healthy new income both in savings and spending. I decided with the latter to fund travel and use it to get out to places with a particular yearn for the Derbyshire hills and dales .
Derbyshire Walking Excursions
Through a workmate at Snook’s, I discovered that the X2, an express bus service, ran at regular daily intervals throughout the week between Nottingham and Manchester with a journey time of 3 ½ hours. The Huntingdon Street Bus Terminus was only a few streets away from where I lived.
The most important thing to note about this service was that the route from Nottingham took the bus through many key Derbyshire access locations such as Ambergate, Cromford, Matlock Bath (1 hour), Matlock, Darley Dale, Rowsley and Bakewell (1 ½ hours), Buxton (2 hours) and Chapel-en-le-Frith, with various other stops along the way.
I was eager to take up a challenge and following a hasty shopping trip to Flitterman’s Army Surplus Stores to purchase a pair of stout leather lace-up commando boots (with free tin of dubbing), woollen socks, dark green army trousers, a heavy duty canvas anorak and a small grey knapsack. So it was that early one Sunday morning at 07:00 armed with an O.S. map of Derbyshire, I joined the queue for the first X2 bus service to Manchester with the intention of alighting at Matlock Bath for a day’s walking around its environs.
I was quite surprised to find that two buses had been laid on for the journey and both almost full to capacity with well kitted-out ramblers, climbers with ropes bulging out the top of their large rucksacks and a few potholers with miners’ helmets dangling from theirs. Intermingled was a small group of what seemed like more normal everyday well-dressed people, some with mongrel dogs on leads and suitcases en-route for a holiday ‘Up-North’ no doubt.
The first of the ‘out-door folk’ to get off was a bunch of climbers at Cromford, where I was told by a knowledgeable rambler sitting aside me, they were heading for Black Rocks a well known gritstone rocky outcrop which was considered an ideal venue for a novice to learn basic climbing and roping techniques. This fact I duly made a note of.
Only a few ramblers got off the bus with me at Matlock Bath, obviously perhaps not the most popular place I thought, most others journeying on, especially the majority of climbers to Bakewell where I later discovered they would connect with a local Hulley’s of Chesterfield bus service to the village of Baslow. Then from there trek up to the gritstone edges of Froggatt, Curbar, Baslow, Gardom’s and Birchen for a goods days sport.
After a quick mug of hot tea at the nearby ‘Singing Kettle Cafe’, I set off. My day out went well and to plan, proving uneventful and most enjoyable it being merely a peaceful stroll to the top of Masson Hill above the ‘Bath’ and back down again through the woods in the direction of Cromford, eventually returning to my starting point for a late afternoon bus back to Nottingham.
Many of the people on the bus I recognised from boarding in the morning, they were now a bit damp, muddy dishevelled looking and tired from a long day out in the fresh air; but there was a distinct jovial atmosphere and much talk amongst the group about their days activities on which they were eager to share with passengers like myself, an obvious novice to the game whose gullible ears were therefore easy prey to their adventurous stories.
The youngest climbers and potholers told the best ‘tales’, which on reflection, could only be considered little more than a modicum of truth garbled in a boastful outburst of fantasy and fiction.
A few prime examples, “spent hours and hours climbing a rock face nearly used all me hundred pitons”, this was on Black Rocks!.... “it was an enormous cavern the size of Nottingham Council House”, referring to the Devonshire cavern, Matlock Bath !.... and of course the inevitable potholers ghost story about hearing or actually seeing “the olde man ( lead miner) or a big black dog” and having to flee the encounter for fear of their lives !
But, at least this light-hearted banter helped to shorten the journey home and certainly put a smile on one’s face.
Climbing and Caving ‘Tasters’
Considering my initial trip out to Derbyshire a success, more weekend day trips followed in rapid succession one of which was to Black Rocks near Cromford where I experienced some very basic (top-roped) climbing for the very first time at the knee trembling ‘dizzy’ height of all about 25/30 feet as I recall. This was done at the very kind invitation of a mixed group of friendly climbers who were students from Sheffield University Climbing Club. I greatly enjoyed the experience and very much wanted to do more.
On another occasion I arrived early at Cromford this time with the intention of doing a long round trip walk to Matlock Bath via the village of Bonsall and from there up and over the top of Masson Hill ‘Heights of Abraham’ then down into the ‘Bath’.
About a good two-thirds of the way, or more perhaps, down Masson Hill on a track, I encountered a group of potholers just above the ‘Bath’ outside a fairly large open tunnel entrance. I was both curious and interested and after a short conversation with them they invited me to take a quick look inside the tunnel for which one of them loaned me his helmet and carbide lamp.
I was told that this was a main tunnel entrance to part of the Speedwell Mine and it was an easy upright walk along a very muddy passageway for a relatively short distance before emerging into, what I considered to be at the time, an immense awesome cavern which had an intense and still unforgettable smell of damp limestone.
As with the previous climbing experience this initial, albeit very short, caving adventure was exciting and prompted me to consider taking up both of the sports because it seemed very logical that the two could or should go together
If done seriously and most importantly under expert guidance.
Over the ensuing months I joined several local Nottingham clubs contacts for which I made during my days out in Derbyshire and ‘cherry picked’ weekend activities of walking, climbing and caving between them in order to make best use of available time and gain as much experience as possible.
The Four Ways Club
was the first. They held regular weekly meetings in a room above a pub in Basford where they planned weekend events, they were a mixed very friendly group who were keen on rambling, cycling, climbing and caving, hence the ‘Four Ways’ of doing adventurous things although I should add, that cycling was definitely not on my agenda so therefore I did not participate in that particular discipline.
Activities with them were done very much as a large group and on one weekend day, so nothing was too difficult or challenging. For a novice this was ideal because they had some very experienced senior members who gave excellent guidance and instruction and thus provided me with a good initial learning curve in particular for climbing and caving.
The Meadow Boys Climbing Club
These were a very tough bunch under the leadership of Richard ‘Dick’ Bell who ran the climbing section in Blacks Outdoor Shop in Shakespeare Street.
They had a Derbyshire facility at Sunny Ford’s Farm at the far end, just above and on the outskirts of Baslow. It was a series of rooms above an out-house which provided basic sleeping bag on floor facilities for overnight stays. Importantly the farm was situated within easy walking distance of local gritstone edges, Gardom’s and Birchen being the nearest and therefore most popular.
Some of the clubs’ members were excellent climbers on grit, had good equipment and with them, under instruction, I managed some very difficult routes and learned the art of belaying, use of 1 inch Whitworth nut runners and the all-important initial task of how to judge height and work out a possible route up a rock face from the proposed base of the climb.
I also did some climbing with them on Wildcat Tor which was situated just across the river Derwent from Matlock Bath, between the Bath and the weir at Arkwright’s Mill at Cromford. The small edges that we attempted were probably 50 feet in height at the most, difficult and dangerous at times with lots of very loose material to deal with (gardening as you went) especially when leading a new route and not easy for the belayer below who not only had to pay careful attention to the climber on the ‘line’, but also keep a lookout for falling debris from above. This danger I know from bitter experience from once receiving two black eyes and a broken nose.
Once we bivouacked overnight in a small cave, the entrance of which was about 30 feet up in the cliff face and could only be reached by climbing, it had a large iron spike with a ring end which was driven into the rock face just above and to the left of the opening which was substantial enough to be used as a belay point or abseil from, the cave was almost directly opposite (across the river) from the old thermal bath (car park). A single tunnel within the cave went but a short
distance, but was spacious enough to accommodate four people. On another occasion we spent the night down by the weir on the open floor of the wood.
Limestone climbing became very popular in the early 60’s mainly instigated I think by the Nottingham Climbing Club whose members pioneered many of the major high difficult routes around the Matlock and Stoney Middleton areas.
Talks at the Meadows Club
Dick Bell was a very good organiser and throughout the year, as part of club fundraising, he would arrange a series of evening slide talks which were held in the club’s home base in the Meadows, an old Victorian building which had been converted into a local indoor sports facility. The talks took place in the main hall and were very popular amongst the Nottingham climbing fraternity and for a small entrance fee one was entertained by the likes of Joe Brown, Don Whillans and Doug Scott, to name but a few, who gave very inspiring and graphic accounts of their worldwide climbing and mountaineering exploits.
There was always a special raffle held at these events the main (only) prize for which would be a modern top-brand very expensive and therefore desirable item of climbing or camping equipment. As a result, ticket sales were always very substantial. Mysteriously however, over time attending the talks, I could not help but notice that on each occasion no one in the audience seemed to win the raffle other than a club member and close associate of Dick Bell.
I was told, on very good authority, some years later, that monies taken for the said raffle certainly helped to swell the clubs coffers and as for the prize, well, that was safely returned following day to shop stock being merely a loaned item on a promotional basis for the evenings event. What an enterprising knave Dick was, to say the least... Ha!Ha!
A Riot on the Amazon
One evening talk which springs to mind, although the exact date of it doesn’t, proved particularly entertaining and therefore I think worthy of mention.
This was a session with Don Whillans and advertised as ‘Expedition to an Unconquered Peak in Peru’. Whillans arrived at the venue, presented his slides to the projectionist and then took up his position at the front of the assembled throng aside the screen and armed with a long snooker cue for a pointer.
There was a very good turnout for the event and everyone anticipated the usual slick and amusing rhetoric from Whillans; however, what we actually got was not what we had expected and paid for!
He began by briefly saying that he and his three Scottish companions had made the long journey to Peru then after days of trekking eventually arrived at the base of the peak in not the best of weather conditions and which was rapidly deteriorating. As a consequence of this, rock and ice conditions proved treacherous and after only three days into the assault, the Scottish trio decided to abandon the attempt, or as Whillans more bluntly put it, they “Bottled Out”!
He then went on to say that in the circumstances he resorted to putting his ‘Plan B’ into action which for him was a balsa wood raft excursion down the upper regions of the Amazon River and this therefore was going to be the theme of the talk with slides for the rest of the evening. He duly proceeded with this to a rather stunned gathering who didn’t quite know what to make of it all.
Personally, I found the talk to be very interesting probably because of the natural history content, but that could not be said for majority of the audience who in their minds had paid good money and taken time and trouble to attend with the expectation of spending the evening hearing about climbing and mountaineering, so perhaps a small seed of deep discontent had been sown amongst a few.
Sure enough, this surfaced during the talk, about mid-way through I would say, when an incident took place between presenter and I suspect a couple of disgruntled paying members of the audience the result of which almost brought the house down and certainly showed the renowned rather dark side of Whillans’ temperament as a tough no-nonsense brawler.
The slides were individually and manually slid into the projector by the projectionist who was situated in a slightly elevated position at the rear of the hall, so some considerable distance from the speaker at the front. Indication for a slide change was given by the speaker and in Whillans case this was by a single loud rap of a large coin, which he held in his left hand, on the top of a table close by him.
Two young lads seated close to the front thought they would have a bit of fun with Whillans and when he was mid-flow explaining one of his slides, one of lads ‘coin rapped’ the side of his chair and thus accordingly on hearing this at the back of the room, the projectionist conformed and changed to the next slide. This was not of course the one actually required by the speaker at the time and thus put him momentarily out of his stride.
The audience noticed this and responded with a few muffled laughs and chuckles. Whillans also noticed but said and did nothing but just soldiered on. This act was repeated a second time with still no response from Whillans but greeted with much louder laughs and cackles from the audience.
Now, on the third occasion, Whillans sprang into action leaping over the heads of the first two startled rows of the audience who fled the scene toppling chairs as they went and in the clearing he then proceeded to beat the living daylights out of the two miscreants without mercy.
Well, the somewhat bemused crowd looking on, simply erupted, arising with whoops of delight and shouts of encouragement as almost total pandemonium broke out in the hall; the lights went up and the well-battered pair swiftly ejected through the front door and out into the street to seek a welcome refuge.
For this amazing act of castigation, Whillans received a prolonged standing ovation, the hall tidied, audience resumed their seats, lights went down and Whillans carried on with his talk as if nothing had ever happened, but visibly now holding only half of a broken snooker cue for a pointer.
The hall also had a rather unique facility, a climbing wall, constructed by the members with foot and hand holds fashioned from wooden blocks, jutting-out brick ends and with strategically placed metal bolt belay points. Also, the cross-bars of the ‘A’ frame roof supports were rigged with rope loops and dangling carabiners for practicing traversing techniques on the underside of overhangs. It was a great facility well used on evenings throughout the week and in fact only the third such climbing wall to be built in the UK so well ahead of its time in 1962.
The Jokers Pothole Club
Based in Clifton the club was run by a Clifton school-teacher Mick Smales and they had regular weekend meets essentially in Derbyshire and having a few senior members (other teachers) who often provided car transport, it made it possible to have day excursions to the likes of Lathkill Dale, Stoney Middleton and Castleton more easily. So thanks to them, I did manage to do a bit of serious caving.
Sadly however due to the departure from Clifton of Mick Smales, who was the inspirational driving force behind the club, the club rather quickly folded.
But for me, this was not entirely a disaster because within the club I had made some good friends one of which was Barry Saxton with whom I always ‘paired-up’ on caving trips because he was always very reliable and safe when tackling pitches and life-lining and I knew that he had a similar confidence in my ability.
As a consequence, Barry and I decided to strike-out and go caving on our own along with a few carefully selected friends with proven abilities for the sport, to this end we began to put together (share) as much basic equipment as our monies could afford which wasn’t such a major issue at the time because Barry had a decent job and I, at the age of 16, had taken on a five year trade apprenticeship in telecommunication engineering with the General Electric Company which paid a good salary.
Clothing and Equipment
High on my agenda of ‘needs list’, was a good quality tent, ideally three man plus kit and as sheer luck would have it, on a shopping trip to Black’s after enquiries I was offered at a much reduced price a top of the range Mountain Tent. This had been used on only two occasions for outdoor caravanning and camping shows and thus considered by the shop as being slightly soiled second-hand but in perfect condition, and at a bargain knock down price of only £30 complete with fly-sheet, it was an offer I just could not refuse.
Now, at the time this tent was considered possibly the best in design and component quality available on the market and being able to withstand the most punishing of weather conditions it was the primary choice of mountaineers and expeditions alike.
It was very easy to erect and had a sown-in 4” heavy duty groundsheet all round and combined with the fly-sheet proved both reasonably windproof and perfectly waterproof; it also had the colour advantage of ‘Bright Orange’ so would never get missed in a large campsite or on a distant hillside. It gave many years of good service and enabled us at last to spend long weekends in Derbyshire, leaving as early as we could on a Friday evening by the X2 bus and returning late Sunday afternoon.
We both had duck-down waterproof light-weight sleeping bags which could be ‘crammed’ into the smallest storage sack but we did not have roll-mats to sleep on. At the time these were not commercially available only inflatable ‘Li-Lo’ beds which were manufactured from rather thick rubber sheet and were therefore both heavy and bulky to pack into a rucksack so we ruled these out and just ‘kipped’ down on the tent floor, which just meant a more careful and thorough inspection for any stony ground prior to pitching the tent.
Cooking was done on my small brass paraffin Primus stove which snugly fitted into its transportation tin, was easy to assemble and very efficient in burning duration. When full of fuel (1/2 pint), it would run for ages before needing a refill. I still have this stove and in perfect working order after 50 years on from purchase. The stove was complemented with a ‘nest’ of three Bukta aluminium pans, (small, medium, large) with lids and separate handle to fit all, the lids doubled as small frying pans or dishes to eat from and with a little bit of food juggling at meal time one could quickly and easily put together a substantial three course meal from dry ration packs so we never went hungry.
FIG 1 – photo by Barry Saxton
Bari Logan and the newly acquired Blacks Mountain Tent pitched at White-Lea Farm, near Gautries Hole, Perryfoot, Castleton.
FIG 2 – photo by Bari Logan
Barry Saxton with fly-sheeted Blacks Mountain Tent and Bergan Rucksack, White-Lea Farm, near Gautries Hole, Perryfoot, Castleton.
For kit transportation, carrying, we used large metal framed “Bergans” which although heavy in themselves, were comfortable and could easily hold a 50/60 lb load. They also had the advantage of a waterproof extendible inner liner which could be drawn out and allow a sleeping bag with occupant to be inserted into it, Thus turning it into an ideal “bivvy bag.”
My personal choice for clothing was thick green corduroy trousers which were very hard wearing, cotton long sleeved shirts and a duck-down duvet style jacket which packed into a small bag and was good not only for the winter months but also the cold evenings during the rest of the year but not being waterproof on wet days over the top went a light-weight cagoule.
For hill walking and climbing on limestone, my choice was a pair of Italian made Scarpa Munari leather boots which gave excellent support to both ankle and foot. They were a very expensive buy but certainly proved themselves well and lasted for years. Specifically for gritstone, I had a pair of lightweight grey suede lace-up Austrian made ‘ Kletter’ shoes which had plain black rubber moulded soles that provided the most perfect grip when applying toe or forefoot pressure on the rock face and it is interesting to note that the basic design of these shoes has little changed today in 2018.
Clothing for caving at the beginning was most basic and pretty much standard wear at the time and comprised a non-waterproof blue boiler-suit underneath which one would wear ex-army long woollen underwear in order to try and retain as much warmth as one could particularly in very wet conditions. Eventually, when available and affordable we obtained RAF survival suits ‘Goon Suits’ as they were known, they were made of rather thin rubber somewhat cumbersome to wear and easily prone to damage (small tears) thus a boiler-suit over the top was still essential, but they did serve their purpose well in keeping most of the wet out and therefore made caving in severe conditions much more enjoyable. The real revolution in caving wear came in around the mid 60’s with the introduction of the tailored black neoprene tight fitting diving wet-suit. I had one made for the ‘princely’ sum of £25 by Paul Deakin of the Eldon Pothole Club who started quite a roaring trade in making them at that time on the farm where he lived with his parents near Burton-on-Trent. This type of suit had the added advantage of one being able to take up diving, but that is another story.
Head gear was invariably a black-fibre coal miner’s helmet which was easy to procure from a local pit stores and preferably the ‘shaft’ type which had a small brim around it and fitted with leather chin strap, later replaced with the latest bright yellow plastic safety helmets.
Initially underground lighting was provided by a helmet mounted ‘Premier’ brass carbide lamp which I personally continued to use for quite some time. These small but efficient lamps had two main parts, a large screw in lower container which held Calcium Carbide crystals and a lidded upper container which held water the flow of which into the lower container was controlled by a simple top lever that ran across a series of raised notches. The water (above) dripped onto the carbide (below) which immediately reacted by giving off highly inflammable acetylene gas, this passed upwards through a felt filter and out of a fine tube in the centre of the lamps reflector and when lit by the flint wheel situated to the inner side of the reflector or match, gave a naked flame light.
The main disadvantages of this otherwise reliable little lamp, was that it needed careful maintenance and replacement parts at times, the light could be easily extinguished by splashing water and that if underground for any length of time needed refilling, which required one to carry a long round tin of carbide into the cave.
Eventually, I replaced my carbide lamp as the main source of lighting for a very powerful twin beam coal miner’s headlamp and belt fitting battery side pack which had distinct advantages in quality and distance of lighting but also slight disadvantages when crawling in very tight places. Of course they needed a home charging unit and regular acid top-up maintenance, but if done, they ran for at least eight hours duration and proved extremely reliable.
Climbing ropes were very limited in choice the most popular being from the ‘Viking’ brand range of white twisted nylon and I obtained two 120 foot lengths of slightly different thickness as advised for use in both climbing and caving. After each time of use these were washed, dried and thoroughly inspected for any signs of ‘fraying’ especially if they had been used for gritstone climbing which had a ‘sandpaper’ effect on everything and in particular knuckles of the hands as anyone who has climbed on this rock surface will tell you.
We had a collection of carabiners mainly heavy screw-gate type made in the Austrian Tirol by Stubai and a few very lightweight spring-gate Italian made ones by Cassin. I put together a bag of 1 inch Whitworth nut runners, a simple procedure but the most important and laborious task was to ensure that all the sharp burrs were taken off the outer and inner surfaces of the nuts with a ‘rat tail’ file before threading with a length of suitable twisted strong nylon rope then forming a loop and finally finishing with a knotted tie-off. I also had a good assorted range of Stubai forged iron pitons and hooked hammer for driving and levering out.
I do not recall seeing climbing belts or harnesses commercially available until the late 60’s, therefore our ‘tie-on’ for climbing both rock and ladders, was done very much the traditional way with the end of the rope looped around the body just above the waist and lower third of chest, then tightly secured with a bowline knot finished off with a couple of overhand knots.
Barry managed to source two very good quality 30 foot electron ladders from a club that had folded. They had ‘C’ chain-link couplings and came with a couple of different length headers, also fitted with ‘C’ chain-link couplings. I suspect that these were originally purchased from the B.S.A. North Midlands Group who had begun manufacturing them in order to raise monies for the club funds, although it has to be said that they were somewhat limited and tardy in actual production. As a result, I think, they were solely relying on members to do the work at weekends instead of going caving so volunteers were rather thin on the ground or I should say above ground!
FIG 3 – photo by Barry Saxton
Bari Logan at the South end of a snow covered Eldon Hole, Peak Forest.
FIG 4 – photo by Barry Saxton
Bari Logan in traditional caving gear practising on the new ladders. Limestone crags, near Matlock.
Attempts at Photography
Barry and I had an interest in photography and made a joint decision that as a small project we would try our hands at getting some good quality pictures during our caving exploits convinced at the time that this would be a fairly easy and straightforward task to undertake.
However, after our initial rather disastrous and costly attempt, we soon realised that much careful thought on the project would be needed if we were to achieve even a small success.
I provided the bulk of the photographic kit which was very basic to say the least. I had a simple to operate Kodak 66 fold-out camera, a 10th (1957) birthday present, all the required focal, speed and aperture settings were manual and it took a single (wind-on) roll of 120 film which produced just 12 exposures of 2 ½ inch by 2 ½ inch negatives.
For flash photography, the camera had a ‘shoe’ type socket on the top into which snugly slotted a rotatable metal pillar surmounted with a large fold out silver metal circular fan which could be angled upwards. Two pin-hole sockets in the centre of the fans dish took push-fitting ‘one-shot’ small plastic light bulbs which we purchased in packs of 5 or 6 according to choice of make and were relatively cheap.
In order to get the equipment safely underground, the camera, flash-unit, rolls of film, packets of flash bulbs, cable release, heaps of drying cloths and lens wipes, were all tightly packed into a snap-lid ex-army ammunition tin which had been lined with a thick layer of foam rubber for extra protection.
We did use a tripod on occasions, but tripods in those days were limited in choice and only collapsed down from just two sliding sections to about 2’ 6” in height and were manufactured from rather cheap quality triangular shaped aluminium and as a result very prone to getting easily bent. As I recall, I think we got through at least three of them over a relatively short period and so decided to abandon their use.
The vast majority of our pictures were taken in black and white in order to keep costs down to a manageable level, not having the luxury of a home darkroom facility we had to rely on a Nottingham city centre photographic shop on Pelham Street to both develop film and produce prints which could prove quite costly.
Our first attempts were mainly surface shots of ladder descents/ascents being trips into short mine shafts and results proved fairly successful and therefore confidence building.
FIG 5 – photo by Barry Saxton
Bari Logan and Peter Warwick in small mine entrance
Slinter Wood, Via Gellia, Cromford.
FIG 6 – photo by Bari Logan
Barry Saxton in mine shaft
Slinter Wood, Via Gellia, Cromford.
From Cromford walking into the Via Gellia and close to the old watermill, one can turn sharp left between cottages and buildings for a short distance before making a right turn onto an old cart track situated behind the mills shallow holding ponds. This track continues at a steady gradient upwards and into Slinter Wood the floor of which in autumn/winter is thickly blanketed with leaves and in spring/summer Ramsons wild garlic which give off a very sweet and pungent but not unpleasant odour.
Leaving the track and continuing high above the wood one reaches a continuous series of limestone ‘bluffs’ or outcrops which go for some considerable distance and at the base of which may be located at intervals small entrances into passageways of old mine workings and just lower down within the wood itself, totally open mine shafts of well-constructed (stacked) appearance.
At the top of the limestone outcrops, which one could negotiate by skirting around them on steep narrow slippery paths (scrambles), you came out into undulating open meadow land dotted throughout which were posts and barbed wire fenced mine shafts. This rendered them unable to explore without the specific permission of the landowner to do so. Some of them were quite deep.
It was on the very edge of these meadows and close to the wood, that we would discreetly set-up camp for the weekend and from there conduct our explorations into the ‘short-drop’ mine shafts and cave entrances within the wood below.
We judged the depths of the shafts by laying a tree branch across the middle of the opening then lowered down a cord line which had been knotted at 3 foot intervals and weighted with a carabiner attached to the end. A ‘limp’ line indicated that ‘bottom’ had been reached, so the line was hauled up and knots counted.
In majority of cases we found that the shafts would abruptly terminate in ‘choking’ with a solid depth of leaves and branches accumulated over the many years and generally, the small cave entrances would run as a tunnel, about 5 feet in height, for short distances before ending. But several tunnels that we found did run and connect to the surface via shafts. One in particular I recall ran for quite a distance and we were able to achieve a through trip via a large open shaft about 30/40 feet deep.
FIG 7 – photo by Bari Logan
Barry Saxton and Peter Warwick rigging a mine shaft
Slinter Wood, Via Gellia, Cromford.
FIG 8 – photo by Bari Logan
Peter Warwick descending the mine shaft (Fig 7)
Slinter Wood, Via Gellia, Cromford.
The Unwanted Encounter
As far as wildlife was concerned, within the entrances, we often encountered spiders, toads and occasionally bats but as a rule just within the openings and no more than the first 25 to 30 feet within the ongoing tunnel. However, on one occasion something happened, which totally dulled our exuberance to carry on exploring these tantalising little entrances.
It was Ollie, I seem to think, a friend of Barry’s and a good all-round climber and caver who accompanied us on this particular notable trip. He was always very keen to try-out an entrance first being a devout believer that he alone would be the very first to discover the magical underground kingdom of immense caverns decorated with the most magnificent formations, endless lakes and rivers that went for miles, the sort of thing that all cavers dream about. Ollie certainly seemed to dream a lot at times.
On this particular morning, one of us had located a small entrance at the base of a cliff situated on a slightly raised platform, Ollie was summoned and without hesitation in he went head first. I reckon that he had wriggled and crawled in to about mid-thigh when suddenly there was a loud noise from within the entrance, well two actually. One was a low growling sound and the other Ollie screaming at the top of his voice.
To this very day, I don’t think I have ever witnessed anybody reversing at such an impressive high speed as Ollie achieved, truly a gold medal performance and on getting well clear of the entrance, he stood bolt upright, appeared very ashen faced, totally speechless and shaking like a leaf. He pointed at the entrance and as we looked on, there appeared just the face of a large badger which stood in total silence but gently swaying its head from side to side and just as quickly as the creature appeared, it disappeared back into the darkness of its den where presumably its daytime sleep had just been unwittingly and very rudely disturbed by Ollie’s insurgence.
Following this incident, which I suppose is understandable, Ollie was very reluctant to try his hand again at small entrance exploration despite all our encouragement and generous offers of a couple of free pints at the Pig O Lead pub with cheese and onion cobs in the evening thrown in, and as no other volunteers came forward, our excursions into such promising cavities thereby ended for good.
As for Ollie, he did eventually calm down and come to his senses and in the evening over a well-deserved pint, I did point out to him that the aforementioned incident had only caused him to be ‘Badgered’ but if however he had entered the little den ‘butt’ first, matters just might have turned out to have been of a very different serious and unsavoury matter.
FIG 9 – photo by Bari Logan
Barry Saxton in the ‘through trip’ mine shaft
Slinter Wood, Via Gellia, Cromford.
FIG 10 – photo by Bari Logan
Barry Saxton in the ‘through trip’ mine shaft
Slinter Wood, Via Gellia, Cromford.
We camped one weekend at White-Lea Farm, Perryfoot by courtesy of Mr Alan Vernons the farmer there who was a very good friend and champion of cavers particularly the B.S.A. He also supported the Derbyshire Cave Rescue Organisation and always turned out on rescues in the area whenever he could.
Unfortunately, our initial underground attempt at photography in Gautries Hole, Perryfoot, produced only one reasonable picture out of a roll of 12 exposures.
FIG 11 – photo by Barry Saxton
Bari Logan on ladder pitch into main chamber of Gautries Hole, Perryfoot, Castleton. Our 12th and best picture.
FIG 12 – photo by Bari Logan
Peter Warwick on a very wet 2nd ladder pitch,
Knotlow Cavern, Monyash.
This was a great disappointment, after spending hours underground paying very careful attention unpacking the equipment and ensuring that it was all kept dry and in particular mist free lens; then setting-up the shot which proved very difficult via the cameras crude viewfinder and only light from helmet mounted carbide and miners lamps to rely on for overall illumination.
After all the planning and care, all seemed to go very well at the time of actually pushing the button and taking the shots, at five or so locations in Gautries Hole, in succession, from just within the entrance stream passageway to the top of the main pitch. On having the film processed the resulting prints showed little more than a very ghostly apparition (the subject) within a sea of fog which was great if you were into recording paranormal activity but not good for the aspiring cave photographer.
Our confidence had been somewhat shattered to say the least!
FIG 13 – photo by Bari Logan
Peter Warwick in East Coffin Level
Knotlow Cavern, Monyash.
FIG 14 – photo by Bari Logan
Peter Warwick in East Coffin Level
Knotlow Cavern, Monyash.
After much thought and in consultation with experts at the photographic shop the conclusion reached was that the ‘white fog’ phenomenon was caused by the combination of using direct flash on the subject (damp caver) who was giving off very fine (miniscule) particles of water vapour (steam) totally undetectable to the naked eye, which is why all seemed well when looking through the viewfinder at the time just prior to taking the shot.
However, when the flash went off, the intense bright light from the bulb instantaneously illuminated these fine water particles and they in turn bounced the light straight back into the camera lens and thus recorded the white glare on film.
The suggested answer to the problem was to use indirect flash when taking the pictures. In other words simply aim the flash units dish at the ceiling, floor or to the side of the subject in the camera frame and the more acute the angle the better.
FIG 15 – photo by Bari Logan
Cluster of Cave Pearls
Carlswark Cavern, Stoney Middleton.
FIG 16 – photo by Bari Logan
Carlswark Cavern, Stoney Middleton.
So, with this new promising technical information which raised are hopes somewhat, we decided to make a couple more attempts, this time in Knotlow Cavern, camping for the weekend at Town End Farm, Monyash and also a weekend excursion to Carlswark Cavern, Stoney Middleton, camping in the woods on the Eyam road.
Pleased to say that on both occasions we attained a much improved degree of success as FIG 12 to FIG 18 should illustrate.
FIG 17 – photo by Bari Logan
Peter Warwick in Main Passageway
Carlswark Cavern, Stoney Middleton.
FIG 18 – photo by Bari Logan
Barry Saxton, Main Passageway
Carlswark Cavern, Stoney Middleton.
Ironically, the last picture (FIG 18) that I took of Barry in Carlswark Cavern and which incidentally I have always considered to be my best effort at underground photography using my little Kodak 66 camera, was the last I took of him.
Because, as time progressed and apprenticeship commitments increased in particular weekday and evening education sessions at technical college (homework); it became difficult for us to co-ordinate whole weekends or even day trips to Derbyshire despite our continued interest in caving.
Rather sad really, because we had had some great adventures together and with friends, learnt many new skills and gained much ability in climbing, caving, survival skills in camping and of course our little joint project on underground photography which proved fairly successful in the end.
Consequently, we eventually went our separate (caving) ways but did keep in touch for a long time until the late 1970’s when my wife and I uprooted and moved from Nottingham to London in order for me to seriously pursue and concentrate on my new career in medical education and therefore had little choice but to put climbing and caving in Derbyshire finally behind me.
Social Gathering Places
I do not think that I can end this short article without briefly mentioning the very good social side of Rambling, Climbing and Caving in Derbyshire which very much revolved around cafes and pubs or ‘watering holes’ as we used to call the latter. In these one could make new acquaintances, discuss experiences good and bad, learn about new ‘routes’ or caves and prospective trips, buy or sell equipment and occasionally ‘cadge’ a lift off someone.
There were cafes like ‘Dave Tighes’ at Cromford, ‘Singing Kettle’ at Matlock Bath, ‘Lovers Leap’ at Stoney Middleton, ‘Mrs Lancaster’s Tea Rooms’ at Castleton and one very good one the name of which eludes me, in Baslow.
Pubs all over the place and far too numerous to name them all, we all had our favourites and some were even semi-officially adopted by clubs. Every village even the smallest seemed to have at least one, if not more and on Friday and in particular Saturday evenings they would be full of locals and outdoor pursuits people enjoying themselves chatting over a couple of pints, playing darts, dominoes or cards and often to the accompaniment of live folk music which was very popular and very much the ‘scene’ in the early 60’s.
It was on one such social (folk singing) event organised by the ‘International Higglers Association’ in a Baslow pub, I think around late 1963, that I was introduced at the bar to a rather gruff and abrupt bearded character by the name of P. (Pete) B. Smith. In conversation with him, which wasn’t easy, I recall, when he discovered that I could climb and cave, but more importantly, I think, was an apprentice telecom’s engineer, he suggested that I should join the North Midlands Group of the British Speleological Association and in particular a newly formed small sub-group, of which he was a founding member, interested in undertaking caving projects many of which required a bit of specialist skill and technical knowledge.
He went on to say that he lived in Nottingham and was prepared (for petrol money) to offer lifts to and from Derbyshire where he also had a caravan situated on the outskirts of Castleton on a good site that also had camping facilities. This all sounded like the ‘move’ I had been looking for and a whole new challenge in caving so I decided to join there and then and I have to say that looking back on the subsequent few years that I spent with the group, I had some of the most daring and adventurous times of my life with this very intense and talented bunch of people, both above and below ground.
1964 – Both P8 ‘Jackpot’ and the New Oxlow Series were discovered by B.S.A. members and for months kept very secret in order to allow organised teams to explore, survey and in the case of P8 dive.
1965 – Heralded the formal foundation of the Technical Projects Unit with headquarters based in Castleton and affiliation to the Derbyshire Rescue Organisation.
1966 – The long awaited and predicted Oxlow/Giants connection was discovered.
1967 – January to June proved a rather tragic period for rescues; then August brought the Gouffre Berger Expedition to France.
And I was in on most of these events, a truly amazing period for caving, but the recounting of some of these adventurous stories I will have to save for another occasion.
Bari M (Mick) Logan
The author (aged 67) in 2014 still exploring places new, wandering above the Rhaetian Pass in the Sud Tirol Austria / Italy.