As well as being the MD of Ginger Mats I have another passion and this is Caving and Mine Exploration. I have been doing it since 1992 when I was introduced to this sport/hobby when in Venture scouts.
I can still remember my first trip, it was a weekend in January and we were staying in the Mendip Hills. The Saturday involved doing 3 novice caves, in those days tracksuit bottoms, a sweatshirt, boiler suit and Petzl zoom on a builders helmet were the attire of the day. I remember feeling quite apprehensive as I entered the first cave and even by the third cave in the afternoon I still was not sure about this sport. On the Sunday we did a cave called Swindon’s Hole this had a stream running through it, a 20ft ladder to negotiate and a sump of about 2ft long to free dive. Still wearing the slightly damp cloths from the day before but with the addition of a bin bag between my boiler suit and sweatshirt, the cave was amazing nothing like the day before. Large passages with a stream, high avens, short climbs, it was great until we got the ladder the water cascaded over the pitch right on top of the ladder I got soaked… 1 hour later, cold and wet we reached the sump. A quick dive in some freezing cold water through a confined space just big enough for me to fit though and I was out the other side. 1 hour later we were back at the ladder now so cold I could not feel my hands, I climbed the ladder as fast as I could and 30 mins later the entrance was in front of me. Whilst we had been underground it had started to snow and was still snowing, we had to trek across the field to the changing barn and despite being almost hyper thermic I had had an excellent time.
I belong to a local club up here in Derbyshire, the Wirksworth Mines Research Group, who promote the exploration and preservation of local mines, of which the vast majority of which are old lead mines.
The group meets regularly on Sundays throughout the year, during the winter time is generally spent working on our own mine (Bage Mine), which we access by the 303’ deep Hard End Shaft, winching it directly from the mine cottage. During fairer weather, we travel around Derbyshire doing general mine exploration, safety surveys for local landowners mine shaft consolidation and mine capping, with the odd bit of caving thrown in for good measure.
I am also currently involved with a project sponsored by the BCRA at Speedwell Cavern, this is a Hydrology project overseen by Professor from Birmingham University. Both myself and a fellow caver, Nigel Ball, have installed two measuring devices within the Speedwell system, one at the main rising and the other at the whirlpool rising and a further device has been also installed downstream of the resurgence/rising from Peak Cavern.
The main idea of this research project is to try to understand the complexity of the main inlet sumps in Speedwell Cavern which exhibit both flow switching (the bulk of the flow sometimes entering via Main Rising and at other times via Whirlpool Rising) and ebbing and flowing with variable magnitude and frequency. We enter the system monthly to collect the data, this is done via the show cave/mine in the tourist boats and then past the tourist trip into the main stream way on foot sometimes chest deep in water.
I have caved all over the world, Australia, France, Lao to name a few, but mostly in Great Britain, I hold a local Cave and Mine Leaders Award Level 2 and am an Adviser and Assessor to the Scout Association. I train Scout leaders to become cave leaders and also take groups scouts on underground experiences, am also a member of the Derbyshire Scout Caving Team.
People often ask “Why do you do it?” and in the words of Jules Verne from Journey to the centre of the Earth “There is nothing more powerful than this attraction towards an abyss”.