Caplecleugh High Level by Adele Ward

Return to Caplecleugh High Level: Leif Andrews , Ian Cummins, Elise Ward, Adele Ward (12 March 2017).


My daughters love of the underground world never held surprise. It seems the most natural thing in the world.  Watching Elise tick off school Caving trips with eagerness is sources of inspiration. Progressing from the Junior caving trips to the Seniors group, developing, exercising the delights of SRT,  has held fond observation.  Caves and Mines offer rich fodder to teenagers wanting to prove their Salt. Lessons to be practised  – the ability to demonstrate  an understanding of responsibilities for themselves and others. This isn’t report that Chronicles, we went, we saw – its about Mine exploration and the experiences retained. Its difficult to appreciate how foreboding Caplecleugh High Level ( CHL) is until a return is had. One lingers with flashbacks of the delights that await us.  The anticipation, and experience afforded by a first visit, blurs the edges of memory – It leaves a thumb print on me.

The formally travelled path to CHL thats has been encountered one time only adds to a confusion. This Sense of confusion is only satisfied by a return. This time the moment will be a savoured.

We have a new reveller – my daughter Elise.


Exactly one month ago coming  upon CHL, at that time not understanding the course to be taken. My friends previous explorations has been relied upon to navigate the march. Previous explorations held a tempting notion, that we might walk in the less travelled areas. Thinking about explorations by Roy Fellows. Imaginations run wild what must it be like to under take a solo visit to this world – a domain filled with, mud, dodgy looking pitches, times gone by and a bit more mud! What demands drove the original miners on? What resolve did the original explores hold Dare it be believed that we might hold similar gritty determination to forge new passages. 

Having been sucked into the arteries that lead to the heart of Caplecleugh a handful of times now.  Persistent questions fill my consciousness, would Caplecleugh feel familiar, would she let us find her hidden riddles would we keep those secrets. Why does Caplecleugh hold such an interest to me – no explanation, can be submitted. 

Weather conditions could not have been more stark in contrast to our last visit. Four weeks ago Nenthead Car had been blanketed in snow. Today bright a spring morning. The environment felt like it reflected my situation, then I was the newbie to CHL. Filled with curiosity of what lays ahead of me. We changed in a brisk manner, we sort the warmth the underground, protecting us from the wind and snow.


Silly snow selfies !


Today is different Spring was about to Spring into action. Deciding to bring my offspring three friends became four, so we are off.


To pin point exactly where about’s you are in the passages of Caplecleugh proves a difficult repose. Progressing at a good pace, through water following the incline. Easy sections mastered , lurking at the back of my mind are the Shale falls.  When the realisations hits these obstacles have already been entered. Its best to make myself physically smaller, emotionally stronger and mentally bigger. Looking around trying to find a point that might look familiar isn’t easy.  The problem is that this place is more akin to a river that changes course, moves boulders and carves new paths.  Capleclugh provides a new test, this visit offers something is different – there is no path. Staring at the blocks of shale, that now have closed a door to your proposed passage. Assessing the situation with my friends Ian looks determined. Suddenly the penny drops that Ian has an idea.


Upon hearing “I reckon I can sort this, if i just move this a little bit… guys there may be aloud bang, nothing to be worried about”. Turning to face Leif, we communicate primarily with a set of eye rolls, grimacers and gasps. Ian as promised, opens up the passage way. A reminder that mines are in a constant state of flux. Ian treats us to small opening that resembles a house or cards. Fascinated as to Ian’s demeanour of calm in situations like this, me and leif furiously throw looks at each other of ‘ what on earth is he doing”  Whilst casually Ian points out some interesting Fossil formations he has noted in the freshly fallen shale.


Ian suggested we pass the bags through to him. One by one very gingerly, our bags are conveyed. Travellers and bags are through relief washes over. Able to relax for a while however knowing here will be more times that will provide similar feelings.For now the area I loose sleep over is negotiated, and has let us continue.


As customary a quick check that everyone is feeling fine is offered. Asking Elise twice, second time she responds. She holds a look that makes me consider, if she has bitten off more than she can chew.


After the long stooping passages and crawls filled with mud, cooler water is welcomed.  Remembering to zip up my wetsuit when entering the deeper sections. We trundle to toilet box junction.

Its funny how Toilet Box Junction has become a picnic spot in my mind . Recalling memories of previous trips eating Pork pies, tale told and adventure had. Today what insights to myself will Archers rise hold this time. Should Archers Rise afford Elise insights into her self. Deliberations are held spending more time explaining to Elise that its always harder first time. Trying to share how mentally taxing  Caplecleugh is first time round to offer fortitude. .

Order of ascending Archers Rise is agreed. Leif will lead Elise up the tortuous sections. Leif bravely offers to haul the bags, this is keenly accept. Noting Elise reduced enthusiasm for being a Sherper.  I watch them disappear into grotty avenues.


Joining Lief and Elise  at the sub level window, Elise is progressing well. I am experiencing mixed emotions around this point it has to be noted. Its wrong to say my minds racing, cognitions can move fast yet be calm and considered, I appraise.  In my minds eye I can see Elise eagerly asking time and time again – when can I go to Caplecleugh. I puzzled if those ambitions are curtailed.

Archers Rise is a toothy section, don’t poke it, because it might bite back. Walls are supported with Calcite, laid down over decades. Leif and Elise lead off, using ascenders on ropes that are probably older than Elise.

Arriving with Ian, at Roy Fellows dig site. This seems vaguely familiar – a welcoming thought.  Rusted bars herald the gates to the next section.  Crawling elevates my temperature, mud returns with a vengeance, no longer bothering to try and wipe it off. The ability to continue to move forward is sharply focused.

We move to the next section, Leif and Elise are not there, bags hauled are reminders they have been.  Verbalising to Ian “ where the hell are they”! Ian reminds me of their enthusiasm and we head off to a dodgy looking crawl.

Moving through cold water, is a little harder. My new found enemy is the rope bag, curse you drenched ropes!

Ever present in my mind is, how Elise has coped with these challenges.  Catching up with Leif and Elise, at the etchings of Archers Rise,  Keen for another picnic moment – or at least a quickly scoffed double decker. We discuss progress to date, glad of my friends.  Excitement mounts – we are in the high level.

Forward motion is beginning to yield fatigue. This blurs the accuracy of memory.  Eventually the object of our mission is sighted the Shaft we have travelled to explore. Ian enthusiasm for undertaking DIY skills is keenly displayed. Glancing at Elise – she is cold. Its around this time – the penny dropped for Elise that all that she has endured, needs repeating, on the way back – this is no thru trip.

Ian nibble as ever outflanks the shaft, armed with a drill and expansions bolts.  Rope are placed, human devoeations made to prevent rope rub. Ian descends the shaft, breath held to hear his reports of what lay below. Looking at my daughter feeling she very precious, understanding her desire, i consider. 

Standing in cold water, has a creeping effect. Usually the first symptoms of being cold are my feet, moving around isn’t helping. No longer making requests of Elise, she is told to sit on the ledge, taking her out of the water. She is cold and spirits need to be lifted.

Ian’s request for Leif to form a human deviation for the rope, to prevent rope rub provides this. Ian pops his head back up the shaft smiling.  Myself and Leif wrestling the rope, are informed it wasn’t required.  Leif is excited to explore the shaft, but its set aside because party members are cold. Excitement is not my current thought.

This is when my friends are awesome, this is when my club mates are  awesome  – it doesn’t matter what was actually down that shaft. Leif, tells Ian, we should head back, our youngest traveller is cold. Standing around in CHL is never a done deal. Elise realises her thru trip isn’t a possibility, it is sucked up and dealt with.

Heading home is never as tricky as heading in. SRT kit is assembled and checked. Pre drilled routine means working though my mental check list as to responsibility.  We offer jokes to Elise, her kit is checked as she is tired. Ian heads down first, the usual order is i head down next.

Is this to be served now, wanting a tired Elise to be shepherded to easier sections, to  enjoy the rest of the trip. Exchanging my usual looks with Leif, this time words are added “ Do you want me to go next or Elise?”  I’m met with what i expected  to hear, i should head down next.  Happy that Elise is in safe hands, Archers Rise is waved a goodbye to.  Archers Rise has let us all safely exit.

Arriving at the final pitch sees me armed with camera, Elise’s thousand yard stare will be a source of much amusement. Elise retorts taking a picture of me – looking like ive been rolling around in a Mud Pit. 

Digital Camera
Its a muddy old place


Toilet box junctions is passed, we are heading out Spirits high. Words are offered to Elise – the Shale falls are always easier in reverse.

The time taken to travel out of Caplecleugh offers time for reflection. Dealing with sentiments internally, was it the right move to feed Elise curiosity with this little family outing? Risks were observed, however confidence in friends and Elise remains firm. Strides lengthen,  a breeze is felt.

Beginning to catch a note of fresh air is always a magic feeling.  Every moment enjoyed, we exit, now i can enjoy every second above ground a little more. Many times i have tried to describe the sensation of inner calm felt leaving the underground. The physical and mental exhaustion, calms the body.

The Miners Arms are a calling. All needing  a well deserved drink. No thousand yard stares is observed –  Elise’s eyes light up at the prospect of half a Cider. Times underground are recanted, Future plans laid down. Ian orders a pint of beer , which alters the structure of the universe.

Questions remain regarding Caplecleugh high level, the connections it may hold. Can we forge a new Trip?