The First Miner’s Chamber by Steve Woods

Dow Cave: Mick Ellerton & Steve Woods (14th July & 8th August 2020). 

Dow Cave is a fab place for a mooch but there’s so much more to it than that. Both of us slightly rusty we’d accordingly decided on Dow with no particular plan. The walk to the entrance is always something familiarly special. Like an alpine meadow in miniature it was today full to the brim of the dales in mid summer. And as we made our way down the boulder slope out of the sun and into the cave I remember something else familiar. It’s always the same after an absence of caving. I always feel clumsy. Feet and arms take time to re-find their rhythm. Today it seemed to take longer.

We pretty much ambled through the cave with no particular plan beyond reaching Hobson’s or Dowbergill and then seeing where if anywhere the cave would take us. Soon at The Old Final Chamber we both marvelled at the huge boulder choke above and in front of us. Hobson’s it was!

Into the water and up through the choke I started to climb and looking back saw a way-on heading back above the way we’d just come in. I must have seen this before but couldn’t remember and certainly hadn’t looked before so I headed up. Shouting Mick below he followed, found an easier route, and shouted me in turn to follow. Heading up a decidedly dodgy boulder slope with little sign of footprints we were soon in a huge chamber, to the right and above a high aven and inlet, the floor showing clear signs of the collapse of the boulders perched high above. Marvelling at where we were, it was fairly clear we were now above The Old Final Chamber we’d been marvelling at far below.

We spent some time exploring and then headed out having secured shared fun; pleased with our find. As soon as I was back home I headed to our website to search for relevant trip reports and to Steve Warren’s website for full details of where we’d been.

Gary Rhodes’ report describes the dodgy slope in terms far better than I could ever hope:  ‘ up we went into this doom above our heads. Boulders as huge as cows, and not the soppy milky ones you normally see, no, really huge ones with horns! Boulders with clean scrape marks and bits missing. Mud soft and fresh, as no feet have passed this way! And the smell you get from freshly fallen rock so strong that it almost overpowered the one coming out of my suit! Up went and into this mess of chaos. Every foot forwards made a very earthly sound under our feet as things went tinkle, tinkle down below’.

From his website here’s Steve Warren’s description of how where we’d been was originally found: ‘In early June 1953 whilst trying to follow the stream at the end of the then known extremity of Dow Cave, John Hobson noted a draught through an inaccessible boulder ruckle. He returned on June 23 armed with “a friend, a bar and the adage ‘Where’s there’s a wind there’s a way”. After an hour or so of moving rocks he was able to squeeze up into a small chamber. John and his friend climbed some fifty feet to enter a lofty chamber with a waterfall descending from the highest point in the roof. “There were one or two old mine passages around the base of the aven”: this became known as the First Miners’ Chamber.’

Steve’ website is an unprecedented resource. A true marvel jam packed with so much stuff it was fair to say I spent quite some time when I got back reading and was even more keen to return and explore some more. Having dropped Steve an email, secured several more detailed gems of information, and promised to take a few photos, a plan was hatched. Fast forward a few weeks and with the cave a bit drier, we were soon in John Hobson’s choke again gingerly re-making our way up the aptly named ‘Moving Staircase’ – the very dodgy slope of rocks leading up to the chamber.

I’m a complete novice when it comes to cave photography. Having brought Em’s camera with me I did my best to capture what was in front of me now as Mick headed forwards up into the chamber to provide extra light. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with folks who’ve done this before – lots of popping flashbulbs as Debs took some amazing shots of me in a massive chamber we’d been taken to by the porters in Vietnam; concentration from Adam as he took similarly impressive photos again of me surrounded by cave pearls the size of bowling balls again in country in new cave; and more recently as Bill Nix similarly professionally took photos of me in Scanty. Being the subject however as I was quickly discovering is a world away from the technical end as lighting and capturing what was in front of me now was proving to be near impossible with my limited knowledge, skill and experience. Moving into the chamber itself I did my best taking more photos as we moved on to checkout the riser the object of the miners who’d originally access this bit of Dow.

Heading back down the staircase Mick traversed over to an almost hidden entrance he’d spotted last time which led into even more mine workings and a second riser. These were truly spectacular and one of the highlights of the trip. Here the walls are almost completely covered with pick marks. Stemples hold up all manner of everything above, a howling draught leading through the lot to who knows where.

We’d planned to explore much more of Dow on our previous trip and likewise on this so photo session over we headed back down into Hobson’s. Heading forward we spotted another way up and climbed up into what Steve told me afterwards was the Girvanella of Black inlet which Mick set off to free climb with me following. As I stood on a huge perfect square of black limestone that had peeled off somewhere and was stacked on top of several others like massive blocks of Duplo, above Mick progressed upwards. As he reached the top of where he’d decided was sensible and headed back down we explored several more leads before climbing back down and rejoining the way on and the stream in Depot Chamber.

We spent quite a bit more time exploring and climbing leads gradually making our way forwards until we ran out of both time and as all too often seems to happen in my case energy. Heading out a return trip was promised. In our final exploration Mick had found a section off the main streamway that seemed to go for quite some way. With Steve again post trip providing further details and this time prompting caution for the section in question, we will both be back sometime soon.

Ultimately where Dow offers a great evening trip and steady meander, the bits beyond Hobson’s promise so much more to find and explore, easily a full day of fun with many bits very few have been, seen or explored.  As Steve’s website promises there will always be plenty more to see and find and no doubt there will be definitely many more return trips for me to follow.

Photos – Steve Woods.

Checkout Steve Warren’s brilliant website for full details about Dow Cave, Surveys and so much more.