Present: Ben Wynn, Jack Sherlock, Ben Woodhead, Jonathan Lester
It was on a Saturday evening that Jack decided to do a trip to the Brewery Shaft in Rampgill Mine. The Nenthead Mines Conservation Society were contacted and agreed to allow us access to the top of the shaft, so on Wednesday afternoon Jack, Ben, Jono and I headed off to Nenthead to tackle the 100m monster.
On arrival we met with Andy and Martyn from the Nenthead Mines Conservation Society who took us to the hut at the top of the shaft and let us in. After they turned the lights on the scale of it became apparent to us. At 3.6m in diameter, the concrete lined shaft is a little wider than the tunnels tube trains travel through and it was so deep we couldn’t see the bottom for mist. The rusty pipes running all the way down and the incandescent lights hanging against the wall gave it an eerie abandoned feel, more like something you’d expect to see in a crumbling Soviet city than in a remote Pennine village.
Having volunteered to rig, I gingerly stepped out onto the metal grate covering the shaft and started tying a Y-hang, making sure to use only the newer club slings. When Andy pulled on his cave rescue jacket, I knew I was under expert supervision, so felt under extra pressure to rig it well. Due to the slightly overzealous rope cutting our club has sometimes been subject to, we were forced to rig the pitch with 3 ropes, so I had to rig the biggest, straightest pitch I’d ever seen with a rebelay 20m from the top and knot pass 10m from the bottom. Of all the ways to rig the brewery shaft I think ours was the worst.
The descent was the single scariest thing I’ve ever done. Travelling down an enormous concrete tube was entirely different to the pitches I’ve done in caves and the lighting made it impossible to forget about the incredible depth. On our stop descenders it was a real slog to get down, although nothing compared to the way back up.
Once I reached the bottom it was a fairly long wait for Ben and then Jack to descend, in which time I started getting pretty chilly thanks to the constant dripping of water coming down the shaft. With the three of us successfully down the deepest hole we’d ever seen we set off to explore the workings at the bottom. There were a few rooms full of amazing machinery and artefacts, including a large water wheel and a workshop complete with a large collection of tools. We’d been warned against straying too far, due to the risk of bad air, so after taking a few photos we sent Ben on the long trip back to the surface.
The trip back up took us between 20 and 30 minutes each. I won’t disclose who was slowest, but it wasn’t me! Jack was kind enough to undo the rebelay allowing us to haul the 120m or so of rope up from the top. With all of us and our rope out of the shaft we thanked Martyn and Andy and made our way home, happy in the knowledge that we’d finally completed a pitch more impressive than Bar Pot.– Ben Wynn (President)