Mongo Gill Present – Elaine, John G, Jason
This was the third attempt on Mongo Gill in the past year or so. The first time I’d been unable to whip up enough interest, and solo trips were frowned on by the publicity-conscious proprietors of Stump Cross on whose land it is. The second time was snowed off – and probably the entrance would have been under thick drifts even had it been possible to get there.
So, third-time lucky… I’d armed myself with a print-out from the excellent Braemoor website which turned out not to be strictly necessary, as Elaine’s guest was the author of the guide and knew the cave well. But he insisted on me leading, which was a little like taking a driving test!
Richard (the owner) supplied us with a hammer, which we’d need to persuade the lock to open after an unsuccessful attempt had been made to break into the cave recently. (It’s quite bewildering why someone would go to that much trouble to pirate the cave, but nowt so queer as folk…)
We first rigged Shockle shaft as Elaine planned to exit that way, then walked on a little further to North shaft, which we rigged in full. There’s a couple of bolts outside the concrete entrance to rig a Y-hang from and an in-situ cord to act as a deviation for a free hang. A drop of about 7m brings you to a ledge, with a rebelay for the final 4m which is optional as it’s not hard to climb. At this point, it’s wise to take off SRT gear as plenty of crawling follows, and it won’t be needed if returning via the same exit.
The route is well described by the guide and isn’t hard to find, although at one point I was tempted to take a left turn too early but even if John hadn’t corrected me, it only went to a blind pit, so it would soon have been obvious. The going is mainly crawling, interspersed with walking and stooping, and fairly level with nothing that could be described as ‘tight’. There are still many fine formations, including some nice helictites
although it’s clear there must have been many more originally. Apparently squaddies are sometimes sent through here on training exercises, which can’t help!
After about 30 minutes of this, a chamber called East Hade is reached. A low crawl follows through what might be a duck in wet weather, but was little more than a big puddle. This was either cool and refreshing, or horrendously unpleasant, depending on your point of view (really, you’d expect divers to be more water-tolerant!). After this, progress tends to be more upright and includes some mined sections with dry-stone walling held in place by blackened timbers over a hundred years old, which call for some caution. You can also see the remains of odd bits of mining equipment here and there.
We didn’t fully explore the lower reaches of the cave, but stopped near the point where the connection to Stump Cross is blocked by a collapse. Richard suggested later this collapse might have been encouraged by the previous (security-conscious) owner, but it’s fair to say it’s unstable anyway. Returning via a slightly different route, there is a greasy climb aided in part by an iron ladder. As Elaine was having difficulty reaching a handhold off the top of this, I ‘gallantly’ turned round to lend a hand. Having done so, I found my own grip failing so I slowly slid back down on top of her but pointing the other way. After a short but hilarious session of 3D Twister, we proceeded in a more orderly fashion.
Elaine took a short detour to reach the Shockle Shaft exit (the guide’s description of having to swim through liquid clay is exaggerated) and I followed John out. Despite his claim to be a pensioner, it was all I could do to keep up with him, and the duck was really quite welcome to cool off when it came. At this rate, it didn’t take too long to exit, and we got back in time for afternoon tea at the Stump Cross Café.
Although Mongo Gill is not a huge system, there’s plenty of interest and I didn’t feel I’d exhausted its possibilities at all. Even though it’s a long journey for those not fortunate enough to live in God’s own county, it would well repay the effort!