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Underground Eyam

by John Beck

In 1734 Dr Short, writing about Carlswark Cavern, said "by another of its grottoes it opens near Fowlow (Foolow)... passing quite under Eyam Church." The claim was almost certainly exaggerated, but his statement has inspired generations of cavers to search for the "master cave" that undoubtedly exists, and much of which must lie beneath Eyam.

Over hundreds of thousands of years, a complex network of caves has developed at several levels. Unfortunately for the explorer the higher caves, abandoned by their streams, are often filled with clay, sand, and gravel. By digging out blockages, cavers can still walk into passages and chambers which have never before been entered. A comment I always remember is "More people have been on the moon than have stood here." We were deep beneath the fields near Eyam! 

The largest cave, Carlswark Cavern, provides a popular caving trip for most of it is on one level and, until you stray off the beaten track, the passages are generally a decent size. It contains just over two miles of passages, but even here proper equipment is needed. Other caves involve a lot of crawling and squeezing, often in water and mud. Waterfall Swallet and Hungerhill Swallet, to the west of Eyam, where water that reappears at Stoney Middleton disappears underground, are both graded "super severe," and involve vertical descents, tight squeezes, awkward climbs, and large rushing streams in wet weather.

Occasionally a completely new hole is found, either by deliberate searching or, like the shaft under Eyam Square, by chance. They are eagerly examined wherever possible, and are often fascinating. There are still an awful lot of cave passages and old mine workings to find and explore.

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