Records of year-round snow surviving at Eldon Hole, Peak District
In the Derbyshire Peak District, situated at grid reference SK116809, there is a deep (60 metres) cleft in the ground called Eldon Hole. This pot-hole, long-dubbed the ‘fourth wonder of the Peake’ (Cotton 1683), is little-known, except to speleologists and locals. Entrance to the pot-hole cannot be achieved without the aid of specialist equipment, and as a consequence it is visited only rarely, even in summer.
With its entrance lying in a NW-SE alignment, and sitting at 420 metres above sea level, Eldon Hole is prone to collecting snow when winds blow in from a north-through-easterly direction. The nature of the pot-hole’s internal structure means that any snow blowing into its opening is relatively unimpeded until it hits the floor, resulting — given the right conditions — in very deep accumulations. Moreover, because the cave is enclosed, offering complete protection from solar radiation and strong winds, melting is reduced dramatically when snow gathers here. If the accumulations are large enough, the snow will significantly reduce the ambient temperature in the pot-hole through spring and summer through a process of radiation, thereby further slowing the melting process. This phenomenon is well-known to snow patch observers in Scotland, in locations such as on the north-east face of Ben Nevis.
Since 2010 I have produced an annual report, published in Weather, where the melt-dates of the last known snow patches in England and Wales are recorded. It was thought that the location of the final patch to melt in England varied between the Pennines, the Lake District, and the Cheviot hills. The dates, also, varied between April and June, depending on a number of factors, such as the previous winter’s precipitation total and spring average temperatures. However, recent research and subsequent discoveries have shown that both the locations and final dates of melting for some of the years 2010–2017 are incorrect.
New research showing evidence of year-round snow surviving at Eldon Hole
Two articles (Pill 1947, Anon. 1948) were unearthed during recent investigations into this feature, both of which give accounts of snow persisting right through the year in 1947 and 1948 as a result of the very snowy winter of 1946/47. In the former’s account, there is a description of the author visiting Eldon Hole in the last week of June 1947, and who was prevented from exploring its lower reaches by the presence of a ‘60/70 ft’ (18–21 metres) deep snow drift. It is clear from the latter’s account that not only did this deep snow endure to winter, but there was a sufficient quantity of it to enable persistence right through until August 1948. A caving party found that there was still some 15 feet (5 metres) of depth during a visit in this month. Cullingford (1953) reported that this snow, too, survived through to winter and beyond into 1949.
In 2013, I was contacted by caver Dale Gray, who had to abandon a trip to Eldon Hole during the first week in May that year because snow blocked the bottom cavern, and was still present on 4 July when he returned. This event was noted in Weather (Cameron 2013). Since that account, other evidence has come to light (personal communications with the author) from cavers. Firstly, deep snow was seen in June 2010 by S. Sharp, and the same drift — much diminished but still substantial — persisted in November, five months later. It is a reasonable inference that this snow endured to the first heavy falls of the season, which came only a few weeks thereafter. This is the only recent example we have in England where snow has almost certainly persisted from one winter to the next.
Specific research on long-lying patches of snow in England was, up until recently, very fragmented. Records were not kept systematically even for accessible and highly visible locations such as Helvellyn or Sca Fell, far less Eldon Hole. However, the excellent observations from 1947–1949 — with records of surviving snow through two calendar years — and from more recently in 2010, show that survival of snow at this location from one winter to the next during at least a few of the intervening years (1950–2009) was exceedingly likely. Therefore, any subsequent investigations into the longest-lying snow in England should include Eldon Hole, as it is probable that in some years snow will be found there when all else has melted.
Anon. (1948), Snow at Eldon Hole. Cave Science — Journal and Proceedings of the British Speleological Association. Vol 1 (6), p. 201.
Cameron I. 2013. Snow patches in England and Wales during spring 2013. Weather 68, 255.
Cotton, C. (1683). The Wonders of the Peake. J Wallis, London. (Accessed via Google Books.)
Cullingford, C. (1953). British Caving: An Introduction to Speleology. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Pill, A.L. (1947). Snow in Eldon Hole, Derbyshire. British Speleological Association Journal and Proceedings, Vol 1 (2), p.46.