Exploration Club, The Belfry,

, Priddy, Wells,

Editor: Dave Turner

Belfry Bulletin Index

Dave Irwin has compiled and produced an index for the BB up
to the end of 1987 (No. 442) and the Committee has decided that it should be
issued to all CURRENT Members.  I aim to
publish this in place of, or before, the next BB.






A Message From The Hut Warden

It’s good to be able to report a healthy period at the
Belfry which is being used by numerous members every weekend.  A problem in recent weeks has been
overcrowding and a shortage of bunks ­ there are only 22 places since the
alterations.  A booked group of guests
turned up recently to find all the bunks taken and a ‘hostile attitude’ from
the members present.  Of course it is our
hut but we should stop to think how we would feel after travelling 200 miles to
find our bookings worthless.  (And
remember – we could hardly afford to run the hut without guest fees).

Following this incident I caused a minor storm by suggesting
that booked guests should have priority over members – an emotive issue!  After a stormy debate with hut regulars we
reached a solution which should simplify things:-

1.                  The current limit of 12 for guest parties will
be reduced to 8.

2.                  The smaller bunkroom, having very seldom been
used as a women’s room, will become the guest room – where booked guests will
have priority.

3.                  The larger bunkroom will become the member’s
room ­ priority to members and member’s personal guests (one per member).

The new system will start from 1st March.  No doubt the final demise of the segregated
bunk room will cause howls of outrage from some quarters, if the feelings are
that strong we will have to review the idea at the AGM.


Andy Sparrow



As the B.E.C. has “adopted” St. Cuthberts it is
only too right that we actually do something positive to protect the place and
so, with this in mind, a dissertation, illustrated with photographs, has been
submitted to the “Eyecatcher Awards” which is the practical base of
the 1988 European Year of the Environment. They are offering prizes from £500 to £5000 and the subject can be on
any topic of conservation, from conserving a coppice to neutralizing the

‘s cess

I hope that a novel project like cleaning a swallet hole and
taping formations will tickle the judges’ fancy. Any monies that may be awarded
will be used to finish off St. Cuthbert’s (not in the biblical sense),
promoting the ‘Adopt-a-cave’ scheme, promoting cave conservation generally and
also educating cavers on the merits of not dumping carbide, toffee wrappers or
sweaty bang.  The dissertation sets out
the problems within the cave rubbish, dirty and damaged formations, carbide
etc., and the efforts taken to remedy them, including taping and cleaning,
education and supporting the ‘Adopt-a-cave’ scheme.  A number of photographs have been provided so
the judges can get some idea of what a cave looks like, plus photos of stals
“before” and “after” cleaning.

Progress in St. Cuthbert’s is slow but sure.  Over 175 assorted objects d’art have been
brought out – ranging from a six foot length of corrugated iron to (and I’m not
kidding) a cuddly toy.  Ten carbide dumps
have been found, the ‘nearest” in Mud Hall.  Some new taping has been done but there’s
still a bit to do, plus lots of cleaning with sponges and water.  Taping is hopefully being done sensibly and
not indiscriminately.   It is there to
make us think before crossing and is not intended as a Berlin Wall.  Photographers please remove muddy boots and
overalls before crossing.  Do not cross
if you have no valid reason for doing so.

“We do not crap in the place we eat or sleep, so why
crap in the place we play?”

In conjunction with the caving Secretary, Martin (Captain of
Industry) Grass is changing the lock, collating the list of leaders, issuing
new keys and generally sorting out access. This has been found necessary as the key system is being abused and we
need an up-dated leaders list.  Anyway
the lock is getting a bit manky and needs a change.



Agen, Agen & Agen: A Year Of Gothic.

It all began for me with an innocent ‘phone call from John
Hunt inviting me on a digging trip down Agen Allwedd – the dig was ‘draughting’
and reports from other BUSS members said that the passage looked ‘just like
Daren’.  Since a lift was going from
Birmingham, I took up the offer, squashed into a Ford Fiesta with Steve Tooms,
Rob Murgatroyd and Jim Arundale, and headed down to South Wales and a heavy
night in ‘The Brit.’.

10th Jan. 1987.  At
midday we finally got ’round to going underground – the four of us from Brum,
John Hunt; & some chap called John Stevens (‘Spanners’) ex-ULSA now with

.  After getting lost numerous times, we reached
Gothic Passage and commenced operations while Spanners went off to see what the
G.S.S. lads were up to at the other end of the passage.  After 15 minutes we’d opened up a low crawl
through roof collapse, and gained 70 feet of crawling to a dip in the roof and
more collapse.  One of the G.S.S. came
back to see how we were getting on, only to be a bit pissed of at our progress
when they had got nowhere in four trips to their dig.

Work continued until 6 pm, removing rocks and building a dry
stone wall with the spoil. We were just about to head out to the pub when
Spanners returned to inspect the dig.  We
decided to wait for him by the climb down to Southern Stream.  When he didn’t return we gradually drifted
back to find him excavating a tight upwardly sloping sandy crawl at the end of
the dig.

‘It opens out ahead,’ said Spanners, ‘I think that I might
be able to turn around.’  One by one, we
squirmed up into the passage beyond.  A
low, wide sandy passage stretched across the point of entry with a forty foot
high aven above us – we ran around in circles jumping for joy!  The eastern end was followed to another aven
before becoming blocked with sand (unknown to us, the G.S.S. were beyond
exploring 400 ft of virgin passage) the western end led to another large aven
and a pile of white calcite surrounded by a mud dam (‘The Snow Boat’).

Back at the point of break-through a low, wide crawl was
noted heading south.  This was followed
for over 800 feet underneath numerous small avens to a major roof
collapse.  A rift was seen nearby and
investigated until it became too tight (‘Absent Friends Rift’) and a team photo
taken.  Tired and excited, we headed out
to celebrate.

17th Jan.  A cast of
thousands descended upon Aggy through the snow and on down Southern
Stream.  Whilst the others were messing
around taping and surveying, Spanners and I sneaked off to the end of
‘Resurrection Passage’ (as the southerly route had been named) and had a go at
the end dig.  Using a crow bar and tape
slings we pulled out blocks until we could get through into the continuing low
passage.  70ft further on, I was stopped
by a loose crawl up over boulders, Spanners took the lead and we had company.

50 ft further on, the passage increased in size and we were
left standing in a ‘railway tunnel’ sized passage with phreatic arches and
selenite crystals growing in the rippled mud floor.  Stopping on a sand bank, the rest of the
party was summoned while we gazed longingly down the passage to a corner.

Re-united, we set off along a wide ledge beside a trench in
the floor.  At the corner, we turned
south across a rock bridge into the continuing route, dead straight, as far as
the eye could see.  After about 300 ft, a
boulder collapse was crawled over.  Just
beyond, the roof dropped to nearly meet the floor to form a ‘sand-swim’ until
finally becoming totally blocked.

Digging recommenced – it didn’t help not having a pull back
rope and the drag tray.  Most of the
party drifted away until we were left with Clive Gardener at the front and the
others lying in the dig kicking the empty bucket back to him.  Jim Smart and Gonzo saved the day by turning
up to help, muttering something about ‘Upper Hard Rock’, their assistance was
greatly appreciated and we dug through to a low crawl to a ‘final’ aven and
more sand fill.

14th Feb.  After
pulling out rocks from the side of the east-west passage ‘Synchronicity’ near
the start of Resurrection Passage, Henry Bennett and Spanners re-discovered
‘High Traverse Passage’.  First entered
in 1962 by climbing up from Lower Main Stream, the letters ‘C.S.S.’ were still
blacked in on the slab at the end which they crawled over.

14th Mar.  By poking
about in the dig by the Snow Boat, Rob gained a ‘low chamber’ with no airspace
heading off.  Since this dig was small,
muddy and tight, we resolved to abandon it forever.  Instead, we made our way to the end of
Resurrection Passage to continue shifting sand from the end.  On the way we managed to loose Jim, who got
sealed in an aven by falling rock.  Rob
extracted him safely and we learned that there was a bat skeleton at the top of
the aven.

Joined by Steve and some ULSA lads completing a ‘

Grand Circle
‘ via
the connection with High Traverse, digging progressed through solid fill until
we were able to dig up through boulders into a large echoing aven.  The passage continued beyond ‘Reverberation
Aven’ for a further 100ft before becoming totally filled with sand.

28th Mar.  Ian
Rollands climbs the Snow Boat aven and drops down the other side into a further
100 ft of passage.

8th Apr.  Mike Wright,
Simon Abbott and I climb up the Snow Boat aven on the ladder left there, remove
the ladder and use it to climb down into the continuation.  We are surprised to discover that we can see
the end of the low-level dig and soon made a route through.

24,-26 Apr.  Spanners
and I bivied at Reverberation for the whole weekend.  Our only find of the whole miserable trip was
to enter a 50 ft long, low, wide off of Lower Main Stream.  Since it was then Friday and finding a single
set off boot-prints, this was christened’ Friday’s Passage’ .

9th May.  John Hilton,
Simon, Spanners and I went down to Friday’s Passage via Main Stream, Bisa
etc.  The aven above the passage went
nowhere, but we extended it by 30 ft heading north.

16th May.  Tony Keefe
and I enter via Main Stream to meet up with Spanners at the bottom of Bisa near
5th choke.  An exposed climb up Quarry
corner and half an hour’s digging sees us into 150 ft of new stuff – ‘Quarry
Crawl’ (walking size actually) – ending close to Friday’s Passage.  Tony & I go out with Spanners to complete

Grand Circle

30th May.  Spanners
and I returned to the extension found beyond the Snow Boat.  At the end of the passage, the roof almost
met the mud floor, but the way on was still open.  After 8 hours solid digging, the route was
enlarged sufficiently to gain a small aven. A hole at the side of this aven was cleared to gain a very large
aven-cum-chamber with Chinese writing in calcite on the floor.  After the confines of the previous 200 ft
this seemed quite impressive; perhaps as much as 50 ft high, 20 ft wide and 60
it long.

Again, the end was blocked with a low arch filled with
mud.  Spanners climbed a up a small aven
at the end to enter a tight high-level tube ending at another aven down.  Unfortunately, this was less than 6 inches
wide, though stones rattled dawn for about 40 ft into the open passage
beyond.  At the time of writing, the low
level dig has progressed about 15 ft though almost solid mud and we think that
we may nearly be through.  The passage is
heading up into the blank space formed by the triangle of Southern. Stream,
Main Stream and Main Passage.)

3-5 Jul.  A campsite
is established at High Traverse.  On the
Saturday, Simon, Spanners and I visit Lost Passage found by the ULSA lads near
Bisa Passage.  A hair-raising rope
traverse high above Main Stream brings us into 150 it of stooping and
thrutching close to 5th choke.  Running
water can be heard ahead, and the passage may possibly bypass the choke.

Meanwhile, we have been actively digging at the end of
Resurrection Passage.  With over a 100 ft
pull back on the drag tray the dig is rapidly becoming too much.  Then, we encounter a boulder choke. This is
dug around, into, and finally we chisel our way up through.

30th Dec. The dig finally yields after nine month’s
effort.  Mike Green (GSS), Simon and
myself removed the last few rocks and we were through into 120ft of spacious
passage; there were even a few formations! Hot on our heels were Arthur Millet and Rob bringing the grade 5 survey
to the end.  A slope of calcited boulders
blocks the way on.

7-10 Jan. 1988 A three day camp for me.  On the 9th, Spanners and I have a go at the
offending boulder choke.  By following an
undercut in the wall we make good progress until the undercut runs out.  At this point, things become decidedly
dangerous; boulders keep dropping out of the roof and threaten to squash us!

At last we got through, emerging at the top of a 20 ft high
calcited ramp.  Beyond, the passage
turned sharp right, leaving the fault visible in the roof and heading due
south.  Turning the corner, we half
expected the passage to close up immediately. Instead, we saw one of the most impressive sights in Aggy – a passage 12
it wide, 6 ft high disappearing into the glom, bedecked with calcite formations
from roof and floor like the ‘Crown Jewels’ in Daren, only bigger and better.

After 300 ft, the roof dropped straight down into the sand
and we went back to camp to sleep before celebrating in the pub on Sunday

15th Jan.  A
photographic trip to the end of Resurrection Passage with Geoff Newton and
Spanners.  The offending boulder choke is
made less unstable and the pretties are recorded on film.  Deciding to make a start on the end dig, we
clear a trench down until the roof begins to level off.  A small hole in the side of the passage is
taking quite a draught, but impossible to enlarge.  Satisfied with our efforts, we head on out.

At Reverberation Aven, we meet Simon and Rob and I’m
persuaded to stay while Spanners and Geoff continue towards the surface.


On returning to the dig face, Simon inserts himself at the
sharp end while Rob and I clear spoil. Swinging the mattock to the left, Simon discovers that the roof rises
immediately under a flake and soon hits a large airspace.  After knocking down more sand, the way on is
quickly enlarged and we are into the continuing passage, the same size as
before.  Regrouping the other side of the
dig.  I spot footprints in our ‘virgin’
passage.  Virtually at a sprint, we rush
down the passage following the trail, 150 ft from our point of breakthrough the
route ends as the passage ends overlooking a large river flawing by from right
to left – MAYTIME!

This was totally unexpected; the diver’s survey was at least
1200 ft out.  Leaving Rob and Simon to
enlarge the tight dig, I hurried back to Reverberation Aven to collect the
camera – nobody would believe us unless we had photo’s.  Returning to the river, a ‘first wading’ shot
of Rob in the knee deep streamway was taken before we set off to Sump 4.  Just behind us was Sump 3, ahead the water
grew deep in places and we had to traverse on slippery ledges in order to keep
dry in our furry suits.  At last, at
midnight we reached the line reel at Sump 4 – an unsettling place.

More photo’s were taken on the way out.  We stopped to have a drink at the stream inlet
in Maytime before struggling back to High Traverse where we opened the bottle


that had been kept for the occasion. Something hot and filling was cooked, then we made our way out.

At 5 am we reached Whitewalls and wake the house up.  We celebrated all day; the conclusion of a
year’s digging, the beginning of another …

Duncan Price

Postscript: The following weekend, Spanners and Geoff had to
be rescued from Maytime, near Sump 4 after becoming trapped by flood water for
over 30 hours.


Tham Huai Klong Ngu – the Snake River System and

Kanchanaburi Province,

The string of rattling, third class coaches winds across the
creaking, decrepit looking, wooden trestle bridge, clinging precariously to the
limestone cliff, high above the Mae Nam Khwae Noi.  Below, on a great bend of the river,
houseboats of bamboo with palm thatch drift lazily down with the brown
current.  Dense tropical rain-forest
stretches away to the distant, surrealistic shapes of tall, karst towers.  The rhythmic clatter slows and deepens as the
train reaches the other branch of the river the Khwae Yai – and passes at walking
pace between the forty year old steel girders of the famous bridge.  We are travelling along the Burma-Siam
railway, built by POW’s and coolies during the Second World War, and are
crossing the Bridge on the River Kwai.

Seventy kilometres to the

North West
the waters of the eastern branch
of the Kwai are held back by the Sri Nakharin Dam, creating a sixty kilometre
long artificial lake, hemmed in by jungle clad hills.  Along the western branch much of the old
railway line has been torn up, and where the old road to
Burma used to cross mosquito infested
swamplands, Thai Electricity have erected a second dam, flooding another huge
area, including the road and the original town of

. A brand new road, a masterpiece of engineering built in spite of
torrential monsoon downpours, skirts the lake, twisting and climbing through
extraordinarily rugged limestone and lush forest, to reach the border with
Karenni and Mhong occupied
at Phra Chedi Sam Ong – the

two hundred and forty kilometres from the bridge.

In between the two lakes is a sixty kilometre wide plateau,
much of it limestone, lying at a height of around six hundred metres, with
several karst towers rising to eight hundred metres and more.  Last year a small French expedition mapped
several hundred metres of a huge cave which had previously been explored by
Germans working at a nearby lead mine. We knew nothing of the Germans, but we did have a map produced by the
French, and a few, flimsy details, including a mention of the mine.  The map was simple – it had a major series of
gorges, deep dolines and large towers marked on it (one with a name, albeit
incorrect) and it showed water, sinks, resurgences and karst windows (this last
is where subterranean water can be seen crossing the base of deep shafts).  The map had no other details – no roads, no
contours, not even a location.  John
Dunkley, the Aussie caver who instigated our visit to

, had
sketched in probable road locations onto an old map of the area but the site of
the cave was rather vague.  Perhaps
someone at the mine could tell us more.

John, Jane and I met up in Kanchanaburi, the town near the

.  The tourist office personnel were helpful:
half way up the eastern lake, on the western shore, a little national park has
been set up to cater for (rich) visitors to some waterfalls.  A public bus goes as far as the Sri Nakharin
Dam, and from there we seemed to have a choice: a fledgling tourist business
ran a boat up the lake to a hotel for the night, and then across the lake to
the national park, for which we could pay a small fortune; or we could hire a
pick-up for around eighteen pounds a day and attempt to reach the park, and
thence the mine, via a rough, dirt road to the west following the latter
route.  We opted to hitch instead.


Traffic was somewhat thin from the dam to the park.  Only four vehicles used that road all
day.  Fortunately we got a lift in each
one.  When a two seater Willy’s jeep came
by, with three people in it and the whole thing overflowing with provisions,
gallons of diesel and a tractor tyre, we could not expect any more than a
friendly wave, but this was

.  Somehow we got the three of us on too, plus
our huge packs.

The road was deeply rutted from recent rains – this was the
end of the dry season and parts of it were hair-raisingly steep.  Large areas of previously virgin jungle had
been recently burned and cleared, and poor farmers from the arid and infertile
north-east had moved in and were making a go at some ephemeral
agriculture.  The land lasts for two or
three years, during which time the nutrients are used up and the soil eroded.
The farmers have to move on and the jungle does not return.  It seemed that this road only existed for the

The national park ranger took good care of us, letting us
sleep in the park headquarters, providing us with an excellent, very cheap
meal, and lots of information. Unfortunately he knew of no caves. The park’s waterfalls descend steeply as a whole series of dramatic,
travertine cascades, and we thought it quite likely that the stream emerged
from a cave further up the edge of the plateau. However, after a perfunctory recce we contented ourselves with a wander
down the well trodden tourist path, and a swim in the deep, blue plunge-pools
under the cool, green canopy of the forest. That night we shared the park H.Q. with a million flying ants, beetles,
moths, roaches and mosquitoes, and two exceedingly fat, foot-long geckos who
were happy with only the largest and tastiest insects.

In the morning the Ranger drove us a short distance north,
and thence down to the lake shore. Between the white, sun-bleached stumps of drowned trees and the weedy,
gravel slopes of the shore was moored a large, steel ferry-boat.  So this was the route the lead mine trucks
used, and from here up to the mine is a fast well graded dirt road.  After another good meal, courtesy of the
ferry captain’s family, the first truck of the day was brought over from the
distant, eastern shore, and we climbed onto the back.  It was already full with equipment and stores
for a second mine, plus a couple of dozen laughing and joking locals.  The truck roared away up the stony, dusty
track, with us clinging precariously atop the piles of sacks and girders and
boxes of provisions, dodging the overhanging branches that tried to pluck us
from our perches.

Forty kilometres on we were dropped off at a junction where
the truck continued to Kletee Mine.  Our
destination, Song Toh Mine, lay just five kilometres away.  We sheltered from a rain shower and watched
the massive, isolated karst towers slowly disappear into the murk, then emerge
once more, washed and gleaming in the sun. The bigger towers can be a couple of hundred metres high, and quite
long, tending to take the form of humped ridges.  The old geological maps suggest that the
towers are of Permian or Triassic limestone, while Ordovician carbonates lie
beneath, as a plateau.  Although there is
a vast difference in the ages of the two rock types, stratigraphically they are
the same, and there is no reasonable explanation why the younger rocks should
have been formed into towers.  The walls
of many of the towers are steep, even overhanging in places, and generally vegetation
free, while the summits are a tangled mass of trees, creepers and roots
concealing viciously sharp spikes of stone. A few cave entrances are usually visible part way up the towers, but
often the longer caves are at the base of the hills, and are thoroughly hidden
by the thick undergrowth.  We observed
patches of mist, maybe from hidden holes in the forest, and pondered caverns

The rain died away and, after a short wander beside the
dripping forest and among smaller karst towers, and a lift in a pick up, we
reached the mine.  What a contrast: only
a few minutes down the track was thick green, barely penetrable jungle and
wild, jagged castles of stone; here, in the middle of the wilderness, was a
town of three thousand people, complete with street lights and suburban type
gardens, shop, hospital, offices, all the buildings and paraphernalia required
to run the most modern mine on mainland South East Asia, and it is not even on
the map!

The Germans who run the mine immediately made us very
welcome.  Dr. Gerdt Pedall, the geologist
for the company, was particularly interested. His hobby back home is exploring old mines, but there’s rather a dearth
of them here so, over a number of years, he has investigated many caves.  Several of these are of archaeological value,
being sites of ancient human habitation and containing remains of wooden
coffins (or, perhaps, water tanks) and potsherds.  However, his greatest caving achievement must
surely be the explorations of the
Snake River
and its associated caves.

Accommodation was provided for us at the mine and, over a
superb German supper and Kloster Bier by the litre, it was arranged that we
should visit

the following
day.  The evening was rounded off with
Mae Khong (Thai whisky).


The headwaters of the
Snake River
(Huai Khlong Ngu) drain in excess of two hundred square kilometres, and the
majority of the waters become a single river deeply incised into the older
limestones, flowing roughly southwards. Most of the significant ridges and valleys in this region trend just
east of south.  Two dolines to the east
may also drain into the
Snake River, although
the likely confluence is not yet known. The main river runs through a deep gorge, walled in by huge cliffs of
towering white stone reaching up to the base of a wide, shallow valley.  After several kilometres the canyon stops
abruptly as the waters vanish underground, to reappear briefly two and a half
kilometres further south at Swallow Cave.

Gerdt had sorted out a guide for us, laid on a four wheel
drive vehicle plus driver, and drawn us a remarkably detailed, accurate plan of
the entrance region of

and the other caves
down river. Initially we drove back to the Song Toh – Kletee junction (where we
had sheltered from the rain) and then headed up the Kletee road, still on a
good gravel surface which has to suffer the pounding of way-overloaded
ore-trucks, each carrying twenty two tons of washed and ground galena.  A kilometre to the north a track led into the
forest, eastwards, on sun-hardened red laterite mud.  This gradually deteriorated until we were
dodging trees, and bouncing over steepening ground with lumps of limestone
protruding wheel-jarringly out of the laterite, a kilometre further on.  From here we would have to walk.

Great clumps of bamboo, up to twenty five metres high,
towered overhead, and huge, multi-rooted trees swept up to support a vast
sunshade of dappled green foliage. Strange flutings of birds, seldom seen, echoed through the forest, and a
large squirrel raced nimbly away across the topmost branches.  A small, grey viper wriggled hastily out of
our path, while a silent moth, the colour of dead bamboo leaves, simply
disguised itself as another piece of forest litter.  Occasionally we glimpsed tall, but narrow
karst towers through gaps in the greenery, and to either side of us the ground
dropped away to tree-filled dolines, each inviting a more thorough

After little more than half an hour’s hot walking the valley
of the
Snake River appeared ahead and below
us.  We could view across miles of tree
tops a wide hollow with no sign of the canyon’ or river at the bottom.  The descent was steeper than it appeared,
starting with a clamber among rocks, and followed by a laterite slope, still slick
from yesterday’s rain.  Evidently elephants
come this way as we found their tracks, even on the steepest slopes.

Suddenly we dropped into a deep amphitheatre, carved from
the rock and linking to the gorge.  The
pungent odour of guano filled the air, and hundreds of swifts could be seen
circling and swooping, far above the canyon walls, which gleamed white in the
sunlight.  Passing through a short cave
along one wall of the gorge we emerged onto a wide, flat, sandy ledge on the
threshold of a vast portal.  The river,
knee-deep and twenty metres wide, filled the floor. From the ledges on either
side the cave walls rose straight up for sixty to eighty metres to support a
level roof bedraggled with massive stalactites. Above this there appeared to be very little solid rock between the cave
and the jungle.

A group of Thais were camped at the cave to collect guano by
the sackful, and then drag it, laboriously, up the hill to the road head, an
hour’s tough walk away.  At the moment
they were relaxing, fishing by that age-old method – a net across the river and
an ounce or two of bang upstream.  They
gazed at us, unspeaking, as we donned our ‘caving gear’.  The only equipment that John and the guide
had was CEAG acid cells supplied by the mine. Jane and I caved in T-shirts, shorts and lightweight walking boots.  We had helmets, stinkies (carbide gobblers
are not for lightweight trips), Petzl zooms and little Tekna-lites.  Additionally I carried a polythene wine bag
(empty, sad to say).  Blown up and
stuffed up my T-shirt this served as excellent flotation for me, a natural

Initially we all tried to stay dry.  After all, I was wearing a rucksack
containing an expensive camera.  Even
wading across the underground rivers in this region is not straightforward:
masses of organic debris accumulate on all the rock surfaces, and underwater
this becomes jelly-like and incredibly slippery.  After a couple of crossings and a very slimy
traverse above deep water, we had reached the end of the twilight zone, about
three hundred metres in.  I dumped my
sack among some stal and hoped that the Thai guano collectors were either
honest or afraid of the dark.  The next
section was most easily passed by swimming, crossing to a long bank of
stalagmited rock and big gours.  John
found an awkward but dry route along the opposite wall and our guide,
determined not to get wet above his waist, followed.  The next section was definitely for swimmers
only, and Jane checked it out as far as dry land.  John and the guide decided that they had seen
enough, so we two continued alone.

The passage remained wide and high, the roof often being
beyond the range of our lights.  After
frequent immersions the draught began to chill us, and we were glad to find
long, gravel banks where we could put on a bit of speed and get warm again.  Sometimes the river ran deep and swift in a
confined channel and we had some awkward climbs to negotiate in order to avoid
the waters and their dangerous currents. Occasionally it was deep water over the whole width of the passage and
we were forced to swim.  In one place the
river did its best to sweep me into a sump beneath an enormous fallen boulder
because I had been foolish enough to attempt a crossing in the wrong
place.  With awe and muttered expletives
we noted the flood debris – whole tree trunks and huge branches throughout,
jammed into crevices up to ten metres above our heads – and the wet season was
just beginning.

The wild life in the cave was particularly abundant.  We were constantly pestered by millions of
small, white flies which were attracted to the light of our carbide flames, and
died there like a steady waterfall in front of our noses.  So dense were they that it was difficult to
see through the cloud, and we would have been better off at times with hand
held torches.  The screaming swifts at
the entrance were replaced by various species of bats further in.  On the gravel banks we came across wetas,
crickets and long, brown millipedes, and among the rocks lurked centipedes and
scorpions.  The centipedes were about ten
centimetres long, with yellow and brown striped bodies and long, spidery legs.
Thankfully they scuttled into hiding as soon as our lights disturbed them.  Not so the scorpions, who sat tight, usually
right on a crucial handhold.  Pale white
fish swam in the pools and crayfish stalked along the bottom pretending to be
stones. It is highly likely that some of these creatures will be new to science
– of three fish collected in the north, one was the first found in

, and
one was a totally new species.  A
biological collection from caves in this area is bound to be worthwhile.


More than a kilometre into the cave two small inlets emerged
from loose boulders at floor level by one wall – perhaps these originate in the
large dolines to the north-east.  There was
no obvious passage here, and indeed we saw no passages leading off the main one
anywhere in the cave.  However, our
lights were not all that brilliant, so who knows?

There is little stal throughout the cave.  There is the stal bank near the start, already
mentioned, and part way in is a wall of deep, cup shaped gours, dry at present
but, no doubt, full in the wet season. Fifteen hundred metres in a tall, lonely stalagmite dominates the
passage, and beyond this the passage continues, big as before, with pebble
banks beside the meandering river, interspersed with sections of more
turbulent, deep water.  After two
kilometres there is a karst window, a sort of skylight where the cave has been
unroofed for a short distance, and thence it is but a few hundred yards to the
inflow entrance.

Having made our way back to the resurgence and joined the
others we set off down river to see where it sinks once again.  The waters meandered in deep pools or ran in
rapids over a coarse sand and gravel floor, with huge cliffs to one side.  We crossed over, balancing precariously on
the trunk of a fallen tree, and soon crossed back where there were
shallows.  After a couple of hundred
metres there were cliffs on both sides, the bedding clearly showing a gentle
dip to the south.  Flood waters had
scoured out big, elliptical scallops in the rock. 

was only just out of
sight behind us in, the trees, as we rounded a bend to see the next cave in the
system.  While we slipped and slithered
among the big boulders of the entrance rockfall our guide excelled himself,
dancing from rock to rock-and over the stream, first in flip-flops and then in
bare feet.  The river flowed fast and
deep between wide, sloping shelves and in a vadose canyon, so we stayed well
above it on the ledges.  As sunlight
appeared through a narrow karst window marking the far end of this cave we
reached an impressive array of deep, cup shaped gours, more massive and
extensive than those in Swallow Cave, like tiers of gigantic swallow’s
nests.  One of these made a superb,
pulpit-like stance from which to view the next cave entrance.

In the section down-river from


there are three such fragments of cave, interspersed by canyon, or unroofed
cave, and then the river flows underground yet again, now for the fifth
time.  It drops down a short waterfall
and appears to sump immediately.  This
has not yet been explored – these highly flood prone tropical systems are
safest explored upstream.  Some two
kilometres down-valley it resurges again, but the cave is quite different in
nature from those up-river.  The roof is
wide and low over deep water, and progress is entirely by swimming against the
strong current.  Gerdt explored this solo
on a previous occasion, reaching his own, psychological barrier after about
four hundred metres.  The cave was
observed to continue in the same fashion.

The map shows the river continuing southwards for a few more
kilometres, still entrenched within a deep valley or canyon, and then turning
abruptly to the east.  It seems to go
underground for the last time towards the end of its eastward course.  The map indicates at least one and a half
kilometres of cave, while the contours suggest that the resurgence would be
close to lake level at the head of a long, deep and narrow inlet of the

.  None of this has been explored, and the best
access to any possible cave here is clearly by boat across the lake, and then
up the inlet.  Hopefully the cave
entrance will be above the water.

There is to be a combined French-Australian expedition to
Snake River later on this year.  Although there seems to be little potential
for long cave in the region, there is certainly more passage to be found, and
it is quite likely that this will be via resurgences within the
Snake River canyon. The French have surveyed part of


– this needs completing and the other caves need mapping.  There is at least a couple of kilometres of
cave to be explored down-river.  There
are several dozen other sites already known, unrelated to the Snake, but close
by, and some of these are of archaeological significance.  Obviously there is much work to be done.

There can be no doubt at all that the area deserves the
status of a national park, and presenting a case for this would not be difficult.  However, the Thai vision of such set-ups is
that they are primarily to attract visitors, and must be altered and managed to
cater for this.  Here is a unique, wild
and dramatic, true karst landscape.  We
can only hope that the Thai authorities do not realize its tourist potential
before they come to understand the true meaning of conservation.

Graham Wilton-Jones 20
/ 6 / 1987



An Imaginary Tale

Author’s Note:  Ten years have now gone by since ‘Alfie’ was
dismissed as Editor of the B~B. at the 1977 A.G.M.  Amongst other things, he was accused of
making the club a laughing-stock by his choice of silly material for the
B.B.  Around Christmas time he often
wrote tales of an imaginary B.E.C., peopled by characters such as Pete Pushem,
Fred Ferret and others.  This article,
written by a suitably anonymous scribe in Alfie’s style, will give younger
readers some idea of the rubbish that they have been mercifully spared since
Alfie last set foot in the Belfry


It is an afternoon in late July on Mendip.  It is, in fact, the day on which summer has
decided to fall that year.  The sun is
shining from a cloudless sky, and the unaccustomed heat has cracked off a few
more wall tiles from the now rapidly disintegrating buildings of the

University of
Cave Studies
at Charterhouse-on-Mendip –
to give that dreadful place its full title. We eavesdrop on a conversation between Dave Dimwit and Mike Moron, two
undergraduates who have stayed up during the summer vacation in a vain attempt
to catch up with their studies.

 “It’s no use”,
Mike is saying. “I’ll never get my degree in spelaeology.  I just can’t understand what’s going

“It’s these new rules.” replies Dave.  “The Prof. has been made to increase the
academic standard, and he’s decided that some of us are actually going to be
failed.  It’s damned unfair.  When I came here, I understood that everybody
got a degree.”

“I can’t understand it either” says Mike with an
imbecilic grin. “How can they improve the standard if less of us get our

“It beats me.  But you
said that you had a problem with your work.”

“Yes. It’s the paper on lesser-known caves.  You know that we have to write up ten of
them?  Well, I put in my paper and the
Prof. says that eight of them can’t be found at all.  What I can’t understand is that they’re all
in the textbooks.”

Dave Dimwit scratches his head.  “Why can’t they be found?  They’ve all got entrances, haven’t

“I don’t know” mutters Mike. “I don’t know
anything.  All I do know is that I shan’t
get my degree.  It’s a bloody


In his study at the same university, Professor Peabrain is
equally puzzled.  He has been studying
the textbooks on Burrington Coombe.  He
has counted a total of 14 lost caves, mostly complete with detailed descriptions.  He seems to remember that when he was an
undergraduate there was only one.  In
desperation he takes his socks off and counts them again on fingers and toes.  There are still 14.  He lets what passes for his mind wander back
to the days when he obtained his doctorate in spelaeology by a masterly thesis
proving that all caves were located underground.  In those days, he muses, Mendip was not
cluttered up with caves that nobody could find any more.  He falls into a gentle doze.


It is now evening. Sitting in the bar of an old Mendip inn,
surrounded by invigorating tankards of beer are four young cavers.  Petelet, son of Pete Pushem is talking to
Fredlet, Fred Ferret’s eldest boy.

 “Did you manage to
swap the new volume of Mendip Underground into the library at

“No problem. It’s got 3 more lost caves of Cheddar, 5 new
chambers in Wookey and a huge extension to Alfie’s Hole.”

“What I don’t understand”, says Samlet, the son of Sam
Strangeways, “Is why you take all this trouble to photostat textbooks and
add imaginary caves to them.  What’s the
point of it all?”

“It all began,” says Petelet, “when my old man
found that squeezes were getting too tight for him.  It’s due to the Devenish Effect.”

“What’s that?”

“The Devenish Effect was discovered by a chap called
Luke Devenish.  He used to cave with one
of the other clubs.  He found that the
cross sectional area of cave passages gets smaller as time goes on.”

“It’s worse than that” adds Fredlet, “because the
volume of the cave stays the same, and so all the passages get longer as time
goes on.”

“That’s terrible!” says Samlet, taking a refreshing gulp of
beer. “What will happen in the end if all this goes on ?”

” Well”, replies Petelet, banging his empty pot
down in front of Samlet, who takes this delicate hint and goes up to the bar
for another round, ” If Ronlet hadn’t had an inspiration, and found a way
to overcome these effects, then all caves would eventually finish up with zero
cross section and infinite length.”

There is a lull in the conversation, while Samlet digests
this mind-boggling prospect.  Before he
can ask any more questions, Ronlet add a further factor. “You’ve forgotten
Balch’s Law.”

 “Ah, yes,” says
Petelet. “Another chap called Chris Falshaw discovered that the total volume of
all Mendip caves is a constant – which he called Balch’s Constant – and that
this is the sum of the volumes of all the caves known to Balch.  So, every time some new cave is discovered,
its volume has to be taken away from Balch’s Constant, which has the effect of
making all the other caves a bit smaller.”

Samlet thinks hard about this new idea.  He does not like it at all.  It seems to him that Balch’s Law is a much
more serious threat to the future of caving on Mendip than the Devenish Effect.  He says so.

 “Dead right~,”
says Petelet, “The Devenish Effect is a slow one, but Balch’s Law is a
right pig.”

“Didn’t you say,” says Samlet, grasping at the
only available straw, “that Ronlet had found a way round all these ghastly

“Yes, I have” says Ronlet. “but my throat’s
gone all dry.”

It seems to Samlet that it ought to be somebody else’s round
by now.  He says so.  This remark is treated by the others with the
contempt that it deserves.  Eventually,
Samlet gets the next round in.  He still
has a lot to learn – and not only about caves.

 “The solution to the
Balch’s Law problem is quite simple” says Ronlet, “once you recognise
that all caves are complex affairs.”

“Some of them are dead complicated?” suggests Samlet.

“No, not complicated. Complex.  Like complex numbers.
Caves have a real part and an imaginary part.”

“Eh?” says Samlet, nearly spilling his beer.

“Yes,” replies Ronlet, taking no notice of this
narrowly averted catastrophe.  After all,
it is not his beer that was nearly spilled. “You take the average dig for
example.  Now, the real part might only
be twenty or thirty feet long but in the diggers’ imagination the rest of the
cave goes right through to Wookey, taking in some vast


on the way.  It can be shown mathematically
that the average radius of the imaginary part of such a cave is an imaginary

“Well, I suppose it would be.” says Samlet.

“Exactly.  Call this
average radius ‘ir’ or ‘jr’ if you are an engineer.  So the average cross sectional area is

“Which is п(r)2” says Petelet, “and the
volume is – пr2-1, where ‘1’ is the total length of the imaginary bit.”

“So, when you subtract this volume from that of the existing
caves to keep Balch’s Constant intact” says Fredlet, “you subtract a
negative volume.”

“Which is,” Ronlet triumphantly concludes,” the
same as adding a positive volume, so the size of all caves goes up a bit.”

Samlet feels as if his brain has been put through a mincing
machine.  He is so confused that he buys
the next round without thinking.

“But why,” he eventually says,” do you have to do
all this business with the textbooks at Charterhouse?”

“Because,” replies. Petelet, “There are rules which
govern imaginary caves.  We soon found
that it didn’t work if we just sat down and imagined them.  Other people have to believe in them, for a

“So,” adds Ronlet, “we thought of all those idiots
at Charterhouse taking their damn silly degrees in spelaeology, and we reckoned
that they’d believe anything if they found it in a textbook.”.

” It’s not only them,” adds Fredlet, ” Some
old caver came in here the other night and kept us amused with tales about how
he helped Don Coase to survey some hole that Ronlet had thought up and which
has always been entirely imaginary.”

” But”, says Samlet, putting his finger on what he
considers to be the weak spot of the argument, “You still can’t beat the
Devenish Effect.”

“Oh, yes we can! ” says Ronlet, I couldn’t explain the
maths to you, not even if you bought me another pint, because you wouldn’t
understand it, but there is also a degree of time reversal.”

“Eh? Pull the other one – it’s got bells on!”

“Put it this way. Normally, you might go to some swallet or other likely spot and start to
dig.  Then you might find a cave.  Then you would survey it and write about
it.  Now, with the imaginary caves and
extensions, you write about them first and then people try to find them.  This time reversal makes the Devenish Effect
work backwards, and squeezes start to get bigger again.”

Samlet has the last word. “Sounds daft to me!”, he


It is now late at night. A small party of elderly cavers emerge triumphantly from
Cuthbert’s.  Pete Pushem in particular is
delighted with the trip.  “Did you
see,” he asks Fred Ferret, “how quickly I came up the entrance
rift!  I could swear the thing is wider
than it was last time.  I’ll tell that
mine that son of mine that his old man can still cave!  These youngsters think they know it

Actually, they do – for, unbeknown to these veteran cavers,
the young lads of the B.E.C. have everything firmly under control.

Yorkshire Police” /> 

Abandoned coffin baffles
Yorkshire Police.

From the Guardian Dec. 7th.

by Martin Wainwright

A new coffin found abandoned on a lonely stretch of moorland
in the central Pennines is baffling police and undertakers in

One theory is that it is an ingenious, though macabre, piece
of potholers’ equipment for ferrying excavated earth through narrow tunnels.

The varnished box, lined with pink plush and fitted with six
gilt handles was discovered by a farmer checking his sheep on the slopes of the
Ingleborough peak.  Inside, Mr David
Gardner found an Indian take­away meal, yards of computer tape, and a large
number of Co­op stamps.

The coffin had been dumped a third of a mile from the road
at Chapel le Dale.

“There wasn’t a body or any sign of one and the coffin
wasn’t from round here,” said a police spokesman at Ingleton.  “We checked with our local undertakers, but
they do a different style altogether.

Police inquiries have been extended to Co-ops at Blackburn,
Burnley, and
Bradford.  But the answer may lie closer to Ingleton,
according to Mr. Tom Farrer, who runs the Hill Inn at Chapel le dale.

 “We get all sorts
going on up here, especially when cavers are around.  Now this coffin were on the path to

.  Imagine if you were a caver digging out a new
passage, what would you find handy for getting out the rubble?  A coffin can slide along – nicely and it’s
got six handles.”

No cavers have yet claimed the coffin, which is taking up
most of the lost property cupboard at Ingleton police station.  But other happenings in the here, including
the discovery down potholes of a litter bin and a model dinosaur used to
advertise local show caves, lend weight to Mr Farrer’s opinion.

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registered in England and Wales as a co-operative society under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, registered no. 4934.