Exploration Club, The Belfry,

, Priddy, Wells,

Editor: Ted Humphreys


This Belfry Bulletin is a month late due to circumstances
beyond my control but, strange to relate, for the first time I’ve got more
material to print than can be put into one BB. (The postage per copy goes up if there are more than about 23 pages).

I’ve got another article from Jim Smart, who is alive and
well and still in

which will be in the next BB.  Aso an
article from Jingles about his first (and last?) Daren Cilau trip, one from
Trebor about
Jamaica and one
from Steve about the LADS in


Talking about Daren Cilau, I had my first trip there in
mid-August, the “Caves of South Wales” guide book describes it as 5+
but this probably means a trip to Spade-Runner. The inside information is that the entrance crawl, though long, is not
difficult (just boring) and has only two bits that could be described as
squeezes (if you weigh less than 14 stones, you should have no problems!).  We went to see “The White Company”

Apocalypse Way

and it took us four hours, two hours in and out of the crawl, one and a half to
and from the formation and half an hour getting lost.  The “White Company” you must see,
I’ve never seen it’s equal.  Anyway, the
grading of a tourist trip in Daren is probably not more than VDC, if you’ve got
the stamina.  As far as gear is
concerned, wear knee and elbow pads!

Also in the next BB will be an appreciation of Roy Bennett
who, as most of you will already know, died after a skiing accident this
summer.  Joan asked that any donations
members wished to make be made to the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team.  These should be sent to Wig (Townsend
Cottage, Priddy) who will forward them. The BEC has donated £25.

Trebor has a new load of Bertie Bat enamel badges at £2 each
and J’Rat has some BEC T-shirts, the old design, which are for sale to club
members at Bat Products (J’Rat is selling them at no profit so if you’re not
quick they’ll all be gone!)

Alan Thomas has produced another book (he’s the editor)
called “The Last Adventure”. This is a collection of seven articles by cave divers from the ’30’s
onwards and makes fascinating reading. Each one describes the experiences of people who have gone to places
where no-one had gone before.  Copies can
be obtained from Alan at £10.50 (they’re hard cover with colour photographs).


Bits & Pieces

This bit was sent in by Trebor:-

J’Rat has decided to decline continuing with the library due
to Rat Product commitments.  Trebor has
taken over the job and will soon be attempting to re-classify all we’ve got,
try and retrieve missing books and tidy up the place generally.  Has anyone got any old, interesting photos of
the club house, characters, personalities etc. which they don’t want?  If so, I’ll stick them up on the walls in
frames for posterity, or at least put them in the scrapbook.  Members are asked to return all books as soon
as possible and book them out every time. We must keep the library intact. If you want a book permanently go and buy one.  Don’t pinch ours.  The Club has always prided itself on a good
library and we want to keep it that way.


An appeal from Bassett:-

At some time during the last two years I have mislaid three
nife cells.  They are in reasonable
condition, giving 8-9 hours of light each. They are labelled with my initials on the cell top clamps, Thus: – G W
J.  The numbers on the actual cell labels
are: – 560, 588 and LANCSFB L6.

I may have left them in someone’s car, at someone’s house or
in the Belfry.  I could have lent them to
someone or they could even have been stolen.

If you have acquired a couple of nifes and wonder whose they
are, please have a look – they could be mine.

Thanks, Bassett.


New Members

We seem to be doing well for new members this year!  Here are the details of the most recent
ones.  Please let me know if I’ve got
anything wrong!

1118     Carol Yvette White, Cheddar,
1119     Barry Hanks, North Cray,


1120     Alan Goodrich, North
1121     Nicholas Cornwell Smith, Oldland


1122     Clive Betts, Clapham,
1123     Ian Gregory, Clapham,
1124     Martin Gregory, Clapham,
1125     Richard Blake, Horsfield,


1126     Stephen Richard Redwood, Banwell,
Nr. Weston-super-Mare
1127     Bruce Jones, Northville, Bristol

1989 A.G.M. & Club Dinner

Another year has passed and the AGM is once again nearly
upon us; October 7th. 10.00 am. at the Belfry.

I do not intend to have a barrel at the meeting this year as
the meeting invariably generates into a fiasco afterwards.  By starting half an hour earlier we should
get done by the time the pubs open – if not, it will perhaps goad us into getting
on with some sensible, concise debate which is meaningful, useful and well
thought out.  None of this hurling abuse
back and forth across the floor, personal slander and general gobbing off.

The Newsletter Editor hopes to get the next BB out for the 7th
October to coincide with the AGM & Dinner so Committee Members are asked to
prepare their Annual Reports for that issue.

Election forms will arrive with the next BB or hopefully
well before the AGM if I can wangle free postage from work.

Committee Members Resigning.

Mike McDonald, Steve Milner
(and maybe, Snablet – Ed.)

The agenda will be on the normal format as in previous years
and a sheet will be given out on the day.

Please hand in any resolutions to me at any time or on the
day.  No resolutions have been received
at the time this BB issue goes to press.

Trebor  (Secretary )

Other items concerning the AGM & Dinner.  (Ed.)

The dinner is again at The Star Hotel in Wells.  There will be a choice of four starters
–  Soup, Melon, Egg Mayonnaise or Pate;
four main courses – Roast Turkey, Roast Leg of Lamb, Roast Topside of Beef or
Chicken Breast (with all the usual trimmings, of course) and a choice of sweets
to follow.  The committee decided that
the appropriate price per ticket should be £12, in order to recover costs and
overheads (we do have them!).  Tickets
will be available from Steve from the time this BB comes out.  Please try to buy your tickets in advance
otherwise you may not get in!  Ticket
sales will be closed after 30th September.

As you see from Trebor’s bit (above), it looks as though
we’re going to be a bit short on the committee. We therefore will need nominations, proposers and seconders at the
AGM.  If you think you can be useful –

The club has four trustees at the moment.  These are: Bobby Bagshaw, Les Peters, Alan
Thomas and Barry Wilton.

It seems that Bobby and Les may shortly request to resign
from their positions.  I’m not exactly
sure about the responsibilities of trustees except that they are legally
responsible for the club.  I may have got
the wrong end of the stick, so to speak, but if the above is true the AGM
should consider replacements.


Cave Leaders

Saint Cuthbert’s Leaders Update from Martin Grass

A few months ago the Saint Cuthbert’s lock was changed.   I wrote to all known leaders (the list had
been lost) asking them to supply me with an s.a.e. for a new key.  It was decided to do this as it was assumed
that those not asking for a new key were no longer interested in being
leaders.  The following list therefore
should be considered as the current Cuthbert’s leaders as they are the only
ones with access to the cave.






















Guest Leaders

John Beecham   M.C.G.

Alan Butcher     S.M.C.C.

Tony Knibbs      M.C.G.

Alison Moody    W.C.C

Tony Boycott     U.B.S.S.

Malcolm Cotter  M.C.G.

Ray Mansfield    U.B.S.S.

Graham Price    Cerberus

The only thing I have to add to this list is, has Wig

The leaders we have for other caves are as follows: –






Ogof Ffynnon Ddu I





Reservoir Hole




Martin Grass

Mike McDonald

Graham Wilton-Jones


Martin Grass

Mike Palmer

Richard Stevenson

Graham Wilton-Jones


Martin Grass

Graham Wilton-Jones


Jeremy Henley

Tim Large

Richard Stevenson



Dave Irwin

Brian Prewer

Greg Villis



Dave Irwin



Chris Smart



Trebor received this letter and has sent Joy the membership
list.  Presumably the girls she mentions
are Brenda Wilton and Joyce Franklin?

Erasmia 0023

South Africa


The Secretary, B.E.C.

Some years ago I used to be a member of the BEC, as well as
a regular caver.  However, I moved to

South Africa

and lost touch with everyone, and although I have made several efforts to get
in touch with old caving friends I have not had much luck.

As I will be coming to

again sometime during the
next 6-9 months I have decided to try once more to track these friends down as
I would really like to meet up again. This being the case, it occurred to me that there is a slight chance of
doing this through the BEC – especially if you still produce the magazine
“The Belfry”, – or any other publication you may now produce.  At the same time I would be very happy if you
could forward a copy to me – for old times sake.

I used to cave with Roger Stenner mainly but other names
were Gerald Neilson, Paul Morrell and two girls Joyce and Brenda (but I can’t
recall their surnames).  My name in those
days was Joy Steadman (Mem. No.570, Joined 1964 – Ed.).

Apart from making contact with any of them, I am also keen
to do some caving – so any help you can give me will be very much appreciated.


Joy Scovell (Mrs)


The BEC get Everywhere

by Chris Smart.

As many of you no doubt know by now, last year, two B.E.C.
members, Chris Smart and Graham Wilton-Jones, participated in the 1988 British
Speleological Expedition to South West Guizhou. (


is a province in South West China about 1000 kms NW of Hong Kong).  Hoping to escape the ravages of a British
winter and of Butcombe beer Blitz and Bassett joined the highly successful, and
at (all?) times, distinctly odd “independent”, Bob Lewis expedition
to An Lung County.  This is a closed
county (i.e. an area generally closed by the Chinese authorities to foreigners)
that Bob and three other members of the Severn Valley Caving Club had obtained
permission to visit on a reconnaissance a year or so previous to our

On his return Bob then set about organising a full scale
expedition and if the full story of the pre-expedition meetings is ever told
then a book will be needed to detail the intrigues, explain the voting
procedures and produce a full cast list (or should that be karst list?).  It would make a John Le Carre novel look
simple by comparison and suffice it to say that at times it seemed that the
list of the sixteen personnel was changing almost daily.

China abounds with an over abundance of limestone and it has
been estimated by the people that take delight in such statistics that there is
more limestone in China than in the whole of Bowery Corner, Wigmore and Welsh’s
Green put together – Oops that there is more limestone in

than in
the rest of the world put together.  It
is a very sobering experience to be travelling, on what constitutes a Chinese
express train, through an area of quite spectacular limestone as the sun sets
slowly in the west and to then wake up the following morning still looking out
at the by now monotonous limestone.  When
expedition members are heard to remark “Oh No, not more cone karst”
one begins to wonder about ones travelling companions.

The trains were an education into the Chinese way of
life.  I would not have thought it
possible for a train floor to change from being pristinely clean to being
totally lost under an inch thick layer of peanut shells and husks, sugar cane
bark, sweet wrappers, old newspapers, polystyrene food containers, discarded
chopsticks and spittle within seconds of the Chinese getting on to it.  They seem to be able to have the same effect
that a couple of barrels after the Hunters back at the Belfry have, but in an
infinitesimal fraction of the time.

Their spitting habit leaves nothing to the imagination and
people of a nervous disposition should stop reading at this point.  They will spend 30 or so seconds hawking and
clearing their throats before leaning forward, and with a sly grin, let the
spittle slowly dribble from the corner of their mouths onto the floor of the
railway carriage or bus or pavement etc. I saw one very near miss when two Chinese were both dribbling and
staring at us while cycling on a collision course towards each other
(unfortunately one of them realised in time). It is a very definite turnoff when ogling a piece of the local crumpet,
purely in the interests of science you understand, to see her lean forward and
seductively dribble a seemingly never ending stream of spittle onto the ground
only inches from your feet.

Transport within

is actually pretty good considering
the problems of terrain, third-world technology, and the fact that there are
over a billion people who are not going to spend their lives standing
still.  I do however subscribe to the
belief that it was a trifle unfair that the entire Chinese population should
always want to use the same train/bus/ferry/ticket office/toilet etc that I
wanted to and always at exactly the same time. It’s probably a good idea that I spent as long as I did in training
sessions at the bar of the Hunters.

There is a reasonable network of railways, most of the roads
are sealed, and the rivers are used by all manner of traffic.  Costings for internal travel are as cheap as
to be ridiculous, as is the internal airline. However tickets for this are a
little more difficult to obtain.  Few
travellers speak well of the airline and we were told the story that when a
stewardess was asked why no safety instructions are given she replied “Not
necessary, we crash, you die!!!”

I would however warn you that having obtained your ticket
then not only will the entire population of

accompany you on your
train/bus/ferry boat/aircraft but that they will be carrying all their worldly
goods and possessions with them.  I’m
told it’s somewhat odd to look under the seat of the bus to see what is causing
that odd wet sensation on the back of your leg and find a small pig happily
ensconced there.  Certainly I can vouch
for having travelled on a train in the company of several live chickens, a duck
and a little boy whose mother let him happily piss in the aisle next to my
rucksac – and I used to wonder why no one used to help me on with my rucksac
… then my best friend told me.

Enough of this local colour, I hear you say.  We’ve been to
town in
Soho. We’ve all seen The Last Emperor on video.  We’ve all had a Sweet and Sour from the Wells
takeaway.  What about the caverns
measureless to man?  Well, and this is
where the story really starts.

The first wave of our ten intrepid explorers (including
Blitz), nine good men and true and Sara (OVCC), a gynaecologist, left Gatwick
and flew to Hong Kong, pausing only to take advantage of the free booze
(Everything to Excess) provided on the excellent Cathay Pacific flight and for
a quick Rabies inoculation at the

stopover.  People may be interested to know that no body
took the slightest interest in Sara giving us the vaccinations on board the
plane and that the cabin crew were happy about disposing of the needles and
syringes afterwards.  We stocked up on a
few items in Hong Kong, attempted to shake off the jet lag and wondered how we
could have been so careless as to lose eight hours and set sail up the Pearl
River to
Guangzhou (or more commonly,
Canton) and our entry into the People’s Republic of


This was easily done and the Passport and Customs officials
expressed no surprise at the fact that we were all visiting China as tourists
or at the 28 items of tourist luggage, including a kilometre of rope, gas
cylinders, SRT bolts, life-jackets, wet suits and goodness knows what besides
that we were carrying between the 10 of us. We had arrived and Martin, another member of the Severn Valley Caving
Club, expressed our sentiments in a loud voice when he said “We’re here to do
the Business!!  We are the Business!!

A week later the expedition arrived at
a city about the size of
Bristol, the capital of


province and the location of the University that Bob Lewis had established
contact with.  It is easy to write now –
“A week later the expedition arrived at

” but that simple phrase glosses
over so many hassles.  In that week we
had split into two separate groups, travelled by widely different routes and
modes of transport, discovered Chinese alcohol, got drunk, regained consciousness,
rejoined the human race, discovered Chinese food with such culinary delights on
the menu as “A sort of fish”, “Goose intestines in a special
sauce”, and “Web and Wing”, discovered one member of the
expedition didn’t know how to use chopsticks and more alarmingly didn’t like
Chinese food, discovered Chinese fireworks (nothing pretty just a big bang –
now who did I hear that about?) and had nearly been arrested for
smuggling!!  Quite a week and the
smuggling was a mistake, honest your honour. How were we to know that it was an offence to transport camping gas
cylinders by train?



it was just a short 12 hour bus ride to An Lung.  I was the coldest I think I’ve ever been in
that bus with windows that wouldn’t shut and with the temperature just above
freezing outside.  Sara gave a couple of
us a cuddle at one of the roadside stops but Bob told her off – we don’t want
to upset the natives, do we?  A 2 hour
truck ride the next day and we had reached Do Shan, the end of the road, our
nearest village and only a two hour walk from our caving area.  The next day we arranged porters at the
princely sum of 50 pence a day and the set off into the unknown, our hearts
beating proudly in our chests and our bowels well modesty prevents me from
telling you about that.

Bassett had similar problems with transportation when he
arrived a month later.  He took fifteen
days to reach the caving area near Do Shan. Although six of those days were spent waiting in

for the other members of the second
part of the expedition.  As he says …
“On day two I was within five miles of the rest of the expedition, which
had already been in the field for a month. Unfortunately that was thirty thousand feet up in a 747, and the next
stop was
Hong Kong.”  Honestly, don’t some people moan, just bad
planning that’s what I’d call it.

When you finally get there, An Lung County is a magnificent
area with cone karst and open inviting cave entrances where ever you looked for
as far as the eye can see.  The area is
very primitive and from what I have read appears to have changed very little in
centuries.  At one house built into a
cave entrance we were offered bowls of hot water to drink, the owner being to
poor to afford tea.

Over the next two months all the usual superlatives, ego it
must be the deepest, longest, biggest, widest, highest, tallest etc. were heard
to issue forth as the usual countless virgin caves were explored and surveyed.

The major find, Ban Dong, which was connected to another two
cave systems Chu Yan Dong and Xi Nu is potentially the longest cave in

with over 17 km. of passages surveyed so far, many passages looked at but not
surveyed, and several going leads.  There
are, for example, another two caves both over 5 kms in length just awaiting
connection.  Included in the system are a
sloping chamber over 300 metres long and more than 200 metres wide which was
surveyed at 1.6 km in circumference, a 200 metre pitch, a collapse doline 400
metres across with 270 metre deep, overhanging walls and an entrance passage
that contained a bank of clouds from wall to wall that forced us to stoop
underneath it in order to see where we were going.  Mike (SVCC) carne in for some gentle leg
pulling after an episode where he managed to do a 180 degree turn on his way in
through the entrance passage and managed to find himself shamefaced back at the
entrance.  Chu Yan Dong (Smoking Hole)
gets its name from the fact that a constant cloud issues forth from the
entrance shaft, like steam from a kettle, visible over 100 metres away.

The caving itself was remarkably easy and all too often we
would discover evidence that we were not the first intrepid explorers that we
thought we were.  In the main the caving
consisted of walking through enormous passages often floored with a crazy
paving of dried mud or covered in a shimmering red flowstone but occasionally
with cave pearls up to the size of golf balls. I also remember several very black and very crunchy areas of flowstone
that were quite painful to walk on in the condom thin rubber that the Chinese
use to manufacture welly boots.  There
were a few climbs and some large pitches but the overwhelming memory is one of
gigantic passage widths – I’m sure that you really don’t want to know about Dau
Dong (Big Cave) where we found it easier to survey along the two walls rather
than the more conventional approach of a centre line with passage widths –
measuring a cross-section gets difficult when passage is 150 metres wide.  Our longest centre line survey leg was 160
metres and to be honest, that could have been longer still.  Oh yes there was one short length of crawling
and one squeeze which gave us a    very
uncharacteristic survey leg length of one metre.  It is all too easy to become very blasé about
the passage dimensions and to make comments such as “That’s not worth looking
at its far too small to go” – that was a passage that was about 2 metres
across but there again there were passages 20 metres across waiting.

However the expedition was an outstanding success, maybe
because of, or maybe in spite of minor set-backs, Bob lost his passport and the
expedition funds, Blitz lost 10 kg. while on a diet of rubbery rice-strips, dog
and rape, (this is the green vegetable and should not be taken to indicate a 10
Kg weight loss due to frenzied sexual activity!!!) and many expedition members
lost their dignity on potent rice spirit and beer at 10p a pint.  Indeed on one occasion not only did Sara have
to be carried out from the banquet, she had to be carried into it first!  Yet another victim of the white spirit.

Supplies of most things were readily available once we had
organised the locals and they had organised us. However the first few days at our base camp, lovingly known as

pushed our resources to the limits.  (The
Government says … No camping in

, so we bivouacked at the back
of a large cave entrance – it just meant we had a permanent daylight squad of
up to 70 locals who would stand and stare at the crazy foreigners for hours)

For the first week we could only obtain, or so it seemed at
the time, a few onions, some rape and eggs, eggs, and more eggs.  It was, to say the least, a monotonous
diet.  Later in the expedition we went
into the livestock business and become the proud owners of four chickens all
destined for the pot.  Fresh pork was
available once every six days at Do Shan market but as this would only keep
till the next day it meant a binge followed by a frugal four days.  The porters were excellent and were happy to
have their wickerwork back packs loaded to over full with pork, beer, and white
spirit etc before being dispatched to one of the three or four outlying camps.

We had a post graduate student from the university attached
to us, so for most of the time translation was not a problem.  To write that sounds almost as if we had a
Government minder with us, but in the event Tan Ming proved to be a good caver
and was quite happy to let us get on with the caving where and whenever.  For example Tim (SVCC) and I lodged with a
farmer for a week about 5 miles away from the others while exploring a river
sink, Lu Shui Dong, about the size of the River Axe at Wookey.  Indeed I remain very impressed with the
almost complete lack of bureaucracy and the fact that we could go where and do
what we wanted.

What more can I tell you – I could tell you of buying
carbide in lumps the size of a sugar bag and how Blitz dropped one of these in
a village water supply tank, of the ever present money changers, I could tell
you of our journey home taking in the tourist sites of the Stone Forest, an
area of phenomenal pinnacle karst and of our boat ride down the Liang river
with its fantastic tower karst near Guilin, I could tell you of a local woman
who on hearing our plans remarked of her friends “They will laugh so much
that their teeth will drop out”, I could tell you of our being arrested
for cycling into a closed area (but all the signs were in Chinese), I could
tell you of our 24 hour ferry ride (we travelled 5th class in a dormitory of 50
beds) across the South China Sea back to Hong Kong blissfully ignorant of 60
Chinese and Vietnamese warships about to commence battle but what more can I
write?  You would never believe me.

Blitz  July 1989


Mrs. P. A. Dors

On July 19th. a large number of members of Caving Clubs from
all over the country joined the Dors family and other friends at


to attend the funeral of Mrs. “Ben” Dors.

It is sad to think we shall no longer see her sitting at the
end of the bar talking cheerfully to old friends and new.

We have to thank her for the kindness and tolerance she has
shown to us all during her long life.  We
shall remember her with gratitude and affection.

Dan Hasell

1989 New Year Expedition to Bulmer Cavern

Mount Owen,
New Zealand

The Air New Zealand ticket and baggage clerk looked at the
three rucksacks on the scales, then back at the digital display – an
indisputable eighty one and a half kilograms. She studied my ticket carefully once more, and asked;

“It is only the one passenger, sir’?”

“That’s correct”, I smiled, hopefully.

I was on my way to North-West Nelson to join one of the
annual summer expeditions in the marble mountains.

The Area.

Currently this corner of
South Island
holds three significant areas of marble of interest to the caver;

In the north is Takaka Hill, the most easily accessible
since a major road runs right over the top of it.  The limestone is a hard, clean, pale grey,
and contains such systems as Greenlink whose furthest reaches still defy
determined exploration, and Harwoods Hole, with its 200 metre entrance shaft
dropping into a sporting streamway exit. The surface is grassland and patches of regenerating scrub through which
project “Henry Moore” shapes of smooth-faced marble.*

South from here is Mount Arthur, whose marble top squats
above the bush-line.  The major system
here is Nettlebed.  Explored from the
bottom, an entrance close to the Pearse resurgence, it now offers an 800 metre
plus through trip, after Blizzard Pot was connected in 1987.

From the top of

, on a clear day,
there are magnificent views of thousands of kilometres of bush-covered hills
and rocky summits.  Southwards, beyond
karst basins, marble outcrops and peaks, is

beneath whose southern slopes stretches the recently discovered Bulmer cave

Getting there.

The nearest main road to
Owen runs from Nelson down to the west
coast at

and the one decent ale-house en route happens to be the Owen River Tavern.  From this convenient rendezvous at the
confluence of the

and the Owen a
gravel road leads northwards through the wide paddocks for several kilometres.

* Matt Tuck (+ Nick Hawkes) spent part of the summer here
and could be persuaded to put pen to paper, I suspect.

At the last level paddock, just before to climb amongst
cobbly hills of glacial moraine, on an afternoon of sunshine and showers in
late December, twenty members of the expedition met up and began to stack the
mass of gear into helicopter-lifting sized heaps.  While the helicopter would take up most of
the food, general equipment and vertical caving gear, we would walk the track
begins up carrying all personal kit.

The tops of the mountain were hidden above low cloud when
the helicopter arrived, but the camp-site at

just above the bush-line, proved to be just below this layer of summer thunder
showers.  Unfortunately

where we intended to have a secondary expedition base, was mist enshrouded and
therefore too risky for air-transport.

While the helicopter took only about ten minutes carrying up
each load and then returning, we had an ascending walk of several hours to look
forward to.

The logic behind not taking a whirlybird ride was that in
the event of bad weather precluding aerial assistance at the end of the
expedition, or at any other time, by making our own way up we would all be
thoroughly familiar with the route.

As the last load disappeared into the sky we set off up the
valley and were soon into the shade of the bush.  The variety of trees is mixed at first, but
rapidly the southern beech dominated. Initially the path follows an old logging track, and very gently rises
along the true left bank of the river. The path dropped at one point to a slippery little traverse above a deep
river-edge pool, quite awkward with a heavy, unbalanced pack, but was otherwise
straight-forward until we crossed the Owen and started up Bulmer Creek.  This required numerous crossings and whereas
the Owen was floored with coarse gravels and small cobbles, Bulmer Creek was
generally steeper, and the waters left a slick, brown slime on the much larger,
rounded boulders.  For a time we left the
stream altogether, where the stream tumbles through a gorge, and climbed up on
the true right to follow an indistinct path in the thick beech forest.  The trees are stunted and gnarled  – most are several centuries old – and their
roots, half hidden beneath years of leaves and mould, twist over the forest
floor, ready to trip the unwary.

After half an hour among beech trees we emerged onto the
level cobble floor of the stream, now waterless after weeks of little
rain.  In low water conditions the creek
trickles beneath the limestone cobbles to emerge further down-valley.  We made our way across the cobbles and among
some enormous blocks, fallen from the cliffs that now enclosed us in a huge
amphitheatre, and arrived at the edge of a small pool into which dropped a
cascade of clear water.  This water,
which resurges from the base of the cliffs only a few hundred metres away, is
undoubtedly from


water, marked on the
map as the main source of the creek, is actually only a small fraction of this

More of the resurgence later.  We climbed north westwards, through quite
dense scrub which cloaked old avalanche debris. The ascent steepened, across an open grassy slope and up a little rivulet
in a gully, to reach the foot of the cliffs. A substantial ledge led back east, climbing across the face for some
distance until it reached a short vertical section negotiated with the aid of a
piece of fencing wire and a long, tape sling. Above this the slope lessened as we followed a shallow valley, with a
trickle of a stream, through more beech forest.

After a further half an hour the beech forest cleared as we
reached the bush-line.   Ahead lay a
long, narrow cirque containing the shallow

three quarters encircled by steep marble cliffs and screes lowering to tussocky
slopes. Earlier arrivals had already pitched their tents among the trees, but
most of the group with whom I walked up opted for the open, grassy flat between
the forest and the lake.  We ignored the
hoots of derision from those who expected the water level to rise in the next
rain storm and wash us away down the hill, though I did perch my Space packer
tent on the top of a little hummock.

Our kitchen and eating area was created under the slight
overhang of a huge boulder, long ago tumbled from the cliffs far above.  Although this only afforded minimal shelter
from the rain and none from the wind the area soon came to be used for all
communal functions, survey transcriptions and creations, possum hunting,
radio-communications room, etc.

The Cave.

The cave system of Bulmer presently has five known
entrances: the first to be found, and the largest, is situated in the centre of
the system, and is about twenty minutes walk east of the camp-site.  It is a semicircular roofed entrance dropping
down a bouldery scree slope to a thirty metre pitch.  At the base of this is a long, sloping
scree-floored cavern.  Up cave from here,
to the north, via essentially horizontal fossil passages, leads to the vertical
series up to Replica Spectacular and the closely connected Castle Keep, highest
entrance to the system.  Down cave,
southwards, continuing abandoned passages ultimately emerge as holes high in
the cliffs above the resurgence, Eye in the Sky and Panorama Ledge Entrance.

First Trip.

My first trip into Bulmer was via Panorama.  Trevor Worthy (N.Z.), Danielle Gemenis
(Aussie), Tom Miller (

and I climbed through the bush east of the camp to emerge onto wide, smooth,
sloping sheets of lapiaz.

We struck out on a more or less level route across this
glacially scoured landscape, skirting between the bush below and lines of
bluffs above.  The route had been
previously marked with streamers of red plastic tape (a route to the toilet,
some 200 metres from the camp site, had been similarly marked, explaining the
discovery of an anguished, cross-legged Don Fraser being discovered half way up
the hillside, crying, “Where the hell’s the bog?”).  Having passed below Bulmer entrance we dropped
into bush and traversed to a drop to a little ledge – Panorama.  A five metre handline made the descent safer,
as there is a substantial drop below. Views out across the valley are excellent, the panorama being 180
degrees from west through south to east, where distant snowy peaks of

National Park
the horizon.

Turning our backs on the wide, green landscape we crawled
into a small passage in the cliff, against a cold, damp draught that is a
feature of the cave system.  The low,
narrow passage soon enlarged and dropped into a wide chamber, the floor of
which was composed of blockfall.  At the
far side the chamber gradually diminished to become discrete passage, still
with fallen boulders, and the walls covered in large botryoids (botryoids and
rockfall are other features of the cave). Part way along a low bedding arch leads down to the right, dropping
ultimately via a complex little route to Eye in the Sky, of which more later.  The Panorama route continues north-westwards,
roughly paralleling the bluffs and a major fault, and develops into a high,
narrow rift.  Fixed ropes enabled us to
negotiate the ups and downs of Eurus Rift, and we climbed out into larger
passages that heralded the approach of Bulmer Main Entrance.  However, we spent some time “lost”
in this area, searching up several avens and rifts for the route onwards.  Some quite large passage did not seem to be
on the survey, and a long piece of tape had to be left behind to cope with the
retreat down one climb.  Eventually we
opted for a route that continued north-west around an exposed but easy traverse
to enter Medusa Passage.  Here the route
is smothered with huge clusters of helictites up to one centimetre wide and
several tens of centimetres in length. From here we quickly reached vague daylight filtering through to the
huge scree slope that is the floor of the large Bulmer Entrance chamber.  The thirty five metre pitch proved an easy,
free-hanging ascent to a rock bridge, and a wide rocky ledge led round to the

The food organisers for our trip had definite vegetarian
leanings, and each meal was a variation based on one kind of bean or
another.  A couple of sacks of cabbages
and a huge box of cucumbers slowly diminished throughout our stay, with
coleslaw constantly available.  There was
some confusion over the original ordering resulting in the purchase of enough
tins of fish for one each every day of the expedition.  The menu was a well organised affair and, in
spite of the fact that no-one was detailed for “cook of the day”,
food was always ready when teams emerged from the cave, often at ridiculous

Second Trip.

My second trip was to survey a couple of kilometres of
passage found the previous day.  Trevor
I. along with Paul Wopereis and Kieran
Mackay (both NZ), entered Panorama and thence dropped down to Eye in the
Sky.  Turning away from the exit, which I
never did get to see, we reached a wide area of breakdown where the passage
floor dropped abruptly into a large shaft, the Lion’s Den.  Fifty metres of slopes,       ledges and short drops led to the head of
a forty metre shaft.  Kiwis tend to use
chocks, pitons and natural belays wherever possible, but bolts were placed here
in the absence of anything more suitable. Across the base another forty metre
shaft led on down, damp and windy, and with a series of re-directional belays
to create the best hang and avoid possible deluges of flood water.  Following a muddy traverse and a fifteen
metre pitch we entered a high, narrow streamway that twisted awkwardly,
dropping two further short pitches including Roaring Lion, before entering much
more spacious older passage.

This area is only a hundred metres above the main stream,
but we climbed away from this into a phreatic maze and the

. A strong draught through a low
section off to one side indicated the extent and significance of the passages
we were to survey.  So many of the
passages in Bulmer trend north-west to south-east, and these new ones were no
exception.  For most of its length we
mapped in a single passage, 88-not-out, with junctions turning out to be the
beginnings of oxbows.  Everything about
it felt old the breakdown, the abundance and sizeable growth of botryoidal
stal, the totally fractured stal sheets over the floor, and the section of
passage whose floor was covered in a thick layer of white powder,
hydromagnesite.  (Higher levels of the
cave have been dated to at least 350,000 years).  Our survey ended at a draughting choke, which
could be easily dug.  A quick computation
of the survey figures and drawing of the map the following day revealed this
choke as being close to the Blowhole, a huge phreatic segment in the bluffs.

We emerged after dark, and took ages searching about the
bush and lapiaz for red tape, which does not show up much at night.  Eventually we were guided down to the camp by
the noise of the Australian Whistling Frogs, who inhabit the lake and keep
unhappy cavers awake all night with their din. Tonight, however, we were to be spared this joy, and reminded instead
that we were camped at 1300 metres in latitude 40 south.  The wind rapidly increased and torrents of
rain swept over the cliffs and into our cwm. Hoop tents wobbled like demented jellies and Tom’s


wonder-dome flattened itself into the grass, while Tom himself shivered the
night through in a pool of soggy down.


The cold, damp air, the hard, sharp marble, and frequent
changes of carbide which penetrated and infected every little cut, combined to
shred the skin off my hands and give me an excuse to go prospecting on the
surface.  Bulmer resurgence had been
discovered in the 70’s, along with the huge phreatic passage of Whalesmouth
Cavern, next to Blowhole.  Bulmer Main
Entrance was found on the first day of 1985 and. since most subsequent work has
been towards extending and surveying this, surface work has been limited and
sporadic.  Gormenghast, a shaft system
north of Bulmer Main Entrance, may well link onto the system.  North-east of the Bulmer Basin cwm, just at
the edge of the bluff, lies the Amphitheatre, a deep cliff-fringed pit 150
metres in diameter, that has to be a collapsed cavern.

Oz Patterson. Greg …… and I worked over the karst
between the camp site and the Blowhole, mostly among the beech, where we found
a number of shafts, but these did not extend more than a few tens of
metres.  Our main objective was to
attempt to find a short route into the 88-not-out area, or into the short
section between there and Blowhole.  It
cannot be claimed that the karst has been thoroughly prospected – in the forest
it is easy to miss even quite large holes, while many of the narrower shafts
are covered over at the top with fallen trees, mosses and the prolific growth
of this rainforest floor.  Much could lie
hidden for decades here.

We came out in the drizzle the next day, joined by Kip, but
significant new cave remained elusive. The others went into Blowhole to search in the draughting rockfall and
to “take the airs” – a team had simultaneously made their way to the
end of 88-not-out and were burning kerosene soaked cloth at the terminal
choke.  No fumes were detected and the
location of this obvious connection is a mystery.  Meanwhile, returning via a higher route to
the camp, I found more deep shafts, but their exploration is yet to come.

One of the significant landmarks of the area is the Bulmer
Buttress, which resembles a giant, pale tuatara (a long-lived dragon-like
reptile, from the age of dinosaurs). This pale limestone outcrop catches the light rather spectacularly at
sunset and dusk, changing from grey, to pink or orange.  At night its dark, huddled shape often acted
as a guiding beacon to cavers astray on the bare lapiaz.  Just beyond the Buttress is Gormenghast,
which was slowly being pushed deeper in the hopes of creating a link with the
Bulmer system.  North from here soon
drops into the long closed depression of

.  Another route into
Basin is from


cwm, via the Amphitheatre and a nearby col.

We chose one of the really good days to carry equipment up

, ready for a small camp so that
this area could be prospected further. With seven of us, the loads were fairly light and we quickly reached

whose grassy floor was speckled with bright upland flowers of yellow and white.  Climbing the steep headwall of the Basin
brought us to a rocky outcrop, containing the phreatic segment of Castle Keep –
Replica Spectacular.  We traversed
through this short section of cave and dumped our loads at the Replica
end.  Ahead, separating us from the
contorted strata of Replica Hill, was the broad

grass floored except for a distinctive orange gash in the glacial debris.

Three of the team set off across the Basin to have a look at
an obvious cave high in the south face of Replica Hill, and to search for
Cave, one of the few caves in

New Zealand
with permanent ice
formations.  With the other three I
headed up eastwards, climbing rapidly to the summit of

.  Although a few clouds had crept across the
sky, and

, far to the north, was obscured,
the three hundred and sixty degree panorama of peaks and bush was spectacular,
and the limestone country within it every bit as inspiring as European Alpine
karst.  To the south the mountain dropped
steeply into a chaos of sharp fluted stone blind valleys, vertical sided ridges
and deep, narrow shafts floored with loose rocks. Although we searched into
various holes none seemed of any spelaeological significance.

Into Whalesmouth.

Chris Pugsley, Joe Arts, Paul and I headed across to
Whalesmouth the next day, and surveyed down to the resurgence entrance.  A chill draught spills out of the huge
Whalesmouth entrance and funnels down the scree valley below.  We mapped down this slope, and then into
dense bush, where the tangle of plants made surveying well nigh
impossible.  To reach the entrance
involved a climb up a cliff, with shrubs, mud and loose boulders for holds (a
hundred kilo block nearly demolished Chris, and much native bush had to be
destroyed in order to recover the compass, dropped from the ledge), and then a
slippery, exposed but well protected traverse on a narrow ledge twenty metres
above the resurging stream.

The ledge ends at a gnarled tree, and a short climb up
between the tree and the rock reaches a more substantial ledge, overhung by a
huge flake of rock.  Resembling an
enormous up-and-over door, only just open, this overhangs the cave
entrance.  A short scramble leads through
to another big rift, parallel to the cliff edge, and an easy climb up the inner
wall of this arrives at horizontal passage and the sound of rushing water.  After a short distance we were in a chamber,
with water from the five metre waterfall at one corner running amongst the
cobbles of the floor and disappearing into a narrow slot on its way to the
resurgence below.  The lowest section of
the fall was easily avoided by crawling up through some tubes in•
semi-consolidated pebbly fill, and thence an easy climb through the icy water
reached horizontal stream passage.  This
eventually breaks into numerous routes of a phreatic nature, and the sumps have
yet to be passed.

Up above the resurgence entrance is Snarler, a flood
resurgence found at the beginning of the expedition.  The current end to this is a boulder choke,
which could well deserve further attention, since it may bypass the resurgence
streamway sumps and quickly connect into Tropicana, the very lowest section of
streamway in Bulmer itself.  Numerous
other holes are visible in the cliffs around the resurgence and, looking way
across the valley from here, another large entrance can be seen in a cliff in
thick bush.  Some thought this could be a
continuation of the Whalesmouth/Blowhole phreatic tube, pre-dating the glacial
incision of Bulmer Creek valley, while others were certain it had already been
checked out.  One fine day I managed to
persuade Danielle to join me and check out these holes, and the following, very
wet day Kieran joined us.  Two days of
thrashing through bush, hanging from branches and vines, climbing up and down
cliffs, streams and boulders, made us very familiar with the area but also
proved that all these enticing looking entrances were but rock-shelters.

Back to Bulmer.

In Bulmer extensions were continuing to be made faster than
they could be surveyed.  The complex area
at the of the Lion’s Den was developing into a series of roughly parallel
passages beneath and to the west of Panorama/Eye In the Sky.  Although the Labyrinth streamway explorations
seemed to have fizzled out somewhere beneath

the “Main” Streamway upstream waterfalls were bypassed in a huge old
breakdown passage beyond Dead Coral Sea.

Survey figures were being calculated daily, with the map
being added to immediately after.  A
chart of our progress revealed, one evening, that the length so far surveyed
had reached 25 km eclipsing Nettlebed, though this latter can still claim the
NZ depth record.  Our daily radio
schedule with the pair prospecting out at


must have revealed our excitement throughout the mountain radio band.

Some of the best formations in the cave are nearest to the
main entrance, and accessible within half an hour.  A large group of us went into the Road to
Nowhere towards the end of the expedition to goggle at, and to photograph, the
impressive arrays of helictites and anthodite clusters.  They are confined to one short section of
this abandoned stream passage, and are quite difficult to capture of film
because of the narrowness of the passage. They are particularly vulnerable and it is fortunate that the passage,
true to its name, is a cul-de-sac, although Gormenghast is not so very far from
this region and a link is not out of the question.

Last Trip.

My last trip into the system was to survey the upstream,
left-hand branch above the waterfalls. The right hand branch had been explored and surveyed to sumps, and no
route had been found beyond as yet. Tom, Danielle and I made our way over to
Panorama yet again and thence along the now familiar Lion’s Den pitches.  Some of the ropes here were beginning to show
signs of severe wear, either because of bad rub points or because of rockfall –
the top series of little climbs was particularly prone to this latter.  Both the solid rock and the ubiquitous grit are
extremely abrasive, and the Lion’s Den pitches had seen a disproportionately
large number of descents and ascents, since they provide the only access to the
Main Stream and all its extensions.  The
sheath had worn completely through on one of the forty metre drops, and another
sheath severed on the de-rigging party.

Chris Pugsley had found the left hand upstream branch, along
with another kilometre of passages, and had carefully marked the route to it

copious quantities of red tape.  Having
followed mainly huge breakdown passage, often walking in the roof on enormous
boulders that appeared to be the floor until we came unexpectedly to sheer
drops of many metres, we entered a more confined zone of short crawls and
climbs in collapse.  As the passage
enlarged we were confronted by Chris’s bunting and soon found the route to the
streamway.  A climb down on and under a
loosely consolidated pile of boulders revealed the water rushing along several
metres below us, but the final descent did not look very easy.  While Danielle went off exploring a high
level route above the right hand stream, Tom disappeared to retrieve a rope
from a now bypassed climb.  Re-united we
discovered that the descent was, in fact, very straightforward, but then
confusion set in.  We were not certain
which streamway we had entered, so we explored downstream shortly to a
waterfall.  We had been told that both
branches dropped down waterfalls and immediately linked.  Further, we understood that it was possible
to climb around the head of one waterfall directly to the head of the
other.  None of this fitted the facts as
we saw them – no second stream or waterfall was visible from here.  Much time was wasted searching for an easy
link to the other stream, until we decided to link our survey into Chris’s


Now the hard work began: in many parts of the cave thirty
metre leg lengths are easily possible; our average must have been three or
four; the passage was narrow, it twisted and turned, the water, bitterly cold,
could not always be avoided, and occasionally cascades attacked us from
above.  Before long Tom and Danielle were
chilled (in my Troll oversuit I was smugly snug) and we stopped surveying at a
short cascade, beyond which I explored infuriatingly easy, straight passage,
with slowly lowering roof, for a couple of hundred metres.  This soon sumps but there are many high level
holes which could afford a bypass (see Post-script).

We had a steady Journey out, and emerged just before dawn
after seventeen hours underground.  We
dawdled through the bush and across the lapiaz, stopping occasionally to watch
the sky lighten and to listen to the morning chorus of bell-birds tuning up,
their single fluting notes echoing in the still, clear air.  Bulmer was now surveyed to twenty seven and a
half kilometres and still going – probably the longest in


, N.Z., March


This sump, at the end of International Streamway, has been
passed via the high level holes, and at least a kilometre of passages have been
surveyed beyond.  These include numerous
small phreatic tubes and the huge “Awesome Avens”, whose floor area
is several hundred square metres, and whose height is too great to see or even
guess.  Perhaps their tops are accessible
through as yet undiscovered entrances in

beneath which the avens climb.

Bulmer is now surveyed to 150 metres short of 30 kilometres,
and should be well in excess of this figure by the time you read this article.


A Summary of fauna found inhabiting the Belfry region of Mendip


This elusive animal may be easily identified by its short
cropped hair, facial growth and generously proportioned snout!

Although it periodically migrates to
to indulge in its ritual digging frenzies, it may often be found
in the Priddy area working hard to convert “Butcombe” (its staple
diet) into more organic compounds. (Quote … “P*ss, Sh*t and pjh*gm!” .. unquote!).


The SNABLET is a strange little creature.  Slightly built yet possessed of strength far
beyond its apparent capabilities with a thirst and capacity for liquid
refreshment that can only be described as legendary.  It has been said that it can actually lift a
pint glass and drain it without any outside assistance, although personally I
find this rather hard to believe.

Although small this animal can make a remarkable amount of
noise for its size, characterised by its cries of “AAARRRGGGHHH YOU
BAAASTAAARDSS” heard on Saturday nights after closing time.  (Usually because the other critters have
decided to tie it up again!)

However its size enables it to “Boldly cave where no
man has caved before!”  It gets its
Latin name from its ability to vanish into the smallest of spaces
underground.  (Many wish it would just
plain vanish!!!!!)


Probably one of the more dedicated creatures of the area,
the TREBOR spends most of its time underground building dams.  When not involved in this activity it may be
found cleaning various bits of limestone with an array of collected implements,
or busily foraging for scraps of paper and discarded kit that it then
transports to the surface and ejects! When above ground it is constantly painting, brushing and cleaning the
immediate vicinity in between helping out other local creatures with a variety
of tasks.  It is largely due to this
animal that the area is as clean as it is.


Genetically ingrained in the Dani is the urge to build.  Thus it may often be found on Mendip erecting
structures for other creatures.

At night however its habits change and it may be found
anyone of a number of watering holes.  It
is easily identifiable by its characteristic headdress ( a piece of checked
cloth) as well as its mating calls …. “eeee-hawwww” and “I
F*ckin’ spect!”


Contrary to popular opinion this is not a member of the
Weasel family (That’s just a vicious rumour.) although it may be related to the
house marten as it keeps getting bigger ones!

Interestingly, it is accompanied by its mate almost
everywhere, except on its underground forays when it is usually accompanied by
the pseudo mole the SMART.   The
GRASS-MARTEN is a natural administrator and is fond of forming committees and
attending meetings which it does with a certain flair when allowed to do so.


Not to be confused with the SMART, the JIM SMART is an
entirely different animal.  Instantly
identifiable by its crowning ring of red fur and freckled features it also has
a distinctive odour not unlike that of burning hemp!!

This is another creature prone to bouts of disappearance and
indeed has not been spotted in the area for some time now.


Rumoured to originate from

this mammal has been resident
in the area for some time now.  It may
often be seen travelling at great speed (and in considerable style) around the
streets of Wells and the outlying area. Like the TREBOR it spends much of its life underground and indeed has
been known to lure other creatures into its favoured sub-terranium  haunts.


Until recently this rodent was only to be found in the area
at weekends as the earlier part of its life is spent mapping known routes for
no good reason I can see.  However now
that it has reached maturity (comparatively anyway) it will reside almost
exclusively in the Mendip locale.  It may
often be found in the Belfry on Saturday nights and is quite friendly, often
trying to communicate with other creatures with its cries of
“Mineshapintpleesshhhhhhhh!” and “Who’
ad-th’f’ckin’barrell”.  It will also
“sing” on a good night, before slipping into unconsciousness on the


This is probably the most ferocious and unpredictable of all
“Belfryites”.  It is
recognisable by the mass of wiry hair where its head should be (about eight
feet above the ground!)

Due to its extreme size and strength there are not many of
the local creatures that will cross this ones path.  Impossible to tame or train the BIFFO is a
law unto itself and has a penchant for pyrotechnics on its doorstep regardless
of its own safety or popularity.

It does have some interesting habits such as rising at dawn
to dance on Glastonbury Tor covered in bells and waving bits of cloth, although
no-one is quite sure why it does this.

**N.B.**  It is best
observed from a safe distance and left well alone.


A relative newcomer to the area the MONGO is nonetheless an
integral part of local ecology.  An
extremely fair complexion and almost white fur mean that it stands out quite
vividly and is not difficult to spot.  It
lives on pretty much anything out of a bottle and is very partial to certain
‘Erbs of ethnic origin.  It has an
interesting habit of screeching “MELLOOOOOOOOW” whilst mating.


This animal is rarely seen as it is usually stuck
underground somewhere.


Marked by a striking red mane, (unusual for a female bird)
green rubber feet and a green waxy outer skin the BABZ can often be seen
roaring around the area in its mate’s Land-Rover.  Until recently it was to be exclusively found
at the Belfry but has of late transferred its nest to a grotty little hole the
other side of Eastwater Cavern.

Living almost entirely on Cider, Consulate and Beefsteak it
is an extremely dangerous bird to get on the wrong side of and, knowing no
fear, is one of the few creatures known to have tackled an enraged BIFFO


As mentioned above the SMART spends much of its time with
the GRASS-MARTEN.  Indeed they may often
be seen together, along with their mates, in the deeper recesses of the Hunters
Lodge Inn.

The SMART has an uncanny ability to pass on knowledge to the
offspring of other creatures (hence ‘academica’) and spends much of its time
doing this.  Periodically however this
animal disappears for long periods, it has been hypothesised that it migrates
to China during these times, although this has been the subject of fierce

ROMFORD (PHILISOPHICUS – as in ‘Phil is off – icus’)

Sadly we are down to our last mating pair of these, and they
too will soon disappear as the mid-life urge to migrate to sunnier climes takes
a hold.

The male Romford is distinguishable by the luxuriant growth
of silver fur, almost hair like in quality, around its face and head as well as
its unparalleled talent for business ventures. Indeed they have been known to inhabit the same nesting site for years at
a time, usually only vacating it when threatened by rodents such as the J-RAT!!

The female of the species, though not similar in appearance,
has the same characteristic air of calm and serenity which is only disturbed by
the intake of large amounts of alcohol – a pastime both male and female seem to
be fairly adept at!!

In later life the Romford will suddenly decide to up roots
and quite literally sail off into the sunset in search of a new life, such as
property speculation or even electronics.


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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.