The
Bristol
Exploration Club, The Belfry,

Wells
Road
, Priddy, Wells,

Somerset
.
Editor: Ted Humphreys

1990 – 1991 Committee

Hon. Sec.                Martin Grass
Treasurer                 Chris Smart
Caving Sec.             Jeff Price
Hut Warden             Chris Harvey
Tackle Master          Stuart McManus
B.B. Editor               Ted Humphreys
Hut Engineer            Nigel Taylor
Membership Sec.     John Watson
                               Ian
Caldwell 

Editorial

The BB is late, again – a combination of excuses which I
won’t bore you with!!  I’m afraid the
synopsis of digs which was promised has note yet arrived.  Jake sloped off to

Scotland
with a large party of
BECites – caving they said.  Perhaps an
Article?  This is a larger BB than usual
for the time of year thanks to the and a bit page American article that I’ve
included.  I’m sure you’ll agree that it
was worth it.

At this point I must remind you that any opinions expressed
in the editorial are those of the editor and in no way should be taken to reflect
those of the committee or of the Club.

The fact is that we seem to have a couple of problems which
will, no doubt, be discussed at length at the A.G.M.

The first is non-payment of subs.  This year between twenty and thirty people
have not paid, costing the Club at least £400. We always expect some to lose interest or to move away, of course, but
it seems that some have discovered that they can pay every other year, say, and
still have all the benefits of membership with the possible loss of a couple of
BB’s during the summer  (A great loss? –
spare copies are always available in the library!).  I’m not saying it is deliberate but, whatever
the reasons; it makes the job of the Club treasurer, and other members of the
committee, very much more difficult and is unfair to those members who always
pay on time.

Secondly, the problem of vandalism.  If you read the constitution (Item 7c) you
will find that the Belfry and its contents (other than the property of
individual members) belongs to the Club and is not the shared property of the
members.  The Belfry has always been a
fairly boisterous place, especially on Saturday nights, (Sofa Rugby etc.) but
it should be remembered that replacements of crockery, furniture and such items
usually depends on donations of the items to the Club from individual members.

There have been several examples of what I would call
unacceptable vandalism of Club property in recent months.  I shall cite three cases: –

1.                    Using coffee mugs as balls for indoor cricket.

2.                    Chopping up furniture for firewood because the
individual concerned thought it looked ‘tatty’

3.                    Setting off fire extinguishers ‘for fun’.

In the first case, the mugs were replaced, but the person
who donated them in the first place will think twice before donating any more.  In the second case, I don’t know the outcome
but we’re always short of seating.  I
wonder why?  The third case is more
serious as injuries could have been caused to other members.  The person concerned did present the
treasurer with a blank cheque to repair the damage but what he probably didn’t
realise is that if a genuine emergency had occurred and it was found that the
Club had, at the time, no useable extinguisher then our insurance policy would
probably be invalidated.  I wonder if the
blank cheque would have covered the cost of a new Belfry?

I seem to have gone on a bit though I still feel that some
comment was needed.  If there are any
differing views I will gladly put them in the BB.

 

Membership Changes

We welcome three new members, who are ;-

New      Karen Ashman.
Bury St. Edmunds
1155     Rachel Gregory. Wells. Somerset
New      Brian Hansford. Weeke.

Winchester
. Hants

We also welcome two members who have rejoined.  Actually Bill rejoined almost a year ago but
I had no address!

727       Bill Cooper.
Totterdown.

Bristol

691       Dudley Stuart Herbert. Corston.

Bath
.

The following members were either incorrectly listed or have
changed their particulars since Christmas.

1082     Robin Brown.
Woolavington.

Bridgewater
.

Somerset

827       Mike Cowlishaw.  Micheldever Station.

Winchester
. Hants
405L     Frank Darbon.

Vernon,
British Columbia
.

Canada

704       Dave Metcalfe, Whitwick, Leics.
921       Pete Rose, Crediton, Devon
1067     Fiona Thompson, Stoke Gifford,
Bristol
1154     Karen Turvey, Cullompton,
Devon
1096     Brian van Luipen. Littlehampton,
West Sussex
1061     Kerry Wiggins, Basingstoke, Hants
1031     Mike Wigglesworth, Oldham,
Lancashire
477       Ronald Wyncoll,
Hinckley. Leics

 

Simonds Mine. Biddlecomee – a Re-Discovery Feb 1991

Went over to look at a site Graham Johnson had been digging
about 10 years ago.  We decided not to
continue with this but to excavate a filled shaft in the floor with marks
(shot-holes) of the “Old man”. Three of us, Graham, Robin Taviner and Vince Simmonds went over on the
12th Feb and cleared about 4ft. of easily removed rocks.  We returned a week later (19.2.91) with a
skip and some more muscle power, J’Rat and Rich Blake.  We hadn’t been digging long when we made an
intriguing discovery, 2 star drills and a slater’s hammer with a length of
nylon rope and an old, battered biscuit tin. We tried to fit the star drills to some of the shot holes, they didn’t
fit, and then enlightenment!  Above the
pit, barely discernable, was an ancient carbide inscription “BEC DIG”
and around a rock “NT 1974”. We had found the legendary Nigel Taylor’s long lost digging kit.  We had thought of cleaning them up and
presenting them to

Wells
Museum
but decided to
re-unite them to their owner who was thrilled to see them again which prompted
reminiscences of solo digging trips.

The nylon rope came in handy when J’Rat’s car (one of Wilfs
courtesy numbers) broke down and we had to tow it back to the Hunters, which is
happily on the way back to Wilfs garage.

On the 26.2.91 we (Tav. Graham & Vince) reached a solid
floor at about 8ft depth and decided that was as far as we could go, so we
cleared all our gear out and called it a day.

Meets List

A.
Sat May 18th.                       Wookey
Hole Evening. 6pm – Belfry.  Leader –
Martin Grass.

B.
Sat June 15th.                      Penyghent
Pot.
Yorkshire.  Contact Andy Sparrow.

C.
Fri 14th June – Sun 30th June.           

France
:
Pyrenees & Dordogne.  Caving,
Walking. Climbing Etc. Contact J.R. Price.

D.
P.S.M. July.                         Details
from Dany Bradshaw.

E.
Sat 17th August.                   Birks
Fell Cave. 
Yorkshire.

F.
Sat 24th. August.                  Otter
Hole.  Chepstow.   Names to J.R. Price.

G.
21st September.                   Lost
John’s. 
Yorkshire

H.
16th November.                    

Juniper
Gulf

Yorkshire

I.
8th December.                       Peak
Cavern.  Derbyshire.  Min 15 places – Names to J.R.P rice.

Also
Devon weekend July
12th – 14th.  For further details contact
Jeff Price.  Tel: 0272 724296

Coming Events

June 1st.

Wessex

Challenge.  Organised by ACG this
year.  The theme is Star Trek and there
will be a Starship Race.  The venue is
Priddy Village Hall at 7pm.  Price £4
inc. food – tickets from ACG.

30th June – 5th July. N.A.M.H.O. Conference.   Llechwedd Slate Caverns.

13th – 14th July. 

British
Cave
Rescue Conference, Derbyshire.  Contact D Gough, 26 The Lodge, Newthorpe,
Notts.

19th 26th August. RESCON  ’92. 

International
Cave
Rescue Convention.
SWCC Hut, Penwyllt,
S. Wales

 

Rocky

Acres
Cave

While finishing off the exploration of

Skullcap
Cave

at Chudleigh (see DESCENT Christmas 1990) we began to search for pastures new
for evening digs in the same general area. One of the most enticing areas is that to the east and north of
Kingsteignton.  Here exists a large
enough area of limestone to have developed a karst type drainage pattern with
significant vertical differences between sinks and the main rising.  However the landscape has been so modified by
man that only juvenile swallets are readily identifiable and digs have so far
been unsuccessful.  The many years of
effort at Lindridge have so far been un-rewarded.  The only major cave system is the 300 metre
long Coombesend Cavern which lies, typically for
Devon,
in a disused quarry now being used as a waste disposal site.

However above the rising at Rydon (to which the Lindridge
water drains) is the disused Rydon Quarry which breached a large cave passage
over thirty years ago.  The cave was
reputed to contain rifts descending to water level but accounts are sketchy and
what remains of the cave lies under 40 feet of overburden dumped during the
construction of the nearby by-pass.  A
number of small cavities above the old quarry were revealed by top soil
stripping and blasting for the by-pass and the land owner John Jones who became
fascinated by the story of the original cave has spent six years digging in
them.

Assisted by members of the PCG and DSS he concentrated
mainly on one cave now dubbed Rocky Acres which by the time we first visited
the site last summer had reached a depth of 15 metres and a length of 30
metres.  This was achieved by using a
compressor powered rock drill and rock splitting wedges to enlarge the narrow
phreatic rift.  What has lured diggers is
the draught which the cave possesses plus the fact that although narrow it is
still going.  On cold frosty mornings steam
billows from the entrance.

Our contribution was to entice an assortment of individuals
into blasting through a particularly hard band of limestone at the head of a
narrow rift.  Prior to our first visit
the cave ended in a wriggle into an excavated pot off which led the rift.  It had been originally approached from an
alternative direction by Geoff Chudley and Co. but they had backfilled this to
get a more direct route to the bottom. The dig had begun to look so daunting that at that point they had gone
elsewhere.  Altogether about 15 visits
have been made to the site since last June and the cave has been blasted 8
separate times by members of DSS, BEC and WCC. Rock and spoil removal has been mainly by Pete Rose and myself and
members of the Rock House team.

Back filling has been accomplished by using stemples,
drystone walling and stabilisation with liquid cement.  As we go deeper removal of spoil for a pair
of diggers gets more tricky although there is plenty of room to stack boulders.

By the time we had squeezed into the wider part of the rift
the floor was covered in a layer of rubble which was added to by successive
bangs, slumping in of back filled material and digging in the wrong place by
persons unknown!

However as the spoil and fractured rock was removed
tantalising holes in the floor began to appear and the slight draught increased.  The floor now consists of soft mud and water
worn boulders which can be removed without blasting and the rift bells out to a
width of 3 feet at floor level.

Digging conditions are a lot more pleasant than Skullcap and
the site is far more promising.  As we go
down it seems to me that the entrance passage is feeding into something much
larger and partially choked.  This would
seem to support the hypothesis that large phreatic passages should exist near
resurgence level.  We are an estimated 20
to 30 feet above the rising, at the bottom of the cave, which puts us very near
the estimated level of the original Rydon cave – we are also virtually at or
below the original quarry floor level. With a depth potential of 85 metres and 2 km. straight line distance to
the furthest feeder sink there ought to be a significant cave underneath us!

Diggers are welcome and tools are on site.  However do not be tempted to climb over the
gate from the bypass – cars can be driven to the entrance and John Jones is
pleased to welcome bona fide cavers.  To
find Rocky Acres drive up

Rydon
Lane
past the primary school into the new housing
estate but just before the top of the rise turn right through a wooden gate
marked Rocky Acres.

Perhaps we’ll see you down there sometime.  Pete and I normally go on Wednesdays.

Peter Glanvill February
1991

 

Tales from

County
Cork

I arrived in

Cork

in October of last year.  My only other
visit to

Ireland

had been a week caving in Fermanagh with Neil and Paul from the RRCPC.  This time was slightly different from that
visit as I expect to be spending the next three years over here.  First things first, get in touch with the
local cavers.  The only information I had
on caves and cavers in the area was Tony Oldhams’ Caves of Co. Cork.  I tried ringing one of the people mentioned
in the guide, Cian O’Se, after practising pronouncing his name on various
people.  He was very helpful and put me
in touch with the active members of the Cork Speleology Group (CSG).

One week later and I had a trip arranged down
Pollskeheenarinky.  This cave lies east
of Mitchelstown, just within the borders of Co. Tipperary.  The situation of this cave is typical of many
caves found in the east

Munster

area, it is in a ridge which runs along a limestone valley with hills of Old
Red Sandstone on either side.  One of the
other caves found in this ridge is the Mitchelstown show cave, the wild part of
which is supposedly well worth a visit if access can be obtained from the owner
(he prefers small groups).  This trip as
mentioned was my first outing with members of the CSG, a very elusive lot, who
when eventually contacted turned out to be a real friendly bunch.  I had arranged to meet them at 11 pm on the
Sunday morning.  Most cavers who have
visited

Ireland

have probably noticed the laid back attitude to time, well in this respect
these people are the epitomy of Irishness. They turned up at 12 noon and told me this was early!.  Any rate we set off and after getting lost
outside of Mitchelstown eventually ended up asking a local farmer for
directions.  The man put us right but
also added that he had large depressions on his land and asked us if we would
take a look and see if there was any cave potential.  He said if there was he would use his JCB to
dig the holes out (IR£ signs and show caves could be seen floating in front of
his eyes).

The cave entrance to Pollskeheenarinky turned out to be a
real classic.  It consisted of an old
Wolsey!!.  To go into the cave you opened
the back-door, clambered over the front seat and plopped out of the drivers
door.  It was put there to stop cows
falling down the entrance pitch.  This
cave is a real entertaining trip, it is very similar to Mendip caves as
throughout the cave the bedding plane slopes away steeply.  A small pitch, lots of scrambling, bridging,
crawling and pretty bits, well worth a visit.

Back at work there were a few people showing interest in
going caving so we decided to have a short caving trip locally. 
Beaumont
quarry cave was ideally situated in that it is within the bounds of

Cork
city.  The trip turned out to be good fun but
realistically the cave is a short, smelly, well trodden hole.  This description contrasts completely with
Tony Oldhams description in Caves of Co. Cork as small but interesting.  The only small but interesting bit in my
opinion was a small pool at the end of the cave which might have
potential.  The length of the cave is 400
feet.  When subsequently chatting to some
members of CSG they informed me that this pool was just a mud pit that
occasionally fills at times of high rainfall.

My next Co. Cork caving trip was down Carricrump quarry
caves, these are near Cloyne, south-east of

Cork
. These eight caves run parallel with the quarry face and it seems that a
lot of the system has been quarried away. Just into the entrance of the most easterly cave is quite a deep lake
which I think has been dived by some British CDG members quite recently.  The caves are quite entertaining and much
more fun in a wetsuit.  There are a few
pretty bits, lots of traversing (if you want to stay dry) and some amusing
climbs (most of the caves are water floored). My next jaunt with CSG was to
Carrigtwohill
Quarry
Caves
approximately 5 miles east of

Cork

city.  This is where CSG had their most
recent breakthrough (last year).  The new
cave Carriagtoughil A Do was found in the adjacent quarry to the old
Carrigtwohill cave when some brambles were cleared away.  This clearing up revealed a man size entrance
leading to a classic

Cork

caving trip.  The cave hasn’t been fully
explored yet!  Lots of crawling,
scrambling and mud and quite a few formations to gawp at on the way.  The old Carrigtwohill quarry cave is well
worth a visit and has numerous attractive bits. The CSG has a fair number of digs in these quarries and I think with
some scouting around there is quite a lot to be found.  Another classic

Cork
caving trip which I haven’t been able to
do yet, is Cloyne cave.  This is the
longest known cave in

Cork

and from the old survey (a 1990 survey is in the process of being published) is
a maze of passages.  Most of the caves
that have been found in

Cork

seem to be in quarries, there is quite a bit of potential about the place as
the density of cavers is fairly thin on the ground (there are about five active
CSG members).  A CSG member invited me up
to north Co. Cork the other day to look at a potential cave site on a farmers
land.  The farmer had told him that there
was a stream disappearing into a hole and reappearing two miles away, would he
go out and have a look?  We were planning
to go up on Sunday but due to a job callout we couldn’t go.  Hopefully next weekend.

 

Anyway. if any cavers fancy a look around the area maybe on
the way to County Clare or whatever I could provide some information and Cork
contacts (not forgetting Irish fiddly music and a good pint of Guinness) and
would be interested in any trips planned. I can be contacted at either.

University College Cork, Zoology Dept. Postgraduate
laboratory, or by writing

Jane Evans,
Cork,
EIRE

 

Ex Climbing Secretary Reports

Kangy

Ice climb up Priddy Slitter in mid-February, exit from gully
onto snow field and dramatic views across Sunny Somerset Level.

Strung out like washing on a line on Glydr Fawr in blizzard
beginning of March.  Escaped to be strung
out by last minutes of England/Ireland rugby match on radio.

Classic climb “Wil O’ the Wisp.  Craig Cywark,
Arran.  Hot spring sun, warm rock, shirts off, balmy
breeze.  Exhilaratingly unexpected easy
line stepping up through the overhang amongst V.S. mess.  Then pioneering scramble following diagonal
line up heathery buttress to ridge to summit. Heaven will be like this!

Nullarbor Expedition

Steve Milner is organising a trip to the 12km+

Old
Homestead
Cave
in the Nullarbor
Desert, Australia at the end of September 1991. Anyone interested in going can contact him at: –

Eden Hills,
Australia

 

 

Mendip Rescue Organisation

Cave Rescues and Incidents for the Year ending 31st December
1990

A year of bric-a-bac with only three actual cave rescues
requiring underground parties. The following table lists all sixteen call-outs
received through the Police; half being for overdue parties, mostly for good
reasons and needing action.

Sat

13th

Jan

Thrupe Lane Swallet

1

Fall, broken leg

(15)

un

4th

Feb

Cheddar Cliffs

2

Fallen cows trapped

( -)

Sun

11th

Mar

Sally Rift, Warleigh Woods

1

Missing body, search

( -)

Sun

1st

Apl

Read’s Cavern

2

Lost, trapped, light failure

( 8)

Sat

28th

Apl

Longwood Swallet

?

Overdue party

( -)

Thu

31st

May

Swildon’s Hole

?

Overdue party

( -)

Mon

16th

Jul

Eastwater Cavern Entrance

1

Fallen cow trapped

( -)

Mon

23rd

Jul

Shute Shelve Cutting

?

Crashed motorcycle

( -)

Sun

19th

Aug

Swildon’s Hole

?

Overdue party

( -)

Fri

31st

Aug

Swildon’s Hole

?

Overdue party

( -)

Sun

2nd

Sep

Alert

1

Hospitalised climber

( -)

Sat

6th

Oct

G.B. Cavern

?

Overdue party

( -)

Sat

6th

Oct

Swildon’s Hole

1

Dislocated shoulder

( 7)

Wed

24th

Oct

Swildon’s Hole

1

Fall, injured ankle

( -)

Wed

24th

Oct

Spar Pot, East Twin

?

Overdue party

( -)

Wed

31st

Oct

Dallimore’s Cave

?

Presumed overdue

( -)

The figures in brackets to the right show the numbers of
cavers going underground on the rescue incidents.  This data has been required for insurance
purposes in the past.  It is worth noting
that insurance cover is not provided for people involved on the surface nor
when recovering trapped animals.  The
following log of each call-out has been compiled from the notes made by the
wardens in control.  Full details are
given as MRO believes that it can be misleading to simplify the causes.

Saturday 13th January                            Thrupe
Lane Swallet

Martin Scott, aged 28, from Aylesbury descended to the
bottom of the cave with a well equipped and experienced party of six from a
geophysical research firm in the
Swindon
area.  He had done the least caving
before and it was his first time on long ladder pitches underground.  On ascending Atlas Pot at about 2.30 p.m., he
fell about twenty feet onto a fortuitous ledge and broke his leg.  He also damaged a wrist.  The lifeline only slowed his fall because the
incorrectly rigged Stitch Plate belay gave way under the strain.

One of the party left the cave to raise the alarm through
Mrs Butt.  Yeovil Police alerted Brian
Prewer at 3.30 p.m.  Dany Bradshaw and
rescuers from both the Belfry and Upper Pitts were called.  All left for the cave with basic
equipment.  Richard West was contacted at
3.35 p.m. to take over surface control and organise further rescuers and
hauling gear.  Dr Tony Boycott was
informed.  Eric Dunford set up
communications links between the surface and underground parties with Brian
Prewer.

Rescuers entered the cave at 4.15 p.m.  Dany Bradshaw, Nick Williams, Dave Hilder,
Pete Evans, Mike Wilson, Jeremy Henly, Richard Blake, Richard Stevens, Chris
Harvey, Nick Gymer and Sara McDonald carried in the First Aid and hauling
equipment.  Duncan Frew and Pete Hann
went down with the Grunterphone.  The
patient was reached by about 4.40 p.m. and communication established soon
afterwards. Tony Boycott and Rob Harper were accompanied underground by Tony
Jarratt at 4.50 p.m.

The patient was found to be in fair condition and able to do
a lot to help himself.  However, he was
large and so a long haul out was anticipated. A back-up team assembled outside the farm comprising Stewart McManus,
Nigel Taylor, Tim Large, Trevor Hughes and Ian Caldwell.  Richard Witcombe and Clive North turned up
and opened their diggers’ hut as a refuge. Soups were heated at the Belfry by Anne West, Hilary Wilson and Glenys
Grass then ferried to the cave by Helen Harper and Joss Large.  Further rescuers stood by at the Belfry and
their homes.  The local Police provided
flood lights on the road.  Nick Woolf of
the Ambulance service attended so that his crews could be radioed when needed
rather than waste valuable time hanging around. A freelance reporter turned up and was given the basic facts by Jim
Hanwell.

Martin Scott was reported as being at the top of Atlas Pot
by 5.55 p.m.  He reached the head of
Perseverance Pot at 6.55 p.m. and was out of the cave by 7. 40 p.m.  The ambulance left for the
Royal
United
Hospital,

Bath
, five minutes later.  Those left to clear up managed to make the
Hunters just before closing time!  When a
lot of gear is used, it takes a long time to clear up.  Many useful lessons were learnt from this
incident and Martin’s “thank you” letters soon afterwards were much
appreciated.

Sunday 4th February                 Cheddar Cliffs

Two yearling cows belonging to Cheddar farmer Ian Cambridge
slipped down the cliffs behind the Wishing Well Tea Rooms at the bottom of the
Gorge and became trapped in the 15 ft by 3 ft slot between the buildings and
bluff.  Cheddar Fire Brigade were first
alerted and suggested calling MRO.  The
farmer concerned lets his animals roam, much to the annoyance of some
villagers.  Cavers have helped before by
recovering his goats off cliffs.

Taunton Police requested assistance from Brian Prewer at
9.30 a.m.  A team comprising Fred Davies,
Nigel Taylor, Dany Bradshaw, Chris Harvey, Graham Wilton-Jones, Chris Smart,
Martin Grass and Stuart Lain went to the scene with hauling tackle.  By cunning use of bales of straw and ropes,
the reluctant yearlings were lifted onto the flat roof, tied to metal farm
gates and lowered down a pre-constructed ramp to the open road.  The task was completed by 12.30 p.m., and
everyone seemed happy, save for one ungrateful beast who shat upon Nigel for
his trouble!  No “thank you”
has been forthcoming from the farmer either.

Sunday11th March                                 Sally
Rift, Warleigh Woods

The Police at

Bath

were checking out the possibility that the body of the missing woman, Ruth
Stevens, was somewhere in these woods near Bathford.  Old stone mine workings associated with Sally
Rift occur in the area and Bob Scamnell volunteered to check the known
sites.  He was accompanied by Nick
McCamley, Derek Hawkins and John Greenslade.  

A thorough two-hour search of every old shaft and rift was
undertaken but nothing untoward found.

Sunday 1st April                                    Read’s
Cavern

Eleven members of the Golders Green venture scouts from

London
descended the cave
at about mid-day.  The suitably equipped
party was led by Jim Rands and supported by Dave Morrison; both highly
experienced members of the Wessex Cave Club. On reaching the Main Chamber, several then decided to return to the
surface and were escorted out.  Whilst
this was happening, Pete Wilkinson, Julia Waxman and Samira Abbas, aged
seventeen, decided to explore Zed Alley without telling anyone.  Wilkinson was unable to follow the two slim
girls when they forced several squeezes beyond the boulder ruckle.  He stayed to guide their return to the
ruckle, but then left the cave ahead. For some reason, the girls did not follow.  Once out of earshot, they became lost and
scared.

The missing pair failed to surface behind Wilkinson and he
was unable to describe where he had left them. Jim Rands made a rapid search of the regular routes in vain.  He requested help and Brian Prewer received
the call from Yeovil Police at 4.15 p.m. Nigel Taylor was contacted at Langford and reached the cave to establish
surface control by 4.45 p.m.  Rescuers
from Priddy had to run the gauntlet of heavy holiday traffic in Burrington
Combe.

Pete Hann, Ian Marchant, Tony Deacon and Jim Rands went into
the cave at 4.48 p.m. to search Zed Alley as now the most likely location for
the missing pair given the earlier search by Jim.  Brian Prewer, Andy Sparrow and Martin White arrived
shortly afterwards in support and communications were established with the
Belfry through Stewart McManus and Chris Harvey should further rescuers and
equipment prove necessary.  Andy and
Martin went down the cave at 5 p.m. to check out the less likely Browne-Stewart
Series.

The missing girls were soon located at the bottom of the
boulder ruckle and reported to be well but rather cold and frightened at 5.15
p.m.  They were given food and drinks to
boost their morale.  Alison Moody arrived
at 5.25 p.m. and stood by.  All were
safely out of the cave by 6.12 p.m. Needless to say, those concerned showed their gratitude in many ways,
not least back at the Hunters!

Saturday 28th April                                Longwood
Swallet

Yeovil Police contacted Fred Davies at 11.22 p.m. to say
that a woman from Keynsham had reported an overdue party.  She described the car being used.  Brian Prewer was asked to drive to Longwood
to check whether the cavers were still underground.  Other rescuers, including Stewart McManus,
were stood by at Priddy.

No car was found at Longwood.  Meanwhile, the informant contacted the Police
again at 11.40 p.m. to say that all the party had returned home.  After all, it takes about forty minutes to
reach Keynsham from Mendip after closing time!

Thursday 31st May                                Swildon’s
Hole

Brian Prewer was contacted by Yeovil Police at 1.45
a.m.  They reported that a party from
Beaminster, Dorset, was overdue from a trip to Sump One as they had been
expected home at 11.30 p.m. The girlfriend of one of the cavers had raised the
alarm from a call box in
Dorset but could
provide no further information.

Leaving the Police to try and obtain more details about any
vehicles used, Brian went to check for any parked on the greens in Priddy.  All likely places were empty.  The Police were told later that the caver
concerned had got home at 2.36 a.m.  It
takes even longer to reach Beaminster from Mendip after closing tine, of
course!

Monday 16th July                                   Eastwater
Cavern Entrance

Mrs Dorothy Gibbons rang Brian Prewer for assistance to
retrieve a heifer stuck in a narrow gully on the cliffs above the cave
entrance.  He requested help from Fred
Davies, Andy Sparrow, Pete Moody and a party staying at the Belfry, including
Ray Mansfield with a visiting Czechoslovakian couple.  By chance, the husband, Jan Sencer, was a
vet!

Mr Gibbons and his family had managed to get a heavy rope
around the animal’s neck to a JCB on the cliff top.  The heifer did not like this.  Being more familiar with such problems in

Czechoslovakia
,
no doubt, Jan descended the cliff and succeeded in getting a tape halter over
the head with help from Fred.  Two more
tape slings were passed around the front legs. Jan’s wife acted as interpreter for the hauling instructions, given in
Czechoslovakian, for which we do not have much call on Mendip.

The heifer was soon lifted about 10 feet to safety suffering
from surprise, a few cuts and bruises, and a lame leg.  But it did not shit on anyone, which is a
great compliment to Jan’s “bedside” manner and expertise.  Mr and Mrs Gibbons were especially grateful
and appreciative.

Monday 23rd July                                   Shute
Shelve Cutting

Brian Prewer received a call from Taunton Police at 5 p.m.
requesting assistance to investigate a crashed motorcycle.  It had been abandoned in the disused railway
cutting on its approach to the old tunnel between Axbridge and Winscombe and
was lodged in bushes about 30 feet above a sheer cliff.  There was the possibility that an injured
rider was in the vicinity below.

Brian, Nigel Taylor, Rich West and Dany Bradshaw went to the
scene with ropes.  Nigel abseiled to the
motorcycle and attached a hauling line for it to be pulled up by the
others.  No person was found and the incident
was over by 7 p.m.

Sunday 19th August                   Swildon’s
Hole

Ian Butcher rang Brian Prewer at 1 a.m. to say that a party
was overdue by about four hours according to the notice board in the Shepton
Mallet Hut.  A group from
Guildford had not returned there.  After making enquiries, it was discovered
that the party had been based elsewhere on Mendip.  They had only called in at the Shepton Hut on
their way to the cave, but left directly for
Guildford
without cancelling their notice!  The
Police were not informed of this incident.

Friday 31st August                                 Swildon’s
Hole

Force Control in
Bristol
alerted Brian Prewer at 5.45 p.m. to an overdue party of Wiltshire Police from
Swindon that should have returned there at 4.30 p.m.  He checked out both village greens to see if
the reported car being used by the cavers was still there.  It was not. At 6.45 p.m., the Police called again to say that they had got it wrong
as the trip was to take place the next day!

Sunday 2nd September              Alert

A caver abseiling at Underwood (or “Split Rock”)
Quarry near Wookey Hole was concussed and so admitted overnight to Wells and

District
Hospital
.  He was worried that other members of his
group staying in the MCG Cottage at Nordrach might callout MRO when he failed
to return there.  The Police were
informed and they advised Brian Prewer of the situation.  Brian then contacted the cottage to let those
concerned know what had happened.

Saturday 6th October                 G.B.
Cavern

Yeovil Police contacted Brian Prewer just after midnight to
report an overdue party expected out at least two hours earlier.  Shortly afterwards, the informant reported
that the four cavers concerned had turned up. They had been delayed on entering the cave and then could not find a
telephone box on getting out late.

Saturday 6th October                 Swildon’
s Hole

The Police alerted Brian Prewer at 2.50 p.m.  Miss Ceili Williams, aged 24, was caving with
an Oxford University Caving Club party and dislocated her shoulder in Barnes’
Loop.  Apparently,
this had happened to her before, though not whilst caving.  A strong BEC contingent was called out from
their AGM.  Dany Bradshaw, Bob Cork and
Stewart McManus organised the underground team, Nigel Taylor stood by at the
Belfry and Tim Large took over surface control on Priddy Green.  Dr Tony Boycott was asked to attend.

Pete McNab, Kevin Garner and Nick Gyner formed the advance
party with First Aid, comforts, the baby-bouncer, lifeline and ladder.  They entered the cave at 3.10 p.m., only
twenty minutes after receiving the callout. Tony Boycott and Graham Naylor closely followed them.  Dany Bradshaw, Bob Cork and Stewart McManus
left at 3.32 p.m.  Wessex Cave Club
diggers from Cow Hole arrived in support. Entenox was obtained from the Ambulance in attendance and Don Thomson
provided a demand valve

At 4.15 p.m. a message was received that Tony Boycott had
succeeded in relocating the shoulder and the patient was on the way out, mainly
helping herself.  She surfaced at 4.51
p.m. and it was considered that no further treatment to her shoulder was
required.

Wednesday 24th October                       Swildon’s
Hole

Yeovil Police informed Brian Prewer at 10.25 p.m. that a
report of an injured caver had been received. They had no further details of the injuries or of the location in the
cave; so, the informant herself was sought out on Priddy Green.  She explained that John Swift from
Weston-s­Mare had fallen at the Double Pots and injured his ankle.  There was some concern because the person
hurt had a pace-maker.

A rescue party was assembled from the Hunters, including Dr
Tony Boycott.  Many stood by.  On arriving at Priddy Green, they were
confronted by the patient limping along the road.  A rapid about turn ensued!

Wednesday 24th October                       Spar
Pot, East Twin

Brian Prewer was alerted by Yeovil Police at 11.40 p.m.
because a party of three from the
Swindon area
had not returned when expected.  Nigel
Taylor was raised to see if any car was still parked at East Twin in Burrington
Combe.  None was found in a likely place.  At half-past midnight, the Police rang again
to say that the party had returned safely to Wiltshire.  It appears that someone misunderstood the
callout procedures.

Wednesday 31st October                       Dallimore’s
Cave

The farmer at Ores Close Farm became concerned because a car
belonging to cavers he knew, who had gone underground the previous evening at 7
p.m., was still at the farm sixteen hours later.  Yeovil Police informed Brenda Prewer just
after 11 a.m. and she advised Brian at work in Wells.  Tony Jarratt was contacted and able to
provide a simple explanation, much to everyone’s relief.

Oxford University cavers had been surveying the new
extensions to the system the previous evening, had come out late then returned
very early the following morning to continue the task.  They had understandably not bothered the
farmer in the small hours.  No further
action was taken.

J. D. Hanwell Honorary
Secretary and Treasurer Wookey Hole Wells

 

Under

England
‘s
Mountains Green

The article that follows was lifted from The Florida
Speleologist. Vol. 27, No.3, Fall, 1990

by William Sibley-Dem~
NSS 23516

I didn’t think as we stepped on the plane that I would have
many opportunities to get underground during my vacation this past August.  My wife Laura and I were married about a year
ago, shortly before moving from
Pennsylvania
to the vast, still only partly explored karst landscape of
Central
Florida
.  Now I was finally
going to meet my in-laws, all of whom live in the south of

England
and
none of whom are cavers.  The night I
first met Laura, I showed her some of the photos that I helped Ed McCarthy and
Carl Samples take in the big caves of

West
Virginia
— Friars Hole, Organ, Buckeye Creek.  She must have been impressed.  One of our first dates was a trip back to the
waterfall in

Casparis
Cave
(Fayette Co.,
PA).  She was unusually quiet
inside.  While walking the mile back to
the car, in the rain, she said “I’ve never felt so grotty in all my life”.  She later confessed to being a bit claustrophic.  She married me anyway, and knew she was
marrying a Caver.  We were married above
ground.

Anyway, Laura hadn’t been home to see her family in nine
years, so we just figured on spending three weeks establishing (for me) and
re-establishing (for her) family ties with no firm itinerary.  I did manage to do a bit of research on the
side, though, and packed along a few recent issues of Descent and Caves and
Caving.  Thus I was armed with addresses
of caving clubs, in case I found myself near any caves with time on my hands.

Naturally, we spent a lot of our time relaxing in domestic
surroundings with family and old (new) friends. We stayed with Laura’s sister, Ann, who lives in Uckfleld, East Sussex,
on the River Uck, which flows through the lovely
South Downs
into the Ouse (pronounced “ooze”). Here there are few proper caves — mostly medieval storm drains, disused
railway tunnels, mysterious prehistoric chalk mines and “deneholes”,
hermits’ grottos, and the occasional 280 foot deep Roman well.  Many are associated with wonderful old
legends (although, some times, it seems that smuggling must have been the
primary industry at some point in history). All have been carefully mapped and documented by groups like the Chelsea
Speleological Society … whose defination of “caves” might be
“circumscribed, air filled void, explorable (subterranean)” .

Actually there are a few solution caves in the chalk,
including

Beachy Head
Cave
with over 1,100 feet
of crawlway, but these are rare and invariably small.  Cavers without caves will push anything dark
though.  Growing up in

Pennsylvania
I found culverts under the
highways that were pretty long.  We have
a different dilemma here in
Florida where
unchecked sinkholes greatly outnumber cavers and it’s hard to get a mapping
party together to mop up a few sandy crawls in a known cave because of the lure
of finding something like
Briar
Cave, The Catacombs, or

Warren
Cave

under the next hole down the road.

The natives have been caving in Britain for a long time
(King Arthur is rumoured to be waiting to make his reappearance in some hidden
chamber and, who knows, Caesar may have toured some show caves after the
invasion) and the easy discoveries have already been made. 

Florida

is new to speleology.  Our cave legends
have to do with things like Johnny Weissmuller swimming into Ocala Caverns and
coming up at Silver Springs during the filming of “Tarzan and the

Lost
City
“.  But to get back to my story.  Between hikes and day trips to sip wine in
the shade of centuries-old oaks surrounded by roe deer near stately homes in
the countryside, we learned to identify unfamiliar birds, go hedgehog spotting,
play cricket, and spin on spinning wheels. Laura’s sister Ann spins all of Paul McCartney’s wool.  (He keeps sheep you know.)  Linda McCartney phoned one evening while we
were there.

I got my first good look at limestone when we drove west to
visit Laura’s brother, Roy, in the quiet
village
of
Combe Martin on the rugged north
coast of
Devon.  Here, under prehistoric tumuli-studded foggy
moors, we found the remains of the ancient silver mines that some believe were
first worked by the Phoenicians.  Be that
as it may, we had a smashing time wandering about the coast with it’s
dramatically tilted Devonian (of course) Limestones and Shales thrusting into
the crashing surf, picking up “cuttlebones”, and chatting with seaweed
collectors.  There are a number of fine
littoral caves in this area, reportedly much used by the old smugglers, but
many are accessible only by boat.  There
is one small entrance in
Lester
Point that is easily visible from the pebble

beach of
Combe Martin
Bay.  It is not marked on the “Pathfinder’
topographic map, or even listed in Tony Oldham’s “The Complete Caves of
Devon” (which I acquired for my library). 

Roy

describes it as a fine place in which to hide and surprise curious
beachcombers, but high tide: prevented us exploring it ourselves.

I asked some older locals about a cave shown on the map
half-way between the partly thirteenth century church and the old rectory on
Clorridge Hill, but they said that the entrance had been covered up by recent
construction.  I had no way of knowing at
the time that just west of the village on top of Napp’s Hill, above Golden Bay,
is Napp’s Cave — the longest and most exquisitely decorated cave in the
district — full of unbroken helictites and big clusters of irregular
branch-like aragonite crystals locally referred to as
“flos-ferre”.  Nor did I know
that in Buckfastleigh, south-east of Dartmoor, is the William Pengelly Cave Studies
Centre, situated on the edge of the greatest concentration of caves in Devon,
some of which contain the richest deposits of interglacial mammalian remains
yet found in Britain.  Oh well, I’ll be
better prepared next time.  On the way
back to

Sussex

we drove right around the Mendip Hills that I had read so much about.  I remember pointing out the window and
saying, “Somewhere over there is Wookey Hole, and Swildon’s, and
Eastwater.”  No one with me knew
what I was talking about.

Two thirds of our stay went by and I still hadn’t gotten
underground.  I was having trouble
concealing the symptoms of “cave withdrawal syndrome” and hadn’t even
a lump of carbide to sniff.  I cleverly
suggested a trip to the town of

Wells

to see the magical old cathedral and it’s wells (springs).  I could at least touch some real cave
water.  Also I knew that there was a
caving shop nearby to which I could escape and talk cave with someone.  I rang up “Bat Products” as soon as
we arrived and went over straight away. Outside was what once must have been a sort of Land Rover, but was now a
vehicle shaped collection of cave bumper stickers and decals.  I knew I had found the right place.  Inside was Mr. Tony (J-Rat) Jarratt,
Proprietor, Caver, and Model (he appears dynamically posed in exposure suits on
many Bat Products adverts).  He looked to
me like a dreamy­eyed Mitch Miller after a cold rinse cycle.  Tony was about to close up shop and head into
the hills for the afternoon, but we chatted for a while and exchanged
Bulletins.  I said I was going to wander
around town for a bit with the family and he invited us up to the Hunters’
Lodge, “the best pub in the Universe”, to meet the rest of his brood
— the Bristol Exploration Club (BEC).

Caving Areas of

Great Britain

After seeing the “wells”, a resurgence in the
garden of the Bishop’s Palace in the shade of the great cathedral, we made our
way to Cheddar Gorge with its fine limestone cliffs and show caves.  We found it a busy place full of tourist
types, but a good opportunity to get our whole party underground.  Gough’s Cave is nicely lit, well decorated,
and tastefully guided by disembodied voices. Later, we retreated to the top of Cheddar Gorge (a perfectly wizard spot
for knadgering about) to picnic and “down a few tubes”.

We arrived at the infamous Hunters’ Lodge Inn, Priddy,
shortly after it opened for the evening. We found it surrounded by all manner of caving vehicles and at the
centre of a migration of slightly damp-looking shapes on foot coming over the
hilltops from all points.  Inside it was
practically standing (crawling or chimneying) room only.  Over the fireplace hung a collection of
carbide lamps, above the bar a row of tankards with Bertie the Bat Insignias on
their well worn sides.  From one room
seemed to radiate the unmistakable sounds of Morris Dancing to fiddle — but
this may have been hallucination or mass hysteria caused by the dense
concentration of cavers.  

The first order of business was, of course, to obtain from
the barman (also a caver) a pint of the best — “Butcombe Bitter” —
a spunky, aggressive bit of foam that rewards repeated, if not continual
consumption.

We soon found Tony, who took us round to meet the remaining
members of the BEC (whose mottos are “Everything to Excess” and
“The BEC Get Everywhere”) the Wessex Cave Club (who seem to have just
come from a tea party), the Shepton Mallet Cave Club, the CSS, MCG, and MNRC,
etc.  All flock to the Hunters’ when not
digging in the dark.  Digging and singing
are common amongst cavers on Mendip, digging in shakeholes and crawlways
because most caves and nearly all new finds were first entered that way, and
singing mostly in the Hunters’ Lodge after being revitalized by a healthy dose
of Butcombe’s.  Sadly, this is slowly
declining (the singing not the drinking). Storytelling is alive and well amongst cavers everywhere, and I took my
turn telling of adventure under
West Virginia
and

Florida
.  At one point someone said, “Have we got
a trip for you!”, and it was proposed that I accompany the BEC the
following morning on a descent of Saint Cuthbert’s Swallet to remove the
inadequate pump from Sump Two.  It
sounded a sporting trip and hardly one to be passed up.  Laura had no reservations about leaving me in
such hands and she soon departed for
Southampton
with friends.  I hadn’t planned on an
overnight stay and so was without so much as a toothbrush or change of clothes.

After exhausting the Pubs’s consumables, we retired to the
Belfry, the “hut” that the BEC maintains as their digs.  It is one of six such club headquarters on
Mendip that stand ready to accommodate any number of local cavers and
visitors.  I rode over with Tony;
listening to Vivaldi Concertos under an incredibly stary sky.  The Belfry is easily recognized as the
building with the human skeleton mounted as if climbing the flag pole from
which hangs a red bat flag, perpetually at half-mast.  Inside were benches and bunks for dozens of
troglophiles, an extensive library and communications centre, kitchen; shower,
and meeting room with decorated by show caves ’round the world, and many
appropriate (if sometimes out of context) signs and warnings like “It is
forbidden to climb on these walls”, and a caution about explosive bolts on
the toilet seat.  One wall sported a
partially completed heroic mural depicting intrepid twentieth century explorers
in characteristic poses (Butcombes’ in hand). Altogether comfortably like a well­equipped West Virginia Fieldhouse.

The Belfry

Tales were told and I learned much about the local style,
which occasionally includes the judicious art of passage modification in the
interest of science and exploration — with explosives.  The euphemisms have only begun to be
catalogued: Bang, Wonder Hammer, Chemical Encouragement or Persuasion, Boulder
Laxative, etc. Some told stories of great doings in the huge, Welsh systems.

Apparently a few industrious individuals have spent up to
two months a year underground (in ten day stretches) pushing and digging in
caves under Mynydd Llangattwg.  I brought
out my best snaps (yes, I am never without my briefcase) and entertained with
tales of Florida Safari Style Caving – about being chased by Cape Buffalo into
caves only to run into trogloxenic alligators in close quarters.  Eventually, the sound of an empty barrel
being thumped signalled the time for a period of unconsciousness before the
morning’s activities.

The Mendip Hills upon which we slept consist of four great
domes that have been eroded to form a gently rolling plateau almost 100 square
miles in area and about 800 feet high on average.  A few valleys and gorges (as at Cheddar) are
incised into the rim.  Virtually all
drainage is subterranean.  In the steeply-dipping
limestone, this has produced a profusion of caves typified by precipitous tight
rifts, wet pitches, high gradient roaring streamways, and lower down, sumps
requiring SCUBA or, in some cases, extraordinary bravado.  The local chemistry provides for a plethora
of calcitic – enhancement in many a stal-covered grotto.

 “

England
’s Mountains Green”
have been a bit brown of late due to two consecutive years of unprecedented
drought.  The drought has eased the
cavers’ labours somewhat, but certainly didn’t dry up these caves completely,
as I would soon find out.

Everyone was up at a surprisingly decent hour (for cavers)
and there commenced a quiet flurry of preparatory activity as trips were
registered on the blackboard with their estimated times of emergence.  Tony appeared with a lovely selection of gear
to equip me with.  I crawled into my
grots and kit, all of which miraculously fit perfectly, and fortunately did not
include a weighty pair of “wellies”. I had dreaded the prospect of being presented a pair of

Wellingtons
and having to cave/climb in what
I imagined to be something like fireman’s boots.  I had somehow managed to never have been
caving in a wet suit, and I knew this was the time to try it.  I am thin and used to

Florida
‘s temperatures.  Kitted up (and looking fairly butch in black
foam) we walked the short distance to the vertical cement pipe that marks the
only entrance to Saint Cuthbert’s Swallet (dramatic chord here).

Mural in progress  BEC Belfry

St. Cuthbert’s is a far too recent discovery for the seventh
century monk to have been involved in its penetration.  Actually, apart from my own cleverly forged
mock manuscript, there is no evidence that he was a caver at all, although he
did excavate a partially underground home for himself on the Isle Faroe during
one of his antisocial periods.  The cave
is named for the ancient St. Cuthbert’s Lead Works which lie above it.  This mine is thousands of years old and may
actually have been a significant factor in the Romans’ decision to invade

Britain
.  It probably supplied the lead plumbing, for
the famous Roman spa in the nearby town of

Bath
. Later, in 1927, the sudden disappearance of the sizeable, St. Cuthbert’s
Pool, and the occurrence of a large collapse ten years later confirmed for
modern explorers the suspicion that significant passage lay below.

Digging began in the 1940’s and was finally rewarded when
the entrance series was breached in 1953 to reveal the most complex cave system
on Mendip.  At over 2,200 feet, it is
second in length only to Swildon’s Hole. Major discoveries came fairly regularly through the ’50’s and ’60’s with
the once terminal sump, (Sump One), being conquered in 1969.  A map of known passage was published in
1972.  Subsequent work has been on the
production of a CRG Grade 6d survey, forming the basis of the soon to be
published “Saint Cuthbert’s Report”, and a determined effort to, pass
Sump Two.  This is a major project,
involving the construction of a system of dams in the streamways to lower the
water in the sump where divers have been digging for ten years in a slurry of
mud and water.  Periodically, the pent-up
water is released all at once to flush through the sump.  The water that St. Cuthbert’s swallows
reappears in Wookey Hole, a mile or more to the south.  Our task on August 27, 1990 was to descend
and effect a removal of the inadequate and mud choked pump from Sump Two and to
and be back to the surface before the pub closed for the afternoon.

Unlike a trip into Swildon’s, the going gets easier the
deeper you go in the St. Cuthbert’s system, but that makes for a good bit of
sport at the top.  Waiting your turn to
climb down the pipe, you can’t help noticing that the exposed limestone outcrop
dips at about a 45 degree angle. You can follow that line a long way down in
your imagination.  The fifteen foot climb
through the pipe is an abrupt transition to the underground environment.  Within moments we were presented with our
first (and later our – last) obstacle, the Entrance Rift.  Those ahead of me disappeared into a narrow
crack in the bottom of a small chamber and called up when they were
though.  A shadowy face told me where the
best place to start was.  I climbed down
and slipped myself into the 30 foot deep vertical slot.  A cable ladder hung to one side but was of
little use, there simply was no room to climb. Sandwiched between well worn walls, the dilemma was not how to go down,
but how to go down at some controlled rate. Every conceivable body surface was used in a sort of ropeless body
rappel, the most interesting part being the narrow middle section where there
was hardly enough room to flex my legs to form a wedge.  This can get a bit dodgy when a lot of water
is cascading down the crack.  Everyone
wonders on their first trip down how they will fair going against gravity on
their way out.  Being in close contact
with the walls reminded me how cold, dark, and hard limestone can be, not at
all like the porous, white, rock I had gotten used to after caving for a year
in Florida.  Clambering rather awkwardly,
for the first time in a wet suit, over and through boulder ruckle quickly
brought me to a 25 foot drop and the first of four heavy steel ladders that
have been put into place with what must have been great effort.

It is not common practice on Mendip to fill wild caves with
mechanical contrivances of convenience, nor is St. Cuthbert’s being made into a
sort of show cave.  The cave is almost
unheard of outside

Britain

and because of its complexity and difficulty is in near pristine condition and
not much trafficked.  Access is carefully
controlled by the BEC on behalf of the landowners.  Trips are limited to small groups of
experienced explorers led by one of about 25 designated leaders.  The construction of semi-permanent ladders on
a few of the many pitches near the entrance was deemed acceptable to facilitate
the difficult ongoing project of exploration and mapping in this complex
system.  I am told I am probably the only
person to have made a trip into St. Cuthbert’s Swallet as my first trip
underground on Mendip.

We decided in the breakdown-littered Arête Chamber to forego
the “New Route” with it’s impressive but time consuming 60 foot
abseil of Pulpit Pitch and took the quicker “Old Route” through an
exhilarating (and somewhat disorienting) sequence of climbs and traverses.  I nearly lost my sense of direction — except
for one: we were going downwards, relentlessly and precipitously.  The “Wire Rift” began as a narrow
canyon going straight down­dip, and is traversed on steep damp ledges.  “This will be a bit of exercise on the
way out”, I thought.  Then I was
chimneying out over the deep dark space of the Waterfall Pitch and Wet Pitch
(where there used to be a steel wire for a handline) and appreciating the
occasional word of advice on what not to do from my guides up ahead.  A few horizontal moves and a climbdown brought
us to the ladder into Mud Hall, where routes again diverge in many
directions.  We elected to climb up into
the Pillar Chamber, well hung with stal and featuring a splendid calcite
column.  From there an interesting
climb-down through a slot took us through some low passage that was soon deepened
by a vadose trench.  Where it widened
again, we stopped to drink from a cold tin cup that is left under a trickle of
fresh falling water.

I paused to look around and realized that we had emerged
into a large breakdown room.  This was
the top of the Boulder Chamber, one of the largest rooms in the cave, and we
were taking a break under
Kanchenjunga, a
mountain of a block of stone that had come to rest on the floor.  The Belfryites enjoyed pointing out to me the
many openings that we had passed that led off to extensive series of passage
networks.  The Boulder Chamber is a major
central landmark for exploration in all directions.  We had made good time so far, so they decided
to show me a few of the nearby sights. On the south side of the room we approached the “Cascade”, an
immense wall of pure white, convoluted organ-pipe type flowstone about a
hundred feet high!  Not far away I
climbed up a slope into the bottom of a room whose decorated walls rose high
out of sight.  I crouched directly
beneath an amazing display of dripstone draperies, ‘many at least 20 feet long
and possibly the finest collection of calcite curtains in the

U.K.
  Nowhere did I see even a single formation
broken by carelessness or malice.

Exiting the bottom of Boulder Chamber past
“Everest”, another huge block, brought us finally to the Main Stream.
This meanders for a few hundred feet beneath the Rabbit Warren Series to
Stalagmite Pitch.  We avoided the 25 foot
drop by chimneying down between flowstone walls and crawled into Sewer Passage
— a low gradient muddy section of streamway. Here another stream adds itself to the flow, the passage turns south and
becomes a nice rift that is soon nearly blocked by massive flowstone, which we
climbed to enter the Beehive Chamber with it’s namesake, a 20 foot high
stalagmitic mound.  On the far side of
the room we climbed a smooth rounded stal slope with the aid of a heavy chain
anchored at the top and was rewarded with one of the most dramatic vistas St.
Cuthbert’s has to offer.  We stood on the
brow of the Great Gour of Gour Hall — a monstrous rimstone dam 20 feet
high!  Above rose a high Aven [dome]
almost filled with formations.  Below,
the awesome cascade of calcite plunged steeply into the Great Gour Rift, a high
stream washed canyon stretching straight into the darkness beyond.

Dwarfed by proportion gone mad, we carefully descended the
face of the Great Gour and set off, splashing down the echoing canyon.  The cold water deepened as we approached a
dam constructed across the stream to increase the airspace through the once
impenetrable Sump One.  We left the
rapidly diminishing rift and entered a cobbly crawl on hands and knees for the
first time in the frigid water.  This
became a flat-out crawl through the sump with a comfortable amount of air
space.  Far from the warm daylight above
we arrived in the impressive High Rift Passage of St. Cuthbert’s 2 — the world
beyond the sump.

I was assured as we splashed and occasionally swam through
delightful, high, gently sloping clean canyon that so far no one had as yet
encountered alligators in the remote wet passages beyond Sump One.  I was much relieved because at this point my
hands were really too numb for wrestling with giant reptiles.  Our progress was occasionally slowed by
crawls in the streambed under flowstone chokes and: sporting climbs down
waterfalls to invigorating plunges into deep pools.  Swimming became the most common means of
travel as we approached the Aswan High Dam — an impressive bit of work and
quite a feat of shoestring engineering this far down.  A scramble over the wall of the dam to get
out of the chilling water and we reached the now terminal Sump Two, that even
today is being silted up by particulate debris washed down from the ancient
lead works nearly 500 feet above on the surface.

 

Maps taken from: Mendip Underground: A Caver’s Guide, 1977;
Mendip Pub.,

Somerset,
England

The relative inactivity while work was completed at the
terminal pool was enough to set me to shivering once or twice despite the
well-fitted wet suit (and they say the water in Welsh caves is twice as
cold!).  This crew would just love skinny
dipping in
Blue
Canyon
or

Briar
Cave
, I thought.  It wasn’t long before the pump was out and we
were retracing our steps, swims, crawls, and climbs, toward the surface so far
above. Behind each dam, some poor sod was talked into diving down to pull the
plug, to the sound of much cheering and applause just audible above the
thunderous din of the escaping water.  Out
of the blue (actually black) I heard, “How about a game of catch
then?”, and we began passing an American football back and forth to liven
up the long swims in the downstream end of the cave.  I never did find out where the pigskin
appeared from, or whether this was a traditional Mendip pastime or something
planned to help me feel at home.

A few of us stayed in the stream passage up past the Boulder
Chamber to climb the thinly-bedded walls of the Water Shute toward the Pulpit
Pitch on the ”

New Route
“.  The drop itself not being rigged, we back-tracked
to a climb up into Mud Hall and the beginning of the return thrutch up the
steep ledges of the Wire Rift — the sort of not quite vertical caving,
requiring no SRT, that is common on Mendip but rare in my own personal
experience.  I was probably mildly
hypothermic and less efficient in my climbing than the Bellfryites ahead of
me.  I know I was fighting the unfamiliar
restrictive wet suit and using my arms too much.  I’m sure that I lagged behind the advancing
column at times, but was never without a patient route finder.  The occasional rigid steel ladder provided a
welcome means of expeditious vertical progress. From the Arête Chamber, we took a quick break before the final push to
day light, and went over to peer down the 60 foot Pulpit Pitch for one last
glimpse into the depths.

My friends in the BEC won’t forgive me if I don’t admit to
being suitably knackered as I looked up the long anticipated final effort of
the Entrance Rift.  Once in the slot, I
managed a sort of halting abrasive wriggle by alternately advancing my knee
caps, shoulder blades, and chin against the rock, with periodic gropes for the
cable ladder.  Halfway up I heard the
sound of approaching water as the flood gates at the entrance were opened to
provide a final bit of interest.  A slow
blur of cold stone and hot sweat and my small momentum carried me right up the
entrance pipe to birdsong and sunlight. It should here be recorded that during this particular trip down St.
Cuthbert’s, not a single living alligator was spotted by any living member of
the team in any passage whatever … again. [Lest this reference to alligators seem odd to some readers the editor
notes that the author has a very disconcerting habit of confronting large vertebrates,
both above and belowground.  Anyone who
can find an African Cape Buffalo in
Levy County,
Florida could find alligators in

England
. Ed.]

Back at the Belfry we untrussed our grots, stowed our kit,
and without even towelling off, sped straight to the Hunter’s for pints of
Butcombe’s and plates of Faggot and Peas. That afternoon I spent rooting about amongst the ruins of the old lead
works and reading “The Caver’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer.  (Sorry. Actually, I found out that Thomas
Hardy did write a novel about caving: “Our Exploits at West Poley” —
a children’s book and certainly not one of his best efforts).  We all found ourselves later at the Hunter’s
(of course) for an evening of balladry and the telling of stories about doing
everything to excess – everywhere.  After
spending a restful night in my choice of bunks high in the Belfry, I re-entered
the one set of clothes I had with me (now a slightly different colour), dropped
a handful of pounds in the collection box (the BEC doesn’t charge enough for
lodgings), and went down to Bat Products for a chat with Tony before leaving to
join Laura and her family.

If the boys at the Belfry accept my invitation to cave with
the FSS in central

Florida
,
they will almost certainly “Get Everywhere”.

The best of luck in their digs, dives, etc. and innumerable
thanks to Tony Jarrett and all the members of the Bristol Exploration Club who
spared not a jot in showing me the depth of hospitality extended to cavers from
around the world in the huts on Mendip. I hereby authorize the Editor of the “Belfry Bulletin” to
utilize as he sees fit any or all of this essay and its illustrations if he is
in need of filler.  I apologize for the
occasional, very American use of the exclamation mark (!) which he may delete with
my permission.  I am currently at work composing
a symphonic suite entitled “An American on Mendip” with lots of nifty
parts for pewter percussion, which I plan to premier at the Hunter’s Lodge Inn
during my next visit to Mendip. With the help of Saint Cuthbert, it will be
soon.

© 2024 Bristol Exploration Club Ltd

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