Exploration Club, The Belfry,

, Priddy, Wells,

Editor: John Williams


I have included the reports at the front of the issue so
that those of you that can’t be bothered with them can skip through to the

Please also note the dinner booking forms at the back.  Please complete these asap and return them if
you are coming. I know from my experiences last year that the organisation is a
nightmare only made worse by late returns.

Anyway I hope this issue gives you all some suitable early
morning, small room reading pleasure.

If not. .. you can always use it to w*** your a-*!!!!


So the last BB of the Club Year, and my last one too!  See my report for further details of
this.  Things have been a bit slow at the
Belfry of late, the same crowd of regular members has been around but there’s a
lot of people that we haven’t seen for some time …. what has happened to you
all …. you are missed.

I know that Andy and Ange Cave have departed these shores
for France on a permanent basis, I don’t think for a minute that it’s the last
we have seen of them though.  I am sure
you’ll join me in wishing them all the best in their ventures over there.  Various members have their address details
should you wish to contact them.

For my sins I will be moving back up to London shortly for
Career reasons .. (yes even I have to work from time to time).  This probably means that you will see more of
me on Mendip as since I have been living in Gurney Slade my visits to Priddy
have become fewer.  Funny old world

I know that our regular diggers have been active recently
and that J-Rat continues to unearth artefacts (alien or otherwise) from Five
Buddies Sink.

I have also finished my diving project in St
Cuthbert’s.  Thank you to those that
helped with this …. and to my critics … I suggest you learn to read because
then you would understand why I was doing it!!!

I will write up a full report of my activities for a future

Also in this issue you will find Dinner Booking forms.  Thanks must go to Nigel Taylor for organising
this again this year.  I did it last year
and it is bloody hard work.  I hope that
the attendance is worthy of the effort he has put in.

Lastly I am sorry to see Jeff Price, Mike Wilson and Hilary
Wilson standing down from the committee this year.  They have all been keen and valuable members
for some time and their efforts have not gone unnoticed.  I am sure the membership would echo my
sentiments and thanks to them all.

Anyway that’s the lot from me.  Hope to see you all soon.  Regards and Good caving ….. Jingles.


Membership Secretaries Report

I will not be as verbose this year, mainly because I do not
have much to report.  The sending out of
addressed envelopes to all last years paid up members worked really well, with
a plethora of returning to me before the end of the year and then the usual
dribble for months after that.  Ah well I
suppose nothing is perfect.  I propose
doing the same again with the first issue of the as after the AG.M.

Just to remind you all that the cut off date for memberships
is the end of December so you will receive no more gratis copies of the as
after that, if you have not paid your subs.

On an actual membership front this year has been very
disappointing with only a total of five new members joining the club, 3 in
January of this year and two at the last committee meeting in September, I
would like to formally welcome you all to the club.

I still have not found an effective piece of software to
manage the names and addresses yet, even after trying various routes; perhaps
someone will finally suggest a package that will do the job.

I am standing again for re-election to the committee and
hope to be re-elected to the post of Membership Secretary as I’m fairly sure no
one else wants to do it!

See you at the AG.M.

Richard Stephens
Membership Secretary.


From the Belfry Table Number 21

Don’t forget, the A.G.M and Annual Dinner, Saturday 4th.
October 1997.

The Dinner will be held at Bristol University Veterinary
School at Langford House, Langford, Somerset, details appear in this BB with
the booking form.  A 53 seater coach will
leave the Hunters Lodge at 7.00pm, book with your dinner bookings, but as
always, pay on the coach, cost will be £2-50 a head, which after drivers tip
deduction will leave a sum towards the Post Dinner barrels at the Belfry!

The Club extends its’ deepest sympathy to Carol and the
family of Life Member Alan Sandal (240). In keeping with the feelings which prevailed at his funeral on Friday
15th August, I will simply wish his spirit excess wherever it may be.

Alex Gee, Rich Blake and Quackers have just returned from a
fortnight in Austria where they holidayed and caved with Mr. & Mrs. Snablet
et All!  All very brown, rumours of
caverns discovered measureless to man have not yet been heard on the hill, is
that why they are so brown?

Talking of Caves, Angie and Andy have bade farewell to the
UK and emigrated to a fine caving area of France.  Bob & Maryika Hill and family send
greeting from Gabon to all, in a recently received letter.

I have designed new BEC Tee-shirts and car stickers, and in
the first instance these are available from Tony Jarrett at Bat Products
{Thanks Tony!] or directly from me in case of difficulty, though please
remember Postage will be extra!

Tony Boycott tells me that recent CO2 readings were again
high in WHITE PIT.  Take extreme care if
you visit this cave at present.

A new borehole drilled this week from the base of Westbury
Quarry encountered a possible cavity with water at 240 feet, but sadly unless
you are an aggregate producer, no indication of other cavities before that
depth.  Drilling started at 170.29
m(Above Sea Level) circa 562 feet.  The
borehole is for ground water and scientific monitoring so may yield interesting
information in the future.

The EXPLOSIVES USER GROUP will run the first officially
accredited training weekend on the 24th/25th/26th. October 1997 on Mendip.  Primarily for existing licensed holders
across the UK it is intended to expand this training for potential and would-be
licence holders at a later date.  The
group’s action is intended to forestall future legislation that may well be
brought in for mandatory training for all such handlers of explosives.  At present explosives handlers in the quarry
industry are the only persons who by law must have detailed training and
examinations, however it is known that the Construction Industry is soon to be
brought into a similar scheme, so hopefully the Caving world will be ahead of
such legislation and have their house in order, enabling exploration with the
‘gentle art’ to continue for years to come!.

Goodbye from the Table, … see you at the AGM?

Nigel Taylor, Hon.Sec.
Friday 29th August 1997.


Report of the Hon. Secretary 1996/7

Let there be no pretence, I am very concerned about the
state of the Club.  An independent
observer might draw the conclusion that apathy rules!  Did anyone read the minutes of last years AGM
published in the BB last December, did or indeed does anyone care?

I should love to paint a glowing portrait of the state of
the BEC, but this would be false.  Akin
to most clubs, general interest from new blood in joining clubs is
diminishing.  Whether this is due to lack
of interest or finances, or a general fall-off in society in general – in a
need to belong to a body or club, – I cannot but surmise.  What I am concerned about is the general
interest in the state of the club by existing members.  Are we getting it wrong?  Surely at £24 per year, indeed at £20 if you
pay early, it cannot be the costs that are putting members off.  Try organising a function and support is less
than worth the effort, with the exception of the Annual Dinner.  Perhaps we are not giving you the member what
you need, …. but are you telling us what you want.  It is no good some individuals saying:  “We do all the hard caving for the club,
why should we have to do anything else!” What makes a club, ‘The Club’, is the spirit generated by the varied
mixture of persons who make up the membership, the variety of individual
characters, skills, sense of humour or lack of such, or whatever.  Surely it was that essence that made you the
member join the club in the first place.

Thus, as human beings we have all the frailties and faults
of any other human beings, and as club members we differ in our abilities and
characters.  So then why, oh why has this
last year seen the intense bickering and sometimes vicious back biting that
seems at times ready to cause rifts within the club.  It is most sad that this is most evident
within the committee.  Work has not been
done by some for various reasons, others can be critical of this, but let us
keep aggro out of this please.

As Secretary, I feel that my role is often to
sit-on-the-fence, not to negate standing up and being counted, but rather to
prevent discord in the club.  I try to
put my personal views to one side and take the view of what is best for the
club.  I certainly ‘Ain’t no angel’ if
you’ll excuse the language, but I try, and trying is what being a member, and
most especially a committee member is all about.

Attendances at meetings are often arduous, especially after
a long weeks work, but they are part of the role.  So is playing your part in being a member of
a committee, being prepared to make and agree on decisions and stand by the
agreed policies of the Club.

Because of the errors made in our electoral process last
year, the AGM brought all candidates onto the committee.  Such an action, gives a committee position
with no responsibilities for some. Please do not draw the inference that I am criticising any such
individual, but, perhaps future AGM’s might consider giving back up roles to
the ‘floating members’ so that certain heavy workload positions are supported
by deputies, thus giving such a floating member a role and actual
responsibility, which hopefully in turn will give them pride and pleasure in
playing a part in the running of their club. In practice I feel that the smaller the committee, the easier it is to
obtain constructive agreement on decisions, and to ensure work is effectively
tackled.  Set against this is the
argument that I have put forward myself in the past, that if someone is keen
enough to stand for election then especially if they are younger or new
members, then let them stand and be given a chance.

I especially wish to make a point of thanking on both my
beha1f, and also that of the club, three people who have decided to step down
from the committee this year.  Mike and
Hilary Wilson and Jeff Price have served for several years on the committee,
always giving much support and time on behalf of the BEC. often with no praise
for their unstinting efforts.  They have
worked quietly away in the background, and could always be counted upon to
‘produce the goods’ be it by way of their attendance at meetings, working
weekends or as part of the organising team for functions.  To my view they epitomise the spirit of being
a club member, and their intended departure is to the detriment of the
club.  I hope they may still reconsider
and remain as candidates for the committee.

To those members who are saddened by my views, I offer no
apology.  I will not gloss over a
situation which at present is far from healthy. I have said in several “From the Belfry Table” articles in the
BB. it is your club, play a part in it, please!!!  Introduce a new member, help run a stomp or a
barbecue, organise an away meet, offer your services, just please …. whether
you are an old timer who already ‘has done your bit’ or a new member don’t just
sit there, …… we need you, and hopefully you need the club.  That way we can look forward to an even
brighter next sixty plus years, we will keep the name of the BEC in a state to
be proud of and an envy of many other clubs. Only together with effort and your support do we go forward.

Nigel Taylor
Member 772.
Hon. Secretary Bristol Exploration Club, 1996/7
28th. August 1997.


Belfry Bulletin Editor’s Report.

John Williams.

This has certainly not been the best year I have had as
Editor.  I have exceeded the number of
issues that I promised to produce at last years AGM but there have been
problems with the distribution – for which I will take responsibility ­and I know
some of you have felt let down by this. I can only apologise to you – I have done the best I could under
extremely difficult circumstances. Thanks must, however, go to J-Rat who has been invaluable in the
distribution of the BB.

There has been much local criticism of the BB this year and
surprisingly little support from the membership both in terms of articles and
help offered but never received.  This
has to be the slowest year I have had in terms of articles from the membership.  I thank those of you that have written
something, and remind the rest of you that it is very easy to sit in the pub
and criticise the BB for being too thin or lacking in interesting articles ….
but what have YOU done about it recently??? I know for a fact that there are several members sitting on articles at
the moment and would predict that the next editor will receive a sudden rush.
Personal??? .. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Alfie told me that editing the BB is a thankless task – I am
inclined to agree with him.

I was in two minds about taking the editorship on again this
year anyway but was swayed at the AGM, maybe I should have stuck to my feeling,
who knows.

I will not stand again as editor this year as my heart is no
longer in it and I know that there are others who are keen to have a go.  I will not stand in the way and would wish
the next editor every success with a difficult and demanding task.

It seems to me that there has been great division within the
committee this year and I would personally question the motivation of some of
the members.  I urge the membership to
think carefully about voting this AGM as it is my opinion that the club is in
grave danger of taking a dive and that very careful action is required on the
part of next years committee.  The
committee are the representatives of the club and not there as individuals,
personalities should be kept out of club business, this has patently not been
the case in the past year.

For my part I wish to take a step back from all of this.

Should the club wish me on the committee again this year I
am happy to stand but I do not wish to take on a major office ……. perhaps a
floating position.

I have put in much over the last four years and have largely
enjoyed the responsibility and duty but I feel it is time for a change.



Tacklemaster’s report.

Mike Wilson.

Tackle users this will be my last report as
Tacklemaster.  I have decided to stand
down!!  My hope is that a fresh look at
the job will improve the poor ladder and rope state of the store!!

I would like to thank all the club members who have booked
tackle out and returned it after use!! To the unknown persons who remove tackle – don’t book it out and retain
it – I would say that your selfish actions cause a great deal of hassle to
other club members. – YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!

This year has been quiet, the store has averaged 2 – 3
ladders in stock plus 4 spreaders and one lifeline – this is a parlous state
for stock.

On the plus side – the Cuthbert’s ladder has reappeared
after a 4 month absence (I found it in the drying room – where it had
mysteriously materialised! – ed!!) and we have managed to fabricate a steel
ladder for Ogof Draenen.  This has been
delivered and left in the cave ready for installation at Balcony Pitch.

The rung stock is down to 6 ladders worth and there is
enough wire and crimps ditto.

My thanks to Jeff Price for drilling the Daenen ladder
sections.  This was a great help.  Rich Blake has expressed interest in the
position of Tacklemaster next year and I feel his pugnacious style would suit
the job.

For inventory see below.

Tackle Inventory 1997.

Total previous ladders:                21
Total Scrapped                          4
New Manufactured                     0
Total 1997-09-07                        17

August stock count                    3
Accounted for (digs)                   6
Ladders missing                        8
Spreaders                                 3
Wire belays                               4

Stock lifeline count at August      1 x 75m Dyn

All other ropes have been missing for several months.  This means they were NOT BOOKED OUT!!

Exploration Stock.

Stock ladders                0

(One transferred to St Cuthbert’s)

Ropes                1 x 18m Static
                        1 x 20m Static
                        1 x 36m Static
                        1 x 35m Static
                        1 x 33m Static
                        1 x 67m Static
                        1 x 54m Static
                        1 x 40m Static

N.B. To my knowledge all these ropes are over 7 years old
and untested!!

I feel the club should invest in some new ropes and


Caving Secretary’s Report.

Jeff Price.

Members have been active abroad in the past year in France,
Germany, Austria, India and diving in the Philippines.  (Don’t forget to write up articles for the BB

The year has also seen a different approach to the meets
list.  As requested there was a Mendip
Diary, aimed at new and prospective members. Thanks to everybody who showed willing with this.  I also added several Yorkshire, Derbyshire
and Wales dates.

Some of the Mendip meets were poorly attended – so maybe
next year we should have a rethink!!!

Pen Park Hole is still hugely popular.  If you wish a trip get in touch with either
myself or Trebor – it is excellent.

Midweek digging has been, as ever, popular – Barrow Rake, Five
Buddies Sink and White Pit yielding more passage.  Several members are digging and resurveying
Eastwater Swallet.

St Cuthbert’s trips calmed down during the summer – that is
usual.  Winter is on the way so it should
get busier from now on.  There is still
some cleaning to be done – so if anyone wants a trip I am sure a leader will
oblige.  We still have to fix a permanent
ladder in the entrance for insurance reasons.

I.D.M.F. Report.


Mike Palmer.


Bobby Bagshaw.

And the current Caving Secretary.

No applications were received …… See accounts for


1997 Annual Hut Wardens Report

Compiled by Rebecca

This final report follows the interim report written in

The remainder of the year has indicated little upturn in the
hut’s affairs.  Very few guests have
stayed on the Mendips in general and the continued lack of residency by members
has only served to exasperate the situation.

The collapse in hut income has not been as recent or sudden
as indicated in the figures above.  It
was noted by Ivan Sandford in his 1996 Annual Hut Wardens report that residency
was dropping off alarmingly.  This trend
has continued and the hut remains relatively unused at weekends for overnight
usage.  I would be grateful if more
people paid day fees for general use of the hut, such as day time visitations
or post-public house gatherings.

As mentioned in my interim report I do have a strategy for
increasing hut usage by visiting groups. I have obtained a list of university addresses to whom I intend to send
information on Mendip opportunities and the Belfry.  My main concern at this time is that there
has been a considerable time lapse since many university caving clubs visited
the Mendips.  As a result it may be
assumed that any students who came with those previous parties have now left to
follow their careers. This will mean that some clubs may have grown ignorant to
the absolute splendidness of our pleasant climate and awesome speleological

In terms of general day to day maintenance the hut continues
to be supported by a diligent minority. Thanks go to the guardian angel of the oil tank, the Friday afternoon
gardener and every caver who takes the time to swab the decks of the changing
room after a caving trip.


Hut Usage


% of HuUTotallncome

% (Decrease)lIncrease
























33.11 %






















 Day Fees









 Hut Totals









 Hut fees as % of total income









 Other Income









 Cuthbert’s Fees









 CCC Permits









 Cuthbert’s Reports



























 T-shirts & Stickers


















Total income









The projects mentioned within the interim report have not
been put into action as yet.  This is
primarily because every member of the core team worked so hard in the first few
months of the year, that I haven’t had the heart to ask people to give up their
summer to continue the Belfry refurbishment. Besides which, both myself and the hut engineer have been noticeable by
my absence this summer due to business and social commitments.

In the circumstances we remain in need of the following:

Kitchen work surfaces for
completion of the kitchen cupboards – wall mounted Microwave

Shelving wood for constructing a
large rucksack/kit storage unit in the bunkroom

Dry stone walling stone

Large wall mounted water heater

Please contact Glenview if you have any of the above and we
can arrange collection, if necessary. Suggestions by all members for improvements to the hut are more than
welcome. (Tel: 01749 xxxxxxx – answer machine).

As many of the local members are aware, I have left Glenview
and now reside in Wells.  I have
maintained regular contact with the cottage and recommend that it continues to
be used as the hut booking line, with the blessing of its current residents,
Ivan Sandford and Nick Mitchell.  This
continuity will reduce any communication problems as Glenview has remained the
abode of the Hut Warden for several years.


Club Rescue Team Leader.

Things have been very quiet rescue wise (hooray).  I have been bullying people to attend the MRO
lectures organised by Dany and these are due to start again shortly.

I am in the process of compiling a rescue list of personnel
to hand to Brian Prewer, if you wish to be included on this please contact me
on 0976 925 307.  Since becoming team
leader in March I have not had time to organise a rescue practice because of
business commitments but I am organising one for October as I now have more

I wish to continue in this post if the membership
re-elect.    Cheers Alex.


The End of an Era?

John Buxton.

Editor’s Note:

Although not a BEC member Rob
Palmer was known to many of us and had been involved in projects with various
Club members over the years.  Not least
his involvement with the Cheddar Pushes as well as the Andros project.  It seems appropriate to include this article
by John Buxton – still an active member of the BEC as well as the COG.

When I came back to active diving and read the literature
‘The darkness beckons’ etc. I started to daydream as I read about the Blue Holes
of the Bahamas.  Later we inherited some
money and diving holidays became a possibility.

I saw an advert from an address in Somerset about a blue
holes foundation organised by the same Rob palmer I had read about. With some
nervousness I rang the telephone number and an American lady answered.  (Stephie Schwabe … Rob’s wife).

I explained my geriatric age and was told no problem, the
magical ‘DQ’ apparently worked.

Eventually I arrived at Nassau airport 4.8.95 and after
collecting my luggage a very fit looking man I immediately recognised as Rob
collected me and carted me off in a huge taxi. We travelled around the town and more diving gear was collected en

The next morning the boat ‘Ocean Explorer’ was full of gear
and bodies and we set off South.  As we
went about the unpacking of gear, Rob came round and without too much emphasis
explained I didn’t really want to use an ABLJ … ‘Try out these
“Wings”‘.  These were carefully
assembled and explained to me and indeed they did work well.

This year was my third expedition and again the magic was
working well.  Rob, besides being an
extraordinarily capable diver was also a very good judge of other divers’

I now had my own wings … suitably modified to accept side
mounted cylinders.  Rob suggested dives I
could do with other people or even by myself. I was doubtful about some of them but he was right.  I did do most of them.  The one I turned down I later regretted as I
did a more difficult one subsequently. When I hoisted myself aboard the RIB for a deep dive with three large
cylinders round me, Rob was quite happy when I told him I had indeed practised
swimming with such a load, but he did meet me at -60m on the way back just to
make sure.

On his third trip due to the cancellation of my second week
on the boat, Rob invited me to accompany him to Grand Bahama.  He organised digs and we dived each day in
the Owl Hole – Mermaid Hole complex. This is a marvellous system of decorated chambers and passages. During
this period we developed a rapport and discussed each dive before and after,
and talked frankly of shortcomings … mine of course!!

We did a longer dive with a stage bottle on the last day.

Rob left on Thursday 24th for the Red Sea.  He was to be away from home for five weeks
and was not really looking forward to it as he had so much BHF work to do at

When I heard the news of his death I had a great feeling of
sadness for Stephie, followed by a hollow feeling that summers will not be the
same any more.

JSB 22.5.97.

Editorial Comment – Rob Parker.

The sad news of the death of Rob Parker reached us a short
while ago.  Like Rob Palmer he was not a
BEC member but was known well to many of us and his involvement on projects on
Mendip is legend.  Anyone who has seen
the ‘Nosey Parker’ video will attest to this.

Many of us also used his climbing facilities in Bristol .. a
warm welcome was always there for fellow cavers and divers.

Like Palmer, Rob parker was at the cutting edge of cave
diving and had been for many years.  He
was involved in international projects such as the Blue Holes and the Wakulla
Springs project.

To me he was something of an inspiration … indeed like
John Buxton it was in reading of the exploits of people like this that I became
interested in caving and cave diving in the first place.  I was lucky enough to meet and spend time
with some of my ‘heroes in print’ and Rob was one of them.

I am sure the club will join me in passing on condolences to
his family.

The Cave Diving fraternity has suffered a doubly tragic loss
…. two of the foremost divers have passed on.

May they be remembered fondly ….. their exploits certainly
pass now into the realm of caving legend.



Librarians Report

This is my first year as librarian and I wish to continue in
this post, if I am re-elected.

I have examined the library contents and have identified the
following problems that I have started to tackle.

Lack of cupboard space:- The cupboards are now full and
there is no more room for the storage of new acquisitions.  I have been trying to source some free or
cheap upright drawing chests for the storage of surveys, as this would free up
floor space for the installation of some more cupboards.  So if any you work in drawing offices etc and
can help to obtain some please do so.

Deterioration of the old Logs and Journals:- I was dismayed
to find that a lot of the old logs had started to rot because of the damp
conditions, so I have started to leave the heater on in the winter and this
seems to have dried them out, I have also found the log for 1947-50 in a right
shit state, and it is currently being rebound and photocopies made.  This is being carried out by Jeff Price who
has kindly arranged to have it done for nought, thanks Jeff.

In addition there have been several acquisitions for the
Library this year.  Two books that have
been purchased :- Sheck Exleys “Caverns Measureless to Man” and Dave
Irwin’s et al “The Mendip Cave Registry”.  We have also received several book donations
from Jim Smart, Jeff Price, Jingles and Dave Turner.

We have also been given a Computer by Henry Bennett and this
has been upgraded by Estelle.  Thanks

That’s all Folks.

Cheers Alex.


Supping Tup’s Arse in Dentdale!

The weather the week before Whitsun was terrible, more like
April showers than May Sunshine.

In spite of the poor omens Hilary, Babs, Jeff, Rob and
myself decided to carry on with the now semi permanent ‘old codgers’ charabanc
trip to Dent in Yorkshire.  Estelle
arrived early on Friday and met up with John Christie and BOB the belfry boy on
Saturday. They all managed to slip a trip into Red Moss cave.

The B team did a circular walk up Funters Gill around to Nun
House arriving back in Dent in bright sunshine.

Sunday we all teamed up with ‘Dobber John’ Christie and the
Craven group.  Birks Fell was the
objective and after a lengthy walk from the busy car park, we managed to go as
far as cascade pitch.  I managed to get
jammed in a tight slot just before cascade.

We exited and walked down to Buckden Zoo car park complete
with 1000 grockles.

Drove off to the George and Dragon in Dent for beer and food
and a boasting session.

We all checked Clive’s wrists for handcuff marks then IDNA
tested the digs on his back to Estelle’s nails!!!

Tuesday … good weather … walked from Horton to Ling Gill
and High Birkwith Farm circular route – 11 miles!  Plenty of wildlife including the Lesser
Spotted Purple Headed Red Peeker (?) Usually found behind a wall!

Again returning on bloody stumps for beers and brags at the

We also decided that Grolsh lager stubbies should have a new
logo …. “Take my top off and give somebody one!!”

Weds … Jeff and Babs with Hilary and Mike ‘portering’
pottered up to the GG Bradford meet in glorious sunshine – I was relegated to
carrying a rucksack with food and beer. Said hello to Whitemeg who was suffering from an acute case of knackered

Back at Dent – alone at last – we kept falling over Willet
and his Wifelets.  This huge rooster with
several hens put Mike Willet to shame.

Finally the grouse moors walk to Coverdale was the height of
the week’s walking.  An excellent bird
watching walk of 11 miles or so over two moors and taking in the Coverdale
valley.  The weather was hot and sunny
… if anything .. too hot!!

Hilary caught the sun and was dubbed ‘Rudolf the red necked

AHH well back to the Sun Inn for B&B (Beer and

Friday .. pottered around then trundled back down the
motorway in an empty charabanc to Keynsham.

P.S. Tup’s Arse is the local brew … Ram’s Bottom!!!

Mike Wilson.


A Fortean experience in Assynt

As we rolled up the drive to Taig na Faimh there seemed to
be an ominous number of cars already present. Yes, you’ve guessed it, the hut
was double booked again with every inch of bunk and floor space taken up by
climbers cavers and walkers.  After a
meal at the Alt at which Eric was presented with a photographic record of his
Waterslide trip last year (as well as one of a zonked-looking J-Rat wielding a
Bosch drill at the sump) we decamped to the old hut for a tolerable night’s
snooze with the mouse turds.  Sunday
dawned sunny and the BEC/GSG contingent consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Snablet,
Graham Bromley, Tavand J-Rat headed for East Block in Claonite while Julian
Steve Cuddihy and I after a call to Jim Crooks took the Lochinver run.  Pete Rose Trevor Knief and Andy Tyler did
what everybody else wasn’t!

At Lochinver we did a passable Steptoe imitation along the
harbour front pitching timber into Pete’s trailer – sufficient for the entire
week.  Jim, looking not a day older, had
re-stocked his shed with more junk than last year and after brushing out
several gallons from the floor inside grumbled about the state of the roof as
did I after emptying a gallon of water over myself from the fireman’s helmet
which had lain just under the leak. After a verbal trot through the immune system as derived from a recent
Horizon programme he’d seen he told us the tale of the dead colonel, the
moose’s head and the ‘Del-boy’ diver. Apply here for further details as well as the one about the yuppie rat
catcher.  All slightly Fortean.

The pie shop has increased its range of pies but the
proprietor didn’t know whether to look disgusted or pleased with a
recommendation from Michael Winner who had passed through last year.  He was feeling sulky that Winner could
conclude he ran a chippy from looking at the bistro’s exterior.  I also discovered he (the proprietor not
Michael Winner) used to go caving on Mendips. For all I know he might be a BEC member ­perhaps he could be persuaded
to join the GSG and we’d get a pie discount. One can dream!

After this it was time for caving and Steve’s introduction
to Claonite and bottle carries. This was probably a bad idea as regards
persuading Steve he could manage sump 3 and beyond.  I was so un-together I nearly managed to free
dive sump one instead of doing the by-pass. After dumping the bottles (which we never used and I only got back from
Simon two months later) we crawled into East Block for photography. On the way
I realised why I hadn’t been there for 7 years and that the French caving term
‘penible’ sums it all up very nicely. Bumped into J-Rat’s team exiting the other way muttering about
fumes.  Inside East Block Julian failed
to find the start of Infinite Improbability while I started the
photography.  Three failed slave flashes
later I was far from gruntled but eventually I got it mostly together and
retreated with some reasonable shots of East Block and the passage leading to
it.  We even managed some photos on the
exit to add to the collection.

Down at the Inch J-Rat was busy in conversation with a fat
American (if that isn’t stating the obvious I don’t know what is), a man from
the Outer Hebrides and others.  He was
the only one who seemed to know the words to the songs!  Before we became totally incapable we
returned to the hut and a soya spag bog.

The next day the diggers i.e. Julian, J-Rat and co headed
for Damoclean while Pete persuaded Steve to sherpa for him in the Waterslide on
the promise of a sea dive later.  The
carry up the hill and down to the sump went like clockwork.  Pete was full of confidence armed with Pete
Mulholland’s lucky line reel and a 50 watt mega light. ‘45mins maximum’ he said
before submerging leaving Steve with a loaned nicad and Steve’s spare.  Steve after a few minutes of listening to the
roaring stream and watching the line twitch started playing with his spare
light – which failed to work.  A few
minutes later the light Pete gave him started to go dim ……

Meanwhile Pete was forging his way into the sump confident
that his sherpa retention system would work.

At the constriction a bit of thrashing soon got him through
and rather than fiddle with the belaying in the poor vis (his megalight failed
when it saw the constriction) he stomped (no fins this year) up the large
ongoing passage beyond the narrows to quickly surface in ongoing dryish thrust
plane – Straight Flush – which clearly acts a flood overflow.  A quick belay of the line was performed and
he was back into the sump finding the constriction as usual to be a doddle on
the exit although the line was a bit tight at this point.

He emerged to greet a relieved Steve who groped his way out
behind him to the welcoming sight of day. A kit sort out at the hut saw our heroes reassembling at the Kylesku
ferry slip for Pete’s first sea dive of the season.  Needless to say there were lots of kit
cock-ups with feed hoses not fitting etc. and Pete was not a happy man when he
found his flash gun lead was in Somerset – so no underwater snaps.  We dived at slack water and after passing
some surprisingly recent car wrecks steamed over to the wall and along for a
couple of hundred metres or more.  A good
fun dive.

After a phone call from the bar of the Kylesku Hotel in
order to get my daughter to post my flash gun lead we had the usual dive
debrief to the customers in the bar with an update from the bar staff on what
vehicles had currently been dumped. Apply here for the Fortean tale of the car unintentionally push started
into Loch Glencoul by a passing Dutch tourist. I then returned a pint mug to the bar found ‘en dive’ and now home to
some wee encrusting beasties.  We settled
down to an excellent meal of moules for me while Steve continued his assay of
Scottish curry making skills.

The diggers had plodded on at Rana Mole Hole and
Damoclean.  Poor Tav and Graham struggled
to the end of Infinite Improbability only to find a miserable 10 feet of
passage beyond the banged boulder whereupon it closed down irrevocably.

The next day dawned damp again.  The Damoclean diggers dug Damoclean while
Pete Rose, Tav and Trevor headed north to the Allt a something Gaelic area to
look at something Tav thought might be something diggable.  Steve and Pete decided to go diving again, this
time at Achmelvich on Malcolm Stewart’s commendation.  If the sea temperature had been 10 degrees
higher it would have been like the Caribbean but it wasn’t and it wasn’t.  A surprisingly short and painless swim on the
left of the bay to the far side of the inlet which is crossed by a wire led to
the start of the dive.  Following the
kelp festooned wall and swimming over pure white sand we slowly gained depth
and at 9 metres Steve spotted a lovely red and orange lump sucker guarding its
nest.  Their other name is ‘sea hen’ and
certainly with its reluctance to move an inch from its nest it lived up to its
name.  Slightly deeper we found a young
angler fish before leaving the weed zone and swimming over boulders before
turning back at 21 metres.

The next day Steve Pete Trevor and others went to Sandwood
Bay while feeling guilty that I had not done any digging I decided to join
Julian and Tav up at Damoclean.  The
proceedings began with a lamp pox farce which ended in me having to go back to
the hut from the trout farm to get a battery which was charged then finding the
cable burned through when I got back. Eventually I cobbled together a working light and met them at the
dig.  After 5 minutes of sack hauling I
crawled into the dig whereupon all present announced the end was undiggable and
that was it for the day.

Still I got some nice record shots of Tav the dig and the
usual apple cake shot.  On the way down
we did our bit for the Millenium dig on the rising.  I am sure if a team tried for a day you could
get somewhere here provided Scottish Heritage did not mind!

Peter Rose and co saw mysterious and Fortean lights in the
sky on their return from the north.  We
also heard about the cow which sank the trawler.  And so ended another day.

High water levels thwarted attempts on the Traligilliink up
so instead the digging team continued work on a piece of the jigsaw known as
Birthday Hole which lies upstream of Tree Hole on the way to Flood sink.  Steve and Pete took advantage of a weather
window to walk up Quinag while Trevor Knief tried Ben More Assynt.  The Quinag pair were rapidly overtaken by two
older walkers wearing running gear but plodded on in dignified fashion to enjoy
the view.  The sun was out but as we
reached the first summit the wind speed seemed to have risen.  We started cautiously along the ridge and
descending into the next col the wind roar had reached the intensity of a large
waterfall.  Pete snapped a ptarmigan pair
huddled to the ground and very unkeen to take flight however closely we approached.

I had never walked in such a high wind and on the next
section of ridge found it a frightening experience.  Meanwhile on Ben More Trevor had turned back
from the summit repelled purely by the violence of the wind.  We drank our coffee and watched the walkers
we had seen earlier bounding across the northern arm of Quinag propelled by the
wind.  When we came to do the same
section we found, with the wind behind us, we had to lean backwards to make
stable progress!  A couple we met on the
summit were decidedly anxious.  She was
small and seriously concerned about being blown off.  The views onto Kylesku and to the north were
superb and the sun still shining but ominous cloud was building in the south
and west and we were glad to descend to the small lochan which nestles beneath
the northern crags where downdrafts created spectacular short lived water
spouts.  We walked back to the car
periodically violently buffeted by the wind and headed for Kylesku and a relaxing
(?) dive to round the day off.  That’s
what I like about the area; long days in which you can do lots of different
things fairly easily.

Entering the water we found a fair outward current was
running so descended cautiously to the car wreck zone.  This time I had my camera so an assortment of
shots of Steve with car interiors and exteriors was rounded off with a visit to
the near end of the wall now that the current had switched off.  A recently dumped blue Montego currently
rests on the bottom parallel to the end of slip looking for all the world as if
it had been driven there and parked – very Fortean.  Look for the article on the site in a
forthcoming edition of SportDiver.

In the bar we met the couple we’d encountered on the
ridge.  They turned out to be divers –
from Plymouth!  They were on their way to
Scapa Flow and reluctantly turned down our invitation to dive with us in the
Summer Isles – something I had promised Steve to lure him up north.  We had another excellent meal (Steve had the
balti and I the langoustines) while having an interesting chat to the pilot and
navigator of the helicopter parked by the bar.

Simon Brooks arrived in the early hours raising hopes of a
visit to Northern Lights but meanwhile Steve and I were planning to do a boat
dive from Achiltbuie.  We rendezvoused
with Andy Hobrow of Atlantic Diving Services on Badentart Pier and had a
pleasant trip to the site of the Fairweather with just Andy and his dog for
company.  Andy had a fund of diving yams
to keep us amused and if you get the chance to go out on his boat I can
recommend it (see article in Scubaworld magazine July this year – Summer in
Scotland).  The Fairweather is a trawer
which sank in 30 metres after being holed on rocks.  It settled flat on the bottom and none of its
gear was salvaged.  Now covered in a
cloud of plumose anemones it provides opportunities for cave divers to do some
wreck penetration including the wheel house and cabins.  If I do it again I will take side mounts but
no way was I swimming about in there with a back pack even if the open water
lads think nothing of it!

After a pie cash and petrol stop in Lochinver Steve and I
then went looking for Uamh an Tartair behind the hut.  After a spell thinking it had upped and gone
on vacation I found it where it always had been.  I told Steve it would be a dry trip because
there was a sump by-pass.

Fortunately for him the canny blighter had been on enough
trips with me to wear his wet suit.  The
‘dry by pass’ was a body soaking crawl in the stream.  The base of the dry shaft is spectacular and it’s
a shame the cave finishes so rapidly in the rift beyond.  More slides have been added to my Scottish
cave collection. Meanwhile most of the rest of the team including Trevor ‘the
brewer’s friend’ Knief and Pete ‘twittery old git’ Rose were going great guns
at Birthday Hole.  A breakthrough was
made into some stream cave through a grovel dubbed ‘a Wok on the Wild Side’
after the unorthodox digging implement used. Pete Mulholland watch out.

Simon was persuaded that evening that we ought to attempt a
trip into Northern Lights the next day. Fraser Simpson made up the team and we managed to self sherpa down the
sump.  We were determinedly armed to the
teeth with megalights and cameras. Nothing was going to stop us this time! As it happened I decided to let Simon and Fraser through first and had
an embarrassingly endless 3 minutes trying to get through the constriction with
an irritatingly over buoyant kit bag. The others waited patiently as I humped my way down Straight Flush in
arthritic seal mode.  Although the line
was out in the next very spacious and straightforward sump (voice link through
it) the one beyond still had its line in place suggesting that in high water
turbulence is moderated in the Straight Flush area.

Once out of the water we de-kitted although as you can see
from the slides Simon in commando mode kept his weights on so it wouldn’t be
too easy.  We soon left the stream
running in the lower part of the thrust plane and followed an elliptical switch
back tunnel which eventually ascended to pop through the floor of a much older
passage which clearly flooded only very rarely – Northern Lights.  The stalactite formations here are incredible
and would stand out anywhere in Britain. Mostly pure white calcite they consisted of small forests of straw
pillars and zones of stal bosses with in places helictites and superb
curtains.  Progress can only be made
haltingly with instruction from those before and behind.  One noteworthy feature of the tunnel is the
number of broken and re-cemented stalactites including a bizarre formation I
called the Skean Dhu (spelling I suspect is suspect).  We sent Fraser down one side passage Pete and
Tony had avoided for fear of damage using the Golden Shot technique (‘left a
bit down DOWN! that’s better now forward WHOA! etc etc) but it turned out to be
an oxbow.

A low roar ahead suggested we were re-approaching the stream
and after passing some false floor we arrived at the top of Royal Flush, a
descending potholed thrust plane down which the stream thundered excitingly
exiting through a small watery and decidedly uninviting hole.  We crossed the plane for the time being to a
small hole at the top which seemed to close down.  However peering through a gap at the top of
the plane I could see a well decorated chamber. Fraser looked skinnier than me so I sent him through first before
following leaving Simon who modestly didn’t want to strip.  The chamber we entered (Pillars of the
Establishment – an ironic reference to the recent General Election result)
contained a number of massive stal columns and at the top a grotto off which a
stal encrusted crawl could be seen leading. This is probably the last chance of a dry link to Lower Traligill and I
think it will be worth sacrificing some straws to push it.

On the way out we took the time to photograph as many
features as we could.  Some of them you
may have seen and hopefully further visits will add to the collection.  Future visitors will have to be careful and
it is not a place for large parties. Some tape judiciously placed must also be taken.

Getting out was uneventful and sealed the end to one my red
letter days of Scottish caving.  Fraser,
for somebody relatively new to cave diving, had no problems at all and did
really well.  The GSG cave diving team is
expanding fast!

Sadly the last day had arrived.  It was foul and plans by Pete Dowswell and
co. to visit Claonite 7 were soon aborted in favour of more hut
maintenance/construction. Steve and I decided to go diving at Achmelvich.  I wanted to photograph the lump sucker having
marked its position in the sand under Steve’s sceptical eye.  Entering the toilet at Achmelvich in perve
mode (2 men, rubber suits and KY jelly) we emerged cocooned in our dry suits
and made for the sea.  The lump sucker
was there as I had expected and after several snaps and a poke around we
returned to the surface.  It was chucking
it down so keeping our dry suits on we drove to Kylesku where we had heard you
could get scallops if you knew where to look. Andy was right – there were scallops galore and after getting 3 or 4
dozen we surfaced to sort them out and chuck back the little ones for another
day.  We watched them hurtle over the
head of yet another diver staggering ashore with a full bag so how long the
‘secret site’ will yield them in these numbers is debatable!  The weather had really gone down the tube by
this time so it was back in the car with the suits on and off to the Inch.

The petrol attendant at the Inch accused us of cruelty as
she filled the tank!  We decided to push
the ‘where can you wear a dry suit’ lark further by entering the bar where we
were served without question.  The
trouble is after the second pint the lack of what is known as a courtesy zip on
my suit helped me discover whether Steve was a true friend (my suit zips at the

Back at the hut a long session of scallop gutting ended in a
truly fitting climax to the trip with a mega scallop meal.

Who’s for the next trip? Next year weather permitting, an attempt will be made to dive the links
in the Lower Traligill Traverse and revisit Northern Lights to push downstream.

Peter Glanvill August

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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.