Cover Photo:     Deanne Wilkins in Baradla Barlang, Hungary – photo by Emma Porter

Ave Cavers!

Welcome to the new issue of the BB.

First off, apologies for the lateness of this issue. This was due to a heavy writing workload that had to be shifted out of the way and a thumb injury but not one, I’m sad to say, related to beer or caving adventures. Although maybe I should have lied and claimed as such. Anyway, excuses done with.

First thing you’ll notice is a change in format. This has been done to save on printing costs. In essence we’re packing the same amount in but in less pages but I would appreciate feedback to see if the new style meets with everyone’s approval. Negative and positive welcome of course.  I think though, that essentially, if we’re saving on printing costs then that’s no bad thing.  It’s the contents that count after all! 

As ever I’m on the look out for articles for the next BB due out in the autumn.

Yer Ed.

Club Officers

Committee Members

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor (772)
Hon. Treasurer: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Henry Bennett (1079)
Caving Secretary: Toby Maddocks (1310)
Hut Warden Hannah Bell (1295)
Tacklemaster: Bob Smith (1203)
Hut Engineer Henry Dawson (1313)
Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
Floating Fiona Crozier (1305), Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)

Non-Committee Posts

BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)
Auditor Chris Smart
Club Archivist Sue Dukes

Club Trustees:

Martin Grass (790), Phil Romford (985), Nigel Taylor (772) and Mike Wilson (1130)

The Tunnels of Temple Meads


Following visits to a few of Bristol’s more subterranean attractions on an Open Doors Day, I stumbled into some fellow cavers whilst sneaking around the bits of Redcliffe ‘Caves’ still closed to the public. We got to chatting and I found out they had been on a tour of some tunnels under Bristol’s railway station; Temple Meads. I had got wind of these tunnels in the side note of a council newsletter some time ago. Despite a certain amount of lateral thinking and quite some persistence I had been unable to get a look around them.

Tales about the size of the network made for raised eyebrows and with some of what I thought was gentle probing I managed to get a name and a number to contact. Surprisingly I had the details of the station manager. This is not something I would have had a hope of getting out of any publicly accessible part of the country’s railway structure.  I would very much like to pass this on to the readers of this article, but unfortunately the number is ex-directory and the manager wanted it kept that way.

Anyway, I arranged a tour around the underground bits of the station and managed to get permission to bring along a few mates. It was on a weekday, but all that I asked who could escape work readily agreed and a date was set.

Henry Bennett, Mike Wilson, Bob Cork and myself showed up at Temple Meads main entrance with overalls and headlamps having pretty much no idea of what we would be in for. Cooing over Mike’s motorbike and dodging seemingly homicidal taxi drivers we were introduced to a platform manager dressed in a suit with a little torch. Feeling a little silly with all our caving kit we followed him around the platforms looking like we were going mountain climbing.

The tour started above ground and a few anxious looks were exchanged as the manager started taking us through the history and future of the station, its trains their engines and so on. Not really what we were hoping for! Thankfully the trainspotter’s bit didn’t last long and we were ushered into a private lift. We emerged in an enormous tunnel running all the way under the station. You could hear the trains thundering away above and various individuals with overalls and carts pottering about the place like something out of a James Bond film. They had a fire last year down there and whilst redecorating they had simply painted over all the melted fixtures and fittings making the tunnel look a bit like a Dali painting.

The underground sections of the station were quite large. After the main tunnel we had seen there were a couple of other tunnels and a large number of arches which ran back for a long way under the station. Many of these interlinked to form a maze of sorts. The construction was of simple brick lined, arched roofs with a flat floor.

The tunnels were used to shelter from air raids during the Second World War. Under the station we came across 2 sections of track with points on. The guide informed us that these were used to train people up on fixing points when the Germans tried to blow them up. Apparently we got pretty good at it. There was an air raid shelter as well. This had bathrooms, bedding areas, the lot, but it had very recently caved in so we couldn’t get in to have a look. The damp and deterioration had reduced the shelter to a pile of twisted rust and timber.

We proceeded to a second gated area and after exploring a number of wandering tunnels we found some tiny train tracks. These ran up a gentle incline past a stooping section, to a loading and storage area. Standing there admiring some formations on the walls the manager let us know we were right under the restaurant in the middle of the station. Sure enough, if we all went quiet we could hear people chatting away over lunch and brewing up cups of coffee. Apparently the restaurant had been the first class lounge and diner in times gone by and all food was brought in this way. The access hatch to the restaurant had sadly been concreted over. I reflected that it would have been quite fun to have emerged from the floor next to some couple eating their lunch.

One thing we did not expect was the sheer amount of booze the first class travellers had got through in their day. Before the days of the British Rail sandwich first class rail travel was sheer opulence. The wine cellar stretched on for ages. I reckon it held between 10,000 and 16,000 bottles of wine including a locked off section for the pricey stuff. Some of the bins still had the labels on, somehow unmarred over time in the damp environment.

We picked our way around rubble, decaying electrical fittings and piles of random railway type tools and spares back to the secondary tunnel. Here we climbed some steps and popped out of a door in the middle of platform 7. This was the end of our tour. It had been interesting, but not amazing if I am honest about it. Something to add to an Open Doors Day tour around Bristol rather than an outing in itself. Well worth seeing if you are in the area on the day though. We thanked our guide profusely and wandered over the road to find the nearest boozer. Not a bad way to spend a morning and an interesting little diversion into a bit of Bristol most of the population will never see.

By Henry Dawson


Wessex Challenge

At the end of May the Wessex Challenge was dragged kicking and screaming out of a long slumber. Memories of the days when the BEC had two teams (one to race and one to run interference) were retold over foaming tankards and the club’s men braced themselves.

Meanwhile the BEC girls got their act together and decorated a fine chariot built by Ivan, Ben and Henry B.  Duncan Butler donned a bra to join Hells Brooke, Hells Warren, Olivia Dawson, Ruth Allan and Hannah Bell. As the Race Commentator blew his whistle the field was quickly moving away with Dick Dastardly and Co speeding across the grass on their big wheels.

Meanwhile our girls bravely slogged it out while cursing the sleds on the trolley. (I wasn’t keen to cut them off as I need to get my booze into Glasto on it). After the race the MCR had a fund raising BBQ and stomp. In true BEC style the party continued on into the night at the Belfry.

The Cerberus team won

Ben Wyvis: Exploring a Route from the South

Our house at Little Farness on the Black Isle in Ross-shire has a panoramic view, which includes Ben Wyvis (OSGB NH463683),  which is a Munro and also includes a very distinctive curious cone shaped hill

Between them and us are several ridges, which with distance merge into one, giving the impression of a continuous plateau. The map says otherwise. There is the Cromarty Firth, and two major glens, Glen Glass and Coire Mor between the house and the summit and it has taken some time for me to sort out the complex landscape.

As the eye follows the line of the mountain part of a cliff can be made out just below the summit. I had been wondering about this and the cone shaped hill for years.


Ben Wyvis is a Munro. It is a vast estate and the Munro Guide route up the An Cabar ridge from the north gets you to the top in a few hours. On top you can ‘feel’ that there is a cliff to the east but it is difficult to see properly from the plateau. Other approaches take much longer.

From the North the traverse from An Cabar to Tom McConnich is a popular long day but there is no really satisfactory way of making a circular route and the Cliff is hidden. In the South we tried cycling Glen Glas and climbing from the end of Loch Glas via Tom McConnich but got sore bums on an endless stony track, which was just as bad on the return. Again no satisfactory view of the Cliff can be had. I tried viewing from different places to look into the Glen,

It wasn’t until I traced a route on the map to the precipice from The Heights of Docharty at Dingwall that I made progress. I took my bike onto a very rough steep track past the cone shaped hill.

Cabar Ridge – right.

The track climbs steeply to the bealach (that’s a pass you ignorami)

Earlier we’d taken bearings from he house but it was hard to decide which of the Wyvis outliers the cone was. From where I was now, the map showed that it’s called Cioch Mhor. I got as far as the plantation where I left the  bike and walked for another hour from there climbing up to Meille na Speireig.

Above The view from Meille na Speireig

From Meille na Speireig the steep bit of Coire an t-Socaich could be seen clearly but from this perspective it didn’t look promising.

I sat with the view for a while enjoying it with satisfaction

I imagined an exploratory route up a buttress, which looked as if it might give some scrambling.

On the way back I had great pleasure in climbing The Cone or Cioch Mhor. It gave fine views for a highly recommended three or four hour round trip from the Heights of Docharty.

A friend in the Scottish Mountaineering Club sent me all the information on climbs on Ben Wyvis that he could find. These were three winter climbs done fairly recently and described as gullies. So I felt I had to get closer and rub my nose in the rock. Frustratingly time passed and I couldn’t find a friend to hold a rope. In the end early one morning at sunrise I set off on my own.

This time I didn’t bother with the bike. Last time I had to carry it across two fords, over several gates and push it most of the steep way up; coming down was slow too. It was just as quick to walk in. From Meille na Speireig, where I turned back last time, I went down heather slopes to Junction of Allt


Mhoir and Allt Comhlaich

An t-Socaich

Route taken

and following the grassy banks of the burn where it cut its way through peat hags and made an easier route until I could look into the longed for Coire An t-Socaich.

At first it looked exciting. The cliff An t-Socaich seemed to be continuous to the top. As I got closer I saw that a gully splits the face and later, nearer to the promised land I realised that the gully split the steep cliff of an t-Socaich into a lower and higher part with no satisfactory line on broken rock.


Even winter climbing would lack continuous exposure.

View from the top of Glas Choir and the Loch and right showing the time consuming terrain of Coire Mhor

I set off on the line I’d promised myself. This was no longer the vertical line I’d seen in profile but lay as a route sloping up across the cliff finishing at the top of the lower cliff there it turned and went uphill on decent scrambling to finish high on the hill. The view from the top of Glas Choir and the Loch and right showed clearly the time consuming terrain of Coire Mhor that I’d crossed laboriously. However the return route went quickly over the summit of Ben Wyvis and back to the junction of the burns and after the long-while of speculation I was now FREE to celebrate!

Total time 10 hours including 1 mile, which took 2 1/2 hours over terrible terrain. Exploring the rarely visited cliff was rewarding but it takes a considerable effort to get to the base of the crag just to make a few routes

Ref. OS Explorer Map 437

By Kangy, September 200

Diary Dates

19th July BEC vs Wessex Cricket – Mindless fun in a cow field.

16th August Belfry BBQ – Beer, Burgers and Boogie (and maybe come cider)

23rd August 4th European Speleological Congress.

23rd -25th August (Bank Hol weekend) BEC trip to the Yorkshrie Dales – Contact Chris Jewell

20th -21st September – Derbyshire trip Contact Chris Jewell

13th September CSCC General Mtg

26th -28th September Hidden Earth – in Otley, West Yorkshire.

4th October AGM and Annual Dinner – Turn up and support your club.

25th  October SUICRO – Guinness

New Members

In the last few months we’ve had a number of new members. Please join me in welcoming

Rob Bruce

Olivia Dawson


Steve Collins

Helen Warren

James Collings

David Garman

Andrew Collins

Martyn Compton


Crimson Hill Canal Tunnel

The Chard to Taunton canal was not a success. It was constructed to carry coal and other goods from Chard to Taunton where it met the Taunton Canal but, to coin a phrase, missed the boat at a time when rail transport was in the ascendant. It opened in 1842 and by 1866 had closed. The canal was about 13 miles long and incorporated a variety of technologies to cross the hilly landscape between Chard and Taunton. These included 3 tunnels, 4 inclines, a lock and a couple of aqueducts. The 1800 yard tunnel under Crimson Hill between Beer Crowcombe and Wrantage took 2 years to complete and is still today one of the longest in the country.  Chard History group published a small booklet on the canal in 1967, which was reprinted in 1988.

The tunnellers apparently began by excavating outwards from a central shaft. There were deaths due to collapses during the course of the work. Today the northern end at Wrantage is readily accessible via a farm track and footpath. The attractive portal is an interesting feature in the landscape. Nearby is an interpretation board that provides some background to the tunnel and canal’s history.

As a long time resident of Chard I had been aware of the canal from childhood. The reservoir providing the headwater for the canal is now a moderately important wildlife reserve and fishing lake. Land development has obliterated the old canal basin in Chard but its route can still be traced through the fields at a variety of locations.  I visited the northern entrance more than 10 years ago and had wondered for some while how far it went. Rumour had it that the far end had collapsed. Nick Chipchase told me that he had struggled some way up it many years ago but that the thick clinging mud on the floor had defeated him. A local bat

group used to do a count in the tunnel by using an inflatable dinghy but they didn’t venture that far in.  Access is a bit debatable as well as at some time the landowner has obviously extracted water from the entrance area.

My interest was renewed when I got the opportunity to visit the southern end of the tunnel, which lies in the garden of Old Star Cottage in the hamlet of Beer Crocombe. Roger Clarke the owner had the old canal cutting in this garden but didn’t start digging until a neighbour told him that he had a canal tunnel there!  Pete Rose provided a humorous report on a trip to the tunnel in November 2004 (Belfry Bulletin No 521, Spring 2005) and we planned to return at sometime for more photography.

In the summer of 2007 I contacted Roger again and he told me that he had paddled to an earth choke some 500 yards up the tunnel (measured with string); the choke probably corresponding with the air shaft mentioned by Pete Rose.  Feeling thwarted I decided to visit the northern end with a more reliable inflatable device namely a canoe left by my late father and never used.  September the first 2007 saw me, Philippa Glanvill and a friend of hers Christian Guppy pumping away at the entrance to the northern end preparatory to our first trip. We wore wet suits as well!  The canoe proved helpful but as it could only accommodate 2 people, and that’s at a pinch, progress was slow and made slower by the canoe grounding on the muddy bottom. The water in the tunnel for the first 600 metres is never more than thigh deep but the mud on the bottom is tenaciously glutinous making progress tiring.

The tunnel is surprisingly high, probably about 3 metres, and about 2.5 to 3 metres across with a high arched roof. In the first section there are shallow alcoves at intervals at about head height, which we surmised were drainage holes. Placed regularly along the roof are rusting structures resembling inverted pitchforks.  At points where the drip from the roof was heavy were some delightful orange stalactite and stalagmite formations.  The odd lesser horseshoe bat could also been seen high up in the ceiling.

 The tunnel runs on a bearing of about 140 degrees in a virtual straight line and daylight can be seen from the centre more than 500 metres in.  At this point the walls bulge slightly probably more to do with ground movement than the  construction methods used. At 600 metres the tunnel widens to about 4 metres and less than 50 metres later is the first collapse.  The water emerges from the base of the collapse, which is passed by climbing up into the space created by the roof fall before rapidly descending the far side.  The rock is soft – a form of lias which contains big bands of calcite. It looks as if the collapse has occurred at the location of an old surface shaft and there is a very heavy drip here. 

Beyond the collapse the water is clear, green, chest deep and cold.  Martin Grass, Philippa and I returned at the end of November and surveyed up to the collapse.  After a brief foray across the next section to a point where the passage narrowed again, Martin and I  vowed to return with the inflatable canoe.  In mid December we were back.  The widened section is probably in total a distance of something like 60 metres or so and just beyond the left hand wall has peeled away over a 4 metre stretch. It is rather alarming to climb up and peer into the space above the collapse. There is airspace running for as far as the eye can see in both directions above the tunnel roof!  A stream trickling in has deposited calcite cementing the roof bricks together, which is slightly reassuring.

Beyond another wall collapse we entered the ‘unknown’, the canoe now being essential. I estimated the water depth to be something approaching 2 metres.  A loud crunching accompanied our progress through a calcite raft  stretching across the entire passage and extending several metres in front of us suggesting few people had been this far. Sadly about 200 metres from the choke we came to a solid bank of mud obstructing the passage.   If the total length of the tunnel is 1800 yards I estimate there are about 4-500 meters of canal tunnel that are currently inaccessible. Digging would be feasible but one would be digging standing in cold water. Strong swimmers immune to cold or owners of inflatable dinghies can apply!

My next project is to obtain some better shots of the southern end of the tunnel, which contains some absolutely stunning straws.

By Peter Glanvill

Barlangs in Budapest and Under Aggtelek

Egeszsegedre!  The bottles clink and we pass around the local Bulls Blood and Unicum. It is great to be back again in Budapest, the “city of caves” with our Hungarian caving friends.  There are eleven of us from different UK caving clubs and two of our Lebanese friends, here to enjoy a short city caving break before heading to the 11th International Cave Rescue Conference to be hosted in Aggtelek, north-eastern Hungary.

Hungary has a rich speleological history, and its scientists were the pioneers of speleotherapy, still practised in Hungary today.  There are three main caving areas, in the north both the Bukk and Aggtelek are typical Karst areas with stream caves and in the capital, the Buda Hills which make Budapest unique, by having the highest density of thermal caves anywhere in the world


The Team:

From BEC: John Christie, Mike Wilson and Emma Porter (GCRG/MCRO)

Others: John Allonby (CPC), Jo Campbell (SMCC), Mike Clayton (CPC/GCRG/MCRO), Firas Fayad (Speleo Club du Liban), Pete Gray (CPC), Tony Harrison (Moldywarps Speleological Group/Swaledale MRT), Chris “Zot” Harvey, Hadi Kaassamani (Speleo Club du Liban), Neville Lucus (CPC), Mike Peters (CPC), Steve Tomalin (GSS/GCRG) and Deanne Wilkins (Dudley CC)

(this blurring of this photo summed up the weekend)

Em and Dea with Mendip’s finest – photo by Mike Clayton

After arriving into Budapest airport on the morning of Saturday 12 May 2007, we were greeted by our friend Marci and swiftly transported to our accommodation for the next three days, a small caving club hut in the “Beverley Hills” part of Budapest, nestling between foreign embassies and millionaires’ pads.  It is a very precious piece of land as far as cavers in Hungary are concerned, the equivalent of an SSSI, hosting stunning views overlooking the Danube and the city. But what makes this land so special is that hidden beneath the surface lies a mini Lechuguilla, called Jozsef-Hegyi Barlang.

Like many caves in Budapest, Jozsef-Hegyi was discovered by workers excavating the land to develop and build houses.  The small cave entrance was found in 1984 and excavation work had to cease whilst the cavers were given a set time period upon which to dig, extend and explore the cave.  The cavers were fortunate to soon break through into some large chambers full of gypsum and due to the importance of the find the builders were not permitted to continue with their works.  Whilst this important and unique cave has in the short time been saved, due to the cave being positioned in such an exclusive part of Budapest, the cavers have at times had to fight to keep the land from being developed and hence access is very restricted, even to cavers.

After a short rest in the sun from travelling, we were led into the 5.5km long and 103m deep cave by our good friend Csaba “Mr Dyson” Koblos, entering a 20ft shaft via a metal ladder, the alternative route via the cellar of the caving hut was unfortunately locked.  We carefully descended the entrance series via rope climbs and boulder chokes until several large chambers were reached, the largest chamber being 70m long by 20m wide.  Once through the entrance series, the cave is an abundance of gypsum crystals and flowers, aragonite needles reaching 5-10cm in length and the amazing Christmas tree features, formed it is believed, by the result of calcite flakes precipitating on the former water surface and being deposited on top of each other.  We had a steady paced trip in order to keep cool and had ample opportunity to admire the underground delights.  It was a real privilege to be able to venture into the gypsum wonderland but almost a relief reach the surface away from the fragility and pristine nature of the beautiful cave.

The following day, we ventured to the nearby show cave of Pal Volgyi discovered in 1904.  Here, large quarrying activities in the Szep Valley revealed a number of underground labyrinths and now Pal Volgyi is part show cave after being opened to the public in 1927.  In 1994, the cave was already the second longest in Hungary and the longest in Budapest and by the end of 2001, a connection was created between the 13.3km long Pal Volgyi and the 5.4 km long Matyas-hegyi Barlang that opens in the opposite quarry. 

Like the majority of the Budapest caves, access is restricted and we were fortunate to have a guide pre-arranged.  After originally being split into two parties, we quickly merged into one large group, as the route finding on the round trip became more complicated and Zot discovered his chest girth was not quite conducive to some of the squeezes (or maybe it was just an excuse to be rescued by Szilvia, one of the female cavers in the group!).  The route gave us a good insight into the nature of the cave, with its maze-like routes and bizarre rock formations that resembled exploring the holes in a large piece of cheese.  Further into the system, in the western part, it is said to be particularly pretty, although time and our group size prevented us from going this far.

On our way back to the caving hut, as on previous trips, we climbed the steps above the show cave of Szemlohegyi Barlang to a small memorial garden to cavers who have died in the pursuit of exploration, to pay our respects.  It is a beautiful setting with a piece of limestone and plaque for each caver overlooking the city – a poignant reminder of the risks of our passion.

Deanne Wilkins in Baradla Barlang, Hungary – photo by Emma Porter

The last day of our short city caving break was spent exploring the “Pearl of the Danube” with all its interesting architecture, lively streets, sprawling over both sides of the river.  Budapest is perhaps most well known for being a spa city with its alleged medicinal waters and so a drink of the sulphur water at Lukacs Medicinal Baths was in order (which cured Jo’s knee pain!) followed by a trip to enjoy the thermal pools in the architecturally elegant surroundings of the Gellert Spa with its Art Nouveau furnishings, artistic mosaics and stained glass windows.  Our day in the centre of the city ended in an “eat and drink as much as you want” for £10, which saw the group making the most of the latter before staggering back to the hut to grab their possessions to meet the coach at Szemlohegyi Barlang.  Upon our arrival at the show cave, we were given a quick tour around the show cave before Mike Wilson, Zot and Firas headed back to the UK, and for the rest of us, a beer was thrust in our hands to ease the four hour journey to Aggtelek.

The Aggtelek National Park is dominated by extensive Karst plateaus with an average altitude of 600m, and together with the neighbouring Slovak Karst, the caves feature on the World Heritage list.  The venue of the 11th International Cave Rescue Conference was in the heart of the National Park in north-eastern Hungary, between the two villages of Aggtelek and Josvafo and saw cavers converging from Mexico, Scandinavia, Lebanon, across Europe and the largest group, apart from the hosts, being the Brits.

During the journey, we met up with the other delegates of the Conference, including two more from the UK, Pete Allwright (CRO) and Roy Holmes (CRO).  Despite the beers, it seemed a long journey to Aggtelek and we arrived in the early hours of the morning of Tuesday 15 May.  We were soon guided to three cosy wooden cottages by our friend Moha and crashed out, making sure we were ready for some serious partying when the conference started.

Registration at the conference commenced later that morning and we were shortly planning some underground excursions.  With Pete Allwright, Roy Holmes and Tony Harrison providing the British representation at the conference lectures, our Hungarian caving friends had a whole schedule of trips planned for us during the week and we were soon heading to Rakoczi Barlang, to a cave that was discovered through mining.  The cave was accessed via an abandoned tunnel, which was constructed in the 1920s and the miners came across the cave whilst digging new side passages in their search for iron ore.  Unfortunately, not realising the significance of their discovery, one of the lakes was filled with thousands of tonnes of spoil.  Today, this cave is now protected and a series of fixed metal ladders leads visitors around some beautiful formations to a lake.  With the cave only being 650m in length, we managed to put in an appearance at the opening ceremony of the conference before giving one of our team, who was heading home to Beirut that evening, a traditional send off!  Several beers and Unicums later, we carried him from the pub back to meet his lift to Budapest airport and we joined the rest of the British contingent for the Gulyas Party, and enjoyed some goulash and local beverages. 

On Wednesday, we headed off to Slovakia, the border being all of 1 mile away, with Gustav from Meander to explore Buzgo Cave, following a series of wire traverses to the end.  In the afternoon, we joined all the conference participants for the excursion to the cave baths of Miskolctapolca, a popular tourist attraction. The cave baths were formed by thermal waters and a building was constructed in the 1930s around the cave and made suitable for bathing in 1959.  There are several artificial extensions to swim through interspersed with natural cave passage and small pools, Jacuzzis and several large outdoor pools.

Formations in Ochtinsha Aragonite Cave, Slovakia – photo by Emma Porter

The following day, we visited three show caves in Slovakia and saw the stunning aragonite formations in Ochtinsha Aragonite Cave.  Whilst only 300 m long, this cave was protected in the World Heritage List in 1995 due to its unique aragonite needles and phenomenal helictites. We then visited the long straws of Gombasecka cave in Slovakia before returning to Hungary to then party in only a way the British can in the famous Baradala Barlang to the Miskolc Dixie Band.  A superb feast was enjoyed by all, with plenty of drinking, singing and the Brits introducing the other cavers to the Hokey Cokey!

Of course, we could not be in Aggtelek without completing a traverse of Baradla Barlang from Aggtelek to Josvafo.  The total length of the system is 26km with a quarter lying in Slovakia, known as Domica Cave.  The traverse is an underground hike through massive chambers, some extremely well-decorated.  At the picnic tables, we shared some food and drinks before deviating down the Radish Branch to admire the Mother in Law’s Tongue. 

Whilst some of our group were flying back to the UK, the final day of the trip saw a smaller Anglo-Hungarian contingent entering Domica Cave by a lesser-known entrance.  The trip was perhaps the highlight of the week, as we followed the beautiful stream passages, skirted round gour pools and crossed the underground border post.  Our Hungarian friends pointed out the remnants of the metal gates that had once divided the cave and the two countries, and advised us that this has been their “Berlin Wall”.

A very big thanks must go to our Hungarian friends and hosts of the conference for looking after us so well as usual.  And in return? Whilst we may not have attended many lectures, we explored underground in both Hungary and Slovakia and kept the party going every night!! Egeszsegedre!! 


Craven Pothole Club The Record, No 52, July 1998, pp40-44, “Pestera in Padis, Barlangs in Budapest”, Porter, E

Craven Pothole Club The Record, No 42, April 1996, pp19-21, “A Winter Expedition to Hungary”, Thompson, T

Descent magazine, No 198, Oct/Nov 2007, pp32-34

Slovakia Show Caves 2003 Bella, P DTP studio GRAFON ISBN 80-89130-09-7

Ochtinska Aragonite Cave 2001 Pavel, P DTP studio GRAFON ISBN 80-968414-7-5

A similar article appeared in Craven Pothole Club The Record, No 90, April 2008.

By Emma Porter

Badger Hole, Stratton on the Fosse

On the 14th April 2007 a hole approximately 1.5 metres in diameter and 3 metres deep appeared in a field at Manor Farm between Stratton on the Fosse and Radstock.  Working locally at the time I was asked to investigate what the hole was as coal mining was known to have taken place in the area.  On the 29th April Henry Bennett, Bob Smith and myself arrived to take a look down the hole.  A rigid ladder was used to descend the hole as the sides belled out after a depth of 1 metre.  The base of the ladder was placed on the top of the sizable cone of collapsed soil debris. 

The farmer had alerted us to the possibility of a badger being alive and down the hole so it was with trepidation that I descended the hole to take a look around.  Once on the top of the debris cone I could see that the chamber was roughly 4 metres long running East to West and 2 metres wide North to South.  All around the entrance hole was evidence of claw marks on the hard clay soil.  This confirmed our suspicions that the badger was indeed down the hole. 

Whilst the amount of infill was large it was possible to crawl to the eastern and western ends of the chamber under the roof.  To the east was a large collection of boulders the size of footballs.  To the western end was a descending mud filled passage about 40cm high and over a metre wide.  The passage was a couple of metres long but length was difficult to determine as the passage narrowed through a boulder slot at which point lay a very dead badger! 

As the passage past the badger blew a slight draught, and knowing that the closer I got to the badger the smellier it was, I decided to be the first to enlarge the passage.  With myself digging, Henry and Bob took it in turns to haul a skip up the descending passage to dump the spoil at the eastern end of the main entrance chamber.  As my proximity with the badger increased I swapped places with the boys who spent much effort trying to widen the passage without having to get too close to the badger.  The mud dug out had a high clay content and contained grapefruit sized rocks.  After a couple of hours work it was possible to crawl down to a second slot, which had been unearthed to the right of the badger. 

The boys moved out of the way to let me have a look through the whole.  Whilst the smell was stomach wrenching the slot was promising.  Through the hole the passage opened up to 3 metres wide and went on for approximately 4 metres.  The floor was covered in football-sized boulders whilst the roof was made of very poor chert, which crumbled to the touch.  After a cigarette break discussion it was decided to abandon the hole as the roof was far too unstable to allow any sizable digging to take place at the end.

The hole was marked on a GPS as ST670520 (N51.26665, W2.47418).  The farmer planned to fill in the hole and informed us that other holes of a similar size had appeared in previous years in neighbouring fields.  The Radstock area is well known for its association with coal mining, with the last pit closing in the 1970s.  However after conducting research from Radstock Mining Museum it was determined that the coal seam did not extend to where the hole had appeared nor into the neighbouring fields where other holes were recorded by the farmer.  Continuing my research with a company of local construction engineers it appeared that stone from the surrounding fields had been extracted in the 18th and 19th Centuries to be used to make lime at a nearby kiln site located on the A367 opposite the junction with the B3355.  This location was only 600 metres from the site of the hole.  This led to the possibility that the hole was a ‘windypit’ and the result of stone extraction for lime production.  Only the examination of more holes, as they appear, will confirm this hypothesis.

By Hannah Bell

Snailbeach Lead Mine Trip

Being a CPC groupie as well as a BEC member I decided to attend the Meet at the Dudley CC hut near Dudley Zoo. Emma Porter was the Meet leader along with Mike Clayton.

Accommodation was provided by the Dudley CC in the shape of a converted Windmill called Ruiton Mill .The original mill was built in 1682 but actually fell down in the 1800s so Ruiton new mill was constructed in approx 1872. There is some doubt re its use, certainly it was not milling seed or corn, the general view is that it was used to grind stone.[ this is borne out by the lack of machinery].

Dudley CC have been fortunate in that the local council have spent large sums of money in renovating it. Making it a very cosy clean place to stay, with 10 bunks and an upper room with z beds.

About 18 people turned up for the meet including a BEC group [Sean Howe, Nick Gymer and myself plus a potential BEC member, Dino the Hungarian.] Quote “I love digging.” The rest were a mix of CPC and Dudley Cavers.

Saturday saw us all driving to Shropshire for a trip down the Snailbeach lead mine. This is one of the biggest mines in Shropshire and is reputed to have produced the greatest volume of lead per acre than any mine in Europe. There was an ingot found nearby in 1796 weighing 193 lbs and marked IMP HADRIAN AVG. Mining ceased here in 1955.

The mine is now managed by a local mine exploration group who kindly offered to act as guides on the trip, as the workings are maze – like and flooded in places [in fact the lower levels beyond 90 metres are impassable.]

The entrance is on one of the upper adits and runs into a series of criss-crossing galleries. To reach the next lower level it is necessary to abseil down a steep slope to a re-belay. Here is where the routes split. The LH route is the classic way and the RH is the scenic route. We had originally decided to effect an exchange but due to the number of people on the trip, some not confident on string we just split up into various groups going different ways.

I went with a party who were going the classic way and spent a few hours exploring the 40 metre level and then went on to join the group who were descending to the 90 metre point. By then time was running out so we slurped along this gallery which had the most amazing glistening roof I have ever seen.

Obviously mines don’t have much in the way of pretties but this mine had lesser barites and calcite seams, which are quite beautiful. Apparently the barites was mined extensively as a sideline.

Back on the surface we looked on an old survey and found we had only scratched the surface of the system. The 342-yard level being the deepest part of the mine. These levels were only able to be worked because a drainage adit had been mined into the side of the hill at the 112-yard point in the Hope valley. This shaft was 1200 yards long and augmented with a pumped system [beam engine.]

We all toddled back to the hut and went out to eat at a recycled pub in Dudley where you can eat all you like for £10.00. This includes Indian Thai and Chinese cuisine. Thence into the local called the Crispin where there were 8 real ales on sale. Neville Lucas decided to drink from left to right so that he wouldn’t miss any.  The ales included Tom Tiddleys Lancaster ale and a fine local stout.

Back at the hut we watched a slide show on Lebanese caving and the China expedition in 2005.  Some beautiful views of tower karst and vast cave systems.

Sunday we walked around the entrances to the vast limestone mines near Dudley Zoo. These were fed by a canal system, which enabled the miners to extract large amounts of the limestone for the iron industry for which Dudley is famous. We asked how the Black Country got its name. Rumour has it that Queen Victoria travelled through this industrial region by train and asked for the blinds to be pulled down so she couldn’t see this black region!!!!!!!!

It is possible to enter the caverns by tourist barge which we duly did, finishing off a pleasant weekend. We also got an invite for a special trip into the Wren’s Nest system in the future.

Get the full lowdown on Snailbeach from this detailed book. Available from Bat Products

Many thanks to Emma and Mike for arranging the trips and for Brian the dog for sleeping in my bunk I felt quite at home. [Brian is the much-travelled CPC stuffed dog who normally overlooks the Gaping Gill Meet.]

See you there.

By Mikle Wilson


How the Atom Bomb Saved a Million Bats

or, Project “X-Ray”, Killer Bats versus Japan

In wartime, desperate, often bizarre, schemes are hatched. Like a 5-ton bomb that can bounce on water, or exploding camel dung.  But some of the most outlandish, and I would say sickening ideas involve the use of animals as weapons. From the ancient Chinese’s deployment of “ incendiary monkeys”, to the Afghan Mujahadeen’s suicide bomber donkey.  (A pack mule laden with explosives and parked outside a Russian occupied building), the human race has exploited the animal kingdom since the dawn of history.

What follows is the true account of an American plan during WW2 to strike back at Japan by using bats fitted with incendiary bombs.

Dr. Lytle S. Adams, a dental surgeon from Irwin, Pa., was vacationing in the south-western US on December 7, 1941. Like millions of Americans, he was shocked at the news from Pearl Harbour and couldn’t believe Japan had been able to mount such an attack. In those days, "Made in Japan" meant cheap, shabby, and inferior. Americans’ image of Japan was of crowded cities filled with paper-and-wood houses and factories.

Dr. Adams pondered how the US could fight back. In a 1948 interview with the Bulletin of the National Speleological Society, Dr. Adams recalled: "I had just been to Carlsbad Caverns, N. M., and had been tremendously impressed by the bat flight . . .. Couldn’t those millions of bats be fitted with incendiary bombs and dropped from planes? What could be more devastating than such a firebomb attack?"

Dr. Adams went back to Carlsbad and captured some bats. At home, he read everything he could find about the tiny flyers. He learned that there are nearly 1,000 species around the world and that each bat lives up to thirty years. The most common bat in North America is the free-tailed, or guano, bat, a small brown mammal that may catch more than 1,000 mosquitoes or gnat-sized insects–a load twelve times its own size–in a single night. Weighing about nine grams, it can carry an external load nearly three times its own weight.

On January 12, 1942, Dr. Adams sent to the White House a proposal to investigate the possible use of bats as bombers. In those days, well-meaning citizens were proposing all kinds of warfare ideas, most of them impractical. However, this idea, after being sifted through a top-level scientific review, became one of the very few given the green light. It was passed to the Army Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) for further inquiry in conjunction with Army Air Forces. The official CWS history states simply: "President Roosevelt OK’d it and the project was on."

Dr. Adams and a team of field naturalists from the Hancock Foundation, University of California, immediately set to work and visited a number of likely sites where bats would be available in large quantities. Bats are found mostly in caves, though great numbers roost in attics, barns, and houses, under bridges, and in piles of rubbish. "We visited a thousand caves and three thousand mines," Dr. Adams later related. "Speed was so imperative that we generally drove all day and night when we weren’t exploring caves. We slept in the cars, taking turns at driving. One car in our search team covered 350,000 miles."

A Choice of Bats

The largest bat found was the mastiff, which has a twenty-inch wingspan and could carry a one-pound stick of dynamite. However, the team found there weren’t sufficient numbers available. The more common mule-eared, or pallid, bat could carry three ounces, but naturalists determined it wasn’t hardy enough for the project.

Finally, the team selected the free-tailed bat. Though it weighed but one third of an ounce, it could fly fairly well with a one-ounce bomb. The largest colony of freetailed bats found by Dr. Adams’ naturalists, some twenty to thirty million, was in Ney Cave near Bandera, Texas. The colony was so large, according to a report by CWS Capt. Wiley W. Carr, that "five hours’ time is required for these animals to leave the cave while flying out in a dense stream fifteen feet in diameter and so closely packed they can barely fly."

Collection of the bats was not difficult. Three nets, about three feet in diameter, on ten-foot poles were passed back and forth across the cave entrance as the bats flew out. As many as 100 could be caught on three passes. They were removed from the nets and placed in cages in a refrigeration truck. Dr. Adams took some to Washington, releasing them in the War Department building to show Army officials how they could each carry a dummy bomb.

In March 1943, authority to proceed with the experiment came from HQ. USAAF. Subject: "Test of Method to Scatter Incendiaries." Purpose: "Determine the feasibility of using bats to carry small incendiary bombs into enemy targets."

The bats’ habits were studied intently. Meanwhile, Dr. L. F. Fisser, a special investigator for the National Defense Research Committee, began to design bombs light enough to be carried by bats. He did not find it difficult, because there was a precedent for miniature incendiaries. England’s principal firebombs, used in World War I, were called "baby incendiaries." Filled with a special thermite mixture, these bombs weighed 6.4 ounces each.

Arming the Bats

Dr. Fisser designed two sizes of incendiary bombs for the bomber-bat experiments. One weighed seventeen grams and would burn four minutes with a ten-inch flame. The other weighed twenty-eight grams and would burn six minutes with a twelve-inch flame. They were oblong, nitrocellulose cases filled with thickened kerosene. A small time-delay igniter was cemented to the case along one side.

The time-delay igniter consisted of a firing pin held in tension against a spring by a thin steel wire. When the bombs were ready to use, a copper chloride solution was injected into the cavity through which the steel wire passed. The copper chloride would corrode the wire; when the wire was completely corroded, the firing pin snapped forward, striking the igniter head and lighting the kerosene. Small time-delay smoke bombs were also designed so ground observers could trace test flights of bats. They burned for thirty minutes with a yellowish flame that could be seen several hundred yards away at night; white smoke was also emitted.

To load a bomb aboard a bat, technicians attached the case to the loose skin on the bat’s chest by a surgical clip and a piece of string. Groups of 180 were released from a cardboard container that opened automatically in midair at about 1,000 feet, after which, says the CWS history, "bats were supposed to fly into hiding in dwelling and other structures, gnaw through the string, and leave the bombs behind."

In May 1943, about 3,500 bats were collected at Carlsbad Caverns, flown to Muroc Lake, California., and placed in refrigerators to force them to hibernate. On May 21, 1943, five drops with bats outfitted with dummy bombs were made from a B-25 flying at 5,000 feet. The tests were not successful; most of the bats, not fully recovered from hibernation, did not fly and died on impact. The bat-bomber research team was transferred a few days later to an Army Air Forces auxiliary airfield at Carlsbad, N. M.

Newly recruited bats were placed in ice cube trays and cooled to force them into hibernation. They were then transported to the airfield to await test mission assignments. Captain Carr explains how the test cartons were prepared for the drop tests: "Bats were taken from the refrigeration truck in a hibernated state in lots of approximately fifty. They were taken individually by a biologist, and about a one-half inch of loose chest skin was pinched away from the flesh. While this operation was being done, another group was preparing the incendiaries. One operator injected the solution in the delay [mechanism], another sealed the hole with wax, and another placed the surgical clip that was fastened to the incendiary by a short string. . . . The incendiary was then handed to a trained helper who fastened it to the chest skin of the bat." Drops were made from a North American B-25 and a Piper L-4 Cub.

Complications Arise

There were many complications. Many bats didn’t wake up in time for the drops. The cardboard cartons did not function properly, and the surgical clips proved difficult to attach to the bats without tearing the delicate skin. When these problems were somewhat resolved, new bats were taken up for drop tests with dummy bombs attached. Many simply took advantage of their freedom to escape or refused to cooperate and plummeted to earth.

The Army tests were called off on May 29, 1943, and Captain Carr prepared a final report. "The bats used at Carlsbad weighed an average of nine grams," he wrote. They could carry eleven grams without any trouble and eighteen grams satisfactorily, but twenty-two grams appeared to be excessive. The ones released with twenty-two-gram dummies didn’t fly very far, and three returned in a few minutes to the building where we were working. One flew underneath, one landed on the roof, and one attached itself to the wall. The ones with eleven- gram dummies flew out of sight. The next day an examination of the grounds around a ranch house about two miles away from the point of release disclosed two dummies inside the porch, one beside the house, and one inside the barn."

More than 6,000 bats were used in the Army experiments. In his secret report, dated June 8, 1943, Captain Carr concluded that a better time-delay parachute type container, new clips, and a simplified time-delay igniter should be designed if further tests were to be carried out. He also recommended a six-week controlled study of bats during artificial hibernation. After this, he said, another test should be conducted with 5,000 bats.

Captain Carr reported tersely that "testing was concluded . . . when a fire destroyed a large portion of the test material." He did not mention that, in one test, a village simulating Japanese structures burned to the ground. Nor did he state that a careless handler had left a door open and some bats escaped with live incendiaries aboard and set fire to a hangar and a general’s car. Records do not reflect the general’s reaction, but he could not have been pleased. Shortly thereafter, in August 1943, the Army passed the project to the Navy, which renamed it Project X-Ray.

A Silly Idea is Palmed Off onto the Navy

In October 1943, the Navy leased four caves in Texas and assigned Marines to guard them. Dr. Adams designed screened enclosures that were prefabricated at Hondo Army Air Field and placed over the cave entrances to capture the bats. A million could be collected in one night if necessary. By that time, the Navy had handed the project off to the Marine Corps.

The first Marine Corps bomber-bat experiments began on December 13, 1943. In subsequent tests, thirty fires were started. Twenty-two went out, but, according to Robert Sherrod’s History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, "four of them would have required the services of professional firefighters. A new and more powerful incendiary was ordered."

Full-scale bomber-bat tests were planned for August 1944. However, when Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations, found that the bats would not be combat-ready until mid-1945, he abruptly cancelled the operation. By that time, Project X-Ray had cost an estimated $2 million.

Dr. Adams was disappointed. He maintained that fires generated by bomber bats could have been more destructive than the atomic bombs that levelled Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ended the war. He found that bats scattered up to twenty miles from the point where they were released. "Think of thousands of fires breaking out simultaneously over a circle of forty miles in diameter for every bomb dropped," he said. "Japan could have been devastated, yet with small loss of life."

I don’t suppose He was counting the bats in that comment.

This is the container to be used to deploy the Bats over Japan. When dropped, from about 5000 feet a small parachute would pop out to stabilise the canister, at 100 feet the side casings would fall away and a series of trays on strings would then spread out, one above the other in a line, not unlike a stack of those Chinese Bamboo steamers. This would (should at least) give the bats time to wake up and fly off in search of dinner. In doing so pulling a tiny wire to initiate the timer fuse. As dawn broke the bats would look for a roosting site amongst the local buildings, and set them ablaze.

With acknowledgements to:

The U.S.A.F. Magazine, Original author C.V. Glines, and Dr. Scott Pedersen, PhD. Associate Professor, Department of Biology & Microbiology South Dakota State University, a.k.a. BATHEAD.

See also:- Bats and Bombs by Charles E Mohr in Celebrated American Caves pp 206-233

By Ian (Slug) Gregory.

Club Matters

Due to the continued abuse and lose of Cave Keys, we have introduced new key tags. These have been designed to be too big to be left in your pocket and therefore needed a new key cupboard – same place as before, same members access as before.

To clear up any confusion: members’ keys must not be lent to visiting clubs. Guest key deposit has been raised to £20. Please return keys as soon as possible (we already have one member who has failed to return our GB key after 4 weeks!!).

It was decided at this June’s committee meeting to increase the hut fees to £2.50 per night for members and £4 per night for guests. This is an increase of 50 pence per night. This difficult decision was taken in the reflection of the current economic climate with increasing fuel and amenity costs. The price of oil, gas, electricity and water have increased.

After almost seven months Mendip Farmers’ Hunt has still not submitted a planning application to move their operations (60 hounds, fleshhouse, stables, etc) to Underbarrow Farm. However in the last few days they have moved a member of their staff into the property.

Henry Dawson and I have spent every Wednesday night for many months working on the Belfry extension which is very near to completion. The upstairs members’ bunkroom is now fully operational and increasingly popular. The tackle store downstairs is now functional (key in members’ key cupboard) and we have vacated the Stone Belfry. Please ensure the tackle store is kept locked.

A working weekend also took place recently which was extremely productive. Amongst the many tasks undertaken that weekend was the fitting of a new thermostatic shower and the cutting out of the two remaining doorways for the extension. Many thanks to all those involved.

Plans are well underway for the BEC Summer BBQ on 18th August. The Shepton had a 50’s shin dig, the Wessex a tea party – the BEC continues to lead the way!

The Annual General Meeting is, as always, on the first Saturday in October. This year it falls on Saturday 4th. Nominations for the BEC committee are hereby called for. You can nominate yourself but must be seconded by a ratified full member. Send this to the Hon. Secretary by the 31st August.

After a number of years in Cheddar we return this year to Wells where we have a new venue for the Annual Dinner.  A new function room at The White Hart Hotel has been booked and tickets are selling fast. Book now to avoid disappointment!

Henry Bennett


Wigmore Extended


The following is the combined text from two Descent articles and this is presented here so that it can form part of the BEC reference material. 

Chris Jewell

My Wigmore story begins with reading Mendip Underground one evening at home in Potters Bar (a long way from Mendip!). According to Mendip Underground “the stream resurges at Cheddar Risings giving a potential depth of some 300m to the bottom of Sump 3 in Gough’s Cave, conceivably one of the deepest caves in England and with a potential length in excess of 10km” With my enthusiasm fuelled by this I purchased a copy of the Wigmore report from the BEC library, started reading all the old CDG dive reports and persuaded Tony Jarratt to tell me what he knew over a pint or four.

Amazingly for such a major cave on Mendip, with excellent potential, only a handful of people had been to the end. This seemed too good an opportunity to pass up – caves change over time and fresh eyes and fresh enthusiasm can open up new possibilities. Having been down the cave once before as a dry caver I knew it was a fairly sporting cave, which required quite a lot of tackle. Therefore I’d need to keep it rigged for the duration of the project (thanks to the WCC!!) and have a plentiful supply of sherpas (thanks to the BEC and friends).

As one of the original diggers and local cave guru I discussed my plans with Tony Jarratt whose enthusiasm for the project was contagious, whilst he also provided lots of practical assistance, such as putting me in touch with one of the original explorers Mike “Trebor” McDonald. 

I undertook several initial trips into the cave, firstly to check out dive base and the state of the kit left there from previous exploration projects and then later to drop off cylinders for my first dives. Thanks to Fiona Crozier, Duncan Butler, Matt Blount, Bruce Blagden and Rich Beer for their help hauling out the abandoned cylinders and old dive gear.

I then made a series of dives over several weekends assisted by several people, Rich Bayfield, Fiona Crozier, Ian Peachey Rich Llewellyn and Andy MacDonald, progressing further each time and becoming comfortable with the cave and the sumps. Firstly to the beginning of Sump 5 on my own, then with Stu Gardiner’s support (a recent BEC convert and my new diving partner) I passed the Rubik Sump and reached the start of Sump 7.

Stu Gardiner takes up the Story…

When I was still very new to caving and the Upper Series in Swildon’s was still an epic journey I recall my friend and caving mentor John Freeman telling me that he used to carry “Trebor” McDonalds cylinders down this awful place called Wigmore Swallet. I distinctly remember him saying that it was one of the worst places on Mendip to lug equipment through and that he would never go back again. This story had put me off the place for years and I could never find any valid reason to venture into such a place.

So in August 2007 when Chris asked if I would like to join him in having a look at the end of Wigmore with a view of possibly re starting the abandoned dig I was naturally sceptical due to John’s comments about the place. But then after doing some research and speaking to various people I came to the conclusion that this place had potential and surely must be worth a look.

The 9th August came and there I was at dive base kitted up and ready to go. The River Yeo although icy cold was unimaginably clear, but like most Mendip sumps the heavy silt soon clouded up to reduce the visibility to zero. The original dive line was still in a good condition and a testament to the previous divers who would have laid it in liquid mud. We continued on until we reached Sump 5, known as the Rubik Sump, which was Chris’s previous limit the trip before. Here I waited in waist deep water while he slotted himself in and checked out the nature of the beast, making a few attempts before pushing all the way through. After a short wait though the line started to twitch and he returned after checking out Sump 6.

Chris Jewell continues…

After the success of the previous trip with Stu I was ready to attempt Sump 7 and head to the end of the cave. Unfortunately Stu had other commitments so I resolved to make the trip on my own. BEC members Mark Stephens and Duncan Butler provided the Sherpa support. A ladder would be required for a pitch known as Slime Rift and I also strapped a bolting hammer and driver to my cylinders, as I knew there were very few places to belay off. The Rubic Sump was more awkward with ladder in hand but I soon reached my previous limit at the beginning of Sump 7. 

For anyone who doesn’t know the cave the sumps are all fairly short and shallow, with the exception of the 65m long, 6-7m deep Sump 7. The original divers used 4ltr cylinders to reach the end and my preference was for 300bar 3’s to give the same amount of gas. Filled to 300bar they had settled down to about 280bar once in the cold water and I was confident this would give me plenty of air for the trip. However I didn’t want to hang around in the deeper parts of the sump unnecessarily and planned to make a swift swim through 7. Being the only diver in the cave and ahead of the silt cloud the vis was excellent. I could easily see the passage shape, where in the past the original divers had groped around in zero vis. After the initial arch at the bottom of the pot in Sump 7 I rose up the silt bank to see a shimmering surface. Straight away I was confused…”the sump was meant to be much longer than this?!” I thought to myself. The tell tale line heading down the silt bank into the darkness provided the obvious answer – no one had spotted that surface before! With no proper line reel and mindful of my objective at the end I continued my dive downstream, leaving the air bell for the future.

After the earlier narrow passage of Wigmore, Vindication Streamway is an impressive place more reminiscent of the Swildon’s streamway and deserving of some real attention. I progressed down the cave until Slime Rift where I placed a bolt for the ladder and moved on towards the end. After navigating the first boulder choke I was stood at the terminal choke, a silt covered pile of boulders, “Goodbye Bob Davies”.

As a dig site I decided it wasn’t as much of a lost cause as the original cavers had considered it. The water clearly backs up here but I could see space between the boulders which a bit of digging and shoring could do something about. Satisfied with my recce trip I turned tail for home and the party at the Belfry, which I was already missing. Once on the surface my thoughts headed back to Wigmore, we needed a proper crack at the end soon and I ought to check out that airbell as well…

A few weeks later after the BEC AGM and dinner I stood packing my dive gear by the car. I had persuaded Rich Llewellyn Smith and Barrie Lawton (both BEC) to help me down the cave. However due to a late night and ‘everything to excess’ my enthusiasm was waning and it was already approaching midday. I mustered the last of my energy for the trip with the thought that whilst the weather was good I should at least check out the airbell. My plan was to make it a quick trip, probably find the airbell didn’t go anywhere and be back with Rich and Barry in less than an hour.

I’d carried a line reel and several silt screws down the cave on previous trips so I placed one of these (plastic drainage pipes to the non divers) in the silt below the airbell and unwound my reel. The inevitable silt cloud caught up with me whilst I did this and I emerged out of a muddy swirl into clear water, watching the reel unwind as I moved towards the reflection above. Just before I broke the surface I remember thinking “Go on…please!!” …and wow…it didn’t disappoint!!!

I was able to explore a large stream inlet up to 15m high in places and frequently 3-4m wide. I followed the stream upwards for over 100m over a boulder strewn floor before the passage divided. The water issued from a small crawl whilst I followed the passage into a high chamber with a climb at the end. This climb looked easy enough with a bit of gear and some company so I retreated to follow the stream coming from the crawl and explored an estimated 40m of passage to where the gravel prevented further progress. Extremely pleased with myself but mindful of the cold sherpas, who had been told that if I was gone for more than two hours to start worrying, I called it a day and headed back to Yeo Pot for a early evening exit. Knowing Tony Jarratt would be delighted I quickly headed for the Queen Vic for dinner, to tell him what I’d found and start planning the return!

Stu Gardiner continues

On 14th October after an evening with Chris at the Belfry tinkering with kit and making final plans we headed off early on the Sunday morning armed with a mountain of equipment and fortunately the Sherpas to move it! The plan was for one group to help us down to dive base and a second group to come in several hours later to help us out. Thanks to team 1 (Matt Traver, Ian Peachey and Mark Stephens) for getting up early and to team 2 (Matt Traver (yes twice in one day), Helen Brooke and Bruce Blagden) for staying late. Dive base was reached with few events other than that of Ian’s headlight falling off at the top of Black Pudding Pot plunging him into darkness. Each of us carried a small tackle bag consisting of surveying, bolting and photographic equipment, which we dived through the first four sumps before I reached my previous limit …

The Rubik Sump was next… I had been beating myself up all weekend and during the entire trip over this and wasn’t looking forward to it. The Rubik Sump is basically a sumped rift and requires a feet first entry on your side; the original divers recommended that you unclip one of your cylinders so that you can drag it behind you, therefore making it easier to squeeze through. This was out of the question though as we had a tackle sack each to contend with. I inserted my legs into the sump and bit down hard on the mouth piece as the jagged rock was determined to rip it from my mouth. The cylinders were a constant pain as they kept rolling in front of me and snagging, not to mention the rear of my harness catching on the other side of the rift. For the first 10ft it was a tedious backward and forward type motion to free up hoses, harness and wetsuit. Then after about 20ft in my mouthpiece was torn from my mouth as my hose caught up. My left hand was holding the bag behind me and I would not have been able to re seat it without letting go of it which would have been a bad thing as it potentially could have blocked the rift and our only way out. So I had little choice other than to let go of the dive line and rapidly replace my mouthpiece… a quick blow out and I was breathing again. Relocating the thin strand of dive line in the murky water was easy even in zero visibility as thankfully the passage was so small! The sump then increases in size a little as you drop out into the bottom of the rift and it’s possible to roll over and dive out in a normal fashion. The Rubik Sump was everything I had imagined it to be but I was now on the downstream side and still had to go back through!!!

Diving down into Sump 7 was quite nice, with pretty good visibility. I followed the line down under the arch and followed it up the silt back to where I located the line Chris had tied on. I backed up Chris’s snoopy with a peg, looked left and saw the large glimmering airspace. Following the line up I surfaced in the air bell and was instantly amazed at what Chris had discovered!! I de -kitted at the side of the pool and waited for Chris to come through, anxious to explore the new passage!!

Now in caving mode we set off up the new passage following the water. Large boulders and mud strewn floors were encountered until we came to a steep mud bank that was spotted on Chris’s previous trip. I managed to climb up trying not to damage the mud too much to discover a sizeable chamber with three passages leading off. Two of these will require bolting and the other seems to drop back down onto the stream way but will need a line due to the smooth mud coated sides. Back in the main passage we continued along to the end to the climb, which had previously stopped Chris. Upon a second inspection, with better lights, we decided that more hardware would be needed to tackle this, and so left it for the future.

The next priority was to investigate the inlet passage and the source of the water running into Sump 7. After a 30m hands and knees crawl in 3” of water a low section was reached that required the gravel floor to be dug out. The passage could be seen beyond and a water cascade could be clearly heard around the corner. I started digging with a crow bar to loosen the gravel, which was not ideal but was better than nothing. A few attempts were made with helmet off but it was still too tight on my shoulders so I then handed over the digging to Chris. He continued to dig the gravel out while I filmed on the digital camera and he made two attempts, passing it on the second. Unfortunately passing it meant leaving his helmet on the near side and sitting up in the dark virgin passage he was reminded of why we always wear helmets!! After the cursing I recall him shouting through “you better come through Stu!” I squeezed through and off we went… to find another 30 – 40m of passage ending in a similar low section with ongoing passage seen beyond. This can be easily dug out to gain access but due to time restraints we retreated back to the main passage to start the surveying.

The surveying took around 2 hours, which left us just enough time to take some pictures, though ideally more flash guns were needed. However this is something that can be done on a subsequent trip.

 Back at our dive equipment we kitted up and started the journey back to dive base. All was fine apart from being very over weighted with the kit bag in Sump 7 and having to climb out from the elbow of the sump. Arriving back at Yeo Pot dive base I was pleased that we were only 30minutes late – at 5.30pm, but was surprised to find a distraught fiancée waiting for me.  Apparently we were 1.5hours late and a rescue was not far off!! We later figured that my watch had been knocked and set back 1 hour between dive base and Sump 7. I blame Rubik Sump as it managed to knock everything else!!

This new discovery is very exciting especially with the inlet being in limestone. Digging and exploration in the new series is always going to be a slow and difficult process due to the nature of the cave for transporting equipment and the evidence of water backing up in wet conditions. Personally I felt a radio location exercise of the large chamber and the climb would help us pin point the new system and may open up a possible surface dig to try and find an alternative entrance.

The new section of passage is trending roughly South East and the main part we surveyed is 135m long. When you add in the un-surveyed crawl a reasonable estimate would put this new section over 200m in total.

On 15 December I returned with Simon Cornhill (CDG) to tackle the climb at the end of the dry terminal chamber. Simon had gear problems and had to exit the cave to get another cylinder. Meanwhile, using a specially made dry bag with a diving dry zip and inflator, I transported a drill and batteries downstream to Young Bloods’ Inlet.

The bag worked extremely well, except that I’d used carry mat to pad the drill, which made the whole thing very buoyant. This mean I had to weigh it down with lots of lead and stones. In the water it was fine but it then weighed an absolute tonne between the sumps!

When Simon arrived we managed three hours of bolting and climbing, reaching a point over 20m above the floor with the aven still going. A loose rock was encountered which will need to be brought down at a later date. Sherpa assistance for the trip out was kindly provided by Andy Rumming (DSS), Alan Brady (DSS) and Ian Peachey.

On 6 January I was back at the inlet in very high water conditions with John Maneely (WCC) to push and survey the stream inlet crawl as well as drop off more gear for the aven climbing. We then set off up the crawl, easily passing the previous constriction Stuart Gardiner and I had dug out and on to where we stopped last time. Here the roof was very close to the water, making digging extremely difficult. I dug as much on my front as possible before I tried to get through on my back pushing gravel out of my way as I went – discovering that it is actually possible to dig whilst lying on your back! (as long as you can get your arms out).

I pushed through and John followed me 5m to a sump pool, which doesn’t look amazingly promising – but is worth checking out. I lay in the water feeling the pool with my feet until I got too cold and we turned tail to start surveying.

In cold conditions, we surveyed the wet crawl back to where we’d previously dug through, before the cold then forced a halt. The carry out was long and hard and we eventually reached surface with the help of Sherpas, Ian Peachey and Bruce Blagden (SCG) after a 9 hour trip.

On 2nd of February we decided to put three divers through the sumps for the first time. Hilary Greaves (RRCPC) joined John Maneely and myself to finish off the aven climb. Fiona Crozier (BEC) and Katie Steckles (MUSC) provided the Sherpa assistance and for once the men were outnumbered by the women in the cave! After about a further 6m of vertical climbing I reached the top of the aven and a flat roof. The only possible lead was an impossibly tight rift heading off south east. Slightly disheartened I abseiled down so that John could head up with a tape measure to check the height – 26m in total. After cleaning the mud covered ropes and climbing gear the three divers pulled some of the kit out, leaving the rest for some shorter climbs closer to the sump pool. As we couldn’t retrieve all the kit it’s important to say thanks to Bruce Blagden who went down midweek to get my cylinders out after this trip.

After a few weeks off on Saturday 23rd of February we arranged a radio Location exercise with Brian Prewer (WCC). Stu Gardiner, myself and John Maneely made up the team, this time assisted down to the sump by Duncan Price (CSS) and Matt Jones (KUCC). (Do you get the impression it’s become a real multi club affair now!)

On the way downstream I decided to make a few notes about the general trend and bearing of the passage and sump depths. The latter proved impossible after two divers ahead of me but I managed to record the general trend to be E, with occasional sections heading SE or NE for short distances. Unfortunately these detailed notes did not survive the trip so most of this is from memory and we still need to do this properly for the Somerset Sump Index (I’m sure one of the reasons Duncan agreed to carry was to nag me about this!).

Stu had entered the water first and taken the radio location kit, which was stored in an ammo can. This survived the trip without flooding and when John and I arrived he was already set up transmitting. Meanwhile I climbed back up the ropes in the aven to rig them as a pull though so we could use them else where, whilst leaving thin string in their place in case anyone wanted to pull ropes back up in the future.

Apart from some strange noises and an unidentified voice on the frequency the radio location exercise was pretty efficient and we were quickly able to head off for objective number 2 – the un-dived sump. I’d carried my kit up from the sump pool so wearing one bottle with the other in Stu’s bag we set off. I seemed to have under estimated the awkwardness of this crawl, as we hadn’t gone far when it became apparent I’d need to push my cylinder ahead of me through lots of low ducks and crawls. Here protecting the valve and keeping it pressurised became very difficult. After lots of clanks and some hisses my regulator began to play up and after a quick conference about needing this in good working order to get back out – we decided to retreat and come back better prepared for the awkward carry. 

Back in the main passage we then contented ourselves with several hours of aid climbing in a sizable muddy chamber somewhere above the sump pool. This area looks interesting and there are several options here, the next trip will be very telling about the prospects here.

Once we ran out of bolts we turned for the surface and made it out just in time for the pub! The kit the three of us couldn’t carry out we went back for on Sunday with additional help from Fiona and Rich Llewellyn Smith (BEC).

On the radio location side, Brian was assisted by Phil Hendy (WCC), John Riley and Charlotte Riley. They left a stake in the ground to mark the spot on the surface and we were delighted to find three large depressions nearby – so there may be a surface dig starting here in the future!

Wigmore Stop Press…

On the last trip we (Duncan Price and I) dived downstream to Vindication Streamway and then free climbed back over the sump pool and into a small chamber at the top. We then followed this back along a short crawl until we could hear water. A bit further ahead Duncan spotted a rope and hanger and we realised we’d connected the passage back to Young Bloods’ Inlet. This means it is no longer necessary to dive Sump 7 to reach the end of the cave. Plus if someone dug into Young Bloods’ from the surface it would be possible to reach the end without diving at all!

We named the new piece of cave – The Generation Game – due to the gap in ages between Duncan and I!

By Chris Jewell and Stu Gardiner

Pete Rose, Pete Glanvill and Nick Chipchase’s 40 Year Celebrations


10th July …… The trio celebrate the last views of the forty-foot pot in Swildons with a photo shoot at the bottom of the forty. They will be wearing their old wet suits, but will not guarantee the zips doing up!(nde) .They will panic during this  and bolt for the entrance. ref Mendip caver Vol 4 no.5.,B.B. 1998(Vol 50,no.5)

24th July . Discovery of Dairyhouse Slocker streamway by Pete R and Nick


15th June………Nick C, Pete R and M. Hayes visit Dairyhouse Slocker. Upon exit, crawling under a long coffin shaped boulder Nick C kicked the said boulder. A large rumble was heard from the shakehole and Dairyhouse remains sealed to this day. (nde). We shall scatter fake ashes in the shakehole (environmentally safe of course).


14th December…….. NEDFROB day. Nick C, I. Lake, Pete R.  Pete R discovers that short fuses do not allow time to get out of the cave. In a frantic dive out of the first chamber Pete felt rubble on his legs and crawled out in smoke to an amused audience. We may call in Downside to bless the cave. (nde)


22nd Sept……diving of the sump in St.Dunstans by Michael Glanvill, watched by C. Corbett, Pete G., Nick C  and Pete R . A 6-hour trip ferrying in and out gear. Most of us would not get there now so we scrap that…perhaps a ceremonial rolling of a dive cylinder into the entrance?


19th March……. Pete R., Ted Popham, John Keat, G. Price and Nick complete the Fairy-Hilliers link. If possible we could have a shaking of hands through the link from both directions (may need a push)


March …….. Pete and Nick celebrate a breakthrough in their W/L Dig. Hoping that the W/L survey was up to it. The vast blank space to the south of the cave should have seen lots of passage. We retired to clear the fumes outside, only to see Eric Catherine’s party emerge from Shatter Cave complaining of noise and smoke. We had in fact been 90 degrees out and the passage emerged in an alcove in the second chamber. A little collector’s item for a squeeze

We have more celebrations we could plan for, including N.H.A.S.A. Gallery (lads it really does go), Green Lake Grotto, Jonathan’s Chamber. Ask Nick what a nedfrob is! nde  is a near death experience. We might not make these celebrations …two have already passed away (John Keat and Michael Glanvill)

Pete Rose, with logbook references from all 3.

For Caine Hill

Continued from BB 529.

*Inspirational title conceived by Tangent at Mike Thompson’s funeral. Say it fast for the full effect!

Further digging 29/10/07 – 30/1/08

On the 29th October the writer, accompanied by a plethora of annoying bluebottle flies, filled and stacked bags at the end of Root 66. He was back again on the 31st, following “Alfie’s” funeral, to haul 8 loads to surface before digging and stacking at the end of Root 66. Here he was joined by a newly – mended, scantily dressed (and impressed) John “Tangent” Williams and the duo then concentrated on dragging bags throughout the cave. 91 loads were hauled out on the 3rd November by Mike Willett, Fiona Crozier and Duncan Butler and next day Trevor Hughes, Duncan, Barry Lawton, Richard Llewellyn Smith and the writer, assisted on the surface by Nigel Jackson (WCC & Kent UCC) and Marian Byram, removed another 77. About seventy bags were dragged from the end and stacked in Son of a Pitch by Tangent, Carole White, Martin “Billy Whiz” Smith (BPC) and your scribe on the following day. Some digging and removal of rock slabs from the floor was also done. On the 7th Sean Howe photographed the cave with Phil Coles as his model. They then assisted Paul Brock, Siss Balomatis, Mike, Fiona and the writer to drag full bags throughout the cave and haul 93 loads to the surface. Some token digging was accomplished. Lots of proper digging was done next day when the writer excavated at the lowest point in Root 66 and at the face. One large rock slab was disinterred and broken up but a larger one above it was left for a future hammering or banging session. Unable to leave it alone the obsessed one was back next day but the slab defeated him, though it was undermined and partially dropped. More bags were filled and digging to the left of the slab revealed a tiny phreatic tube with an airspace. The (possibly) main way on to the right of the slab was further cleared and also boasted an airspace. The slab was eventually reduced to gravel by Duncan on the 11th November. Also present were Fiona, Ian “Slug” Gregory, the writer, Barry Lawton and three Aberystwyth U.C.C. members – Alison Ball, Alex Jones and Josh Lasson. Thanks to their assistance 80 loads reached the surface. More digging was done at the end and further excavation was indulged in, next day by your scribe. He also took three Land Rover loads of bags to the dump. Assisted by Jane Clarke, Tony Audsley and Millie the dog these were emptied in the afternoon – around two hundred in all!

With a mended knee Alex Livingston returned to the fray on the 14th in the company of Mike, Tangent and your scribe. He was impressed with the progress since his last visit in late April. At the Root 66 working face more bags were filled and Mike dug at the end to find the floor and ceiling coming together in a solid rock, mud-choked constriction. This was unexpected but not novel. Tangent, lacking caving gear, arrived in time to haul out 60 loads and keep warm in the freezing conditions above. A litre of red drain dye was poured into the dig near the bottom of Son of a Pitch in the hope of a trace to the wet weather inlet trickle in Root 66. A calculation of the amount of loads hauled out by the team since the 19th March (2,530) plus an estimated minimum of those removed by the original diggers (170) but excluding the Old Men’s efforts gives a total of 2,700. At an average weight of 10 kilos the result is 27,000 kilos or 24.3 tons. No wonder the spoil heap looks impressive!     

Desperately in search of the way on the writer returned on the 16th November and dug out the floor and the alcove with airspace near the end but both routes were too small. He then poked about at the end until a sweep of the crowbar brought down a heap of spoil from a small phreatic tube on the left. This revealed a roomy airspace above and heading NW but needing bang to make accessible. Two long shotholes were drilled in the left wall in preparation for this. He returned next day to fill a few bags, drill a third shothole, extend the vacuum hose, take a survey leg and fire a mixed cord charge. A Land Rover load of bags was delivered to the dump. The bang was found to have done the job when your scribe returned on the 18th. After a digging session the airspace was reached via a classic phreatic S-bend some 2m in length. Here the infill reached the ceiling but more excavation revealed a second airspace beyond. This was almost reached next day when the writer, Tangent and Paul all dug at the end until poor air stopped play and diverted them to hauling bags back to Son of a Pitch. On the 21st Jane emptied bags at the dump during the day and in the evening Mike, Tangent and the writer (as a 58th birthday treat) were back at the face after a minor delay recovering Mr. Willett’s car keys from the inside of his locked vehicle. Lots of bags were filled and many were hauled back to the bend. 21 reached the surface. At the face a third, and much larger airspace was opened up at the last minute but not properly examined due to the proximity of closing time. This was resolved next day when the writer dug up into it to find that it again ended after a metre or so but has regained the north-easterly trend of Root 66. He was back on the 25th when more digging took place and the ceiling at the end was found to be loose. He repeated the exercise next day and also managed to drop a large split section of the left wall of the S-bend. Removal of this was planned by micro-blasting. On arrival at the Hunters’ the sad news of the death of Mike Thompson, the instigator of this dig and renowned Mendip caver and cave diver, was received. The team are now under an obligation to push this cave in his memory.

On the 28th November Tangent and Sean winched out 100 loads while Mike, Jake, Phil, your scribe and new team members Justine Emery and Malcolm Austin laboured below. A micro-blasting attempt was made to split the obstructing rock using a single detonator but this failed to work and “stitch drilling” was resorted to. One chunk was hammered off and then Mike was sent into action resulting in removal of the remaining lumps to a wider section of passage where they could be further reduced. Jake found another airspace on the west side of the S-bend, which the writer proved on the 30th to be the expected connection with the alcove dug on the 16th. He also smashed up Mike’s boulders whilst contemplating on how the hell he managed to drag them out in the first place! More bags were filled and stacked and Duncan continued with this on the 1st December.

The 2nd December saw Duncan and your scribe desperately trying to reduce the back-log of full bags! Though none reached the surface a goodly amount were dragged back towards it. They then ruined the good work by filling lots more at the dig face. On the 5th Mike, the writer, Keith Creagh and Mark “Buddy” Williams (SMCC) hauled bags at various points throughout the cave and managed to get 78 out. Another 42 came out on the 10th courtesy of Darrell Insterell and your scribe. Thanks to the timely assistance of visitors from Moles C.C. – Jim Lee, Rob Norcross and Alan Richards – the cave was emptied of full bags on the 12th. 85 loads came out under the supervision of Mike and the writer and Siss filled five more at the end while Rob took some digital images. Two days later your scribe filled another thirty with spoil from the floor at the S-bend and the largest part of Root 66. He repeated the exercise next day and also removed a large section of the LH wall at the end. It being the festive season the position of the dig could now easily be seen from all over Priddy as Tim had decorated the tall tree above the entrance with Christmas lights. On the 16th a Land Rover load of spoil was dumped and all the full bags in the cave were dragged back to Son of a Pitch. 10 loads reached the surface before potential frostbite stopped play. Tony Boycott, Darrell and your scribe then headed for some warmth while passing Grampian S.G. member Pete Dennis mounted his motorbike for a decidedly chilly journey to Aberystwyth. Next day, after taking three Land Rover loads to the dump, Siss dug at the end, the writer continued clearing the S-bend and Mike cleared the bags. About forty-five loads reached Son of a Pitch. On the 19th December Phil and Jake dug at the end while Mike and the writer excavated an interesting hole in the floor of the largest section of Root 66. The others also had a later look and pronounced it to be “promising”. 93 loads reached the surface and over thirty freshly filled ones got to Son of a Pitch. One very large rock was left on the lintel for future ginging use. Jake did a solo-digging trip on the morning of the 21st and filled twenty-nine bags with spoil from the floor of Root 66. He found that the hole in the floor closed up but after excavation enabled a digger to stand upright without touching the ceiling! In the evening your scribe filled another seventeen, mainly from the terminal dig. On the 23rd, after delivering a Land Rover load of bags to the dump, Darrell and the writer dug upwards in the rift crossing the largest part of Root 66 and hauled bags to Son of a Pitch. They returned next day to haul out 60 loads – aided by Rich Witcombe. Four of the regulars then departed for some glory in the far north leaving Mike and Tangent to finish off the year by digging at the end on the 29th and hauling all the full bags to Son of a Pitch.

Trev and your scribe commenced the 2008 session on the 6th January when the former removed much of the loose LH wall at the end of Root 66 while the latter continued with the rift dig. Conditions had become decidedly sticky heralding the onset of the “Reverse Midas Touch” with which the Club diggers are cursed. On the 9th Mike heaved out a large rock from the end while the writer cleared spoil from around the remaining slabs to reveal that this “wall” was actually a pillar with clay-filled voids behind and above. A possible way on to the left was revealed but the remaining rocks were too big to shift without being reduced by bang or caps. Lots of bags were hauled up to Son of a Pitch. More were dragged up to here on the 14th when Siss dug at the end and your scribe gradually reduced a large rock before going to the face to crowbar down the remains of the pillar. Four potential ways on were revealed – up in the ceiling, straight ahead and to both sides. Two days later Mike hauled out 77 loads to surface, aided by your lightweight scribe. Trev returned on the 20th to drill and break up most of the toppled pillar using his home made plug and feathers and the writer bagged up the resulting debris next day. A shothole was drilled in the loose slab remaining in preparation for banging and this was lengthened on the 23rd when Mike and your scribe hauled bags and dug at the end. This hole was made redundant by Trev on the 26th when he managed to plug and feather the slab using shorter holes drilled vertically. 

Taking advantage of a spell of very fine weather Tangent and the writer spent the afternoon of the 27th emptying bags at the dump. The latter continued with this next day and also delivered a Land Rover load of recently filled ones. If left to “dry out” for a few weeks they are very much easier to empty. On the 30th January Mike, Sean, Alex and your scribe hauled bags to Son of a Pitch from where Phil, Siss and Paul hauled out 41 to the surface. Siss also emptied bags at the dump and another Land Rover load was taken over to dry out.

A reliable informant has pointed out that Caine Hill is also the name of a noted Australian lunatic asylum. If the cap fits …     

Further digging: – 2/2/08 – 16/6/08.

Tangent reported that the name Caine Hill dates from at least Tudor times as it appears in a document of that date describing the course of a boundary. More research is needed on this. Westbury-sub-Mendip historian Barry Lane is on the case.

The 2nd February saw Trev breaking rocks with his plugs and feathers and digging in the “2nd chamber” where he got the first view of open voids above (see plan) and this was continued by Henry Bennett and Henry Dawson on the 13th when they reported an increase in the draught due to the interception of a higher level phreatic tube with airspace which runs both up and down-dip (later named Pastel Passage). Quote: “There was at least 6-8” airspace if not more which you can see down for about 12-15 foot and then it just seems to continue the same. Wow! Looks funky.” – Henry B. On the 15th Trev and Henry B. did more rock splitting, digging and bag filling and used an electronic draught tester – in vain. The Henries returned on the 20th with Mike, Pete Hellier and Sean and got 72 loads to surface with all full bags underground being dragged up to Son of a Pitch. On the 25th Tony A. Land Rovered two loads to the dump and two days later Mike and Phil filled twenty-five bags at the end, enjoying the novel fresh air. Trev was back on the 2nd March to dig, break rocks and fill another twenty-five bags. On the 5th the writer, impressed with the progress made in his absence, filled fifteen bags and dragged out enough spoil to make a couple of metres of progress in the up-dip phreatic tube. Some work was also done on the equally promising down-dip tube. He returned on the 9th to fill another fourteen bags and dig both the up-dip and down-dip passages. Another two metres were gained. Next day he filled thirty-three bags and opened up a second up-dip passage running parallel to the original one and almost certainly connected. A further two metres of progress was made here. The 12th saw Mike, Paul and your scribe shifting full bags up to Son of a Pitch and the bend. A few bags were filled at the end and the first section of air hose was removed from the cave, as the use of the vacuum cleaner was no longer necessary. More bags were hauled up to the bend on the 16th when Trev and your scribe dug in the down-dip and RH up-dip passages, filled lots more bags and stacked them ready for removal. Next day the writer dug in the down-dip and LH up-dip passages and added many more to the rapidly growing bag pile. This intersected, and important, phreatic tube was named Pastel Passage due to the attractive multi-coloured ceiling pockets. A large boulder embedded in the floor was eventually loosened ready for extraction. This was attempted in vain on the 18th and so your scribe contented himself with enlarging the passage around the boulder and filling lots more bags. One result of this was the revelation of the true size of Pastel Passage – over 1m high and 1.5m wide.


Bag hauling was now desperately needed and so on the 19th March 40 loads reached the surface courtesy of Mike, Tim Andrews (the cave owner), Paul, Phil, John Noble and the writer. Many others were moved upwards throughout the cave and yet another failed attempt was made to remove the loose boulder. More spoil was bagged up from the down-dip passage. This was Tim’s first visit to the current end and he was impressed with both his cave and the effort being expended to push it further. Compass bearings in down-dip Pastel Passage revealed it to now be heading away from the Sump IV area of Swildon’s Hole and towards the Priddy Fault and the sink near Dale Lane – a big blank space on the map! This brings up the possibility of a connection with a completely different area of Swildon’s! To quote Andy Farrant in “Swildon’s Hole 100 Years of Exploration” – “…lumps of ochre seen deep in the cave at Heaven and Hell Aven in the North West Stream Passage are derived from weathered iron-rich deposits somewhere above.” This point is some 370m horizontally and about 100m vertically from the current end of Caine Hill and sounds particularly unpleasant.  Incidentally this was the first anniversary, to the day, of the present team’s involvement at the site. Taking advantage of the Good Friday holiday Trev was back on the 21st with a mission to break up the loose boulder. This he did admirably and also removed another large rock beneath it and about eight bags of spoil. Later that day Barry Lawton and your scribe bagged up the broken rock and continued digging and bag hauling throughout the cave.

A keen hauling team materialised on the 24th March to remove 105 loads from Son of a Pitch. Tony and Annie Audsley, Roger Galloway (the latter two both Grampian S.G. members), Anne Vanderplank and the writer were today’s labourers. The bag dump at the bend was cleared and Roger and Annie, both seasoned diggers, visited the working face where they were enthused with the potential. Later that day your scribe emptied bags at the spoil dump at Tim’s request and Trev continued this on the 26th. This is an ongoing task, which you, the reader, are cordially invited to assist with. On a nice day it can even be almost enjoyable! About a hundred full bags were dragged up to Son of a Pitch, later on the 26th by Mike, Paul and the writer and many more were cleared from the “2nd” to “1st chambers”. The second length of redundant air hose was removed. Next day Trev and the writer emptied most of the full bags. One Land Rover load was delivered to the dump to dry off. Another load was dumped on the 30th before Trev and your scribe re-stocked the bag pile at the bend and filled more bags in the “chambers”. Down-dip Pastel Passage was dug and found to be larger than expected, with no sign of a solid floor. Another Land Rover load of spoil and rock was dumped next day. Further clearing then took place at the face by your scribe. A narrow section of the ongoing passage was found to have a solid rock floor but by digging below this a low airspace in a wider section was surprisingly revealed, the rock floor above forming a phreatic bridge. Paul, Phil, Jake Baynes and the writer concentrated on bag hauling from Son of a Pitch on the 2nd April and got 71 loads out by using Tony’s lintel as a convenient staging post. Fifty of these, one Land Rover load, were dumped next day.

The 4th April saw Caine Hill’s first tourist trip when Tim’s Canadian cousin, Derek Andrews, went as far as the “1st    chamber” and took photos. He was a trifle stunned by the experience (“Do you actually do this for pleasure?”) and declined a visit to the end! The writer dug in down-dip Pastel Passage while Jake excavated the LH up-dip tube. Jake discovered a 2cm length of clay pipe stem at the base of the entrance shaft – another bit for Tim’s artefact collection. The 6th and 7th April saw your scribe feverishly excavating down-dip below the rock bridge and reaching the end of visible passage. At this point the passage appeared to turn left in the direction of the “1st chamber”. If a connection could be engineered this would greatly assist bag hauling operations. Tony delivered a pile of superb limestone slabs recovered from Fairy Cave Quarry to the Shaft on the 8th in preparation for ginging above the lintel as the excavated rock is not up to the high standards of A.T.L.A.S. Next day a Land Rover load of spoil reached the dump and then Mike, Paul and the writer concentrated on shifting bags throughout the cave – eventually clearing Pastel Passage and the “2nd chamber” and re-stocking Son of a Pitch. All full bags at the dump were emptied on the 11th. On the 13th and 14th your scribe continued digging in down-dip Pastel Passage and stacking bags here and in the “2nd chamber”. A superb waterworn limestone floor was revealed below the rock bridge and the northern wall of the passage found to be developed along a thick and easily removable calcite vein. When empty of spoil and bags this ancient phreatic streamway is an impressive sight! A small, continuing airspace at the end appeared to be above another bridge with the way on apparently at depth. The passage to the left was found to be a low phreatic tube and impassable at this level. Next day Jake and the writer dug here, in the RH up-dip passage and in the floor of the “2nd chamber” and hauled a few bags to the bend.

Bag hauling continued on the 16th April when Mike, Paul, Jake, and the writer hauled 110 loads to surface from Son of a Pitch. The latter two were back on the 18th to haul bags throughout the cave and continue with their adopted digs. Trev, Jake and your scribe spent the afternoon of the 20th continuing bag hauling and clearing the dig sites. One Land Rover load was taken to the dump. The writer was back next day and dug both down-dip and RH up-dip Pastel Passage. A connection with the LH passage was felt to be imminent. St. George’s Day, the 23rd, was celebrated with another massive hauling session throughout the cave. The celebrants were Mike, Paul, Jake, Phil, your scribe and guest digger Ian Peachey (SMCC). Another Land Rover load reached the dump where Tim is planning to use this ideally sticky clay as the dam for a future pond. Paul and your scribe then headed north for greater glory – see Rana Hole article – and only Trev and Jake continued the good work.

On the 27th Trev dug down-dip. Jake filled bags with spoil from the “2nd chamber” on the 30th April and again on the 2nd March. He was back here on the 4th while Trev again dug down-dip. The writer continued with this dig on the 5th and unearthed the way on under the SW wall of the passage. He also removed the aluminium builders’ ladders from the entrance shaft and installed a wire ladder to make bag hauling easier. 11 loads were hauled out and taken to the dump where, next day, all full bags were emptied. A major hauling session took place on the 7th when Mike, Jake, Paul, Phil, Pete and the writer were joined by long absent original digger John Walsh, who was amazed at progress since his last visit. 80 loads reached the surface and a Land Rover load was delivered to the dump. This continued on the 10th when Jake and your scribe hauled bags throughout the cave. Next day the latter was back together with long-distance digger (in all senses of the word) Ray Deasy. More bags were filled in the down-dip dig. The writer took advantage of the superb weather on the 12th to empty all of the remaining bags at the dump. 162 loads (a record) came out on the 14th when Mike, Paul, John W, the writer and newly recruited digger Dave McBride emptied out Son of a Pitch and the rift above. Another excellent hauling session on the 18th saw S.o.a.P. almost completely filled and the “1st and 2nd chambers” briefly emptied. Trev, Paul, Phil, John N, Jake and your scribe were today’s team. Three Land Rover loads reached the dump and Tim provided valuable assistance by pressure-washing the hauling ropes. Further underground hauling by Ray and the writer next day saw the bend refilled. Digging and rock breaking in down-dip Pastel Passage revealed the way on to be probably straight down in the floor as foreseen by Trev and not down-dip as erroneously thought by your scribe. 

Bag emptying continued on the 20th and also on the 21st – when another 121 loads came out from S.o.a.P. courtesy of Mike, Paul, John W. and the writer and one Land Rover load reached the dump. The diggers were kept amused by a bevy of teenage girls with a barrage of questions like “Are there rats down there?”, “Do you make money out of this?” and “Have you found any gold yet?”. “No” was the answer to all of these! Incidentally, the total loads removed to date are c.4079 equalling 40,790 kilos or 36.71 tons. More bags were emptied by your scribe on the 25th while Trev smashed up a large rock at the dig face and filled over twenty bags. On the 28th John W, Ian and the writer re-stocked S.o.a.P. with over a hundred bags from the bend and “1st chamber”. The latter returned two days later with Jake and the pair dragged bags throughout the cave and cleared Pastel Passage.

Two Land Rover loads (eighty bags) reached the dump on the 1st June. Trev, Jake and the writer then dragged more bags throughout the cave and continued digging. More work was done here next day when your scribe established that the way on was cutting back under the floor of Pastel Passage and not straight ahead as thought. This now roomy stacking area will be referred to as the “3rd chamber” for the purpose of digging reports (see sketch survey). On the 4th Mike cleared all the full bags from here back to the “2nd chamber” while the writer festered on the surface awaiting a non-existent hauling team. Early pub night! Your scribe was back at the end on the 6th but was driven out by ill health after filling only half a dozen bags. Duncan visited next day and was enthused. Another visitor was Dr. John Wilcock (B.C.R.A.) who was attending the Cavers’ Fair and was recruited by your scribe to continue his Mendip dowsing project at Caine Hill. John got two distinct reactions in the field north of the entrance. One of these indicates a passage running from the current end of the cave towards the copse behind Manor Farm and thus towards Swildon’s Four – where contenders for a connection are High Loop Passage, Fault Passage and Priddy Green Sink / Cowsh Aven Series. The other ran back from the copse along the line of the wall running south towards Caine Hill Cottage. He got no other reactions in any direction. If he is correct this gives a third possible route for a link with Swildon’s Hole. Time, and effort, will prove him right or wrong and will be an excellent test of the dowsing phenomena. The 8th June saw Trev, Duncan, John Christie and the writer hauling 50 loads out, Land Rovering them to the dump and emptying those on site. Next day your scribe filled bags in the “3rd chamber”, revealing an attractive, waterworn floor. Hauling continued on the 11th when John W, Mike, Paul, Nick Hawkes and the writer almost cleared the “1st chamber” and the bend back to S.o.a.P. Nick, being a professional mining geologist, also closely examined the lower part of the cave and took rock and mineral samples for further study. His initial opinion is that this is a phreatic system developed along fractures in ancient hydrothermal mineral veins. The following evening Jane and your scribe emptied bags at the dump. Jake did a solo trip on the 14th when he dug and tidied up the bags at the end. Two days later the writer filled more bags here and noted several small airspaces opening up in the fill.

Continued in BB 531.

By Tony Jarratt

Mendip Digging News

Congratulations to Pete Hann and his Wessex digging team on the breakthrough earlier this year at their long term dig in Charterhouse Cave. Some 330m of streamway were initially entered with the G.B. Cave stream coming in on the right – a dye test took 35 minutes. A mud blockage was then dug to yield a further 40m of passage ending in a diveable downstream sump and with a tight crawl to a roomy inlet passage (a parallel streamway), later pushed for 70m to another sump, later found to be undiveable. It is believed that at c180m this is now Mendip’s deepest swallet cave, having surpassed Longwood Swallet’s 175m. The potential here is tremendous and since the discovery of the Upper Flood Swallet extensions much attention has been focussed on the Cheddar catchment. Pete and Aubrey Newport are supposedly digging in White Spot Cave, Pete Glanvill, Tony Boycott, Martin Grass and Chris Binding are working at a particularly squalid site nearby, Graham Price intends to dig Hangover Hole (above Timber Hole) and the Bracknell / M.C.G. diggers are beavering away in Stainsby’s Shaft / Blackmoor Swallet – where a tempting void was opened up on the 6th April leading, in May, to very promising but extremely unstable “Old Mens’” workings. Another M.C.G. team recently explored some 60m of maze passages off East Passage in Upper Flood. This still leaves Old Farts’ Dig, Manor Farm Swallet, Timber Hole, Tyning’s Barrows Swallet, Rhino Rift and Longwood Swallet up for grabs. Any takers?

By Tony Jarratt

More Cave Related Ephemera and Some Interesting Gossip.

In addition to the article in BB 529 another Ford Farm cheese label has turned up. It bears the title “WOOKEY HOLE Traditional Farmhouse Cheddar” above a photograph of an empty rowing boat on the River Axe in the 1st Chamber. The entrance to Charon’s Chamber is in the background (see illustration).

The Cheddar Brewery has introduced Totty Pot Porter and the writer undertook extensive field trials to confirm its excellent quality. Unfortunately the origin of the Cheddar cave name Totty Pot (incidentally delineated by the Ordnance Survey in attractive Gothic script) may put off potential imbibers. It was named by cave archaeologist and Wessex member Chris Hawkes after the mumblings of his then very young daughter Sarah – sister of Nick (sometime BEC) – who was allowed to accompany her dad at the dig site together with her potty. Richard Witcombe states in Who Was Aveline Anyway? that the cave was “Named after the makeshift bucket used on the first day’s digging by the Wessex in 1961.” There are no prizes for guessing what this “makeshift bucket” was, or what baby Sarah had to resort to! Thanks to Tangent, Chris and Richard for this gem of wisdom. Anyway, back to ephemera. Illustrated is the bottle label with a depiction of a black, yellow ochre and red ochre “cave painting” Aurochs on a blue background and a short note about the cave. Thanks to Mike Hearn for this. It’s good that they are continuing with the cave theme though and perhaps we can look forward to “Priddy Green Sink Brown Ale”! 

The rest of this article has gone on vacation somewhere and cannot be found. In the meantime we bring you some background information on Cheddar Ales. Apologies…

The labels read:

Nestling on the slopes of the Mendip Hills, within a stone’s throw of the famous Cheddar Gorge, Cheddar Ales is a microbrewery producing premium quality real ales for you to enjoy at home as well as in the best pubs. Head Brewer, Jem Ham, insists on using only the finest ingredients and time-honoured methods as old as the hills themselves to produce a range of beers for traditional and modern tastes alike, that are best described as Simply Gorgeous.

Potholer is an award-winning Golden Ale. It’s refreshing, with zesty fruit flavours, a rounded finish and bags of aroma. It is brewed using the best quality Maris Otter, crystal and wheat malts and hopped with a blend of the choicest whole hops.

Totty Pot is a small cave near the head of Cheddar Gorge, just one and a half miles from the brewery. Discovered in 1960 many archaeological remains (dating from 6500 b.c.) have been found, including Auroch bones and Microliths (small flint tools).

Totty Pot is an award-winning Dark Porter with a deeply satisfying roasted malt character and subtle hop highlights. It is brewed using the best quality Maris Otter, wheat and dark malts and hopped with a blend of English whole hops.

Pouring instructions: Careful, this beer contains a live yeast sediment which helps give the beer a more natural flavour. To get the best results allow the yeast to settle by storing the bottle in an upright position and then pour carefully without disturbing the sediment. Serve slightly chilled 10-12C  – Enjoy

By Tony Jarratt

The Mendip Invaision – Discoveries in the Rana Hole/Uamh an Claonaite System

Photo Jrat looking up from entrance of 2B’s Chamber by Simon Bookes

This year’s Mendip Invasion of Assynt in NW Scotland was a poorly attended affair from the south with Paul Brock (B.E.C./G.S.G.), Anne Vanderplank (B.E.C./W.C.C.), Robin “Tav” Taviner (G.S.G.) and the writer making up the team. Tony Boycott and Tangent were unfortunately unable to join us but support came from Yorkshire (Dave Hodgson, Jamie Anderson, Norman Flux, Mark Brown and Anwen Burrows), Derbyshire (Nick Williams, Eddy Mason and Simon Brooks) and Edinburgh (Fraser Simpson, Roger Galloway, Annie Audsley and Ivan Young). Just before the Mendip team left more G.S.G. members turned up and surprise visitors Yvo Weidmann and his girlfriend Martina arrived from Switzerland. Yvo is a top European cave diver, surveyor, Meghalaya veteran and cave photographer whose work can readily be seen and appreciated in most, if not all, Speleo Projects calendars.

Paul and your scribe drove up on the 26th (well, Paul did) in eleven hours but this did include stops at the Black Isle Brewery for supplies and fish and chips in Ullapool. A session in the Alt Bar that night saw them not at their best next day and almost abandoning digging due to the glorious weather. Tav and Anne succumbed to this to ascend Arkle while the hungover ones eventually staggered up the Allt nan Uamh valley in the wake of Fraser, Yorkshire Dave and Jamie who were intent on completing the first diving through-trip from Claonaite to Rana. In the latter the Black Rift was rigged with ladders and the awkward traverses and knobbly crawls leading to Blue Chamber negotiated – Slipping Into Something More Comfortable (S.I.S.M.C.). After admiring the blue and crystal-clear static sump the duo crawled on into the 30m up-dip extension discovered by G.S.G. men Julian Walford and Martin Hayes on the 12th April. Here they admired pure white stalactites and helictites, mud formations and strange red crystals on the floor before looking for possible dig sites. Paul spotted the best option which was an almost vertical “bedding plane” filled with dodgy boulders to a height of about four metres to where a small black space hinted at open passage beyond. Each wielding a small crowbar they set about the choke at two places and easily disposed of tons of rocks with the aid of gravity and the roomy passage below. The writer was then able to push boulders into Paul’s dig from above and after about an hour and a half was able to traverse across the steep slope below even larger piles of “hanging death” to reach the black space. A squeeze upward and he was in more roomy passage and soon joined by Paul. Amazed at their easy victory the explorers realised that they were standing at the bottom of a huge and steeply sloping passage or chamber with a dry mud-covered breakdown floor. Now feeling much improved and almost bursting with excitement they scrambled up the 60 metres or so to the top of the chamber to find it over 30 metres wide at one point and with a central roof height of 5-6 metres. There were no formations but some impressive geological features which are well worthy of study by an expert. Near the top of the chamber, where huge breakdown slabs blocked any way on, a 20 m long passage was explored to a mud choke and a lower passage (later called Not Two B) and pushed by Paul for about 25 m, also led to a long term dig. Further down the chamber a descending side passage, later pushed by Annie Audsley, also ended at a diggable mud choke. A couple of other unpromising sites were also later noted. Totally gobsmacked the jubilant duo named the find “Two B’s Chamber” as it was Bigger and Better than two A’s Chamber – and was found by two lucky B.E.C. Bastards – and set off into the depths of Claonaite to meet the divers. They had just emerged from Sump 6b when the pair arrived and were also much pleased by their successful dive, though not looking forwards to dragging all their kit up through the generally vertical passages of Rana Hole. Fraser had to drive home but the other four later celebrated at the Inch. Paul was so embarrassed by today’s discovery that he at last joined the G.S.G!

Two B’s Chamber is probably the second largest in a Scottish limestone cave – with the possible exception of the partly sea-eroded main chamber of Smoo Cave, and has undoubtedly formed by roof collapse into the original phreatic bore tube heading through Blue Chamber and onwards to The Great Northern Time Machine – Scotland’s largest chamber – where it was joined by another phreatic bore tube coming in from Two A’s Chamber, Belh Aven and Portobello Promenade/Memories of Tangalle. Investigations above the Twin Falls of Jabaroo may reveal more breakdown passage running back up towards Blue Chamber. Without the fortuitous short phreatic tube dropping into Blue Chamber from the awkward S.I.S.M.C. this fine addition to the system would be inaccessible. Could this be a flood overflow conduit formed along a convenient joint after the main bore tube became blocked with glacial (?) deposits? Much more recently this passage was utilised by the Black Rift streams.

The discoverers were back down Rana next day along with Ivan, Annie and Roger and a survey was completed from Black Cuillin Chamber to the end, a total of 261 metres (new passage making up 166 metres of this) and showing that the end of the chamber is located in the limestone band to the east of Beinn an Fhuarain. The passage seems to be running roughly parallel with the Claonaite streamway some 150 metres further east. To inspire further celebration it was now realised that the system had been pushed to just over 3 kilometres – another Scottish record. Eddy, Nick, Tav and Anne had meanwhile been touring and looking at digging sites in Claonaite Seven.

For a change Campbell’s Cave was the focus of attention next day with Roger, Annie, Anne, Norman, Paul and the writer preparing the surface depression for a major onslaught. Stone steps were constructed, the spoil heap extended, the cave entrance area stabilised and a massive wall commenced in the stream channel. No forward progress was made but good weather made this tidying operation a pleasure.

Roger, Annie, and the writer were back down Rana next day but on a purely tourist trip to show Richard Mackenzie (the owner of the Inch) and his Dutch friends Jan and Joris Van den Berg the cave as far as the head of Black Rift. All thoroughly enjoyed it – especially 11 year old Joris – and were most impressed with the engineering. Roger started a dig in the higher reaches of Two A’s Chamber (to which he and Annie returned on the following day and declared a long term job).

Simon Brooks exiting Blue Chamber Sump (photo Paul Brock)

The 2nd May saw Norman continuing work on the Rana breakthrough-point dam while Tav, Paul and your scribe assisted Simon with his diving gear. Blue Chamber sump was the target but unfortunately after some 5 metres it was completely silted up. Simon then visited Two B’s Chamber where he took lots of photos with the writer for scale. Tav and Paul went to dig at a site above Sump 6b where a breakthrough was made after half an hour into some 50 metres of bedding passage with a dug (and horribly loose) connection to The Palatial Abode of Edward Concrete Head and thus a round trip of academic interest. It was named “Duelling Pianos”. The possibility still exists here of a by-pass to Sumps 4, 5 and 6b.

Your scribe, being fed up with the A.N.U.S. valley, walked from the G.S.G. cottage to the Abhainn a’ Chnocain area on the 3rd May. The partially blocked entrance of the 8 metre long Easter Bunny Cave was easily found and made accessible – if a trifle squalid – within 20 minutes. Half an hour of crowbar and entrenching tool work on the terminal collapse revealed a 2 metre extension and no possible chance of any more. At now 10 metres in length it can be thankfully ignored in the future. It was found by the writer and Helen Macpherson on 4th April 1980 and had been awaiting another visit since then! The entrance was partially refilled with peat, rocks, slime and an old bucket. Directions to its exact location can be found in the G.S.G. Hut Log should any masochistic grotthole connoisseurs be reading this. Back at Taig nam Famh a visit was had from a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses but they were repulsed by Anwen who gave them a piece of her mind regarding their missionary zeal amongst perfectly happy tribal societies. Roger, Annie, Mark and Norman continued clearing the Skye-Way in Rana.

Other activities included hill-walking; dig investigation by Nick and Eddy in Traligill and levelling of the site for the store extension by capping and banging. The latter was particularly impressive as large chunks of shattered pallet landed on the cottage roof and debris rained from the skies following a 9 shothole charge of 12gm cord! Refreshment at the Inch, the Alt and back at Taig nam Famh was a suitable reward for the hard work regularly expended.    

A serious geological and geomorphological study now needs to be done on the Rana Hole/Uamh an Claonaite System. The huge lumps of broken stalagmite bosses at the top of Black Rift should surely be perfect for dating purposes and would give an indication as to when breakdown created Two A’s Chamber. They also indicate a much warmer climate with plenty of vegetation when they were formed. The high-grade survey of the system needs upgrading and perhaps re-surveying in Claonaite Seven, especially in the complicated area around Duelling Pianos. Tav has found a possible link dig to Otter Hole and there are many more sites of interest as shown by the above results. The southern contingent hope to return for the G.S.G. Annual Dinner in October when some of these sites will hopefully be investigated – if they have not already yielded by then!

Errata: Breakthroughs at Rana Hole, Assynt, Scotland – BB 529, p61, “Mark bolted up Belh Aven for some 20m…” Not 60m as stated.

By Tony Jarratt

St. Cuthbert’s Nostalgia

As the decades ease by some caving trips stand out more than others. In the 1950s there was one such trip – into the not-long-since discovered St. Cuthbert’s Swallet.

On the evening of Friday 19th March 1954 I humped my heavy rucksack the one mile to Walton–on–Thames railway station and caught a train to Waterloo from whence I took the tube to Gloucester Road station where I met Dennis Kemp (WSG). I squeezed myself and kit into his already crowded vehicle and we headed towards Mendip: I think I was a WSG member at that point in time. The stated plan was to do a long trip to the Black Hole area in Swildon’s.

We duly arrived at the (old) Belfry where discussion soon indicated that, due to weather conditions, Black Hole was out of the question. I remember feeling very disappointed. However, it soon transpired that there was a 24-hour trip planned for St. Cuthbert’s – from midday Saturday until midday Sunday. I volunteered to join that trip and was accepted (beginner’s luck – I had only been caving for about a year).

A group of BEC members, whom I recall included Sybil Bowden-Lyle dammed the stream on Saturday morning to allow us to go down at 12.00am. The other members of the team were Bob Bagshaw, Roy Bennett, Norman Petty, Don Coase and John Stafford; all much older and more experienced than I was. On the way down we spent what seemed like ages (actually about an hour) putting in a Rawlbolt at the top of Arête Pitch. The descent of the Water Chute introduced me to the use of “knobbly dogs” (short alloy bars on a single length of wire – AJ). The roomy yet complex aspects of the cave were quite fascinating. Its vertical nature was something I had never previously experienced (Pulpit Pitch was awesome!). It was also perhaps the wettest cave I had been into!

At last we arrived at the Dining Room. Here we put down all the food and cooking equipment that we had been carrying.

After a “meal” of soup, bread, tea and biscuits we set off to explore the Rabbit Warren; I recall the names Plantation Junction (where we made great efforts to pass the stal. formations that block progress upstream) and the Tin Mine. Our explorations eventually brought us to Curtain Chamber. We seemed to have been on the move for many hours but we were back in the Dining Room by 7.00 pm.

After another brew-up and meal we set off up a short climb and entered Cerberus Hall. Since I had probably been selected as “duty ferret” I wriggled through a flat-out crawl at floor level to find myself looking down a rather steep passage. The passage turned to the right but appeared to continue, so I started off headfirst downwards. On reaching the point where the passage turned, I could see that it led straight into a lake of beautiful green water. I performed the necessary acrobatics to get my feet to where my head had been and went on down to water level. I think everyone went down to have a look into Lake Chamber. Our next exploit was to make the connection via Rat Run to Everest Passage. This involved John Stafford pushing a small boulder with his nose, having committed himself to an upward squeeze in which the boulder was sitting!

Yet another brew-up restored us for the next phase of exploration. This time we visited Upper Traverse Chamber and High Chamber. It was now very early on the Sunday morning and we were getting quite tired. Back in the Dining Room we took our time over a final meal before setting off for the surface to keep the midday rendezvous with the damming team. The journey was slow and rather arduous, as we had to roll up all the tackle we had taken in. An enduring memory is that every time we set off on a new excursion from the Dining Room I thought how similar it felt to what I imagined it must have felt like going out into no-man’s land on a WW1 night patrol (it must have been a mixture of the wetness, the mud and the obligation to do as everyone else did). I think also that khaki was the dominant colour of our caving clothes.

Above the Water Chute on the way out Roy Bennett and Don Coase climbed up into Drinking Fountain Passage. They had not been gone long when the ominous sounds of nailed boots sliding down a rock wall signified that Roy had not quite managed to make a short climb. Luckily no harm was done and we carried on out. I remember hoping that the people on the surface would not be late putting in the dam. They were on time and we duly emerged very wet and very tired at midday.

Dennis Kemp’s Land Rover was loaded and ready to go so I wasted no time in sorting myself out. There were no hot showers in those days of course and I recall being very concerned that parts of my body (mainly hands and feet) were very wrinkled by long exposure to cold water. I even wondered if they’d return to normal.    

By Tony Knibbs (MCG)


Hidden Earth 2008

This year, Hidden Earth, the UK’s national caving conference and exhibition is taking place on the weekend of 26-28 September 2008 at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley, West Yorkshire. It is always an excellent and informative weekend as well as being a great social event.

Emma Porter has taken on the task of being Lecture Secretary for this conference, so please contact her at (remove nospam) if you would like to give a talk. Hope to see you there!

Emma Porter

More Pits Than You Can Shake A Stick At

A brief update on the Hutton adventure.

After the discovery of Upper Canada Cave our hopes have been high that we are in the right area for the lost Hutton Cavern. The number of pits, as described by previous hunters of the lost cavern are numerous and most, as we have discovered are dead ends but one or two prove to be exciting. 

In recent months our focus has been nearer to Bleadon Cavern where after two very shallow and boulder filled depressions were emptied and refilled we found a broad pit lined on two sides by miners’ walls. Some time back we had an initial look at a square cut section of rock that looked a bit too unnatural but rejected it after finding bedrock.

In an act of shear bloodymindedness we went back to it and found that what we thought was bedrock was in fact just a small slope before a descending natural wall, which we followed down emptying out as we went – that’s the chamber not us by the way.

The Cole Chute.

Scraping around moving material we found a triangular opening that led into a small space. When it was discovered that that went nowhere we unearthed a bedding chamber (appro’ 4ms wide and 5ms long) through cracked wall blocks. The adventurous N. Richards slipped through, donating his record collection to Harding should the roof collapse – it wasn’t the safest looking of bedding chambers – but was disappointed to discover it wasn’t going anywhere. It was named the Cole Chute after the landowners – who do go somewhere – canoeing mostly.

This is a rough map due to the fact that just before going to press Nick R was languishing in hospital with some mystery ailment and as he had the correct measurements in his notebook the above image is a rough editorial approximation only.

Nick R in the tunnel. The roof just up to the right proved to be less than stable

Further emptying of the pit revealed a sizeable bedding feature composed in the main of perilously unstable rock which adding a certain frisson to the digging experience. Pursuing a smaller opening roughly in a northern direction we found a small phreatic tunnel below a slab of rock. We followed this down, our optimism ever growing, but after a session we found with a hard slap of reality that it was pinching down to a too tight squeeze.

At the start of the tunnel beneath the slab of rock we found a very narrow blocked passage that looked as if it was heading to surface – it was filled with rubble. Digging in the floor of the entrance to the small tunnel and directly beneath the slab of rock spirits were lifted again by the removal of boulders – something appeared to be happening again but repeated removal of these boulders produced more infilling from the collapsing bedding.

When spirits fell again we retreated. Nick R tested the roof just above the entrance to the small tunnel only to have the whole lot collapse.

This dig has been abandoned due mostly to frustration. Although essentially interesting the slabs of bedding in this pit make working here a bit touch and go. Secondly it doesn’t fit into the descriptions referring to the entrance to Hutton Cavern. This pit may indeed continue on into the depths, it has that ‘feel’ about it, but interest has flagged for the moment and the desire to find Hutton Cavern pushes on to other locations on the hill.

By The Two Nick

A Trip to Cheddar Ales

Behind the walls of this unimposing building one of the best beers in the region is created. 

The grand equation that is caving rarely works if one vital element is left out i.e. beer. Somehow the maths fails to add up. Or at least the experience without a post explore sup is somehow an incomplete experience.

The simple ingredients.

Yer Ed visited Cheddar Ales in February for a trip accompanied by Yer Ed’s father who despite sporting a beard (see BB 529) is sadly not a caver but a fine connoisseur of things brewed (other than tea). He was there in his capacity of President of the Weston Lions, his second tour of duty in that post, to arrange the Lions Beer Festival for this summer in sunny Weston super Donkey. This was done as an informal recce and to arrange a beery viewing with a select band of BEC-ers at a later date.

Then in April Jem Ham gave us an entertaining tour of the process of beer making answering questions (especially from the engineers within the group) about the subtleties of the craft. It’s extraordinary how, with a few simple ingredients carefully blended, so many varieties of flavours can be created to keep a multitude of cavers happy. Sadly numbers were not as expected but then that really was the fault of Yer Ed who arranged a visit early in the week. Next time it won’t be and if Jem will have us back I’ll arrange a more suitable and work friendly time.


Jem Ham takes us through the brewing process. Everyone is keen to get to the sampling.

After the tour Jem had kindly laid on barrels of beer for consumption including Cheddar Best, which proved to be a firm favourite. This has now been changed to Gorge Best. And most of us, I believe ended up taking a glass home with us as a souvenir.

Although looking like a Russian missile silo this is where the alchemy happens?


An added bonus was that the sacks the hops and wheat come in make excellent digging sacks. Mike has already delivered a stack to the Belfry.

Yer Ed would like to thank Jem and Mike Hearn (BEC 1986-97) for being magnificent, friendly and generous hosts. I’m sure all of you have your own ideas for cave related beer names, I for one can think of loads.


The Fernhill Project

Jack Waddon looking into the entrance of the cave, 1960

The cave was exposed by quarrying in 1960, opened and explored in 1960 by WCC, and the entrance was permanently buried under quarry tip about 1965

(Barrington and Stanton, The Complete Caves of Mendip. First edition, 1970).

In fairness to Willie Stanton, he did remove the word "permanently" from later editions of his book.  It was however, not an unreasonable statement, for a vast amount of surface clearance material had been bulldozed over the edge of the quarry.  This material poured into the entrance bedding-plane, filling it and eventually produced a heap which rose almost to ground level.

It is unfortunate though, that the entry in ‘The Complete Caves’ implies that Fernhill Cave was opened up by the Wessex, as this isn’t exactly the case.  So, perhaps it would be a good idea if we start with a bit about the history of the cave.

The first caver to take notice of the cave was Jack Waddon, a BEC member who was nosing around looking for caves – sorry, conducting geological field work – in the quarry.  He noticed an enlarged bedding-plane in the (then) north-west corner of the quarry working face (note 1).  The bedding-plane was largely filled with a thick layer of stalactite, but at one point, a gap in the stal flow emitted a strong draught.  This was on the Whitsun weekend of 1960.

Jack returned to the quarry on 17th June the same year with Phil Davies of the Wessex and together they removed sufficient rock to make a passable entrance.  Jack squeezed in and made the first descent of the bedding-plane to a boulder-strewn floor some 43 feet below (note 2).  He made this descent without tackle and, as the bedding-plane gets wider with depth, he may well have found the ascent a little tricky for he comments that a ‘knobbly dog’ would have been useful. 

Strange that he didn’t have to plaster the top with ‘P’ hangers before it was safe to descend.  It seems that things were done differently in those days.

The following day, Jack and Phil returned and explored the cave together (note 3), conducting a rough survey and photographing it carefully, as they thought that the formations might be damaged by blasting very soon.  A more accurate survey was made in July 1962 by Dennis Warburton, Jim Hanwell and Phil Davies of the Wessex (note 4).

How much investigation and probing was carried out in Fernhill is now unclear.  In November 1961, Balch Cave was broken into by the quarry and as this was a more exciting prospect for exploration, it must have drawn people away from Fernhill.  At some stage, the cave was closed by the waste tipping mentioned above, but even the date of this is unclear, Stanton says ‘before 1965’ and photographs taken in 1964 show that the entrance is blocked, although the bedding-plane itself is still visible.

The bedding-plane.  The entrance is on the right, under the tip.

That is the end of the first part of the story of Fernhill cave.   For over 40 years since then the cave slept quietly on, largely undisturbed, under a mound of quarry waste.  There were a few attempts by the Cerberus and more recently by members of the ATLAS conglomerate (possibly ATCONG in modern speak) to force a route from Fairy Cave through the intervening boulder ruckle.  All these attempts met with failure, but at least the ruckle did not get contaminated with squashed digger.

The idea of reopening the cave never quite went away and kept distracting ATCONG from our main problem, that of finding somewhere decent to get a drink on Eastern Mendip.  Anyway, to get to the point;  Alan Gray, (who despite being a lager drinking Axbridge member isn’t entirely bad), started to examine old photographs of the area.  He was helped in this by Hannah Bell, who came across several prints in the Wells Museum collection.  Alan reckoned that he could identify rocks in the present quarry face that were present in 1960s photographs of the cave entrance.  He went on at great length about this in the pub, possibly hoping that if he talked enough, he could avoid having to buy a round and he very nearly got away with it.

In a very creditable piece of detective work, Alan identified three key areas of rock which were in the old photographs and also identifiable in the quarry face today. One is particularly clear and is marked with an arrow in the photographs.  Appropriately, it bears a strong resemblance to that icon of the 1960s, the CND symbol, (a sort of inverted Y to those of you who didn’t experience the 60s and much the same to those who did experience the 60s and so can’t remember anything).

The entrance is under the mound on the right.

By December 2007, the rest of us were sufficiently convinced to put our money where Alan’s mouth is and we started a collection.  It was obvious, however, that extra funding would be necessary.

Just a minute.  All cavers like bats, they are our friends and we all love them dearly.  We were not thinking about re-opening a cave;  we were creating a bat roost.  The main chamber of Fernhill was said to be some 20 metres by 12 metres; that’s quite a bat roost.

Natural England likes bats as well.  It is extremely fond of them; it thinks they are a Good Thing.  Natural England has more money than the average caver.  A lot more.

Richard Witcombe, cunning fellow that he is, put two and two together and came up with considerably more than four.   This meant that the project was beginning to look possible.  With further help from the Fairy Cave Management Committee and the Council of Southern Caving Clubs, we were on our way.  Seriously, we are very grateful for this financial help, as the project would not have been possible otherwise.  Formal acknowledgements and a list of private contributors is at the end of this article.

Dave Speed organised the excavation, because he is good at that sort of thing and Dave Gibbons provided an excavator, driven by John Stevens and a JCB 4345 articulated shovel, driven by Kevin Sparkes.  The machinery was delivered to the quarry on Friday 4th April and John and Kevin had a preliminary bash that afternoon, although work did not start in earnest until Saturday.  On Monday, the siege really started and continued slowly but surely through the next few days.  Nothing exciting, just dig, scrape, drive and tip over and over and over again.

Excavation underway. Note the arrowed boulder top left.

Now we come to the exciting bit.  On Wednesday 9th April at about mid-day (or 13h 16m 48s according to the camera) John uncovered the top of the wall of the entrance bedding-plane, complete with its stal coating.  Alan Gray could relax at this point, as he was no longer in danger of being strung up in one of the ash trees at the edge of the quarry as food for the rooks and crows.  He also could be satisfied that his predictions, particularly that of depth was close enough to qualify for a cigar – (but he didn’t get one).

On Thursday, work continued on deepening what was now becoming a pit, as John had had to bench himself down to get deep enough to expose the entrance some 4(ish) metres further down.  As the pit was deepened to reach the foot-wall of the bedding-plane an interesting phenomenon developed in the ‘wall of death’ at the eastern end of the excavation trench.  A 40cm (ish) layer of compacted clay in the fill formed a supporting arch for the material above while the spoil below the arch fell away.  This created a tunnel-like structure running for some 4 metres directly under the vertical wall of spoil at the end of the excavation.

 Rich Witcombe, Dave Morrison and Jackie Ankerman admire the clay arch.

This arch rather concentrated the mind on installing the concrete entrance pipes as quickly as possible, for the arch was shedding material from the bottom at unnervingly regular intervals and at the same time it was supporting an almost vertical 7-8 metre wall of quarry waste above.  This was no time to hang around, the shaft needed to go in without delay.  The pipes were fed in as near to the line of the hanging-wall of the bedding-plane as possible, with Jim Young in the danger zone manoeuvring them into position.  Jim claims not to be interested in caving and so refuses to wear a helmet, but he did compromise this time and put on a woolly hat.

The pipes were placed some 3 to 4 metres to the left of the original route into the cave but to have sited them any closer to the ‘wall of death’ would have been foolhardy.  As the pipes were fitted together, John backfilled the excavation and continued thus until 10 metres of pipework had been installed and a reasonable ground level had been reached.

Jim Young and Dave Speed installing concrete rings.

The Speed/Gibbons complete service to speleology then lifted a large concrete pad from the other side of the quarry and installed it by the shaft to act as foundation for any winches, railway track and suchlike fripperies that may appear in the future.  They also transplanted a large ash tree and placed a substantial flat stone slab next to it, so that we could sit in the shade and have a place for a barbecue.  Who could ask for more?

We could, of course, have asked for easy access to the bedding-plane and also that the bedding-plane should be miraculously free from blockage, tumbling boulders and quarry waste.  Nice thought, but it’s not what we got.

The present situation is that we have a magnificent spoil-heap and a 10 metre shaft, inclined at an angle of about 55°.  This inclination is a mixed blessing.  Because there is a small angular divergence between the shaft and the hanging-wall of the bedding-plane, about 5°, it means that spoil can exert a wedging action between the rock wall and the pipes as it compacts.  There are signs that this is beginning to happen.  On the other hand, an angled shaft means that a rubber tyred truck can be used and this opens up the possibilities of having a railway system and one can never have too many of those.

The situation at the bottom of the shaft is also mixed.  After several stabilisation sessions, which involved plastering everything in sight with cement, we exposed the hanging-wall and actually got into the bedding-plane by removing massively thick slabs of stalagmite from the foot-wall.

And then, over the May Bank Holiday, it rained.


The material round the base of the shaft turned into slurry and slumped.  So now, the shaft ends in a pile of mud and rubble and the bedding-plane is but a memory.

Work on stabilising this collapse has started (1st July), but that’s probably enough to be going on with.

Contributors to the fund:

Jacky Ankerman, Tony Audsley, Hannah Bell, Tony Boycott, Pat Cronin, Geoff Dawson, Alan Gray, Dave King, Mark Lumley, Clive North, Duncan Price, Dave Speed, Rob Taviner, Mandy Voysey, Matt Voysey, Richard Witcombe.


A very heartfelt thank you to:-

  • Hobbs Holdings Ltd, for permission to do the work.
  • Natural England, The Fairy Cave Quarry Management Committee and The Council of Southern Caving Clubs for financial assistance.


  1. Jack Waddon, 1960. Fernhill – A New Mendip Cave. Belfry Bulletin, 154, 6-7. 
  2. In 1960 it was 43 feet deep, metres didn’t exist. The modern equivalent is 13106.4 mm.
  3. E.J. Waddon & P. Davies, 1960. Fernhill Cave – An Interim Report. Jour. Wessex Cave Club 6 (77) 112-117.
  4. P. Davies, 1962. Fairy Cave Quarry System. Jour. Wessex Cave Club 7 (83) 17-19.

By Tony Audsley

Hollow Hills

Firstly it’s high time I thanked Henry B and Jrat again for licking the crude editorial matter into its presentable form. It will be interesting to see how many, if any have any comments about the new format for the Belfry Bulletin. But as mentioned above anything that helps keep costs down is a welcome thing.

I’m now accepting articles for BB 531 so here’s to a summer full of digging and interesting discoveries. I would also be pleased if someone would bring us all up to date with our new neighbours and what, if any, developments have occurred.

Yer Ed.

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