Cover Photo: Tony “Jrat” Jarratt in his element- photo by Andy Chamberlain
- 1 Ave Cavers!
- 2 Club Officers
- 3 Tony Jarratt – The Early Years
- 4 Tony Jarratt – India
- 5 Tony Jarratt. 1949 – 2008.
- 6 For Caine Hill!
- 8 Jrat’s Song
- 9 ODE
- 10 In One Pair Of Eyes
- 11 Long Time Passing
- 12 The Belfry Extension
- 13 West Mendip Round Up
- 14 Some New Mines Of Broadfield Down
- 15 VERCORS 2008 – Descent of La Cascade de Moulin Marquis
- 16 The Mystery Tunnels Under Frome.
- 17 The Fernhill Project – Part II
- 18 Caves on 45.
- 19 On Digging to Wigmore Ten in Style
- 20 Tony Jarratt – Farewell
The last time I was in Jrat’s company I was sat precariously on the bonnet of his landrover bouncing across a field to see the new Wigmore 10 ‘entrance’ shaft – or at least the pipes in the ground as it was at that stage, to Young Blood’s. This was after a beer or two at the Hunters of course. While Audsley, Richards and I stared down the 10m deep freshly lined hole, our voices echoing in that oddly hollow way down the tube, Jrat remained in the landrover, his breathing difficult. But you all know, as well as I, that he would have been thinking about that new dig and the possibilities and who-knows-what-adventures awaited the explorers in the years ahead. He also knew that he would not be there to see what lay beneath but he would have accepted that fact with humility and that fatalistic approach he took to life. Nothing less than courageous in my book.
Less than a week later he was gone.
It will be very odd never to see him again in the Hunters or spy the familiar Red Land Rover bouncing across a field or hurtling down one of the lanes around Priddy and frankly, this is the hardest thing – I can’t believe he’s gone. Rana, Meghalaya, Caine Hill, and a thousand other locations will also miss him, indeed the whole of the caving world. His memory will be with all of us every time we venture underground and I’m sure numerous discoveries in the future will be named in honour of the man. We just have to keep digging to make sure this happens.
I feel privileged to be among the very many who knew him.
Dig on Jrat…There’s always a beer in for you at the Hunters
Secretary Henry Bennett (1079)
Treasurer Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary Ian Gregory (1123)
Hut Warden Hannah Bell (1295)
Hut Engineer Henry Dawson (1313)
Caving Secretary Toby Maddocks (1310)
Tacklemadam Faye Litherland (1331)
Editor Nick Harding (1289)
Floating Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275), Stuart Gardiner (1347)
BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)
Auditor Chris Smart
Club Archivist Mike Wheadon and John “Tangent” Williams
Martin Grass (790), Phil Romford (985), Nigel Taylor (772) and Mike Wilson (1130)
Tony Jarratt – The Early Years
I think it speaks for itself with the number of people who are here to-day, just how popular, respected and quite frankly loved Tony, “JRAT” was. I think it’s true to say that everyone who met Jrat liked him.
I have known Tony for over 40 years when as schoolboys, we were introduced by Dave Yeandle at the Axbridge Caving Group Hut in 1967, where we became firm friends.
It is not possible to cover even a small part of Tony’s lifetime of cave exploration here today as a caver for over 44 years and logging 11,481 hours underground. All his trips faithfully recorded in 15 wonderful logbooks.
So I thought that I would just cover what started, I think, as fairly humble caving beginnings to become one of Britain’s caving legends and possibly one of the world’s top cave explorers – as Goon said Tony is of international standing, caving has lost one of its greats.
Tony started caving when he was 14, as he said “a Naïve 14-year old Brummie school-kid” who cycled with his mates to the dangerously unstable but very impressive limestone mines in the Black Country town of Dudley, they used hand torches and hurricane lamps – but records that at least he had a pressed fibre miner’s helmet given to him by his uncle Glyn Thomas a Collier from Tredegar.
His inspiration to go caving was “How Underground Britain is Explored” (Showell Styles) which he unearthed in Saltley Grammar School library, and from watching dramatic cave rescues on black and white TV. His mother regularly stated that he would not have a motorbike or go potholing! Which Tony records was wrong on both counts.
Tony’s parents moved to Congresbury in 1965 and in the July, he went to Nailsea Grammar school. Whilst at school he found a like-minded person in Steve Shepstone, and together they explored some of the Mendip caves. They both joined the EGONS (Exploration Group of North Somerset) when as he says his real caving career started, with endless visits to Burrington Combe and even the Ystradfellte area, in those days reached by car ferry and a fairly remote place when compared to today. He added Eastwater, Stoke Lane and Swildon’s to his list of caves visited, climbing the Forty Foot Pot in Swildons on the 3rd July 1966 and as he put it “was now committed to a cold, wet, muddy and totally absorbing future in the world’s entrails in company with some of the craziest characters on the planet”!
Digging was in his blood from a very early stage of his caving career, he records “On the 4th February 1967 he commenced his first dig, in the Water Chamber of Goatchurch Cavern and was able to see into a small stream passage with a small decorated chamber above.
This was eventually reached in July and though only tiny, its exploration proved to be the nail in the coffin of normality and a life now dedicated to digging grotty holes in unpromising and obscure places throughout the land”.
In September 1967 he commenced digging with the Axbridge first Nettle hole and then in the adjacent depression of “Foot and Crutch Pot”, entering the cave in June 1968. Subsequent extensions prompted the renaming of the caves as Ubley Warren Pot in September of 68.
Tony and Dick Pike were interviewed on BBC TV in Bristol by Nicholas Tresilian on the 9th September 1968 about the cave discovery! Tony earning five pounds five shillings for the interview or £5.25p in new money. That was about 60 pints of Ben Dors beer at the time, not bad for 20 mins work!
Caving and dig prospecting continued, recording in his logs his observations on potential digs and leads in any cave he went in. It was obvious that doing the tourist bits was just not enough!
On Boxing Day 1969 Tony had his first cave dive, with Alan Mills, he records “Al taught me how to use the kit (40 and Orca) dived through sump 1 and the ducks and sump II. Due to cold and my not being able to grip the gag properly with no teeth (he had recently had all his teeth removed in just two dentist sessions as a condition of joining the Ordnance Survey, this was due to gum disease and not a torture for joining the Civil service!
He finishes by saying, Superb …will start diving properly in the new year!
Tony joined the Ordnance Survey and after training to be a surveyor was posted to Shropshire in 1970, which allowed him to rekindle his interest in mines in the area as well as continuing to cave, dig and cave dive in Derbyshire, Wales and Mendip.
December 1971 saw Tony’s first trip to Ireland and County Clare, sampling the delights of O’Connor’s bar and the caves of county Clare. He records that the Dublin birds are tremendous!
In 1972 Tony, as a Wessex member with Pete Moody and a strong band of divers discovered and extended Desolation Row above Victoria Aven in Swildon’s Twelve. Unfortunately, this was not to lead to the bypass to sump 12 as they all hoped.
In 1973 whilst still living and working in north Wales, he was instrumental in digging in to Ogof Hesp Alyn, which turned in to the biggest cave find in north Wales.
Tony was posted to Scotland by the OS in 1975 and I’ll leave Goon to talk about Tony’s efforts in Scotland, which as usual were extensive!
Tony Joined the BEC in July 1977. In the same month Tony gathered a team to commence the digging of Wigmore Swallet. The results of their mammoth efforts in this cave are well known.
From 1977 Tony’s areas for caving and digging stretched the full length of the country until he left the OS and took over Bat Products from Phil and Lil Romford. At this point Tony was in his element, he could concentrate on digging on Mendip, with the holiday trips to Scotland and of course the annual trips to Meghalaya in India, to name but a few.
He became a MRO warden in 1983 and only stepped down in 2007.
Tony’s life was caving; he was also renowned for welcoming and encouraging new people to caving. Many people have told me if it weren’t for Tony I would never have gone caving or joined a Club. These are the next generation of cavers and he involved them all in his projects and hence why there are so many cavers here today.
On seeing him in Hospital straight after the diagnosis of his lung cancer I asked him again something we talked about over 25 years ago, did he have any regrets, and as I expected he repeated what he had said then “if I die tomorrow I’d have no regrets I have met such a great bunch of people, done and seen a lot, no I don’t regret anything.
I think the final stage of his life confirmed to me and I am sure to all of you, his strength of Character, after his Chemotherapy he went home to carry on as best he could, and wouldn’t let the prognosis get in the way of sorting out his life, organising diggers, going to his own wake and so on – Absolutely fantastic!
I think you would all agree he was an inspiration to us all and was quite frankly typical Jrat.
An extract from Tony’s 14th Logbook I think really sums him up:
“The rest of July then becomes somewhat epic, with no work getting done in Caine Hill due to lack of personnel, a couple of very promising extensions being made above the downstream end of Wigmore Swallet and my diagnosis with incurable lung cancer. The latter at this stage in time is not painful so life carries on as best as possible. Dave (Tuska) Morrison suggested on the 4th August 08 to start a new Hymac dig and instantly I suggested trying to get a new entrance in to Wigmore. Dave having just lost his wife we are both in low spirits and this is the obvious cure! I’m on deaths bloody door and organising a major dig! Unbelievable!”
Home Close Hole was created.
Even when he finally returned to hospital for what was the final time, and we were discussing the aerial shots of Home Close we had taken with him, he asked me to go to the Hunters on the Wednesday night and check on how many bags the diggers had taken out of Caine Hill. Tangent was a little reluctant to tell me I recall, and when I returned the following evening even though Tony found it very hard to talk, he again asked how many bags were taken out, I told him I couldn’t get a straight answer, and I asked him what punishment I should give them if the team had not removed at least 20 bags each, – 10 lashes each said Jrat with a broad grin!
I think you’ll agree we have lost one incredible friend but he has left a lasting legacy with the digs and cave sites both here on Mendip and throughout the land.
Tony Jarratt – India
By Simon Brooks
Right – Jrat going native in Meghalaya
I first met Tony, or ‘Jrat’ as he was most commonly known, in 1983/4 whilst caving on Mendip. We got along well right from the start sharing a common interest in caving. Moving to Derbyshire in 1986 I saw him less frequently, usually on forays south both to drink in the Hunters (AKA The Centre of the Universe) and of course to go caving. It was in Jrat’s shop ‘Bat Products’ in 1990 that I met one of my cave diving colleagues, Rob Harper, who said he was interested in going somewhere different to explore caves and he asked me. ‘Where would you like to go to find caves where no one else has been. Meghalaya in northeast India I replied. There is a 1km long river cave there and rumours of lots more, the only problem is that I is essentially a no go area regarding access. Rob contacted me again a month and insisted that I should go to Meghalaya and take him with me. Suffice to say after much letter writing etc 20 month after that we were in Meghalaya for the first time exploring some fine new caves. When we returned the Meghalaya trip was hot news on Mendip and subsequent years saw large expeditions finding more and more cave. Jrat had plenty of experience in International Cave Exploration and liked the sound of Meghalaya. In 1997 he joined us for the first time and immediately fell under the spell of India and Meghalaya.
Unlike the more traditional expeditions we arrived in Shillong the capital of Meghalaya and went straight to the home of Brian Kharphran Daly our contact in Shillong. Brian is the secretary of the Meghalaya Adventurers Association with whom the Meghalaya, Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Exploration Project had been working in partnership with since 1994. As we sat in Brian’s sitting room discussing and planning the next months cave exploration and drinking bottles of ‘Asia 72’, or was it ‘He Man Bitter’, I can’t remember. Jrat in a well ‘Asia 72 state’ beamed across the room and said. “This is bloody fantastic, here we are in a little known part of India sitting in Brian’s front room with the cream of Indian caving discussing the caving activities for the month ahead”. Jrat was hooked. Needless to say Jrat went on to perform faultlessly later that evening when on returning to our hotel it was noticed that Jrat was missing. “What” I exclaimed to his erstwhile minders (who for the purpose of today will remain nameless) “you have lost him, what am I going to say to the British Deputy High Commission”, Anyway, a quick search outside on the streets of Shillong soon found Jrat. Who was sat down next to a small fire of street debris with a bunch of bemused Meghalaya Wino’s sharing their hooch whilst an also bemused pair of Indian Military Police Officers looked on not really knowing what do. Apologising profusely for not taking good care of our colleague we rapidly removed him and took him back to the hotel.
This ability for Jrat to engage with the local people was a key feature of his time in Meghalaya. In the Jaintia Hill on the Shnongrim Ridge where Jrat spent the last 8 expeditions exploring the many caves Jrat liked nothing more than to join the locals on reconnaissance trips looking for new cave entrances. Jrat fastidiously collected much information about the caves, legends attached to each cave, who the guides were etc and as a result he became very good friends with many of the local Shnongrim Ridge inhabitants. Each year they would welcome him into their homes. Jrat responded by always welcoming them to join him and others around the campfire a share a beer (or several). As the evenings grew old the discussions switched from caves to local legend and folklore and then onto the surreal.
It was this genuine interest and love for both the land and the local people of Meghalaya that endeared Jrat to Shnongrim Villagers and the many other people he met during the course of each caving expedition. In 2004 this mutual respect was superbly summed up in a letter that was written to Tony Jarratt (or Mr Tonny as he was know) and the expedition team by Menda Syih (Propastor of Shnongrim Village) on behalf of the villagers, who said:
“Sirs, We would like to express our gratitude for your coming to our place and for your ability to mingle with us as friends. So before you leave this place we have nothing to give you but only these few words “We wish you a happy journey and reach home safely. Give our regards to your family members and friends. We do hope and pray you come back next year. Thank you.”
Jrat was fascinated with the Shnongrim Ridge as a caving area having been involved in its exploration right from the very start. As each year’s caving expedition uncovered yet more wonderful cave passage and new caves, not to mention the linking of one cave to another. Jrat was convinced that many could be linked to create the magical 100 km long cave system. As blank areas on the map become filled with cave Jrat always had a long list of ‘caving things to do’ that he would present me with at the start of each expedition. These lists often became the focus of much of the exploration activity and lead to some impressive finds. By the end of the 2008 Expedition (the expeditions and Jrat’s 8th year on ‘the Ridge’) one of the cave systems, the magnificent Liat Phah – UmIm-Labbit had grow to over 30 kms in length and is indeed a fitting tribute to the inspiration and motivation that Jrat provided to his fellow cavers on the Meghalaya expeditions.
Jrat eagerness to collect the local names for the caves and any legends etc associated with them did also have a downside. Namely that at the end of each year we were always updating the Cave Registry of the Caves of Meghalaya. Depending on whom Jrat spoke to or shared a beer (or several) with around the campfire the spelling of names would change one way one year and back again the next.
Living in Derbyshire and having an interest in farming in Devon I would often call in at the Hunters on my way down to Devon in order to see Jrat and discuss and plan future activities in India. The discussions in the pub would invariably continue at Jrat’s home. A process that was facilitated by reasonable quantities of beer (often India Beer brought in for the occasion by either Jrat or myself) or whatever else Jrat had lying around – we weren’t fussed. Needless to say our social gatherings often concluded in the wee hours and always resulted in a ‘later than planned’ start for both of us the following day. Jrat was frequently late opening the shop and I was late in getting down to the farm. So much so that if the farm was aware I was stopping of in Mendip to ‘Discuss Cave Exploration in India etc’ then they always made sure someone else was available to feed cattle or see sheep as I clearly could not be relied on. The positive side to this was that forays to India were always well inspired, planned and though out.
Jrat’s timing as always, was par excellent. During his involvement in India he inspired everyone and effectively ‘saw the ridge out’ as we went there in 2000 and our last year on the ridge was this year (2008) as next year we move on to pastures new.
Jrat both inspired and touched all whom he met. This was due to his single-minded energy and enthusiasm and the way in which he respected and got involved with everyone especially the local Meghalaya people. I will now read the following Message of Condolence letter from our friends in Shillong that is indeed a fine testimony to Mr Jarratt’s life and the fantastic contribution he made to caving in India.
The message of condolence from Shillong was then read…
Tony Jarratt. 1949 – 2008.
I first met Tony Jarratt at the far famed Cwmystwyth Mine on the 1st of May 1971. Our bunch (the North Cards Mining Club) had found a winze going down below Taylor’s Adit that ought to have connected to the eastern parts of Level Fawr, beyond the soft ground, but we needed about 100 feet of electron ladder. Tony had managed to borrow this from the Wessex and brought some assistance – John Alder, Roy Q, and John Savage. Sadly there was only about a quarter of a mile of Level Fawr that was accessible and the Kingside Adit, about 90 feet below that, was totally flooded. At this time he was living in a caravan in Newtown and working for the Ordnance Survey.
Three weeks later he returned to Cwmystwyth with Alan Mills and Ken James, from Bristol, to dive the flooded inclined shaft, sunk below Level Fawr, and the flooded adit known as Level y Ffordd, neither of which revealed much.
We developed a good friendship, and regularly went down mines whilst he was based in Newtown, an area devoid of caves. In the September of 1971 he, and John Savage, dragged me over to the Knotlow mine en route to the BCRA. A little later, we carried his diving gear into the Talybont mines so that a flooded winze could be examined. Again, acting as his Sherpa’s, we visited the Goginan Incline on the 5th of May 1974 and had an epic trip where everything that could go wrong, did so. Some weeks later there was a three-day return visit to the Goginan area when we camped on the dumps in glorious sunshine and spent the evenings in the Druid Inn.
In the early 1970s considerable advances were being made in extending the caves in north Wales, particularly Ogof Hesp Alyn, where we met up again for a rescue practice in the July of 1974, and later got ejected from yet another pub.
I also have a vivid memory of the Sheffield conference (1975?) where he persuaded me to return home on the Sunday evening rather than leave early on Monday and go straight to work. It was a dreadful journey and took hours longer than it should have. When I got up the next morning, the radio kept announcing grim news of multiple pile-ups in fog on the motorway. Had I not heeded Tony’s advice, that afternoon, I’m sure that I would have become involved in one of these.
Our last trip together was in 1975 at the Cyffty Mine near Llanrwst (where there used to be a good lock-in at the New Inn) when we assisted Neil Weston and Sion Scheltinga in recovering a huge Tangye Cornish steam pump that Sion later cleaned up and loaned to the Llywernog Mining Museum.
Having performed his duties in mid Wales, the Survey moved him up to Scotland in 1975 and I remember him complaining bitterly that if they moved him any further north that he’d drown. Despite being a good diver, he couldn’t swim without the gear! However, he soon acquainted himself with the Grampian cavers and always made the most of any environment in which he was based. After several years in Scotland he went off to Africa for a few years and we lost regular contact.
Tony was a very widely known, well-liked character, with whom I had some real laughs and mammoth piss-ups. Possibly the most memorable of these being when Tony, Sulo Sulonen (aka Paul Frost), Jim Cobbett and I decided to go to a Chinese restaurant after the 1971 BCRA conference in Nottingham. This seemed like a good idea and a few other lads tagged along. Jarratt bursts into the restaurant and commands “A table for 50”, at which the staff snap to, push the tables together, and 50 half pissed cavers are accommodated in moments. Stragglers drift in over the course of the evening and are also accommodated, passers by recognise us from the conference and drop in. Jarratt, at the head of the table, takes on the role admirably and as the evening progresses, the whole restaurant takes on a bizarre air along the lines of “The last supper”. (Sulo fell to his death on the following weekend).
Several hours later, and after the demolition of a shed load of beer, the manager turns up with a bill for seven hundred and something pounds. Jarratt insists, “Separate bills”. Manager goes spare and some people are now on the verge of leaving. The waiters congregate by the door for fear of anyone doing a runner. Several whip-rounds were needed to come close to the sum.
Jarratt was also a maestro at finding places to doss down the night. From ’71 to ’74, he was often to be found on my settee. The strangest place that I ever dossed with him was in “Harpic’s dad’s greenhouse” in Sheffield after another BCRA meeting (1974?). Every bed in the house was full and there was even a local lass doing a brisk business in the bathroom. Other seasoned co-dossers of note were P.B. Smith, Martin Bishop, Jim Smart, Nigel Burns and Tony Oldham all of whom were most adept at finding a place to get their heads down for the night.
It must also be said that we were regularly ejected from a host of pubs for singing from his vast collection of lewd songs. No night’s entertainment was ever complete without Jarratt giving his rendering of “Sweet Chariot”, frequently using a table as a stage. Once seen, never forgotten…………………………………
He will be greatly missed.
Simon Hughes. 5th Sept 2008.
This was not read at the funeral but will be for the memorial at the Priddy Village Hall on Saturday 15th November 2008
For Caine Hill!
As so often on retiring to the Queen Vic for a ‘libation or two…’, our conversation traversed a terrain that was as well worn and grooved as the glorious gruffy ground itself. All the while, empty pint glasses piled up around us like so many stacks of miners deads.
Then sometime this summertime, on a late Thursday lunchtime, we rested and refreshed from overseeing the newly made excavation of Holme Close Hole near Wigmore. After extolling the events of this excavation, our conversation once more settled upon an in depth consideration of Mendip lead mining. This surprised me because over the preceding weeks I had pondered, and possibly even partly rehearsed all that I might say to Tony given the chance to have yet another pint sat alongside him, there at the Centre of the Universe. However such sentiments remained unspoken. Sentences suspended in deference to the dynamics of dying departing days, maybe to be uttered in another moment, maybe not.
Instead we delighted in debating the details of Stocks House shaft with its Ancients’ and artefacts, its damp and dangerous diggings, its shotholes and serpentine swallets. The conversation reached its natural conclusion. The Hunters’ was shutting. Tony turned to me and said with a smile;
“You know Tangent…it was only you and me that truly appreciated that dig.”
I replied, suggesting that I thought Trevor too was a keen proponent of the place, but halted and met Tony’s hand sealing his statement with our habitual hearty handshake. Something that we held always in readiness for moments like this; of mutual agreement, inspiration, keen observation, or most sacred of all an actual breakthrough…
With that we went Land Roving across Mendip to keep on digging for a few days more…
Good luck Tony. For Caine Hill!
I’ll sing you a song of a caver I know
Who spends all his time in the dark down below
Though he never worries he does have one fear
That he’s late for the pub and dips out on his beer
Now Jrat liked digging and enjoyed a good thrutch
So he tried Nettle Hole and then joined foot and crutch
With a roar of delight he gave three mighty cheers
Then went off to the pub just to sink a few beers
He broke through in Tyning’s past porridge like clay
It got bigger and better till he called it a day
Then in his landrover, he knew where to steer
‘Twas back to the Hunters and a few pints of beer
Now Wigmore was slow, the spoil built a good wall
It seemed that we never would break through at all
But he kept on going and dug there for years
And when he broke through well he had a few beers
With Fred down in Cowsh he crawled into shit
But found it was cleaner across in White Pit
Though at Priddy Green Sink he got in Swildon’s rear
And came out the front entrance in time for a beer
There was Stockhouse, Five Buddles and a Rose on the brink
But the pride of them all was in Hunters Lodge Sink
Where he found bones of Bison and female reindeer
And its rumoured the sump there was filled with stale beer
Now up north in August he dug Rana shaft
He knew that beneath him was a wonderful draught
He’d searched for Belhaven for eleven long years
And the cave that he found was as good as the beer
From the Dachstein to Mexico, down to Peru
Or in Meghalaya he’s sure to break through
You surely will know him if you’ve worn caving gear
So let’s join our mate Jrat and have a few beers
Snab. 2008 Tune: Pub With No Beer
There is a green place not far away they call the Mendip Hills,
Where in there lies a secret, under that which the farmer tills.
A rocky chasm buried deep, and in near silence too,
Save the eerie tinkling, of crystal clear water passing through.
Occasionally the clarity of this meandering stream, or pool,
Is disturbed and clouded by diggers using a trusty rusting tool,
For some way back or is it closer someone’s doing that,
Tis likely a Mendip digging party, egged on by its mentor, Jrat.
The master cave it was his wish, a worthy noble dream,
To dig them holes some deep, most dirty, even those that were clean,
But sadly now the time has come to lay at rest his well-worn shovel,
Though from where he is, I can scent, he can SEE that final tunnel.
So don’t give up you Mendip crew his tireless efforts were for you,
His guiding light will shine ahead through Mendips slimy, oft smelly goo
For sure enough by digging hard, in watery bows and muddy sink,
Someone will prod, or bang, or dive and find Jrat’s the master link
In One Pair Of Eyes
The date…. November 14th –16th 2008.
The location……. The RATFEST. Priddy, MENDIPS hills
The event…………….A CELEBRATION……folklore BORN.
In an expanse of time, an individual’s passing is but a minute in the history of Mendip. This minute is threefold; this minute is NOW, is also the LAST minute of the past and the FIRST minute of the future. A minute past is a minute lost, and so we have.. In terms of time, Jrats passing, his minute, of some 40 plus years of endeavour, vision, excitement, near catastrophe and an insatiable desire to ensure that local economies did not go into decline by trying to drink most of them dry, will no doubt be the substance of folklore, if it isn’t already. Like Balch before him, Jrat came, he saw, he explored, he noted, he learned (sometimes with near dire consequence), and most of all he shared, the giving and the taking!, and he encouraged. This article is written by one pair of eyes, but was witnessed by the eyes of many, but doubtless they will all have a story to tell.
This item is, and is not, about Jrat. His life and times will be told by many others, this item is more about the Jrat of the Rat fest, his celebration. My weekend started Friday, again like many others, got my pit sorted out, had a snack and wandered off through the mist to the HUNTERS…Tony’s favourite watering hole. At 8 o’clock you could get a pint, have a chat, get another pint, have a chat, even hear what they were talking about down the other end of the bar. “ Next couple of boulders and we are into miles of new passage.” (Ho ho ho). By 9 o’ clock you had to queue a bit for beer, and repeat more loudly your conversation, by 10 it was a lost cause, people in the car park, queues at the bar and 110db and rising as more and faces joined more and more faces, It was like the 70’s all over again. AND so it was the Rat Fest had started.
Scrounging lifts or walking, as closing time drew close, people dispersed to get even more rat arsed, and either fell over or fell into their pit, .for tomorrow was digging morning, and village hall morning, or caving morning. BANG BANG BANG, it’s ok I squeaked, throat not yet lubricated, I am awake, for it was only Mr Batstone getting me up, I’d kipped in my van. It was 0800 hrs, coffee biscuits and soon, the seconded few were winging it to the village hall, shepherded from the Belfry by the matronly Jane, ! It was cold, it was damp it was windy, as someone commented the old bugger has a funny way of showing his gratitude for what we are doing, lousy fluffy duck weather! Any way what did it matter, we were all hardened cavers, and in some instances, “were” was the keyword! Marquees up, wind defeated, bar the occasional indiscrete rasp!, and most zoomed off for their chosen activity of the day. A quick brush round inside and around the Marquees, was deemed a good idea, keep most of the dirty feet off the hall floor. But like a well-orchestrated Jrat boulder dig perched over a fifty-foot pot, 5lbs of bang in place, not all good things have the desired ending. The afternoon short route from North Hill to the hall, in thick mist and lovely long wet grass, and super clean boots………ended in a 20 foot paddle through ankle deep super soopy glooopy poooopy, and long grass when needed?, none to be seen. HOWEVER, visitors to the gents must have thought the Greeks were in? ! ? the waste towel bin was full of brown stained “recycled” hand towels, vindaloo vindaloo vindaloo.
Anyway BACK to the morning, after seeing a sneak preview of the forthcoming nights entertainment got back to the Belfry to change into some digging clothes My chosen digortunity was Caine Hill, I cycled to Caine Hill from the belfry. Some of the more endangered of the caving species may even recollect cycling on trips to do a bit of caving in their more youthful years?? Before real cars were invented! (Didn’t cycle back though, stuck the bike in Mad Fi’s Doblo and got a lift). Caine Hill, down the manhole cover, and ladies, face packs are FREE. Trev is at the top, notebook out, added to the list, he comments, “got a few down, now you are here we can start pulling em out”. Bags, that is. Trev commented, I’ll stay at the top got me better clobber on, just put my oversuit over it, and should be OK pulling up. Moving on, as this is not a caving report, just to say, we did our bit, kept on digging and pulled out 90 bags. Super effort all Caine Hill diggers, well done.
Jumped out of Fi’s Doblo, and hastily transformed from a muddy scruff, cadged a lift, queued for 10 mins to get a pint, (GWJ was buying supplies for most of the weekend, I think). But armed with 2 pints I moved around to the barbeque, sorry the top of H H S, to await the ceremony. Mac and Jane gave a little speech and Tony’s brother and ********* deposited some of Jrat’s ashes down the hole. I also fulfilled my promise, that one day I would get to Mendip and buy him a pint, caver at peace.
After a hairy drive back to the “shed” thanks to Mr Audsley’s Land Rover, awaited the skirl of Snab’s
pipes. As a cavingoclade of cavers set off to North Hill, via the Mineries the Buddles Waldegrave pond, no ice today!, and onto the trek up North Hill, there were quite a few rather bemused, and startled walkers as this eerie skirling dirge appeared from the mist and marched relentlessly up the hill. Halfway up the hill I paused to take a pic. In front of me the file evaporated into the mist, I turned and took a photo, of the file eerily and ghostily appearing from the gloom. But what’s that? There in the misty shadows a bright effervescing, diffused yellow glow appeared in the light from my flashgun, my god was it an apparition, oh crikey no – It was only GWJ in his Day-Glo yellow high viz jacket, with reflecta stripes, but just for a moment though…At the top, wind, heavy drizzle, thick mist, (or low cloud typical of Mendip) and this summer’s weather. The crowd gathered atop, milling around like the famous penguins of Antarctica, juggling for position to keep out of the wind, or keep warm. Well to more skirling and a odd verse of a song or two, eventually the Ashes arrived, someone commenting, blimey he was only a little bloke, had a lot of ashes though! At a more austere gathering probably not the time and place, but who knows, probably its what Jrat would have said himself, as we know he was always quick to the wit, and enjoyed it also. Again Tony’s brother scattered Jrat’s wish, and then followed a pinch for everybody.
(Now there were quite a few comments, quips etc in pursuing this last wish, by odd individuals. Bearing in mind the wind was a little unsteady directionally! and quite strong each person scattered a small portion, and I’m sure as most folklore stories unfold the stories, quips and jokes will be told) In sincerity, this journey from the pub to the hill was at times quite emotionally charged for most, and I don’t make light of this fact. The journey was a celebration, it was not a sad pilgrimage, the sad day was when Jrat passed on. But he has not left us, alone, or in groups we have his memory, and although scattered to the winds we know where he is, in the caves, in the digs and on the HILL. May his spirit be a guide to all that follow.
Muddy feet and village hall, covered that earlier, mucky cavers!!!!!!!
So now it kicks off, tables are out, screens are up sound system on (and working) and up steps Mac, Mr Compere, Short film, chats etc and then some music blah blah etc etc. roll the film…
The film was a hoot, and there were many serious (well Jrat serious) moments, and many funny ones. Again as folklore unfolds those that watched and tried to listen, will digress their version of what they saw and thought they heard. My best bit was the “effing heck” of Jrat as he recoiled, the shock of the cameraman, as he near dropped the camera, and the teeth chattering loud bang coming out of the hole! Last time I saw anything like that it was at Wigmore, the only camera’s then contained celluloid films in 36 picture strips!, and cost £6 in BOOTS or £3.99 at bonus print (with a free roll of film.) to get a 4½” x 3 ½” prints. Extracts from his logs, GEMS, blimey how his mind worked. There then followed a really good, no a couple of really good sessions, of music singing and dancing and a “ disco” to finish. A very good night was enjoyed by all………..
Well did I miss something out? Ummmmm. Oh yes the landrover auction, auctioneers the 2 non descripts dressed in curtains with a flowerpot their heads, ( ho ho ho) and at least one heavy hammer got £ ‘s more than they thought!. Although attentive all night, and sang a bit, drank a lot, ate a beef and a pork roast roll, donated for scones and a bit of cake. I Missed the last bit, my lift decided to go early, so at 2310 left the building, arrived at the Belfry, and crackle crackle pop pop bang bang, oh shite, I missed the send off, the fireworks. Still, all ups have a down, unless you are Jrat, when most of his downs were usually rocks, and the ups were to the PUB. I got a quick bite to eat, and a seat and as the hordes returned to the Belfry, was able to sup ale to the small hours whilst watching SUMO, Prancers and dancers, the wobbling and bobbling and the occasional, whoops didn’t mean to sit on the floor manoeuvre.
A goodnight, NO, a ***king good weekend, even enjoyed the clearing up at the village hall between 10 and 12 on Sunday, along with all the other souls who dismantled and cleaned and scrubbed and mopped. Even watched MG & GWJ and their party HOP OVER THE WALL to join another 140 plus cavers, aged from 10 to the over 60’s enjoying the delights of good old Swillies…the minutes past…
Long Time Passing
It was the passing of Tony, Jrat that finally brought me back to Mendip, after a lengthy absence. Tony and Roger Marsh had tried for years to entice me back. The odd bods I met in my travels, as I infrequently popped into various outdoor adventure cum caving shops kept me up to date, and tried re wetting my appetite, but alas the flame on my carbide lamp lacked a spark. I write this as a month has passed, I have now visited the hill more than a half a dozen times, and WOW what changes. A bar and strobe lights at the Belfry, an up stairs members bunk room…uuuuuumm that was the main topic of discussion back in 1982! The old cesspit grassed over and a few extra trees, mere saplings 25 years ago now adding a dimension of maturity to the site.
So in 25 years what other changes have there been? Well furry suits and over suits are getting smaller!!!! As are caving lamps, I guess my carbide lamp and Nife cells will stay in the cupboard, as the new age, ultra expensive generation of LED and duo Lamps make nice big profits for the purveyors of the same, all got to earn a living I suppose. Mobile phones, used to be like house bricks, in 1983 I could never get mine in my pocket! Sat Navs and PDAs, back then map books were the order of the day, If you had a computer you had to programme it. My first computer, storage was on cassettes! An 8 MHz XT, and a 20 mb yes 20 mb hard drive was fast in 1984 and cost nearly a year’s wages, monitors 12” over £250 and printers used pins and ribbons and cost an arm and a leg, blimey how things have progressed in 25 years. I pods, game pods, DVDs, blu ray the latest in a line of changing recording media, plasma TV s, Satellite and cable, and of course the internet and e mail, and WI FI at the BELFRY ?!?
Caving’s changed, back then it used to take a good 4 hours to get to the Dales, leave Bristol at 6 and sup Sam Smiths at the Bridge before 1030-ish, flat out on the motorway 70mph, but now with a wary eye, and flat out on the motorway, you can get another hours drinking time. Actual caving, well yes major changes here, more rules, tighter restrictions, more bodies, soon need a multi story car park on the Green. Not been down Swildons yet, but has the 20 been worn down to the 15 ??!!. Took a wander over Mendip, refresher so as to re align the bearings and see some of the progress. WOWEEeee Templeton Pot…I’ve seen grottier fire escapes on modern tower blocks, masterful…” Mendip winch meet in 2012??” through trip to the Ebor gorge?? Nice to experience a packed Hunters on a Wednesday night, seems to be digs everywhere. I’ve been to Caine Hill a few times…takes your breath away…literally! A very interesting site, it could be a long dig, and will be interesting when the first clear passageway is found to see if it picks up a draught. Certainly the entrance series looks to be well gooed up and even root tips down at 8m or more, would indicate Mother Nature has investigated a source for moisture, for many, many years. A frog, a mouse, albeit a dead one,(obviously suffered a lack of breath!) Ejected by the digging crew…canary next?
Had a look around the Red Quar area, 25 years ago this area had promise. Wigmore holding the potential of quite a large catchment of passages, but there was always a reluctance to dig in the Dolly. The new dig, eventually to start in earnest, may yield up a secret or two. A triumph for radiolocation? Now that’s not new, although there are people, enthusing over Radios and Caves. Maybe future technology and cave hunting will be mini transmitters in little plastic bubbles floated down near impassable passages, or little swallets or attached to mini robotic camera / transmitters and sent along even smaller passages! And on the surface, groups of cavers wandering all over Mendip with receiving loops tracking the underground progress. Whilst underground transfixed to the cavebot monitor, gasping in awe at the pictures coming back from the cavebot cam, of passages and formations of immense size and beauty!! Just metres away………now where’s my chemical hammer? Give generously to Mendip, mine a cave!!!!
Honestly .its really nice to see Mendip buzzing…so will 2009 see the most ever passage and breakthroughs made for many a long year??? I hope so, just got to lose a few stone, and get fit…well fitter.
The Belfry Extension
Top class display of banging and screwing.
Having spent quite some time pottering around the Belfry, the general dilapidation of the hut started to get to me a bit. The Belfry is the way it is for a reason, but on repeated trips down to Rose Cottage it started to niggle me that the extension never seemed to get any closer to completion. On Wednesday evenings and at weekends Henry Bennett and I started doing little jobs around the hut. These became more and more frequent moving to quite big jobs (a re-paint of the hut with over a dozen volunteers from Cardiff, Southampton and a few other clubs). Eventually a group of us were having one beer too many and started talking about the extension. The reason for its lack of progress seemed to be that no one was able to take the project on and give it the time and commitment to see it through. Only vaguely aware that I was slurring my words I decided that I would put myself forward to do the job.
Once decided, I was committed. Mike, Trevor, Tony, in fact anyone who I spoke to warned me that everyone would vigorously slag off all my work, generally criticise it and announce how they could do better. Working for the council I thought, ‘that sounds familiar.’ Undeterred I began trying to obtain the plans and wrote about the project to Tyrone, the Hut Engineer at the time. He was rather overwhelmed with work and other matters but gave his consent and pointed me in the direction of the plans. Getting these turned out to be something like trying to find the Holy Grail. Numerous versions had been produced, some superseding others, some not used at all. I built up quite a collection of paperwork and finally began to get a picture of what I needed to create.
Work started on weekends and some Wednesdays, but I rapidly found that by visiting the Belfry for caving, digging and building I was spending not more than 2 days at a time at home. Most people thought this sounded like a great idea, but my girlfriend was not most people. I conceded the point and began working at the hut instead of caving. When Rose Cottage finally petered out (bottom dig that is, I know the middle dig gang are sure theirs will break out into vast echoing chambers very soon) I suggested to Henry Bennett that we work on the extension some Wednesday evenings. ‘Just think what we can achieve!’ I think we surprised even ourselves when we wound up spending every bloody Wednesday for months and months in there.
It was causing problems with me working on the extension and not sitting on the committee. I had always avoided committees, however at the 2007 AGM I went election touting what progress I had made fixing up the hut to date. I felt pretty proud of what had been accomplished to date and didn’t see any problem with getting the post. Then the curse of email struck and I managed to offend (however unintentionally) most of the club membership. This didn’t help when elections came up. Many well-known members were also running for committee, even if one was running under a pseudonym.
I didn’t get it.
Now what? We needed a skilled Hut Engineer to work on the extension. Nobody on the committee wanted the post. In the end Toby (Caving Secretary) took the job and handed it over to me, co-opting me onto the committee. The extension was back in business.
The roof was soon insulated. The electrician had been in and the plasterboard was going up. The latter was a horrible job involving standing, sitting and lying in various positions somewhat reminiscent of those used on SAS prisoners and repeatedly berating Henry Bennett because he would either not screw fast enough or kept on spraying my face with dust. Mike Wilson appeared on several occasions and valiantly abused his mending knees to help with this horrible job. Dany’s comments about our accurate incisions of plasterboard sections, ‘looking like a rat had been nibbling them’, were probably not far from the truth in places, but people got better and the finished job looked rather professional.
It was around this point that we had our first casualty. Henry Bennett, Slug and I were setting a section of board in a location not easy to reach when one of the random sections of steel deposited around the Belfry got knocked onto Henry’s head. He made some pretty worrying noises as he crashed to the floor. The photo shows the mess it made of his head. Work was halted for the day but Henry was okay. A man with a thick head in more ways than one.
Things were getting on okay and the Building Regs Inspector was invited in. This guy was a real peaked cap type. When he showed up Dany rolled his eyes and pulled a face like he had just seen someone total his van. We did our best with him, but he earned his reputation. Following the visit I wound up having a chat with his boss about the things he raised. He was pretty happy with the answers and the problems were solved. Now I set to work trying to get the requirement for a second fire escape to the common room removed. This new door in the back wall seemed totally unnecessary. Following some negotiations I managed to get it taken away in return for moving the old escape door.
The debate about the use of the extension kept on coming up. This was something nobody had been able to agree on 100% since we started the build. Everyone had a different view. This got progressively more obstructive to the point where a line had to be drawn and stuck to. The original plans gave the use as a dormitory and it was decided that it would be a members only one. Downstairs was to be a tackle store and workshop. With the nod from Building Regs there was also a new inner sanctum. Bob looked very happy as his new tackle store slowly materialised. I don’t think he heard about our plans to cut a little hole in the door and have him sitting behind it dolling out the kit.
The second working weekend was initiated. Nigel showed up with a petrol saw, which he and Phil used to create two new doorways. There were not a lot of us, but those there worked bloody hard and by the end of it we had frames for two new doorways in, one door hung and the old fire exit blocked up. With so few of us helping ourselves to the barrel I became a little worried when I found one chap using a spatula from the kitchen as a pointing trowel.
The months wore on and Henry Bennett and I remained in attendance every Wednesday night. Cider helped but the tasks with big visual impact had mostly been finished and all that were left were fiddly finishing jobs. These took a long time and caused the finishing stages to drag and drag. The only real highlight was putting on the flooring compound. Not realising how high I was from the fumes I tried to text my girlfriend and accidentally sent a workmate a rather inappropriate message. On the 27th July the last session of work was done and the extension was completed ready for its grand opening at the Belfry BBQ and only a month behind schedule.
The keys are being kept in the members’ key cupboard. Club tackle available to members only can be signed out while the bunkroom is for members only. Anyone who is dropping by is free to have a look around. Your author will be found underground again and enjoying a break from duties whilst the club bank account builds up ready for the next job. I have already thanked Henry Bennett in my annual report but he has put in hundreds of hours throughout this project and I would like to thank him again on behalf of the BEC for his continuing hard work and the effort he has given on top of the time he has spends as Membership Secretary. We are all truly grateful.
Whacko! HB forgets to duck.
West Mendip Round Up
By Nicks Harding and Richards
Return to Hatley Rocks
When last we dug here two years have since lapsed – how time flies, Egad! Anyway feeling a bit cheesed off with the Hutton dig – change is a good as a rest n’ all that both Richards and Yer Ed returned to the tunnels we had emptied on the north side of Worlebury Hill and below the golf course. With the central tunnel ending in a narrow squeeze that led up into a small natural chamber too awkward to negotiate and more importantly a dead end (never say never mind) we decided to remove the backfill and choke that separated this tunnel and the higher entrance.
Much of the fill here is leaf mulch broken down to a sticky thick mud in which golf balls and other bits and pieces of that silly game are embedded – a kind of golf ball conglomerate. The floor has been found at the junction – the hope was it would descend, but it didn’t – and the blockage removed and dumped in the tunnel down to the squeeze. Some three years back we had drain-rodded the upper tunnel at this junction and found that the rods went 27 feet into the hill. We have reached bedrock and a boulder fill with a passage wide enough to get through.
A reasonable session of boulder shifting had us looking down a passage still quite choked. The trouble now of course is the lack of suitable dumping space to continue.
Upper Canada Cave.
After two sessions with the bang in the second vertical shaft, laid and supervised by Adrian and Jude Van Der Plank and Aubrey Newport, we have found ourselves looking up the throat of a vertical passage to what looks like further boulder fill, although there does seem to be to some indications of continuation.
The dark patch just below the suspended boulder may very well be passage roof. Watch this…blocked…space for further updates.
Some New Mines Of Broadfield Down
Several open mines were discovered during mineralogical fieldwork in November 08 and a return visit was made to explore these holes.
This is an area of intense 18th C lead mining where at least 20 vein structures of various trends (but often c N-S) have been mined from lines of (now infilled) shallow shafts connected by stopes. Some veins reach c 500m in length and where seen consist of an outer crust of columnar calcite followed by cubes or larger masses of galena. The central portion of the vein is filled with white or gingery barite. Specimens collected demonstrate that other vein configurations occur.
In the adjacent Stancombe quarry these veins are periodically well exposed. Near the surface deeply weathered, confused Barite/clay veins follow joints, bedding planes (flats) and solutional hollows in the limestone. Sometimes very large lumps of abraded galena occur in the clay, a situation somewhat analogous to galena occurrences on Mendip. The veins die out with depth and display the lean ordered nature of primary veins.
1) Mask Mine 5074 6868 on top of the east side of the combe
L 5m VR 4m
Shallow cutting in rock with miners walling leads to entrance crawl into a small chamber. Note the N-S < 60 cm calcite/barite vein (with minor galena) in roof. 2) Conygeare Rift Mine 5094 6808 in ‘The Conygeare’
L 16m VR 5m
Mined rift in pecked out vein < 50 cm wide trending NW-SE, Nearby on same rift is a vertical, partly choked, well preserved ‘ginged’ shaft only 40 x 36 cm in cross section which can be seen to intersect the same rift. 3) Caldera Pit 5109 6809 in ‘The Conygeare’
Special mention must be made of this impressive spoil heap containing hundreds of cubic metres of waste-likened somewhat to a volcanic cone. A filled shaft is present on the top, and there are two other satellite pits, one of which is 1.5m deep and displays a square cross-section lined with good walling.
In woodland on top of the hill north of Wrington.
A large area of 19th C iron mining which extends into the adjacent Ball Wood, King’s Wood and to Cleeve Hill.
A series of >13 rifts expressed on the surface as shallow trenches and/or lines of pits generally of near E-W trend and some 30m in length. The rifts (where seen underground) are 0.5 –1m wide and are lined with c 6 cm of calcite with a central portion of fragmentary siliceous haematite and a little pink barite. There is also much red ochre and deep red soil. Very few are open and represent the underground sections between pits.
1) Corporation Woods Mine 1
L 20m VR 4m
Roomy passage up to 3m high in <1m wide rift. 2) Corporation Woods Mine 2
L 9m VR 4m
Roomy passage descends to miners wall.
3) Corporation Woods Mine 3
L 8m VR 3m
Recent collapse into small chamber with well constructed inclined miners wall and tight extension.
4) Corporation Woods Mine 4
L 4m VR 2m
Short passage heading east to dead end
5) Blanco Pit 4601 6440
L 24m VR 5m
Just inside Ball Wood. At confluence if forestry tracks behind woodpile.
Mine in NE-SW rift. Short shaft into roomy passages to NE and SW, both ending in chokes to adjacent filled pits. Earthenware bottles and a tin of ‘Blanco’ found.
Corporation Woods Mine
Note. This is another short mine described in an earlier edition of the BB
VERCORS 2008 – Descent of La Cascade de Moulin Marquis
For those who don’t know, the Cascade de Moulin Marquis is the largest waterfall in the Vercors region of France and falls over 380 metres from the village of St Julien en Vercors to a point next to the entrance to the Grotte de Bournillon in the Bourne Gorge. If you have ever driven past the entrance to the show caves of Choranche you will have seen it dominating the cliff opposite.
My relationship with the Moulin Marquis began about eight years ago on an ill-fated visit to the region. The weather was appalling and so most caving and canyoning was off limits. We were on our way to visit the show cave at Choranche and I was awe struck by the sight of this waterfall.
Someone mentioned that if you had enough rope (which we didn’t) it was possible to abseil down it. From that moment on I became determined that one day I would do just that. I would be one of the lucky few who had seen those beautiful moss structures close up and not just through binoculars.
I had intended to visit the Vercors again soon after, but it was not to be. The canyoning book and caving guidebooks for the region sat on the shelf and gathered some dust until periodically I would take out the canyoning book and re-read the description of the Cascade de Moulin Marquis and dream.
It was not until the venue of the 4th European Speleological Congress in 2008 was announced as Lans en Vercors that I came any closer to achieving my ambition. I quickly persuaded a few others that a visit to the Congress was essential. Talk was of caves we would do, but I was still thinking of Moulin Marquis.
Once we arrived I wasted no time in letting people know I was interested in doing the cascade and was fortunate enough to be invited to join Greg and Helen Brock who once I had showed them the guide book were also keen to give it a go.
The night before the trip I could hardly sleep. I was so excited I woke up at 07:00, very unusual without the aid of an alarm clock! We eventually set off and Tim Ball and Duncan Butler very kindly agreed to shuttle us to the top so that a car could be left at the bottom for us.
A short walk from the village of St Julien en Vercors brought us to the top of the waterfall. There were already two Frenchmen at the top getting kitted up who seemed very surprised that another group was going down and checked with us that we did know that it was nearly 400 metres of abseiling. We assured them that we did and unconvinced, they then left us to it.
Helen Brock on the third pitch
Greg Brock was rigging and set out along the tree to rig the first descent. That sounds pretty tame really doesn’t it? I think we need a little more explanation of that first pitch. The tree I am taking about grows horizontally out of the cliff face at the top of the waterfall. The rigging point is two rope slings and a mallion at head height around one of the branches about 3.5 metres horizontally from the edge of the cliff. Therefore, to get onto the first pitch, you have to walk out along a tree trunk for about 3.5 metres over a 380-metre drop with nothing to clip a cowstail into until you reach the anchor point. This was undoubtedly the scariest thing I have ever had to do in my life to this point. I consider myself to have a very good head for heights and yet I had to push myself to the limit of self-control to avoid bottling it. I felt almost sick with fear and could feel the adrenaline buzzing through me as I stood at the edge waiting for my turn to descend. “Focus on the tree, nice tree, nice tree, oh my god what a long way down, No! No! No! Look at the tree, nice tree”. Greg had already gone down and had successfully found the next anchor point on another tree. Helen was next and was obviously battling the same demons I was. She stepped out onto the tree, traversed out and clipped in. The release of tension when she was safe was obvious. She went down and then I was alone. Tim and Duncan had both said that they didn’t want to watch us go and had disappeared back into the trees. Helen shouted “Rope Free” from somewhere below and then it was my turn. Terrified and almost shaking I knew I had to get a grip on myself before I stepped onto the tree or I would fall. I focused very closely on the tree branch where I was heading and took a few deep breaths, I could feel my body start to come back under control, but knew that the longer I stood there the harder it would be. Having lengthened my long cow’s tail for a good long pick up, I set off along the tree. I know in reality it probably only took a few seconds to cross, but it was a very long few seconds until I was safely clipped to the anchor point. Breathing a huge sigh of relief I threaded my descender and went to join Greg and Helen at the top of the next pitch.
We retrieved the rope uneventfully and threaded it for the next drop. In the meantime the French group of two, who obviously knew the way, decided to leapfrog us and miss out a pitch. Here we had a cunning plan… Let’s let the French people go first and then we can see where the bolts are and follow them! That will save loads of time looking for bolts ourselves! For the third pitch this plan worked very well.
Greg Brock descending into the abyss
Finally we were stood at the top of the fourth pitch. This is the start of the section of the cascade,which you can see from the road opposite. With the French rope pulled through, Greg rigged our rope and started to descend towards the small ledge where the French people were now standing. They completed their descent of the next pitch and then the ledge was free for us. Helen and I were stood at the top and Greg seemed to be taking a while to reach the next anchor. Eventually he yelled “Rope Free” and Helen started on her way. She also seemed to be taking a while as this was only supposed to be a 25-metre pitch. Eventually Helen yelled “Rope Free” and it was my turn. I started to descend, and descend, and descend and then I saw what had taken Helen so long. We had a 60 metre and a 50-metre rope knotted together. We were abseiling on the 60-metre side, but 50 metres should have been plenty. What I saw was that Helen had needed to join our emergency rope to the bottom of the 50-metre recovery rope. We had not realized that the French people obviously had much longer rope than we did and were missing out anchor points on the way down. We had just descended a 65-metre pitch; which should have been split into a 25 metre and a 40 metre. With all of us clipped into the anchor point on the narrow ledge we started to pull down the rope. Nothing happened. We pulled again and again and still nothing happened. We flicked the ropes. Still nothing happened. With all of our ropes committed I was starting to get a bit concerned. Eventually with the aid of jammers and Greg’s superhuman strength, the rope started to move. The karabiner came down and we all huddled against the rock face as the rope rocketed past us once it came free. With the ropes recovered we continued to descend pitch after pitch, this time following the guidebook.
If you look at the Moulin Marquis from the road opposite there is one thing, which stands out, other than its sheer scale of course. The upper section is dominated by large green moss structures, which thrive in the continuously moist environment of the waterfall. It is not until you are up close and personal that you see how beautiful and fragile these large structures are. What is even more amazing is that because the water falls such distances between ledges, it forms a beautiful mist which when the sunshine hits it creates thousands of rainbows wrapped all around you. I sat on the rope at that point for a few moments just looking and taking in the beauty of it before joining Greg and Helen below.
As we continued to descend, the ledges varied from, water lashed with just enough space for three people to get their toes in, to dry and spacious enough to unclip and have a walk around. Two or three times further the ropes got snagged, but again a few flicks and a determined pull saw them come free.
Eventually, after an adrenaline fuelled and awe inspiring five and a half hours we finally reached the bottom of the waterfall and returned to base camp for a well earned glass of red wine.
So was it worth it? Was it really a trip to fantasize about? Did reality live up to the dream? Well I suppose that depends on you as an individual. For me the sheer variety of amazing sights was certainly well worth it and for heart stopping adrenaline rushes I don’t think they come much better than getting onto that first pitch!
The Mystery Tunnels Under Frome.
I recently discovered an article that had been written 2 years ago featuring the network of tunnels underneath the town of Frome. Not a great deal is known about them, and they appear to have lain untouched for many years. There are legends associated with the tunnels but a recently formed group of people [the Frome tunnel team] are hoping to explore the system and its age and purpose.
Note on the map arrows show direction where survey runs out.
The tunnels seem to be approximately 20 ft below the surface, a standard size 4ft wide and 5ft high well made in brick and arched. Flooring is generally brick or flagstones. It would appear that they connect some of the pubs and inns plus all of the main churches; it is thought that they are Medieval in date!! Frome is surrounded by spring wells, the main one is by St Johns Church the water runs down Cheap St, which is a feature of the town.
Some tunnels link up with deep well shafts in Catherine St and Broadway, suggesting that they may have been a medieval water supply system. The Ship Inn at Badcox top of Catherine hill has a stone block with a glass top covering a deep 49 ft well within this well there are entrances to the system one at 20ft and one at 30ft.4 tunnels run under the Griffin Inn in Milk St and there is a concealed entrance blocked off in the cellar, there used to be dozens such entrances! Many tunnels in the centre of town radiate out in many directions towards local villages. Longleat, Clay hill, Corsley, Champanslade and Mells are a few examples. It is rumoured that you could walk from Trinity to St Johns and beyond. This network must have taken considerable time and a huge effort to construct, yet we have no idea what purpose it served.
At this moment in time there has been no modern underground survey carried out or a total mapping of the system, this is due to lack of money and interest. Perhaps the BEC could take up the challenge!!! Dowsing has been used as a method of tracing the water courses a man called Don Reeves being the dowser, an accompanying map shows the results so far bearing in mind that some houses have had the tunnel sections bricked up.
One long tunnel has many branches which in turn branch again, this tunnel goes down Weymouth St into the ship inn public house there is a branch off here to Badcox but the main route is on down Catherine’s Hill into Catherine St, thence on to the Griffin in milk St from there it runs to Trinity Church. Follow the main course under Shepherds Barton steps under Paul St and Palmer St thence under the old Bath Arms pub crossing Bath St and Gentle St then on under St Johns graveyard along Vicarage St crossing Christchurch east and then on towards lock hill.
Other features talked of within the system are underground rooms, a cavern under the print works complete with a lake, and possibly a space under the town centre.
In 2004 the BBC made a documentary about the Frome Time Tunnel Team on Inside Out this was broadcast in 2005. Since then an Elizabethan icehouse has been found in the cellars of the Fountain Pub. The work goes on but sadly I cannot find a recent update. The main team members Robin Hill and Pete Clark are hoping to get some funding together and press on with this interesting project.
Source: Wayne Cornish the Somerset Standard.
The Fernhill Project – Part II
(Continued from BB 530).
By May, the bottom of the concrete pipe shaft had been secured and the diggers were ready to break out of the bottom of the shaft and get into the Fernhill bedding-plane. However the way on into the top of the bedding-plane was blocked by some massive stal and this needed removing before we could get in. The nearness of the pipes and the general fragility of the surroundings meant that extremely namby-pamby charges had to be used, but because the angled shaft behaved like a cannon and directed the sound waves at the opposite quarry face even these charges produced some very satisfying reverberations. Gave the climbers something to think about anyway.
After a few such sessions, the bedding-plane was a comfortable digging width and a few evening’s worth of hauling had generated a working space sufficient to accommodate two or three people, or more if they happened to be particularly friendly. At this stage, the ungrouted material around the outside of the base of the shaft, i.e. above our heads, looked a bit iffy, but we thought that it would be good enough for now and we could deal with it later if necessary.
And then, over the May bank holiday, it rained. Good honest bank holiday type rain. The floor of the quarry was flooded and the clay and rock backfilling round the concrete pipes turned into porridge and slumped, completely blocking off the digging space below the pipes. Attempts to dig out the slump failed, for as fast as it was removed, more material fell down from behind the pipes.
So what to do? Well, there are probably more solutions to this problem than there are diggers, but the one used did actually work surprisingly well. Originally, I didn’t think that there was much point in outlining it in any great detail, as it seemed a one-problem technique and not one likely to be used again. So much for thought.
One of the nice things about digging is that you never know what the ground is going to throw at you next and recently, Home Close Hole came along saying “dig me”. So having dug it a bit and then installed a concrete pipe shaft, we now come to tragic bit … there is nothing solid under the pipes. The bottom ring of the Home Close Hole shaft sits on semi-liquid goo, with any solid rock being some distance away to the sides and an unknown distance away below. In other words, the situation at the bottom of the Home Close Shaft is similar, just a little bit worse, than that at the bottom of the Fernhill shaft. So, the technique is likely to get used again and with that as an excuse, I’ll witter on about it for a bit.
The requirement at Fernhill was to push through the collapse material to reach the rock wall behind and then to drill about four inches into the solid. The drill bit would then be extracted and replaced with a length of bar. This done, the whole would then be moved sideways a bit and the process repeated (ad nauseam). Not difficult in principle, but there are a couple of practical problems. The first being to locate the end of the drill so that it doesn’t skid all over the place before the hole get going and the second is to locate the hole once it has been drilled and to poke the bar into it.
The solution arrived at is the ACME ‘Miracle’ Drilling Jig, a wonderful bit of kit made up entirely of bits of scrap iron that were lying around the back of the Belfry. (Tidy minded Belfryites, please take note, you never know when such stuff will come in useful).
The ‘AMDJ’ clamps under the bottom concrete ring and is held in position by wooden wedges and supported by a car bottle jack underneath. The AMDJ’s tube is then hammered through the fill until it reaches the rock wall. The clamps are tightened, the drill bit is inserted and the hole drilled to the required depth. The drill bit is then withdrawn. At this point, the purist will insert a length of plastic tube and blow down it, thus getting a eyeful of limestone dust, but leaving a beautifully clean hole into which the bar can be poked.
Next comes the tricky bit. The bar is poked into the hole then held in position while the outer tube is withdrawn. The sticky-down bits of the AMDJ are unbolted; the AMDJ is hammered sideways to the next position, assembled again and the process repeated. By the way, if you think that this description is tedious, you should try doing it in practice.
This is all very good in theory, but what happened in the cave?
The initial work was carried out over two days, 1st and 14th July. On the 1st, the team was Mandy Voysey, Alan Gray, Rich Witcombe Alice and myself. We ferried what seemed like hundredweights of kit (generator, drills, steel bars, angle grinders, the AMDJ, eats, drinks, etc.) over to the shaft and then there was nothing for it but to start work. I went down to play with my toys and the rest of the team variously tended the generator, planted trees, sunbathed and discussed the merits of Darwinism / Creationism. (Honestly, it was good to be underground).
The second daylong session was somewhat similar, except that Clive North replaced Alan Grey and I forgot to bring the drill, which delayed the start a bit. By the afternoon, the bars were in position and they supported the fill sufficiently to dig out enough of the collapse material to lie underneath the bars and work some steel lagging (cut up lengths of ‘trident’ fence posts from the Belfry digging store) on top to make a permanent support.
The evening of 16th July saw the removal of 32 loads of clag and the installation of a permanent support to hold the bars in position. This was followed by another all day session on Monday 21st July, when we were joined by Jrat, on what I think was probably his last active digging session.
Twenty six more loads came out, sufficient to make a Witcombe-sized working space, so he was pushed in to the hole, fed cement and stones and told to get on with wall building to meet up with the right hand edge of the steel-work. Meanwhile, the rest of us had a pleasant day on the surface, sitting in the sun drinking Jrat’s beer and chatting, while Jrat wrote up his digging log.
Right – Looking up the bedding-plane at the shoring, the bottom concrete ring and Alan Gray.
Digging could now restart in earnest in the bedding-plane, with wall building and cement shoring taking place on the left of the bedding plane and the exposure of a void on the right hand side. The void itself is fine, but the general quality and arrangement of the roofing material leaves something to be desired. Rich Witcombe has inserted timber, steel and cemented walling under the most offensive candidates, but a glimpse of the rest of it makes Home Close Hole seem ever so attractive, so I’m keeping out of the way for a while.
Diggers and esteemed visitors May – October 2008
Alice Audsley, Alan Gray, Alison Moody, Clive North, Dave King, Duncan Price, Fiona Burchell, Geoff Dawson, Kate Lawrence, Mandy Voysey, Mark Lumley, Martin Grass, Matt Voysey, Paul Stillman, Pete Moody, Rich Witcombe, Rob Taviner, Steve Shipston, Tony Audsley, Tony Jarratt, Tony Littler.
26 November 2008
Caves on 45.
This little gem care of Pete Rose:
Born 4th Oct 1929 Leroy Van Dyke is known as the world’s most famous auctioneer – according to him that is. He even recorded a song called the Auctioneer and anyone interested in hearing this er…gem should visit his website, if you have nothing better to do, where you can learn all about this Country and Western star who has recorded over 500 songs in his career. Yer Ed.
MY WORLD IS CAVING IN
The car not in its place out back
The suitcase missing from the rack
The note that says you wont be back
I feel my world caving in
The bed that showed you had not slept
The empty can where cash was kept
The empty room where the children slept
I feel my world caving in
My heart is breaking with the dawn
I should have left her alone
and come on home
I feel my world caving in
The dresser drawers hanging open wide
That held the babies clothes inside
It’s just as if everyone had died
I feel my world caving in
I feel my world caving in
On Digging to Wigmore Ten in Style
On August 4th, the two writers were both suffering from life’s problems and decided to talk digging instead – the cure for all ills. Tuska was desperate to start a new excavator dig and Jrat knew of a good place to do it so the game was afoot. Within a few days, equipment and permission was obtained – the former thanks to Dave Gibbons and Dave Speed and the latter to Nigel Perkins, Penny Wiseman and Arthur Bound of the Waldegrave Estate. A successful outcome would be the discovery of a probably fairly vertical route down some 50m to the area of the too-tight head of the Young Blood’s Inlet aven, recently discovered by Chris Jewell and team. This would enable mere ordinary, non-waterproof cavers and diggers to reach the boulder choked current terminus of the system beyond Sump 10. It would also ease the divers’ minds knowing that they no longer had to face the almost truly horrific possibilities of a rescue from this remote and awkward spot and, indeed, those of the M.C.R. personnel who would have to leave their beer for a very long time!
At 8.30 am on the 21st August, a very smart Hitachi Zaxis 130 LCN excavator rolled onto Home Close field east of the Wigmore track. Bloodied at Fernhill Cave, this almost brand-new orange monster was capable of shifting about 5,000 tons of spoil in four days. Driven by Mark Crook and with Tuska directing operations, it set about the most easterly of the central group of three depressions, 3-5m deep in dolomitic conglomerate (angular fragments of limestone and sandstone, locally cemented by silica and / or iron), furthest towards Eaker Hill. Of this group of depressions, the other two are in a different unit of the Mercia Mudstone Group, composed of red sandstones, siltstones and sandstones with occasional gypsum and celestite deposits. They are all located at 265m – as is Wigmore.
Mark cleared off the surprisingly dry top layer of soil and prepared the depression floor for deeper investigation at the northwest end, where he eventually sank a roomy pit down to about 10m. By knocking off time at 6 p.m., a solid, vertical and apparently water-worn cliff was revealed with a ledge and further drop below. Mark also collected a load of concrete pipes from Mells and returned with them and Dave Speed – dig master of the finest. Lots of people turned up to take photos and be thoroughly entertained, including Lord Waldegrave of Northill – William Waldegrave and his wife Caroline (he was impressed), Tony Audsley (who did a G.P.S. survey of the field and depressions), Nigel Perkins (who ringed the dig with an electric fence) and the estate’s agricultural agent Penny Wiseman, who gave the dig her blessing and commented on how tidy it was. Even the weather turned out nice!
Meanwhile, below, Duncan Price and John Maneely were on their way to Wigmore Ten, where they cleared “snapper spoil and worked their way down through various bouldery voids until they were an estimated 3m from the noise of the main stream – beyond the choke. Not having visited Young Blood’s Inlet, they didn’t hear the digger above, of which they were well aware, but they did notice that the previously clear inlet stream was now black and stinking of cowsh. Six weeks previously, the whole farm had been sprayed with this elixir and only one week ago a patch of ground just to the east of the dig had the treatment. It seems to lie on a direct line with it and is almost certainly the cause of this localised pollution. Jane Clarke reported a shallow, flooded depression in this area.
Next day Mark, Tuska, Jim Young and Tony and Alice Audsley were on site early. More benching and deepening of the pit took place throughout the day and more rock walls were exposed to gain almost a circular pot. J. Rat and Jane arrived at midday and were soon joined by Stuart McManus and Peter “Ratarse” Webb – all the way from Perth, Australia. A suggestion from Mac that we should try to photograph the dig from the air led to a swift lunch followed by the three of us taking off from Bristol Airport at 4 pm and soon circling the place in the sunshine with R.A. operating his new camera to full effect! We have all the necessary tools when it comes to it. The dig resembled a deep opencast quarry from above, with the Dinky toy excavator pecking away below and a string of onlookers alongside. Magnificent – thanks Mac, and R.A. for the excellent snaps.
Saturday 23rd, more of the rock walls were exposed and tidied in preparation for the insertion of the 10m of pipe. This was unloaded on site in the prevailing dry weather by Nigel Perkins (now recruited) and the team.
Being a Bank Holiday weekend, a good crowd appeared on the 24th including Lord Waldegrave of Northill – William Waldegrave and his wife Caroline – and Monty the deaf dog. A valuable addition to the plant on site was a bright yellow JCB 434S AGRI earthmover driven expertly by Michael Gibbons. Mark, after a heavy night, was back early on the Hitachi.
Early clearing work revealed much of the south wall of what seems to be a roomy rock shaft and it was very encouraging to know that one side wasn’t just a rock gully running off towards Attborough Swallet. Eventually, the tenth ring was added to the entrance and most of the backfilling was completed just before 7 pm. Despite an overnight downpour, conditions weren’t too bad and all went very smoothly. The dig was called after the field name – Home Close Hole – inoffensive and homely. Tuska and the team were all rightfully well pleased with the outcome.
The drivers tidied up the depression, graded the topsoil and removed all the plant the following morning. Four large boulders were left at the shaft top for future use as picnic seats or tripod rests and another ring is planned to go on in the future. Thus ended phase one of the project. Prospective diggers for stage two should contact the authors and any donations to the cause should be made out to the B.E.C. and given to Jrat (2). They will be gratefully received as phase one cost over £1,000.
We’re going to dig an entrance direct to Wigmore Ten.
We’ll make it big and dry and clean for normal caving men.
No nasty, shitty grovels or hundred foot long sumps,
No chokes to drop or rifts to bang or squalid pools to pump.
Our mighty digging engine eats a thousand tons a day
It mangles rocks and boulders and sand and silt and clay.
Our driver is a man of steel and tidy with it too.
If you give us a thousand quid we’ll let him dig for you.
Our Guru is great Tuska – top digger on the Hill.
The M.C.G, at Upper Flood, can set aside a key
so cavers ambling gently past can nip out for a wee
or they can hitch a lift back to the Hunters’ bar
where bullshit flows and Cheddar goes down fast in many a jar.
1: Tony Jarratt finished this article on the Wednesday 27th August and it was found on his computer after his death on the 31st. It has been very lightly edited (mainly punctuation changes) by Tony Audsley.
2: Contributions towards the cost of this project are still urgently needed, please contact a member of the committee if you wish to make a donation.
This Is How To Fit A New One!
A peeping tom overheard this conversation in the GB lay-by.
We have to imagine a well-known BEC member and a female companion.
M: Shall we strip off here my lover?
F: Yes perhaps we should stay in the car.
M: Can you give me some help I always find these things a bit tricky.
F: Ok but I have never opened one of these packets before.
M: No worries my lover, just tear off the strip and pull it out.
F: WOW! It’s big and black!!
M: Yes I thought you would like it, perhaps if I hold it up you can peel it over the tight bit?
F: Bloody hell, I didn’t think I would need two hands for this!
M: If you sit on my stomach and pull really hard it WILL fit.
F: Oh god I have managed to tear it!
M: Damn, that has ruined our fun for tonight!
And that’s how a BEC member tried on his first wet suit.
I can honestly say I’ve never been to a better attended funeral than Jrat’s. It was a mark and signal of how loved, respected and greatly missed he was and will be. On that sun-drenched afternoon outside Bath we said goodbye to a true great and even now I can’t think of this one-off character without getting a lump in the throat. Even though I’d only known him for 7 – 8 years it felt like a lifetime – the indication indeed of a genuine friendship I think. If only I’d had one more pint with him…
You all have your own memories.
Atque in perpetuum frater, ave atque vale…
(And forever, brother, hail and farewell)
Caius Valerius Catullus.
I’ll leave the last words to the great man…
Tony Jarratt – Farewell
“Written to you all.
I would like to bid a farewell to my numerous caving mates throughout the British Isles and the rest of the world over the last 40 years.
I couldn’t have met so many nutters, characters, pissheads and selfless, generous rough diamonds in any other walk of life.”