BB539 Cover

BB539 Cover


Happy New Year to all our members. I wish to introduce myself as your new Editor. There are a number of changes in how editorial is presented; news items, calendar items, short digging news etc. will now be published in a separate monthly newsletter – Estelle Sandford is now doing this. I will be concentrating on full articles for this journal and other material too big for the newsletter. The point being that club internal affairs are not broadcast to the World. Having a polished journal could mean potential sales, thus raising revenue for the club.

This issue has a broad range of articles: local digging, philosophy, a practice rescue and foreign trips. Something I would like to see is a retrospective in each issue to show our younger membership what was done before they joined. There is now a letters page; please use it and, there’s a page for a bit of humour – The Tale Piece.

Letters To The Editor

Dear Editor

May I compliment Andy Mac-Gregor on the excellent job he did on a Statistical History of the BEC (1943 to 2005)?  I’m guessing it took him ages but, in my humble opinion, was well worth the effort.  Well done!  However, may I make (pedantically) a couple of minor corrections/additions?

From memory, with reference to the position of Honorary Treasurer I had the honour of this position from the AGM in Oct 1989 through to Oct 2000 rather than the dates given.  Mike Wilson could clarify this very easily by checking the Accounts Book.

When I stood down as Treasurer, Barry Wilton also stood down as Auditor and I took over that position from him in Oct 2000.  I have held that position continuously through to the current day so giving me an unbroken record of more than 20 years of service as Treasurer and Auditor.  I’m told that this is BEC record i.e. everything done to excess …but is it?

Andy is correct that the AGM was not recorded in the BB in the late 1990s and early 2000s but the AGM minutes were then published and kept as a separate file in the Library.  I am assuming that this folder/file still exists.

Keep on caving!


Reply form Andy Macgregor:

All I had to go on was the BB’s, so any other source of information is welcome.

Not a record of continuous service.  Bob Bagshaw was Treasurer for 22 years.  Three more years and he will have the record.

If you find any other errors, could you let me know please.

Obituaries – Mike “Fish” Jeanmaire

Mike Jeanmaire was born in Bristol on 20th December 1945, and brought up by his mother, in the villages around Mendip. When at school, it was due to his liking for fishing, and not as many thought because of his free diving of sumps, he was given the nickname “Fish”,  a name that was to stick with him for the rest of his life.

In the early 1960’s, Fish started caving on Mendip, and under the influence of Mike Wooding, Oliver Lloyd, Mike Boon and other legends of the time, he soon became one of the leading cavers and divers of the time. Following the example of some cavers who had inadvertently free-dived Sump II thinking it was Sump 1, Fish set about preparing himself to free dive both Sump II and the deeper Sump III.  Fish was the first person to routinely free dive down the Swildon’s streamway to Sump 6. Whereas in 1965, it was considered impossible, or suicidal at best. A couple of years later this trip was to become routine.

In late 1966 Fish had the idea of the “Long Round Trip” in Swildons, free diving down the streamway to Six, and then out through Damp Link and Shatter Series. In January 1967 Fish led Brian Quilliam and James Cobbett on the first “Long Round Trip”, which remains one of the hardest trips on Mendip, and one that is not often repeated.

I first met Fish when I joined the Axbridge Caving Club in 1967, where  Fish was already a 60’s cult figure. He had moved out of the Axbridge hut by then and had joined the BEC (membership No: 669)  and was living at the famous or some might say “infamous” 375 Fishponds Road in Bristol with other members of the BEC. Fish however was still a regular at the Axbridge Hut, who along with James Cobbett and the other members of the Exeter University Speleological Society (EUSS) which included Liz (nee Heather) used the Hut as the base for caving on Mendip. Fish was spending a lot of time diving in Swildons, Stoke Lane, St. Cuthberts and various other caves on Mendip, South Wales and Yorkshire.

For us young Axbridge cavers, which included Tony Jarratt and Dave Yeandle,  Fish was not only one of the hard men of the day, with his daring cave exploits, but he was quite often dressed in a denim jacket and jeans, and was to us really quite hip, as like Fish and Liz we were all mad keen Bob Dylan fans.

Frequently after returning to the Axbridge Hut from the Hunters’ on a Saturday night,  we would visit the newly opened Charterhouse Country Club (the old Nordrach Sanatorium), right opposite the hut and it was after one late evening there, with Fish dressed in his “denim suit”, sang “With Lloyd On Our Side”;  his version about the political struggles going on in the CDG, based on the Bob Dylan classic “With God On Our Side” I must say Fish’s version  brought the house down.

After a short spell in Leicester, Fish and Liz moved down to live in Plymouth, where Fish regularly explored the local caves with the Plymouth Caving Group. Fish and Liz were married in April 1970.

Tony Jarratt and I used to travel down to meet them and James Cobbett and the rest of the EUSS crowd and experienced the delights of the Exeter University Speleological Society dinners – but that’s another story.

In 1975, whilst living in Nottingham,  I organised the Pegasus Caving Club’s Expedition to the Grotte de La Cigalere, where Fish and Cobbett dived the terminal sump, our expedition being only the third to reach the end, and the first to dive the terminal sump.

Fish and Liz  moved to Derbyshire in 1975, initially to Buxton and then to Peak Forest, just a short walk from Eldon Hole. Fish and Liz spent a lot of time doing up their cottage to which friends and guests were always warmly welcomed.

Whilst  living in Derbyshire, Fish worked for some ten years as a miner, in the underground Sallet Hole and Ladywash fluorspar mines, where he lost the end of three fingers due to an industrial accident. Once invalided out due to a bad back in 1988, he started a two year full-time, HND course in Mineral Surveying at Pontypridd in south Wales. However, by the time he had completed this the UK mining industry had reached such a low point that he was never to work in mining again.

Fish held the post of Chairmen of the Cave Diving Group for thirty years until his health started to fail him, he resigned in 2007.

As Brian, “Scoff”, Schofield, the current Chairmen of the CDG said,  it was Fish’s honesty and his ability to both respect tradition whilst allowing frontiers to be pushed back that made him such a good Chairman of the CDG. CDG meetings at Fish and Liz’s were always very popular and resulted on many occasions with a very crowded cottage in Peak Forest. Scoff thinks that much of this might be put down to the numerous  coffee and cake breaks which preceded a slap up lunch with fine foods and wine. Though this was more to do with Liz’s hard work whilst Fish played the perfect host.

In addition to caving, Fish’s other interest was motor bikes, more specifically Ducati’s, of which he owned seventeen over the years. He was a prominent member of the Ducati Owners Club Great Britain. Whose meetings Fish and Liz attended all over Europe for many years, on the bike, including several Ducati Members’ Gatherings at the Ducati headquarters in Bologna, Italy. One year, Fish’s Ducati 350 won a “Best in Class” trophy of the British Ducati Owners Club, though breaking down on the way back to Derbyshire. Another one of Fish’s bikes was the fastest in class in the UK in a time trial, albeit with a younger, lighter and more foolish rider. Fish’s enthusiasm for Ducati’s never left him, and he continued riding these Italian exotic bikes for some time after he became seriously unwell.

Even though Fish’s health was deteriorating and he was eventually forced to use a mobility scooter to get around, it didn’t stop him and Liz going on the 2007 Wessex Cave Club expedition to the Pierre St Martin in France. Where  Fish, with Liz, entered the “Salle de Verna” on his scooter.  As he entered the large chamber, the scooter stopped with a complete electrical failure, this also resulted in the scooter, now having no brakes, not good with Fish on the scooter pointing up hill at the time! It took Keith Fielder and Brian Hansworth quite some time using a rope to pull Fish on his scooter out through the EDF tunnel,  much to the amusement of both Fish and Liz.  Fish eventually burnt out the motor of his scooter whilst exploring the GR10 routes around the PSM.

With Fish’s health deteriorating, they had made the decision to move back to Mendip and in 2008 after Liz had retired they left Peak Forest to live on the Somerset levels, with views of the Mendip Hills from their bungalow.

I remember visiting Fish at St. Margaret’s Hospice in Yeovil after he was recuperating from one of his now increasing number of lung infections and, without any emotion telling me that his lungs were stuffed, there was not going to be a lung transplant, and it wouldn’t be long before he died. But typical of Fish he continued, “and what about you,  how are you doing, what have you got planned next?  I found this very humbling, and typical of Fish.

Fish finally succumbed to lung failure on 2nd November 2010.

Stuart (Mac) McManus

January 2011

Obituaries – Chas Wethered

1939 – 2011

It is with great sadness that we have to inform Chas’s many friends that he died on Monday 24th January. He had just bought a large supply of snuff in the Bath snuff shop and was off to sink a couple of pints in the Old Green Tree before returning to his local in Axbridge for a couple more.

Everything to Excess!

From Robin Gray

Articles Wanted!

New material is now needed for the next Journal:

  • Articles on trips or expeditions
  • Cave science: geology, gemorphology
  • Cave archaeology
  • Historical work
  • Your future project descriptions
  • High quality photographs for the front and back covers

Please email:

From the Archives. By Mike Wheadon

The BEC is now about half way through its 75th year.  The first Belfry Bulletin was circulated in 1947 and contains some information about the club’s new headquarters, a cricket (or tennis) pavilion that had been acquired and re erected on mendip, Harry Stanbury (member No 1) the BB editor writes that the HQ is “at The Beeches, which is at the entrance to the old St. Cuthbert’s Lead Mine, about half a mile from the Hunter’s Lodge Inn on the right hand side of the road to Priddy”.

“The accommodation comprises a wooden hut in three sections, each about 12’x 8’, and a small stone hut as a tackle store. A great deal of work had to be done to make it really habitable, and anyone who can help during weekends would be more than welcome, please note the fire is in going order to thaw out frozen digits. Contributions of cutlery, crockery, cooking gear, blankets, etc., will be gladly accepted”.

1947 was a particularly severe winter with heavy snow but obviously work on the new headquarters continued . . .

“The last two months of inclement weather has, surprisingly, seen some work put in on “the Belfry” by the Hon. Secretary and the Hut Warden, who risked life and limb to plough through innumerable snowdrifts. On one occasion, a shovel had to be used to dig the Hon. Secretary’s car (Ford – Ed) out of a drift to enable the party to return to Bristol.

The work has mainly been felting the walls which are now complete. The nameplate made by Tony Johnson and Johnnie Morris has been put in place, and looks very resplendent. Lining boards for the interior have been delivered, and a start made on the lining.

On Saturday, 1st February, the Hut Warden spent the whole weekend at “The Belfry”, and thus officially opened it for occupation.

At present, we have at “The Belfry”, 4 mattresses, 5 pillows, 5 sleeping bags and 9 blankets. For sleeping there are 6 bunks and a camp bed. (one bunk is already reserved for the Hut Warden)”

Belfry Regulations

CHARGES. For use of Belfry for feeding and changing:- 3d. Members sleeping;- l/- per night. For non-members;- 2/- per night.  These charges to include fuel for cooking, and lighting.

PAYMENT. All money to be paid to the Hut Warden, or his deputy, before the person(s) leaves the Belfry.

NOISE. Unnecessary noise after 10 p.m. is PROHIBITED. The Hut Wardens decision as to what noise is unnecessary will be final, and if any member(s) does not accept it, a posse will be enrolled forthwith, and said member(s) will be dumped in Mineries Pool.

GENERATOR. The petrol-electric Generator must-not be touched by any person, other than the Hon. Engineer.

CLEANLINESS. Members using the Belfry are responsible for keeping the place clean, and parties will be detailed by the Hut Warden for this purpose.

KEY.  The key is obtainable from the Hon. Sec. or any committee member. Keys are also available on loan, upon payment of a deposit of 1/6, to any member who, in special circumstances, may require one.

The committee reserve the right to make any alterations to these rules at any time, without notice. Any such alterations will be published in the BB.

Note for younger members : £1 = 20 shillings; 1 shilling = 12 pence (denari)

BEC Rescue Practice – St Cuthbert’s Swallet – 22nd January 2011.  By Estelle Sandford


MCR Wardens

Stu Gardiner(casualty), Dany Bradshaw, Richard Marlow, Mark Kellaway, Paul Wakeling, Nigel Taylor, Adrian Vanderplank, Jude Vanderplank, Rich West,


Hels Warren, Beth Dent, Estelle Sandford, Faye Litherland, Pete Hellier, Toby Maddocks, Greg Brock, Mark Denning, Rob Harper, Bill Combley, Lou Kiveal, Henry Dawson, Gary Kiely, Rich Smith, Ruth Allan, Stephen Newton, Ben O’Leary, Steve Gaunt, Tom Elliot, Neil Walmsley (underground photography), Sarah Payne

Surface assistance

Dave Turner, Stu Lindsay, Slug, Jo Hardy, Claire Havard, Ali Lee, Hannah Bell, Jo Meldner, Rob Bruce, Barry Lawton, Phil Romford (surface photography), Stuart MacManus

Rescue Practice Overview

As the newly appointed BEC rescue reps, Hels Warren and I set about arranging our first rescue practice. I was keen to try and make the scenario as realistic as possible so wanted to keep the exact details of the planned incident a secret from most people until the events unravelled during the day!

A typically drunken BEC party night preceded the event, but as several people had said, it made it more realistic! The morning started with Hels awakening the entire Belfry looking for Tangent, who was actually sleeping on a sofa, and had forgotten the promised oversuit for Hels to borrow; so good job I brought a spare for her! Hels, Stu G and Beth then arrived at the SMCC hut to sneak into St Cuthbert’s in preparation for the scenario. I arrived at a surprisingly lively Belfry with breakfast being cooked and headache tablets being popped in large quantities.

By 10am pretty much everyone who had put their name down to help had arrived, so I put the ‘overdue’ trip on the board to start the scenario. It gave the information of St Cuthbert’s ‘standard tourist trip’ with 3 people with a callout of 10am. The assembled crowd were told that for the purpose of this exercise, Pulpit didn’t exist, the end of the exercise was either 15:00 or Upper Mud Hall and, that the first thing we needed to do was search the cave for our overdue party.

Toby and Pete were to be the two leaders conducting the search and, would go opposite directions around the typical tourist trip to search for the missing party. As part of the search parties we sent Henry, Rob, Ruth and Steve, plus Mark and Bill to take the HeyPhone and first aid kit to Upper Mud Hall. Initially, Jo and Jo were set up at the entrance with a radio and notepad to log cavers into the cave, while Stu L and Claire were given the task of setting up the surface HeyPhone to communicate with underground. MCR warden, Paul, drifted between the surface teams ensuring that the comms had been set up correctly and that correct radio language was being used. Dany and Richard M from the MCR set themselves up inside the Belfry as the central communications base. They used a method of ‘T’ cards on a board to check people and kit in and out of the cave.

The search teams and comms were underground by 10:30am, which was running perfectly to plan! The next underground teams were selected, and at 11am started getting kitted up awaiting the response from underground of what had been found. At about 11:15, the first news from below was relayed. An injured male, Stu G, (simulating being the leader) had fallen about 6m from Fingers Traverse to the streamway below, suspected broken leg and arm, and potential of back and head injuries (although the back and head injuries weren’t part of the ‘plan’ so in this case ignored as it would have complicated the rescue practice with the additional kit and treatment required!). The other two in the party were female, one cold and tired (Beth) but basically OK and one showing symptoms of hypothermia (Hels).

The next teams underground were led by Faye and myself and consisted of Mark from MCR, Gary, Stephen, Ben, Rich, Tom, Sarah, Lou and Neil. Ben, Rich and Tom were given the lovely job of bringing in the stretcher, Neil and Lou were our underground photography team and the rest of us were carrying the Little Dragon (hot air device) and ropes, etc. We soon arrived with the little dragon and set about warming up Hels and Stu and evacuating Beth from the cave (although in reality Beth just joined in with helping with the rescue). By the time the stretcher arrived, Hels had warmed up and recovered and like Beth, for the purpose of reality would have been evacuated, but because it was a rescue practice, she changed sides from casualty to helper. Beth then went up to Upper Mud Hall with Ruth: Beth and Sarah to relieve Bill and Mark from the HeyPhone (as we wanted their muscles for hauling!).

Splints were applied to Stu’s broken arm and leg, and he was placed into the drag-sheet and then onto the metal frame of the stretcher. Henry was given the role as casualty care and to communicate all that was going on to Stu, due to his position in the stretcher and, since he was wearing safety goggles he had limited to no visibility. The stretcher was fairly easily manoeuvred and carried from the streamway and through Everest Passage. The narrow connection into Boulder Chamber was a little more awkward, but was soon achieved. Ascending Boulder Chamber was quite steep, so a lifeline was deployed for safety and the stretcher moved up through the chamber. It was very apparent that more ‘thinking ahead’ was needed to find suitable belay points for life-lining so Faye went ahead to help with this. Initially, there seemed

to be a lot of people assuming ‘control’ – bit of a case of ‘too many chiefs, not enough indians’ but as things became more complex, whoever was at the head of the stretcher or haul rope assumed the role of ‘controller’ and, it seemed to run a lot more smoothly from there on.

We were soon up at Kanchenjunga and heading up towards Pillar Chamber. The narrower passages with drops and climbs meant a lot of good coordination was required, and this was culminated with the final vertical climb up through the slot into Pillar Chamber. Toby assumed the role of chief controller at this point and, the stretcher was finally raised into Pillar Chamber. As it was now 14:30, and the exit out of Pillar Chamber wasn’t the easiest to manoeuvre, we decided that the exercise had already been a great success and to end it there and head out. Stu made a miraculous recovery as soon as released from the stretcher, and even carried part of it out! A couple of additional cavers had come in to help carry kit, and the rest of us shared the kit between us and exited the cave in record time – 20ish loaded up cavers from Upper Mud Hall to the surface in 35mins! – all were out of the cave by 15:20.

After changing and washing kit, we assembled just after 16:00 for a debrief and, while there were a few minor criticisms, the general consensus was that the rescue practice was a great success and achieved exactly what we set out to achieve. From the organisers’ point of view, we felt that all those present worked fantastically as a team and, it was a really enjoyable day. The day was completed with one of Slug’s lovely feasts and more beer! Everything to Excess!

Casualty 1 Perspective – by Stu Gardiner

As a ‘casualty’ I was a little unsure of what to expect, so decided to prepare for most eventualities so packed plenty of warm clothes and food. Then sat ‘injured’ just off the St. Cuthbert’s steamway with my virtual broken lower leg and broken arm, waiting for the BEC rescue team.

The decision was made not to move into position until we could hear the rescue team approaching, otherwise the cold would have got to us far too soon. However after being sat on the mud floor in the drafting steamway with plenty of layers on, it was not long until I was genuinely cold and shivering .  The little dragon although physiologically warms you up, as soon as you stop inhaling the warm air the cold comes instantly back to get you.

The team carrying the stretcher seemed to take forever to get to me, although in real terms they were very quick. Time seemed to drag on and on, due to just lying there staring at the brown damp walls. Then what seemed like a hundred rescuers lights looking down at me, asked the odd question here and there, such as “Stu – are you still with us” and “Stu – from 1 to 10 how cold are you”, to which I would have to try and make up an answer, so as to make the rescue more realistic.

With the stretcher team on site my broken limbs were quickly strapped with splints and, I was manoeuvred into the drag sheet and then lifted into the aluminium stretcher. My personal caving helmet was removed and I was given a naked helmet (no light), and a pair of goggles which instantly fogged up. This, combined with no light left me virtually blind and all I had to go on was voices.

I was now totally in the hands of the rescuers who were all friends;  I trusted them all with my life, it sounds corny but I honestly did. For the next couple of hours, as I was transported towards lower mud hall, which was ‘an experience’. Everyone around me was now working like a well-oiled machine with orders and ideas being fired around, and all obstacles and problems being overcome in a calm and collective manner.

Henry Dawson was appointed as my point of contact and, he was constantly asking how I was and what was coming, up in terms of transporting me, this was very comforting as due to my lack of vision I could now try and picture the section of cave, which gave me some sense of direction.

Memorable points were Rob Harper checking my teeth like I was a rabbit, Faye Litherland telling me the Octopus joke (it’s a classic), and the best was being told that Mark Denning had told the surface that I was suffering from ‘Gingeritus’ (I will remember that one mate).

I felt the whole day was a huge success on many levels, mistakes were made but more importantly lessons were learnt from these, and that is why rescue practices are in my eyes vital.  My hypothetical injury was dealt with in a calm and professional manner and, I feel proud in the knowledge that the BEC have the skills and drive to pull off such huge feats of damn right hard work in order to save one of their own.

Casualty 2 Perspective – by Hels Warren (Apparently 34 years old!!!)

From a casualties perspective, it made me realise that even waiting 1 hour and 30 minutes to be found, is enough time to start getting quite cold (even though I had extra thermal layers to normal). I was very glad when I heard Henry’s shouting out to find us. When they arrived at the site of the accident, the search party had no idea what the scenario was, which was great because it was, therefore, more realistic and, that our acting skills had been quite good. I had advanced hypothermia, and after they had understood what had happened to Stu and, had finally noticed me being very quiet and not talking sense (very different to my usual behaviour), I was well looked after by Steve and Toby. They were trying to do their best with limited kit while the rescue kit was being brought down the cave, including Toby running off to the dining room to get me a foil blanket from the Cuthbert’s rescue dump! The only point I got rather scared was when Toby started to unwrap a Mars bar; I had to quickly come out of character and say, “I’m allergic to Mars bars!” as I hate them and it would not have been good to give me one.  After a while I had a dedicated casualty team including Toby (to sit on and raise me off the floor), Ruth (chief nurse and glucose giver) and Henry (little dragon holder and extra warmth).  As a casualty I felt very safe and, that I was being very well looked after, and that if I actually had hypothermia that I would have warmed up and managed to get out of  the cave myself.

MRC Report – by Mark Kellaway

The scenario commenced at 10:00 at the Belfry with an overdue party of three.

Two teams were despatched to search, carrying a first aid kit and HeyPhone to establish underground communications.

The casualties were located just after 11:00 in the stream-way below five fingers traverse, and reports had the male caver with injuries to lower left arm and lower right leg, both females cavers were reported as cold and possibly in early stages of hypothermia.

Further teams were despatched underground with the stretcher and drag sheet, and the little dragon. Once reached, the first female caver was escorted out – as far as mud hall to report via the HeyPhone and then came back as a member of the rescue team.

The remaining female caver was treated with the little dragon, and also ended up joining the team after reporting via mud hall.

The male casualty was splinted and packaged and then carried/dragged/passed out to just short of mud hall, when the exercise ended at 15:00 and all cavers and kit exited the cave, with last caver out at 1520hrs, operations ceased at 1545hrs.

Good teamwork was evident after the team settled into the process of extraction, with lifeline rigged ahead of the casualty and, progress was steady without many stops. Underground team consisted of 21 cavers with 2 on comms and 2 dedicated photographers

On the surface, a team of ten helped set up communications in three main areas. The first area was the main control point, which we set-up inside the Belfry. This would be where all the major operations will be run from. The second post was just outside the Belfry in the lane by the style. This was where we set the surface control Heyphone. Stu L and Claire manned this and, they were responsible for communicating with the Heyphone underground at Mud Hall, then relaying messages to Hunter control, manned by Rich  Marlow and Dany Bradshaw, inside the Belfry.

The third place was set at the entrance to St Cuthbert’s. This was put there to monitor anyone going into the cave or coming out. Jo, Jo and Ali manned this post and, they also found themselves monitoring the water levels in both top and bottom dams.

Communications carried on throughout the rescue until all 3 casualties were found packaged, and brought back to the surface, and all cavers were out of the cave.

A debrief was held shortly afterwards, and a number of useful lessons and suggestions were captured and will be circulated around the wardens and raised at the next MCR meeting.

We hope that the people that got involved learned something from the day. It was extremely useful for the MCR to have a practice where we can run full surface control, full comms, and still have enough people to participate in the underground rescue.

On Behalf of MRC– by Paul Wakeling

Please give our thanks for a great rescue practice last Saturday.

The MCR need club practices like last Saturday where we can also practice to our full potential. The turnout was good, and everyone was well up for helping and getting stuck in. There was a great atmosphere and I think the day was a great success.

I hope that everyone got something out of the day and that we have been able to share some of our knowledge with the BEC members.


Next Issue

The next issue of the BB is scheduled for May or early June. The editor is now looking for material for that issue.

The committee would like to gently remind those members that have received an Ian Dear Memorial Fund grant, that they should write up their expedition experiences for this journal.

Write up that article you always intended doing, but never got around to. It doesn’t matter how long ago this was. Our new membership would like to know what you did!

Caine Hill, THE STORY CONTINUES. By Stu Lindsay

July 7th, arrives with early-bird StuL continuing the pipework for C H A P S, (Caine Hill Air Purging System) to the rift bottom. Now some 40m below the entrance at a depth of about 22m, the pipe here dangles a metre or so above the rift bottom. In the Quicklink passage Stu utilized a handy phreatic pocket to make up a joint to branch off toward the End of Dig, this 10m spur can be isolated to allow maximum air displacement in the rift bottom if necessary. Stu exited to meet the others only to find he had a puncture, so a very late start after all present had mucked in to sort it,  still allowed  41 loads to reach  the surface. Using the “single rope method”, that is from the entrance to Son of a Pitch, did not get the approval of Trev at the top, Stu in the middle or John at the bottom. Another lesson learned at this visit was the pipework severely interferes with hauling so will need to be rerouted and fixed tightly.

July 14th, digging wise was a bit of a disaster and only Trev performed at the hole extracting one bag. Jake, Phil and Stu (who was a bit under the weather) choosing to go on a walk to Stock Hill woods to see the Nightjars, as the light rapidly faded, and a light drizzle descended this nocturnal bird made a few flights to the delight of all.

Sunday the 18th and, with a tackle bag crammed with drill, spare batteries and pipe work accessories StuL descended on his own. ‘Root 66’ has a steep incline, at the bottom it levels out before the left turn into Quicklink. Sliding merrily head first down this slippery tight slope, Stu suddenly came to an abrupt stop, the tackle bag would move no further; it had come up against the proverbial immovable object, a mass of rocks and bags, the result of Trev’s endeavours on Wednesday!  A gap of about 25cms had been left under the roof, but it was some 60cms above the floor level creating a very sharp upside down “V tube” After struggling to inch backwards a foot or so up the slippery 45 degree slope Stu managed to push his bag to one side, and manoeuvre a few of the rocks back in the direction from whence they had come, thus allowing him to squeeeeeeeeze through. The rest of the  4 hour plus visit, was spent venting anger and caps on  the calcite bridge, that was holding up progress for so long  in this cramped area, the End of Dig chipping off fist size lumps with caps and chisels, till eventually it began to look vulnerable. Caine’s is a massive learning curve, another lesson learned, “when sitting legs outstretched in front under the object you are attacking, in this case the calcite bridge, especially when a spare rubber debris mat is available USE IT, bigger lumps bite your shins….hard!

A reasonable turn out on the 21st DaveB was at the bottom when Jake and Stu turned up, a while later Trev appeared, and by 1945 there were 6, as Phil on the surface was joined for a short while by a scantily clad Hel’s out for a jog. The last 25 bags from S o a P were then hauled out, before Phil went bird watching. Hel’s had gone, having done one bag then the quartet descended to refill S o a P from the rock pile at the bottom of slide.

Wed 28th was quite a busy night with 8 bodies on duty. Glyn Roberts and Hel’s did a tourist trip before joining Jake at the rift, and assisted in   emptying it. Stu meanwhile, drilled 5 holes in the End of Dig passage to see if finally that annoyingly resistant, but now weakened bridge could finally be encouraged to surrender to a few metres of 40g, especially after the effort of a 4 hour attack with caps. Trev and Dave having arrived a bit later stacked bags back to the base of the slide. With the arrival of Paul and John, Trev went off down to the rift bottom to drill 6 holes.  The rest of the team regrouped and managed to haul 80 loads to the surface. Forward progress this month was unmeasurable, the mineralized/ calcite veins proving to be a real pain.


7th   StuL, JohnN, TrevH, DaveB…..Stu doing pipework, then with others hauled 41 loads..3 ½ hrs 1 hr

14th TrevH..solo trip fettling and removing 1 bag …  1 ½ hrs

18th StuL..solo trip of interesting proportions extracting capping and getting bruised … 4 ¼ hrs

21st JakeB, TrevH, DaveB, PhilC, Hels (jogging)…Hauling out on one rope…2 hrs

28th PaulB, JohnN, StuL, TrevH, JakeB, DaveB, Glyn Roberts, Hels.. shot holes and hauling…2 ¼ hrs

Photo.  Calcite bridge after 4 hours of capping by StuL. About 3 bags of debris generated.

August is never a good month…..

August is never a good month for digging, what with holidays and fine sunny weather, could this year prove to be different?  Work really has stagnated, progress constantly being hampered by the nature of the impure limestone, multiple calcite and mineral veins being a massive hindrance.  If you hit a solid bit of rock with a lump hammer, use Plug and Feathers, caps or 40g cord; it breaks up easily. Hit a mineralized or calcareous lump with any of the above and the result can be disappointing at the very least.

Wed 4 Aug

Just the usual suspects tonight including Mr T (NT) himself

A vast amount of shothole furgling was carried out and by the end of the evening, two successful sounding detonations were made.

Sun 8 Aug

Stu, Jake and I visited the two sites – the rift site was not a success but the EOD area was liberally covered in bang debris. More work needed at the Rift base.

This will be done on Wednesday.

Watch this space!  Trevor.

The laying of the bang on the 4th was using some new spec 56grm. With approaching 15m of mixed cords, we descended to fill about 10 of the holes previously drilled or modified on the night. Two successful crumps were heard and CHAPS was activated, but no smell wafted into the fresh Mendip air, after a minute or so, and amid all the excitement of the moment came the cry “Blimey, the pipe has not been connected”, within seconds a rich toxic aroma spilled into the lane. (less than 10secs to suck from 40 metres) The follow up visit of the 8th proved to be more disastrous as the month unfurled. On closer inspection the rift was hardly damaged, it was good rock but the explosives had failed to do their work, the amount of debris almost non existent. In the End of Dig it looked to be good news, a fair amount of shattered rock liberally spread around awaiting removal and hopefully exposing “the way on”? maybe this time!

Photo.  showing the result of the bang on the 4th. At last the calcite bridge is almost destroyed. It later succumbed to hammer chisel and crowbar on the 8th after absorbing 3 separate attacks with explosives, P & F, caps and a session by Duncan! who stated:

 “that’s @=#@ blah blah hard bloody stuff “

11th   August 2010 saw Jake and Trevor fill about 20 bags in the End of Dig, a very good number as in recent months the tally has been well down, in single figures at times, we were now back into light loamy spoil and the atmosphere was once again tinged with joviality.

The 12th saw Jake and Stu continue enlarging the new area behind the remnants of the demolished bridge. 15 or so bags filled by Jake as Stu capped off odd lumps on the side of the passage. The obligatory “have a look at the end after my efforts” resulting in a 30 minute addition to our stay as Stu found a couple cracks to fit the crowbar into, Jake finished them off and a couple serious lumps joined the heap. We now appear to have a false floor where the hole under the old bridge was. With “inlets” or passages seemingly blocked by boulders all around this new exposed area its looking promising again.

13th A team of 5 eventually got underground, Jake and Stu had been copiously  filling bags and capping the new End of Dig “chamber”, when DaveB advised that Trev and NigelT were on the way down to rectify the apparent lack of damage caused by the last bang. Later a pleasing crump, but then so was the last one, resonated from below. That’s more work, down the rift and still tonnes to come from End of Dig.

17th The fume removal pipe (CHAPS) , fondly referred to as “ the telepipe” works well, as down in the depths Nigel was able to contact us from the surface, audio is not great, but works. A marathon trip, anything over 4 hours, resulted in some heavy capping and digging at the End of Dig to enlarge it to an area which allows standing. From here to the Third Chamber we have the most physical of our hauling routes, at the moment no skip is able to assist due to the passage character. We left with what appears to be at least four ways on, besides the obvious downward route funnelling into another constriction. Air was breathable but foggy after 4 hours with the efforts of 2 energetic diggers, about on the limit.

With it being holidays and all,   just a quick up date to cover August.

Complete vindication of pursuing the End of Dig has manifested itself into quite a “chamber” size area with more than one way to pursue. A full report will appear in the BB in due course. The last bang, whilst initially appearing to have “failed to a degree” has actually worked wonders. Other than Trevor soaking up Mediterranean sunshine, most members of the team have had a go in the NEWLY regained mud spoil. 3 trips (11 hours total) by Stu and Jake have re built the momentum needed to progress. A couple serious capping sessions have made things easier all round, and CHAPS has been brilliant, generating the first!?  draught in Caine Hill.

 The rift was also banged recently, a follow up to a disappointing previous bang, although another session is required, but is looking quite good. StuL.

21st With coffee and food a lengthy session was planned but in the end only went to 4 ¾ hours. Loads of capping in various places and a vast amount of spoil bagged and generated. The Third Chamber was very full with the EOD finally beginning to fulfil its enticing promise. So leaving Stu capping at EoD TomC and Jake removed all bags to the other side of the Quicklink. Approximately 200, plus rocks in First Chamber and Root66 now await hauling to Son of a Pitch. The 25th saw this operation commence as Jake, along with DaveB, Neil Usher and StuL.. achieved a hundred in even time, and thus completed the last visit of August….wow what a busy month that was, over 80 man-hours in 11 visits.

September heralds the autumn at Caine Hill

Where did it go, the summer has all but gone and September beckons the next season, autumn. From around late May to mid October Caines dries up, but in a few short weeks it will degenerate to wet sticky mud as percolation water drips from a myriad of miniature fissures throughout the known passages.. mostly, well ok 95% of them “mined” clean by the dedicated Cainehill digging team. As a reminder of progress to date, Caine Hill is an ANOMALLY. I do not think anyone yet fully understands it, it certainly seems to have major “thermal?” and/or phreatic origins, with heavy calcite and mineral veins in blackrock limestone. Analysis of the spoil seemingly points to a dissolution process, in slow moving water?  on horizontal planes leaving an enticing air gap, usually 3 to 7 cms but vertically totally infills with a non compacted deposition. The spoil when initially bagged seems to be just damp, but readily transforms into a doughy lump after being moved a few times. All spoil is removed from Caines and tipped on a site some mile or so away, it would be nigh on impossible to dig Caines if this tip site were not available. The Priddy fault lies some 100 metres or so to the North, the general direction the bottom of the rift is looking to follow, whilst the End of Dig is currently trending slightly down dip toward the WNW. The rift appears to have walls of differing rock types, the west side Blackrock Limestone, the east side??…..any proper geologists about??

Back to Septembers activities.  After an August of unprecedented activity Sept started with a solo trip. Unable to gain access to the clubs new Hilti drill, Stu bought a new Hitachi 24v and proceeded to christen it by improving conditions in the base of Son of a Pitch. With over 9000 bags and rocks removed so far it is important that major hauling points are comfortable to work in. 3 bags of debris, the spikey protrusions, were removed from the walls, with the floor also being flattened a little.

The rift, for so long the main focus of attention is now developing a worthy contender for popularity, the End of Dig. Nevertheless the rift still gives up its secrets slowly and so it was on the 5th Trev and Stu once again emptied it ready for the next bang. Hauling up 8m in a cramped muddy space is not easy, so changes will be made, more space around the west rim of the rift and a thicker rope. Air again was suspect as Trev was a little breathless when regaining the Third Chamber…although he has been soaking up the Mediterranean sunshine and sangria la for a fortnight!

Hols over so it’s back to the dig-face.

Stu L and yours truly today after a fortifying beverage at the Hunter’s.

The spoil from the blast of 13 Aug was hoisted up the terminal rift – 13 bag loads of chippings and a similar amount of larger rocks were hauled. Some deft hammer and chisel work produced a large rock flake that will need a bit more work done to it before removal and more can be produced.

The dig face has been opened up considerably but more work needs to be done to open up the on-going passage, another trip before the next set of shot hole drilling will suffice.

The End of Dig area has seen an impressive effort over the past two weeks – it starts to look like a mud filled boulder choke, plugs and feathers will come into their own here.

SoaP now needs a good evenings hauling + there is plenty of digging to do. Biffo

 8th saw Stu carrying out some of the aforesaid modifications latterly joined by DaveB who readily went to the End of Dig to fill bags. 22nd was also a solo trip for Stu spending over 3 hours in the End of dig area flattening floor and capping generally. Skip hauling along this section will be difficult. 29th PhilC joined Jake and Stu at the End of Dig and whilst Stu moved bags back to First Chamber, Jake and Phil chatted away filling a hard grafted 11 bags. AND so September proved a disappointment.


1st …StuL joined late by DaveB…enlarging and improving SoaP area… 1 ¾ hours

5th ….TrevH StuL…hauling from bottom of Rift to Third Chamber….2 ½ hours

8th ….DaveB, StuL..digging End of Dig, and modifying rim of Rift… 1 ½ hours

22nd…StuL… solo trip improving the area to and around End of Dig…3 ¼ hours

29th …PhilC, JakeB, StuL…filling bags, hauling etc etc in End of Dig ..1 ¾ hours

Gouffre Berger and the French Alps 1985 – A retrospective.           By Phil Romford

I was fired up to write this article after buying a very nice film scanner that handles my 35mm, 120 roll film slides and negatives. So, this gave the urge I needed to sort through all my old black & white negatives first; this is when it was discovered that there were a number of negatives that had never been printed, because they were so under exposed that I never bothered with them. Some fancy scanning software and Photoshop enabled me to produce some pretty good images for printing; they are reproduced here. Some of the negs are damaged by damp and consequent fungal attack, however, they depict what we saw well enough! Pity I didn’t take more.To set the scene: it was 1985, the year of the 50th anniversary of the BEC. About a year before we all went, the committee had wanted ideas for a club expedition, Tim Large and I said’ ‘The Berger!’. The Berger it was.

Biffo and Pete Eckford
Camp 1, with John Dukes left

Tim Large, Stuart McManus and myself organised it on behalf of the BEC and, we invited the Wessex and others to joins if they wished; quite a lot did. During the year run up, we organised a lot of training trips to the Dales for SRT experience and, we held a lot of local SRT training days at Split Rock quarry and some Mendip caves such as Rhino Rift and Cuthberts.I took my car with Trevor (Biffo) Hughes, John Dukes and Tim Large and arrived at Sassenage to meet the town Mayor to introduce ourselves and go through the rituals required at the time. We then went up to the Molliere to set up camp. The next day my team rigged down to the bottom of Aldo’s shaft. Back at home before going, we had made up tackle bags with rope lengths, bolts and anchors, karabiners and Maillons for each pitch, we had naively believed that this would work, as the scheme was based on previous expedition reports. It didn’t! However, we had a grand time sorting everything out as we went. By the time we were out of the cave much later that day, most of the party had arrived. We had 52 cavers plus families. I forget now exactly how many were present, but it must have been around 90 to 100 in total. Those not doing the Berger holidayed as caver families do!The rest of the cave was rigged by other team members all the way down to the bottom of Hurricane shaft. They too had problems with pre-packed tackle bags – ah well, we tried!Every morning we held a progress meeting where we also allocated jobs to elected teams; such as © Bristol Exploration Club 2011 19 Belfry Bulletin. 538 Vol 58. No.2 Biffo & Pete Eckford Camp 1, with John Dukes left Camp 1, with my pit and camera gear provisioning, tackle checks and rope replacement. We then let people form teams of their own, so they could be caving with their peers, but we ensured that there were very experienced people in each team. My team comprised of Biffo, Tim Large, John Dukes and Fred Weeks; five was a good number. It was now our time for a bottoming trip. The objectives were to get to camp 1 on day one; camping overnight at camp1: bottom the cave on day 2, camping over night again at camp 1, then exit the cave on day 3. What a trip! We had a fantastic time.

Many of the 52 cavers had intentions of getting to the bottom of the cave at 1100 meters or so depth. Some were happy to just be there and do whatever they felt was within there personal ability. In fact, 26 people bottomed the cave, me included I’m happy to say. It was unfortunate that a number of people were unable to bottom it for various reasons.

All 26 who got to the bottom were on a great high and, what a party we had afterwards!! We had ten days of excellent caving, with no accidents and no insurmountable problems.

Camp 1, with My pit and camera gear

Hall of Thirteen

Episode 2.

From the Berger, my car full went on South to Chamonix in the French Alps, where we met up with Ross white. Ross was in the Marines at this time and could not get the time off to go to the Berger.

Our plan was to do a training route to get acclimatised, before going for the big one – Mont Blanc. However, in the ‘Bar Nationale’ as it was, we met up with this Canadian guy who we nick named ‘Brock’; he was keen to join us. This turned out to be a good decision.

Our so called training route was this: take the funicular railway up to the snout of the Mer de Glace, then leg it up to the Requin Hut and stay the night. The hut is in a superb location on a very large lump of granite over-looking the glacier; the access to it is via a very steep via ferrata like in the Dolomites. Our route from there was to be straight up to the Midi Plan, then, follow the ridge up to the Aiguille du Midi, then back to Chamonix on the cable car – one hell of a good route it turned out to be!

 Biffo and Ross

We had got to the Requin hut in very good time, so we could relax over a beer or two. Ross said, ‘what’s that down there?’, ‘ah, a pair of short mountain skies’ we said. ‘ooh!’ says Ross ‘I’m off down to get them’. No sooner had he said this, when a helicopter comes swooping up only to land and collect said skies. Ross was not pleased.

Early to bed and the guardian was asked to call us at 0300, yes 3 a.m. Being a serious and potentially lethal place, one always asks the guardian for his recommended departure time for a given route; 0400 latest for us.

By this time we had discovered that normal people do this route in a down hill manner, i.e. from the Aiguille du Midi, DOWN to the Requin hut. Being the BEC and obeying the ‘Everything To Excess’ maxim, we set off – uphill. This was a full on route requiring ice axes, crampons, mountain boots, ropes and racks of nuts, wedges, and ice screws etc. Plus mountain clothing, bivi bags – just in case – and a good supply of grub and drinks. Of course, I had to take my big film camera too.

The first hurdle was a very large granite lump with only one way on, this being a near vertical climbing route; these photos’ give a bit of an idea.

When we got about 2/3rds of the way up, we met a Polish party coming down. It was actually frightening watching them as they were all belayed to the same piece of manky 6mm cord, whilst life-lining others down! We were waiting for disaster to strike. Luckily for them, and us, they  got away with it, otherwise we might have been involved in a very serious mountain rescue. With sighs of relief we go on to climb a big chimney – not so easy in full on Koflach mountain boots.

 Ross at climb

The Crux

We were now on the Midi ridge way, way above Chamonix. The next section was an easy ridge plod, but avoiding dangerous cornices, the next obstacle was another big lump of granite with no obvious climbing route, short of bolting.

We were now glad to have Brock with us, as we were able to split the group into two ropes of three, with the least experienced in the middle of each.

The first three were Ross, myself with Tim in the middle, the second three being Biffo, Brock with John in the middle.  The plan was that at each crux the leader of a rope would let the middle man catch up, then let the third man overtake to take the lead; this worked well. The way on was to front point down the snow slope – my lead – to reach a stance at the base of the granite lump. The exposure here was absolutely incredible; Chamonix being about 4,500 feet below us, the cliffs here being near vertical – fantastic; on a real high. The two least experienced were a bit anxious about this, but to their credit they did it without complaining – until afterwards.

While we were fiddling about getting ourselves ready for the last section, me getting dressed in lots of nuts, wedges, ice screws etc. A French couple literally danced along this section, un-roped, just front pointing and wielding a pair of Pterodactyls each. Pterodactyls were amongst the best ice tools at the time. Amazing to watch this, but beyond our experience, or desire come to that! From here onwards it was relatively easy  ridge walking, a bit of front pointing and, finding the best route. The last section was a long slog up the snow field to the Aiguille du Midi at around 12,00 feet. Success1 We did it without any problems and, did it in reverse direction to the norm!

We had plenty of time to wait for the cable car down to town. If you get a chance, go on that cable car, its amazing. It was now time to be thinking about doing Mont Blanc after a rest day. However, my knees were playing up, and John and Tim felt they had done enough. So it was only Biffo, Ross and Brock who did the Mont Blanc route. They did one of the standard routes, by going up the Goutier ridge, sleeping overnight in the Goutier hut, then summiting and back via the Cosmiques to the Aiguille du Midi to get the last cable car back to Chamonix. They were so knackered that they only had the energy to find a local doss under a bridge or something, before getting back to the camp at Argentierre. Biffo can tell the whole story of their climb…………….

While they were playing with Mont Blanc, John, Tim and I spent a day on a relatively low level all day walk, then a day on a glacier above Chamonix practicing ice climbing – very stimulating!

A brilliant few days at Chamonix for all of us, but it was now time to head off to get our ferry home. Thus, the end of a superb holiday.

There were more photographs, however, I have not yet come across them, they may have been lost in house moves perhaps. I’ll keep looking though.

Camera: Mamiya 645

Lens: standard 75mm f2.8

Filter: 3x red

Film: Ilford FP4

Digging it Deeper. By John ‘Tangent’ Williams

Only for good reasons did dedicated and demented diggers travel along the imaginary roads and invisible foot-ways found and formed within the stonewalls of some speleoscape. Down there, those diggers’ were like moving shadows. Delving and digging. Dragging and drilling. Banging and bailing. Clearing and creating. Wanting and waiting. Fantastic for a fabled breaking through. Sometimes scattered dots of noise, were the only notice to their possible presence. The occasional bag and blasted rock, the only sign of their presumed passing. Deep and distant diggers’ lights seemed spaced star like amidst an enveloping sea of dark and empty cave. Soon the diggers’ lights were swallowed by the blackness of their surroundings. Whatever existed beyond those beacons of starlight could only be imagined. This was the desperate darkness of a speleoscape, but on an incomprehensible scale.

There an original icy silence sings out once again. Just as it had always been in the time before diggers came to explore. Ephemeral explorations. That was all. Not registering really. Log-booked, and longed for. Vanishing suddenly like a sunset not wished for; but also nocturne no more. Firstly, digging with fury and sometimes like a jury a speleoscape of Mendip might tell a story. Secondly, and most sensationally of all some speleoscape could be found beneath a drinking hall. Unlike a lunar surface, this speleoscape seems to be a site that on first acquaintance is sternly met. Becoming beyond life.

Soon this impression is shown to be incorrect when a much closer look is made. Out there alive, perched on the plateau is a shallow soil swathed with short green turf. Only then do the closed depressions, barely basins, suggest something more subterranean. Landforms like these have been variously forced into existence by the interplay of crushing arctic snow pack, softly slumping soils, fierce frigid winds, wandering waters, and ultimately united by the unrelenting flow of time. Like landforms but liquid. Like liquid but life forms. Long lasting but lifeless. Lifelike but Limestone.

Defiantly did diggers dig. Desperately do diggers discover and discern. Sometimes subtle, but hardly hidden, are the swallets and slockers that signify a Mendip speleoscape. Only occasional subsidence, or other impressions are indicative of a possible presence here. On Mendip most things require some study to be understood at all. This is very true of the rock mass. Especially when attempting to follow neophyte, non existent, and curious cave systems beneath the old mountains of Mendip. Searching for speleoscape both above and below ground can sometimes be an enterprise of extraordinary exhilaration and enlightenment. Subsurface, certainly it can occasionally be harsh and unforgiving. Demanding the utmost respect and reverence.

On Mendip, such speleoscape searching has far more meaning than that which can be described through academic actions like geology, geography, and archaeology alone. So for these diggers beginning to believe. For those who practise exhausting, and often exasperating excavations. These occasionally lead too exciting explorations. Finding fresh appreciations of particular places, persons, and periods of time, that may be mapped. Or indeed, some speleoscape surveyed. Time then, trips on. Hardrock and human hands become patterns. It is mostly from much movement, and some mapping of the caverns, that diggers make things happen. Equally, and lyrically too. Epic tales; and musicality back in the Tavern reaffirm these indivisible interventions with those ingenious spaces of speleoscape.


Upper Flood Swallet extensions – a road test. By Pete Glanvill

Over twenty years ago I wrote an article for the BB about the breakthrough at Upper Flood Swallet and, described the beautifully decorated stream passage discovered after much hard digging by Willie Stanton and the MCG. At the time I wrote the article, the cave terminated at a point where the stream cascaded down a waterfall into a constricted bedding plane.  The following paragraph is the final one in that piece I wrote.

‘Above the waterfall is a short climb into a small decorated chamber. A low excavated crawl leads to the current terminus – a tube filled with stal false flooring and mud. It is possible to gaze into the promised land beyond and feel the hint of a draught. The spoil heap in the chamber has been decorated with examples of cave art ranging from the obscene to the ingenious. At the end of the cave one is less than 30 metres below the entrance, with most of the depth potential of the system unrealised.’

It has  taken another twenty years for significant progress to be made but the results were worth waiting for and, in my opinion, the new extensions are even more spectacular than those one can see in Charterhouse Cave.

The dug crawl I mentioned in the second paragraph was fairly rapidly pushed to large passage again – a 4 metre high fossil canyon section that is promising but short. This ends in an excavated descending tube that’s now  a muddy wallow cum duck known as the Lavatory Trap, beyond which a short tight crawl emerges at a T-junction into a slightly larger stream passage. This canal contains an inlet stream from Rip off Aven, soon to be augmented by the main streamway emerging from a low slot on the left. This section can be very aqueous at times, although on both my visits (one in winter and the other in summer) its been fine in a fleece and oversuit.

At Puddle Lake the passage  debouches in the ‘Red Room’ a small boulder chamber beyond which seems to have posed a conundrum for generations of MCG members. The stream disappears into a too low passage at the side of the choke and the way on is not that obvious.  Most of the last two decades have been spent  digging a route through the next 20 metres of passage which consists of a series of tortuous crawls and the odd small chamber.  A couple of squeezes have been engineered wider since my first visit last summer so that a caver of average size can now get through comfortably. Respite is gained in the well decorated Golden Chamber (really just a grotto) and the exit in the floor drops down a narrow rift into the streamway. However, one only has a brief encounter with it before one enters the main choke. This consists of very large boulders through which a path of least resistance has been excavated. There is the odd reassuring scaffolding bar in place. It reminds me of the September ruckle in St. Cuthbert’s with slightly more contortions needed in places.

After the passage of numerous constrictions – all skillfully enlarged over the last year or two one starts to descend through the choke to emerge dramatically at the Departure Lounge, a square shaped passage about 10 metres across and 6 metres high. It most resembles an enlarged NHASA Gallery but is very well decorated with flowstone along the left hand wall. The augmented stream (I am sure more water is entering somewhere near Golden Chamber) rushes into the distance.  From here to the end of the cave is mostly walking and the dimensions are more Welsh than Mendip.   Passage heights are in region of 5 or 6 metres or more and, where one does have to crawl the roof is composed of compacted cemented fill similar to that seen in the St. Cuthbert’s streamway.  Predominantly white massive flowstone formations similar to that seen in a recent Hidden Earth poster are frequently seen.  The cave is shallowly inclined, and there are no real cascades or waterfalls anywhere in the cave.

After several hundred metres of streamway it dramatically enlarges at Walk the Plank where a large chamber above the stream is entered. On the right of the chamber a dramatic black stalagmite slope climbs steeply to an inlet apparently close to Stainsby’s Shaft. Several high level passages leave from here including one containing some stunning mud pillars. Beyond Walk the Plank (named after an elongated slab cemented at one end, but projecting in unlikely fashion into space at the other) the passage continues taking in at least one other inlet before the stream disappears into a narrow choked rift. However, a short scramble up the left hand wall then enters a large fossil continuation that terminates in Royal Icing Chamber. Here some cooking apparatus has been deposited and, one of the pots was providing a home for an enormous colony of springtails.

From Royal Icing we turned left into the roomy East Passage, the start of a series of muddy  phreatic rifts, one branch of which ends in a static sump. The rifts provide some interesting traversing on their bulging walls and the whole area is much muddier than the rest of the cave. Back in Royal Icing Chamber, Julie Hesketh our leader then showed us the beautiful ascending stal flows of Hidden Passage. A dull boom in the distance proved one of Tony Boycott’s explosive efforts had worked – he actually attacked two chokes on this trip. Our final destination was a peek into Neverland , a  series of verboten well decorated passages  only accessible to cavers minus boots and oversuits. Neverland starts as a crawl halfway down a steeply descending well decorated stalagmite s

lope leading to West Passage. After a break for food i.e. cadging some of Lee Hawkswell’s squashed pasty, it was time to make our way out.  The choke was easier on the way out (probably psychological) but the final section back to the entrance from Midnight Chamber proved to be exceedingly tedious. We emerged on a clear frosty night about eight and a half hours after entering the cave.

The cave is well worth a visit and it’s clear the diggers are now keen to have assistance as opposed to the closed shop approach that seems to have existed in the past. I, for one, am keen to return for more photography of what is an extremely spectacular cave.

Although the MCG are still running a leader system drawn solely from their club membership, I think changes are on the way if we all remain patient.  I have to say that the passage beyond Midnight Chamber that I was so concerned about is in state of excellent preservation, which, shows what can be done with care. This is despite the relatively small dimensions of the best decorated section of streamway here.

Peter Glanvill January 2011

Gear Review.Customised Petzl Duo head light: by Estelle Sandford

This is probably the cheapest way to end up with a good bright light, ideal for most general caving and expeditions!

One thing I noticed on my return to regular caving was how much lighting had changed and improved. LED technology has made it possible to have bright lights that last for a long time and there seems to be almost an ongoing ‘willy waggling’ competition for who has the brightest lights! I still had my trusty Speleo Technics 14 LED light and that is fine for digging, but not really bright enough for general caving, (although I really am not sure I want to see the bottom of a big pitch; it seems much safer seeing very little!) so as I had 3 working Speleo batteries, I chose initially to upgrade to the Speleo Technics Nova+ headlight. That light was perfectly satisfactory until I went on a caving expedition to India and didn’t think about the magnetic switch in the Nova, until it screwed up a set of compass readings which ended up having to be redone! Quite a lot of the modern lights do have magnetic switches on the light, so its well worth considering the location of that switch if you have the need to survey caves. I started getting light-envy again and on my return from India, started looking again at what newer replacements were out there…

I kept watching the lighting market and much as I dreamed of owning a Sten, Viper, Scurion or similar, in my head I just could not justify that sort of money for something I really didn’t need for most of my caving, as I am mainly a digger, so in the end I decided that for under £50, I could upgrade my existing Petzl Duo to take much brighter modules. I wandered over to see John ‘Biff’ Biffin at Cheddar and purchased a spot module and a flood side module (flood does 3 brightness settings) and am really happy with the result. I’ve got a light that lasts for about 3-4 trips on 4x rechargeable AAAs either on the spot or mid level flood and it will be ideal for expedition use, as no magnetic switches involved, and also the convenience of using AAAs which are widely available anywhere. Petzl Duos are supposed to be waterproof and, certainly with making the effort to use silicon grease on the seals when I’ve taken it apart, it does seem to be pretty waterproof. If you need to purchase a new duo, they seem to start from about £50-60 upwards for the 5 LED one. Mine had a 5 LED cluster, so I chose to replace both sides of my Duo with Biff’s conversion, but if you’ve got the 14 LED cluster, you would probably only need to replace the other side with the spot.

For the sellers info please visit:    images below from Biff’s web site

!They Words!

This project will present a ‘caving’ song in each issue. There is a strong desire for our younger membership to learn the songs that were regularly sung in years past. We will start with the more popular ones, most of which include liberal use of Anglo Saxon! So be warned dear Belfryite. Ed

If we are able to get some good sessions going, it would be good to video record them, with sound of course. We may then publish them on YouTube and perhaps, on the club web site. Any thoughts on this would be welcome. Ed

The following song is from Roger Biddle, to whom I give grateful thanks:

Sung to the tune of Lilli Marlene I have always thought that this song might be the lament of a wife or girl friend left on the surface by herself when the caver goes underground and then ignored when he emerges!

Underneath the Forty, memories so clear,
Darling I remember the way you used to swear,
And as you murmured tenderly,
I’m blowed if I can justify,
The reason you go caving,
And why you’re always there.

Wedged beneath a boulder, only got one layer,
Suddenly a rending the sacrum is laid bare,
Then as you thought you’d breathed your last,
The other bxxxxxxs cleared out fast,
And left you all the tackle,
Your blessings filled the air.

Safe behind a beer mug, warm and dry and fed,
Tales of caving prowess they go right to your head,
Then as you shoot your longest line,
Your lying swine, I can define,
The reason you go caving,
And why your always there.

Tale Piece

The Tale Piece is for anecdotes, people profiles, or any other interesting item that you like and, of course – tales. Ideas and suggestions are always welcome.


Andrew Peter Glanvill was born in Chard on the 2nd. January 1951 to somewhat surprised parents. Although his father was a doctor, to date he had not had much experience of procreation or child birth as everyone in Chard was related and births occurred in fields, under hay carts or on the pub floor. Still Andrew, who from now on wishes to be called Peter, arrived with out much effort. To the delight of the local population, he brought the chance of a small new gene pool into the town. (His mother was from Ilkley). Over the next few years he trained to be a doctor and joined his father in the practice in Chard dealing with the various complicated ailments associated with in-breeding!

Time passed and suddenly we arrived at 2011 the year of his 60th birthday and his retirement. We really wanted to do something special for him and as he had celebrated his 55th. birthday in GB and his father had also had birthday celebrations underground. Pete said he would like to do a trip with some friends and some champagne to celebrate. So Angie his wife, an absolute angel with the patience of a saint (Peter can be difficult) and I set out to arrange a birthday he would not forget. Despite always taking his camera with him everywhere, both underground and above, there were still many friends who were happy to join him in celebration.

We therefore arranged a stretched pink limo with (no expense spared) two bottles of 5% fizzy stuff to transport him to Priddy Green along with Angie and Philippa and Sally his daughters plus Pete “Grumpy” Rose. They all wore their psychedelic furry suits on the journey up from Chard.

We had decorated the Old Grotto in Swildon’s with pink balloons that had LED lights in them and Alison Moody had made a cake with a camera on it! Better champagne was also waiting. In all around forty cavers turned out to celebrate. Pete as usual had a camera and video recorder to record the event!

Pete , very happy birthday and we look forward to many many more. You are a true caving character!

Martin Grass. 3/2/11.

Photo’s: surface; Phil Romford

underground; Nick Chipchase

Back Page Photo

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