The Belfry Bulletin

The Journal of the Bristol Exploration Club
December 2011 NUMBER 542 VOLUME 58 Issue 5


BB542-02Sadly, there are three obituaries in this issue: Bobbie Bagshaw, Ron Gollin & Barry Lane.

MadPhil is advertising the Ghar Parau Foundation, a charity that funds expeditions, please help support this excellent foundation by buying the set of cards.

I am as usual, looking for more material for the next issue, so if you have an interesting tale to tell, write it up!



Cover Photo’s:

Gornergletscher, in the glacier’s moulins. Monte Rosa Massif, Switzerland.  

From: Henry Patton

Belfry Bulletin Number 542 Page_01

 Committee Members

Secretary Faye Litherland (1331)
Treasurer  Rob Harper (999)
Membership Secretary Hels Warren (1354)
Hut Warden Ian “Slug” Gregory (1123)
Hut Engineer Stu Lindsay (930)
Caving Secretary Stuart Gardiner (1347)
Tackle Master Henry Bennett (1079)
Editor Phil Romford (985)
Floating StuartMcManus (725)

Non-Committee Posts 

Librarians Tim Large & Rich Smith
Auditor Chris Smart
BEC Web Page Editors Henry Bennett and Rich Smith
Club Archivist John “Tangent” Williams
Club Trustees Bob Cork, Martin Grass, Nigel Taylor, Mike Wilson

Ghar Parau Foundation

(UK Registered Charity no. 267828-1)

Funding British Cave Exploration and Cave Science

We need your support!

The Ghar Parau Foundaton is a Charity that manages an investment fund to provide grant aid to assist caving expeditions from Britain to all parts of the world. The fund focuses on those expeditions which include an element of innovative exploration or scientific study. We are also particularly keen to encourage young cavers into expedition caving (as well as sport caving) to maintain an active caving community in years to come. 

The charity itself works by investing the capital within the fund and distributing the interest in the form of grants to caving expeditions who apply and fit the foundations criteria. As a result the fund only grows by direct donations, bequests or fund raising activities. Over last twenty years, the fund has not increased in capital value to any appreciable extent, which in real terms less money is available to distribute to caving expeditions.

As part of a new drive to increase the fund, a set of 10 high quality blank A5 colour gift cards with envelopes (shown opposite in black and white) have been produced to sell to raise money for the foundation. We are selling them for £8 per pack (0.80p per card) which we think is good value. The profits from the sale of these cards, goes solely to the Ghar Parau Foundation.

Please BUY them and support the Ghar Parau Foundation, and help support our British Caving Expeditions and our younger generation of cavers.

To order or of more information about donations, gift aid, etc, contact:

Madphil Rowsell 07929 572 177


Thank you for supporting the Ghar Parau Foundation

Obituary – Barry Lane

From Martin (Milche) Mills



Older members will be saddened to learn of Barry’s passing on 23rd June 2011 in Pembrokeshire.  He was a SMCC member from 1965 – 1969, and also a BEC member (No. 475) from 1961-70.  It would appear he may have been ill for some time as Roger and Jackie Dors exchanged Christmas cards with him and none was received in 2009.

My recollections of him are an impish grin and golden hair.  He once gave me a lift back from The Hunters’ to the hut.  We “roared” down the road in his ancient car and he had just made it into third gear when we were passed by a chasing dog before we slowed down for the hut track.

As this was my only initial recollection of him I am grateful to others who have provided other anecdotes.  He was in the 1st Whitchurch Boy Scouts band, and later a GPO/BT Telecoms Manager.

Bill Tolfree recalls a Yorkshire trip (pre-motorway days) when Barry travelled the whole journey with  his feet out of the car window as they smelt, and for which he gained the nickname “Footnic”.  On an Irish caving trip, Barry was in O’Connors Bar in Doolin and noticed a young girl dancing while her father drank.  He later married that girl, Teresa O’Driscoll, and they had a daughter.  As one person remarked he was always on Mendip, and then he was gone and we never saw him again.

The hut log for 1964 – 67 reveals mention of him on over 30 trips, predominately on Mendip, but also Yorkshire, Devon and South Wales.  He was a very competent caver and many were hard pushing trips: Blue Pencil Aven and First Mud Sump in Swildon’s, and to the top of High Chamber in St Cuthbert’s.  Even his tourist trips were challenging: an early Damp Link and Swildon’s figure of Eight trips.  Many appear to have been in the company of Steve Wynne-Roberts.  This possibly influenced him to take up cave diving, including in South Wales, Wookey Hole and Swildon’s.  He and Steve W-R dived to the bottom (105 ft depth) of The Lake in Pridhamsleigh Cavern on 3 June 1967 but omitted to notice the opening to Prid II due to the amount of silt stirred up.  He is probably best remembered for, with Phil Kingston and Colin Priddle (both BEC) and others, laying siege (at least a dozen recorded trips) by digging underwater the then terminal sump (now Sump 1) in St Cuthbert’s in 1966 – 67, making an estimated 21 feet of progress.

One day Barry went climbing with Steve W-R in the Avon Gorge.  Steve was sat belaying on a ledge facing outwards.  Barry set off up the next pitch which unfortunately led out to one side, crossed over Steve’s head and continued on the other side.  As Steve was changing the rope round to feed out to his other side, Barry fell off.  Steve grabbed the rope with both hands in front of him and held Barry’s fall but cutting great grooves in his hands and fingers.  When he went to work on Monday, he was an Engineer at Westinghouse, he found he couldn’t hold a pencil.  The first aid person took one look and despatched him to hospital.

Barry broke his left arm and spent many weeks convalescing at The Hunters’ playing shove halfpenny and became so proficient nobody could beat him!

That Barry Lane was a hard caver is evidenced by his being accorded his own song (few achieve this status) of a legendary race around Swildon’s, written by Snab with obvious Scottish overtones, to the traditional tune of “Johnny Cope”, and it seems very appropriate to end with this…………………

O send a letter tae Priddy Green
Saying Barry meet us if yer keen,
We’re the fastest cavers Mendip’s seen,
And we’ll race you in the morning.
CHORUS (after each verse)
Hey Barry Lane are ye walking yet
And is the record broken yet?
If ye were walking I would wait
Tae do the Round Trip in the morning.
When Barry looked the letter upon
He took his boots the cupboard from,
Saying “Come with me my Shepton men,
And we’ll do the Round Trip in the morning”.
When Snab and Goon read the meets list
They said “Oh on this we canne miss”.
And charged their lamps in readiness
For the Round Trip in the morning.
Next morning at the barn of Maine
Were Snab and Goon and Barry Lane.
“Aha” they said, “We meet again
To do the Round Trip in the morning”.
O Barry set off at a run
To beat the fastest time he’d done.
He went so fast he did a ton
In Swildon’s in the morning.
But Snab and Goon did not delay
They swore that they’d be first that day.
And they’d go round the other way
To beat Barry Lane in the morning.
The Double Troubles found all three
Ploughing through a muddy sea,
“Did you bale” said Barry. “No” said we,
As we passed each other in the morning.
The streamway was a flat out race
And everyone stepped up the pace.
No one wanted to lose face
And be last out in the morning.
At the Wet Way Barry Lane he led
So the Scotsmen round the Dry Way fled
And they beat him out by a very short head
And it only took an hour in the morning.
This story has a moral to tell,
It matters not if you can move like hell,
So long as you get out fit and well
For opening time in the morning.
Hey Barry Lane are ye walking yet
And is the record broken yet?
If ye were walking I would wait
Tae do the Round Trip in the morning.

Obituary  – Ron Gollin

by Tony Setterington


Ron Gollin who was an early member of the BEC having joined from the Bridgwater Caving Club (Club No 103).

I first met Ron during Easter 1945. We were staying in Main’s barn and I Don Coase and Pat Woodroffe. Although we were late to bed;  which meant burying ourselves in the hay, a group from Bridgwater arrived after us and piled in nearer the stairs. I got up the next morning and on the way down trod on Ron; he was not well pleased.

Ron was a graduate chemist and together with many others had been directed to work at the ROF in Puriton. He spent some time caving with the BCC and the BEC but was eventually released to work for Boots in Nottingham as a biochemist. From which he finally retired. During this time he frequently climbed in the Peak and in N. Wales. Once or twice a year the Boots CC would hire a coach and spend a bank holiday weekend at the Belfry when Ron could return to caving with the BEC. He was forced to give up active sports with a rheumatic ankle. Many years later, Ron’s wife Sheila had to be placed in a care home and Ron was moved to another in Cheddar. He had a final pint, in The Hunters on Easter Monday this year and died the following day.

Ron is remembered as a good and kindly man who will be seriously missed and well remembered.

A Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Ronald Arthur Gollin 29th May 1916 – 31st May 2011Monday 13th June 2011

Obituary – Bobbie Bagshaw

By Shirley Hill



Robert Bagshaw, known as Bob or Bobbie by BEC members died on Monday 7 November 2011. Membership number 20L, he was one of the original members of the BEC involved from the early days of its inception. Not known as a caver, climber or diver, he contributed a great deal to its organisation as a serving member of the committee for 23 years between 1951 and 1973, the longest serving member in the history of the BEC. He became known for his persistence in collecting sixpences at the Wagon and Horses on Redcliffe Hill (now demolished) at the regular Thursday night meet.

Jim is not sure what these were for, this was not questioned and Jim was young and foolish at the time! Perhaps somebody can enlighten him. In honour of this Bob was awarded a wooden block inset with sixpences, which I am sure will bring fond memories to his wife Coral.


Bobbie during a caving conference in France in the early 1950’s.

He received two further awards from the BEC, his silver beer tankard in 1966 from which he was regularly seen imbibing in The Hunters and at his home. In Autumn 2007 Bob was touched to be presented with “A Certificate of Honorary Life Membership”.

“On his retirement in 1973, it was reported in the Belfry Bulletin “The calm and unflustered way by which Bob produced £3,000 out of the hat in what must be record time for a club such as ours, in order to finance the building of the present Belfry must surely be the highlight of his long term of office, which started before many of the younger members of the BEC were born.”

There is at least one record of Bob caving reported in the Belfry Bulletin: After a trip down St Cuthberts, Bob wrote “After many months (or should this be years?) I was persuaded to go down Cuthberts, but if ever I am again asked my reply will either be a derisive laugh or “Not B****y Likely”.

In his report, he writes “I rather feared that I should become a liability to the party, and I knew that certain members (especially those who have not yet paid their annual subs.) would rejoice if I were left down the cave.  My weight would, of course, defy all efforts to hoist me out.  In view of this, I did not go on one of the exploration trips, but remained behind and had about two hours sleep.  I woke up rather cold but soon warmed up in the scrambling exertions of the next trip.”

He was a lifelong member of CAMRA an important aspect of which was sampling ale in the various hostelries to check standards. He enjoyed visits to various breweries, one of which was a BEC visit to Ashvine in 1993 also attended by wife Coral and many of the current vintagers.

After his stroke he was nursed by his wife Coral and was regularly seen at The Hunters on Bank Holidays or at the Vintagers’ luncheons until his condition deteriorated and he was cared for until his death in a Bristol nursing home.


I am sure all with have fond memories of him

The Belfry 1947 to 1980 – Part 3

by Andy Macgregor

Eds note: The following is the 3rd and final part of Andy’s article. It’s a pity that Andy could find no record of Belfry work since 1980. Can anyone put together a history from 1980 onwards?


The burning of the ruined Belfry: – Norman Petty, Garth Dell, Jock Orr, Alan Thomas, Hilary Thomas and taking the picture Andy Macgregor.


A final farewell. Norman Petty on right.

The builder was given the go ahead on Tuesday 11th November and work began on the 12th, to build the new Belfry. The reason for the delay was because they could not go ahead until they had a definite answer from the Pearl Insurance Co. regarding the claim on the old Belfry.

The fact that work had begun did not mean that they raised all the money needed, but the difference was guaranteed in the form of loans from certain members.


The outside of the new Belfry after the shell was completed.


Inside the main room of the new Belfry at time of the shell being completed.

Visitors to the Belfry site by February 1970, found a splendid looking new Belfry standing proudly on the site. That they should be in a position to start occupying the new Belfry within six months of that tragic day, when the blackened shell of the Belfry seemed to mark the lowest ebb of the club, is an achievement of which everyone took some pride.

The job of fitting out then proceeded. Norman Petty built the kitchen unit. Most of the old bunk frames were repaired and repainted.

On the ninth of May the new Belfry had been officially opened in reasonable B.E.C. fashion, for which event thanks are particularly due to the organisers, Pete and Joyce Franklin.

On Monday, the 15th of September 1969, the club was faced with the destruction of the Belfry and the necessity of finding a sum in excess of £3,000 very rapidly. The alternatives would have been to abandon a Mendip headquarters for some time, or to put up some new temporary building, and thus push the problem of getting the club properly established on Mendip, back for a long while.

By the ninth of May, two hundred and thirty six days after the fire, the club formally took possession of its new hut, and the formidable sum of money was raised.

In 1977, a proposal was made to make some changes to the Belfry, as outline below: –

Main Changing Room

  1. Move the library into the main room in strong lockers. The library is no longer large enough.
  2. Block existing door from library into main room.
  3. Build low wall as shown, install two shower heads and tile throughout.
  4. Remove part of wall between library and existing changing room. Install 2 metre concrete lintel.
  5. Build wall between existing changing room and existing shower unit.


Unliberated Persons Changing Room

  1. Remove wall at the back of individual shower unit.
  2. Build low wall as shown, install two shower heads and tile throughout.

In 1980, more proposals were put forward and publicised in the BB:-

  1. The Library is a room which can be used as a proper Library with space for tables and chairs, it will have adequate and proper storage space for books, maps etc. Ventilation will be much improved providing a better environment for the books etc.
  2. It was felt that a self-contained kitchen would improve hygiene and release much space in the main room for lockers etc.
  3. The Showers and Changing Rooms both male and female will be better sited for ventilation and provide more room. The main changing room will incorporate a dirty area entering the Belfry via the present women’s room external door. Once caving kit has been removed members can go to a cleaner changing area which will include washbasins, toilet and showers. A similar system will exist in the women’s changing area as can be seen on the plan. Ventilation will be aided by extractor fans and floor to ceiling tiling and better drains are to be provided so that the area can be hosed down and kept to the necessary hygienic standards.
  4. The provision of a drying room leading off the main changing area was decided to be of utmost importance. Ventilation will be provided by an extractor fan ducted to the outside wall. Heating could be provided by under floor electric elements linked to the off peak meter. This system is used at the Bradford Pothole Club and works very well.
  5. The new female bunkroom will still only cater for 6. The space on the plan is at present shown to be flexible, but once a suitable size has been decided for the room, a stud wall partition will be erected and any space left will be used for storage for the time being. The vacant space will give us room to expand should the need arise. One possibility for the vacant space would be an extension to the Library.

Any further changes have not been documented in the BB.


The Belfry at the St. Cuthberts celebrations with some oldies in 2003. From left to right, Zot, Barry Wilton, Dave Irwin, Joan Bennett, unknown, Sett. unknown, Kangy, Andy Macgregor and Brian Prewer.



The 1980 Plan


Caine Hill Moves into 2011

By Stu Lindsay

January 7th, 2011’s first visit saw TrevH, NigelTnT and StuL blow up the two ends. A quick visitation on the 9th by Trev and Stu found fume filled air and quickly checked all explosive material had detonated. Moved all bags to First chamber. 12th saw DaveB and StuL clear most of the End of Dig debris, 20 bags and some large lumps of rock, probably a metre of progress, so is that it for 2011? January 19th StuL and TrevH a quick clear up operation getting EOD debris to Third Chamber when DaveB turned up so we hauled to Son of a Pitch

Again on the 26th DaveB joined Trev and Stu to haul to Son of a Pitch, the total bags here now approaching 200. The final hauling session for the month saw JakeB join  Trev and Stu on the 26th,  the 2 hour session saw the surface temperature dropping  from chilly to bloody freezing,  even the effort of 132 bags to the surface failing to ward off the approaching zero temperature. It was a quiet month, but progress achieved after the stagnation of December.

February’s first visit of the month, the 2nd  saw just Trev and Stu,  all  “stray bags ” from End of Dig  were amassed in First Chamber,  before 30 bags were shunted up to  Son of a Pitch.  Trying to guess the stored bags at Son of a Pitch on the 6th failed, the hundred plus was actually only 79. Jake on the surface, Stu at half way and Trev at the bottom had them out in just over the hour. The 9th saw a solo from TrevH, when he cleared the bang debris from the base of the rift, and is now ready for more shotholes, there does seem to be some improvement in passage size but still a lot to do. The two large rocks in the Third Chamber were also rendered into baggable bits.

13TH   A 3 ¼ hour session, before Trev and Jake arrived , saw Stu capping and P& Feathering the way on at End of Dig heading downward in a passage, as opposed to a Rift, it looks to be maybe a metre high and wide. Jake and Trevor arrived concentrated on the rift getting everything back to First Chamber. Its back to Stu and Trev on the 16th, the original extension to the End of Dig after tonight’s clearance operation  is now almost big enough for two, there is the original higher level “tube”, uncovered in January, heading off pretty much northward. But the likely way on is probably down under the now quickly diminishing archway, chip chip, cap cap.  Saving the best to last, the final visit of the month was a good turnout with Ian Cedegy, Paul’s mate joining StuL, TrevH, JakeB, PhilC and JohnN to make 7 willing souls. Jake whizzed off to the end of Dig followed by Phil and were joined by the late arriving John.  The rest of us hauled to Son of a Pitch, the grand finale being to get the largest of the specimen rocks up to Son of a Pitch…a mere 30kgs or so

March, Stu, Trev and Dave kicked off the 2nd day of the month; Trev went down the rift to drill holes whilst Dave and Stu continued to loosen up the End of Dig. At the End of Dig progress was slowly beginning to reveal a possible way on down to the right, after a dozen bags and 5 or 6 rocks had been removed it made it clearer where Stu would drill some shot holes, initially just three at 500mm long but in the end six were drilled, with drill entry points in 2 groups of 3.  March 9TH was bang night, Trev, NigelTnT StuL and DaveB descended, Trev loaded the Rift and Stu and Dave marked time before the End of Dig also received a length or two. After 2 successful crumps, CHAPS was allowed to run for 15 mins, the strength of the fumes growing fainter as the pub beckoned.

An early start on Sunday 13th by Stu saw the CHAPS switched on for an hour. Below, in End of Dig fumes were mere occasional wisps, whilst the rift was not so clear and duly left for another day. Trev and Stu on this 3 hour session saw 40 bags dug, and moved back to First Chamber. The current rock bridge is almost history and working space has doubled.  2 again became 3 on the 16th Trev and Stu, joined latterly by Dave.  Stu in a 2 hour or so session before Trev arrived had almost made as much debris as the previous bang! This area, End of Dig seems to be quite wacky! Its like a boulder pile that has been modified, it does not seem to follow a basic conformity, and it is also quite damp, making the spoil claggy.  Dave joining the throng was an opportunity not to be missed, he was poked into the hole, whilst Trev departed for the rift to bag all the debris.  Finally about 40 bags were eventually hauled to the First Chamber.  March 20th weather was very good so with just 2 of us in 3 sessions, Stu doing surface haul first and last, Trev at Son of a Pitch we managed 77 bags out.  23rd, with Paul, PeteH and Phil digging Trev and Stu maintained the supply at Son of a Pitch by shunting 50 plus bags up. 27TH saw Jake join Stu, Jake filled another 5 bags in rift, before a concerted effort in the End of Dig, which is looking tight again. Last session was 30th of March 2011, when StuL, JakeB, TrevH and DaveB were joined by Henry Rockcliff from Derby area. Trevor drilled in the rift with Henry, whilst the size of the End of Dig allowed me to drill whilst Dave and Jake dug around me.

April 6th commenced with a bang, or should I say BANG. Nigel duly turned up with the bang and Trev and Stu descended to End of Dig. With 2 of us on the job detracted from our usual practice and increased the number of holes to 6 all went well with a pleasing crump that just about rattled Tims windows.  13TH saw JakeB, DaveB and StuL clear some quite large lumps and gain access to some more of the delightful Cainehill spoil, clearing all to Third Chamber the End of Dig was left as confusing as ever. 2 possibly 3 ways forward, the likely 2 being to the NW or the North.  With Stu migrating north the 20th saw Dave B and Trevor lengthen the Rift shotholes to 550 long and drill an additional one. Whilst Dave laboured away the evening digging at EOD, producing a good pile of bags of rock and mud. But most importantly, cleared away down dip to reveal an archway with soft mud infill and to prove that the flat bedding floor is not connected to most, if not all, of the obstructing rocks ahead. Last visit of April the 27th saw a good crew, Dave B, Phil C, Pete H, John N and Trevor and a warm evening so it seemed like a good idea to surface haul: the base of SOP was emptied of the 58 loads and the huge ‘specimen’ rock which took the combined strengths of John, Pete and self to get up the first part of the shaft. This rock is not the striped rock which has been so carefully guarded from assault by hammer wielding fanatics, and to get that out we will have to repeat the exercise all over again  but these rocks will do fine at the base of the Belfry Stone. By the close of play John had managed to loose or leave behind his helmet, light, gloves, changing mat and caving belt: there can’t be much of his kit left – if anybody finds a naked caver with a Charles 1st beard wandering wantonly on Priddy Green please return him to the Caine Hill diggers.

MAN HOURS SPENT OVER THE PAST 4 MONTHS TOTAL AROUND 143. With a further 346 bags reaching the surface it took the total  to 5 figures, yep, that’s 10,089 or over 150 tonnes. .Work continues, hopefully NOW with more pace.


St. Cuthbert’s Swallet:

The Curtains

From Kangy King

A Rescue in Swildon’s

By Bill Combley

Do not involve yourself in the affairs of Dragons!

(Or how the just how wrong the Swildon’s Short Round trip can go)

We were without our regular caving partner Steve as he was off “doing other things” on this particular Wednesday, so it was just the 2 of us (Tony and myself) – we had many plans in place, depending on just who turned up at the Belfry, but by 7pm it was still just the 2 of us, so we decided to venture into Swildon’s and have a go at the short round trip. I knew the route pretty well (but not well enough as events will tell).

We arrived at Priddy Green and rapidly kitted up, leaving an estimated time out (ETO) with my beloved down on the Isle of Wight. A.N. Other body turned up from S.B.S.S.  he asked us where we were going to which we replied “A Scrot about!” and duly set off across the fields.

Entering the cave was as usual, uneventful, as the water levels were particularly low. We rapidly made our way to the 20’ and set about rigging the ladder and descending. Continuing down the stream way, I found the turn off to the Short round trip (Tratman’s Temple). We burrowed our way through the mud sump – about 6 inches of water (I did explain to Tony how it’s not possible to back bail because of the nature of the cave) we meandered around finding the Double Troubles (no need to bail or set the siphons).

Its surprising that considering you’re away from the main stream way just how cold one can get passing the Double troubles, Tony and I have differing methods of passing water obstacles and I must grudgingly admit that his “laying flat on your back” method is far superior to my “scrabble through on my belly” one!

Passing the double troubles, we made our way to Birthday squeeze (best attempted on your back with helmet off) and shuffled through that, Tony managed it with a good deal of huffing, puffing and a fair bit of cussing!

Some-how at this point I got a bit stymied on the route and ended up towards Vicarage passage, We came to Vicarage pot, and I decided that this was obviously not the way on, I’d spotted a hole in the floor that looked as if it went down to the landing a little way back from Vicarage pot, and, as time was inexorably ticking away towards pub time we decided to use it to gain the Landing and stream way in Swildon’s 2.

I began to carefully descend said pot and was doing ok for the first few meters, gently easing my way down, with my back pressed against the wall and my feet and arms moving slowly, when all of a sudden Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity took a hold, net result I landed on the Landing with a crunch, “OH bugger, that’s broken my collarbone!” (I’m understating the pain and language used here), I sort of half slithered/fell into the stream way and took a few seconds to realise just where I was. Tony meanwhile had seen my fall and had gingerly followed me onto the landing.

Realising that we were now in a rescue situation we made a decision to get as far out of the cave as possible, I got Tony to re-rig my belt as a makeshift strap around my collarbone. Pain and adrenalin took over as we made our way upstream to sump 1. I had to get Tony to push my legs as I went through sump 1 and again he was a tower of strength aiding me over the rocks as we slowly made our way out of the cave.

Having gained Swildon’s 1, I knew what lay ahead in terms of obstacles, and was thinking to myself “Right, if we get above Tratman’s, MRO won’t have to search the short round!” – well, we achieved that aim and came to rest at the Inclined Rift. I parked myself out of the water and took off my elbow pads to sit on to insulate my bum and put on my hood to keep my inner core temperature up and stave off hypothermia. We did discuss the possibility of Tony returning to surface to raise the alarm, but, as Tony said, “I never bug out on my wingman!” so he stayed put.

I’d expected lights to appear from in front of us (the arrival of recue!) but we were both surprised to see lights coming from behind us, a party of 3 (SBSS) had also been on the short round, they stopped and we explained our situation, they then headed out to raise the alarm as well (by this time we were way beyond ETO, and were hoping that best beloved had done the right thing, apparently she thought we were in the pub enjoying a post caving pint), a second party of SBSS then appeared from behind us and stopped, fortunately one of the members of this party is a paramedic and had some basic 1st aid kit, namely painkillers and a space blanket. Dosed up with painkillers and wrapped in a space blanket we 5 sat and waited for the now inevitable rescue to arrive.

Lights appeared at the top of Barnes loop, Whoop! the cavalry, in the form of Mark Helmore, Rich Marlow and Sarah Payne, closely followed by Dany and Bob (Cork?). Rich gave me a quick once over whilst Dany and Sarah got the Heyphone set up. There was talk of what the 1st aid kits used to contain, as by this point both Tony and I were gasping for a fag (no longer in the first aid kit! -along with the medicinal brandy!) – Dany made some quip about “How’s about each time you want a fag, I smack you in the face.” To which my reply was “Ok then, I’ll wait until we’re out!” having ascertained the extent of my injuries and what pain relief had already been administered, Rich the team and myself decided that the stretcher was not an option “You’re not a time critical injury” seems to stick in my mind, Some Morphine was administered to me and my now useless arm was immobilised in a sling and we waited for that to take effect.

Caving on a cloud of morphine is wonderful, it takes away the pain, whilst leaving one with faculties enough to deal with the rest of the cave, I was put on a “donkey dick” rope and with assistance all round, got up the stal boss and through Barnes loop, actually the climb back into the stream way was relatively (or so it seemed to me by my now fuzzy mind) straight forward, a step here, a hand there, and down we go. Next a quick traverse round the double pots (I normally wade into the pots and climb straight up) and onto the twenty. At this point the full body harness was made available and with a few strong bods (cheers Stu and Mark) I flew up and was quickly out of the harness and onto the 8-foot waterfall, a few tugs and heaves and that was dealt with, before long we arrived at the penultimate obstacle – Jacobs Ladder, again soon disposed of and only the entrance to deal with. Normally I enter and exit the cave via the little rift to the right hand side of the entrance, but this time I went under that huge slab of hanging doom above the new hole in the floor that takes all the water.

We then trudged our way back across the fields to Priddy Green to rescue control, and for some at least, hot drinks and biscuits courtesy of the Prewers, I got a slurp of much welcome coffee, but alas no more “Oy, no more for you!” and cadged a fag off one of the rescue team, that was well earned; thanks young lad. By now the rest of the rescue team were emerging and depositing all the kit that had been taken over to aid me out (fortunately the “Little Dragon” and dreaded stretcher had not been used) and the troops made their weary ways home leaving me with Rich and Ali Moody to await the arrival of the ambulance.

The ambulance had been delayed on another call and when it did turn up, the crew were a little incredulous as to the events that had led them to Priddy Green in the early hours of the morning, even more so when I began to strip out of my caving grots, “Ere fellah, grab that sleeve and give it a tug will you?” even stopping to towel my feet off and change into civilised dry clothes, as Rich did his casualty hand over. Another dose of Morphine and a quick discussion about the best way to get to Weston General “Its your call Bath or Weston.”, “Well we’re pointing to Weston, Down the Gorge and I expect your sat nav will take you the rest of the way!” and off we went.

My heartfelt thanks to all who came to my rescue, there WILL be beer for all involved when I see you at the Hunters! I’ll close just there and not bore you all with what went on in the Casualty department.

Net result and lessons learned:

One broken right collarbone and no caving for a while.

Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons because you are crunchy and go well with ketchup.

Only your true friends will help you out of the pooh and will mercilessly take the mick whilst so doing.

ALWAYS leave a call out.


Renewed Digging Effort In St Cuthbert’s 

by Estelle Sandford

About 2 years ago I started actively looking for a new dig site in St Cuthbert’s. This had been driven by me noticing that some of the hydrology of the cave seemed to have been naturally changing over the last 10-15 years (I had been involved in collecting water samples for the hydrology article Roger Stenner had written in the 90s, so had been pretty intimate with this particular cave’s water course and levels!). With many discussions over a few beers, a few of us had never been totally convinced the ‘original’ way on for the water in St Cuthbert’s was via sump 2. It had been noted the geology of the cave passage changes between sumps 1 and 2 and doesn’t seem to look as ‘old’, plus, we had also been convinced that the area around Cerberus to Lake Chamber areas may hold some secrets. This was fuelled by the Lake seeming lower than I remembered it on several visits to the place in early 2009, before the sump actually opened (don’t remember it doing that at all in the 90s), and also the stream-way was sinking in two places above Stal Pitch, meaning there is little to no flow from there until Plantation Junction during the drier summer months.


Estelle in Lower Rocky Boulder

I had taken a break from active caving for a few years due to injuries and other life stuff and, it had been a while since I’d last actively dug and caved in St Cuthbert’s, but it has always been somewhere that holds a lot of intrigue. I have always been convinced the cave has more to offer, plus not many people have actively dug in there for quite a few years, and ‘things change’, plus I love caving in that place! Two changes I initially noticed was that the stream-way was flowing consistently in an old dig site on the right hand wall on the bends above Stal Pitch, where historically it had sumped and, at this point, it was taking much of the main stream-way, rather than it going down the main stream passage where it should go, plus, some of the stream-way water was disappearing just below where Everest Passage joins the main stream. After encouraging it back down its traditional route, Mark Denning and myself decided to go and have a dig there initially and, soon decided it was best attacked from the other side in what is marked on the survey as Cerberus Pool, although these days it is more of a mud bath! Instructing Mark to stay somewhere safe as a just in case measure, I went underneath some very dodgy looking boulders and through a squeeze, and then we had a voice connection to a smallish hole just below the plaques in Cerberus Hall. We dug this out enough for me to exit that way and, for Mark to also have a look; this inspired us to have a go at the dig site below.

I recruited a few keen BEC diggers and we attacked the dig site from the newly widened hole just below where the plaques are. This was dug downwards through what appeared to be a mud filled dodgy boulder ruckle to about 30ft. deep, before the winter rains made digging impossible. All the spoil was brought up into Cerberus Hall and deposited in the top of where Cerberus Pool was. Historically with the hole below the plaques, I had remembered looking down to water not far below, and while in the winter there was still a water level in there, this was a lot lower than I remembered. This dig was resurrected briefly in 2010, but after the winter rains had given the site a good soaking, some of the boulders were looking seriously undermined and we decided that other sites had more potential, so we picked up our digging kit and relocated it elsewhere!

We had also been keeping an eye on Lake Chamber over the summer months with regular visits and finally, in early September 2009, we noticed that the sump to Lake Chamber Extensions was open. A dive line that had been in there for probably about 15 years (put in by Jingles mid 90s) was climbed out of the water the other side (the tibloc is a wonderful invention!) into a quite muddy section of cave (Lake Chamber Extensions), which is rarely visited because of the Lake Chamber sump. We explored, and then for about a month until the sump closed again, we worked on two sites – one which was a beautifully scalloped mud filled phreatic tube and another widening a heavily draughting rift. The rift was probably the most inspiring dig we had seen for a long time, but without taking up diving to continue working on it, there was no choice but to wait and hope for the water levels to drop far enough for us to be able to pass the sump again during 2010.

Another area of interest is where during the drier summer months of the last two years, all of the main stream sinks into the gravel floor below where Everest Passage joins main stream passage leaving the main stream route dry until Plantation Junction where Plantation stream joins the main passage. While not proven as yet, we think there is a link between this and Lake Chamber, but we felt that when the entire main stream sinks here, if all the water was running to Lake Chamber, that Lake Chamber ought to be a lot higher than it tends to be – the Lake Chamber sump opening in the summer months seems to be a more recent phenomenon, as while it was reported to have done so in the past, it certainly wasn’t a regular event. We had a go at digging this stream sink briefly, but the call of Lake Chamber Extensions kept us away, so this is another dig in progress as well, which hopefully we’ll return to in 2011 including once it starts sinking here again, to conduct a dye (or spores) trace to see if any of this water appears again before sump 2 and Lake Chamber.


Estelle In Lake Chamber Extension

Spring 2010; with all our other dig sites in Cuthbert’s full of water, we started looking again for a new site; a tight rift between Cerberus Hall and Mud Hall Chamber was observed – nicknamed Project Pebble. This draughts very well, and widening of the passage was required to make it passable, but it is at least an all-weather dig even though initially it was only a 2 person dig! After a couple of months of widening the initial rift passage, Stu and I managed to squeeze past the first constriction and into a very muddy dig and finally turn it into a 3 person dig – so Sally joined us for a few digging sessions as we needed a small skinny person! Initially this followed a phreatic tube, but with continued digging out the mud, it seems to now be going downwards again in rift type passage and is still draughting well and, heading into blank space on the survey, but needs widening with plug and feathers. Fingers crossed, this will be a case of watch this space at some stage…

By July 2010, the sump was low enough for digging in Lake Chamber Extensions to resume and, in August on Henry’s birthday, the rift was finally widened enough using plug & feathers to be able to pass through. By now the mud tube tunnelling dig had split into two directions, and the left hand of the two digs was approximately 10ft long – it was a great way of keeping warm as widening the rift was a 1 person job, although the air was often nothing special in these tubes! After Stu had successfully widened the rift to get into a small chamber with a couple of potentially going leads, Mark and Stu relocated a couple of dodgy looking boulders, and this exposed a narrow slope, which we followed into a large chamber. Henry and I joined them and the four diggers were briefly elated on finding a large chamber with what looked like lots of ways on, until finding some footprints on the other side of the chamber, and then also some initials (which looked like they possibly spelt WIG!). It wasn’t immediately apparent which bit of the cave had been dug into, as the survey had not indicated to us, to be that close to anything. So the following week, we sent a team around the slabs/long chamber/rocky boulder side of the cave and, another team through the breakthrough, all armed with whistles and we soon bumped into each other at chockstone rift, confirming we had found our way into Lower Rocky Boulder Chamber.

We have since surveyed this loop, and with the assistance of Mad Phil who already has quite a lot of Cuthbert’s survey data recorded electronically, we have added it into his survey information. What it showed, is that the original survey of Lower Rocky Boulder series appears to be out by around 5m or so, which does make us feel a bit better, as from the survey, we didn’t feel we ought to have been that close to Rocky Boulder series! What it also proves is that it would be good to continue with resurveying Cuthbert’s to have the whole cave as a digital survey which is a project Mad Phil already had been working on, so if you’re keen to do some surveying in there, contact Mad Phil!

While making the connection wasn’t what we had wanted, it does open up opportunities to investigate Lake Chamber Extensions, once Lake Chamber has filled with water as there are a couple of possibilities there, and we intend to visit this part of the cave in wet conditions over the winter months, to see how much water Lake Chamber Extensions and the floor rifts hold. We also have a couple of other dig sites of interest to keep us going, so watch this space!

Core digging team: Estelle Sandford, Stu Gardiner, Mark Denning and Henry Dawson.

Additional diggers: Pete Hellier, Vern Freeman, Sally White, Paul Brock, Bill Combley, Mad Fi, Faye Litherland, Jo Hardy, Jake Baines, Mark Stephens, Rich Bayfield, Rich Smith, Ben O’Leary, Kangy King, Gary Kiely, Annie Audsley, Roger Galloway.


Don Coase. St Cuthbert’s original entrance. Photo: Kangy King



Lex Bastian (W A S S )

From Mike Wilson

Tony Jarratts double.                                                                                

BB542-24When I visited Western Australia in 2000 I had the good fortune to meet a quiet Australian caver called Lex Bastian ,sadly I did not manage to spend a great deal of time with him, and even more unfortunate was the fact that I ran out of time before I could go caving with him. Having said that, he is a fascinating man who has spent the last 50 years caving in Western Australia  mostly in the Yanchep and Margaret River areas.

His family emigrated to Australia 130 years ago from Cornwall. He said it was a big group decision, so I guess the whole family came over en mass and settled in WA. As far as I know there are no relatives in Great Britain. He now lives to the North of Perth in a town called Beldon. There was a gap in his caving activities when he spent 8 years in Canberra during the 1970s, he didn’t tell me what he was doing there!

In the 1950s Lex, his mate Ross and a guy called Lloyd Robinson were the mainstay of caving in WA. He used to travel to the caves on a pushbike (shades of Norbert Casteret in France ) The majority of caves in the Yanchep region have been discovered by Lex,  there are approximately 400 to date. The inventory was started in 1988, and the original list contained approximately 100 caves, all numbered. To quote Lex, ‘it would be impossible to name every cave discovered’ (all of the caves open to tourists are named) .A 1967 Ford Falcon station wagon became the mainstay of transport for Lex during his travels, by all accounts a very reliable vehicle, this enabled him to travel to the South more often and practise his Aussie method of cave discovery, (it differs from Tony Jarratts theory of cave trees in the middle of a Yorkshire Moor)  this is called the Hairy Leg method, whereby you wear shorts and walk around the bush waiting for a draught on the thigh, according to Lex it is extremely effective !!! The other method is to wait for bush fires, ”quite common“ and go and look for the holes, this sounds like a good technique on the Yorkshire moors !  Their underground cooking methods involved a compound called “Scroggle,” a typical Lex type recipe, you mix cocoa, raisins, nuts, and cooking chocolate. This concoction is then heated over a carbide lamp, I intend to try this recipe some time. Naturally, they also drank cheap wine and told tall stories ,nothing changes!!.                                                                                

  Geoff  Robinson, a fellow caver was renowned for kicking at dangerous Aussie snakes whilst wearing sandals, not to be  recommended!!! Lex and Lloyd met up and found Easter cave in 1958, the entrance being a dug tunnel, what a stunning find that must have been,!!!!!! It still rates as one of the best decorated caves in Australia, I have had the privilege of entering this cave and it is literally wall to wall formations! While I was talking to Lex one evening he drew a little map of the entrance section of this cave and while I did not realise the significance at the time, it shows a small left turn and a shawl formation with writing on it, “Jamey Donovan-Jesse Ward 1884”, this indicates that the cave had been visited and then possibly forgotten, luckily.!

The Western Australia Speleo Society was formed by Naturists (not to be confused with naturalists) in the 1960s. The aim was to educate and promote awareness of the natural world to the public, some of the cavers were honorary fauna wardens of the Margaret River area, including the Naturaliste National Park, this involved wearing a little badge, and writing a quarterly report listing people warned, animals seen and approximate location. This does not equate with their tales of throwing boomerangs across the road to see if it would miss the traffic and return!! Hut 1 burned down in one of the frequent bush fires, so hut 2 was born. A band practice hut from Freemantle was donated to the club, so the lads went down to Freo and literally cut it up with a chainsaw, then transported it down to Margaret River in 1971. They hot-wired a nearby front loader and pulled up some spare railway sleepers from the local sawmill, these formed the outer base for the hut, water from a local cave was used for cement mixing (a slow process), there are some photos showing the builders Ian Martin, Alex Jar, Bob Crowe, and Ric Orissa. There were two ends to the hut; boys and girls. I have it on good authority that this situation lasted about 1 hour!! there was never any water supply or sanitation, and this situation still applies in hut 3, year 2000.  Hut 2 burnt down in another bush fire in the1980s,”       I WONDER IF IT HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH LEX BASTIANS BURNING BUSH THEORIES”, but  the new metal structure hut 3 still stands, a trifle noisy at night when the local fauna decide to run up and down the roof with hobnail boots on!! WASS are at the present trying to negotiate a new site for the hut,  just outside the National Park, which will make their tenancy in the area more stable (and not subject to the tricky park regulations). I wish them well in their endeavours, and hope that the new venture includes water and sanitation. If they require any help I will be happy to go over for a month or two and lend a hand!!                    

Some of the problems with the water table dropping in the region have been attributed by Lex Bastian, to be caused by the fact that there is no annual bush burns, apparently the ridges used to burn every summer (an aborigine method to clear the bush), but colonisation has now opened the forests for cattle allowing higher vegetation growth, this draws more underground water thus lowering the water table!!! This has had the permanent effect of opening up more routes underground, but also some of the gour pools are drying out and may never be beautiful again. It is quite apparent where the original water table level was by just observing the staining of the formations at the now new floor level; the difference is substantial !!



Articles Wanted

New material is always needed for the next Journal:

Articles on trips or expeditions

Cave science: geology, geomorphology

Cave archaeology

Historical work

Your future project descriptions

High quality photographs for the front and back covers

Please email:

What kind of topic would you like to see in your BB? Please send your ideas to the editor for consideration. If you know of someone who can write an article on exploration or science, ask him or her to put pen to paper and get writing! Remember this: we are an exploration club, not just a caving club.

The editor is willing to consider articles from guest writers too. If you know someone who can write a learned article on cave science, it could be published.

Please, please send me something amusing for the Tale Piece.

Reservoir Hole

by Pete Glanvill

Since the most recent update there have been developments. At Potter’s Heaven, Tangent and Andrew Atkinson found the Hollow virtually sumped whilst on a survey trip (Andrew is still trying to get mud out of his Disto and PDA), so we have crossed it off our dig list for the winter. Up at Topless Aven more boulders have been removed but the pool obstinately refuses to drain. Meanwhile Nigel and Nick’s team (‘We’ll be in in 2 weeks’) have made a breakthrough this week (November 15th ) after 6 months effort at the Silo. A guest appearance by Martin Grass and a lack of cameras to record the event might have been the lucky charms required for it to happen.  An audible echo could be heard the previous week but some large and obstinate boulders and massive amounts of gravel slurry needed removing before the team managed to wriggle up into the void beyond.  Ali and I returned from Topless Aven to meet a mildly despondent team who thought it was a dead end. However it transpired they had just squinted through.

I followed Alison up and she (bravely or insanely) climbed into the void bracing herself on the few remaining boulders. As I was under said boulders I didn’t stay long and, as it was, she got clocked on the shoulder by a falling pebble. What we saw, and this is a conflation of our opinions was an elliptical rift about 2 metres across with  pronounced water horizontal nick marks on the walls plus scalloping. The roof at the near end seems fairly solid but there is some hanging death at the far end. The height of the rift is probably around 8 metres. At the north end (ie into the opposite side of the gorge) fill seems to be occupying a ceiling to floor continuation that must be wider at its base (still obscured by fill). Some water drips from the roof but most is coming out of the fill low down suggesting it comes from the rift beyond. The place is very airy – not so say scary.  We think the far end is now across the road – thank god!

It didn’t stay open for long as attempts by Nigel to bring down the remaining boulders blocked the opening again but next week should allow them to be removed. The plan then,  is to use scaffolding already imported into the cave to build a 2 metre high cage at the entrance to the silo to, we hope, protect the diggers whilst we advance across the rift.

Peter Glanvill  November 17th 2011


Pete Goes Down Upper Flood

By Pete Hellier

After not being free for the club trip, a number of emails saw me at the MCG hut on an icy Novembers day.

A brisk walk over was followed by an interesting time getting the bolt under the lid to undo in the freezing conditions. The inside was quite balmy, not least because I had added an extra layer of underwear beneath my furry suit and normal base layer. By the time we had got to the static duck we were all rather hot, and I realised I had forgotten how small the cave passage was and all the obstacles. The duck was not too high (glasses stayed well out of the water), and the stream not in full winter flow yet. Hoods were removed at the red room, and drinks taken before we dived into the boulder ruckle to Golden Chamber, with not-to-be-missed crystals immediately inside the chamber. A drop and narrow rift rejoins the streamway, but not for long as the main boulder choke and succession of squeezes and manoeuvres are encountered.

BB542-25I can’t remember the sequence or which ones need to have a head or foot first approach, as this can be important. The worse pinch-points have been enlarged since the early trips, and now accommodate ‘most’ cavers. I didn’t find them particularly tight, but they were awkward, particularly on the return. The helpful hints I had could be most welcome. I only had one rock collapse on me on the return, and it wasn’t really as big as it felt.

After all that it was good to get into proper passage – must have been mind-blowing for the original explorers. Even after seeing all the photos it was a bit of a shock. The Departure Lounge narrows to stream passage, and this is probably the nicest passage down to Walk The Plank with the present stream running under or beside a lot of stalled up boulders. At the unusual stalled up rock formation known as Walk The Plank what appears as fossil passage is reached in a dark chamber. The dark colouring is thought to come from the lead tailings, and the area is the favoured connection point for Stainsby’s shaft.

Plenty more stream passage with the odd short crawl in the water until the stream is lost. This length of passage was all explored in the first trip which must be one of the longest stretches of open Mendip cave explored in one go. (There’s a theme for the Belfryites to discuss!)

After a very short traverse and little scramble the cave suddenly changes with a number of routes in different directions. East passage is like South Wales fossil phreatic passage without formations where we took a mini-circuit to see Zebra Aven, and then return. Ahead and up a few feet over stal is more stal to look at, and the entrance to South Passage which is a crawl. To the right there is (You’ve guessed) West Passage. An odd move over a stal covered block and we were in an area of lovely clean stal with superb little formations. I guessed quickly that the stal and crystal covered passage to our left was the no-go zone heading for the fabulous pork pie formations – Neverland. I guess I would have liked to take oversuit and boots off and been given the chance to see them – no point having them if you can’t see them! But the idea is to find another way into Neverland, so that they can then be viewed from the other side. Maybe.

West Passage has a different character again, being essentially a straight passage with a dog-leg to the left and back, about halfway. The first feature is Chuckle Choke, which having been dug (and the site of one of J’rat’s last bangs) drops to a loud but totally impassable stream. At least the crawling here was easy over fine silt and clay. We played games feeling a good draught in some places, and not others. The end lies at a boulder choke so anything is possible. We had a token removal of boulders-that-were-in-the-way session as a precursor to planned large banging session. There are quite a number of dig sites, but none are looking easy.

By the time we got back to the Boulder Choke I had already forgotten how many awkward moves there were, and I finished with dead arms. Given the shallow gradient and lack of any pitches, that’s quite an achievement which I put down in part to fighting against all the clothing on my arms, like a when you have a full wetsuit. There did seem to be an awful lot of crawling in the old cave (aka ‘the entrance series’), and I still have sore knees days later.

Just to round the trip off nicely engineering tactics were again needed on the entrance, and we had a rather chilly walk back in minus something. Splendid trip of course, but not to be taken lightly, and I was glad of my snacks. As for kit, I was not over-dressed, and once soaked never overheated. The others wore neofleeces with the leader having a fleece on top including balaclava – he should know!

Whitcombe’s Hole

By Vince Simmonds

An archaeological investigation of Whitcombe’s Hole, Burrington Combe: a summary report of the 2011 field work.


The excavation at Whitcombe’s Hole involves an investigation of the cave sediments for evidence of any possible human use of Whitcombe’s Hole and whether any indicators of past environmental conditions occurring in the Burrington Combe area can be found at the site.

Permission to dig at the site was granted by the landowner, Sir David Wills on 29th March 2011, subject to a number of conditions, the present permission is to extend to the end of November 2011.

Whitcombe’s Hole is located in Burrington Combe at NGR ST 47635827.  The site has previously been excavated in c.1860 by William Boyd-Dawkins who recovered an unornamented blackware urn that was attributed to the Early Iron Age along with various bones and teeth attributed ox, deer, goat, wolf, fox, badger, rabbit, hare and birds (Sanford and Boyd-Dawkins, 1864, p.169).  A recent visit to the cave appears to indicate that there has been little disturbance of the cave sediments since that time. 

Balch (1937) in his publication – Mendip: Its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters described Whitcombe’s Hole as an old outlet cave or as a passage that once fed into Aveline’s Hole.  He makes reference to the excavation work at the site by Boyd-Dawkins stating that very little debris was removed and that a complete excavation was not carried out.  Balch adds “there is some deposit on the floor, which will repay excavation” (p.89).

Whitcombe’s Hole is situated at the northern end of a ridge of high ground formed by three valleys; West Twin Brook and East Twin Brook are on either side of the ridge and the cave overlooks Burrington Combe on the northern side.  Both the West and East Twin Brook valley’s run south onto the higher ground of Blackdown, the lower reaches of Burrington Combe have a north-south alignment before heading sharply to the east at the promontory where Whitcombe’s Hole is located.  All of these valleys may have been used as corridors to gain access to the higher Mendip Plateau perhaps to hunt grazing herds at particular seasons. 

To the southwest of Whitcombe’s Hole is found Goatchurch Cavern at a similar altitude overlooking West Twin Brook, north of Whitcombe’s Hole is Aveline’s Hole at the valley bottom of Burrington Combe.


According to the geological map (BGS: Sheet 280) of the area the site is within the Black Rock Limestone of Carboniferous Age, the strata here has an inclination dipping 60O to the north-northeast.  To the south the strata comprises Lower Limestone Shale, to the north is a small outcrop of Dolomite then Burrington Oolite, these strata are also of Carboniferous Age.  These limestone strata together represent the lower part of the Dinantian sequence.  To the west of the site is an outcrop of Dolomitic Conglomerate of Triassic Age, this particular rock type features as interdigitations along both the northern and southern flanks of the Mendip Hills.


Figure 1.  Looking into the ‘daylight’ zone of Whitcombe’s Hole, Burrington Combe

Excavation of the ‘daylight’ zone.

Work at the site commenced during April 2011 when a survey of the cave was conducted and photographs of the site were taken.  Following this it was decided that the first task was to investigate the entrance chamber, the ‘daylight’ zone. 


Figure 2. Cave survey with the approximate areas of excavation conducted within the ‘daylight’ zone shown.

Trench 1: initially the area was thoroughly brushed clean of surface material that comprised mostly moss, leaves, sticks and frequent coarse angular to sub-angular gravel and cobbles of limestone with very rare slate.  There were some fragments of glass and an empty bottle [flagon] that possibly once contained cider and has been attributed to circa 1960s – 1970s.  Some recent animal bones had been noted on the surface during a previous site visit.  As the excavation proceeded the soil removed is described as fairly dry, non-cohesive/non-plastic brown silt/clay with high organic content including abundant root growth and earthworms.  The few finds in these early stages included bone fragments, acorn shells and black decayed wood.  With increasing depth the soil became slightly more cohesive and moist, there appeared pockets of lighter orangey-brown to brown-red clay and yellow-brown, possibly ochreous material (cave earth).  The organic content did not diminish and the extensive root growth and movement of earthworms appeared to have caused considerable mixing of the sediments.  Clearance of the soils revealed limestone bedrock forming the cave floor.


Figure 3. Trenches 1 and 2 of the ‘daylight’ zone after excavation.

Trench 3: is located to the rear of the ‘daylight’ zone and could be said to lie within a transitional area between light and increasingly dark zones. Trench 2: was a forward extension of Trench 1 and the soil, similarly, comprised of dry, non-cohesive/non-plastic brown silt/clay with coarse angular to sub-angular gravel and cobbles of mainly limestone with occasional sandstone, also abundant organic content (roots and rootlets) and earthworms.  It has a thickness of 25mm to 100mm and overlies the continuation the limestone bedrock floor.  There were no finds of note and it is likely that these sediments represent more recent, probably wind-borne material as they are relatively close to the cave entrance/exit.

The surface layer of this Trench consisted loose coarse angular to sub-rounded gravel and cobbles of mainly limestone with occasional red sandstone and some now degraded flowstone material.  Below this a red-brown silt/clay with fine to coarse angular to rounded gravel of mainly limestone and occasional sandstone.  There was a pocket of blackened coarse rounded gravel with a number of blackened bone fragments and teeth.  The black coating is possibly due to manganese.  

The organic content remained high and included root growth up to 15mm in diameter and much bioturbation caused by earthworms.


Figure 4. Some of the blackened bones and teeth from the rear of the ‘daylight’ zone.

The soil became a mixture of brown organic soil and pockets of light red-brown silt/clay with frequent fine to coarse angular to sub-rounded gravel of limestone, sandstone, calcite and quartz pebbles.  The brown organic soil is non-cohesive/non-plastic.  There were more faunal remains recovered mostly bone fragments and teeth, rather disappointingly broken glass was also uncovered, it was from this location that a single flint flake was found.

The soil continued to be a mix of brown organic soil and red-brown silt/clay with gravel and cobbles as described above.  Throughout this Trench were frequent finds of black decayed wood with rare small lumps of charcoal.  With depth the light red-brown silt/clay became more frequent and this material has been described as ‘cave earth’.  Even with increasing depth shards of broken glass were still appearing among the other finds that consisted mostly of small mammal bones.  These mixed soils were found to be overlying yellow (ochreous) sandy clay with abundant medium and coarse sub-rounded to rounded gravel of mostly red sandstone with some infrequent quartz and limestone.



Figure 5. The single flint flake recovered from the rear of the ‘daylight’ zone.


The single flint flake (pictured above) has been compared to a collection of flint on public display in the Balch room at Wells Museum and bears some similarities to those flint flakes attributed to the Mesolithic period.  It should be noted that a single flake recovered from Whitcombe’s Hole might be a residual find and does not, at this stage represent any evidence of occupation.  It is hoped that further excavation within the cave might reveal more finds of this type and provide more information leading to a better interpretation of the site.

     The faunal remains recovered mostly consisted of bone fragments and teeth that initially appear to fall into two categories, those stained black (possibly due to manganese, as mentioned previously) and paler bones.  The blackened bones and teeth appear to be from a pocket that had rounded gravel (pebbles) and included a relatively large canine tooth from badger or fox and teeth might originate from domesticates perhaps sheep/goat.  On average the blackened bones appear to slightly larger than the paler bones.  Some initial identification of the bones and teeth has been carried out and more work is required on further identification of the bones and species types.

There are some anomalies, for example, in all trenches a black material was found, as yet unidentified that adhered to the bedrock and cobbles and also present as lumps.  In a flotation experiment this material sank, whereas carbonized wood/charcoal floated.  This material requires further consideration before an interpretation is possible.

There has been a quantity of broken glass found during the excavation of the ‘daylight’ zone and this is most likely due to prolific root growth, bioturbation and the result of other mechanical means most likely excavation.  When the disturbed mixed layers were excavated to reveal the cave sediment layer it was apparent that passing through the cave sediment layer was a ‘cut’ line and this is has been interpreted by the author as representing the line of a previous excavation possibly that of Boyd-Dawkins original 1860s dig . 


Figure 6. Some of the paler bones recovered from the rear of the ‘daylight’ zone, mostly of small mammals.

This report presents a preliminary summary of the field work; the evidence collected to date remains inconclusive and further work will be required.  The disturbed sediments are unlikely to provide any tangible evidence so sieving is not believed to be warranted at this stage.  It is thought that the further investigation of the site might reveal undisturbed sediments that will provide some context and possibly the recovery of more diagnostic artefacts and other evidence and enable an interpretation of Whitcombe’s Hole.

Brown organic soil withgravel

Line of previous excavation

Yellow (ochreous) cave earth

Figure 7. The finished excavation showing the boundary between the organic soil and cave earth. The line of previous excavation is also evident.

Throughout the excavation in addition to field notes and sketches, a photographic record has been maintained.  In addition to the images used in this report there is a gallery containing more photographs of the excavation that can be accessed via the website:


Balch, H.E.  1937.  Mendip – Its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters.  Second Edition 1948.  p 89.  John Wright and Sons Ltd. Bristol.

Boyd-Dawkins, W. 1874.  Cave Hunting. pp 140-141

Barrington, N. and Stanton, W.  1977.  Mendip: the complete caves and a view of the hills.  Cheddar Valley Press.

British Geological Survey, 1978.  Geological Maps of England and Wales, 1: 50 000 Series, Wells, Sheet 280 – Solid and Drift Edition.  Natural Environment Research Council.

Ordnance Survey, 2004.  Explorer Map, 1:25 000, Cheddar Gorge & Mendip Hills West: Wells and Glastonbury, Sheet 141.  Ordnance Survey, Southampton.

Sanford, W.A. and Boyd Dawkins, W.  On the Caverns of Burrington Combe in Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Proceedings, Volume 12 (1863 – 1864) pp.161-176.


Last of the Summer Ale – The Sequel                                            

by Paul Christie

As promised in the last tale of the Last of the Summer Ale (LotSA) the identities of the people in the photograph are from left to right Steve Woolven (Foggy), Gary Cullen (Compo), Paul Christie (Clegg), Paul Stokes, Bruce Glockling, Karen Lumley and Graham Nye. Although a few of this group are still active cavers they were all active at some point in the 70’s & 80’s. The photo was taken in Weardale on Royal Wedding weekend.

The trip to Weardale was planned to coincide with Paul Stokes 60th birthday. We tried to include all of the original team on this weekend but the two notable missing people are Ross White and Jerry Crick who were otherwise engaged. The reason for choosing Weardale was that it is close to where Paul now lives. After years of indulging in dangerous sports of several types, he is now disabled, so it seemed an appropriate location. It was also an area that most of us hadn’t previously explored. We travelled on the Friday and some of us met up at High Force (Teesdale), where one or two people passed themselves off as senior citizens to see the waterfall for free. We then drove over the hills to Weardale and our accommodation in Frosterley. By early evening we were all settled and ready for the first excursion to the Pub so we crossed the river to The Black Bull that only weeks before had been featured on ITV’s Countrywise.

BB542-30Saturday morning started with the usual hearty breakfast and a debate about what walk we were going to do. Clegg had spent weeks planning a number of routes and conveniently the map and compass brigade had turned up with two entirely different maps of the area showing two variations of the Weardale Way. It’s one thing organising a walk when there are three of you, it’s an entirely different matter when there are 14, especially with this crew. Our first stop became the tourist information centre at Stanhope to establish the current Weardale Way route.

Now we knew where we were going, we headed for Rookhope where a pub would be the ideal stop for lunch. The early part of the walk is along the river bank so we’re all happily walking at different speeds. At the first sign of uphill walking there is the usual disquiet over Clegg’s skill with a satnav but we eventually made it to the pub. After a few pints the group headed back down the river to Easthope and on to Stanhope. As Foggy entered the car park in Stanhope, Compo whispered in Clegg’s ear to ask Foggy where his map was. This he did, and stood expecting the map to appear magically from Foggy’s rucksack. There followed an embarrassing silence and an admission by Foggy that he’d mislaid it on the route from the pub, probably in the river.

Saturday evening was spent in the Black Bull as you’d expect, and Sunday morning dawned with everyone fit for another days walking. Foggy, having lost his map, was in no position to debate what walk to do and  what Clegg had planned had something to suit everyone. Stanhope to Wolsingham (14 miles for the fit ones) with an optional get out at 8 miles back to Frosterley for everyone else. Clegg had even worked out that those that completed the walk could get the train back from Wolsingham so there was no need to put a car there. Read on there’s a ‘gotcha’ coming up.

The route heads east along the river for a while and then climbs away from the river and round some old quarry workings. We then drop down to the river level again and according to the OS map there are some caves in this area. If Foggy hadn’t lost his map I expect he would have tried to find them. Once back close to the river those opting for the short walk headed back into Frosterley with the intention of finding a pub. They found a pub without a problem, what they didn’t find was any beer, unless you count Guinness. Undeterred by the lack of Real Ale they managed to while away a fair amount of time.

Meanwhile, an intrepid group of five had gained height on the side of the valley and had passed close to a feature known locally as Elephant Trees. It’s a group of trees together on the top of the hill that in silhouette look like an elephant. Clegg struggled up this hill but once at the top he sprouted a new set of legs and headed off at speed towards Wolsingham. The railway station was easily located and the train timetable examined. The last train of the day apparently doesn’t stop at all stations. Which significant one does it not stop at? Wolsingham, I told you there was a ‘gotcha’ coming. It was too far to road walk so a quick phone call to the others was made and this was when we discovered exactly how much time they had spent either drinking Guinness or finding an alternative pub. Two cars duly arrived and we were returned to Frosterley.

The Black Bull is closed on Sunday so we had a barbecue that everyone helped to prepare. Monday morning would normally have seen us packing up and heading home as early as we could but there was one last treat in store. Because it was a Bank Holiday the landlord of the Black Bull was opening the pub and his group the Charwaller’s set up in the car park to entertain us with some fine Rhythm & Blues. A fitting end to a fantastic weekend with no sign of what some might regard as normal bank holiday weather.


Cartoon and map are the work of Rich Saunders as was the case in the last article. I’m sure he’d be open to other commissions and he can be contacted via Paul Christie.



Back cover


Gornergletscher, in the glacier’s moulins. Monte Rosa Massif, Switzerland.   From: Henry Patton

© 2024 Bristol Exploration Club Ltd

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