- 1 Situation.
- 2 Discovered.
- 3 Principal features of the System.
- 4 Description of the System.
- 5 THE OLD ROUTE.
- 6 THE NEW ROUTE.
- 7 THE UPPER SERIES.
- 8 ROCKY BOULDER SERIES
- 9 THE UPPER SERIES (CONTINUED)
- 10 THE RABBIT WARREN
- 11 THE CERBERUS SERIES
- 12 APPENDIX 1
- 13 APPENDIX 2
- 14 APPENDIX 3
- 15 APPENDIX 4
St. Cuthbert’s Swallet is situated in Priddy, Somerset the National Grid Reference being 343505. The entrance is at the base of a low cliff face at the southern end of the depression to the west of the ruins of St. Cuthbert’s lead works. From the Belfry, take the well worn path which leads to the Mineries pool for 100 yards. Turning right, a track crosses Lady Well stream and descends into the large depression already mentioned. The cave entrance is locked.
The cave system was discovered in October 1953 by the Bristol Exploration Club.
Principal features of the System.
The cave entrance is at 800 feet above sea level, and aneroid measurements have given the depth of the cave at approximately 400 feet. The total length of passages so far explored is estimated to be in the region of 1 mile.
The cave can be conveniently divided into two sections as follows: –
- THE ENTRANCE SERIES. This extends from the entrance to the first choke, consists mainly of active stream passages, and includes most of the pitches normally encountered on a trip down the cave. The gradient is at first almost vertical, but gradually decreases.
- THE FAR SERIES. Comprises the rest of the cave and consists of gently graded stream passage occupying the lowest portion of a large and complicated system of interconnecting passages and chambers at various levels. The largest chambers and most stalactite formations occur in this part of the cave. Tributary streams are met with, although much of the series is inactive.
Description of the System.
A 15 foot timbered shaft through clay leads to a small horizontal passage into the rock face. A narrow bedding plane leads off to the right, a 10′ vertical drop follows and a small chamber is entered. The floor of this chamber falls away in a ladder pitch. This is the ENTRANCE PITCH, a narrow rift which was only 6½” wide at one point, but which has been enlarged to 10″. A certain amount of water is met a few feet down the pitch, and under very wet conditions water also enters at the top. The pitch is then impassable.
At the bottom of the pitch, a rift goes off down a scree slope and through a large pile of boulders, where a large amount of chert may be seen projecting from the rock. The character of the cave at this point resembles the boulder ruckle in Eastwater. Another notable feature is the presence of many ochre deposits. Stalactites having ochre centres and calcite on the surface are also found. This section of the cave is also subject to heavy drip. A high or low level route lead to the ‘chamber at the top of the ARETE PITCH. The floor of this chamber is made up of jammed boulders which may be studied on descending the pitch. The pitch is 20’ and the landing is on the edge of a large rectangular block – the arête. From this pitch a choice of two ways is available
THE OLD ROUTE.
The OLD ROUTE is reached by dropping through the floor of the ARETE CHAMBER. A low passage is followed for a few feet, ending in the UPPER LEDGE PITCH, a 10′ drop onto a ledge overlooking a high rift. From this ledge, the LOWER LEDGE PITCH gives access to the bottom of the rift via a further 15′ drop. At this point a stream enters 15′ up the right hand wall, so that it is best to pass on quickly as a partial wetting is inevitable. The stream way here is of large dimensions, about 60′ high for some 20′. Two right angle bends follow and the passage alters character, A rift is entered – the WIRE RIFT – between one and two feet wide and descending steeply with the dip. The stream is active at this point, cutting deeply into shale beds. All holds slope steeply down dip and are covered in clay. The roof rises, and some stalactites can be seen high up on the left hand wall. The passage continues for 30′ and then dips steeply into the WATERFALL PITCH. A traverse over the top of this pitch loads to a platform. WATERFALL PITCH, which is 20′ deep, may be descended from this point. At the base of this pitch, 20′ of passage leads to WET PITCH – a 15′ drop in the stream. The stream is left and straight ahead a short climb loads to MUD HALL, whilst on the left a mud covered bedding plane leads to STREAM PASSAGE on the NEW ROUTE.
Before describing the NEW ROUTE, a further passage has to be described. Beyond the traverse over WATERFALL PITCH the WIRE RIFT continues, but becomes very narrow. A squeeze over or under a chocked boulder leads to a dividing of the ways: to the left a very narrow bedding plane leads downwards but soon becomes too tight to follow, and to the right a meandering stream passage continues. After a further 30′ the passage opens out into a large chamber – UPPER MUD HALL. The UPPER MUD HALL PITCH, a 13′ drop, gives access to the floor of this chamber.
THE NEW ROUTE.
At the northern end of the ARETE CHAMBER, a small drop leads to PULPIT PASSAGE. Water from a small passage in the roof is the start of the new route stream. It is interesting to note the distribution of water between the old and new route streams. Removal of one rock would lead to a diversion of the old route water into PULPIT PASSAGE. During the excessively wet summer of 1954, the new route stream was deepened by 2′ in this passage.
The head of PULPIT PITCH is reached after 100′ of passage. This is a large rift at right angles to the passage just mentioned. Vertically above this pitch is a stalactite curtain with the corresponding conical stalagmite a few feet down the pitch, which is 60′ deep. The pitch is laddered from a convenient ledge on the right, care being needed when placing the ladder. The ladder lies against rock for a few feet then hangs between the wall and a rock flake, this is an awkward spot when ascending the pitch as the ladder has to be left and the flake negotiated from the outside. 34′ down the pitch a ledge is reached then a traverse along this to the left and a drop of a few feet gives access to the PULPIT, a long stride round the wall, a scramble down and the bottom is reached. The rift narrows to a few feet and the stream flows over one small drop after another to the top of GOUR PASSAGE PITCH. At the bottom of this pitch, another drop of 15′ leads to GOUR PASSAGE. Brown stalagmite gours bridge the stream and are up to 2′ wide and 3′ high, the pools being silted up with mud and gravel. They are coated with a brown deposit containing a large amount of manganese, the deposit is probably pyrolusite. Some eight to ten gours occur in the next 100′ of passage. Halfway down this section, two tributary passages enter opposite one another. To the left, a steeply ascending passage can be followed for about 200” and cuts deeply into shale beds. It is interesting to note that, as soon as this passage reaches solid limestone, it rises vertically in a well shaped pot hole which has not yet been ascended.
On the other side of the main stream passage, the other tributary passage enters a narrow bedding plane extending as far as the bottom of WET PITCH. The passage is a very tight crawl over eroded stalagmite flow. A little further on down the main stream way another tributary enters via the left hand wall. This is the DRINKING FOUNTAIN. This tributary, like the one just mentioned, can be followed for about 200′.
Proceeding downstream, an awkward 6′ drop has to be negotiated, and at this point severe folding of the rock has occurred, the strata at one point being vertical. On the right, a short climb leads to a bedding plans and MUD HALL. Soon after this, the top of the WATER SHUTE is reached. Here the water flows down a 43° slope. This slope fellows the strata and only poor hand and foot holds occur. An alternative route to the right is mud covered and not to be recommended. Looking upwards from below the WATER SHUTE presents an impressive picture with a second higher arch contributing to the scene. From this point, the general gradient of the stream passage is nearly horizontal except in a few isolated places. There are several passages entering the roof in this section of the cave which have not yet been fully explored.
A few yards downstream from the WATER SHUTE the old route stream cascades down the right hand wall, and a little further on, a passage from MUD HALL enters on the right. By following the stream across several small pools and a deep mud patch, TRAVERSE CHAMBER is reached. This is almost circular, up to 50′ high, with a small waterfall falling 25′ on to a gravel floor from a passage high up in the left hand wall. In this chamber, an altimeter gave a depth of 300′ below the entrance. A few yards down the stream the FIRST CHOKE is reached. The passage roof drops rapidly until there is only sufficient room for the water to escape above the gravel and mud.
To return to the TRAVERSE CHAMBER, a false bedding plane on the right .can be entered via an awkward ledge, the traverse, an easier way into this, bedding plane is to climb out of the stream just before TRAVERSE CHAMBER is reached. About 70! Up the bedding plane, on the left, a small hole leads to a squeeze through unstable boulders and a short drop into BYPASS PASSAGE. Just beyond a 6′ drop, the roof lifts and SENTRY PASSAGE can be seen 13′ up the wall to the left. This leads to UPPER TRAVERSE CHAMBER and can be entered by a climb just above the 6′ drop. Continuing down the passage for a little way, a short drop leads back to the stream.
Progress upstream is only possible for a short distance as the roof drops rapidly to meet the level mud floor and meandering stream at the lower side of the first choke. A few yards downstream the cause of the first choke is seen to be stream blockage of boulders behind which gravel and mud has silted up.
The very high rift now continues down dip for several hundred feet. The floor is nearly horizontal and rises through the rock beds which lie at about 30°. In one place chert projects into the passage and at several places stalagmite flew, generally covered in red mud, covers the walls. At the end of this Section, a 6′ climb onto a ledge by some white stalagmite flow gives access to EVEREST PASSAGE.
The whole character of the stream passage now alters abruptly. The system shows well rounded passages containing remnants of a fill mainly composed of sand, carboniferous limestone .and red sandstone pebbles. For a short distance the stream is lost, the way lying past a 6′ long slab of rock above a small pit where the stream is visible, then down a 4′ drop back to the stream. Various openings on the left hand side up dip lead to the RABBIT WARREN. At one point it is necessary to crawl under the remnants of the gravel fill. This may be avoided by a 4′ climb to the right into a well developed meander passage.
The STREAM PASSAGE continues along a horizontal floor, round several bends with the stream meandering from side to side. On the left, a climb over a steep slope with a liberal coating of mud, gives the easiest access to the RABBIT WARREN and 20′ further downstream, a low opening on the right under a brown stalagmite flew leads to the DINNING ROOM. Fifty feet further down, the stream drops down a narrow slot between the right hand wall and a flow of stalagmite. The slot is impassable, but can be bypassed either by a tight squeeze ahead or by climbing over the top of the stalagmite bank to the right to the to the top of STALAGMITE PITCH. This pitch leads into a well formed pot, new covered in brown stalagmite. The stream continues over some silted gours, a squeeze then gives rise to a sharp left turn in the passage. The STREAM PASSAGE now continues for 130′ in a straight line and consists of an enlarged bedding plane inclined at 30°. The whole of the passage is mud covered and is named the SEWER PASSAGE. This bedding plane continues up dip for 80′ before widening out and joining the lower end of the RABBIT WARREN.
At the end of SEWER PASSAGE, a sharp right turn occurs and a tributary stream enters en the left. This is almost certainly the water that sinks at PLANTATION SWALLET, some hundred yards north of the St. Cuthbert’s entrance. This stream brings down more water than the main stream. Temperature measurements in November 1953 showed this water to be 1°C colder than the main stream, supporting the view that this is surface water travelling to this point by a fairly direct route. The water from PLANTATION SWALLET is the only large enough source of water in the vicinity. PLANTATION WATER can be followed up for a matter of 50” when it can be seen to issue from a stalagmite bank through a number of small holes. It is thought that PLANTATION STREAM has also been entered further upstream in the RABBIT WARREN.
Returning to the main stream, after PLANTATION JUNCTION the stream way assumes a more rift like nature and continues over a gravel bed for fifty feet. The stream way then becomes partially blocked by a stalagmite flow on the left. A climb over this by the side of a fine stalactite pillar and a small crystal pool leads to a drop and back to the stream bed. The roof of the stream passage at this, point is of gravel cemented, with calcite. A low crawl in the stream bed or alternatively a climb to the right over a stalactite bank leads to BEEHIVE CHAMBER. A large orange coloured beehive formation gives the chamber its mane. High in the wall, behind the BEEHIVE, an awkward climb leads to a narrow system of passages known as the PIROLUSITE SERIES which contain large amounts of this deposit. A small stream runs through the system, entering high in the roof of a rift passage and unable to be followed. Downstream it disappears through a small hole. It is believed to be the stream that runs into the gours in GOUR HALL.
From BEEHIVE CHAMBER, a tricky climb over a stalactite flow leads into GOUR HALL. The most noticeable feature is the size, since it is the largest Chamber on the active stream route. At the point of entry the roof is 60′ high and the width of the chamber is about 20′. On the right, a stalactite flow descends vertically for 20′ and then flows over a 10′ vertical face into the GREAT GOUR. This measures 18’ by 12’ and is filled with water to a depth of 6-9”, below which it is filled with mud. Standing on the GREAT GOUR and looking downstream, the stream can be seen to emerge from under a Series of subsidiary gours altogether some 25′ high. The stream can be followed from BEEHIVE CHAMBER, along a low wet crawl to this point, the crawl containing a surprisingly large amount of stalactite.
Access to the stream is gained by climbing down the side of the GREAT GOUR. The Stream passage remains high for the next 150′ but gradually becomes narrower, finally sinking in a formidable looking sump on the right of the passage. The sump at first sight appears to be stagnant, but on closer inspection it is seen that the stream runs off slightly to the right with a high velocity.
There is a short continuation of the main stream passage but this soon becomes too tight for further exploration. A vertical wall of shale can be seen 6′ ahead of the furthest point reached. The rift above the sump can be ascended for some way and a passage has been entered some 30′ up and followed for 60′, when it becomes too narrow.
THE UPPER SERIES.
The upper series consists of a number of high level interconnecting chambers. These are all situated at a higher level than the stream passage. The upper series may be entered from numerous points in the cave. Those in common use are as follows: –
- Via the old route to the UPPER MUD HALL,
- Via the new route to EVEREST PASSAGE. . ‘
- From the DINING ROOM via the CERBERUS SERIES.
A climb from the stream bed below the WET PITCH on the old route leads into MUD HALL. This is a large chamber with a high roof and is 60′ in length and a boulder covered floor. Various routes lead from this chamber. From the entrance, straight ahead, a rocky passage leads to a 20′ pitch, The MUD HALL PITCH, which drops into the main stream passage below the WATER SHUTE. There are also two openings in the floor. One leads to the old route stream, which eventually disappears into a narrow bedding plane to re-emerge in the stream passage. The other opening leads into the ROCKY BOULDER SERIES. This as yet has not been fully explored. Yet another route from MUD HALL leads into UPPER MUD HALL. This is via the piled boulders at the top of the chamber.
The floor of UPPER MUD HALL consists of piled boulders It is roughly the same size and shape as MUD HALL. Ascending the chamber, PILLAR CHAMBER is reached. This chamber is ‘L’ shaped and is about 10′ high. There is evidence of considerable rock movement. Broken formations lie everywhere and some have been cemented to the floor by further deposit. This section has been called as a result the STALACTITE GRAVEYARD. Fractured pillars that have since re-joined may also be seen. PILLAR CHAMBER is so named because of the pillar which may be seen on the right of the chamber. This is a substantial column 1′ in diameter which has also been fractured. Unfortunately it is a dirty brown colour. Behind this pillar is a set of finer pillars. By squeezing past these, an extension may be reached. This region is a boulder ruckle and gives the impression of being fairly near the surface. A molar of Elephas has been found here. ( see appendix 4.).
An awkward 10″ drop in the corner of PILLAR CHAMBER leads into another chamber containing some good floor deposits. A steeply descending boulder slope from this chamber leads to a right angle turn in the passage. The passage now has a sandy floor and is about 30′ in height. A narrow squeeze, between a suspended boulder and the rock face on the right, leads to the top of BOULDER CHAMBER. This chamber varies in height from 8 to 20 feet, is irregular in outline, and slopes down dip for 100 to 200 feet. The floor is boulder covered and to the right of the entrance is a prominent cracked corner of rock. This is known as QUARRY CORNER and is dangerous. There are a number of routes from BOULDER CHAMBER, but before describing these, the ROCKY BOULDER SERIES mentioned earlier will be described.
ROCKY BOULDER SERIES
A hole in the floor behind the pillar in PILLAR CHAMBER leads to a large aven which is 60′ high and 20’ across, with some stalactite flow down the far wall. A descending passage leads off, and after 100′, a 13′ pitch is reached. ROCKY BOULDER PITCH. This drops into a small chamber and continues past an unstable rock spur. At this point a harrow bedding plane on the left leads into MUD HALL. The passage continues through a narrow tube where a small window opens into OUBLIETTE PITCH. This is a narrow bottle shaped drop which is choked at the bottom. The way on is through a narrow vertical crack, to a boulder strewn chamber. At the far side a 23′ pitch, ROCKY BOULDER LOWER PITCH, drops down a narrow crack into a high rift which soon enters a succession of small mud coated chambers, ending in a mud choke. This whole system appears to be flooded in times of heavy rain the water then seeping away through numerous small cracks. The system has not yet been fully explored, and it is believed that it can be entered from QUARRY CORNER.
THE UPPER SERIES (CONTINUED)
To the left of the BOULDER CHAMBER, a traverse past a large boulder leads after 100′ to UPPER TRAVERSE CHAMBER. This has a fine stalactite flow, with a very good crystal pool on its lower slopes. A further 13′ drop from this point leads to an active stream bed which if followed downstream leads to a 25′ drop inro TRAVERSE CHAMBER (See new route). The upper reaches of this stream have not yet been explored. A scaling pole will be necessary for this, as a 20′ vertical pot is reached. 50′ up the stream way.
A climb round, the UPPER TRAVERSE CHAMBER gives rise to a steep boulder slope. There are some fine formations to the right at this point. If the boulder slope ahead is climbed, HIGH CHAMBER is reached. This is a large rift chamber 60′ high and 20′ wide, the floor consisting of boulders heavily encrusted with calcite. On the left of the chamber is a high boulder pile which has not yet been climbed. There is a short continuation passage in the far wall of the chamber, which soon closes down to a narrow but extensive bedding plane. On the left there appears to be another continuation 40′ above the floor. Scaling poles will be necessary for this.
In the floor, near the traverse round UPPER TRAVERSE CHAMBER, it is possible to enter SENTRY PASSAGE. A 6′ drop below some orange curtains leads to a 15′ climb down through boulders. The passage descends rapidly with squeezes and potholes. A projecting flake of rock – the sentry – is reached and a 15′ drop then leads to the BYPASS PASSAGE.
Returning to the top of the BOULDER CHAMBER, a route goes down dip to CASCADE CHAMBER. The route is rather indefinite, but keeping to the left and descending, the roof becomes lower and some erratics may be seen. The roof rises after a few feet and the floor forms a ledge before dropping away more steeply. Prom this point the main feature of the chamber may be seen. To the right a beautiful white stalagmite cascade something like 70 feet in length, descends at an angle of 55O. The cascade is split up by a series of small drops. These are decorated with stalactite organ pipes. The floor of the CASCADE CHAMBER IS 25 feet below, and although it would be possible to descend, it would be most inadvisable to do so as this would undoubtedly spoil the cascade. An alternative route is given at the end of this section. A little below and slightly to the left is a remarkable curtain hanging from the steeply sloping roof. It is 5 feet long and18 inches deep. A light behind this formation shows it up to its best advantage.
Returning once more to the BOULDER CHAMBER and descending to the right past QUARRY CORNER, EVEREST CHAMBER may he¬re ached, before entering EVEREST CHAMBER, a small passage to the left can be seen. This gives a view of the each of the organ pipes in CASCADE CHAMBER. EVEREST CHAMER consists of a series of interconnecting sloping chambers all containing stalactite formations. In the lowest chamber a remarkable tusk like stalactite 7 feet long hangs from a rift in the roof. On the right of this chamber’ a stalactite flow has formed on gravel which has since subsided, and drip pockets can be seen projecting below the flow. A small climb to the left of this flow leads to a high rift chamber beautifully decorated. A guide tape has been laid here as some of the floor deposits are especially fine. On the left is a nest of cave pearls, behind which the floor is carved, into a series of intricate mud pillars, following the tape under a low arch, CURTAIN CHAMBER is reached. This is a very high rift, the left hand wall overhanging a little. On the right is a boulder slope well cemented with calcite. At the far end the rift rises, and 20′ up a passage can be seen. This has not yet been entered but it is thought that it may join up with the lake in the CERBERUS SERIES. By climbing the boulder pile to the right, the main feature of CURTAIN CHAMBER may be seen. A large number of curtains, something like twenty in number, descend from a flow in the right hand wall. They are so close together and so intertwined that the exact number is hard to determine. They are all a foot or more in depth with a dark brown banding, on the outer edges, showing the creamy white stalactite into greater contrast. Great care is required in entering this chamber to avoid these curtains which reach to within 4 feet of the floor. As with CASCADE CHAMBER, no description can do them justice. In the floor of CURTAIN CHAMBER, a hole in the stalagmite leads to a small passage which descends steeply through pebble infill to EVEREST PASSAGE.
A short drop in the floor of EVEREST CHAMBER also leads to EVEREST PASSAGE. This is 10′ wide and descends steeply for fifty feet when a large boulder – Everest -is reached. The way down is an easy slide but the return journey is a more strenuous affair, a scramble over a pit leads to a hands and knees crawl under a cluster of straws. To the right a 4′ drop leads to one end of the RAT RUN. The height of the passage increases and after a short drop into a muddy passage, the main STREAM PASSAGE is reached. The stream flows so quietly at thia point that it is not noticed until one is standing beside it.
Immediately after passing the crawl in EVEREST PASSAGE, an opening on the left gives access to a bedding plane. Traversing to the left it is possible to look down into the STREAM PASSAGE. A bridge of jammed rocks can be reached and by crossing this, a continuation of the bedding plane can be followed. An ascending passage gives rise to a dividing of the ways. To the right HAREM ROUTE leads to the CASCADE CHAMBER whilst on the left, an alternative continuation of the bedding plane leads into CASCADE CHAMBER at the bottom of the cascade. Turning to the right at this point is a large passage which is quickly choked with boulders, but a small opening on the right leads to the RABBIT WARREN.
THE RABBIT WARREN
The RABBIT WARREN is far too complex a system for any detailed description. In the main it consists of a network of passages interspaced with steeply sloping bedding planes and chambers. It extends from CASCADE CHAMBER along the east side of the STREAM PASSAGE to PLANTATION JUNCTION, thus tending to keep up dip from the stream. There are extensive stalagmite deposits in the system. In the main they are of a dirty brown colour, but in places they are especially beautiful. The easiest entrance to the RABBIT WARREN is by climbing the mud slope from STREAM PASSAGE, just before the DINING ROOM is reached. This provides an alternative route to the lower reaches of the cave as STALAGMITE PITCH is thus bypassed.
One passage in the RABBIT WARREN deserves special mention. It contains some fine dry gours, very small but unlike usual gours. They have built up vertical lower edge about one inch high and are orange brown in colour. They are protected by a tape. Further on, an ascending passage contains hundreds of very fine hair erractics, all growing from one bedding joint. This passage ends in a shallow pool, which is covered in soap flake calcite.
Proceeding up dip from this point, over an awkward six foot stalactite bulge, a passage on the right enters a tight vertical squeeze. This gives rise to a more comfortable passage which opens out into a wide bedding plane. This contains a large stream and a smaller tributary. ‘After 50’ the stream is seen to flow under a low roof into gravel and boulders. This stream is thought to emerge at PLANTATION JUNCTION. These streams cannot be followed far in the upstream direction since the water emerges from, several small holes in the same stratum. This is a characteristic of a pressure fed system and hence there would appear to be no possibility of ever forcing a connection between this point and the swallet from whence the water flows (Presumably PLANTATION SWALLET.).
THE CERBERUS SERIES
The CERBERUS SERIES is best entered from the DINING ROOM. As mentioned earlier this is reached from the STREAM PASSAGE just before STALAGMITE PITCH. The entrance is marked with a strip of red reflector tape to facilitate easy finding by a stranded party. Part of the DINING ROOM has a gravel and stalagmite false floor as a roof, which snows incipient roof pendants.
The DINING ROOM is roughly twenty feet square and is used as a base for exploration and survey trips in the cave. At the far end of the chamber a climb over a. muddy bank leads to CERBERUS HALL. On the left a small trickle of water descends in wet weather and below a false floor a small hole leads to an inner chamber. This chamber is 6′ wide by 20′ long. It has been flooded at one time, and the roof at one point bears some unusual stalactites which have the appearance of rounded cylinders with the ends stuck together. There is a way out of the chamber at the far end but this soon closes down.
Turning from the right from the DINING ROOM, CERBERUS HALL is entered which is a 20′ wide high passage. It has a sandy containing some deep pockets formed by strong drip action. At the end of this chamber a 15′ drop leads by a solutional passage to a further chamber – MUD BALL CHASMBER. At the far end of this chamber a high level passage 15′ from the floor continues over the top of LAKE CHAMBER. At the lowest point of MUD BALL CHAMBER a squeeze on the right leads to the RAT RUN. This is a small tube, and by keeping to the right throughout, EVEREST PASSAGE is reached. Just before the climb into EVEREST PASSAGE is a well formed pot hole now containing a symmetrically cracked mud deposit.
By keeping to the left through the RAT RUN, a descending passage leads into LAKE CHAMBER. This is 30′ wide and slopes downwards to the lake, the level of which fluctuated with rainfall. Since first entering this chamber in march 1954, the water level has sunk from 15′ until in October 1955, the pool was dry. A little way above the lake at the far end is a high level passage which is thought to join up with CURTAIN CHAMBER.
Compiled from notes by: – R. Bennett; A. Coase; C. P. Falshaw; J. Waddon; 11 July 1956.
Access to ST. CUTHBERT’S SWALLET is limited, as the BRISTOL EXPLORATION CLUB has signed an agreement with the landowners to the effect that entry into the system will be strictly supervised. Water entering ST.CUIHBERT!S is used in the paper mills at Wookey Hole and also for domestic purposes. Therefore no risk of contamination can be allowed.
The B.E.C. is willing to provide the necessary guides for organised visitors to the cave.
NO NOVICES will be allowed into the cave system under any circumstances.
The DINING ROOM is equipped with Primus, paraffin, carbide candles and food. These are kept in airtight containers. Leaders are responsible for ensuring that these stores are replaced as used since they are intended primarily for use by a stranded party.
A telephone has been installed from the DINING ROOM to the club headquarters. This may be used by all parties.
Nature has provided a rubbish pit in the DINING ROOM in the form of a 10′ blind drop to the left near the entrance/ All are asked to use this.
Notes on animal remains found to date in St. Cuthbert’s Swallet.
The remains so far discovered in the cave floor have been very few and consist entirely of teeth. About three teeth of Bos have been found in the sandy floor deposit of EVEREST PASSAGE. The age of these is indeterminate, but they are of fairly recent origin.
The most interesting relic is a tooth of Elephas which was found on 16.1.54 lying amongst pebbles of Old Red Sandstone in am abandoned stream way at the top of ROCKY BOULDER PASSAGE and brought out of the cave on a later trip. The tooth is in such a fragmentary state that the only definite thing which can be said is that it is an upper molar, probably of Elephas rrimigenius.
It is thought that the tooth is a “derived fossil” having been washed out of a gravel deposit, and subsequently redeposited where it was found.
LIST OF TACKLE REQUIRED IN THE CAVE.
The main pitches in the system have now been equipped with permanent steel ladders. A traverse wire has been fixed in the wire rift on the old route.
|Lifeline & Tether Required
|5′ tether. No Lifeline.
|2. Arête Pitch
|3. Ledge Pitches
|5. Wet Pitch
|5′ Tether. 100′ Lifeline.
|7. Gour Passage Pitch
|8. Mud Hall Pitch
|9. Stalagmite Pitch.
|10.Upper Traverse Chamber Pitch
|11.Traverse Chamber Pitch
|40 Lifeline. 40′ Tether.
|12. Rocky Boulders Pitch
|14. Pocky Boulders Lower Pitch
|50′ Lifeline, 50′ Tether.
|15.Upper Mud Hall Pitch
The above list refers to B.E.C. Tackle. A lifeline is not required on the Entrance pitch as it is too narrow to fall far. A lifeline is essential for passing tackle however. An additional 10′ tether is required for belaying life line man on pulpit pitch. A pulley block and a further 5′ tether enables last man to be lifelined from the bottom. A 15′ hand climbing line and 20′ tether is required for beehive chamber and gour hall.
The formation of the system.
As is often the case on Mendip, the cave appears to have had a long and involved history, inheriting its basic features from an earlier topography.
Its formation is best understood by first studying this basic system without the later modifications such as the formation of stalactite or silt deposits. The system is then seen to consist of a compact network of interconnecting passages and chambers in three dimensions. The passages show no evidence of control by gravity and current markings are absent. They are commonly rounded, in section and very rarely show open joints in the roof. This typo of cave formation is typified by the RABBIT BARREN where large sections may be studied free from secondary effects.
Where fossiliferous rock beds occur, the less soluble fossils project, often in perfect detail, and oven calcite veins are outlined as slight projections. An example of this may be found in the upper parts of the CORAL SERIES. In other parts of the cave extensive shale bands occur and the regular contours described above are not met with. Instead, projecting beds of this insoluble material are met with, often with a crumbly residue covering rock surfaces. The strike passage leading to PULPIT PITCH is an example of this, and shows fragile fossil shells in the shale where calcareous material has been leached out. In general, cave development is restricted in such shale and limestone beds.
The features described above are not consistent with formation by free surface streams. They record a long period of solution below the water table without measurable current flow, and represent a typical phreatic cave system. Many of the downward, continuing passages in this system are blocked by a clay or gravel fill, for example, the bottom of the ROCKY BOULDER SERIES. Passages running towards the surface tend to be choked by rock falls. This suggests that the system was originally much more extensive, though it would seem unlikely that it could have extended much above the present land surface which is duo to Triassic Plantation.
Not all the passages in this system grew to man sized dimensions. Smaller passages are occasionally revealed by roof collapse as meandering inverted half-tubes such as may be seen in the roof of the CASCADE CHAMBER.
In many places extensive gravel fills occur. They are often cemented by stalagmite deposits and may be revealed as vertical deposits by subsequent stream action. An example of this may be seen at the far end of CASCADE PASSAGE where the fill consists of over 10′ of pebbles of old red sandstone, carboniferous limestone and trias.
Large masses of unconsolidated gravel are to be found in one part of ROCKY BOULDER SERIES arid passages completely gravel filled are met with. A notable example of another type of fill is found in the small passage above the entrance to the dining room. It consists of sand of a purity quite rare in cave deposits.
Clay and mud fills are quite common. In the upper part of the system and in the main streamways the deposits of red clay found are identical with those occurring near the mouth of the cave. Some of the deposits found in the original phreatic network are probably the insoluble residue of the limestone. The main streamway and adjacent passages are, for the most part, coated with a thin layer of mud often bounded vertically with a ‘tide mark’. In some places the mud is drying out and peeling from the wet walls. This may possibly be the result of the sudden disappearance of the small lake which used to occupy the depression above the cave.
The removal of fills from under stalagmite coatings often gives rise to false floors. At the rear of the DINING ROOM a section of flooring projects from the wall while collapsed portions lie near by. The coating on these latter pieces appears to have been eroded by drip and shows a naadle like surface presumably due to the resolving of crystalline material. Further along CERBERUS PASSAGE a slump pit occurs in the clay floor where material is being removed from below.
The deposition and removal of fill may leave a clear record on cave roofs in places where no fill now exists. When a clay deposit reaches a cave roof, solution will still occur unless current flow ceases, and isolated portions of the surface will be masked by the rising fill. Continued solution will leave a series of isolated pendants such as occur in several places, e.g. the RABBIT WARREN. This probably represents a true phreatic episode. The pendants in the crawl leading to the DINING ROOM are of special interest as they are in stalactite. This same roof also exhibits a meandering groove a few inches wide and passing between the pendants apparently independent of gravity. It exhibits current markings and represents the first stage in the removal of the fill by a vadose stream.
Free surface streams are also responsible for modifying the system in other ways, near the surface, water has entered by percolation down joints and bedding planes, enlarging them and causing collapse or leaving a network of constricted rifts. The main mode of development under these conditions is by solution by thin films and trickles of water. This gives rise to clean scalloped rock surfaces with grooves due to water trickles. Fossils and chert project almost intact due to the low abrasive powers of the films. Shale beds also tend to project, though not restricting development as much as in phreatic systems. The undersides of limestone projections are usually uneroded due to the inability of the films to cling to pronounced overhangs.
Development by free-surface streams appears to be small even where large gradients occur. This is because streams in much of the- system are still engaged in removing fill, often without contact with cave walls, as in the stream way beyond the LEDGE PITCHES. Even WATERFALL PITCH, which appears to be a major vadose feature, has been formed from a solutional rift visible under the lip of the waterfall. The constricted rift leading to the pitch is vadose only for the bottom few feet and potholes occurring have resulted in only limited enlargement above the stream bed.
It should be noted that the actual formation of the gravel fills represents an extensive episode of vadose activity probably dating from glacial times. If this occurred comparatively rapidly, the streams transporting the fill would leave little evidence on cave walls.
As has already been stated, the formation of the cave is best explained by means of the concept of deep seated phreatic flow as postulated by W. M. Davies. This leaves the basic problem of the conditions responsible for forming the cave largely unanswered. A comparison of the system with nearby Eastwater would be helpful on this point.