Tankard Hole, Priddy

Location and Access:

The cave entrance is at the bottom of a shakehole, 30 yards south of the road from Hillgrove to the Hunt­ers’ Lodge Inn and 1,000 yards from the latter.  The National Grid Reference is ST/556499.

The cave was locked for several years with keys held by various members of the Bristol Exploration Club and the Wessex Cave Club.  At present the shaft and the cave immediately beyond, are in a dangerous condition.  In 1960 it was decided to put in a new shaft but the owner of the land, the late Mr. A. Dors, asked for work to cease as he was negotiating the sale of the land in which the ent­rance lies.  It was intended to build a new entrance shaft when ownership of the land was settled, but then there was no support for the re-opening of the cave.   At the moment it will still be possible to re-enter the cave, climbing between a few car chassis, with half a days work by half a dozen men.  The cave would then be locked and keys would be held by members of the B.E.C. and W.C.C.

THIS IS NOT A CAVE FOR NOVICES.  Total passage length is approximately 540 feet, the main passage being about 280 feet, and the total depth is 160 to 170 feet.  To reach the final dig a thirty feet rope is required.

History of the Exploration:    

Various cavers, including P. Stewart in 194-7, had dug in the depression without success before Wessex Cave Club members started their attempt in 1955-M.  Grimmer, R.E. Lawder and M. Winnicks (all of W.C.C.) commenced digging during the August Bank Holiday.

5 Aug. 1955.     F.J. Davies opened a hole in the side of the shaft and the first chamber was soon entered.  The boulder ruckle was penetrated for twenty feet.

7 Aug. 1955.     F.J. Davies and M. Grimmer tidied up the route and started to follow the solid wall.  The way on was blocked by rocks.

13 Aug. 1955.     D. Ford, P. Davies and M. Lane broke up the rocks and reached a gravel floor seventy feet below the entrance.

Further trips by P. Davies and others during 1955 failed to make any further progress.  By May 1956 the entrance was blocked by a fall of earth and three hours digging were required to re-open the cave.

The initial enthusiasm had waned and members of the B.E.C., after the end of Fairman’s Folly dig, offered their help.

24 Jun. 1956.   E.L. Jenkins, B.E. Prewer, A. Rich and R.D. Stenner re-opened the cave after a further fall of earth.

25 Jun. 1956.  A. Rich and R.D. Stenner used a rope to haul out boulders, thereby removing two squeezes.  There was nearly a bad accident when a moving boulder pinned one of the party and in getting him out the rock fell and blocked the way on.

30 Jun. 1956.     Miss D. Pairman, L. Dixon, B.S. Prewer, A. Rich and R.D. Stenner removed the rock and entered Horror Chamber. 7 Jul. 1956.  P. Davies, A. Pincham, M. Grimmer, A. Rich and R.D. Stenner found a way on to the south of Horror Chamber but abandoned it after two near accidents.

14 Jul. 1956.  A. Rich and R.D. Stenner dug at the north-east corner of Horror Chamber.

22 Oct. 1956.  N. Brooks, M. Ilies, A. Rich and R.D. Stenner found that the shoring near the entrance had fallen.  The passage at the south end of Horror Chamber was forced by Rich and a light connection made between there and the passage at the north-east corner of Horror Chamber.

Detailed Description  the Cave:    

First of all a lot has been said about the instability of the cave and its bad reput­ation has been spread largely  by people who have never been in the cave.  Original exploration in a boulder ruckle can never be anything but potentially dangerous and every mishap took place on exploratory visits.  The route to the bottom of the cave, as surveyed, is safe provided that common sense is used.  It is imp­ortant not to wander off the “beaten track” in the same way that it is not advisable to wander around at the head of Arête Pitch in St. Cuthbert’s Swallet.

The cave is most easily divided into vertical sections.  Just beyond the entrance shaft is a short, steep passage having an unsupported roof of mud and stones.  A squeeze at the end of this passage leads into the first boulder chamber and a slide over mud leads to the first main section of the cave.

The first main section, from 20 feet to 70 feet below the surface, is largely vertical.  The obvious route spirals down following the same highly fluted wall and at forty feet is a rock that was roped up in 1955.  The rock must weigh at least one hundredweight but it is easy to avoid touching it.  To the south of the route several chambers can be seen which are unstable in varying degrees. This section of the cave ends in an easily climbed pitch called Rotted Rope Pitch after the hemp rope that hung there for nearly five years.  Evidence of an old dripstone flow can be seen; previously extensive, it has been eroded away except for the odd square inch or two in protected positions.  Originally the floor was of well washed gravel – in wet weather there is a heavy drip in Rotted Rope Pitch – but a considerable amount of mud has been walked in.  Pieces of highly fluted rock have fallen in places making a strange contrast with the vertical fluting

The next section, from 70 feet to 120 feet below the entrance drops at about 45° and is generally fairly solid with several tight squeezes.  At eighty feet the way on is an awkward but solid squeeze under a boulder pile, above which is a large space through the boulders but this should not be used.  Good fossils are exposed in places and they are especially fine at 120 feet.  The floor is usually gravel and stones.  Climbing up a little a fair sized chamber, which is dangerous, is reached but it is not necessary to enter it as a very muddy passage on the right leads down into a boulder chamber known as Horror Chamber.

The final section of the cave is reached at Horror Chamber and here are more eroded remains of dripstone formations – a flow, straws and curtains; there is also a mud flow on the wall and some small mud stalagmites.  Under the north-west wall a hole leads down into another small chamber that has an incoming stream passage but water is only seen under very wet conditions, the water dropping into a very narrow rift and re-appearing in the unsurveyed cave below.  Another passage, the deepest so far surveyed, also gave a light connection with the cave underneath.  In the roof is a connection with the northern corner of Horror Chamber and also with the chamber above Horror Chamber – all are unstable.  At the top of Horror Chamber is a hole in loose boul­ders dropping at about 45° and leading to a passage, and through two more squeezes, to the final chamber.  A rope must be used because it is necessary to reduce any disturbing force to a minimum.  A large passage can be seen underneath but this has not been entered and great care will be needed when it is.

The Survey:     

The survey was made by R.D. Stenner and P. Miller, with help from K. Robins and D. Dolan, and required five trips totalling 21½ hours.  The instruments used were a prismatic compass and a clinometer, both of them checked before and after use, thus giving a Cave Research Group Grade V survey.  However, the nature of the cave and the large number of short survey legs that were needed – fifty legs in 265 feet of main passage surveyed means that the accuracy will be less than that usually expected from a Grade V survey.

Great difficulty was found in putting the results of the survey on paper in an intelligible form.  The C.R.G. suggestions were followed as far as possible but the result is still not clear.  It was finally decided to use a plan and two projections.  An extended section would have been meaningless.

The passage from Horror Chamber to the final dig was not surveyed.

(Editor’s Note: Unfortunately the cost of reproducing the plan so that it showed all the detail given on the original, was prohibitive.  It has been necessary to omit some of the finer detail in the plan given on the following page.)

Other Work done in the Cave.  Details that may be of use to a geologist have been noted and a few black and white photographs have been taken for record purposes.

R.D. Stenner May 1961.



Alfie’s Hole, Priddy

Location and Access:

The cave is situated in the same field as Hunters’Alfie’s Hole is in the depression in that field adjacent to the wall bordering the Rookham road, opposite the farm entrance.   Access by asking the landlord of the Inn for permission to descend.

N.G.R. of Entrance:   



800 feet.

Total Passage Length:

Approximately 20 feet at present


About twenty feet below the shoring (not counting the rift which is about ten feet deeper, but is now temporarily blocked by boulders).

Tackle Required:    

55 feetBelay to the top of the shoring.  This is to prevent climbing down the rocks which are loose lower down.   The last ten feet are vertical.

Historical Account of Work Done:   

Severe rains early in August 1956 led to the filling up of this depression one night with S.J. Collins happened to be visiting Hunters’ Hole the next day and noted that the water had drained away and left a subsidence about three feet square and three feet deep.

Digging started on Monday, 15th August and a hole was uncov­ered by the Wednesday.  On the Thursday Collins descended, followed by A. Thomas and “Spike” Rees, and looked around the cave below, probing about looking for a way on.  On the Friday S.J. Collins and R.D. Stenner uncovered the hole leading to the rift, and the former went down.  Unfortunately this led to a tight bedding plane going up to the other half of the swallet and shows the floor of the chamber to be composed of a tight mass of small boulders.  The cave remained perfectly clean and free of mud until rain came on the following Saturday.  It has been muddy ever since.

Several trips have been made since this time (a total of 25) to bang large boulders and clear small ones, but without a really concerted effort there does not seem to be any chance of getting through the boulders.  The cave has been semi-abandoned since the last trip on 50th March, 1959, but it might still pay further investigation.

Description of the Cave:    

The shaft leads through the roof of the chamber, which appears to be the upper part of a large aven, almost entirely filled with smallIn places, quite long bars can be inserted into crevices between the boulders on the floor.   At one place the rift can be entered and this enables one to get about ten feet below the level of the floor.  The boulders continue as far as can be seen.  It is unfortunate that this cave, situated between Hunters’ Hole and Tankard Hole, seems to possess the worst features of both.  The vertical development is present, but whereas Hunters’ is clear of boulders and Tankard contains rocks large enough to cave between, Alfie’s Hole contains rocks just too big to lift out easily and too small to cave between.  It is doubtful whether the swallet has ever been a true stream entrance; it more likely drained flood water.  There are strong vertical groovings in the chamber.


Cave Research Group Grade 1 sketches of the cave are given below.


By S. J. Collins

Hunters’ Hole, Priddy.


Location and Access:     The cave will be found at the bottom of a depression from which a tree is growing, in the field immediately to the south of the Hunters’ Lodge Inn, Priddy.  Permission to enter the cave must be obtained from the landlord of the Inn; a charge of one shilling per caver is made.

National Grid Reference of Entrance:     ST/549501.

Altitude of Entrance:              810 feet.

Total Passage Length:            700 feet.

Maximum Depth Reached:    165 feet.

Tackle Required: ENTRANCE SHAFT   50ft rope (optional)
  LEDGE PITCH 15ft ladder & karabiner; 60 ft lifeline
  MAIN PITCH  35ft ladder & karabiner; 60ft lifeline OR 100ft lifeline and pulley; 20ft belay
  ROVER POT 20ft rope


The entrance shaft was started in 1951 by members of the Wessex Cave Club and the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club under the leadership of Peter Harvey.   At the end of a few days the shaft had been dug to a depth of about twenty feet but as no cave had been found it was semi-abandoned.  Some time later, Alan Thomas became interested in the dig and when he transferred his “allegiance” from the Wessex Cave Club to the Bristol Exploration Club the dig became one of the latter club.  The next concerted effort was made during the summer of 1954 and in the autumn of that year entry was made into the cave.

Since the cave was originally entered, digging has been carried out at the bottom of the Railway Tunnel and by the end of 1960 a passage fifty feet long had been dug through clay and sand but only giving access to ten feet of side passage.  Another dig is in progress in the bottom of Dear’s Ideal.

The only significant discovery made in the cave since it was opened has been the clearing of the entrance to Sanctimonious Passage luring July 1958.


The Upper Series.     On arriving at the depression in which the cave is situated it will be found that there is a square of barbed wire marking the top of the shaft and inside there is a miscellaneous collection of corrugated iron and wood covering the top of the pitch.  Removal of this covering reveals an open shaft dug through clay and the presence of a number of boulders sticking out from the side enable one to climb down.  However, the use of a fixed rope, or a ladder, belayed to one of the railway lines laid across the top of the shaft will make the ascent and descent considerably easier.

From the bottom of the shaft there is a low passage that leads in three feet to the top of LEDGE PITCH.  Before going through the squeeze one end of a fifteen foot ladder should be belayed to a crowbar wedged behind two boulders at the back of the small chamber.  Although the pitch is only short, a lifeline should be used because of the exposure (see Figure II) and a sixty feet long rope enables the last man to be lifelined from the ledge.  At the bottom of the ladder me climbs down the rock to the left of the ladder to a ledge of jammed boulders.  To the left of the ladder there is a passage having a loose boulder floor that in ten feet leads back to the main pot.  This is known as SAGO’S POT and was once used as the route to the LOWER SERIES but one is now very strongly advised to stay away from it due to the boulders being very unstable.  From the other end of the ledge there is an aven that can be climbed to within fifteen feet of the surface.

To the west of the jammed boulders is a ledge sloping downwards .nto the main pot and it is necessary to traverse this ledge to reach ;he top of the MAIN PITCH.  On the far side of the ledge will be found two “Rawlbolts”, one in the floor to which the ladder can be belayed and the other in the wall to which the person life-lining the party down the pitch can be belayed.  The only other passage in the UPPER SERIES leads from the back of this ledge for a distance of thirty feet then closes down amongst boulders.

The Lower Series.     A thirty five feet ladder is required from the ledge together with a lifeline, preferably one hundred feet long as it is easier to use a double lifeline once the first man is down.  There are a number of loose stones lying around on the ledge and it is inadvisable to have anyone moving on the ledge while there is anyone on, or at the bottom of, the ladder.  At the bottom of the pitch one reaches a large passage known as the RAILWAY TUNNEL, which is eighty feet long and twenty feet wide and at the lower end there is a dig continuing for a further fifty feet.  On the left hand side of the RAILWAY TUNNEL, about half way down, there is a low passage that drops into a tight squeeze leading to a small chamber known as DEAR’S IDEAL.  There is a further dig continuing at the lowest point of this chamber.

The Mud Series.     This lies up the cave from the bottom of the ladder/ that is, in the opposite direction to the RAILWAY TUNNEL.  A low passage, followed by a short flat-out crawl, leads to a comparatively large chamber which is forty feet by twenty feet.  Over half of the floor of this chamber is covered with mud and is the only part of the cave that does not have a boulder strewn floor.  There is a rift in the roof running the complete length of the chamber and at least twenty five feet high in places.  A squeeze between boulders in the top right-hand corner of the chamber leads to another small chamber from which there is a small passage that eventually becomes too tight.  Before this point is reached a chimney leads upwards, opening out aft fifteen feet and giving access to three avens.  The highest of these leads to within twenty feet of the surface.

Sanctimonious Passage.     This is the only known side passage of the system and starts from a small ledge eight feet above the floor and sixteen feet down the cave from the bottom of the MAIN PITCH.   The climb to this ledge should be made carefully because there are still a number of loose rocks around the ledge and the boulders are covered with mud.  A squeeze at the back of the ledge leads to a boulder floored passage which ends after fourteen feet but on the left hand side a second squeeze leads to the top of a nine feet deep drop.  This pot is easily climbed and from the bottom a low passage continues.  This reaches a small chamber from which are two more passages, the higher leading to a small grotto and the lower to the top of ROVER POT.  This pot is twenty feet deep and can be climbed fairly easily, but the use of a short rope or ladder, belayed to a convenient spur of rock a few feet down the pot, makes the climb considerably easier.  There is a passage from the bottom of the pot but it is blocked by a stalagmite barrier after twenty feet.  The end of this passage is the lowest point reached in the cave, 165 feet below the entrance.  Note: A description of Sanctimonious Passage and of its discovery will be found in the “Belfry Bulletin” (the monthly Journal of the Bristol Exploration Club) number 127 (August 1958).


Surveying.  The measurements taken in the cave were made to the standard recommended by the Cave Research Group for a Grade V survey, as follows.  The instruments used were a hand held prismatic compass, a simple clinometer and steel measuring tapes.    The compass and compass card errors were determined before the survey was made.  The former was found to be zero and the latter not greater than       in any quadrant; this was ignored.

The cave survey was carried out in the usual manner; that is a line survey was made with off-sets to the passage walls at approximate points and at least at every fifteen links, i.e. at approximately ten feet intervals.  Tripods were not used but each survey point was marked by a post or candle and readings were taken from the top of each candle or post.  Measurements of length were made using a six foot steel rule, and for longer distances a 331/2 feet steel tape marked in links; measurements were made to the nearest three inches or half link (3.92 inches).  For the benefit of those who scorned the use of a steel tape on a magnetic survey because of inaccuracies, the effect of the tape on the compass was investigated and it was found that the complete 33/2 feet of tape had to be within three inches of the compass to cause a one degree deflection.  The clinometer is shown in Figure 1 and consisted of a protractor and a weighted pointer fixed to an aluminium sighting tube seven inches long and having cross-wires and a pinhole.   Readings of slope were always taken until at least two consecutive readings were identical; in practice it was never necess­ary to take more than four readings to fulfil this condition.  Heights up to twelve feet were measured and above that, estimated, except in the case of the avens which were climbed, and the ladder pitches.


Figure 1 The Clinometer.

Calculations.     A slide rule end three figure trigonometrical tables were used for all calculations; these being regarded as sufficiently accurate because at the scale chosen, survey stations could only be plotted to the nearest six inches.

Plotting        For clarity the Entrance Shaft has not been shown on the plan (only the position of the top of the shaft) nor has the boulder strewn floor been shown on either the plan or the section of the Lower Series; except where a mud covered floor is shown, it is boulder covered.  Insets, at a larger scale, have been used to show details of the avens at the northern end of the cave, and of the grotto in Sanctimonious Passage.

With a simple system such as Hunters’ Hole, there is little, if anything, to be gained from drawing a section of the cave pro­jected on to a specific plane, as apart from the Main Pot, there are no passages at a higher level to others that need to be shown in their correct position to one another.  An extended section has been used, therefore; that is, a section has been drawn along the major direction of each passage and this results in the relation of any passage to another, horizontally, being completely diagramatic.  For example, the avens at the northern end of the cave are shown as being only forty feet from the Entrance Shaft while a glance at the plan will show that in fact they are one hundred feet away.  The main disadvantage of using this type of section is that it does not show the exposure ex­perienced on Ledge Pitch.  This is shown better in Figure II where a section of the pot projected on to a plane of N. 43° W. has been used.

As there is no closed traverse in the cave, no check on the accuracy of the survey could be made.  However, from the instru­ments that were used, and the care that was taken over the readings taken in the cave, it is felt that the survey is of an accuracy expected of a C.R.G. Grading of Five.  It should be remembered, though, that the copy of the survey reproduced here has been made using a duplicating stencil and therefore some accuracy may have been lost.


FIGURE II.  Section of the Main Pot projected on N. 43O W.







The assistance given on the survey by Messrs. A. Cochran, CP. Falshaw, I.A. Dear and B.W. Sneddon is gratefully acknowledged by the author.

B.M. Ellis. March 1961.

Vole Hole, Priddy

Location:     An abandoned dig 200 feet east of the road from the Hunters’ Lodge Inn to Miners’ Arms, and 350 yards from the former.

N.G.R. of Entrance:      ST/549505.

Description:     The dig consisted of a shaft approximately ten feet deep reaching a horizontal bedding plane six inches high. There was no sign of the plane enlarging and as there appeared to be no likelihood of entering a cave system the shaft was filled in.

Historical:      During Whitsun 1957, Mr. Ben Dors of the Hunters’ Lodge Inn told members of the B.E.C. about a subsidence that had occurred in one of his fields. S.J. Collins organised a digging party and in a burst of enthusiasm they sank a yard square shaft for eight feet.     Air spaces were reached.

Digging was spasmodic and the mud sides were weakened by rain and by October 1957 the shaft had collapsed burying the digging gear.  In November shoring enabled the gear to be rec­overed but this second shaft suffered the same fate as the first.

In April 1958 a third shaft was started by S.J. Collins and Miss J. Rollason and good shoring was placed in position.     Dig­ging continued in July in an attempt to find some sign of enlargement in the bedding plane cave that had been entered.     The dig was abandoned on 31st August 1958 and then filled in.

References:    “Belfry Bulletin” Nos. 114, 119, 124, 125, 127 and 129.

R.D. Stenner. August 1961.

Vee Swallet, Harptree

Location and Access:     Vee Swallet is located 800 yards due north of the Castle of Comfort Inn and about 150 yards east of the Hunters’ Lodge Inn to West HarptreeThe swallet is sit­uated on land belonging to Vompitt Farm and the owner’s permission should first be obtained.

N.G.R. of Entrance:    ST/544538.

Altitude:    910 feet.

Passage Length:    Approx. 25 feet.

Depth:   15 feet.

Historical:      Digging started in 1955 by C.A. Marriott and B.M.It has been sporadic ever since due to lack of support, etc.

Description:  The swallet is quite large, some twenty five feet deep, with two well defined gullies cut in its sides – hence the name, “Vee”.  Water drains from the marshy fieldThe swallet is one of a line of fifteen or twenty other swallets that includes the Devil’s Punchbowl.

A short vertical shaft, eight feet deep, was excavated down between two solid rock walls into a small chamber about six feet high.     A very low passage approximately fifteen feet long leads off from the floor of the chamber; digging is continuing in a sand and gravel choke at the end of this passage.

Geology:       To confound the, “Oh! but the limestone is overlain with dolomitic conglomerate on that side of Mendip”, experts, it is worth noting that the entire cave, except the floor of the final passage, is formed in loose Rhaetic. Some flints have also been found in the small passage.

C.A. Marriott. July 1961.


Fairman’s Folly, Chewton Mendip

This was a dig in the north-east corner of a field close to the Miners’ Arms, Priddy.  The position is shown in the map on the following page.  The National Grid Reference is ST/551527.

The dig was worked as a “personal” one by Miss D. Fairman and A. Rich.  A shaft thirty feet deep was excavated – this has since collapsed.   A natural rift in limestone was opened, but it was not entered.

After enquiries, Mr Rich was sent by Lord Waldegrave to the lessee of the land and at the same time was given permission to dig.  The field has many mining depressions, but two were of special interest.  The depression marked No. 1 on the map was very deep and took a stream, and depression No. 2 which was not quite so deep but which also took a stream.  (Another, more recent, shakehole – No. 3 – was found by accident and was con­sidered of interest because of the draught of air that came out from it).

Digging took place in No. 1 depression during January 1956.  This depression was thought to have been used for washing ore.  The water was followed but it was found to flow horizon­tally just below the surface, vanishing into a loose bank.   The dig was then abandoned in favour of the second depression.

Depression No. 2 was not as deep as the first but took just as much water, a pond having been made at the bottom by means of an inverted pyramid of sheet steel.  This was removed intact to make a roof for a shelter and digging started in March 1956.  The majority of the work was done by A. Rich and Miss Fairman but help was given by A. Sandall and R. Stenner and other members of the Bristol Exploration Club.  Work was, however, somewhat spasmodic.  A mixture of mud, rocks and frogs at the bottom of the dig was soon replaced by gravel and water worn rocks (Old Red Sandstone and limestone) with large air spaces and a good draught.  Sheer legs were soon erected and a rope became nec­essary for reaching the bottom of the shaft but it was always a race against time to get shoring in place before mud ran down behind the corrugated iron.  By the middle of June the shaft was over thirty feet deep and a rift large enough to enter was opened but the roof consisted of two unsupported boulders and before they could be shored up they fell, blocking the way on.  The only solution was to break them with explosives and remove the pieces.  Explosive experts were approached but the promised help did not materialise, and after a year the shaft was crushed and the dig abandoned.


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