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The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Ted Humphreys

1990 - 1991 Committee

Hon. Sec.                Martin Grass
Treasurer                 Chris Smart
Caving Sec.             Jeff Price
Hut Warden             Chris Harvey
Tackle Master          Mike Wilson
B.B. Editor               Ted Humphreys
Hut Engineer            Nigel Taylor
Membership Sec.     John Watson
Floating Members     Richard Blake
                               Ian Caldwell
                               Graham Johnson
                               Vince Simmonds


This BB is only a small one, basically because it has to be out before the AGM.  It's mostly composed of officers reports but has a couple of interesting short articles.

Membership Changes

We welcome one new member this time, who is

Andrew John Sanders.  Peasedown St. John, Bath

We also welcome one member who has rejoined. who is

944 Stephen John Plumley, Burrington, Bristol

I also have the following address changes :-

232       Chris Falshaw. Crosspool, Sheffield
1053     Steve Milner, Broadview, Australia
237L     Bryan Scott. St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cote d'Azur. France
553       Bob White. Wells, Somerset


Ian Dear Memorial Fund

A meeting was held recently between the Caving Sec., Sett and Bobby Bagshaw in order to clarify/update the IDMF rules.  These are as follows:-

1.                    Any applicant must be a fully paid-up member of the Bristol Exploration Club.

2.                    Any monies granted should go towards travel expenses.  This grant can be used worldwide and not just for Europe. Grants can be used for other expeditions, not just for caving.

3.                    All applications must be made to the current BEC committee who with their approval will pass it on to the IDMF trustees for approval.

4.                    The limit of the grant must not exceed one third of the cost of the expedition.

5.                    A full report must be written within three months of the applicants return, for the BB, and must be at least four sides of A4 size paper.

The trustees are the current Caving Sec., the current Treasurer, Mike Palmer and Sett.

Jeff Price.

Hut Engineer's Report

Nigel Taylor

I intend to break with my usual tradition of a long report.  You have all heard my views on those who don't care about the hut, and "can't be bothered to work on it" before.  I have held this post for three years, and I believe that it is time for a change in Hut Engineer.  Most especially so when one hears that other members would like a try at the post, and voice their views to this effect.  I understand that Trevor HUGHES is standing for election, and present committee members Ian CALDWELL and Graham JOHNSON also have their eyes on this post. Please consider this when voting at the A.G.M.

I am generally pleased with the overall state of the BELFRY, but a shortfall in club finances (until the St. Cuthbert's Report enters profit?) really restricts any proper re-vamping of the hut or major improvements.  Money is going to have to be spent on the front porch roof, rear weather-boards and bunk-room fire door in the not too distant future.  The club must decide WHAT and HOW the kitchen area is to be improved, but I leave this to the A.G.M.

At the time of writing, the excellent efforts of Pat CRONIN to install Central Heating are nearing completion.  The oil tanks are up, and full, and if lucky, we may just have a warm hut for the A.G.M. (No puns!).

I would like to thank all those who have helped me on the various working weekends, especially during last Winter/Spring when several members worked all day on five successive weekends in the attic after Jack FROST did his worst.

One of the problems this year has been advertising the working weekends due to the B.B. being issued at different times, but this in no way reflects on the tireless efforts of its editor.  He cannot be expected to bring out an empty B.B. just to advertise a working weekend. Past experience also shows that if you have long term fixed dates, members seem to be away up north, or it rains all weekend.

I should also like to thank all those stalwarts who have worked on their Hut and site, over the last three years, not to ignore those members wives, girlfriends (etc!) who though not always members themselves, mucked in on several occasions and supported their partners and the club.  I personally thank my wife, Vivi, who puts up with absences phone calls and has helped out with catering during my period in office.

I have great hopes that funds will be found in the future to make the improvements this hut so badly needs. I am still standing for election to the Committee, and if successful, would like to have a floating-post should the A.G.M. agree, in order that I can assist in fund raising and long term planning for the BELFRY.  May I offer my successor every helping hand he/she needs!


Membership Secretary's Report

John Watson

This is my fourth year as membership secretary and with each year I naively hope that all members will pay their subs. promptly after the A.G.M. - the due date.

I cannot understand why a small minority but significant number of members cannot or will not pay on time, perhaps like a child the more you nag the more stubborn they become or perhaps they hope they can get away without paying.

All I know is that it takes a lot of hard work by the treasurer to keep the club solvent. Members would soon complain if they did not receive a regular B.B., a costly part of the yearly budget.  I expect and hope subs. will be the same as last year with the usual discount for payment before the end of December.  So all you late payers.  Do your club a favour, pay on time please.  You know it makes sense!

Tackle Master's Report

Mike Wilson

Hello tackle hoarders!!

Having never run a tackle store before, I decided to list the priorities in advance.  They were :- Clear out the store.  Clean up the inner sanctum.  Inventory all the equipment and eventually increase the number of ladders available.  Finally, start collecting weights and components for a drop test rig (for ropes).

All the above objectives have been achieved with the help of "Slug" who cleared out the inner sanctum with me and the "Jake & Blake" ladder team who finished off the ongoing kit and ladder making.  We managed to resurrect the Touralit kit and press it to our advantage.

At the beginning of the year we had 11 ladders and 4 ropes.  The reason for the ladder shortages is 5 ladders permanently not booked out - at one stage 7 not booked out!  There will be 5 more ladders available by October '92 and 2 more in reserve. The Cuthbert's ladder will be scrapped and the 1 SRT rope also.

Unfortunately the frost damage to the Belfry meant that my efforts have not always been directed to the tackle store.  Next year ladder making will continue until we have 20 in stock and hopefully the rope test rig will be constructed.

There will be a car boot sale of B.E.C. kit at the A.G.M.


Caving Secretary's Report

Jeff Price

St. Cuthbert's.

With the St. Cuthbert's report recently published, there has been an increase in trips, particularly guest trips.  I book one party per day in the cave so as not to overcrowd it.  These are mainly weekend trips and this year I'm using BEC leaders I didn't use last year.  To everyone who has taken trips a big thank you for making my job easier.  The overhaul of fixed tackle is more or less complete thanks to Zot.  Mike Wilson and several other people.

Stal repairs. sadly an ongoing job.  I've had problems obtaining a suitable cement, any suggestions???  I've a few ideas and Blitz and myself are going to try them ASAP.

A Cuthbert's leaders meeting will be arranged this coming year.


A meeting recently took place and a new/updatedset of rules will be published in the BB.  Rachel Gregory was granted £100 for China.  A report is on its way to the BB.

Cave Keys.

The Aggie key is for BEC members use only.  The Mendip cave keys are accessible with your hut key (in the same box as the tackle store key) and there is another set in the cupboard for non-BEC parties.  Please book all keys out in the key book and make sure everybody visiting Charterhouse caves has a permit - they are obtainable at the Belfry.

Cave Meets.

These are fairly well supported and I'm arranging next years meets now.  Let me know if you want anything booked.  A list will appear in the BB when dates are confirmed.  We are currently paid up with CNCC and the British Mountaineering Club.  Don't forget your discount when staying in BMC climbing/walking huts!


As usual there has been a wide range of club digs on Mendip.  Wigmore Swallet needs more work on it. Stock Hill's going good and there are numerous other digs.  Read your BB and also the club log book.

Away trips.

Sadly the PSM trip didn't involve any BEC members, maybe next year again.  We've had members in Cuba, Jamaica, Austria, Spain, France, etc. and Graham Johnson's Philippines report should be in the next BB.  Next Easter there's a USA trip planned. See "Mac" for details.


Honorary Secretary's Report

Martin Grass

Another hectic year in the club and a milestone in as much as we don't ask anymore when the St. Cuthbert's Report will be published but when will all copies be sold!  With this in mind we should all continue to push sales when and wherever we can.  Do you know a local bookshop that would like some copies? or some old caving friends. Every copy sold is another £3 nearer to paying off our debts.

The other milestone this year is the installation of central heating in the Belfry. Hopefully this will be working by the A.G.M.

Again the dinner will be at the Webbington.  Some people say this is too far to go or it's too smart.  Please, if you don't like the venue, find another and let me know.  I have visited nearly everywhere and very few venues cater for 160+ people.  I look forward to receiving your suggestions.

The Belfry is now looking in a reasonable state after much hard work by, as usual, a very small number of club members.  Unfortunately this year has seen a large increase in not just high spirits and "actions to excess" but vandalism and I do hope this is NOT a sign of the times but an isolated case which the club has stamped on or will stamp on.

I am prepared to stand for one more year if elected and I am certainly very pleased to see an election this year, the first for a few years.  Maybe, at last, members are becoming interested in who runs the club on their behalf.

Finally, we have held 11 committee meetings this year and attendance has been as follows: -

M Grass            9          N. Taylor           9
C Smart            9          V. Simmonds    5
M Wilson          10         R. Blake            7
J. Watson         9          G. Johnson        7
C.Harvey           9          J. Price             5
E.Humphreys    8          I. Caldwell         5


Librarian's Report


A relatively quiet year in the library - probably because most things are in order and under control. The place looks a bit more like a library now.  By the way, any hardware such as radiators, pumps, window frames, caving equipment, rucksacks and other non-library type stuff will be ejected to the Tackle Store. It's a library, not a warehouse.

Our pressing need is for one or two more cabinets, mainly to house the growing collection of reciprocal Club Journals.  Our reciprocal list is growing steadily and inter-club co-operation in quite rife, so we need somewhere to put them.  All these Journals, Newsletters etc. need tidying up and binding so when we get some spare cash this can be done.  At the same time, the mammoth job of cataloguing can be carried out.  I have not started cataloguing the Journals yet as it seems sensible to do this when they are being bound together to save duplication of effort.

On the book front, I have been quite selective.  I don't see the point of buying every book that comes on the market, with our limited funds.  The new Northern cave guides have been purchased, the new "Gouffre Jean-Bernard" book, the new "Darkness Beckons" and Richard Whitcombe's book on Mendip cave names.  A number of items have been kindly donated, such as some old Wessex Journals, a load of old transactions from the Cave Research Group, a Derbyshire Lead Mining Glossary and some old Shepton C.C. occasional papers.  Thanks to the donators.  The books have been catalogued for some time now and a computer print-out of our book collection (recently up-dated) hangs on the back of the library door.

A radiator has just appeared on the library wall.  I assume this means the Hut Engineer can dispense heater in due course, just to give us a bit more room.

As usual, the annual plea to return all books borrowed after reasonable time.  Our theft rate seems to have decreased a little but a number are still missing.

Richard & Snablet          where is "OVCC Pro. 13"?

Snablet                         where is "Caving Expeditions - BCRA"?

Tim Large                      have you got "Limestone & Caves of Mendip"?

Zot                                where is "SRT", "Dowsing for you"?!

? Williams                     have you got "Speleo Sportive PSM"?, "Descent of PSM"?

We have a computer in the library with a printer.  Jim Smart is custodian but I am sure he would let you use it, if you asked nicely.


BB Editor's Report

Ted Humphreys

Firstly I'd like to say a big thank you to all those who have contributed to the BB.  Without that select band there would be no BB's at all! Also thanks to J'Rat for his help with the distribution.

John Watson complains about late payers and so do I.  They play havoc with my mailing list!  I have to keep on file the particulars of all current members and of all those people who have been members since I became editor three or four years ago.  Some do slip through the net and receive BB's to which they are not entitled.

I had hoped to give up the job this year as I thought it about time someone else had a go. Unfortunately no volunteer was found by the time the voting slips were done so muggins may have to soldier on bravely! However, since then I have had offers of help from Rob Harper and from Alan Turner so things could be looking up. I think the problem is that the editor, these days, needs not only the time and the inclination but also a word processor, printer and mailing list facility.  After all, who would volunteer to write out between 120 and 140 addresses which change every time depending on which BB's J'Rat has managed to hand out.

Cavers Electronic Mail

Rob Harper

For anyone with access to a computer, modem and the appropriate software there is an electronic mail network for cavers based in the USA.

Besides having a fairly extensive set of archives (over 4000 articles) there is a cavers bulletin board where requests for information, local contacts, equipment advice etc. can be posted.

It is accessed via INTERNET which apparently can take up to 2 days to get a message through but so far I have had replies within half-an-hour.

If you wish to join then send some details of yourself and your own e-mail number to:-

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



If you wish to know a little more then leave a message for John Sutter on :-

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Finedon Iron Stone Mines

Clive Betts

It is a little known fact that beneath the green fields of this part of Northamptonshire are several extensive stone mines, which total several miles of passageway.  Alan Downton, Dave Bridges and myself finally found the exact location of one of the obscure entrances in the early part of 1992.

The information we had received regarding the site was that the mine was completely flooded and exploration would require diving equipment.  Our first visit therefore involved Dave and Clive supporting Alan on an initial dive to ascertain the exact nature of the site and also to see if there was any future here.

As Alan sorted his kit out at the roadside one of the locals could contain his curiosity no longer, which was understandable as it is not often you see someone put on a wet suit in the middle of a housing estate and then produce assorted diving kit from the boot of the car.

After the expected inquisitions from our woolly hatted acquaintance we got some interesting information about the area.

The mines themselves had closed at the end of the fifties and as far as our inquisitor knew, the only time anyone had been in was when two children had got themselves lost for a couple of days.  They were found when one of the old miners was called in to search for them as there was a danger of other "rescuers" needing to be rescued because of the complexity of the site.

When we eventually got to the entrance, Clive had a quick look inside while Alan kitted up, expecting to see flooded tunnels extending into the distance.

Alan was most disappointed when a voice drifting up from the depths of the earth told him that a pair of wellies would be more suitable than a wet suit.

What we actually had was a passageway approximately four metres wide and 2.5 metres high with about a foot to 18 inches of water in the bottom with some fairly horrendous looking timber supports.  Alan and Dave went for a paddle in water which was later described as "F ... ing freezing".

On their return after approximately 15 minutes their description of the length of passage explored was much the same as the entrance tunnel but the potential for further exploration was enormous.  As none of us had any sensible kit for exploring in the conditions (eg semi dry-suits get a bit warm without water) it was decided to return at a later date with some sensible kit.

When the later date came, we were extremely disappointed to discover that someone had decided to block all the entrances with a J.C.B ... or had they?  Another possible entrance was noted in the base of the cliff face and we intend to have a look at a later date but with a slightly lower profile next time to avoid undue attention which we guess was the probable reason for the J.C.B. activities.


A Couple Of Small Caves In Scotland

Rob Harper

In May of 1992 Helen and I decided to spend 2 weeks walking in Knoydart in Northwest Scotland hoping against hope that we would be ahead of the midge season.

No such luck!  Not only midges but hordes of D of E expedition parties trampling all over the landscape.  So we retreated to Pean-Meachan, the bothy on the Ardnish peninsula just south of Mallaig for three days.

Whilst wandering around we found two small caves at an abandoned crofting village - Piort an t-Sluicht, (NGR 696813).  As wide open caves these had obviously been explored before and the larger had some old drystone walling to indicate that the original crofters had probably used it as a shelter for their animals.  However we cannot find any reference to these caves in the literature so herewith a short description.

The old crofting village is one of many on the peninsula and lies at the mouth of a small stream at the end of a long deep valley.  Apart from the ruins of the crofts there are the remains of an old jetty reaching out into the sheltered bay which opens into the Sound of Sleat a reminder of the once-thriving fishing industry hereabouts.

The first cave is situated at the head of a small gorge on the true left hand side of the valley approximately level with the inland limits of the shingle beach.  It is a single inclined rift of varying height for much of its length eventually closing down to a small tube at the furthest point, (approximately 30 to 40 m).  The floor is of rounded cobbles which taken with the marshy area outside the entrance indicates that there might have been an active stream flowing through the cave at some time.  The rock is of a dark brown to black colour and differs markedly from the igneous rocks, (granite?) which make up the rest of the peninsula.

The second cave (NGR - as above) is located about 3m higher than the first and approximately 10m down valley.  Its small entrance opens out into a short rift about 17m in length which becomes too tight at the far end.  There are no signs of an active streamway but a fairly steady seepage down the left wall.

A rough survey (not included here) was done using a handheld "Silva" hill walking compass, the inclination was guesstimated and distance assessed by body lengths.

We spent a little while ferreting around in the area but found little else apart from small sea caves.


Caption    Petition

Write a caption for the very topical cave cartoon by REG  appears on the next page.

Win a Cavers Calendar 1993.

"Brewed in the Tackle Shed"

3 calendars to the 3 best entries.

Please send your entries to the editor who will pass them on to REG for adjudication.  The winners and their entries will be published in the Christmas BB.


The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Ted Humphreys

Cover Pictures: Hopefully there will be six colour photos on the cover, depending on what the printers can do.  Two are of White Pit by Prew (one showing Mr. Edward Masters, the friendly landowner, admiring the pretties) and four of the Grass/Jarratt Cuban expedition.  For the location of the Cuban shots see J'Rat's article!

1992 - 1993 Committee

Hon. Sec.                Martin Grass
Treasurer                 Chris Smart
Caving Sec.             Jeff Price
Hut Warden             Chris Harvey
Tackle Master          Mike Wilson
B.B. Editor               Ted Humphreys
Hut Engineer            Tim Large
Membership Sec.     John Watson
Floating Members     Nigel Taylor



Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!  This will probably be my last BB as I intend to tender my resignation at the January committee meeting (I need the time and my computer for other things).  My probable successor will be Rob Harper, who has a better printer anyway.  Please give him all support!  I would like to thank all those who have supported me and/or the BB over the years.

Please send more articles; I've had no major ones since the end of September.  Lots of promises but no deliveries!  If I hadn't managed to hold back a few, this BB would have been very thin for a Christmas one.  They should be sent to me for time being (I'll forward them).



Dear Ted,

I see that after J'Rat's item in B.B.464 you have asked for the final results of the two digs mentioned. Unfortunately, there was no result at Cross Swallet.  We were no luckier than any of the other attempts, both before and after our work there.

The "Smugglers' Hole" story is in some ways similar, but in this case the failure was due to a combination of blue sea and hot sun being more attractive than very sticky yellow clay infilling!

"Smugglers' Hole" is situated in the side of a vertical cliff at Northcott Mouth, which is about a mile north of Bude.  It was first brought to my notice, when I was very young, by my Grandfather, who when he was a boy, together with a friend, decided to explore it.  Complete with candles they "went in a very long way" and then there was "a roaring noise" - They concluded that "it was the Devil" and got out as fast as they could.

The hole is probably a test hole for minerals, although no record exists of it as such.  One story is that it runs under the hill to a farmhouse in an adjacent valley.  In the cellar of this house is supposed to be a bricked-up doorway, but I have not been able to verify this.

Along the cliff from the Hole there is a landslip called "Earthquake" and in the vicinity coins have been picked up and other odds and ends, pointing towards some sort of Monastic building.  Another story links the hole with this building.

The entrance, in a fault line, is about 8' high by 3' wide and there used to be the remains of steps - now gone leading up to it.  Inside, after a few feet, it enlarges.  In the right-hand back corner and now filled with shingle is a well that in my Grandfather's day was filled with fresh water.  Part way along the left-hand wall is a dog-leg which leads to the choke which is still in the fault line.  This is composed of very sticky yellow clay that has apparently been washed down the fault and despite working on it for several years, albeit sporadically, the attractions of sun and sea, mentioned earlier, beat us!  It is still there if anyone is interested.

The various trips were noted for several things.  Jim Weeks overturning his M.G. Magnette on a bend catching glow-worms to spell out B.E.C. at a camp-site - and the club winning First Prize in Bude Carnival for a decorated trailer.  The £5.00 prize was a welcome addition to the Club funds.

There is a survey of "Smugglers' Hole" by Don Coase in one of the early B.B.'s.

Hope these jottings will be of interest and I would be glad to help in any way if perhaps they kindle enough interest to have another go at it.

All the best,

Harry (Stanbury)


(Ed's Note: The final two letters concern the cartoon in the September BB. I shall make no comment but that none of the captions received (about 10 of them) were printable!  They will, however, be passed on to REG.)


Dear Ted,

I have just received the September B.B.  I find the caption competition sickening and strange.  I see no humour in the recent unsolved murder it is obviously based on.

I rather hope that response to this competition will be slight or non-existent. In any case please do not send me the Christmas B.B. if it continues with this bullshit.

Dave Yeandle.



Dear Ted,

I am grateful to be given the right to reply.

It is of course the job of any 'real' artist to comment on current situations and events, and if these comments provoke a response then one can claim a certain amount of success.

It is possible that a work of art may provoke hilarity on one side and outrage on the other and if I have achieved that then I am in good company.  Did not Rowlinson, Cruickshank, Spy and more recently Giles and Gerald Scarf provoke similar responses?

It might be suggested that my drawing - if in 'bad taste' takes the B.E.C. at its word, certain member’s reactions to it could also be 'to excess', in fact it is and likewise described as it must be obvious that any 'cartoon', drawing or other work of art may be seen in various ways.  My work was not intended merely to provide a cheap joke, although even the world's worst tragedies can have a humorous side - this is perhaps one way humans deal with difficult situations.

The drawing should encompass all aspects of reaction and it was based on snippets of conversation overheard at various times lately.

If I have caused any member 'distress' with my drawing, this was not my intention and I hope this will be accepted.

I am sure no B.E.C. member would suggest captions of racist nature which would, of course, be unacceptable and for one would object to them being printed.

Lastly my 1993 Cartoon Calendar is available.  Anyone wishing to purchase a copy can see 14 more drawings - I would welcome comments - this time perhaps - face to face.


(Ed's Note: REG's letter was not specifically aimed at Dave.  He had not seen Dave's letter when he wrote his!)


Caving News.

Swildon's Hole.

There is now a bypass to the six foot drop near the entrance (that should please Alan Thomas). Looking towards the entrance from below, it is on the right and passes below the large boulder, where gravel has been washed away, emerging not far from the start of the Zig-Zags.  Another gradual change occurring near the entrance is the increasing amount of water entering the Dry Ways. There is now a stream flowing from the Long Dry Way, below the Old Grotto and on to the Water Chamber. I wonder if the Wet Way will eventually become an oxbow.


There still seems to be some confusion here.  The current rules are as follows:-

The fee is 50p each, payable either in the box near the back door of the farm or at Homefield Cottage (the new cottage across the road from Solomon Combe).

Vehicles should be parked, carefully, near the barn.  Parking and changing on the top green is NOT allowed.  The top green is not a car park and the locals object to it being used as such. Also, the farmer suspects that some people have been parking there and then sneaking into the cave without paying. The farm is all private land and there is no right of way without the consent of the farmer, and that means paying your 50p.

Cavers should always change in the barn.  Do not offend the locals by changing on the green.  They might be on their way to church on a Sunday morning and certainly don't want to see a rowdy rabble stripping off in public!  The barn, as you should know, has a new floor, new stairs and lighting, electricity being provided by the farmer.  Remember to switch off the lights if you are last out!

I was asked to publish the current rules by Prew and I agree that it is important.  On a busy Saturday or Sunday there can be a hundred or more people visiting the cave.  If unrestricted access is to be maintained. cavers (and others!) must obey the rules, keep a low profile and not antagonise either the farmer or the locals.

Wigmore Swallet. Contributed by Trebor.

On 27th November '92, Ross White and Trebor McDonald carried diving gear into Wigmore to supplement a tank Ross had taken in a week before, with the aim of diving the downstream part of the main stream.  This follows on from Dany Bradshaw's passing of the downstream Sump 1 last year.  The entrance stream was in full flow after heavy rain over the previous week or so and a sizeable stream was running down the entire length of the cave, joining an impressive flow in the "main drain".  A large bank of foam was stuck to the upstream end of downstream Sump 1.  Foam and other flood evidence was noted some 1.5 - 2m up the walls beyond Sump 1.

Ross, assisted by Trebor, easily passed Sump 1 and inserted himself into Sump 2 carrying an old SRT bag full of line.  This turned out to be a better method of lining than using a bulky line reel. Dany's line reel is still at the end of Sump 1 and may come in handy later - there are bound to be more bloody sumps!  Sump 2 was about 8m long at about 1.5m depth.  This emerged into a 20m length of passage about 1.5m wide containing water and two air-bells, a little like the air-bells between sumps 2 and 3 in Swildons, only much smaller.  Sump 3 soon followed.  This was some 10m long at 2m depth breaking out into larger passage similar to that part of the main drain before Sump 1.  After about 25m, a 2m high cascade was descended to Sump 4, some 10m long and 2m deep.  The line was at its limit at this point but the diver was able to poke his head out of the water to see a narrow rift about body width boring off, just off the vertical, certainly caveable but not with twin kit.  De-kitting in this restricted area will be a little tedious.  An uneventful return taking 15 mins ensued.

The next trip will involve surveying the sumps and intervening passage, estimated at about 100m long, and pushing on along the rift beyond Sump 4.  Line tying will also be improved as at present they are only belayed to rather dubious pendants and nodules.  Sumps 2, 3 and 4 are all quite straightforward and, although not tight, are a little "adjacent," necessitating a wriggle around pendants and nodules, similar to some of the Swildon sumps.  Due to the nature of the sumps, two 28 cu. ft. tanks are a bit of an overkill and not really needed, particularly in view of the carry into the cave.  On the next trip the divers will wear one 28 cu. ft. to breathe off and a small 14 cu. ft. tank as a bailout.  This smaller gear will also ease de-kitting beyond Sump 4.  The 14 cu. ft. tank will also be more carryable through the terminal rift to take a peek at the inevitable sump beyond.

The cave now has 4 downstream and 3 upstream sumps.  Keith Savory is still beavering away at the rather unlikely upstream Sump 3.  The downstream passage is not getting any bigger, in fact rather smaller, but the rock does seem to be changing to shale or perhaps even limestone so it may go big beyond the terminal rift - "Please God".  Too many more sumps and the logistics will start to get silly.

Latest: On Saturday 12th December, Trebor and Ross dived again.  Downstream Sumps 5 and 6 were passed.  Trevor tells me that the passage trends eastwards (the wrong way!) and is heading towards large voids detected in a seismic survey done for the farmer many years ago when he was trying to decide on the best site to build a barn.

Shute Shelve Cavern.    Contributed by Peter Glanville.

Alan Gray of ACG very kindly took Angie and myself into this new Axbridge find entered after only a few hours digging on Shute Shelve Hill.  The entrance is gated and lies in one of the many depressions on the hill side, relics of old ochre mining activities.

Access to the cave will only be in the summer months owing to the fact that the site is a bat roost. How they got in before the cave was opened is a bit of a mystery!  A short crawl just inside the entrance enters the first chamber.  A solutional dome about 6 metres high it possesses quite an attractive stal flow on one wall. The pleasantly sculpted walls are studded with botryoidal stal and it resembles some Devon caves.  A corkscrew squeeze through boulders in one corner (the second breakthrough point) leads into a wide steeply descending bedding descending over a sandy boulder strewn floor to an inviting arch (this bit looks like parts of Wookey 20) and a steep loose climb into the final chamber or mega-passage about 30 or so metres long 10 metres wide and 7 metres high.  This leads straight into a promising choke which at the time of writing (July '92) was being dug.

The whole cave seems to be an old phreatic conduit and descends inexorably down dip.  Its current depth is something like 60 metres. The trip is short but interesting and the cave promises to tell us a lot more about the ancient drainage of this side of Mendip.

Rushy Ground.

Fresh from his 150ft discovery here Tuska Morrison is digging the adjacent swallet and hopes are high for an imminent breakthrough.  He thinks these sinks are feeders to the Wigmore system.

Attborough (Red Quar) Swallet.

Cotham Caving Group diggers have at last broken into open passage in this cave, some 50 feet of pretty but loose high level chambers having been explored so far.  Previously dug by MNRC, WCC, SVCC etc. this is one of the main feeders for the Upper River Yeo streamway in Wigmore Swallet.

Welsh's Green Swallet.

About 200 more feet were discovered here earlier in the autumn containing some Selenite 'Daggers'. The survey has now been completed and should be available in the New Year.  Rumour has it that the slope of the streamway is less than that of the surface above suggesting that cave gets closer to the surface the further it goes unless some big pitches lie ahead.

White Pit.  Contributed by Andy Sparrow.

White Pit is the very large depression visible from the Wookey Hole road just outside Priddy. The feature is so obvious that no serious caver could pass by without a wistful thought of what might lie below. The position over the probable Swildon's to Wookey streamway has encouraged speculation that the site could provide a backdoor into that elusive system.  Now, after perhaps 100 years of speculation, White Pit has begun to reveal its secrets.

Dave Morrison (Tuska) negotiated digging access and during last autumn, Hymac technology was applied. The machine gouged out a 30 foot hole and released a powerful cold draught.  There was no obvious entrance so, shortly afterwards a second excavation was made adjacent to the first.  Still no open passage appeared, but a choked rift was visible where digging could continue using traditional methods. Using the Sludge Pit pipes the shaft was lined, and the depression refilled.

Despite the obvious potential of the site it was initially difficult to recruit a digging team. During the winter of 91/92 Chris Castle, Terry Jessen, Robin Brown, Tom Chapman and myself cleared a choked rift below the piped shaft to a depth of 10 feet.  In the spring of 92 Phil Romford and Tim Large joined the team and applied their considerable engineering skills.  The fixed ladder was installed, the unstable dig lined with concrete, and a new tripod and hauling system installed.

Progress improved thanks to these developments and at about 15 feet below the pipes the first significant cavity, a crouching size chamber, was squeezed into.  The initial boulder choked shaft now reached a solid floor and a bedding plane began to reveal itself.  The regular diggers were now joined by Tony Jarratt. Trevor Hughes, Brian Murlis, Chris Tozer, Estelle Sandford, Pete Hellier and Robin Gray.  The dig had now become the main focus for BEC activity and could not long sustain such an onslaught!

A minor breakthrough took Tony Jarratt into a small chamber with a choked pot in the floor.  The First Pot.  The draught whistled up and the way on was down.  On Wednesday 4th November during a solo digging session Tony dug into open passage.  Further work that evening saw Tim Large crawling into a low decorated chamber dominated by a huge talus cone running in from the depression above.  A way on was visible between delicate formations; Estelle, Andy (Eyebrow) Sanders, Rich Blake and Vince Simmonds (both on their first, and extremely well timed, visit to the cave) began digging a route to avoid these while two other leads at the breakthrough point were examined.  The most promising of these led down a rubbly slope into a small phreatic cavity; later to be known as The Second Pot.

Excited shouts from the diggers brought everyone back to the chamber.  Vince had pushed down through a squeeze and had emerged into a second chamber. Estelle was given the new lead. The chamber was about 30 feet long and well decorated with delicate pure white formations.  The way on was a phreatic arch to the left.  We followed Estelle through.

On a personal note - I have a vivid mental picture of Estelle crawling forward beneath a cluster of long straws, her light revealing a magnificent array of white formations along the left wall.  As she progressed the passage was silhouetted, highlighting a beautifully sculpted and scalloped phreatic arch up to 20 feet across.  After 60 feet the roof shelved down to the bouldery floor and the breakthrough was at an end.  Everyone was buzzing with excitement.  The groans and exclamations of delight from the leading explorer resulted in the formations being quickly named Estelle's Orgasm.  The extension was named Talus 4 (that night's Star Trek had featured Talus 4; the forbidden planet).  This area of the cave is now commonly referred to as 'The Pretties'.

Over the next week or so a small extension was made through a low sandy crawl at the furthest point. But after only 15 feet more digging was required and activity focused on the Second Pot which seemed to take most of the draught.  The floor was lowered over several sessions until a low choked bedding was revealed. On Monday 30th November a constriction was passed into a short section of open passage to a semi-choked continuation. Another two hours of work here took Tony Jarratt around an awkward bend to the head of a 20 foot pot.

A dubious digging rope was belayed to an even more dubious crowbar wedged over the pitch and the party; Tony, Trevor Hughes, Rich Blake and myself descended.  It was a beautifully proportioned pot draped with coffee-coloured flowstone (this, and the Whisky laced coffee recently consumed from Tony's flask, inspired the name Coffee Pot).  There was tremendous anticipation now that the cave had begun a vertical descent and a real expectation of further pitches to come. A second free-climbable descent of about 15 feet took us into a large rift with a boulder choked floor.  A scramble up a slope to the right took us up into the lofty Master's Hall (named after the friendly farmer and landowner) but the prophesised pitch did not await us.

The next day Tony, Chris Castle and myself returned.  An obvious rift was climbed above the final boulder choke into a short passage emerging into an impressive open pitch.  A bouldery floor was visible about 50 feet below and prospects seemed brilliant - Prophesy Pot had been found.

Next evening a pushing team converged on the cave laden with SRT rigs, bolting kit and nearly enough rope to descend to the hypothesised streamway 400 feet below!  Naturally such preparations were the kiss of death for Prophesy Pot which descended 50 feet to a boulder floor with no obvious way on. A nest of cave pearls at the bottom offered at least some compensation.  Brian Murlis did a fine climb over the pitch to discover Brian's Attic but that way was choked after 30 feet.

That then, is the current situation at White Pit.  Is Prophesy Pot the way on?  Probably, but then where is the draught?  Where does Talus 4 go - Sand Pit?  Where does it come from - is it's western continuation to be found through the talus cone, or in the roof of Master's Hall?  The only thing we can be reasonably sure of is that these are early days at White Pit.


For details of the current access arrangement contact members of the digging team.  It has been proposed to gate off The Pretties and impose a strict leadership system for that area, while allowing less restrictive access to the main cave where most future work will probably be concentrated.


Lechuguilla, New Mexico.

I mentioned in BB No. 463 that several BEC members were visiting this cave in May '92.  Not one of them has written to me about it (though I have recently heard from Gonzo that the report is now complete and will be available in the new year) so I'm reprinting the following article which appeared in the U.S. 'NSS News, June 1992' magazine.  I haven't asked their permission, but I'm sure they won't mind as I've given the correct attribution.


International Team Makes Exploratory Dive in Lechuguilla

An international team made up of British, United States, and Canadian cavers made an exploratory dive in one of Lechuguilla Cave's deep lakes during an expedition in May. Leading the expedition were Peter Bolt of the United Kingdom and John Schweyen of Glen Rock, New Jersey.

Plans called for the group to dive in the Lake of the White Roses at the deepest point in Lechuguilla Cave, both to determine if passable cave openings continue underwater and to collect water samples before any activity and at various depths for scientific analysis.

A total of 27 people in separate teams participated in the expedition, including 15 from the United Kingdom, eight from the U.S., and four from Canada. Park cave specialists accompanied the expedition.

Other deep lakes in Lechuguilla Cave which may contain explorable water-filled passages are Lake Castrovalva and Stud Lake.

Superintendent Elms stated that the leaders and team members of the expedition are experienced and well-known cave divers and that emphasis will be placed on carrying out the expedition safely, as well as in a manner that will assure protection of the cave resources.

Lechuguilla Cave, located near the northern boundary of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, is the nation's deepest cave, formerly at 1565 feet, and has been mapped to a length of approximately 60 miles.

From Louise Hose's Trip Report of May 15 via CaveNet, "the furthest extent of the dive was just over 99ft below MNBX24.  This dive clearly removes doubt about the claim that Lechuguilla is the deepest explored cave in the United States.  It will probably still fall a little short of 500 m depth .... " Bolt " ... called the dive because of a jammed dive reel." Bolt's exploration was of great depth, "some horizontal passage, two air-filled domes, and a subaqueous chamber."

Caver concerns about the dive included possible contamination of a significant data base, potential damage to the cave, safety and difficulty arguments.  Louise, in summary, felt "completely satisfied that the 'cost/benefit' was acceptable ... there was no more damage done to the cave than caused by other camps.  The effects on the data base are really unknown but I am inclined to believe that they were minimal.  The concerns about difficulty and safety proved baseless ... I am impressed by the team members, their efforts, and the Park Service handling of the project." She congratulated "the British team for their success at establishing a new depth record for the United States and doing so with panache."


Cuban Collector’ Items

This years Grass/Jarratt "rest & recce." holiday was to the tourist resort of Varadero on the north coast of Cuba.  The town lies on the Hicacos Peninsula - an 18.6km long by 700m wide strip of low lying limestone and sand.  It boasts one of the world's finest beaches and facilities for tourists are excellent.

The Matanzas region. in which Varadero is situated, is famous for its many cave systems, particularly that of the Cuevas de Bellamar.

Cuban speleology has been thriving for well over forty years and there are some six thousand cavers on the island which is about the same size as England.  The Sociedad Espeleologica de Cuba is divided into regional sections and it is interesting to note that each section is provided with a new motorbike and sidecar by the government.  This may have something to do with the fact that Fidel Castro himself is a member!

Few visits have been made here by western Europeans - the exception being the recent series of trips by the Westminster Speleological Society.  They have concentrated on the Pinar del Rio area in the western highlands of the country.

This being a holiday trip, we had nothing planned or organized but had a contact in Havana Roberto Gutierres Domech - whom I had met at a B.C.R.A. conference a couple of years ago. Following a phone call to Roberto and a visit with his mate Franco we obtained the (wrong) phone number of Ercilio Vento Canosa - head of the Matanzas group.

During a week of abortive phone calls to Ercilio we managed to visit several local caves mentioned in the "Guide to Varadero" by Antonio Nunez Jimenez.  Senor Jimenez is the Casteret of Cuba and has written numerous books and articles on the country's caves over the past forty years. Every cave visited was in some aspect a "collector's item!"

La Gruta

This 20m long phreatic tunnel is situated in Varadero's central park.  It is probably a fragment of a once larger system and is only a few metres above sea level.  There is no potential for extension but many happy hours could be spent here as it operates as an underground bar!  The Moquitos rum, lime juice, bitters, mint and soda water are particularly fine.  To cap it all, the cave is situated beneath the "Belfry" (La Campana) restaurant.

Cueva de Cepero or Cueva de Saturno

See separate article. (While Jane dived I stepped in piles of Cuban crap!)

Cuevas de Bellmar

This famous show cave was discovered in February 1861 by a local quarryman, but was not explored until April of that year by Don Miguel Santo Pargas, who then made the cave accessible to casual visitors.  Unfortunately this resulted in considerable vandalism, particularly from a ship load of English sailors.  By the early 1900s the cave had become a tourist attraction and better protected. It is still worth a visit and there are some impressive formations though some of the fantastic displays of helectites are gone forever.  Our first visit was to the tourist section and we were guided by Heriberto Iglesias, an enthusiastic but ill-equipped local caver.  When he realised we were of like mind he offered us a trip into the undeveloped sections on the following day.  This offer was duly accepted and an excellent trip was had through a couple of kilometres of badly damaged but still spectacular phreatic tunnels and crawls at both ends of the tourist section.  Caving gear for the occasion consisted of shorts or Rohans and T-shirts though Heriberto was only wearing swimming trunks and Cuban heel boots!  We realised why when we had to follow him through a refreshing neck deep duck!  We were quite impressed and when he asked if his borrowed Petzl Zoom was waterproof we assured him that it would be O.K. if dried in the sun.  Without further ado he disappeared into a 10ft. long sump!!!  We were even more impressed - not even Chris Castle takes the tourists through those bits. Martin and I then joined him via either the sump or a by-pass crawl and alternated on the way back, the sump being shorter as I had drunk most of it.

Back out to surface after a great trip to quench our raging thirsts in the adjacent Bar Estalactitas. Herbiberto is now the proud owner of the Zoom lamp so nothing can stop him.

Cueva de Ambrosio

Situated about 2m above sea level on the Hicacos peninsula and only a few kms from our hotel, this archaeological cave is renowned for its Pre-Columbian Indian pictographs, two of which appeared on Cuban postage stamps.  We were surprised to find the entrance gate removed and open access. Despite this the fifty red and black geometric drawings are well preserved and there is little modern graffiti. This situation may well change soon due to the ever increasing number of hotels being built nearby.  One natural access control is the large number of big bats inhabiting the cave and which dive-bomb those visiting the darker passages, much of the system being illuminated through natural skylights in the ceiling.  The underground scenery here is particularly fine due to these "windows" and the profusion of roots and creepers hanging in festoons from them.  Insect life is also well established and mega cockroaches added to the "Temple of Doom" atmosphere.  Several of the pictographs have been added to by early Cuban setters and Negro slaves.

Some nearby rock shelters with pictographs and peculiar eroded rock pillars were also examined.

Cueva de Pirata

An expensive but easy trip was undertaken here in the company of two hundred others, a band, several singers and a bevy of semi-clad Mulatto chorus girls!  This large, single chambered cave hosts the local cabaret show and though not a patch on the Tropicana in Havana it is well worth a visit. Not much in the way of calcite formations but the flesh ones were impressive.  A good place for next year's B.E.C. dinner.

Cueva del Hombre Muerto

Dead Man's Cave is famous in the Varadero area due to the finding of the miraculously preserved body of an Italian hermit some years after his death in the cave.  After a lengthy search we found it in the centre of a village on the outskirts of town.  Much to the amusement of a horde of locals we put on boots and prepared our lamps only to find the cave was not long enough for three of us to enter at the same time!  Despite this it was another "collector's item", being full of disused callipers complete with boots.  I can only suggest that the late hermit had a very bad case of polio in all of his six legs

Cueva Champion

Situated on the west side of the road 1.3km from Bellamar towards Matanzas, this system is supposedly very extensive, though we only explored a few hundred metres due to lack of time and survey.  It was obviously mined for bat guano at one time and was also the site of an abortive attempt to cultivate mushrooms, hence the name.  A blasted cutting leads down to the partly mined entrance where two sets of open steel gates allow easy access.  Then follows a km or so of massive phreatic bore tube with the floor extensively excavated to allow vehicles to drive well into the cave. Despite the obvious human interference there are still many superb formations in situ including some fine helectites.  Another novelty is found here - underground steel "telegraph" poles.  A large mined shaft in the ceiling may have been used for guano extraction and a set of three wide boreholes entering the roof of a large chamber admit both light and fresh air.  Beyond the roadway we visited a series of well decorated chambers ending in low and wet crawls, presumably the way on.

Back in the main passage several high level inlets were entered, most being oxbows.  Few bats were seen, probably due to the pervading smell of smoke caused by locals lighting bonfires in the entrance - to cook the rotting dead horses which litter this area?  A return to this system with the relevant information would be well worthwhile.

Cueva Grande be Santa Catalina

Eventually we tracked down Ercilio and a trip into this 8km long system was arranged for the morning of our last day in Cuba.  Ercilio and his friend Juan were collected from his house in Matanzas, which in itself was worth the visit being the repository of assorted human skulls, pickled babies, the tiny skeleton of an Arawak child that had died of syphilis and the full sized mummy of an early Spanish woman settler hanging up in a cupboard. Medical and caving books plus club stickers filled up the rest of the space.  It was obvious that we had stumbled across the Oliver Lloyd of the Carribean!  Ercilio is, in fact, a forensic scientist and had just finished a 24hr shift at the local hospital.  Like all the Cubans we met he was extremely hospitable and was quite happy to spend a few hours underground without sleep or breakfast.

The cave is situated in thick tropical forest some 8m above sea level in the extensive limestone plain between Matanzas and Varadero and would have been impossible to find without local guidance.  This is just as well as it is full of some of the finest formations in Cuba.  The system is made up of four blocks of passages and is presumably packed into a small space, its 8km being made up of roomy interconnected chambers divided up by vast masses of formations.  It is justly renowned for its "mushroom" stalagmites formed underwater when the climate was much wetter.  Cave pearls up to the size of a golf ball and enormous helectites are also profuse.  The only problem with spending too much time looking up at the pretties is that it is wiser to keep a wary eye on the walls and floor where menacing looking pseudo-scorpions and tarantulas up to five inches across are regularly seen but supposedly harmless.  Being an Arachnophobe I was not convinced but after the twentieth tarantula I was considering taking one home for a pet.  Other insect life included cave crickets, cockroaches, beetles and a type of hermit crab was also seen.   Ercilio kept trying to find us a snake in the cave but was unsuccessful.  We didn't need his help as on the way back to the car Martin nearly stood on a four foot plus, sunbathing Cuban Boa.

Apart from the animal life the cave has also been a refuge for man over the years.  Arawak Indians left pictographs throughout this complicated system and it is possible that these correspond to the vandalistic painted arrows of the present day, namely - route markings.  One area of the cave hold the remains of the fireplaces of escaped negro slaves and in another chamber the remains of a wall built from broken stal was evidence of anti-revolutionaries who hid in the cave in the late 1960s.  Ercilio, a dedicated caver, did not let this stop him in his explorations and used to carry a gun with him which he apparently regularly used.


So ended our few days of novelty value caving.  We can recommend Cuba for its caves and people but take your own food - rice and black beans get boring.  It is difficult for the locals to buy food, booze, fuel or clothing, everything being rationed due to the problem with the U.S.A.  Be prepared to give kit away and barter for souvenirs.  I exchanged video tapes and tins of Tulip ham for rare cave stamps wanted by Ray Mansfield.  Great holiday - thanks Martin.

Tony Jarratt.   August. 1992.


  1. Cuba Contact '88 Westminster Speleo Group Bull. 9(5) 1989
  2. Guide to Varadero Antonio Nunez Jimenez 1990
  3. “Descubrimientos de Nuevas Pictografias Realizidas en el Pais", Revista de la Junta Nacional de Arqueologia y Etnologia, Havana 1961, Manuel Rivero de la Calle


Ode To A Digging Bag

Oh mighty woven digging bag
how will you hold that heap of clag,
as dragged to surface, way above
by filthy hand in sweaty glove.

While curses rend the airless cave
and knackered diggers scream and rave
you travel upwards, so sublime
exuding water, grit and slime.

In Wigmore, Bowery and Stock Hill
your poly skin has had its fill.
Now full of holes and brown with clay
- like Gobshite's shreddies - "had their day".

Great bag that's done such honest toil
and broken backs with weight of spoil,
one question small before we sup,
"why the fuck does Trevor FILL YOU UP?"



A Cuban Dive or How To Get In C.T.S.

By Jane Jarrat

Regular readers of Tony's holiday section of the BB will know of my caving exploits over the years i.e. most of the tourist caves plus entrance, car parks, near-by bars and beaches of many others.  So this holiday in Cuba was a refreshing change as I went diving every morning, leaving him on the beach, promising as soon as we get back, 'we'll do something' (how often have I heard those words!)  And it was not without a small degree of smugness that I left him sitting on a boulder one day whilst I undertook my first cave dive.

Cepero or Saturn's Cave in Varadero is a large daylight chamber, full of old stal. sloping down to a green pool.  Martin had dived it a couple of years before and thought I would like to have a go. When we arrived, we discovered it was the local kids' leisure centre as about twenty of them were jumping off a huge stalagmite into the water and generally enjoying themselves (many of them female, 14 years old, brown. lithesome and clad in wet T-shirts – disgusting, I thought!)

We had borrowed kit from the hotel which also provided a diving instructor/guide, Pepe.  He insisted we go down with him separately as it was 'very dangerous' (a German had drowned there a month before) and we were to follow him closely and do as we were told.  (Martin was unusually quiet during this lecture but the following day I found out that Pepe had got the sack but nobody knew why!)

The dive was very good. There were three routes, two of about 30m leading to small chambers, the third one being about 80m long ending in a large chamber containing underwater columns and straws and about 20m deep.

I had expected to be scared - I mean, I've read Darkness Beckons (well. sold it anyway) - but with warm water and crystal clear visibility.  I honestly don't see what this cave diving fuss is all about. Wookey Hole can't be that different!

So, if you read this, Rob, and need a bit of a hand, I’m free for the Bahamas ......

Ref: Grass M. CDG Newsletter No 101. Page 33.

* Current Titles in Speleology - Ed. Ray Mansfield Pub. B.C.R.A.


BU 56. 1991

by Rob Harper

By the summer of 1991 the Keith Sanderson Continental Caving Circus which last graced the pages of the BB regarding the Sima GESM had become a regular habit.  Caving trips to the Dent de Crolles and the Badalona B15 to Bl exchange (plus a short canyoning trip to Mallorca by the provisional KSCCC) had left all the regulars with an urge to try something a bit bigger.

There was really only the one unanimous choice; Laminako Ateak in the Spanish Pyrenees otherwise codenamed BU56.  In the world rankings at that stage it was officially the fourth deepest.  However to our way of thinking it was the world's deepest real cave since it only had the one entrance whereas all those above it had only got into top slots because successively higher entrances had been found. To get to and from the sump 1325m below the entrance requires a round caving trip of about 20 km with no easier alternative.

It is situated at an altitude of 1980m on the North edge of the Sierra de Budogia near Isaba which is just over the border into Spain.  For those of you who know the area; if you go over the col from Pierre St. Martin into Spain then the Sierra de B. is the mountain range on the far side of the valley on your left as you descend to the plain.

Just for a change we had no great difficulty in getting participants - at first.  Everyone wanted to come - including Bob ("Dalek") Balek from the BPC.  As time went on only Keith, Mark Madden (C), Dalek and I seemed to be constants in an ever-changing population.  However by the end of May we had assembled a group consisting of the above plus Mike ("Slug") Hale, Rhys Watkins and Colin ("The Scrounge") Jackson from the Bradford. John (“JJ”) Bevan and Steve ("The Prat") Gray from the NCC, Andy Tharratt from ULSA, Barry Rhodes and Andy Hommeini from the Burnley, with Snablet to help uphold the honour of the BEC.

As usual we all skived off and let Keith do the hard and boring work of arranging permissions, telephoning the           Spanish, photocopying surveys etc.  In retaliation he bombarded us with the equivalent of a small forestry plantation in paperwork which meant that by the time we left we not only knew all about the cave and the surrounding area but also a welter of detail right down to the nearest barman's father's hernia operation.

Actually getting permission to do the cave is a real problem since access is theoretically limited to 'scientific' trips only.  The first scam that was suggested was water sampling.  That was dropped when we worked out the weight of water that someone (there were never any names mentioned but we always assumed it would be Dalek) would have to carry out of the cave.  Then came the Radon scam.  It was absolutely perfect for our purposes.  The detectors were tiny and weighed next to nothing.  They had to be in the cave for several months so that we need only take them down and retrieving them would be someone else's problem.  Would they fall for it?  There were a few tense weeks then we were officially granted permission for a Radon survey in the cave.

Eleven twelfths of the party promptly forgot about the Radon survey.  But the token grown-up that always seems to emerge on these trips turned out to be Slug which may come as a surprise to those who know him.  He took it on himself to mother those little Radon detectors and make sure they did whatever it was that they were supposed to do. They certainly did not bother any of the rest of us until several months after the trip but more of that anon.

July came and with it the awful spectre of travelling on the first ferry of the school holidays. Every bit as bad as we had feared; obnoxious kids disgorging from Volvos and BMW's crammed the amusement arcades and trampled over bivi-bagged cavers trying to kip down on the lifeboat decks. A solid day of flogging down the French auto routes then the loom of the Pyrenees, blue in the distance.  This was if anything the worst phase.  You felt that you had arrived but still had several hours of driving to get over onto the Spanish side.  Weary and pissed-off in a car, electric with the static compounded of marital strife and navigational dissent, we blundered into Spain through an untenanted border post and so to the campsite at Linza - only to find everyone we were expecting to meet leaving.  Keith stopped for a swift window-to-window inter-car chat then sped back to his apartment in France.  Mark Madden and Andy Tharratt were setting up camp whilst Barry Rhodes and his girlfriend Sue had already sussed out Snablet as a fellow Brit caver and were preparing to head for the bar.  What the Hell?  Let the car unpack itself.

Stunned more by the price than the alcohol content of the beer we stumbled back to the car and into bivibags all the while vowing an early start to avoid the heat of the day.

The next day's early start turned out to be the universally accepted standard statutory UK caver’s early start, i.e. about 11:00 am.  We drove two miles or so up a rough track to a stylish mountain refuge just below the Col de Linza then with temperatures soaring into the nineties we hefted ridiculously heavy packs and plodded upwards.  Overconfidence was nearly our downfall; assuming that it would be easy to find the entrance everyone decided to take up all their personal kit and one or two ropes, a tube of carbide, thirty hangers etc., etc.  After five hours of flogging into and out of small gullies the only sensible member of the party (Helen) called a mutiny by sitting on a pile of rucksacks in the shade of the only sizeable tree for miles and refusing to move until the cave was found.

Whereupon five other members of the party all said, "You just wait here and I'll go and look" and promptly disappeared in five different directions which did of course mean that there were then six lost units on the mountain instead of one (seven if you count the spectacularly lost BPC party who had started out after us). For future reference take the path from the Refuge to the Col itself, cross over and keep to the left hand paths until reaching the flat grassy meadow (Hoya del Portillo) go straight across until you reach a battered metal sign, continue over the next small ridge and turn immediately right up a very steep gully.  Once through a narrow pass this splits into two smaller gullies, keep to the left until a medium sized tree is reached.  From here scramble up to the skyline following a vague line of cairns and then go straight down the steep gully on the other side to a tiny campsite on a ledge.  To get to the cave itself go to the top end of the ledge for about 30m to an obvious bolted shaft with the legend "BU 56" spray painted above it.

A party of incredibly knackered, dehydrated and salt encrusted cavers staggered downhill to the refuge and beer, having collected the BPC party en route.  It was not until about the fourth one was sinking slowly in the throat that a micro-census revealed that we were Maddenless. Fortunately for Dalek he appeared over the skyline just as the rest of us were voting to send out a one-man search party.

We had a lazyish day next day and in the relative cool of the evening Mark, Andy Tharratt, Barry Rhodes, Snablet, Helen and I walked up and bivied by the entrance.  Keith had already rigged the first three pitches so Mark, Andy and Barry set off early next morning with the carefully coded tackle bags to rig on down with the understanding that Snablet and I would leapfrog through and rig to the end of the main vertical stuff.  Their organisation was superb, up with the lark and off down the cave.  Helen, Snablet and I gave them about four hours start and meanwhile busied ourselves collecting snow to melt for drinking water.

After the agreed four hours and 6 brews had passed Snablet and I kitted up and off down carrying our carefully coded bags.  The first three pitches are fairly easy following almost straight on from each other although the second has a slightly awkward narrow traverse at the top. These lead into the "Meandro N" about 60m of narrow awkward passage complete with a squeeze, no problem to an anorexic stick insect like Snablet but to a gentleman of the fuller figure it gave a few interesting moments.  Halfway along, we passed the other party on their way out. The pitches afterwards were not particularly memorable and we soon reached the start of our rigging section and all went smoothly at first.  Then on our second pitch, a problem.  We had gone down 30m or so to the ledge and shuffled across to the eyehole (Snablet sized again!).  Snablet was through to the bolts on the other side and demanded the tackle bag with the 50m rope.  Unfortunately, this bag only contained 4m of rope which on a 50m pitch looked just about as stupid as we felt.

Out to a cold bivi and then off the top in foul weather next morning.  Staggering through the mist and driving rain we met a woman apparently dressed only in a cagoule and boots.  However it later transpired that Jane Clarke was also wearing shorts and a T-shirt.  She had come up from Barcelona also to help uphold the BEC honour.

The BPC party were the next into the cave and they finished rigging the parts that we were supposed to have done which brought them to the start of the “Meandro Oprimido” and rigged to about halfway along this half kilometre awkward rift.

By about 5 days into the trip the party had started to polarise out into small caving groups and so it was no surprise that the Mark, Andy and Barry were in next to continue rigging the “Meandro Oprimido”and carry tackle in to dump at the bivi site in the “Sala Roncal” which is about 2km into the cave and about -750m depth on the understanding that the BEC party were to try and rig to the bottom from there.

The girls all pushed off to go walking in the Monte Perdido area and Snablet and I walked up to the ledge to bivi and be ready for an earlyish start next day.  Early morning was glorious - breakfasting out on the sun drenched limestone watching the choughs wheeling around in the valley below and, best of all, thick rain clouds hanging over France.  Then these grey faced old men who had been young men only the day before staggered in from the cave after a gruelling sixteen hour trip. We could put it off no longer. After all the honour of the BEC was at stake.

Into wet-suits as we had been told that the cave was extremely wet below the “Sala Roncal”. We slid off down thecave and as it is usual on these trips, only met up again sporadically until the start of the “Meandro Oprimido”.  Although the published articles make much of this we found it no great problem just a little tedious.  There is quite a lot of level changing in the first half but after the pitches it tends to settle down to a sideways shuffle at the lowest level then debouches into a ginormous rift chamber.  Here we met Colin and Andy Hommeini who had just popped in for a short tourist trip.

From this rift the passage dropped steadily down a superb river passage complete with small climbs and cascades and occasional oxbows to a low sandy crawl where previous parties had cached some sleeping bags, karrimats and an inflatable boat, Snablet was all self-contained but I stopped to stuff a sleeping bag into my tackle sack. Coming out of the crawl was a shock to the system straight onto a boulder pile over 80m in heigh, over the top (literally in our case since we missed the well marked path) and on down to the flat area next to the very small cascade where most parties bivouac. This was more akin to underground fell walking than caving.

Here we dumped our bivi gear.  Having seen how much tackle had been left in the cave by previous parties Snablet and I decided to chance travelling light with only two ropes in the expectation that most of the pitches and traverses below the “Sala Roncal” would be rigged - fortunately we were right.  Even more fortunately the only rope we had to cut up belonged to ULSA.

The next pitch was somewhat acrobatic and landed on a ledge with the river thundering away 20m or so below. Setting off down one of the two in-situ ropes with the time honoured shout of "Geronimo" I was somewhat chastened to discover that I was on the wrong one - to wit the one that ended in a tattered frayed end about 10m above the floor of the passage.  No matter; back up the pitch and down the other - this also ended some considerable distance off the floor.  In order to save rope I got Snablet to hack off the rope I was not on, ("NO SNABLET THE RED ROPE!!!!"), and slide it down to me.  A short knot-tying and passing session and we were down in the main river.

From here the trip just got better and better.  Cascades, swims and small traverses led to an old high level series with fantastic formations in huge passages.  From here down a slope of gour pools to a couple of hundred metres of smallish passages leading to a duck and then back to the river again by this time much bigger having gathered a few inlets.  As is common in continental caves there were many high level traverses which were festooned with anything up to five abandoned ropes, (in one instance there was unused rope just lying still coiled on a ledge).  However we cheerfully clipped into as many as possible since the bolts were to say the least unreliable and up to 20m or so of free fall potential tends to sharpen the self-preservation senses a tad.

Eventually the traverses ended and we were back at water level for half a kilometre or so until we could hear the dull roaring of the last two pitches ahead.  All the descriptions had said that these were terrifying but could be bypassed by someone climbing back over from the other side. However we found a rope hanging out of the roof.  I looked at Snablet and he looked at me.  Then working on the principle that if it would hold me it would hold anyone I set off up and was relieved to find almost the only really good rigging in the lower part of the cave as I hauled out over the top.  From here it was just plodding along large sandy floored passage and down mud slopes back to the river and the sump.  BEC stickers were left.  Snablet's hip-flask was drained and then the long plod out to the bivi-site reached after almost 18 hours of non-stop caving.

After a short brew we both crashed out for 12 hours to be rudely awoken by Mark Madden and Andy Tharratt on their way to the bottom.  They stopped for tea and then pushed off down.  Minutes later Snablet and I heard the sound of someone coming back up the passage.  It had taken the knot I had tied in the ropes below the “Sala Roncal” to remind Mark Madden that he had left his hand jammer at the entrance.  Fortunately I always carry a spare and I tried not to look too smug as I handed it over.  We did mean to get up then but one brew led to another and it was eighteen hours after we had arrived back at the bivi before we actually got going.  Then twelve hours of steady caving to get out to a glorious hot Spanish afternoon and an even more glorious cup of tea.

Of the thirteen cavers on the party eight managed to get to the bottom of the cave.  We had used almost no rope below the “Sala Roncal” so the last party out (the BPC + Steve Gray) were able to de-tackle almost all the way to the entrance in one incredible effort.

Incidentally the Radon results came through many months later showing abnormally high levels in the “Sala Roncal” area.  We are still waiting for Snablet to stop glowing in the dark.

In summary; a brilliant trip in a wonderful area with great companions.  If you get the chance to do it don't hesitate - go.


Caving On Bonaire

by Peter Glanville

Continuing the BEC's search for new caving regions to explore I organised the first speleological reconnaissance trip to Bonaire last autumn.  Unknown to me, one island over (Aruba) Martin Grass was doing the same which only leaves Curacao to be examined.  I have to say that world length and depth records are unlikely to be achieved in Bonaire and the river caves aren't very big either.

Bonaire lies 40 miles off the Venezuelan coast.  The car number plates leave one in no doubt as to what the main attraction of the place is i.e. "The Diver's Paradise".  But that is another quite different story.  According to the Underground Atlas there were no references to karst features on Bonaire but on our arrival it was quickly clear that a large proportion of the island is covered in high quality reef limestone lying on a base of volcanic rock.  The wave pounded east coast, exposed to the constant trade winds, possesses lines of low cliffs studded with fossil coral and eroded into a viciously sharp maze of limestone edges.

The map and guide books showed locations marked 'grotto', Fontein and most excitingly Spelonk. Diving was the main objective however (and some medical education) so cave hunting took place to and from dives or in the early morning.  The first caves we found were very shallow but well visited.  They seemed to be on a wave cut platform a long way from the sea and probably represent old sea caves.  Certainly on the opposite side of the island there was one massive arch set high up and back from the current coast line.  The caves are of interest mainly because they contain Arawak indian inscriptions which nobody seems to have managed to decipher.

At Fontein water was flowing from somewhere to supply a small experimental farm.  Half an hours search in a sort of Lost World landscape inhabited by huge but only half seen iguanas and massive spiny green melon cacti, got us to a series of old water tanks fed by a small stream.  This emerged from a steamy short and seemingly semi artificial cave.  The cave harboured a couple of bats and was interesting for the massive pillars of calcited tree roots in the final chamber 10 metres from the entrance.

The limestone cliffs above Fontein are a climber's paradise and are probably totally virgin.  There were a number of small phreatic cavities at their base filled with dry stal.

Our searches for Spelonk were unsuccessful.  There are few good roads on the island and the tourist map was useless.  Our appetite had been whetted by the guide book description of two caves one of which was 300 feet long 66 feet wide and 13 feet high containing many stal columns and many rock drawings.  A walk in would seem to be the best way to find the caves but the terrain is very rough on the feet.  Near Spelonk there were solutional features in the limestone beds on the coast i.e. miniature bedding collapses and caves.   There should be some good blue holes here in a million years or so!

Bonaire is a small island (26 miles by 7 miles) and apart from a rather incongruously sited oil processing station has little to support its 11,000 strong population other than tourism and the salt pans in the south.  The tourist accommodation is expanding but the place does not exude the razzamatazz of some other Caribbean islands.  A far sighted policy of making the entire coastline to a depth of 200 feet into a national park has resulted in virtually undamaged coral reefs, mostly only a short swim from the beach.  A national park in the hilly north of the island supports populations of iguanas and flamingos as well as other bird species.

To get there one flies KLM from Heathrow via Amsterdam.  Some travel agents will book a package type holiday there.  If you are into diving in a big way I can recommend it.  If you do go and you find Spelonk, let me know.


Ten Go Caving In Sutherland

by Peter Glanville

The story so far.  A motley group of west country cavers have travelled north of the border in two successive years in a desperate urge to find new caves, new worlds to conquer, to boldly go .... Whoops!  Sorry about that, we'll start again.

Enough enthusiasts remained from the last two trips to mount a third.  With Nick Williams and a MOLEPHONE in our armoury there were high hopes of making progress in ANUS cave.  Unfortunately the weather on this occasion failed to come up to expectations. Water came from the sky at all speeds and in all forms.  Stream levels rose and remained high for virtually the whole week which had, I suppose, the virtue of concentrating our minds on a limited number of sites.

Day one dawned sunny. While some team members visited ANUS the divers headed for the salmon farm in Loch Cairbawn after getting air from Jimmy Crooks at Lochinver. We emerged from the depths with several small plaice, numerous long armed squat lobsters and many scallops all destined for the pot.  By this time the weather had begun to deteriorate and it was with reluctance that a small group of us started up the

ANUS valley carrying assorted bite of diving kit.

This proved to be the first of the daily treks up the glen.  The varied weather conditions helped to relieve the tedium as did the sight of large herds of deer down by the stream bed.

Peter Mulholland proved he was a priceless addition to any expedition by cooking a gourmet meal that evening using the morning’s catch which had been prepared by Tony Boycott and Julian Walford who only just made it back in time for the last few morsels.

The Allt bar found favour this year as the watering hole.  As the Inchnadamph Hotel is up for sale it will be interesting to see where cavers go in the future.

Day two began lousy and got worse.  We plodded our way up to ANUS cave in rain of steadily increasing intensity wellies were the order of the day.  Getting changed was misery.  I changed in the cave entrance feet from the raging torrent pouring down the normally dry stream bed.

The plan was for Pete and myself to dive through to ANUS2 with a MOLEPHONE, set it up at various locations and broadcast to the surface in an attempt to radio locate the nearest point to ANUS 1 or the surface.

The dive was murky in a strong current and sump 2 was found to be in existence.  However no real problems were encountered and we soon had the aerial set up for the first transmission.  Peter alternately bleeped and broadcasted on a three way link with the surface and the digging team while we munched Angie Glanvill's famous apple cake. Hearing the weather report from the surface we felt incredibly snug in our dry sandy niche.  After another broadcast from Sotanito Chamber we moved to Sump 4 via the traverses we had decided were the fastest route last year.

Evidence that dry exploration would yield dividends was reinforced by our noticing a circular hole in the roof near Sump 4, clearly leading to a higher level.  Water was pouring out of the inlet by Sump 4. Weather conditions on the surface were still atrocious and we began to feel really sorry for the soggy band trudging around the rain lashed hill side waiting to hammer in wooden marker stakes.

We slowly made our way out taking photos.  On the far of the sump we found virtually everybody apart from a few diehards had done a bunk.  We forgot about changing and squelched our way back to the car.

Pete Mulholland decided the next day was the one to do a surface survey of the ANUS valley in order that we could tie in the radio location points.  Fun was had at the waterfall when Pete detailed me to measure its height.  Lobbing the tape over the edge proved to be tricky in the strong up glen wind.  We achieved the task just before hypothermia set in and warmed up by taking pictures in ANUS cave.  Tav appeared at a late stage in the proceedings - he had been caught in a hailstorm of such ferociousness that he had had to prostrate himself in the heather until it passed.

The following day we returned yet again and, with the help of Tony Boycott, transferred kit down to a shake hole at the fork between the ANUS and Claonite valleys before taking pictures of the bone caves.  Pete and I, gluttons for punishment, then went on a photo trip to Cnoc nam Uamh bumping into Trevor Knief, Pete Rose, John Kidd and Ken Passant on one of the two caving trips they did.  Water levels were impressively high.

The next day after a trip to collect air and after waving good bye to Pete,  John and Trevor (defeated by the weather) we picked up Goon (Alan Jeffries) and headed for no, YOU Guess!

Goon proved to be action man, racing up the hill with the heaviest bottle which made youngsters like Pete and I feel like wimps.  Mind you, with the holes in his wetsuit, he had to move fast to keep warm.  The transport of three sets of kit into Claonite is almost unheard of and proved, in the high water conditions, to make the trip very slow.  Sump one bypass with an airspace of only 6" added to the fun.  Goon kept up the light relief by dropping a tank in Bottomless Pillar pool.  The cascades and waterslides were horrendous death traps and we were glad to reach the tranquillity of the sump three pool .

All the kit worked at sump three apart from Goon's valve which delivered a 50/50 water/air mixture but got him through.  Beyond sump three is a high narrow cross rift which soon turns into a low boulder grovel by the stream.  An inclined bedding plane, awkward with diving kit, leads off above and parallel to the streamway which drops into sump 4.  A most unlikely hole in the roof opens into the base of a loose looking boulder pile (Fawlty Towers) before a climb down to the stream.  This flows down a shallow ramp into the wide sump 5 pool. One tug on the diving line and it came out severed by floods.

We relined the sump using some sewing thread Pete had on a line reel instead of proper diving line. The sump is shallow and easy and ends up in a little boulder ringed pool.  A stepped ledge a few metres ahead yields the promise of a bypass to the next sump.  Goon remained at Sump 5 preferring to cultivate his hypothermia.  Pete and I found 6 to be only a few yards from 5.  A sort of cat’s cradle of blue polyprop hung above the sump pool with one end leading in a positive way into the pool. An experimental tug suggested it was belayed "somewhere".  Pete then decided he was not in a sump pushing mood which left us with two large tanks at the sharp end. There was no option but for yours truly to have a go. Kitting up with Pete's kit proved to be awkward and I entered the low bedding plane at the start of the sump in a less than positive state of mind carrying sewing thread and line reel. The presence of a 'snoopy loop' on the floor of the sump seemed to suggest someone had been through before. I followed the line into a wider section of passage which led to the right and began to ascend.  By now, though, my mask had begun to flood and all my kit was snagging.  I backed out, turned round and retreated, defeated.  Getting out proved to be easy and in a few minutes we were reunited with Goon.

The trip out proved no less eventful than the trip in with Pete losing a bottle in Cavity Wall Passage. After 7 hours we eventually emerged in daylight.  Back at the hut all was hush - the family section of the GSG, fresh from new hut construction, were quietly settled reading when we burst through the door. The British Museum Reading Room atmosphere lasted for an hour before there was a sudden and mass exodus to the pub.

The next morning dawned sunny and clear.  Pete, Ken and I departed for Lochinver for some air and a dive.  The dive proved to be successful as far as my ambition to photograph sea pens goes, but due to a misunderstanding about compasses the two Petes spent the last of the dive swimming about trying to find the shore!

After packing for the return south the next day we drove round to Stac Pollaidh.  Ken went for a stroll on the coast having been up with Pete Rose and co. a couple of days earlier.  We got to the top in 45 minutes then weaved and scrambled our way to the seaward summit 'prow'.  In the golden light of mid evening the view in all directions was magnificent, north across the blue reticulated pattern of Lochans to the rearing bulk of Suilven and west to the Summer Isles.  To the east lay ranges of snow capped mountains fringed by low banks of cloud.

We reluctantly returned to Ken and drove into Ullapool for a late but excellent chilli bean casserole at the Ceilidh Place (recommended).  By the time we got back to the hut it was late.  Stepping outside the hut for a quick pee, I noticed a cloud which came and went rather fast,  the Northern Lights.  We spent a happy hour gazing at the natural light show flickering over our heads until fatigue overcame us.

This was a week unlike the other two the group splintered into several teams all doing their own thing. From an uninspiring beginning it ended on a high note.  I know one thing - given half a chance I'll be back next year!

Sutherland Update. Goon returned to Sump 6 and got as far as being able to see down a wide open 1.5 metre passage.  He also discovered Sump 5 drains off to the right on the far side in dry conditions.  He then pushed the obvious bypass mentioned in my report and found a large chamber which returned through boulders to the streamway and yet another sump. Meanwhile one of the digs near the waterfall above ANUS cave has gone another 15 metres.  A dry link with upstream ANUS seems imminent.


Club News.

Membership Changes.

We welcome three new members, who are :-

Estelle Sandford, Weston-super-Mare
Sean Morgan, Clevedon, Avon
Richard Anthony Lewis, Weston-super-Mare

There are also many address changes.  I have some and John (Watson) has some but for one reason or another we have not got a complete up-to-date list at present.  The complete list will appear in the next BB.

Ian Dear Memorial Fund.    contributed by Sett.

The fund was formed when Ian bequeathed £300 to the club 'to assist junior members to travel on the continent'.  At that time the investment produced an annual interest of £25 or so which would have been a major part of a return fare to the Pyrenees.

Although the Club has since made a substantial contribution to the fund, inflation, coupled with decreasing interest rates, has reduced the real value to less than a tenth of that originally available.

At a time when whole world is becoming accessible to the active caver or climber, this trend looks like it is going to continue.  We anticipate an interesting report from this years beneficiary who was given a grant of £100 to go to a worldwide conference in China.

I am asking for help from all Club members to increase the amount in the Fund.  Contributions will be welcomed, no matter how small: but more importantly we are appealing for members to remember the IDMF in their wills. A 1% legacy won't be missed by you or your beneficiaries.  We also ask those who have had support from the Fund to donate their original grant, preferably with an allowance for inflation.

Most of the current membership will not remember Ian, who was active on Mendip before many of them were born.  He particularly enjoyed his annual holiday in France and Spain, hence his bequest recognising the needs of future travellers.  Please help to continue his spirit of generosity.

 (Ed's Note: I should not really complain at this point but would like to point out that neither of the two members who received grants in 1991/92 has yet written a word!)

Committee Meetings 1993.

The committee thought that members should be informed of the time and dates of meetings so that they may attend if they so wish.  They are as follows;-

All meetings start at 20.00hrs prompt, and are held at the Belfry.

Friday   1st January       1993
Friday   5th February      1993
Friday   5th March          1993
Friday   2nd April           1993
Friday   7th May            1993
Friday   4th June            1993
Friday   2nd July            1993
Friday   6h August         1993
Friday   3rd September   1993

Tackle Inventory.

Total ladders accounted for:        11 (assorted lengths)

Total Spreaders:                        7 (all good)       

Stock ropes in store:                  1 x 130ft (Dynamic)
                                                2 x 75ft (Dynamic)
                                                1 x 120ft (Dynamic)
                                                1 x 120ft (Static)


Stock ladders in exploration store:           2 (good)

Stock ropes in exploration store:             1 x 250m coil (St.)
                                                            2 x 26m (Dyn.)
                                                            1 x 18m (St.)
                                                            1 x 20m (St.)
                                                            1 x 36m (St.)
                                                            1 x 67m (St.)
                                                            1 x 35m (St.)
                                                            1 x 54m (St.)

Also:     6 Tackle Bags

5 Rope Protectors

1 Touralit Pump and Dies.

Assorted Touralits mostly Imperial.

Ladders under construction ; 3


Keys to the Belfry (or any other BEC keys to which you may be entitled) are available for a deposit of £4 from Nigel Taylor (Mr 'N')

A.G.M. 1992.

There was an election this year.  15 stood, 81 voted and those elected are shown on page one.  I have not yet seen the minutes so cannot quote the voting figures. These (and minutes) should appear in the next BB.

The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Ted Humphreys

1990 - 1991 Committee

Hon. Sec.                Martin Grass
Treasurer                 Chris Smart
Caving Sec.             Jeff Price
Hut Warden             Chris Harvey
Tackle Master          Stuart McManus
B.B. Editor               Ted Humphreys
Hut Engineer            Nigel Taylor
Membership Sec.     John Watson
                               Ian Caldwell 


The BB is late, again – a combination of excuses which I won’t bore you with!!  I’m afraid the synopsis of digs which was promised has note yet arrived.  Jake sloped off to Scotland with a large party of BECites – caving they said.  Perhaps an Article?  This is a larger BB than usual for the time of year thanks to the and a bit page American article that I’ve included.  I’m sure you’ll agree that it was worth it.

At this point I must remind you that any opinions expressed in the editorial are those of the editor and in no way should be taken to reflect those of the committee or of the Club.

The fact is that we seem to have a couple of problems which will, no doubt, be discussed at length at the A.G.M.

The first is non-payment of subs.  This year between twenty and thirty people have not paid, costing the Club at least £400. We always expect some to lose interest or to move away, of course, but it seems that some have discovered that they can pay every other year, say, and still have all the benefits of membership with the possible loss of a couple of BB's during the summer  (A great loss? - spare copies are always available in the library!).  I'm not saying it is deliberate but, whatever the reasons; it makes the job of the Club treasurer, and other members of the committee, very much more difficult and is unfair to those members who always pay on time.

Secondly, the problem of vandalism.  If you read the constitution (Item 7c) you will find that the Belfry and its contents (other than the property of individual members) belongs to the Club and is not the shared property of the members.  The Belfry has always been a fairly boisterous place, especially on Saturday nights, (Sofa Rugby etc.) but it should be remembered that replacements of crockery, furniture and such items usually depends on donations of the items to the Club from individual members.

There have been several examples of what I would call unacceptable vandalism of Club property in recent months.  I shall cite three cases: -

1.                    Using coffee mugs as balls for indoor cricket.

2.                    Chopping up furniture for firewood because the individual concerned thought it looked 'tatty'

3.                    Setting off fire extinguishers 'for fun'.

In the first case, the mugs were replaced, but the person who donated them in the first place will think twice before donating any more.  In the second case, I don't know the outcome but we're always short of seating.  I wonder why?  The third case is more serious as injuries could have been caused to other members.  The person concerned did present the treasurer with a blank cheque to repair the damage but what he probably didn't realise is that if a genuine emergency had occurred and it was found that the Club had, at the time, no useable extinguisher then our insurance policy would probably be invalidated.  I wonder if the blank cheque would have covered the cost of a new Belfry?

I seem to have gone on a bit though I still feel that some comment was needed.  If there are any differing views I will gladly put them in the BB.


Membership Changes

We welcome three new members, who are ;-

New      Karen Ashman. Bury St. Edmunds
1155     Rachel Gregory. Wells. Somerset
New      Brian Hansford. Weeke. Winchester. Hants

We also welcome two members who have rejoined.  Actually Bill rejoined almost a year ago but I had no address!

727       Bill Cooper. Totterdown. Bristol
691       Dudley Stuart Herbert. Corston. Bath.

The following members were either incorrectly listed or have changed their particulars since Christmas.

1082     Robin Brown. Woolavington. Bridgewater. Somerset
827       Mike Cowlishaw.  Micheldever Station. Winchester. Hants
405L     Frank Darbon. Vernon, British Columbia. Canada
704       Dave Metcalfe, Whitwick, Leics.
921       Pete Rose, Crediton, Devon
1067     Fiona Thompson, Stoke Gifford, Bristol
1154     Karen Turvey, Cullompton, Devon
1096     Brian van Luipen. Littlehampton, West Sussex
1061     Kerry Wiggins, Basingstoke, Hants
1031     Mike Wigglesworth, Oldham, Lancashire
477       Ronald Wyncoll, Hinckley. Leics


Simonds Mine. Biddlecomee - a Re-Discovery Feb 1991

Went over to look at a site Graham Johnson had been digging about 10 years ago.  We decided not to continue with this but to excavate a filled shaft in the floor with marks (shot-holes) of the "Old man". Three of us, Graham, Robin Taviner and Vince Simmonds went over on the 12th Feb and cleared about 4ft. of easily removed rocks.  We returned a week later (19.2.91) with a skip and some more muscle power, J'Rat and Rich Blake.  We hadn't been digging long when we made an intriguing discovery, 2 star drills and a slater's hammer with a length of nylon rope and an old, battered biscuit tin. We tried to fit the star drills to some of the shot holes, they didn't fit, and then enlightenment!  Above the pit, barely discernable, was an ancient carbide inscription "BEC DIG" and around a rock "NT 1974". We had found the legendary Nigel Taylor's long lost digging kit.  We had thought of cleaning them up and presenting them to Wells Museum but decided to re-unite them to their owner who was thrilled to see them again which prompted reminiscences of solo digging trips.

The nylon rope came in handy when J'Rat's car (one of Wilfs courtesy numbers) broke down and we had to tow it back to the Hunters, which is happily on the way back to Wilfs garage.

On the 26.2.91 we (Tav. Graham & Vince) reached a solid floor at about 8ft depth and decided that was as far as we could go, so we cleared all our gear out and called it a day.

Meets List

A. Sat May 18th.                       Wookey Hole Evening. 6pm – Belfry.  Leader - Martin Grass.

B. Sat June 15th.                      Penyghent Pot. Yorkshire.  Contact Andy Sparrow.

C. Fri 14th June - Sun 30th June.            France: Pyrenees & Dordogne.  Caving, Walking. Climbing Etc. Contact J.R. Price.

D. P.S.M. July.                         Details from Dany Bradshaw.

E. Sat 17th August.                   Birks Fell Cave.  Yorkshire.

F. Sat 24th. August.                  Otter Hole.  Chepstow.   Names to J.R. Price.

G. 21st September.                   Lost John's.  Yorkshire

H. 16th November.                     Juniper GulfYorkshire

I. 8th December.                       Peak Cavern.  Derbyshire.  Min 15 places - Names to J.R.P rice.

Also Devon weekend July 12th - 14th.  For further details contact Jeff Price.  Tel: 0272 724296

Coming Events

June 1st. Wessex Challenge.  Organised by ACG this year.  The theme is Star Trek and there will be a Starship Race.  The venue is Priddy Village Hall at 7pm.  Price £4 inc. food - tickets from ACG.

30th June - 5th July. N.A.M.H.O. Conference.   Llechwedd Slate Caverns.

13th - 14th July.  British Cave Rescue Conference, Derbyshire.  Contact D Gough, 26 The Lodge, Newthorpe, Notts.

19th 26th August. RESCON  '92.  International Cave Rescue Convention. SWCC Hut, Penwyllt, S. Wales


Rocky Acres Cave

While finishing off the exploration of Skullcap Cave at Chudleigh (see DESCENT Christmas 1990) we began to search for pastures new for evening digs in the same general area. One of the most enticing areas is that to the east and north of Kingsteignton.  Here exists a large enough area of limestone to have developed a karst type drainage pattern with significant vertical differences between sinks and the main rising.  However the landscape has been so modified by man that only juvenile swallets are readily identifiable and digs have so far been unsuccessful.  The many years of effort at Lindridge have so far been un-rewarded.  The only major cave system is the 300 metre long Coombesend Cavern which lies, typically for Devon, in a disused quarry now being used as a waste disposal site.

However above the rising at Rydon (to which the Lindridge water drains) is the disused Rydon Quarry which breached a large cave passage over thirty years ago.  The cave was reputed to contain rifts descending to water level but accounts are sketchy and what remains of the cave lies under 40 feet of overburden dumped during the construction of the nearby by-pass.  A number of small cavities above the old quarry were revealed by top soil stripping and blasting for the by-pass and the land owner John Jones who became fascinated by the story of the original cave has spent six years digging in them.

Assisted by members of the PCG and DSS he concentrated mainly on one cave now dubbed Rocky Acres which by the time we first visited the site last summer had reached a depth of 15 metres and a length of 30 metres.  This was achieved by using a compressor powered rock drill and rock splitting wedges to enlarge the narrow phreatic rift.  What has lured diggers is the draught which the cave possesses plus the fact that although narrow it is still going.  On cold frosty mornings steam billows from the entrance.

Our contribution was to entice an assortment of individuals into blasting through a particularly hard band of limestone at the head of a narrow rift.  Prior to our first visit the cave ended in a wriggle into an excavated pot off which led the rift.  It had been originally approached from an alternative direction by Geoff Chudley and Co. but they had backfilled this to get a more direct route to the bottom. The dig had begun to look so daunting that at that point they had gone elsewhere.  Altogether about 15 visits have been made to the site since last June and the cave has been blasted 8 separate times by members of DSS, BEC and WCC. Rock and spoil removal has been mainly by Pete Rose and myself and members of the Rock House team.

Back filling has been accomplished by using stemples, drystone walling and stabilisation with liquid cement.  As we go deeper removal of spoil for a pair of diggers gets more tricky although there is plenty of room to stack boulders.

By the time we had squeezed into the wider part of the rift the floor was covered in a layer of rubble which was added to by successive bangs, slumping in of back filled material and digging in the wrong place by persons unknown!

However as the spoil and fractured rock was removed tantalising holes in the floor began to appear and the slight draught increased.  The floor now consists of soft mud and water worn boulders which can be removed without blasting and the rift bells out to a width of 3 feet at floor level.

Digging conditions are a lot more pleasant than Skullcap and the site is far more promising.  As we go down it seems to me that the entrance passage is feeding into something much larger and partially choked.  This would seem to support the hypothesis that large phreatic passages should exist near resurgence level.  We are an estimated 20 to 30 feet above the rising, at the bottom of the cave, which puts us very near the estimated level of the original Rydon cave - we are also virtually at or below the original quarry floor level. With a depth potential of 85 metres and 2 km. straight line distance to the furthest feeder sink there ought to be a significant cave underneath us!

Diggers are welcome and tools are on site.  However do not be tempted to climb over the gate from the bypass - cars can be driven to the entrance and John Jones is pleased to welcome bona fide cavers.  To find Rocky Acres drive up Rydon Lane past the primary school into the new housing estate but just before the top of the rise turn right through a wooden gate marked Rocky Acres.

Perhaps we'll see you down there sometime.  Pete and I normally go on Wednesdays.

Peter Glanvill February 1991


Tales from County Cork

I arrived in Cork in October of last year.  My only other visit to Ireland had been a week caving in Fermanagh with Neil and Paul from the RRCPC.  This time was slightly different from that visit as I expect to be spending the next three years over here.  First things first, get in touch with the local cavers.  The only information I had on caves and cavers in the area was Tony Oldhams' Caves of Co. Cork.  I tried ringing one of the people mentioned in the guide, Cian O'Se, after practising pronouncing his name on various people.  He was very helpful and put me in touch with the active members of the Cork Speleology Group (CSG).

One week later and I had a trip arranged down Pollskeheenarinky.  This cave lies east of Mitchelstown, just within the borders of Co. Tipperary.  The situation of this cave is typical of many caves found in the east Munster area, it is in a ridge which runs along a limestone valley with hills of Old Red Sandstone on either side.  One of the other caves found in this ridge is the Mitchelstown show cave, the wild part of which is supposedly well worth a visit if access can be obtained from the owner (he prefers small groups).  This trip as mentioned was my first outing with members of the CSG, a very elusive lot, who when eventually contacted turned out to be a real friendly bunch.  I had arranged to meet them at 11 pm on the Sunday morning.  Most cavers who have visited Ireland have probably noticed the laid back attitude to time, well in this respect these people are the epitomy of Irishness. They turned up at 12 noon and told me this was early!.  Any rate we set off and after getting lost outside of Mitchelstown eventually ended up asking a local farmer for directions.  The man put us right but also added that he had large depressions on his land and asked us if we would take a look and see if there was any cave potential.  He said if there was he would use his JCB to dig the holes out (IR£ signs and show caves could be seen floating in front of his eyes).

The cave entrance to Pollskeheenarinky turned out to be a real classic.  It consisted of an old Wolsey!!.  To go into the cave you opened the back-door, clambered over the front seat and plopped out of the drivers door.  It was put there to stop cows falling down the entrance pitch.  This cave is a real entertaining trip, it is very similar to Mendip caves as throughout the cave the bedding plane slopes away steeply.  A small pitch, lots of scrambling, bridging, crawling and pretty bits, well worth a visit.

Back at work there were a few people showing interest in going caving so we decided to have a short caving trip locally.  Beaumont quarry cave was ideally situated in that it is within the bounds of Cork city.  The trip turned out to be good fun but realistically the cave is a short, smelly, well trodden hole.  This description contrasts completely with Tony Oldhams description in Caves of Co. Cork as small but interesting.  The only small but interesting bit in my opinion was a small pool at the end of the cave which might have potential.  The length of the cave is 400 feet.  When subsequently chatting to some members of CSG they informed me that this pool was just a mud pit that occasionally fills at times of high rainfall.

My next Co. Cork caving trip was down Carricrump quarry caves, these are near Cloyne, south-east of Cork. These eight caves run parallel with the quarry face and it seems that a lot of the system has been quarried away. Just into the entrance of the most easterly cave is quite a deep lake which I think has been dived by some British CDG members quite recently.  The caves are quite entertaining and much more fun in a wetsuit.  There are a few pretty bits, lots of traversing (if you want to stay dry) and some amusing climbs (most of the caves are water floored). My next jaunt with CSG was to Carrigtwohill Quarry Caves approximately 5 miles east of Cork city.  This is where CSG had their most recent breakthrough (last year).  The new cave Carriagtoughil A Do was found in the adjacent quarry to the old Carrigtwohill cave when some brambles were cleared away.  This clearing up revealed a man size entrance leading to a classic Cork caving trip.  The cave hasn't been fully explored yet!  Lots of crawling, scrambling and mud and quite a few formations to gawp at on the way.  The old Carrigtwohill quarry cave is well worth a visit and has numerous attractive bits. The CSG has a fair number of digs in these quarries and I think with some scouting around there is quite a lot to be found.  Another classic Cork caving trip which I haven't been able to do yet, is Cloyne cave.  This is the longest known cave in Cork and from the old survey (a 1990 survey is in the process of being published) is a maze of passages.  Most of the caves that have been found in Cork seem to be in quarries, there is quite a bit of potential about the place as the density of cavers is fairly thin on the ground (there are about five active CSG members).  A CSG member invited me up to north Co. Cork the other day to look at a potential cave site on a farmers land.  The farmer had told him that there was a stream disappearing into a hole and reappearing two miles away, would he go out and have a look?  We were planning to go up on Sunday but due to a job callout we couldn't go.  Hopefully next weekend.


Anyway. if any cavers fancy a look around the area maybe on the way to County Clare or whatever I could provide some information and Cork contacts (not forgetting Irish fiddly music and a good pint of Guinness) and would be interested in any trips planned. I can be contacted at either.

University College Cork, Zoology Dept. Postgraduate laboratory, or by writing

Jane Evans, Cork, EIRE


Ex Climbing Secretary Reports


Ice climb up Priddy Slitter in mid-February, exit from gully onto snow field and dramatic views across Sunny Somerset Level.

Strung out like washing on a line on Glydr Fawr in blizzard beginning of March.  Escaped to be strung out by last minutes of England/Ireland rugby match on radio.

Classic climb "Wil O' the Wisp.  Craig Cywark, Arran.  Hot spring sun, warm rock, shirts off, balmy breeze.  Exhilaratingly unexpected easy line stepping up through the overhang amongst V.S. mess.  Then pioneering scramble following diagonal line up heathery buttress to ridge to summit. Heaven will be like this!

Nullarbor Expedition

Steve Milner is organising a trip to the 12km+ Old Homestead Cave in the Nullarbor Desert, Australia at the end of September 1991. Anyone interested in going can contact him at: - Eden Hills, Australia



Mendip Rescue Organisation

Cave Rescues and Incidents for the Year ending 31st December 1990

A year of bric-a-bac with only three actual cave rescues requiring underground parties. The following table lists all sixteen call-outs received through the Police; half being for overdue parties, mostly for good reasons and needing action.




Thrupe Lane Swallet


Fall, broken leg





Cheddar Cliffs


Fallen cows trapped

( -)




Sally Rift, Warleigh Woods


Missing body, search

( -)




Read's Cavern


Lost, trapped, light failure

( 8)




Longwood Swallet


Overdue party

( -)




Swildon's Hole


Overdue party

( -)




Eastwater Cavern Entrance


Fallen cow trapped

( -)




Shute Shelve Cutting


Crashed motorcycle

( -)




Swildon's Hole


Overdue party

( -)




Swildon’s Hole


Overdue party

( -)






Hospitalised climber

( -)




G.B. Cavern


Overdue party

( -)




Swildon's Hole


Dislocated shoulder

( 7)




Swildon's Hole


Fall, injured ankle

( -)




Spar Pot, East Twin


Overdue party

( -)




Dallimore's Cave


Presumed overdue

( -)

The figures in brackets to the right show the numbers of cavers going underground on the rescue incidents.  This data has been required for insurance purposes in the past.  It is worth noting that insurance cover is not provided for people involved on the surface nor when recovering trapped animals.  The following log of each call-out has been compiled from the notes made by the wardens in control.  Full details are given as MRO believes that it can be misleading to simplify the causes.

Saturday 13th January                            Thrupe Lane Swallet

Martin Scott, aged 28, from Aylesbury descended to the bottom of the cave with a well equipped and experienced party of six from a geophysical research firm in the Swindon area.  He had done the least caving before and it was his first time on long ladder pitches underground.  On ascending Atlas Pot at about 2.30 p.m., he fell about twenty feet onto a fortuitous ledge and broke his leg.  He also damaged a wrist.  The lifeline only slowed his fall because the incorrectly rigged Stitch Plate belay gave way under the strain.

One of the party left the cave to raise the alarm through Mrs Butt.  Yeovil Police alerted Brian Prewer at 3.30 p.m.  Dany Bradshaw and rescuers from both the Belfry and Upper Pitts were called.  All left for the cave with basic equipment.  Richard West was contacted at 3.35 p.m. to take over surface control and organise further rescuers and hauling gear.  Dr Tony Boycott was informed.  Eric Dunford set up communications links between the surface and underground parties with Brian Prewer.

Rescuers entered the cave at 4.15 p.m.  Dany Bradshaw, Nick Williams, Dave Hilder, Pete Evans, Mike Wilson, Jeremy Henly, Richard Blake, Richard Stevens, Chris Harvey, Nick Gymer and Sara McDonald carried in the First Aid and hauling equipment.  Duncan Frew and Pete Hann went down with the Grunterphone.  The patient was reached by about 4.40 p.m. and communication established soon afterwards. Tony Boycott and Rob Harper were accompanied underground by Tony Jarratt at 4.50 p.m.

The patient was found to be in fair condition and able to do a lot to help himself.  However, he was large and so a long haul out was anticipated. A back-up team assembled outside the farm comprising Stewart McManus, Nigel Taylor, Tim Large, Trevor Hughes and Ian Caldwell.  Richard Witcombe and Clive North turned up and opened their diggers' hut as a refuge. Soups were heated at the Belfry by Anne West, Hilary Wilson and Glenys Grass then ferried to the cave by Helen Harper and Joss Large.  Further rescuers stood by at the Belfry and their homes.  The local Police provided flood lights on the road.  Nick Woolf of the Ambulance service attended so that his crews could be radioed when needed rather than waste valuable time hanging around. A freelance reporter turned up and was given the basic facts by Jim Hanwell.

Martin Scott was reported as being at the top of Atlas Pot by 5.55 p.m.  He reached the head of Perseverance Pot at 6.55 p.m. and was out of the cave by 7. 40 p.m.  The ambulance left for the Royal United Hospital, Bath, five minutes later.  Those left to clear up managed to make the Hunters just before closing time!  When a lot of gear is used, it takes a long time to clear up.  Many useful lessons were learnt from this incident and Martin's "thank you" letters soon afterwards were much appreciated.

Sunday 4th February                 Cheddar Cliffs

Two yearling cows belonging to Cheddar farmer Ian Cambridge slipped down the cliffs behind the Wishing Well Tea Rooms at the bottom of the Gorge and became trapped in the 15 ft by 3 ft slot between the buildings and bluff.  Cheddar Fire Brigade were first alerted and suggested calling MRO.  The farmer concerned lets his animals roam, much to the annoyance of some villagers.  Cavers have helped before by recovering his goats off cliffs.

Taunton Police requested assistance from Brian Prewer at 9.30 a.m.  A team comprising Fred Davies, Nigel Taylor, Dany Bradshaw, Chris Harvey, Graham Wilton-Jones, Chris Smart, Martin Grass and Stuart Lain went to the scene with hauling tackle.  By cunning use of bales of straw and ropes, the reluctant yearlings were lifted onto the flat roof, tied to metal farm gates and lowered down a pre-constructed ramp to the open road.  The task was completed by 12.30 p.m., and everyone seemed happy, save for one ungrateful beast who shat upon Nigel for his trouble!  No "thank you" has been forthcoming from the farmer either.

Sunday11th March                                 Sally Rift, Warleigh Woods

The Police at Bath were checking out the possibility that the body of the missing woman, Ruth Stevens, was somewhere in these woods near Bathford.  Old stone mine workings associated with Sally Rift occur in the area and Bob Scamnell volunteered to check the known sites.  He was accompanied by Nick McCamley, Derek Hawkins and John Greenslade.  

A thorough two-hour search of every old shaft and rift was undertaken but nothing untoward found.

Sunday 1st April                                    Read’s Cavern

Eleven members of the Golders Green venture scouts from London descended the cave at about mid-day.  The suitably equipped party was led by Jim Rands and supported by Dave Morrison; both highly experienced members of the Wessex Cave Club. On reaching the Main Chamber, several then decided to return to the surface and were escorted out.  Whilst this was happening, Pete Wilkinson, Julia Waxman and Samira Abbas, aged seventeen, decided to explore Zed Alley without telling anyone.  Wilkinson was unable to follow the two slim girls when they forced several squeezes beyond the boulder ruckle.  He stayed to guide their return to the ruckle, but then left the cave ahead. For some reason, the girls did not follow.  Once out of earshot, they became lost and scared.

The missing pair failed to surface behind Wilkinson and he was unable to describe where he had left them. Jim Rands made a rapid search of the regular routes in vain.  He requested help and Brian Prewer received the call from Yeovil Police at 4.15 p.m. Nigel Taylor was contacted at Langford and reached the cave to establish surface control by 4.45 p.m.  Rescuers from Priddy had to run the gauntlet of heavy holiday traffic in Burrington Combe.

Pete Hann, Ian Marchant, Tony Deacon and Jim Rands went into the cave at 4.48 p.m. to search Zed Alley as now the most likely location for the missing pair given the earlier search by Jim.  Brian Prewer, Andy Sparrow and Martin White arrived shortly afterwards in support and communications were established with the Belfry through Stewart McManus and Chris Harvey should further rescuers and equipment prove necessary.  Andy and Martin went down the cave at 5 p.m. to check out the less likely Browne-Stewart Series.

The missing girls were soon located at the bottom of the boulder ruckle and reported to be well but rather cold and frightened at 5.15 p.m.  They were given food and drinks to boost their morale.  Alison Moody arrived at 5.25 p.m. and stood by.  All were safely out of the cave by 6.12 p.m. Needless to say, those concerned showed their gratitude in many ways, not least back at the Hunters!

Saturday 28th April                                Longwood Swallet

Yeovil Police contacted Fred Davies at 11.22 p.m. to say that a woman from Keynsham had reported an overdue party.  She described the car being used.  Brian Prewer was asked to drive to Longwood to check whether the cavers were still underground.  Other rescuers, including Stewart McManus, were stood by at Priddy.

No car was found at Longwood.  Meanwhile, the informant contacted the Police again at 11.40 p.m. to say that all the party had returned home.  After all, it takes about forty minutes to reach Keynsham from Mendip after closing time!

Thursday 31st May                                Swildon’s Hole

Brian Prewer was contacted by Yeovil Police at 1.45 a.m.  They reported that a party from Beaminster, Dorset, was overdue from a trip to Sump One as they had been expected home at 11.30 p.m. The girlfriend of one of the cavers had raised the alarm from a call box in Dorset but could provide no further information.

Leaving the Police to try and obtain more details about any vehicles used, Brian went to check for any parked on the greens in Priddy.  All likely places were empty.  The Police were told later that the caver concerned had got home at 2.36 a.m.  It takes even longer to reach Beaminster from Mendip after closing tine, of course!

Monday 16th July                                   Eastwater Cavern Entrance

Mrs Dorothy Gibbons rang Brian Prewer for assistance to retrieve a heifer stuck in a narrow gully on the cliffs above the cave entrance.  He requested help from Fred Davies, Andy Sparrow, Pete Moody and a party staying at the Belfry, including Ray Mansfield with a visiting Czechoslovakian couple.  By chance, the husband, Jan Sencer, was a vet!

Mr Gibbons and his family had managed to get a heavy rope around the animal's neck to a JCB on the cliff top.  The heifer did not like this.  Being more familiar with such problems in Czechoslovakia, no doubt, Jan descended the cliff and succeeded in getting a tape halter over the head with help from Fred.  Two more tape slings were passed around the front legs. Jan’s wife acted as interpreter for the hauling instructions, given in Czechoslovakian, for which we do not have much call on Mendip.

The heifer was soon lifted about 10 feet to safety suffering from surprise, a few cuts and bruises, and a lame leg.  But it did not shit on anyone, which is a great compliment to Jan's "bedside" manner and expertise.  Mr and Mrs Gibbons were especially grateful and appreciative.

Monday 23rd July                                   Shute Shelve Cutting

Brian Prewer received a call from Taunton Police at 5 p.m. requesting assistance to investigate a crashed motorcycle.  It had been abandoned in the disused railway cutting on its approach to the old tunnel between Axbridge and Winscombe and was lodged in bushes about 30 feet above a sheer cliff.  There was the possibility that an injured rider was in the vicinity below.

Brian, Nigel Taylor, Rich West and Dany Bradshaw went to the scene with ropes.  Nigel abseiled to the motorcycle and attached a hauling line for it to be pulled up by the others.  No person was found and the incident was over by 7 p.m.

Sunday 19th August                   Swildon’s Hole

Ian Butcher rang Brian Prewer at 1 a.m. to say that a party was overdue by about four hours according to the notice board in the Shepton Mallet Hut.  A group from Guildford had not returned there.  After making enquiries, it was discovered that the party had been based elsewhere on Mendip.  They had only called in at the Shepton Hut on their way to the cave, but left directly for Guildford without cancelling their notice!  The Police were not informed of this incident.

Friday 31st August                                 Swildon’s Hole

Force Control in Bristol alerted Brian Prewer at 5.45 p.m. to an overdue party of Wiltshire Police from Swindon that should have returned there at 4.30 p.m.  He checked out both village greens to see if the reported car being used by the cavers was still there.  It was not. At 6.45 p.m., the Police called again to say that they had got it wrong as the trip was to take place the next day!

Sunday 2nd September              Alert

A caver abseiling at Underwood (or "Split Rock") Quarry near Wookey Hole was concussed and so admitted overnight to Wells and District Hospital.  He was worried that other members of his group staying in the MCG Cottage at Nordrach might callout MRO when he failed to return there.  The Police were informed and they advised Brian Prewer of the situation.  Brian then contacted the cottage to let those concerned know what had happened.

Saturday 6th October                 G.B. Cavern

Yeovil Police contacted Brian Prewer just after midnight to report an overdue party expected out at least two hours earlier.  Shortly afterwards, the informant reported that the four cavers concerned had turned up. They had been delayed on entering the cave and then could not find a telephone box on getting out late.

Saturday 6th October                 Swildon' s Hole

The Police alerted Brian Prewer at 2.50 p.m.  Miss Ceili Williams, aged 24, was caving with an Oxford University Caving Club party and dislocated her shoulder in Barnes’ Loop.  Apparently, this had happened to her before, though not whilst caving.  A strong BEC contingent was called out from their AGM.  Dany Bradshaw, Bob Cork and Stewart McManus organised the underground team, Nigel Taylor stood by at the Belfry and Tim Large took over surface control on Priddy Green.  Dr Tony Boycott was asked to attend.

Pete McNab, Kevin Garner and Nick Gyner formed the advance party with First Aid, comforts, the baby-bouncer, lifeline and ladder.  They entered the cave at 3.10 p.m., only twenty minutes after receiving the callout. Tony Boycott and Graham Naylor closely followed them.  Dany Bradshaw, Bob Cork and Stewart McManus left at 3.32 p.m.  Wessex Cave Club diggers from Cow Hole arrived in support. Entenox was obtained from the Ambulance in attendance and Don Thomson provided a demand valve

At 4.15 p.m. a message was received that Tony Boycott had succeeded in relocating the shoulder and the patient was on the way out, mainly helping herself.  She surfaced at 4.51 p.m. and it was considered that no further treatment to her shoulder was required.

Wednesday 24th October                       Swildon’s Hole

Yeovil Police informed Brian Prewer at 10.25 p.m. that a report of an injured caver had been received. They had no further details of the injuries or of the location in the cave; so, the informant herself was sought out on Priddy Green.  She explained that John Swift from Weston-s­Mare had fallen at the Double Pots and injured his ankle.  There was some concern because the person hurt had a pace-maker.

A rescue party was assembled from the Hunters, including Dr Tony Boycott.  Many stood by.  On arriving at Priddy Green, they were confronted by the patient limping along the road.  A rapid about turn ensued!

Wednesday 24th October                       Spar Pot, East Twin

Brian Prewer was alerted by Yeovil Police at 11.40 p.m. because a party of three from the Swindon area had not returned when expected.  Nigel Taylor was raised to see if any car was still parked at East Twin in Burrington Combe.  None was found in a likely place.  At half-past midnight, the Police rang again to say that the party had returned safely to Wiltshire.  It appears that someone misunderstood the callout procedures.

Wednesday 31st October                       Dallimore’s Cave

The farmer at Ores Close Farm became concerned because a car belonging to cavers he knew, who had gone underground the previous evening at 7 p.m., was still at the farm sixteen hours later.  Yeovil Police informed Brenda Prewer just after 11 a.m. and she advised Brian at work in Wells.  Tony Jarratt was contacted and able to provide a simple explanation, much to everyone's relief.

Oxford University cavers had been surveying the new extensions to the system the previous evening, had come out late then returned very early the following morning to continue the task.  They had understandably not bothered the farmer in the small hours.  No further action was taken.

J. D. Hanwell Honorary Secretary and Treasurer Wookey Hole Wells


Under England's Mountains Green

The article that follows was lifted from The Florida Speleologist. Vol. 27, No.3, Fall, 1990

by William Sibley-Dem~ NSS 23516

I didn't think as we stepped on the plane that I would have many opportunities to get underground during my vacation this past August.  My wife Laura and I were married about a year ago, shortly before moving from Pennsylvania to the vast, still only partly explored karst landscape of Central Florida.  Now I was finally going to meet my in-laws, all of whom live in the south of England and none of whom are cavers.  The night I first met Laura, I showed her some of the photos that I helped Ed McCarthy and Carl Samples take in the big caves of West Virginia -- Friars Hole, Organ, Buckeye Creek.  She must have been impressed.  One of our first dates was a trip back to the waterfall in Casparis Cave (Fayette Co., PA).  She was unusually quiet inside.  While walking the mile back to the car, in the rain, she said "I've never felt so grotty in all my life".  She later confessed to being a bit claustrophic.  She married me anyway, and knew she was marrying a Caver.  We were married above ground.

Anyway, Laura hadn't been home to see her family in nine years, so we just figured on spending three weeks establishing (for me) and re-establishing (for her) family ties with no firm itinerary.  I did manage to do a bit of research on the side, though, and packed along a few recent issues of Descent and Caves and Caving.  Thus I was armed with addresses of caving clubs, in case I found myself near any caves with time on my hands.

Naturally, we spent a lot of our time relaxing in domestic surroundings with family and old (new) friends. We stayed with Laura's sister, Ann, who lives in Uckfleld, East Sussex, on the River Uck, which flows through the lovely South Downs into the Ouse (pronounced "ooze"). Here there are few proper caves -- mostly medieval storm drains, disused railway tunnels, mysterious prehistoric chalk mines and "deneholes", hermits' grottos, and the occasional 280 foot deep Roman well.  Many are associated with wonderful old legends (although, some times, it seems that smuggling must have been the primary industry at some point in history). All have been carefully mapped and documented by groups like the Chelsea Speleological Society ... whose defination of "caves" might be "circumscribed, air filled void, explorable (subterranean)" .

Actually there are a few solution caves in the chalk, including Beachy Head Cave with over 1,100 feet of crawlway, but these are rare and invariably small.  Cavers without caves will push anything dark though.  Growing up in Pennsylvania I found culverts under the highways that were pretty long.  We have a different dilemma here in Florida where unchecked sinkholes greatly outnumber cavers and it's hard to get a mapping party together to mop up a few sandy crawls in a known cave because of the lure of finding something like Briar Cave, The Catacombs, or Warren Cave under the next hole down the road.

The natives have been caving in Britain for a long time (King Arthur is rumoured to be waiting to make his reappearance in some hidden chamber and, who knows, Caesar may have toured some show caves after the invasion) and the easy discoveries have already been made.  Florida is new to speleology.  Our cave legends have to do with things like Johnny Weissmuller swimming into Ocala Caverns and coming up at Silver Springs during the filming of "Tarzan and the Lost City".  But to get back to my story.  Between hikes and day trips to sip wine in the shade of centuries-old oaks surrounded by roe deer near stately homes in the countryside, we learned to identify unfamiliar birds, go hedgehog spotting, play cricket, and spin on spinning wheels. Laura's sister Ann spins all of Paul McCartney's wool.  (He keeps sheep you know.)  Linda McCartney phoned one evening while we were there.

I got my first good look at limestone when we drove west to visit Laura's brother, Roy, in the quiet village of Combe Martin on the rugged north coast of Devon.  Here, under prehistoric tumuli-studded foggy moors, we found the remains of the ancient silver mines that some believe were first worked by the Phoenicians.  Be that as it may, we had a smashing time wandering about the coast with it's dramatically tilted Devonian (of course) Limestones and Shales thrusting into the crashing surf, picking up “cuttlebones”, and chatting with seaweed collectors.  There are a number of fine littoral caves in this area, reportedly much used by the old smugglers, but many are accessible only by boat.  There is one small entrance in Lester Point that is easily visible from the pebble beach of Combe Martin Bay.  It is not marked on the "Pathfinder' topographic map, or even listed in Tony Oldham's "The Complete Caves of Devon" (which I acquired for my library).  Roy describes it as a fine place in which to hide and surprise curious beachcombers, but high tide: prevented us exploring it ourselves.

I asked some older locals about a cave shown on the map half-way between the partly thirteenth century church and the old rectory on Clorridge Hill, but they said that the entrance had been covered up by recent construction.  I had no way of knowing at the time that just west of the village on top of Napp's Hill, above Golden Bay, is Napp's Cave -- the longest and most exquisitely decorated cave in the district -- full of unbroken helictites and big clusters of irregular branch-like aragonite crystals locally referred to as "flos-ferre".  Nor did I know that in Buckfastleigh, south-east of Dartmoor, is the William Pengelly Cave Studies Centre, situated on the edge of the greatest concentration of caves in Devon, some of which contain the richest deposits of interglacial mammalian remains yet found in Britain.  Oh well, I'll be better prepared next time.  On the way back to Sussex we drove right around the Mendip Hills that I had read so much about.  I remember pointing out the window and saying, "Somewhere over there is Wookey Hole, and Swildon's, and Eastwater."  No one with me knew what I was talking about.

Two thirds of our stay went by and I still hadn't gotten underground.  I was having trouble concealing the symptoms of "cave withdrawal syndrome" and hadn't even a lump of carbide to sniff.  I cleverly suggested a trip to the town of Wells to see the magical old cathedral and it's wells (springs).  I could at least touch some real cave water.  Also I knew that there was a caving shop nearby to which I could escape and talk cave with someone.  I rang up "Bat Products" as soon as we arrived and went over straight away. Outside was what once must have been a sort of Land Rover, but was now a vehicle shaped collection of cave bumper stickers and decals.  I knew I had found the right place.  Inside was Mr. Tony (J-Rat) Jarratt, Proprietor, Caver, and Model (he appears dynamically posed in exposure suits on many Bat Products adverts).  He looked to me like a dreamy­eyed Mitch Miller after a cold rinse cycle.  Tony was about to close up shop and head into the hills for the afternoon, but we chatted for a while and exchanged Bulletins.  I said I was going to wander around town for a bit with the family and he invited us up to the Hunters' Lodge, "the best pub in the Universe", to meet the rest of his brood -- the Bristol Exploration Club (BEC).

Caving Areas of Great Britain

After seeing the "wells", a resurgence in the garden of the Bishop's Palace in the shade of the great cathedral, we made our way to Cheddar Gorge with its fine limestone cliffs and show caves.  We found it a busy place full of tourist types, but a good opportunity to get our whole party underground.  Gough's Cave is nicely lit, well decorated, and tastefully guided by disembodied voices. Later, we retreated to the top of Cheddar Gorge (a perfectly wizard spot for knadgering about) to picnic and "down a few tubes".

We arrived at the infamous Hunters' Lodge Inn, Priddy, shortly after it opened for the evening. We found it surrounded by all manner of caving vehicles and at the centre of a migration of slightly damp-looking shapes on foot coming over the hilltops from all points.  Inside it was practically standing (crawling or chimneying) room only.  Over the fireplace hung a collection of carbide lamps, above the bar a row of tankards with Bertie the Bat Insignias on their well worn sides.  From one room seemed to radiate the unmistakable sounds of Morris Dancing to fiddle -- but this may have been hallucination or mass hysteria caused by the dense concentration of cavers.  

The first order of business was, of course, to obtain from the barman (also a caver) a pint of the best -- "Butcombe Bitter" -- a spunky, aggressive bit of foam that rewards repeated, if not continual consumption.

We soon found Tony, who took us round to meet the remaining members of the BEC (whose mottos are "Everything to Excess" and "The BEC Get Everywhere") the Wessex Cave Club (who seem to have just come from a tea party), the Shepton Mallet Cave Club, the CSS, MCG, and MNRC, etc.  All flock to the Hunters' when not digging in the dark.  Digging and singing are common amongst cavers on Mendip, digging in shakeholes and crawlways because most caves and nearly all new finds were first entered that way, and singing mostly in the Hunters' Lodge after being revitalized by a healthy dose of Butcombe's.  Sadly, this is slowly declining (the singing not the drinking). Storytelling is alive and well amongst cavers everywhere, and I took my turn telling of adventure under West Virginia and Florida.  At one point someone said, "Have we got a trip for you!", and it was proposed that I accompany the BEC the following morning on a descent of Saint Cuthbert's Swallet to remove the inadequate pump from Sump Two.  It sounded a sporting trip and hardly one to be passed up.  Laura had no reservations about leaving me in such hands and she soon departed for Southampton with friends.  I hadn't planned on an overnight stay and so was without so much as a toothbrush or change of clothes.

After exhausting the Pubs's consumables, we retired to the Belfry, the "hut" that the BEC maintains as their digs.  It is one of six such club headquarters on Mendip that stand ready to accommodate any number of local cavers and visitors.  I rode over with Tony; listening to Vivaldi Concertos under an incredibly stary sky.  The Belfry is easily recognized as the building with the human skeleton mounted as if climbing the flag pole from which hangs a red bat flag, perpetually at half-mast.  Inside were benches and bunks for dozens of troglophiles, an extensive library and communications centre, kitchen; shower, and meeting room with decorated by show caves 'round the world, and many appropriate (if sometimes out of context) signs and warnings like "It is forbidden to climb on these walls", and a caution about explosive bolts on the toilet seat.  One wall sported a partially completed heroic mural depicting intrepid twentieth century explorers in characteristic poses (Butcombes' in hand). Altogether comfortably like a well­equipped West Virginia Fieldhouse.

The Belfry

Tales were told and I learned much about the local style, which occasionally includes the judicious art of passage modification in the interest of science and exploration -- with explosives.  The euphemisms have only begun to be catalogued: Bang, Wonder Hammer, Chemical Encouragement or Persuasion, Boulder Laxative, etc. Some told stories of great doings in the huge, Welsh systems.

Apparently a few industrious individuals have spent up to two months a year underground (in ten day stretches) pushing and digging in caves under Mynydd Llangattwg.  I brought out my best snaps (yes, I am never without my briefcase) and entertained with tales of Florida Safari Style Caving - about being chased by Cape Buffalo into caves only to run into trogloxenic alligators in close quarters.  Eventually, the sound of an empty barrel being thumped signalled the time for a period of unconsciousness before the morning's activities.

The Mendip Hills upon which we slept consist of four great domes that have been eroded to form a gently rolling plateau almost 100 square miles in area and about 800 feet high on average.  A few valleys and gorges (as at Cheddar) are incised into the rim.  Virtually all drainage is subterranean.  In the steeply-dipping limestone, this has produced a profusion of caves typified by precipitous tight rifts, wet pitches, high gradient roaring streamways, and lower down, sumps requiring SCUBA or, in some cases, extraordinary bravado.  The local chemistry provides for a plethora of calcitic - enhancement in many a stal-covered grotto.

 “ England’s Mountains Green" have been a bit brown of late due to two consecutive years of unprecedented drought.  The drought has eased the cavers' labours somewhat, but certainly didn't dry up these caves completely, as I would soon find out.

Everyone was up at a surprisingly decent hour (for cavers) and there commenced a quiet flurry of preparatory activity as trips were registered on the blackboard with their estimated times of emergence.  Tony appeared with a lovely selection of gear to equip me with.  I crawled into my grots and kit, all of which miraculously fit perfectly, and fortunately did not include a weighty pair of "wellies". I had dreaded the prospect of being presented a pair of Wellingtons and having to cave/climb in what I imagined to be something like fireman's boots.  I had somehow managed to never have been caving in a wet suit, and I knew this was the time to try it.  I am thin and used to Florida's temperatures.  Kitted up (and looking fairly butch in black foam) we walked the short distance to the vertical cement pipe that marks the only entrance to Saint Cuthbert's Swallet (dramatic chord here).

Mural in progress  BEC Belfry

St. Cuthbert's is a far too recent discovery for the seventh century monk to have been involved in its penetration.  Actually, apart from my own cleverly forged mock manuscript, there is no evidence that he was a caver at all, although he did excavate a partially underground home for himself on the Isle Faroe during one of his antisocial periods.  The cave is named for the ancient St. Cuthbert's Lead Works which lie above it.  This mine is thousands of years old and may actually have been a significant factor in the Romans' decision to invade Britain.  It probably supplied the lead plumbing, for the famous Roman spa in the nearby town of Bath. Later, in 1927, the sudden disappearance of the sizeable, St. Cuthbert's Pool, and the occurrence of a large collapse ten years later confirmed for modern explorers the suspicion that significant passage lay below.

Digging began in the 1940's and was finally rewarded when the entrance series was breached in 1953 to reveal the most complex cave system on Mendip.  At over 2,200 feet, it is second in length only to Swildon's Hole. Major discoveries came fairly regularly through the '50's and '60's with the once terminal sump, (Sump One), being conquered in 1969.  A map of known passage was published in 1972.  Subsequent work has been on the production of a CRG Grade 6d survey, forming the basis of the soon to be published "Saint Cuthbert's Report", and a determined effort to, pass Sump Two.  This is a major project, involving the construction of a system of dams in the streamways to lower the water in the sump where divers have been digging for ten years in a slurry of mud and water.  Periodically, the pent-up water is released all at once to flush through the sump.  The water that St. Cuthbert's swallows reappears in Wookey Hole, a mile or more to the south.  Our task on August 27, 1990 was to descend and effect a removal of the inadequate and mud choked pump from Sump Two and to and be back to the surface before the pub closed for the afternoon.

Unlike a trip into Swildon's, the going gets easier the deeper you go in the St. Cuthbert's system, but that makes for a good bit of sport at the top.  Waiting your turn to climb down the pipe, you can't help noticing that the exposed limestone outcrop dips at about a 45 degree angle. You can follow that line a long way down in your imagination.  The fifteen foot climb through the pipe is an abrupt transition to the underground environment.  Within moments we were presented with our first (and later our - last) obstacle, the Entrance Rift.  Those ahead of me disappeared into a narrow crack in the bottom of a small chamber and called up when they were though.  A shadowy face told me where the best place to start was.  I climbed down and slipped myself into the 30 foot deep vertical slot.  A cable ladder hung to one side but was of little use, there simply was no room to climb. Sandwiched between well worn walls, the dilemma was not how to go down, but how to go down at some controlled rate. Every conceivable body surface was used in a sort of ropeless body rappel, the most interesting part being the narrow middle section where there was hardly enough room to flex my legs to form a wedge.  This can get a bit dodgy when a lot of water is cascading down the crack.  Everyone wonders on their first trip down how they will fair going against gravity on their way out.  Being in close contact with the walls reminded me how cold, dark, and hard limestone can be, not at all like the porous, white, rock I had gotten used to after caving for a year in Florida.  Clambering rather awkwardly, for the first time in a wet suit, over and through boulder ruckle quickly brought me to a 25 foot drop and the first of four heavy steel ladders that have been put into place with what must have been great effort.

It is not common practice on Mendip to fill wild caves with mechanical contrivances of convenience, nor is St. Cuthbert's being made into a sort of show cave.  The cave is almost unheard of outside Britain and because of its complexity and difficulty is in near pristine condition and not much trafficked.  Access is carefully controlled by the BEC on behalf of the landowners.  Trips are limited to small groups of experienced explorers led by one of about 25 designated leaders.  The construction of semi-permanent ladders on a few of the many pitches near the entrance was deemed acceptable to facilitate the difficult ongoing project of exploration and mapping in this complex system.  I am told I am probably the only person to have made a trip into St. Cuthbert's Swallet as my first trip underground on Mendip.

We decided in the breakdown-littered Arête Chamber to forego the "New Route" with it's impressive but time consuming 60 foot abseil of Pulpit Pitch and took the quicker "Old Route" through an exhilarating (and somewhat disorienting) sequence of climbs and traverses.  I nearly lost my sense of direction -- except for one: we were going downwards, relentlessly and precipitously.  The "Wire Rift" began as a narrow canyon going straight down­dip, and is traversed on steep damp ledges.  "This will be a bit of exercise on the way out", I thought.  Then I was chimneying out over the deep dark space of the Waterfall Pitch and Wet Pitch (where there used to be a steel wire for a handline) and appreciating the occasional word of advice on what not to do from my guides up ahead.  A few horizontal moves and a climbdown brought us to the ladder into Mud Hall, where routes again diverge in many directions.  We elected to climb up into the Pillar Chamber, well hung with stal and featuring a splendid calcite column.  From there an interesting climb-down through a slot took us through some low passage that was soon deepened by a vadose trench.  Where it widened again, we stopped to drink from a cold tin cup that is left under a trickle of fresh falling water.

I paused to look around and realized that we had emerged into a large breakdown room.  This was the top of the Boulder Chamber, one of the largest rooms in the cave, and we were taking a break under Kanchenjunga, a mountain of a block of stone that had come to rest on the floor.  The Belfryites enjoyed pointing out to me the many openings that we had passed that led off to extensive series of passage networks.  The Boulder Chamber is a major central landmark for exploration in all directions.  We had made good time so far, so they decided to show me a few of the nearby sights. On the south side of the room we approached the "Cascade", an immense wall of pure white, convoluted organ-pipe type flowstone about a hundred feet high!  Not far away I climbed up a slope into the bottom of a room whose decorated walls rose high out of sight.  I crouched directly beneath an amazing display of dripstone draperies, 'many at least 20 feet long and possibly the finest collection of calcite curtains in the U.K.  Nowhere did I see even a single formation broken by carelessness or malice.

Exiting the bottom of Boulder Chamber past "Everest", another huge block, brought us finally to the Main Stream. This meanders for a few hundred feet beneath the Rabbit Warren Series to Stalagmite Pitch.  We avoided the 25 foot drop by chimneying down between flowstone walls and crawled into Sewer Passage -- a low gradient muddy section of streamway. Here another stream adds itself to the flow, the passage turns south and becomes a nice rift that is soon nearly blocked by massive flowstone, which we climbed to enter the Beehive Chamber with it's namesake, a 20 foot high stalagmitic mound.  On the far side of the room we climbed a smooth rounded stal slope with the aid of a heavy chain anchored at the top and was rewarded with one of the most dramatic vistas St. Cuthbert's has to offer.  We stood on the brow of the Great Gour of Gour Hall -- a monstrous rimstone dam 20 feet high!  Above rose a high Aven [dome] almost filled with formations.  Below, the awesome cascade of calcite plunged steeply into the Great Gour Rift, a high stream washed canyon stretching straight into the darkness beyond.

Dwarfed by proportion gone mad, we carefully descended the face of the Great Gour and set off, splashing down the echoing canyon.  The cold water deepened as we approached a dam constructed across the stream to increase the airspace through the once impenetrable Sump One.  We left the rapidly diminishing rift and entered a cobbly crawl on hands and knees for the first time in the frigid water.  This became a flat-out crawl through the sump with a comfortable amount of air space.  Far from the warm daylight above we arrived in the impressive High Rift Passage of St. Cuthbert's 2 -- the world beyond the sump.

I was assured as we splashed and occasionally swam through delightful, high, gently sloping clean canyon that so far no one had as yet encountered alligators in the remote wet passages beyond Sump One.  I was much relieved because at this point my hands were really too numb for wrestling with giant reptiles.  Our progress was occasionally slowed by crawls in the streambed under flowstone chokes and: sporting climbs down waterfalls to invigorating plunges into deep pools.  Swimming became the most common means of travel as we approached the Aswan High Dam -- an impressive bit of work and quite a feat of shoestring engineering this far down.  A scramble over the wall of the dam to get out of the chilling water and we reached the now terminal Sump Two, that even today is being silted up by particulate debris washed down from the ancient lead works nearly 500 feet above on the surface.


Maps taken from: Mendip Underground: A Caver's Guide, 1977; Mendip Pub., Somerset, England

The relative inactivity while work was completed at the terminal pool was enough to set me to shivering once or twice despite the well-fitted wet suit (and they say the water in Welsh caves is twice as cold!).  This crew would just love skinny dipping in Blue Canyon or Briar Cave, I thought.  It wasn't long before the pump was out and we were retracing our steps, swims, crawls, and climbs, toward the surface so far above. Behind each dam, some poor sod was talked into diving down to pull the plug, to the sound of much cheering and applause just audible above the thunderous din of the escaping water.  Out of the blue (actually black) I heard, "How about a game of catch then?", and we began passing an American football back and forth to liven up the long swims in the downstream end of the cave.  I never did find out where the pigskin appeared from, or whether this was a traditional Mendip pastime or something planned to help me feel at home.

A few of us stayed in the stream passage up past the Boulder Chamber to climb the thinly-bedded walls of the Water Shute toward the Pulpit Pitch on the " New Route".  The drop itself not being rigged, we back-tracked to a climb up into Mud Hall and the beginning of the return thrutch up the steep ledges of the Wire Rift -- the sort of not quite vertical caving, requiring no SRT, that is common on Mendip but rare in my own personal experience.  I was probably mildly hypothermic and less efficient in my climbing than the Bellfryites ahead of me.  I know I was fighting the unfamiliar restrictive wet suit and using my arms too much.  I'm sure that I lagged behind the advancing column at times, but was never without a patient route finder.  The occasional rigid steel ladder provided a welcome means of expeditious vertical progress. From the Arête Chamber, we took a quick break before the final push to day light, and went over to peer down the 60 foot Pulpit Pitch for one last glimpse into the depths.

My friends in the BEC won't forgive me if I don't admit to being suitably knackered as I looked up the long anticipated final effort of the Entrance Rift.  Once in the slot, I managed a sort of halting abrasive wriggle by alternately advancing my knee caps, shoulder blades, and chin against the rock, with periodic gropes for the cable ladder.  Halfway up I heard the sound of approaching water as the flood gates at the entrance were opened to provide a final bit of interest.  A slow blur of cold stone and hot sweat and my small momentum carried me right up the entrance pipe to birdsong and sunlight. It should here be recorded that during this particular trip down St. Cuthbert's, not a single living alligator was spotted by any living member of the team in any passage whatever ... again. [Lest this reference to alligators seem odd to some readers the editor notes that the author has a very disconcerting habit of confronting large vertebrates, both above and belowground.  Anyone who can find an African Cape Buffalo in Levy County, Florida could find alligators in England. Ed.]

Back at the Belfry we untrussed our grots, stowed our kit, and without even towelling off, sped straight to the Hunter's for pints of Butcombe's and plates of Faggot and Peas. That afternoon I spent rooting about amongst the ruins of the old lead works and reading "The Caver's Tale" by Geoffrey Chaucer.  (Sorry. Actually, I found out that Thomas Hardy did write a novel about caving: "Our Exploits at West Poley" -- a children’s book and certainly not one of his best efforts).  We all found ourselves later at the Hunter's (of course) for an evening of balladry and the telling of stories about doing everything to excess - everywhere.  After spending a restful night in my choice of bunks high in the Belfry, I re-entered the one set of clothes I had with me (now a slightly different colour), dropped a handful of pounds in the collection box (the BEC doesn't charge enough for lodgings), and went down to Bat Products for a chat with Tony before leaving to join Laura and her family.

If the boys at the Belfry accept my invitation to cave with the FSS in central Florida, they will almost certainly "Get Everywhere".

The best of luck in their digs, dives, etc. and innumerable thanks to Tony Jarrett and all the members of the Bristol Exploration Club who spared not a jot in showing me the depth of hospitality extended to cavers from around the world in the huts on Mendip. I hereby authorize the Editor of the "Belfry Bulletin" to utilize as he sees fit any or all of this essay and its illustrations if he is in need of filler.  I apologize for the occasional, very American use of the exclamation mark (!) which he may delete with my permission.  I am currently at work composing a symphonic suite entitled "An American on Mendip" with lots of nifty parts for pewter percussion, which I plan to premier at the Hunter's Lodge Inn during my next visit to Mendip. With the help of Saint Cuthbert, it will be soon.

The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Ted Humphreys

1990 - 1991 Committee

Hon. Sec.                Martin Grass
Treasurer                 Chris Smart
Caving Sec.             Jeff Price
Hut Warden             Chris Harvey
Tackle Master          Stuart McManus
B.B. Editor               Ted Humphreys
Hut Engineer            Nigel Taylor
Membership Sec.     John Watson
                               Ian Caldwell 


Please can I have more articles or anything to go in the BB.  I have nothing in reserve as usual!

Nothing sensational seems to have happened since Christmas, though lots of caving has been done.  I tell a lie!  There was one rescue in Eastwater.  A girl hurt her back in Dolphin Pot but was extricated successfully by the MRO.  The biggest casualty being Tony Boycott who crashed his car while on his way to attend the rescue and, I believe, damaged/broke some ribs.  I don’t seem to be very good at gathering the latest Mendip news so I've asked Jake if he'll write a synopsis for each BB - he's agreed! The first should appear in the next issue.

I have three letters in front of me from members whose addresses were incorrect (the corrected ones are on page 2).  The letters weren't specifically for publication in the BB but I'm sure they won't mind if I include some extracts from them here.

The first is from Clare Coase whose BB's have been sent to one of her neighbours for a long time and they're getting fed-up with running a delivery service - sorry Clare.  She would also like to say a big thank you to, and I quote “The Club members who were so super to us all, especially to those intrepid leaders of that caving trip with Damien and Nan".

The second is from Steve Milner, who says a largish article is almost ready for the BB and that he would give it to Tony & Trebor when they visited Oz after Christmas.  Where is it Steve?  Also how about an article from J'Rat or Trebor about their exploits?

The third is from Harry Stanbury and I shall quote the P.S. to the letter. "My wife does a very reasonable B & B for any BEC'ites who should happen to stray this far!!". That sounds like an offer too good to be missed if anyone gets to Bude!

Disco, Saturday 2nd March

This is the Battle of Britain, World War Two, Fancy Dress Disco at Priddy Village Hall.  Food and Bar provided.

Tickets are £3.00, available from Blitz, at the Belfry or at the door.

Belfry Working Day. Saturday. 16th March

A lot of jobs need doing, all volunteers welcome.  In the evening, a Barrel, a Belfry Binder and a show of 'Old' slides will be provided for the workers!

A list of the jobs to be done should soon be on display at the Belfry.

Matienzo Permits

Tony and Roz Williams have a contact is Spain, so if anyone needs a caving permit for Matienzo they will find it best to do it through them.  Their address is Leigh-on Mendip, BATH

Membership List Amendments

211L     Clare Coase, Berkley Vale, New South Wales, Australia
1132     Robert Bruce Crowe, Townsville, Queensland, Australia
1143     Jane L. Evans, Cork,  Eire
1142     Angela Garwood, Roath, Cardiff
1098     Brian Gilbert, Chingford, London
316L     Kangy King, Pucklechurch, Bristol
1116     Stuart Lain, Wells, Somerset
1053     Steve Milner, Australia
1046     Dave Shand, Thornhill, Cardiff
1L         Harry Stanbury, Bude, Cornwall

Excerpts from a Portuguese Show Cave Pamphlet

contributed by J'Rat

"The discovery of the Caves of Antonio was made by chance on June 2nd 1955, by two men. While looking for a bird they penetrated a large crack in the rock through which it sought refuse."

"The Caves of Alvados were discovered in 1964.  They prepared a descent into the caves with the aid of rapes and lanterns.  The caves consist in a succession with stalagmits and stalactites, all connected."


Jane, Spain, Plane

Kangy, Jan '91

Got invited to stay with Jane Clarke in Spain which included an irresistible offer of the use of her mountain bike.  As this turned out to be in a National Park thing where she lives when not teaching the locals how to talk inglish like what we do, it gradually dawned that this was PAY DIRT.  GOLD HAD BEEN STRUCK!

I still had to get there and half down the M4 to Heathrow in mid-November I couldn't find my passport. Frantic work at the post office got me a temporary one on my Visa card.  (Visa card?)  The adrenalin was still flowing when I came across Martin Grass who was in the departure lounge for a flight to Paris and I enjoyed really boring him with repetitions of my horrendous tale.  He was really cool about his beautiful friend.  Tell Zot.

A jumping. gesticulating Jane met me at Barthelona Airport.  I felt really glad I hadn't totally blown it by not turning up.

Oh. Happy Holidays, celebratory drinks, long chatty drive back to St. Llorenf Saval in her excellent 2CV, bed far too late.

But next morning! Views everywhere.  Beautiful traditional Catalan house properly constructed of woodworm and instinct.  Super weather, frosty and sunny.  Hills just outside of front door.  Ten minute stroll uphill got us to even more views with a well sculpted skyline full of deep canyons and steep rock walls.  We walked through woods and Jane oriented and informed me about the area. On the way back I became enamoured of a striking little mountain which the map called Castel del Pera and we worked out how I could climb it by bike.  Herself went off to work.  (How was it in the office today dear?) and I set out to tame my first mountain bike. Sore bum.

Cracked it next day. Saddle at right height, not too ambitious about riding up the really steep bits and YAHOO down.

Castel del Pera was elusive and hidden behind paths closed by barriers and big PRIVATE notices which I found intimidating.  I discussed the matter with a friendly shepherd.  We pointed to the map and he indicated that the route indeed went past the GO AWAY sign.  He also gave me an idea for an encore if I managed to climb the peak.  Less than confidently I cycled off.  Dirt road, overgrown track, single path through scrub, contouring up until the cap like summit was immediately above.  The silence was disturbed by distant shouting, the banging of a gun and the baying of dogs.  I found three distinctive trees which served as a landmark to leave the bike against and looked at the next problem in detail.  The summit was a couple of hundred feet above but immediately inaccessible because it was protected by a long contouring steep band of rock rounded and bulging with few gullies to exploit.  I scrambled to a corner where the cliff was more broken and found a way up.  This led as I'd hoped to a ridge which finished at the final rocks of the summit cap. I reckoned that a frontal assault would be the sporting finish but guessed that a way lay around the back. And it did, satisfyingly onto a small plateau with the remains of past fortification.  A real castle.  Good views all round, spectacular cloud and light effects and a glimpse of the way on. I suddenly realised that it was four o'clock and it would be dark at five thirty and decided to risk the route I didn't know about back to St. Llorenf Saval.  I climbed back down.  The Mad Hunter came into view shouting and bawling his head off.  The dogs howled, his gun bang, bang, banged.  Mendip was never like this.  Nervously beating off an inquiring hound and rushing for the bike I took off before having to exchange pleasantries with the awful senor.

The path from the col was indistinct but at least I had seen how the land lay and could follow that. A jeep track soon appeared and I trialed to the road to run down into St. Llorenf Saval arriving home a half an hour after leaving the summit.  Amazing.  I want a mountain bike of my own!  Want one.

I swanned about until Jane came home after a hard days night and we decided to go off early in the morning to visit the mystic Montserrat.  I'd seen the photographs in somebody's book of bumper fun for rock climbers and never forgotten them.  Astonishing - you'll have to see for yourself.

There was the embarrassing catastrophe of the denting of Jane's 2CV but she still talked to me and we drove to the Pyrenees at the weekend to climb Pic Carl it.  The journey took much longer than we thought. Probably because we didn't have much sense of urgency and ooed and aahed at superb mountain views enhanced by early snow.

Reality began on the hairpin bends which wound up to the Lac des Bouillouses where there are refuges which are not open in November.  But we intended to camp.  2CVs run out of puff if not nurtured.  It took several exciting charges at the steep icy road before we were prepared to admit that it would really be much more fun to backpack our gear instead of driving. The gallant 2CV was parked in a getaway mode and we continued the remaining kilometres up a snow packed road to the edge of the lake.  At least what we actually did as the wind was getting up was to pitch the tent in a hollow sheltered by trees.  Grub cooked and eaten, into pits just as it got too dark to see at 6 o'clock.

Increasingly long pauses in the conversation led to snooze.  Let's face it, camping is about endurance and after 9 hours in the sack (or 3 o'clock in the morning) thoughts turned to bladders and the realisation that the tent was being buried in powder snow.  A happy compromise allowed the snow to stay outside.  At first light, Jane emerged from her multilayered survival technology, shuddered at the ice-caked interior walls and amazingly cheerfully, cooked breakfast.  We packed up, beat the snow from the door and unzipped it to see the worst.

Beautiful, but useless. A thick snow covering made an igloo of the tent and hid the broken ground making walking difficult.  We were concerned about the possibility that the 2CV was buried but while behind us storm clouds threatened, the view in front was spectacular.  We dumped the rucsacs and sorted a route amongst fairy trees encrusted with Christmas snow sparkling in strong sunlight.  Climbing out onto a plateau which was sprinkled with little lakes the Carl it stood clearly before us.  Waiting for us.  It was only an illusion because we knew that the snow lay powdery on warm ground which is unhelpful.  And behind us leaden skies threatened further falls.  It was simply a beautiful spectacle and knowing this made it easier to turn our backs and think about rescuing the 2CV.

We made a warm meal in a mountain shelter.  Jane made a note of the Refuge custodian's address for future reference and we trudged off downhill.  A friendly Frenchman gave us a lift, we cleared the snow from the marvellous machine and he kindly hung around until Jane eventually fired up the mighty motor. More excitement as we attacked the slopes, vigorously rubbing the windscreen free from ice and shouting "go for it" until we could relax in a cafe with inordinately expensive coffee and cognacs.

Once again we ate well back at the village restaurant.

Jane was due to work next day so we sorted out an interesting climb during the mornings walk and full of enthusiasm I did it in good time in the afternoon, hot and sweaty but thoroughly enjoying the route finding through the forest, the climb up to the col, the stimulation of being defeated by an imposing rock tower and the added bonus of just enough time to get to the top before it was time to flee before nightfall.

When Jane got home from work bottle of fizz was ready and we got before I was roused at the crack of train to take me to the Airport and late that evening, the ever so slightly smashed dawn to be driven to the home.

Thanks Jane. Great!


Meets List 1991

Jeff Price

Please get in touch with Jeff or the leader as soon as possible if you want to go to these caves numbers are limited in some of them and the date of the 'Craig-a-Ffynnon' trip may be incorrect.

9th March.             DYO, South Wales.  Belfry or DYO car park 9.30 for 10 (limited numbers)
                            Leader: Time Large

23rd March.           Rock & Fountain, South Wales
                            Leader: Martin Grass

30th March.           Bleadon Cavern. Belfry at 2.00 pm.     

18th May.              Wookey Hole evening trip. Upper series etc .. Dry gear.
                            Leader: Martin Grass

15th June.             Penyghent Pot, Yorkshire.     

17th August.          Birks Fell Cave, Yorkshire. - Booked  

24th August.          Otter Hole, South Wales.      

21st September.    Lost John's, Yorkshire. - Booked        

16th November.      Juniper Gulf, Yorkshire.  - Booked      

8th December.       Peak Cavern, Derbyshire.


Atlas Aven

By Andy Sparrow

Most club members will be familiar with Thrupe Lane Swallet and in particular the head of Atlas Pot. Here the youthful and meandering Marble streamway cascades down into the spray filled gloom of the huge shaft.  The eye is drawn first to the gulf below and then into the greater blackness above; the magnificent, towering, Atlas Aven. Seventeen years have elapsed since the first cavers lights shone up, searching vainly for a roof.  It remains unclimbed.

The Marble streamway is only one (and the lowest) of three windows into Atlas Shaft.  By turning left at the start of the streamway a high rift (Bypass Aven) is entered followed by a boulder ruckle beyond which is the roomy Bypass Passage.  Bypass Passage emerges into Atlas about 30 feet above the stream inlet.  Easily missed is a hole in the roof leading up into Vengeance Passage and another, higher window into the shaft.  I first looked out from here on a trip last spring and noted a solid rock wall (ideal for bolting) bordering the left hand wall of the aven.

It was some months later that a friend, Steve Ellis, bought a cordless Bosch drill.  There are precious few unclimbed avens under Mendip to use such a tool; it had to be the big one - Atlas.  Before lugging the heavy drill and its waterproof carrying case down the cave we went to have a closer look at the view out from Vengeance Passage.  Two anchors were installed manually allowing me to tie on and lean out into the shaft and assess the potential.  Some 40 - 50 feet below the stream spewed noisily and endlessly into the void. Above, the Aven continued its unrelenting climb into darkness.  A detail 30 feet higher on the opposite wall caught my eye - the start of a tube? There was only one way to find out.

We took the drill down next time assisted by Steve's friend Pete and the process of bolting began. The route was dictated by the soundness of the rock and initially we worked horizontally along the wall to a small stance.  This was a perfect take-off for a descent of the huge shaft below and could not be resisted. On our next trip we placed two Petzl long life anchors for the big pitch, rigged the rope, and down I went. After a few feet the walls cut away leaving the rope in a huge void.  About 60 feet down a big ledge was reached below which the pitch became very wet; the end of the rope was clearly hanging some way off the floor.  Before prussiking back up I noticed a couple of 8mm anchors in the opposite wall that would provide a rebelay point, or perhaps with some care, a deviation.  The full length of the pitch is about 120 feet, making it the longest free hanging pitch on Mendip.  We called it 'The Space Walk'.

The next session on the 17th January coincided with the start of the Gulf War and inspired an appropriate name for the traverse out across the shaft - 'The Gulf Crisis'.  We began bolting upwards towards the tube. The drill made this a rapid and easy process and I was soon carefully free climbing the last few feet to our objective.  It was a goer.  Two anchors were placed in the roof of the tube and Steve joined me in 'The Vultures Nest' (situated 60 feet above a side passage called the Eagles Nest).

The muddy tube sloped down into an aven chamber with a floor of jammed boulders.  Between these rocks were ominous black holes which were soon confirmed to connect back to Atlas.  The Aven was climbed, past a mud choked tube, to where a small passage led off. Another way on from the chamber ascended a steep muddy slope into a distinctly phreatic area which looped back towards Atlas and entered a high narrow cross rift.  Time was short as our support team, Pete and Dave, were wet and cold (water levels in the cave were high and we all had a soaking; first at Cowsh Crawl and then under a torrential shower in Bypass Aven).  A couple of small leads were left for next time and we left the cave well pleased with about 60 feet/20 metres of new passage.

A week later we were back again.  The passage above the aven chamber was pushed for 15 feet before choking close to Atlas. The cross rift revealed a small, but perfectly formed, tube heading back towards Vengeance Passage.  This was too tight after 15 feet.  Our best find of the day was entered after a short dig from the chamber following the down dip continuation of the original tube.  Steve forced a tight section and followed an attractive 'Gothic' section tube steeply down for about 40 feet.  Hopes were high for a few minutes as the passage seemed to be leading us out of the known system into something older, but sadly the final choke was really final . We left the cave satisfied that reasonable conclusions had been reached with the remaining leads.  The Vultures Nest was finished with 100 feet + (30 metres +) of worthwhile passage.

But the project has hardly begun.  The finds so far are very encouraging; they represent old phreatic development predating Atlas and bisected by it.  The original Thrupe diggers speculated that an ancient route to Saint Andrew's Well could be found from the higher levels of Atlas; I hope by further work to prove them right.  Already we can see two more openings off the shaft that will be easily reached in the next month or so.

NOTE: For some months to come the traverse out across the shaft, the 'Gulf Crisis' will be permanently rigged.  This makes a descent of 'The Space Walk' very easy to rig; simply a case of clipping a rope into the two longlife hangers.  Be prepared to deviate or rebelay at the big ledge, halfway down.  Go for it - you will be impressed!


Some Climbing Snippets

John Watson

The B.E.C. conjures up many images; - crawling around in dark dank holes, never ending sessions at the Hunters Lodge, digging for that elusive 50' of a cave passage that will win the digging Barrel and many more.

The club's name however suggests, unlike most other caving clubs, a tradition in other fields of exploration, lost to all but a few older members.  Whilst looking through an old B.B. about the original exploration of Manor Farm.  I was surprised to see on the list of committee posts the words 'Climbing Sec'. This inspired me to write this article and perhaps rekindle an old tradition.

This year more than most, climbing has become a frequent topic of conversation in the Hunters - even the likes of Martin Grass has expressed an interest, a number of offers have been forthcoming, one from an ex-member related to the "Mallard" family but I fear for some ulterior motive.

Early this year (1990 - Ed.) at an all too infrequent barrel at the Wessex, silly games were the order of the night. Now as anyone who has been to the Wessex will know, they have some very fine climbing frames - roof supports in the main room.

A voice from the crowd suggests a race from one end of the beam to the other, a 'stranger' suddenly appears at one end and quickly demonstrates his prowess by falling off and upsetting my missus by landing in her knitting.  'Who is this bloke'?!  No challenger forthcoming I volunteer, 'Climber versus caver' suggests a voice. I lost but he cheated - well that’s my excuse.  Who is that bloke? “Oh that's Dick Broomhead", J'Rat says.

A few weeks later Dick suggests that Derek Targett myself go climbing in Cheddar Gorge one evening as Dick cleared some new lines above the reservoir area, just before you get to Pig's Hole.

The evening was fine, the climbs were fine, one Hard Very Severe 5a, the other Very Severe 5a, both about 70' high, well protected and excellent routes.  Another climb just to the right, an H.V.S., was climbed a week later by Dick and myself.  Snablet and I repeated the first climb several months later and judging by the other routes in this area is well worth a star.

Climbing these new routes reminded me of the potential of a small quarry behind the village of West Horrington.

Apart from the quarry there is a very fine lime kiln and number of interesting old mine workings, all explored.  I think, by B.E.C. members In the past.  The area is well worth a visit.

Back to the quarry, the main face is 45-50' high and 30' wide, vertical and featureless apart from a small overhang at 20'.  There are a number of other bays and interesting crack lines.  I remember looking at the main face thinking it would go at E5, too hard for me!

Two years later I found myself living in West Horrington and spent many hours bouldering in the quarry, but I was not alone.  One weekend I arrived at the quarry and was surprised to see Brian Prewer dangling on a piece of rope, practicing S.R.T. for the Berger.  He had placed a bolt at about 15' for a change-over manoeuvre; this was to come in useful a few years later.

The drawback of living on Mendip at the time was that nobody went climbing, apart from our feathered friend, a very elusive Duck when it came to arranging climbing, so I enlisted the help of Lavinia to top rope me up a number of lines.  Later Steve Milner, Snablet and a couple of local lads were to become climbing partners, it was time to divulge crag X, i.e. Horrington Quarry. So, one Saturday morning, Steve Milner, Snablet, Mike Macdonald and myself spent a couple of hours top roping up and down on the end of a rope, Snablet managing to invert himself at one point in the way only Snablet could do.

In all, three climbs have been led and one soloed.

The first a flared corner crack, 40' high, grade 5a with very sparse protection.  At the moment the crack is a bit dirty but cleaned out it would be an excellent route, if somewhat serious.

Later on in the year, Dick and I managed two new lines.

I led the main wall at the third attempt, 50' high, grade E2/3, 5c/6a, protection being a peg at 25' and Brian's bolt at 15’ which is the crux, the climbing is very fingery and sustained and probably at the higher grade.  Dick led the overhanging crack line in the next bay, after extensive gardening, the first 20' is very sustained at 5b, H.V.S./E1

Both climbs are short but very good.  There are at least 6 other routes to be done if anyone is interested but all of them will be extremes.

Next spring, I hope we can have a club climbing/caving meet.  If anyone is interested see either Dick or myself.  Hopefully 1991 will see even more members climbing above ground as well as below and perhaps even a climbing sec. post on the committee!  Any offers?

" Fantasy Island - The Dream Isle Called Sri Lanka"

Nigel Taylor

The night ended - as abruptly as it had begun - less than eight hours earlier somewhere over the Middle East.  At 37,000 feet or rather, "7 miles up", and now nearly 6,000 miles from LONDON GATWICK the sun, like an angry orange popped into view from behind the curvature of the earth, its rays burnishing the wings of AIR LANKA'S TRI-STAR flight inbound to KATUNAYAKA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, COLOMBO, SRI LANKA.

As the last few minutes of FLIGHT UL 516 fled away, the aircraft slipped neatly over the Indian Ocean, and crossed the coastline some nine miles from touchdown.

As the aircraft made its usual radar-identification turns prior to lining up on the COLOMBO I.L.S., our eyes saw their first and fleeting glimpses of steaming tropical vegetation, here and there the occasional clearing, in which stood tall and sinewy coconut palms adjacent to small clusters of local housing.  Peasant country folk could be seen attending to their daily rituals, of leading oxen to the paddy fields, and children on their way to a 7.0 am school start!

Away to the East, the magnificent sight of SRI LANKA'S famous 7,360 ft. mountain - "SRI PADRE" loomed out of the horizon.  Shaped like a pyramid, this mountain is also known as " ADAMS PEAK".  It is a HOLY MOUNTAIN, revered by most SRI LANKAN'S as either the place where the LORD BUDDHA first set foot on earth, or where ADAM set forth into the GARDEN OF EDEN.

Whichever notion you choose to accept, one point is indisputable, that SRI LANKA, or CEYLON as the British used to call it, is undeniably one of the most beautiful and fascinating places on this earth.  A veritable Garden of Eden.  It has been said by others more notable than I, that INDIA was the CROWN of the BRITISH EMPIRE, and SRI LANKA the JEWEL in that CROWN.

This magnificent pear or tear-drop shaped land is barely 220 miles in length from North to South and 115 miles East to West at its widest point.  It has a total area of some 25,000 square miles, which is roughly the size of IRELAND, and has a population of approximately 14,000,000 people.

The SRI LANKAN nation is composed of approximately 70% SINHALESE people originally from INDIA and 15% to 20% TAMIL, the remainder being either descendants of the Dutch and Portuguese traders and settlers these are called BURGHERS, and lastly a MUSLIM mixture of CEYLON MOORS, INDIAN MOORS and MALAYS.  More than three quarters of the country's population live and work in the rural areas of the land.

The sights that were to befall Viv and me over the next weeks were so incredible that I find great difficulty in expressing the enthralling nature of this 'Paradise Isle'. The SRI LANKAN people, like their country, are a beautiful smiling people.  Full of warmth, and gentility and when you have dealings with any of them you may sense an almost child-like innocence in them, that has long since disappeared in other areas of this planet.

The women are nothing short of beautiful, bronzed skin, brown eyed and slender with a serene air of grace about them, often this is enhanced by their saris of vivid and spellbinding colours.  It is a country where "National Dress", is in fact, just what is worn. My wife also notes that the men also have a certain "captivating charm"!!

We had visited SRI LANKA the previous year but alas only briefly, as a stopover point on a trip through South East Asia to THAILAND, HONG KONG and MACAO.  Our first impressions at that time had been very favourable, and we were both determined that we would visit SRI LANKA again as soon as we could.

Thus it was that we arrived again in SRI LANKA and with two battered PENTAX M SUPERS and an assortment of thirty-nine reels of KODACOLOUR GOLD and KODACHROME 64.  And here is another regret - no black and white film!  This country lends itself well to this medium.

We had left the U.K. at 13.00 hrs. on the 17th September, and via Amsterdam and Dubai finally landed some 13 hours later at SRI LANKA's only International Airport, by G.M.T. it was only 2 a.m. and it was only the fact that this country is 5 hours ahead of G.M.T. that explained why a crowd of several hundred SRI LANKAN's were clustered around the wire airport fences outside the arrivals hall at two in the morning in brilliant sunlight!

A large migrant population are employed in the middle eastern oil fields and most incoming European flights transit via ABU DHABI, DUBAI, BAHRAIN, KUWAIT and MUSCAT (Prior to the Kuwait crisis of 1990).  In consequence it is often the case that whole families of forty or fifty persons will come to say farewell or to greet one returning "Ex-Pat".

After a brief stopover - in "NEGOMBO" a nearby beach resort, where the hotels are situated right on the foreshore, with large "open-to-the-sea" dining rooms and silver sandy beaches - we headed inland to the North East, through vast coconut plantations, spice farms and rice fields, great forests of teak and rubber trees.  All the time through lush green tropical vegetation, it is hard to convey the actual warm, lush smell of the greenery.  After several hours drive, our guide explained to us that we would shortly enter the "DRY ZONE" an arid but beautiful part of the country, where the scenery resembles a stage set for "OUT OF AFRICA" or "ZULU DAWN".  Within a few miles, the vista had changed completely; dense Brush and Jungle now lay just off the highway.  Deadly snakes like KING COBRAS and others abound in this area and the traveller when "taken-short" has to keep their eyes "well-peeled"!!

The wildlife also changes with the location, elephants and leopards can be found with no difficulty. But as for water? - The region had no precipitation for over six months, the ground was like concrete.

It was in this region that we stopped for the evening in the luxurious "SIGIRIYA VILLARIN HOTEL", a. short distance from the ancient ROCK FORTRESS of SIGIRIYA built in approximately 473 AD.

Imagine an enormous sheer-sided rock some 200 metres high rising out of a nearly flat jungle, and being about 4 acres in size.  Located in a natural gallery half way up this MONOLITH are the famous FRESCOES of the SIGIRIYA DAMSELS dating from the 5th century, these are nearly as beautiful as the SRI LANKAN women themselves.

The main idea of this holiday was to obtain a general insight into the delights this superb country has to offer the traveller, however I had a nagging thought in the recesses of my skull that the B.B. Editor would eventually call upon me to make some paltry contribution to the Belfry Bulletin, and therefore I had to keep a wary eye for any sight of caves or items of speleological nature!  So for "viewers at home only" I now will bore the pants off you in order to encourage at least one more B.E.C. member to head off to the Far East in search of a SRI LANKAN Cavern Measureless to Man!

The greater part of SRI LANKA consists of a solid mass of ancient crystalline rocks, known in Sinhalese as "KALUGAL".  A underlay of GNEISS is covered in the central and North-Eastern areas by thick metamorphosed sediments consisting of quartzite, crystalline limestone, granulite etc.  Most of these rocks are banded or have horizontal joint planes. often with many vertical cracks in each bed.

The crystalline limestone appears clearly in three regions of the country: -

1)       The most extensive lies to the east of PUTTALAM and goes towards KEGALLA, skirting the HILL COUNTRY, passing in front of ADAM'S PEAK to BALANGODA, WELLANAYA, and through the valleys of BADULLA OVA and MAHAWELI GANGA to TRINCOMALEE.

2)       MIHINTALE due south along the MATALE valley to WATTEGAMA and  HANGURANKETA, also with an area extending to KANDY and PERADENIYA.

3)       Between RATNAPURA curving toward HAMBANTOTA behind the RAKWANA HILL COUNTRY.

Limestone is quarried in all of these areas but the most numerous quarries are near to KANDY. MATALE and BADULLA, and evidence of KARST landforms with caverns is plentiful in these areas.

Anyone interested in a walking holiday would be well catered for in the area known as the "HILL COUNTRY".  There are over 150 mountains between 3.000 and 7.000 feet, together with twelve peaks ranging between 7,000 and 8,200 feet.  The highest mountain IS PIDURUTALAGALA at 8,292 feet, though since this is perched upon a 6,000 foot plateau it is "small-beer" when compared to the majestic ADAM'S PEAK (7,360 feet) .

If you plan to visit this area, ensure you trek across to "WORLDS END" on the HORTON PLAINS. The plateau is located south of NUWARA ELIYA and west of HAPUTALE.  It is a lofty plain set at around 7,000 feet with excellent walking.  The plains come to a dramatic end at WORLDS END dropping vertically 1,000 feet.

Such a name is a suitable end point for this narrative, yet I leave you with one thought quoting Fred Davis "caves be where you find them".  I should just add "and where in SRI LANKA you find the limestone too!!"  Above or below ground, SRI LANKA is a magnificent country.

References and Suggested Reading :-

" Sri Lanka” - A Travel Survival Kit Tony Wheeler.  Published by Lonely Planet ISBN 0908086 628

" Sri Lanka” - Berlitz Travel Guide.  Lib of Congress Catalog Number 81-67094

" Ceylon - Its Geography. Its Resources and its people"   by Elsie K. Cook FRGS - Published by McMillan. Lon. 1951

" Ceylon" - Nagels Encyclopaedia Guide - 1980 ISBN 2-8263-07047

" Sri Lanka" - Land. People and Economy - by B.L.C. Johnson and M.Le. Scrivenor - Heinmann. Lon. 1981 ISBN 0435-35489 2


The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Ted Humphreys

1990 - 1991 Committee

Hon. Sec.                Martin Grass
Treasurer                 Chris Smart
Caving Sec.             Jeff Price
Hut Warden             Chris Harvey
Tackle Master          Stuart McManus
B.B. Editor               Ted Humphreys
Hut Engineer            Nigel Taylor
Membership Sec.     John Watson
                               Ian Caldwell 


Apologies to those who did not get their May BB’s until July!  This was due to me being out of the country (the U.S. and I will write it up!) and nobody could find my mailing list.

On my return I found lots of articles, not all of which I could get into this BB.  Please keep them coming, more will be needed for the October and Christmas BB's.

The biggest recent news is that Wigmore Swallet has 'gone'.  See article and survey, pages 12 to 25.  I was hoping to have a colour picture of Wigmore on the cover of this BB but the cost was prohibitive!  Much more is expected soon, possibly the Mendip 'Main Drain' and, who knows, maybe eventually, a through trip from Wigmore to Bowery Corner!

On the subject of the cover. Its about time the picture changed was. Has anyone got a black and white print I could use?  Preferably of somewhere on the Mendips.

The St. Cuthbert’s report is at the printers!  I've seen a couple of sample pages which were tremendous.  It sets new standards for caving reports and will certainly become a collector’s item.  The report is due to "hit the streets" in mid-September, in time for the BCRA conference.

The only other item (I didn't know where else to put it!) is that the IDMF is giving Jake £100 for the Philippines expedition.  See Jim's begging letter on page 19.


Membership List Amendments

We welcome one new member, who is:-

Robert Taff. Erdington, Birmingham

We also welcome one member who has rejoined: -

870  Gary Cullen, Southwater, Nr. Horsham, W.Sussex

There are also five address changes, as follows: -

1144  Sophie Crook.        Batheaston. Bath
1116  Stuart Lain,            c/o Andy Cave
1128  Vince Simmonds,  Wells. Somerset
1154  Karen Turvey.       Wellington. Somerset
683 Dave Yeandle.         Eastville. Bristol

A.G.M. and Dinner, 1991.

The Annual General Meeting of the BEC will be held at The Belfry on Saturday, 5th October at 10.30 a.m. prompt.

You are reminded that nominations for the 1991-92 committee must be submitted in writing to the Secretary no later than 7th September 1991.  All nominations must have a proposer and seconder.  Present members of the committee are nominated automatically if they wish to stand for re-election.  There are some vacancies this year, however, as not all the present committee wish to stand.

The Annual Dinner of the BEC will also be on Saturday the 5th of October.

The venue this year is again the "Webbington Hotel", Loxton. The tickets are £15 per person and are available from Nigel Taylor.  With this BB you should get inserts detailing the arrangements that have been made for the evening, sample menus and an order form.  Please order as soon as possible.

Proposal for A.G.M.

Proposer Nigel Taylor. Seconded B.E.C. Committee

"That the A.G.M. consider the creation of a membership category of "Retired" or "County" membership and that this be on a cost only basis"

Working Day

There is a working day at the Belfry on Saturday 24th of August. Lots of jobs need doing!  Mr. N is planning a barbecue for the evening.


Congratulations and best wishes to Tav and Gen who were married on Friday the second of August.


The BEC sends its congratulations to Steve and Fran Milner on the birth of their daughter, Sian Elizabeth, who weighed In at 8 lbs. on the 21st of May.

and to :-

Chris and Liz Batstone on the birth of their second son who weighed in at 8 lbs 12 ozs on the weekend of 13/14th July.

A space-filler

from Alan Thomas

'When I wrote an article on nicknames a few months ago I said that I had never had one.  To bring it up to date I am now (thanks to Barrie Wilton) known as "Big Al"'.


Steigl Boot Boys On Tour

Austria Xmas 1990 – 91
"What do you get if you cross Snablet, Richard Blake. two pairs of skis and several bottles of Steigl?"

We set off with the great intention of pushing last years find, Bleistiftspitzerschacht (Pencil Sharpener Shaft), hopefully to a depth of -400 metres or more and of leaving the place wide open for the big summer push when we would know a little more about the place, but things didn't quite work out as planned!

The idea for going out to Austria for the second time in one year came to life at the BCRA conference over a pint or six whilst waiting for the boring lectures to finish and trying to decide between which one of the four interesting lectures to go to (the expeditions that have found kilometres of cave) that were all on at the same time.

It turns out that Tuppa of the NCC has pushed Verborgen Hohle (Hidden Hole) above Orkan Hohle (Hurricane Hole) to -250 metres which is a must for going deep next season and he is dead keen on going down Bleistiftspitzerschacht.  The others sitting around the table are fairly interested too.  Plans for the summer are afoot but we can not wait that long as there may be access problems.  Hallstattersee Caving Club are planning to initiate an access system similar to that of the Salzburg Gruppe Caving Club and although we have sent letters. reports and surveys to the Austrians we don't know if this has worked.

A short time later at a stomp in the Hill Inn a Xmas date was decided on.  All we needed was a strong enthusiastic BEC team to push the cave. We thought that this would be no problem as everyone was saying, after the last Xmas trip, "It sounds like you had a great time, count me in for a trip sometime next year"  So the word was spread and in true BEC fashion the huge party of Richard Blake and myself constituted the expedition .... What's wrong?  Don't the BEC like going down caves any more? or could it be people remembered the famous Blitz and Harper winter drinking expedition to Austria back in the dim and distant past. However help was soon on the way in the guise of the NCC.  So it was that the team of Richard Blake, Steve Brown, Ruth, Paul Ibbertson, Mark Wright and me (Snablet) was formed.

After a long train journey only broken by a long ferry delay (Apparently P & O, had forgotten to put any oil in the engine at Oostend ..... Viva la tunnel!) saw RB, PI and Snablet arrive in Halstatt.  It took no time at all for us to down our first statutory pint or two (or was it a litre or three) in the Diver's Bar and to stagger up the road to our five star hotel. We awoke the next morning in the Seilbahn hut nursing sore heads and with a distinct feeling of deja vu.  It was however a great feeling seeing our kit disappear up the mountain by Seilbahn.  In fact almost as good as a helicopter but the photos aren't quite as spectacular.  What was most spectacular was a certain Mr A Nerd's beer being carried up by Seilbahn at the same time (Remember him from Caves and Caving?).

Mountaineering skis were hired from Dachsteinsport for our journey to the Wiesberghaus as some b*st*rd had thoughtlessly left one and a half metres of snow everywhere.  There is a knack to ski mountaineering.  Once you have got it then you can go anywhere and everywhere.  It obviously helps if you know what you are doing and we found that we had to learn the hard way.

Richard had what can only be termed a crash, and I mean crash course in downhill skiing from the Krippenstein to Gjaid alm huts from Paul Ibbertson and me.  Then the interesting bit began, the uphill struggle. We slapped the skins on the skis and set off uphill cross country in the direction of the Wiesberghaus.  It was dark by now. Within 500 metres of Gjaid alm RB had lost his second skin and had resorted to walking the uphill sections. This may well sound like a good idea to you but as anyone who has been to the Dachstein in winter will tell you, the neck deep powder snow makes life just that ever so little bit tedious. The powder snow meant that his forward motion soon became a crawling exercise and unfortunately it wasn't long before the rest of us had joined him.  Its really good fun crawling out of Barengasse pushing your skis in front of you and with a rucksac on your back at nine o'clock at night in temperatures of -17 degrees Centigrade!

It was a six hour epic to reach the Wiesberghaus and the Steigl went down particularly well that night. All ideas of hard expedition pushing caving were filed in the bin for the while and we settled down to enjoy the Xmas festivities.  The Christmas dinner of Red Deer was particularly enjoyable.  The next couple of days were spent in skiing lessons from Elfie and an Austrian family who were staying at the Wiesberghaus such that we acquired some basic skill. However Richard still found it easier on occasion to head for the nearest snowdrift as a means of stopping.

We met up with MW, SB and Ruth at Gjaid alm on December 28th to make sure that they didn't have the same problems that we had.  A mega session was had by the six of us and Hans, our personal ski coach. Sixty five Steigls, some Schnapes, some wine and any free drinks that came our way left us wondering with the few brain cells that we had left between us if this was to be a sign of things to come.

We were awoken the next morning at 6.30 am! by Hans with the idea of going up the Dachstein.  The six of us in perfect unison told him where it was that he could go!  However in the twinkling of six hours later we got up and practiced skiing in the general direction of Bleistiftspitzerschacht but we failed to get there.  A discussion followed and a decision to give up caving for the remainder of the visit was made unanimously.  We however noted some good ice flows on the north face of Oxen Kogel, the south face of Niederer Grunberg and the east face of Hirlatz and considered the possibility of some winter ice climbing.

The following day we visited various entrances.  Orkan Hohle was only draughting slightly, this suggested to us that the majority of the air movement was coming out of PL1 (Polish numbering system), its presumed higher entrance.  Wies alm Hohle was draughting strongly and was a lot easier to find in winter. Magnum Hohle had no wind whatsoever. We returned to the Wiesberghaus and found that skiing the path from Wies alm to the Wiesberghaus was a lot easier to do than walking it.

A quiet night was had in the Wiesberghaus that evening and we had all crashed out by 12.30 in preparation for a 6.30 start up to the top of the Dachstein.  Believe it or not we managed to get up at the correct time. We had breakfast in the Simony Hutte while the weather cleared.  The skiing to the glacier only involved two major steep uphill slopes, both of which caused major epics.  In general we were not doing too badly despite a lot of falling over which we found a little unnerving when one is traversing just above a large cliff. Indeed the glacier was a lot steeper than I remembered it!  We got to Niederer Dachstein and the weather closed in completely.  We soon reached the Bergschrund of Hoher Dachstein and yet another expedition discussion was held.  It was decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we decided to jack it on the head.  It was beginning to get dangerous as the weather conditions were deteriorating, we were losing sight of people in white out conditions and there wasn't a lot of daylight left.  All in all a case of bad weather, bad light and very steep slopes stopping play.  One of the main factors in our deciding to wimp out was seeing the trouble that the very competent local skiers were getting into!

Its quite exciting skiing down a 50 degree slope littered with crevasses in zero visibility but the journey down was easier than the one up except for the steep bits.  Indeed we had nearly as much of an epic going down as going up!  In fine BEC tradition we stopped for a celebration drink at the Simony Hutte and found ourselves benighted.  Skiing at night is simpler than skiing during the day as you can't see the gullies or the cliffs to fall over!  We arrived back at the Wiesberghaus at 5pm and proceeded to continue with the celebrations. It was Sylvester, the Austrian Festival for the New Year, and we were forced to celebrate through the night for the next 12 hours.  Its great being abroad at New Year as you have to celebrate it twice.  The only problem is that I'm waiting to have the photographs developed to find out what actually happened!

New Years day didn't exist, well not much of it anyway, but we got up just in time for the evening session. Elfie prepared a massive spread for us as it was our last night as we had to go off down the mountain the following day.  We had spent virtually all our money and a huge bar bill each for New Years Eve night hadn't figured in the calculations.

The morning we left to go down the mountain, we said our goodbyes and had one customary leaving schnapes, two more for the road and three more for the gutter.  All this before breakfast left us slightly unstable for the journey home.  It only took us one and a half hours to Gjaid alm - much more respectable than our first efforts.  Another couple of schnapes (Cheers Hans) and a bite to eat put us in the right frame of mind to descend the 11 kilometres to Obertran, apparently the longest ski run in Upper Austria.  We considered it as a fitting end to a fortnights skiing.  Hans was a great help in ferrying the six of us and our gear to Robert's house.

Robert. an ex-guardian of the Wiesberghaus, was in fine form.  He is still as wild as ever and instead of shooting his Magnum at German soldiers, he has taken to shooting at Rotweilers that shit on his lawn!  A night with Robert left the six of us pooling our remaining small reserves of money to buy a crate of Steigl for the train home and the journey was spent in an alcoholic haze.


Austria - Summer 1991

There will a continuation to this saga in a few months when the Steigl Boot Boys and friends return to do battle with crates of Steigl and rounds of schnapps, oh yes and to push Bleistiftspitzerschacht (Pencil Sharpener Shaft), and Verborgen Hohle.  We will be taking a very strong team of hopefully 15 - 20 cavers but anybody is welcome and the area is great for walking.  The potential for Bleistiftspitzerschacht is good and a breakthrough is likely (hasn't every expedition to Austria said the same)!

Bleistiftspitzerschacht is at an altitude of 2000 metres and is directly above Wilder Wester Series in Hirlatz Hohle.  Hirlatz Hohle is now a 50 kilometre long system with a 988 metre vertical range (1987 figures) and we were told that it has recently been connected to Kessel giving a lower entrance at 517 metres.  It resurges lower than that in the lake so would give us the deepest through trip in the world!  Anyone interested in joining the Steigl Boot Boys for their summer tour needs to contact either Rich Blake (BEC), Mark Wright (NCC); Paul Ibbertson (NCC) or me, Snablet (BEC).


Ski Hire Tips.

Ski hire is quite a complicated business.  It consists of getting Wolfgang and Elfie to phone up in advance letting Dachstein Sports know what exactly you need i.e. type of skis and boots etc.  This hopefully gets you a little discount as the shop then doesn't consider you as a run of the mill tourist - could they ever I ask myself?  Are we not that wild bunch who annually get pissed up in the Diver's Bar and throw up in the gutters in the early hours of the morning while singing six different songs in eight different keys?

When you get to the shop wander in with as much tatty kit as possible. i.e. ice axe, crampons, caving lights, tackle sacs etc as it looks like you know what you are doing - again another possible chance of discount.

When asked if you are good at ski mountaineering answer "YES".  This means that you will end up with a set of half decent skis and not a set of pine planks, i.e. the cheap rubbish that they keep for beginners which are nowhere near fast enough for the likes of the BEC.

Beg, borrow or ask them for a spare set of skins as these come in exceptionally handy.  Then make sure that you have got your full BEC discount and your long hire discount before asking them how to ski!  Seriously it is worth asking them to show you how to put the skins on as this involves warming the skis and skins before putting them on.  This does however blow your cover as an expert skier somewhat!


The Future Of The Bristol Exploration Club!

A Committee viewpoint

The following is an article by Dave Irwin, known to most of you as Wig.  It is published with the knowledge and endorsement of the present committee.  It concerns a forthcoming questionnaire that will be sent direct to you in the near future. It will probably be ignored by most of you as it is to do with caving politics.  However if you have read this far the committee would ask you to read on and not adopt the head in the sand attitude of - "It doesn't concern me".  Some of you might remember a previous heads in the sand time when the issue of SSSI's and the NCC was ignored with dire consequences.  Two of the caves closed at that time have never been reopened.

Chris Smart


Re-structuring for British Caving

Dave Irwin

As far as cavers are concerned politics is the last subject they want to read in their caving magazine but I’m afraid that the situation OUT THERE is past ignoring and that you read on - bored or not or, at least, turn the page and read the last paragraph!


The argument that NCA needs re-structuring to reflect the current interests of cavers throughout the country continues.  In all regions, including many of the constituent members of NCA, it is generally believed that an overhaul must take place.  Even the most conservative CSCC (Council of Southern Caving Clubs) of which the BEC is a member, believes that some form of change should take place. Others, already pre-empting the situation are calling for individual caver membership and club membership.


Now for some indisputable facts.  In all the discussions I've been involved with in the last couple of years there is a general agreement on the STRUCTURE of a national body.  The constituent bodies i.e. the regional bodies (CNCC, DCA, CCC, CSCC, CDG, BCRA, BCRC etc.) will remain basically the same as now. The regional variations of cave access and other local difficulties are best handled by regional bodies, perhaps with different geographic boundaries to those existing at the moment, each having total autonomy but accountable to the annual meeting of it's own structure and, if necessary, to the annual meeting of the national association. It is also generally agreed that the executive should have the powers to act as an executive without the need to have to refer everything to the constituent bodies before progressing the problem.


Many of you will remember the questionnaires issued by the NCA Working Party on the possible re-structuring of the Association.  The results clearly showed the requirements of cavers and apart from a couple of issues all were currently carried out by NCA. e.g. Sports Council Grants for expeditions (administered on behalf of NCA by Ghar Parau Foundation) grants to maintain entrances, contact with external organisations both national and international and NCA have almost completed a third party insurance policy that is much better than BCRA's and so on.  On the training front there is little support for national training or commercial training. The second questionnaire clearly showed that the club was the best place for this to be done.  That is not to say that locally organised events by NCA is not out of the question - two such events will be held on Mendip during the Autumn of this year.


The point of disagreement is HOW THE EXECUTIVE SHOULD BE ELECTED.  Don't let anyone try to persuade you otherwise that the WHOLE structure requires overhauling.  It doesn't and when protagonists of the individual member system are pressed you will find only minor differences of emphasis.  The electoral system is the root of the argument.  There are two basic structures being debated: INDIVIDUAL AND CLUB and on the other side CLUB ONLY.  Basically the followers of the individual caver membership believe that the CLUB HAS NO IMPORTANCE IN MODERN BRITISH CAVING BECAUSE OF BETTER TRANSPORTATION AND THE GENERAL USE OF SRT MAKING THE CAVER INDEPENDENT OF CLUB TACKLE. The growth of the independent non-club caver, particularly in the north is the core of the argument. They also believe that a NATIONAL CAVING CLUB should cover the needs of the modern caver.  In other words change its name to British Cave Research Association minus the research element - though many will retort it's not a caving club!  Some acknowledge that in certain areas of the country clubs still play an important part in the caving scene but in Yorkshire and Derbyshire we are led to believe that the influence of clubs is fast fading from the scene.  The supporter of individual membership has included the clubs in the voting structure rather begrudgingly but believes as the individual membership grows the influence of the club will fall by the way-side.  On the other-hand, even if the club influence is diminishing in the north it certainly IS not in the south who have the greatest number of cavers by far.

In my view, if the NCA was to suddenly change its membership system and adopt an individual member structure, it would take a long time to accumulate enough members to make the organisation a viable structure.  At least when the BCRA was formed it accumulated the membership of the two bodies that merged to form that organisation amounting to some 450 cavers.  What these supporters want is an overnight transition which is clearly impossible; it takes time to accumulate members - the caving world in Britain would be left in a vacuum.  Whatever membership system is adopted I feel that a phased transition is the only pragmatic solution.  What the supporter of the individual membership wants is to replace the NCA with the BCRA structure; there is no other conclusion.

Readers of the last issue of Caves and Caving will have seen an outburst from its editor - Andy Hall, inferring that the National Caving Association is a dinosaur and that it must go. Presumably he means that the structure should be the same as the British Cave Research Association - a monolithic and undemocratic structure.  Frankly how the BCRA and supporters can say that individual caver membership is a more democratic voting structure than the existing system when they only get some 30 or so members out of 1100 to attend their AGM beats me - hierarchy rules OK. Further how the BCRA Council can have the nerve to state that BCRA policy is to support a form of individual and club membership for the national body without reference to its members beats me. This form of arrogance would not be tolerated in a club - but as only 20 - 30 members attend their AGM who on BCRA Council worries.  If this resolution ever comes before the BCRA Annual Meeting then I suggest that the CLUB supporters flood the meeting and throw it out.


The other side of the coin are those that support a CLUB BASED STRUCTURE.  I firmly believe that the basis of British caving is still the club. Loyalty to one's club remains as strong today as it always was.  Club competition is still much to the fore, even though groups of cavers from various clubs frequently cave together.  Further, who is involved with most cave discoveries, maintain the entrances, sort out landowner problems etc. - in the vast majority of cases THE CLUB.  How clubs vote for the executive is a matter for further discussion.  FURTHER, IF THE INDIVIDUAL MEMBERSHIP IS THE ACCEPTED FORM OF ELECTING THE EXECUTIVE YOU WILL BE DISENFRANCHISED unless you are prepared to join the national organisation. At the moment you are represented by your club through your regional body.  For those cavers that do not belong to any formal club there is no reason why they cannot form themselves, for electoral purposes, into a non-aligned body and join in the same way as other clubs.

At the moment if you wish to have your say at national level you can easily contact your club representative and get it passed through the Regional Body direct to the NCA Executive. Try to persuade a national body comprised of individual members and, unless there is support from the officers you'll be a voice in the wilderness.  The existing system is unwieldy but it can be streamlined simply by enabling clubs to contact the national executive directly for consideration of any points they wish to be raised.  This allows you the club member to have a say in the national body directly through your club.  This boils down to allowing clubs to vote directly for officers and members of the executive and not rely on the Regional Council.


Eight cavers who are known to be worried at the state of the NCA arguments, now known as the 'gang-of-eight', were invited to a meeting in Derby during May to discuss the problems associated with NCA. The idea was good and I fully support it if their findings can help to resolve the current and seemingly endless round of arguments.  However, only one maintained that a club based structure was the best solution for membership to NCA - me!  Let me make it quite clear that those who support individual membership are very sincere in their beliefs and should not be the, subject of flippant criticism. Take their views seriously. During the next few months you will be receiving another questionnaire financed by the 'gang-of-eight' asking which voting system you would wish to see for a 'new type' NCA.  I urge you all, yes even all of us golden oldies, to spend 17p on a stamp and respond with a firm reply in support of club based membership for the National Caving Association and settle the matter once and for all.


Meets List

Sat 17th August                   Brirks Fell Cave, Yorkshire.

Sat 24th August                   Otter Hole, Chepstow.

Sat 7th September               Box Stone Mines.  Leader Blitz.

Sat 21st September              Lost John’s, Yorkshire.

Sat 16th November               Juniper Gulf, Yorkshire,

Sun 8th December                Peal Cavern, Derbyshire.

For further information contact Jeff Price Tel: 0272 724296


Cave Diving in the Yucatan.

Oliver C. Wells

The idea of seeing stalactites and 'mites underwater has been something of an obsession with me since seeing photographs of them in Robert Palmer's book "The Blue Holes of the Bahamas."  I suppose it was inevitable that I should go for a cave diving holiday in the Yucatan peninsula (May 3-10, 1991).

I spent the week with my wife Pamela and six cave divers in the cenotes within a few miles of Akumal, which is about 100 km south from Cancun.  The sea level was about 400 feet lower than it is now during the last Ice Age, rising to about the present level between 18,000 and 6,000 years ago.  During the Ice Age these caves were dry and 'tites and 'mites were formed in great numbers.

I found myself to be totally unprepared for how wonderful these caves are.  Imagine a flat country with impenetrable jungle on both sides of narrow, straight roads.  Here and there an unpaved road (if you can call it such) or a path leads off into the jungle to a cenote, which is a pool of water typically 50 yards across and 20 feet deep.  There may be an upstream cave underwater at one end and a tunnel downstream at the other (who knows? JGC).

Everything is highly organised in cave diving these days.  At the entry level is the "cavern diver" who stays within sight of daylight at all times.  Typically this involves a large underwater cave entrance sloping down to 50 feet depth, and with large stalactites on the roof.  An impressive underwater notice in two languages asks that people with no cave diving experience should go no further than that point.

Permanent nylon lines with a diameter of perhaps 0.125" start at some distance inside the dark zone. The dive leader lays a line from a belay point (plus backup) in the open water of the cenote to the near end of the permanent line in the dark zone in the cave, and reels it in again when it is time to leave.  The "main line" goes in along a chosen passage with triangular plastic arrows at intervals to the closest exit to air (there are numerous entrances and exits in most caves there).  In other words, these arrows either may or may not help you to come out again by the same route as you went in.  Lines into side passages start at various distances from the main line and can be reached with a "gap reel" if you know where they are. "Decoy lines" guide visitors away from places where the 'tites and 'mites are especially fragile.  The passage size inside the cave might be twenty feet wide and high (sometimes larger, sometimes smaller) at depths generally between 50 and 70 feet.

The halocline is at a depth of about 50 feet, where the fresh water lies on top of salt water. Initially the interface is quite sharp, but it widens to a few feet after divers have gone through.  Within the mixed zone vision is blurred.  The most curious thing is the way in which you must let air out of your buoyancy compensator (BC) as you go down through the halocline, and put some in when you come up.  This is as opposed to the normal situation when you put more air into your BC from time to time as you go down and let it out again as you come up. (You progressively lose buoyancy with depth in water of constant density because the air bubbles in your wet suit are compressed.)

The other divers wore the standard Florida cave diving rig with twin back-mounted 80 cubic foot tanks and a high capacity BC between the diver and the tanks.  They did not wear helmets, and one diver did not wear a hood (the water was quite warm).  Dive lights were in the range from 30 to 50 watts with the battery on the waist strap. Reels, dive computers, backup flashlights and other items were attached appropriately.

I was surprised by the arrangement of the manifolds.  The two tanks were permanently connected together with a separate valve for each of the two regulators. In other words, if the rupture disk on the tank blows out, then the air supply is gone.  I mentioned that I had seen a diver lose all of his air in this way in an open water dive a few years ago, but this information was not too cheerfully received. One of the divers told me that he preferred a manifold with one regulator on each tank and with an equalizing valve between the two.

I had two side-mounted 80 cubic foot cylinders with a separate regulator and pressure gauge on each of them.  The use of totally independent respirators avoids the problem mentioned above, but does not give access to the contents of a cylinder if a regulator should go wrong. The reason for doing this (as recommended by the Cave Diving Group) is that while carrying two completely independent bottles and regulators does not give access to air in a failed system while the diver is underwater (between sumps, yes!) it does however leave adequate air in the remaining working system for a return to safety if 'the rule of thirds' is used correctly during the whole dive.  (I describe this below.)

Obviously I am not intending to criticize anyone in this article.  Redundant respirators of equal size were first suggested, I believe, by Michel Letrone in 1955, and have been developed in various forms since that time. They are in use widely in the North-eastern USA, for example.  On the subject of rupture disks, Billy Young writes: "Your concern over loss of air from blow-out disks is one that cave divers have overcome by 'double-disk' installation.  This raises the safety factor considerably."

My greatest difficulty was in swimming on the surface of the water across the cenote to the entrance of the cave.  The other divers with their high capacity BC's and no weight on the head floated cheerfully with head and shoulders out of the water.  I had a small BC on the chest and the weight of four flashlights on the helmet (two primary plus two backup).  The result was that I floated with my mouth about level with the surface of the water.  On the second day I took my snorkel tube and the problem was solved.

Entering the water was a bit of an adventure at times.  For example at the Temple of Doom, a hole in the ground about twenty feet across gives access through the roof into a chamber containing water about 15 feet deep. The approved method of entry is to jump in.  In the event, I found the THUMP on arriving at the water surface after a free fall of 12 feet with two side-mounted 80's to be more violent than I had expected, but survivable.  (Cave divers have been known to enter the water from even greater heights than this.) A wooden ladder was provided to get out again.

My wife Pamela came for a swim at the Temple of Doom, being nibbled by the little green fishes when she was in the water and bitten by insects when on the ladder (there were very few biting insects anywhere else).  The instructor told us that in some of the caves these fishes had learnt to follow a diver into the dark zone where they eat the defenceless animals that live there.

On the checkout dive I swam slowly admiring the view, showed the instructor when I changed to the second mouthpiece at two-thirds pressure on the first tank, and called the dive when I was equally down on the second.  It was becoming clear that my objectives were different from those of the other divers.  I was there strictly as a tourist to admire the 'tites and 'mites and I had no interest in going too far from the cenote if I could possibly avoid it.  The other divers had studied the cave surveys and had decided to visit the more distant points.  In addition to the disparity in objectives.  I did not have one of my regulators on a long hose, which is considered to be essential for helping your companion by the Florida divers.

The other divers were courteous and helpful but it was clear that our aims were not compatible.  We solved this problem in the obvious way. My companions swam along the line at their own speed and vanished in the distance while I operated solo between them and the entrance.  Typically I would swim slowly for half an hour or so at depths between 50 and 70 feet through the wonderfully clear water and large chambers, admiring the 'tites and 'mites at leisure, being quite enchanted by these places.  My procedure was to swim in until I reached thirds, swim out again to the warning notice, recalculate thirds, swim in a second time, and so on.

I am not worried by the idea of solo cave diving.  This is a decision that divers must make for themselves.  You go into a different mindset being more careful about everything and being much more willing to stop where you are for minutes at a time if this is necessary to consider a question that might have arisen.  I shall not tell you how long I stopped at the line junctions and at some of the more intricate belay points, checking the arrow out, looking along the lines this way and that way, and examining the situation until I was sure that I could find my way back to the cenote even if all five of my lights had failed.  (The "arrow out" may or may not indicate the way that you actually went in and this can cause difficulties if you overlook the fact.  In the event the instructor explained the layout of the lines and the other divers held detailed discussions of the line junctions also. This is a serious matter.)

My final dive was in "Carwash,” so called because cars were washed there in the past (but fortunately not now).  This was unusual in having algae in the top six feet which was therefore a brightly illuminated light green colour with a visibility of about six inches.  You hit colder (but still quite warm) clear water below this where you can see for tens of yards below a bright green ceiling. By this time my companions had gone on ahead, so I swam around in the massive cave entrance until I found their line, and then on in.

After five consecutive days of solo cave diving my breathing rate was less than half of what it had been on the first day without my having made any effort to improve it whatsoever. My buoyancy control was much better, and I had finally learnt how to swim with my feet high to avoid stirring the silt.  Removing my ankle weights had been helpful here.  I swam slowly admiring the view for about 700 feet to a place known as Luke's Hope where you can see a bright green glow from an air surface.

Luke's Hope was discovered by a diver who was lost and almost out of air, rather in the way that Bob Davies discovered Wookey Thirteen in December, 1955.  He surprised his friends by taking a taxi back to where they were staying and greeting them long after they had given up hope of ever seeing him again.

While I was looking up at the bright green glow from Luke's Hope I became aware that the newer of my two regulators was free-flowing.  Not very rapidly, but an unwanted bubble every two seconds or so certainly clears the mind.  There was no line to the inviting green glow up above and I had no idea whether it would be possible to get out at that point.  I would have had to lay a line from my reel if I had wanted to investigate that matter.  On the other hand, I still had 2,000 psi in each cylinder, both regulators were otherwise working properly and the free-flow was nominal.  This was one of those occasions when I stayed where I was for several minutes to decide what to do.  At one point on the way out the delinquent regulator started to bubble away quite merrily, so I gave it a knock and it settled down to its previous slow pace. Back at the warning notice it stopped free-flowing altogether.  I also dived twice in Maya Blue and once at Naharon.

In our non-diving time we visited the Mayan ruins at Tulum and at X-Caret.  Many thanks to Steve Gerrard for organising the diving and for lending us his car on our day off, to Tony and Nancy DeRosa and Shelley Baker for the other arrangements, to my fellow divers and to my wife Pamela who has put up with this sort of nonsense for so many years.

I would like to thank Peter Schulz, Kevin Wills, James Coke, J. Billy Young and Michael Madden for their comments on early drafts of the above, and JGC for his more detailed comments given below.  If you are qualified as a cave diver, then you should not miss a visit to these caves should the opportunity arise.

Comments on the above by James G. Coke IV of the Akumal Dive Shop, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico 77710:

(1)     Luke Boissoneault made his historic dive on Nov. 21, 1985 in the company of two advanced open water students and an open water instructor.  They planned to reach a slate attached to the permanent line about 400 feet into the upstream section of Carwash.  I had explored that region originally 3 or 4 months prior.  The team of 4 (NOT trained in Cave Diving) reached their goal and signed the slate.  I still have this slate in my possession.  Silt flew at this point and three divers exited in confusion while Luke went exploring in the wrong direction where no one had been before. As he ran out of air he found the hole bearing his name; got out, cried and thanked God; and walked out of the jungle carrying his equipment!  He caught a cab to his camp ground where his initial hellos to the assembled group were treated like the salutations of an apparition!  I still keep in touch with Luke; he is a SCUBA instructor living in Quebec.

The other three divers also had their problems. One of them ran out of air shedding his equipment in the cave.  Moments later his guide found him (after assisting the other out of the cave) and brought him out.  He was resuscitated at the surface.

(2)     The "little green fishes" that follow divers into the cave are Mexican Tetras (Astyanax mexicanus).  They are found in almost every cenote in this region. There are some colour differences between the fish occasionally, from cenote to cenote.  They are very aggressive and will take advantage of a cave diver's lights when looking for small and large troglodytes to eat.  They will attack and devour the smallest to largest animals, including Typhliasina pearsi (a blind fish that occupies these caves).

I have seen Tetras as far back as 2,500 feet from air and sunlight; either lost fish or ones who have followed me in. BOLD little gaffers!!  This behaviour appears to be confined to the cenotes that are the most popular.  Carwash, being the most popular site, has the biggest problem with them.  Temple of Doom, Maya Blue, Naharon etc. are less popular, so fewer fish follow a diver into the cave.  So on the whole, the problem becomes more widespread as the site becomes more popular!

Tetras cannot follow divers through the halocline because the lack of oxygen in the lower salt water kills them. Amphipods and Isopods make short work of their carcasses should they remain in the lower salt water for too long.

(3)     There are areas of certain caves that have been declared sensitive; therefore divers have been asked not to visit these areas if they are not engaged in a worthy study of sorts.  For example, less-than-perfect buoyancy control and bubble damage from open circuit SCUBA plays havoc with fragile soda straw formations! Nobody likes to be told that they are not wanted, but what else can we do?

(4)     The underwater warning signs in Spanish were donated by the Cave Diving Section of the NSS.

(5)     The halocline is shallower in caves that are closer to the ocean.  There is a lens of moving fresh water laying on a static base of salt water, basically. At The Temple of Doom (TOD) (4.5 km from the ocean) the halocline is at 50 feet; the Carwash halocline (11 km from the ocean) is at 65 feet.  Often the interface is sharp; however there is a mix zone in some caves where the fresh water flow strips water from the lower zone.  Current-deficient areas such as in the Madonna passage in TOD display a sharp interface.  A Line Maya shows a distinct mix zone.  I am studying these phenomena with U of New Orleans currently.

(6)     The wooden ladder out of the water at TOD was installed by Mike Madden.  He also maintains the guidelines at Nohoch Nan Chich.  He installed the TOD cavern circuit guideline.  I maintain the guidelines in Carwash, Naharon and Maya Blue. All of the above have been surveyed (except TOD) with maps published; except for Maya which will be in print by the end of this year (46,600 feet of passage surveyed to this date with the Maya Naharon system --- Sistema Naranjal).  Many others have explored in these caves also.

(7)     The algae/tannic bloom in the top few feet in Carwash only occurs in the summer months.  In winter, the entire pool is clear.  The bloom is a by-product of the man-made clearing around the cenote. The natural sponge of the jungle has been removed; now all the rainwater washes tannic into Carwash.  Five years ago the cenote was clear all year round.


The Excavation And Exploration Of Wigmore Swallet

This article attempts to bring up to date the history of this dig.  Several previous B.B. articles have been summarised numbers 356, 357, 368, 371, 391/2, 393/4 and 406/7.

This classic swallet cave is located in a small wood at NGR 5571/5256 at an altitude of 880 ft ASL. It was originally dug from 1934-7 by the M.N.R.C. and in 1938 by W.C.C.  The shaft was then abandoned at a depth of around 30 ft.

When the B.E.C. arrived on the scene the shaft was filled with rubble, bones and assorted rubbish to within 6 ft of the lip - the position of the present concrete cap.

The dig commenced on June 25th 1977 (not the 21st as stated in B.B. 356).  With the aid of the M.C.G. motor winch and an assortment of technical digging equipment the shaft was cleared out until a relatively solid iron ore and calcite vein partly blocked the way on.  This was widened with bang and on 12/12/77 Hesitation Chamber was entered, at a depth of 40ft.  Two days later the lower of the two 10ft climbs below here was opened up and on the 24th, Christmas Crawl was entered.  The squeeze into Santa's Grotto was passed on 28th December.  During this period much work was done on "ginging" the entrance shaft and this continued throughout the summer.  On 16th September 1978 almost three tons of concrete was mixed on site and used to cap the shaft.  A steel grating from the road leading to the Isle of Skye was eventually delivered to the site!

The amount of work done in 15 months was remarkable, even for a Mendip cave dig; scores of members and friends being involved, including many overseas visitors.  (A Wessex man, meeting a Dutch caver in the Pyrenees was once asked "How iss Vigmore going?").  Digging tales of this period are legion - a notable one being the free-fall descent of a lager keg full of spoil which missed Trevor Hughes by 1/4 inch! (our aim was not good that day .... ) .

The surface work being completed it was noticeable how the number of enthusiasts suddenly decreased. A survey to B.C.R.A. grade 5C was undertaken and digging in the floor of Santa's Grotto started during early 1978. On the 17th October this "went" and Pinks & Posies was entered.  Work was then concentrated on enlarging this passage to crawling size until the Smoke Room was reached on 9/12/78.  Many months were spent digging here but all was in vain due to continuous roof collapse and this area was abandoned on 6/2/82, being used from then on as a spoil dump for the new dig in the floor Blitz Passage.

On 3/3/78 the stream was dye-traced to Cheddar Risings with a flow through time of approx. 42 hours. This gives us a depth potential of 980ft to the bottom of Sump 3 in Gough's Cave arguably the deepest cave in England!  The distance from sink to rising is over 5 miles.  The Blitz Passage dig occupied our time for some 5 months until the discovery of West End Series in Eastwater Cavern lured us away - the last visit here being on 16/7/82.

Work resumed on 17/5/86 and continued unabated for the next seven months.  A lot of hard digging, blasting and shoring was involved including the use of the Acro Jacks which have given their name to a small chamber. The last working trip of this session was on 6/12/86 before the delights of other digs in Hunter's Hole and Bowery Corner Swallet caused an eighteen months break.

On 31/7/88 work recommenced but ceased on the next trip of 6/8/88 Bowery Corner proving to be marginally more attractive!

A four month session from 26/6/89 - 2/10/89 saw more work in the foul conditions of the lower part of Blitz Passage where huge fallen marl slabs and a quagmire of red mud seriously delayed progress and put off a lot of diggers.

The present bout of enthusiasm began on 10/9/90 and was heralded by the purchase of a Bosch cordless drill.  Using this magnificent tool the offending roof slabs were converted to handy sized lumps and dispatched on their long, slow journey to the surface via a series of plastic dragging skips.  After some nine trips a breakthrough was made on 20/2/91 and the small chamber now known as Baghdad was entered.  This relatively comfortable spot marked the end of the notorious Blitz Passage but below it a similar bedding plane crawl led tantalisingly onwards with the usual howling inward draught.

This crawl was vigorously attacked with all the available tools and after a further nineteen digging trips the next "open" bit of cave was reached.  This took the form of a 5ft deep open rift just wide enough to get a boot into.  It stretched right across the crawlway and seems to have acted also as an inlet. Several trips were spent digging and blasting along and down into this rift as a wider section seemed to exist at its base.  On 24/5/91 a small, blind chamber (Ghandi's Pyre) was entered above this rift.  Work now concentrated on deepening the rift and on 31/5/91 some twenty feet of tight open passage was entered ending in collapsed wall slabs.  Two charges were fired on this blockage and on 3/6/91, after 1/2 ton of shattered rock was hurled into space (!) the cave proper was entered - almost 14 years since the start of the B.E.C. dig.


After the long, muddy man-made crawl from the entrance and the tight and awkward Sheep Dip it was almost awe inspiring for A.J. (Tony Jarratt) and R.B. (Richard Blake) to be suddenly confronted with a roomy 20ft pitch some 15ft across and 4ft wide.  An easy free climb down Blackbird Pot (named after the current residents of the entrance shaft) led to some 30ft of "WALKING" passage and the head of another, larger pitch - Vindication Pot. In high spirits the explorers returned to the Hunter's to celebrate and gather all available Monday diggers, six in all, for the afternoon push.

The second wave of explorers descended full of adrenalin and Butcombe to bottom Vindication Pot at 35ft. Below this a dangerous boulder choke in the floor was excavated to reveal a loose 25ft pitch which was descended by V.S. (Vince Simmonds), A.J., T.H. (Trevor Hughes) and R.B. leaving the cripples (G.J. (Graham Johnson) and P.M. jnr. (Peter Mcnab to attempt an extremely hairy traverse over the top of Vindication Pot.  The third pitch, Hernia Pot, ended in a strongly outward draughting rift with a short and muddy inlet adjacent.

Meanwhile, above, P.M. had conquered the traverse by using fragile calcite finger holds and after 30ft or so had reached a large chamber beyond the pot and christened it "Don't Feed the Ambulance" (We may never know why!).

The floor of the chamber consisted of a wide crater and a 30ft deep free-climbable pitch blocked at the bottom.  Beyond this the impressive washed-out mineral vein continued to a 10ft high vertical mud wall which defeated the climber's attempts to scale it.  The smugly grinning team then left for the delights of even more Butcombe.

The following day the draughting rift was banged and on 5/6/91 a five man team returned to survey the cave from Santa's Grotto and continue work at the end.  The first project succeeded admirably but the latter suffered a setback when it was found that Hernia Pot had collapsed!  The whole floor of Vindication Pot had dropped some 5ft and filled the chamber below.  Several rolled ladders were luckily rescued from the mess but a bag of tools was lost.  Despite our disappointment it was evident, on consideration, that the best thing had happened, the collapse could all too easily have occurred on the first descent when four people were directly below the tons of boulders which had moved.

Our next plan was to continue with the exploration of D.F.T.A. in the hope that it would drop back down to the far side of the terminal dig.  While trying to scale the mud wall R.B. received the full benefit of a two foot long rock on the head but despite this he was still usable as a stepladder to enable A.J. to reach the top.  A short boulder slope led to a blocked crawl which was soon cleared to reveal a huge black space beyond. Named Drake's Hall in memory of the late Hillgrove Swallet digger, Bob Drake, the chamber now entered was very impressive for Wigmore.  Some 50ft long, 25ft high and 15ft wide it has a breakdown floor and ends in a massive choke.  Two roof inlets exist here, one of which was later climbed but ended in a hairy choke after 10ft.  The inward draughts from the entrance and bottom dig both go up into these inlets so there could be extensive but choked passages at a higher level, possibly corresponding with the choked rift below Hesitation Chamber and the postulated passage above the Smoke Room.

When the survey team arrived a further bit of useful work was done by digging out a short and muddy by-pass which connects the bottom of D.F.T.A. with the bottom of Vindication Pot - avoiding the traverse.  A climb in a rift behind the pot led down to a small chamber which was chiselled open into the pot to provide a free climbable but awkward by-pass.


Construction work now began by the insertion of a scaffolding frame to support the Hernia Pot collapse.  This was accomplished over a few trips and access regained to the terminal dig. A tight upward squeeze was passed directly above an impassable 20ft rift. Beyond the squeeze a short length of rift with two side passages was entered one choked after 15ft and the other partially blocked with mud but with a tremendous echo and the sound of what seems to be a large stream.  This was particularly encouraging considering the very dry nature of the other Mendip caves at the time.  Another minor discovery at this time was some 20ft of loose passage heading upstream from the top of Blackbird Pot.  (The three baby Blackbirds in the entrance shaft had now left the nest, one having to be manually assisted from the bottom of the shaft!).

On 22/6/91 - a Saturday evening! - a team of six forsook their beer to break into the huge extensions expected beyond the muddy crawl at the bottom.  Some desperate digging and a tight squeeze enabled A.J., pushed by G.J., to enter the new bit.  BIT was the operative word as a 4’ wide rift leading off into the distance was revealed! So much for the booming echo.  The stream could still be heard in the distance .... At least we made it out for a few beers.

Since then work has concentrated on blasting the roof off the muddy U-tube/crawl - known affectionately as Butch's Arse and in widening the rift in the floor below Hernia Pot.

This was blasted out and descended for some 20ft to where it became too narrow and choked with debris. Digging continues. The siren like stream still echoes ahead and the diggers are confident of a lot more cave to come; even if it takes another 14 years.

Tony Jarratt.


Assynt Antics

"Ye're all doomed", "Is that so?"  Comment and riposte the catchphrases of this year's Sutherland trip.  The first delivered by Pete Rose as a rising eldritch shriek whenever a diver entered a sump and the second in the soft Tannochbrae tones of Willy Morrison from behind the bar at the Inchnadamph Hotel, usually in response to some breathlessly sensational outburst from a member of our party.  One hilarious post pub session was spent delivering ever more unlikely tales to be completed by this unlikely punchline.

But what of caving you cry? Ah, the caving.  Well, we did do some - and some cave diving as well so this article will stretch over the page.  Peter Glanvill's enthusiastic descriptions of the glories of Assynt resulted in double the number of visitors to the GSG hut this year.  More came from both Devon and Mendip and the result was a minor explosion in digging and diving activities.

For the first two days Pete Rose survived on a knife edge, his odd Scottish accent winding up certain Grampian members (up for the weekend) to a fever pitch.  The only thing that kept him from dismemberment was that they could not really believe he existed!  Things improved as the hut numbers shrank to manageable proportions for most of our stay.

On the first glorious morning Pete Rose and Tony Boycott were dragged off to Firehose Cave by yours truly who for, the past year, had convinced himself that there was a viable dig at the far end.  10 metres up the vertical jetwash which is Firehose, Pete ("caving is a cheap sport") Rose's wetsuit began to act like a reverse colander and he opted out of playing insey winsey spider.  Tony would have left as well only I was behind him with a crow-bar.

We struggled to the top and I took what must be some of the very few pictures of Firehose in existence. The dig proved to be a dead loss particularly as after an inspection of the roof at the end of the cave - where it gets quite roomy we realised that apart from one wall it was in cemented breccia.

Meanwhile Brian Johnson and Pete Dowswell tried to dive Lower Traligill again. I will draw a veil over this episode. Other bods did tourist trips in the Traligill valley in the process visiting Tree Hole.  In the prevailing dry conditions Tony Jarratt forced a downstream bedding squeeze into 60 metres of new cave (surveyed later in the week) which contained the main stream inlet.  Further prospects exist here and the squeeze is now passable by average sized cavers who do not mind an intimate acquaintance with underground streams. Waterfall Rising which looked good for an underwater dig was excavated by Vince, Jake and Tav (BEC) but despite spasmodic work during the week it never became passable for a dive - worth more digging tho'.

The next day was our Durness day with the prospect of another bash at looking for Tartan Holes and digs at Ach a Chorrain on the way.  A leisurely journey up via Lochinver and the Drumbeg road gave us superb coastal views.  Thankfully dumping Peter Rose with the diggers for a few hours Petes Glanvill, Mulholland and Cox plus unfashionably named Brian Johnson headed for Smoo. Another sparkling sunny day although with a cold wind blowing so no sun-bathing this time.  The Petes all went down to Smoo Geo while Brian concentrated on chatting up the local coastguard and doing a bit of spuddling about in the Smoo pools.  It was low tide and we were able to walk a long way down the geo before starting our dive. The mini resurgences seen last year were high and dry.  We finned out on the surface past my point of entry in 1990 and submerged to follow the eastern wall at a depth of 10 metres.  The marine life encrusting the geo walls became more prolific as we got deeper and diving was a real pleasure in the 15 metre visibility.  When we had got into about twenty metres of water things got really interesting.  The limestone walls smothered in a five o'clock shadow of brittlestar arms, hydroids and anemones were prowled by nudibranchs starfish and orange sea urchins. The odd small cave inhabited by shy navy blue lobsters could be seen.  On one rock ledge was a proper cave though - only 15 metres long it penetrated the cliff and seemed to be solutional in origin.  A few fin strokes further on and, like some magnificent cathedral nave, daylight streaming through its kelp fringed apex, reared a 20 metre high arch. It is at times like this that the weightlessness of scuba diving can be truly appreciated as one swoops from floor to ceiling with a couple of flicks of the leg.

All good things come to an end and regretfully I turned for home indicating to the other two that I had used up half my air.  The endless fin back on the bottom and the surface kept me warm in the chilly sea. The Petes made the mistake of surfacing early - they discovered we had been nearly 400 metres offshore.

Meanwhile, back at Ach a Chorrain, Pete was demonstrating how we dig in Devon.  Over 30 metres of passage was discovered and explored - spread over 5 caves just like Devon.  Still it isn't often you can discover and explore so many caves at once.

The day finished with an abseiling session at Smoo and a visit to local hostelries where Pete R. started his "Good Pubs to Shave in" guide - publication date from Pete. After a brisk walk back to Smoo from the final pub most opted for a night's kip in Smoo Cave while Pete R. and I opted for a tent over the entrance in the company of nesting Fulmars.  The next day the chuckling birds woke me and I found I could peer through one of the skylight entrances to Smoo onto Tony Boycott snoozing 25 metres below.  A brew-up soon had us all loosening up our sleep stiffened limbs before the journey back to Elphin.

While various team members surveyed Tree Hole, Brian decided to dive the Waterslide at Traligill where the stream disappears on its way to Lower Traligill Cave.  With help from Julian Walford, Pete Cox and others we humped gear down the steeply inclined and, in its lower sections, awkward bedding to the sump.  This trip was jinxed. Pete Mulholland saw one bottle take the fast way down when it slipped out of his harness, shattering the nerves of those below this novel bouncing bomb.  Then various valves began playing up and bottle pressures seemed to have strangely dropped as Brian put kit together.  A collection of glum faces including “Ye're all doomed” stared at the scum coloured pool.  At last a whip round got Brian into the sump.  He emerged briefly to sort out a gag before returning to the fray.  He explored 30 metres of passage which ended at 4 metres depth in an area of break down.  Using the remains of his air I went in for a look losing the line reel in the process - habit of mine!  We will return.

That night, it must have been night cos I must have been drunk to have volunteered, Julian Walford, the master of ANUS cave, arrived and assured us that the number one Scottish cave diving site lay in his domain i.e. upstream ANUS.  With charts, diagrams and tales of wondrous caverns his silver tongue beguiled us and Pete Mulholland and I found ourselves volunteering to push the sumps I had least expected to visit.  A trip to Lochinver for air the next day was called for.  Jimmy Crooks at the harbour nonchalantly pumped our collection of midget tanks while regaling us with diving anecdotes. He even fixed the damaged pillar valve on the Waterslide bottle.  The three diving Petes then stopped for a dive on the Drumbeg road on the way back. Scallops for the evening meal plus two dinner plates were brought up.  Long evenings mean you can pack a lot into a day.

The stroll to ANUS was pleasant with minimal kit and a host of sherpas.  Stripping in the chilly breeze was not quite as nice.  The carry to the Pit where the upstream sump begins is short and easy although the traverse down to the sump appears daunting to the first time visitor.  Soon, with the help of YAD ("ye're all doomed"), we were ready to dive. Suddenly a loud bang punctuated the quiet gurgling of the stream.  Pete Mulholland's high pressure hose had ruptured.  The option was to scrap the entire trip or for me to do a tourist dive through sump one.  The temptation was too great.  Waving goodbye to a seriously disgruntled PM, I gently pushed my head into the sump.

Clear water and good lighting made the dive along a gently meandering tube quite delightful.  At one point an inlet on the right could be clearly seen.  In low water conditions the wallow between sumps 1 and 2 was rather muddy while sump 2 was just a low duck.  At last I could dekit in a nice roomy stream passage and off I went to visit sump 3. Not having read the survey very carefully I was rather surprised to see a stream cascading from an aven near sump 3. Closer inspection of the aven suggested it would be a fairly straightforward climb so up I went. After 8 metres of back and footing I emerged in a sort of chamber (named Sotanito by Farr) formed where a section of partially filled horizontal upper passage had been washed out and enlarged by the stream inlet.  To the left beyond a delicate scramble over a mud bank the rumbling of a distant waterfall which I guessed was Thunderghast led me to a dodgy looking climb.  I turned back and looked at the right hand passage which ended in a sandy crawl.

Calling it a day I reversed the climb and rekitted.  A high pressure leak meant a rather unnerving single bottle return through the sump in low vis.  Elation greeted my discovery especially when I thought I had discovered a major sump bypass. The big put down came from Julian when it was pointed out that the aven was discovered by Martyn Farr 15 years ago. The only new thing I had done was actually use the route which in fact removes most of the hassle in getting to sump 4.

Over the scallops that night Julian persuaded us it was our duty to survey the downstream section of upstream ANUS to establish the link point with known cave.  Brian Johnson was dragged reluctantly away from a planned dive in Lower Traligill and the morrow saw a team of BEC diggers and cave divers shiveringly donning soggy wet suits outside ANUS.  The trip was uneventful apart from minor light failures.  The survey was accomplished, sump 4 reached and many acceptable pictures taken.  Meanwhile back in the main cave YAD was in digging frenzy mode.  I predict it will not be long before there is a dry way into upstream ANUS and we have Scotland's second mile long cave. Surface digs also could make the breakthrough.

The next day it rained - all day.  The three Petes went to Kylesku (pronounced Kile - Skew) and bravely kitting up in the vertical water entered the horizontal salty version lapping the south ferry slip.  Pristine clay pigeons littering the sea bed testified to the local hotel owner's lack of marksmanship while in deeper water and in a slacker current than last year we were able to explore a near vertical wall smothered in multicoloured feather stars. The whisky and Chicken Tikka in the pub afterwards were equally as good!  The evening was spent in a soggy fester with YAD again in digging mode trying to excavate a minute resurgence low down in Traligill.

The last day dawned bright and sunny.  It was go for it day at Lower Traligill.  Brian and I decided to go down unaccompanied while everybody else dug at ANUS or went down Claonite.  While I was taking a snap of Brian outside Traligill a fully grown male otter leapt out of the plunge pool and sleekly scrabbled past me to lunge into the Traligill flood sink.

The water level seemed ominously high at the entrance but we pressed on regardless with a small amount of kit.  Bitter disappointment struck when we found the diving line was submerged beneath 3 metres of peat stained water.  The jinx was still operative.  We spent the rest of the afternoon taking pictures and gorge running down to Firehose.

Pete Mulholland returned to base in the evening very satisfied with his day's work.  He had made a detailed survey of ANUS sump 1, spending so much time underwater that the sherpas had begun to worry. Now plotted, this survey confirms that a dry link should be imminent.

Sadly we had to leave the next morning.  It was an extended farewell as we stopped periodically on the Ullapool road for pictures in the clear rich morning light.  We will return.  Finally if I have left anyone's activities out, my apologies - you can write it next time.

Personnel: Peter Glanvill (DSS,CSS,CDG,BEC), Peter Mulholland (DSS) , Peter Cox (CSS), Peter Rose (CSS,BEC), Tony Jarratt (BEC,GSG,CDG), Brian Johnson (BEC,CDG), Vince Simmonds, Rob Taviner, Graham Johnson (all BEC) , Julian Walford (GSG,UBSS, CDG) , Tony Boycott (BEC,UBSS,CDG)

Peter Glanvill June 1991


Tree Hole

Situated in the Traligill Valley, Sutherland, this cave was 80m. long until our extensions of 28th and 30th April, 1991 brought the passage length to 120 m.  The cave has formed across the dip of the Main Treligill Thrust plane and carries part of the underground Traligill River, entering from a low sump (7) at the upstream end and disappearing into a roomy downstream sump which would be a worthwhile dive.

The writer entered the extensions by passing a flat-out squeeze in the stream not far from the entrance (Section C on the survey).  It was not realised then that the attractive walking-size streamway beyond was new stuff! After a hundred feet or so the passage narrowed down to a tight rift with the stream roaring into it.  The water was now augmented by what seems to be the main flow of the Traligill River pouring into the extension from a slot in the roof, creating a superb 5ft high waterfall.  On a later trip the terminal rift was pushed for 15ft to a clear, diveable sump below a dangerous boulder choke with black spaces visible beyond - a dodgy digging site!

The whole cave was later surveyed by Tony Boycott (BEC/UBSS), Julian Walford (UBSS/GSG) and the writer (GSG/BEC) hence the credits on the survey.  There is potential here for links both up and downstream with other caves in the valley.

Tony Jarratt



Speleo Philippines

Bristol Exploration Club's Third Caving Expedition To The Philippines

Supported by the Sports Council

Please reply to:
Westbury Park
July 11, 1991

Dear Ted,

A couple of points for the next BB please:

  1. Please note my new address above - I shall be here until October.
  2. As many members will already know a small group of us - namely Trebor, Snablet, Jake and myself - are off to the Philippines later this year.  The expedition was planned as a low-key affair with members of the Sierra Madre Outdoor Club with whom I explored and surveyed the country's fourth­longest system last year.

Things have escalated since planning commenced and we ~ now in full partnership with the National Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines.  Our equipment requirements have expanded to meet the stature of our new partners and, like all serious expeditions; we find that we have to resort to sending out begging letters.

We have promised the NMFP that we will provide them with four sets of personal SRT rigs - i.e. harnesses, jammers, descenders, crabs etc.  I wonder if any of your readers have any of these items surplus to their requirements?  For example, they may have recently up-graded their gear but the old stuff is still serviceable, or maybe they have simply got too old to need it.  Whatever, Speleo Philippines is after bargain-priced and free gear and donors will be rewarded with the knowledge that they have helped and encouraged enthusiastic cavers in an under-privileged nation.

All expedition members will be happy to supply further information to anyone who feels they can help us. What might just be an old crab to you will be a prized possession in the Philippines.