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BB532 04A goodbye from Nick Harding – your editor in Residence since 2006

Well my tenure as BB editor has come to an end. Although it was an enjoyable experience I’m afraid I just have too much on my plate at the moment. I will be handing over the position to the redoubtable Hannah Bell and I wish her all the best and good luck in hounding down articles from reluctant scribes.    

This edition contains Jrat’s last articles expertly prized (split infinitive?) from his laptop by the Audsley whose tenacious hammering sounds and swearing could be heard as far away as the coast. 

Yer Ed, Nick

For the last couple of years I’d been helping Nick with the formatting of the BB and had stepped aside after the last issue. The BB is a reflection not only of the Editor but also of the membership’s activities and dedication to put pen to paper. Once again this year we’ve had just two copies of the BB for the third year running.  Ultimately it is up to our members to invigorate the BB by putting pen to paper to empower the Editor to deliver more issues.  I know that many of our members have been on expeditions and been pushing in the UK. Let’s hear more about it!

A big thank you goes to Hannah Bell who has provided a great deal of assistance in getting this issue out the door.  

Henry Bennett

Forty Odd Years Well Spent

By Tony Jarratt

"I shall be gone and live, or stay and die."


It seemed a good idea at present to knock up an article on my caving and digging experiences over the last forty-four years.  This would hopefully illustrate the changing nature of our way of life to complement the current series of Descent articles on a similar theme.  Any of the characters mentioned herein could have written an almost identical tale involving a whole host of different personalities and events in the karstlands of Britain, but I just happened to be anorak enough to write it down!   The classic books on this subject are those written by my old mate and top raconteur Jim Eyre, which should be read and enjoyed by all up and coming cavers and Alan "Goon" Jeffreys has also penned some classic articles in Descent.  Dave "Pooh" Yeandle's autobiography covers much the same period and people but with a greater emphasis on diving and the Dales.

I started off as a 14 year old, naive Brummie school kid who cycled with his mates to the dangerously unstable but very impressive limestone mines in the Black Country town of Dudley.  Most of these are now fallen in, destroyed or otherwise inaccessible - doubtless a good thing for the health of the local kids.  I remember that our lighting was primitive - torches and hurricane lamps - but at least I had a pressed-fibre miner's helmet given to me by my collier "uncle" Glyn Thomas from Tredegar.  My inspiration came from "How Underground Britain is Explored" (Showell Styles), which I unearthed in Saltley Grammar School library, and also from watching dramatic cave rescues on black and white TV.  My mother regularly stated that I would not have a motorbike or go potholing!   She was wrong on both counts.

Very soon after this we moved to Congresbury, Somerset and I attended Nailsea Grammar School where, after a couple of years, I found a like-minded soul in the person of the adventurous Steve Shepstone.  Thus commenced my real caving career with endless visits to Burrington Combe and even the Ystradfellte area - reached then by car ferry and very remote compared to today.  We both joined the Exploration Group of North Somerset [EGONS] and added Eastwater, Stoke Lane and Swildon's to our trophies.  I had laddered the Forty Foot Pot by 3rd July 1966 and was now committed to a cold, wet, muddy and totally absorbing future in the world's entrails in company with some of the craziest characters on the planet.  On the 4th February 1967 things got even worse when I commenced my first dig in the Water Chamber of Goatchurch Cavern and was able to see into a small stream passage with a decorated 2m diameter chamber above.  This was eventually reached on the 2nd July and though only tiny, its exploration proved to be the final nail in the coffin of normality and the beginning of a life now dedicated to digging grotty holes in unpromising and obscure places throughout the land.

Devon and Yorkshire also were visited at this time and Steve and I then graduated to membership of the Axbridge Caving Group and Archaeological Society along with Stu McManus, Dave Yeandle, etc.  Here we met older and more experienced Mendip cavers such as the still active John Chapman (Tom's dad), Dr. Bob and Ann Everton, Mike "Fish" Jeanmaire and James Cobbett (these latter two my lifelong heroes), Dr. Stan Cannicott and many others.  Social contacts from other clubs included Zot, Jok Orr, Bob Lewis, Malcolm Cotter, Tony Knibbs, Simon Knight and eventually just about everyone in our newly discovered "Centre of the Universe" the Hunters' Lodge Inn.  Here we learnt to sing both caving and foul songs and to destroy our few brain cells with cheap cider and ale.  The five-mile walk from the Axbridge hut often doubled on the way back!  I was overawed by the hard men in the pub and was particularly wary of the rude and crude B.E.C. - a club that I swore to avoid joining at all costs!

Our caving gear at this time was essentially "wool next to the skin", long johns, string vests, boiler suits together with army gaiters and a hemp waist line and hobnailed boots.  Wellies were frowned upon and wetsuits were just about to appear to revolutionise caving, though the French sharkskin neoprene was very expensive and only for the truly dedicated.  To get mine I sold my golf clubs!   Nylon ropes were coming into use but the occasional rope and wood ladder was sometimes seen - I did Centipede Pitch in Bar Pot on one.  Cycles, motorbikes, scooters and sometimes illicitly borrowed vehicles got us about if it was too far to walk.  Cardboard miners' and plastic construction helmets held "stinky" carbide lamps, crappy battery cycle lamps or bloody great heavy NiFe Cells for the real "Tigers".  Old batteries and carbide dumps littered the depths of Eastwater and Swildon's along with boot soles and bits of flesh burnt off by alkali!  All trips were acetylene scented.

Our next dig started in the abandoned Nettle Hole, Nordrach on the 10th September 1967 and was soon to move to the adjacent "Foot and Crutch" depression where we were allowed to continue work during that year's foot and mouth outbreak.  I also got dragged through my first sump in Stoke Lane so that I could sherpa bottles for my heroes - another prelude to future misery as a not very dedicated cave diver.  This was to be a tool to get me to the parts that other diggers couldn't reach.  Chris Richards, Clive North, John Cornwell and team had now discovered Sludge Pit Hole and we were recruited to dig here at the sump bypass.  1968 saw the discovery of Ubley Warren Pot via the "Foot and Crutch" entrance, the discovery of the initial section of Tynings Barrows Swallet and the washing away of the floor of the Forty Foot Pot - and an illegal re-entry of Pen Park Hole in Bristol. 

Digging at Netherwood Swallet, Nordrach, started early the following year but was not to last.  Seeing what lies below it now maybe we should have persevered!   Working trips to St. Cuthbert's Swallet in the company of Dave "Wig" Irwin, Bob Cross, Butch, Crange, John Riley, Martin Bishop, Brian Woodward and Dick Wickens may have indicated the shape of things to come and work, in the form of a surveying course at the Ordnance Survey H.Q. in Southampton, definitely did.  The next 19 years was to see my horizons much expanded and whole droves of new characters discovered.  A drunken weekend dig at the flood-blocked Eastwater Cavern saw a bunch of young reprobates from the Axbridge, Severn Valley, B.E.C. and E.G.O.N.S. re-entering the system, much to the surprise and annoyance of the older and wiser Hunters' bar-proppers such as Mike Dewdney-York!

On a trip to Derbyshire, Eldon Hole chamber was entered after a very long time by laddering down the side of an underground snow crevasse, thus proving that winters were indeed harsher then.  I was very taken with the Peak District and vowed to spend more time there with its tough Eldon and Pegasus cavers.  Back on the Hill I undertook my first cave dive on Boxing Day under the tutorship of Alan "Satanic" Mills.  This presented a minor problem due to the cold water and the fact that I had just had most of my teeth removed and couldn't grip the gag properly!  I also couldn't swim.  My kit consisted of a brand new and expensive Deepstar valve, a pressure gauge and a side-mounted ex-WD "Tadpole" bottle with pillar valve.  These were off Mosquito bombers and cost 2/6d.  After hours spent unwinding the bullet-proof wire wrapping and emptying out the rust they were ready for (hopeful) filling by some unsuspecting compressor owner (Midland Diving were reputed to fill a brown paper bag for a price) and they saw sterling service throughout Britain.  Mike Boon's had a unique bayonet fitting and now hangs in the Wessex hut, having been retrieved from Swildon's Nine by Pete Moody and I.  Usually over pressurised they were best kept out of the sun and not dropped.  I once fell off my motorbike with mine strapped on the back - exciting!

1970 and I was now resident in Shrewsbury, Shropshire and commuting regularly at weekends to Derbyshire, where I joined the Pegasus Club along with Mac and James Cobbett and gained many new friends such as Paul and Jud Thomson, Cheg Chester, one-armed Dave Lucas, Pete Watkinson, Barrie Parker and Vic "the Wop" Holland.  Eldon mates included Clive Westlake, George Cooper, Paul Deakin, Bobs Toogood and Dearman, Dave "Grotty" Gill, Bill Whitehouse, etc.  Here, and in Shropshire and mid and north Wales, my continued interest in old mines was rekindled and a major digging project commenced in the fabulous and deep Hollandtwine Mine above Castleton in the search for the lost "Great Swallow".  Shropshire also generated an interest in other subterranea in the form of the artificial Hawkstone Caves, Nesscliff Cave and others.

This same year, the next caving apprenticeship took place when I joined the Nottingham University Caving Club expedition to the Picos D'Europa in Northern Spain where a good amount of exploration and diving took place in a very mellow spot between the mountains and coast.  Spanish cider, lakes of cheap booze, hot sun and warm caves had rapidly converted us to the idea of foreign expeditions - which was later brusquely altered in the depths of Austria!   The only British discovery this year was the entering of Rum Aven, Swildon's with Satanic and Al Thompson.

The new year saw me briefly diving in Pont Newydd Rising, Cilcain, Flintshire, several training dives in White Lady / Cwm Pwll-y-Rhyd and Porth-yr-Ogof, P8, Redhurst Swallet, Bagshawe Cavern and Swildon's - where the sump 6 bypass was opened up.  My most novel "dive" was for some 500m in the dry but gas-filled Leigh Level, Minsterley, Shropshire to reach the foot of the blocked Blue Barn Shaft.  Supposedly with an atmosphere of methane, sulphur dioxide and sulphuretted hydrogen, this may not have been a good idea at the time - especially as I had left a work colleague at 600m in to await my return!  An interesting free-diving trip in Bridge Cave, Ystradfellte yielded some good new passage which was written up in a Westminster S.G. rag but the arsehole who wrote it forgot to mention that I was in front of him (or even that I was there at all!) and a dive in Ogof Fechan frightened me shitless when I blundered into big, open passage which was way beyond my capabilities.  A tourist dive to Little Neath River Cave 5 with Dick Pike was another epic when we came out on a single light.

Digging at last paid off in Hollandtwine Mine with the discovery of several hundred feet of attractive natural passages leading off from the 360ft level but not, alas, the Great Swallow.  Keith "Mad Ben" Bentham, famed digging eccentric, also a character and Jerry Wooldridge failed to find it some years later but the current diving team of Jim Lister and friends are trying to get there from beyond Ink Sump in Peak Cavern and I wish them the best of luck. According to the Old Man's sketch section this apparently undescended natural shaft is on a par with Titan Shaft!   One of our digging team was the newly recruited Sulo Sulonen - a travelling, erudite Finn with a German registered sports car, an Irish girlfriend and heaps of charisma.  We soon got completely used to his broken accent as he worked his way up to club secretary, got regularly paralytic, became a cave diver and was submerged in the caving ethos.  More on Sulo later.  He was instrumental in organizing our Christmas visit to the truly magic land of County Clare where I discovered fantastic, clean-washed river caves, traditional Irish music and endless supplies of Guinness at the famous O'Connor's Bar, the world's most hospitable people and even romance.  Since then, Clare and I believe Ireland in general, has been ruined by European handouts and lost much of its character - though I am sure that the locals prefer their new lifestyle.  My memories remain happily frozen in time.

Back home 1972 was spent caving and mine exploring throughout England and Wales with notable dives in Pridhamsleigh Cavern and Swildon's Hole. The latter involved the free-climbing of the, to me, awesome Victoria Aven in company with the redoubtable Pete Moody (I was now a Wessex member).  This was particularly satisfying as it had been my ambition since I had heard of the place and a major reason for learning to dive before some other bugger scaled it!  A fascination with Bob Dylan picked up from John Norris of the Axbridge inspired the name Desolation Row for the appropriately grim extensions at the top.  U.B.S.S. divers Tony Boycott, Bob Churcher, Aldwyn Cooper and Julian Walford later assisted here and joined my growing band of cronies.  At this time we were all under the fairly rigid control of the superbly eccentric Dr. Oliver Cromwell Lloyd - of whom there will never be the like again - and whose birthday parties in Swildon's Old Grotto were truly memorable with sherry, cake and bods in evening dress, playing banjos or, in Roger Dors case, carrying a tray of booze and with a dog on a lead! 

In the Peak District, Ray Mansfield, Bob Mehew, other Shepton men and I joined Paul Deakin, Dave Draper, P.B. Smith (another "over the top" character), Mick Durdey (yet another, but more volatile!) and a host of E.P.C, B.S.A. and B.S.G. enthusiasts at a pumping session at Knotlow Mine, where an ancient and complete rag and chain pump was discovered.  This was a major find in the world of mining artefacts so even more satisfying as it was the Mendippers who identified it!  It now resides at Matlock Mining Museum.  

In North Wales, Pont Newydd Rising came back in favour and I passed my first virgin sump.  Only 23m long and with a mere 12m extension beyond but all mine.  In the extensive, aquatic and bloody dangerous Hillcarr Sough, Derbyshire, our Pegasus team joined Nottingham Mines Research Group members Lawrence Hurt and Dave Epton on the rediscovery of some 4-500m of neck deep canal over 3km into the level, the atmosphere of which was essentially composed of methane, carbon dioxide and sulphuretted hydrogen (familiar?) and which necessitated the use of a canoe full of air bottles to keep us alive.  Oh, the folly of youth - but what an adrenalin buzz!  (On missing Vic the Wop before leaving, we providentially found him lying on the floor, underwater and without air.  He still owes us a pint).

Apart from all this normal(?) caving activity there was usually a good sprinkling of rescues throughout the year.  One in Giant's Hole stands out as a classic.  Two of our lads were reported overdue, so three of us went for a look and found the cave rapidly flooding.  Halfway down The Crabwalk we met Al Steans who shouted, "Leave me and get to Chuck."   Our man was wedged horizontally in The Vice with only his head above water and as we reached him this backed up then flowed right over him.  I pushed him and he was swept away downstream, luckily to stop on the edge of a pitch from where Andy "Honker" Sutton and I dragged him to an alcove.  He and I were to spend some hours here while Andy left for help and a knife to cut Chuck's waterlogged heavy duty Goon Suit open.  Chuck was too exhausted to move.  Disembodied voices beyond The Vice proved to be Daves Draper and Allsop.  The former provided coffee and aid and the later an utterly useless NiFe cell - far too blunt!  To cut a long story short, I retreated amongst a crowd of incompetents with my (actually Pete "Ratarse" Webb's) wet suit trousers being partly washed away and the glorious sight of a hard Eldon team traversing in above.  These lads took 16 hours to get Chuck out on this minor epic.  The finest sight I saw on my retreat was the sudden, rapid and unplanned descent of Dr. Hugh Kidd from the ceiling amongst a cloud of whisky fumes.  Where are such heroes in today's land of health and safety? 

The year was concluded with a relaxing (read drunken) County  Clare session, but a Doolin Cave through trip earlier in the year is worth recording to illustrate the charms of the place.  Jim Shannon, my girlfriend Peggy Faughnan and I laddered Fisherstreet Pot with a borrowed 20m Coastguard ladder taken to the entrance by motorbike.  In dry grots and with bike lamps and quarrymens' helmets, we waded upstream to emerge in glorious sunshine and hitch a lift back to O'Connor's Bar on a donkey cart.  The E.U. provided none of this.

Pont Newydd Rising featured again early in 1973, when another 21m of dry stuff was found and the second sump of 12m passed to a black space.  This became blacker when "light pox" set in.  At Thistle Pot dig in Derbyshire, some 20m of pretty but loose rift was found with a 4m deep, blocked pitch below.  In World's End Cave No.4, Llangollen, I was forced to drag my drowning staffholder, the infamous Gordon "Poison Dwarf" Parkin (Eldon P.C.) from a low duck as we were supposed to be at work at the time.  Some of his other claims to fame were being left down Giant's Hole for three days with a Mars Bar until he was surprisingly missed and of pebble-dashing his own arse in a dig when his tiny bit of scrounged slow burning fuse detonated as he tripped running back down the passage and dropping his stinky. His kind offer to assist some Welsh farmers rescue a terrier from a slate fissure near Trawsfynydd resulted in another day skiving off mapmaking, many soggy and distressed press operatives, the top half of a mountain blown off and, unsurprisingly, a decidedly dead dog.  Surveying at night by torchlight rounded off this novel day.  He did join me at a new dig at Ogof Rhewl near Ruthin, where I was now stationed, but this promising site still awaits a good push.  

After a brief spell in the Shropshire Mining Club I was now involved in the formation of the North Wales Caving Club - a conglomeration of independent groups who still exist but were once again fragmented to a degree by the dreaded club politics.  Crispin Ebbs, Graham Woolley, Jerry Dobby, Phil Hunter, Mel Davies, Pete Appleton, Alan Hawkins, Phil the Miner, Derek Brandon and a host of witty Scousers provided much amusement and some good digging trips with not a little passage found in this remarkably unexplored and promising area.  On the evening of the 8th June I just happened to be at the club dig in the dry river bed at Cilcain where I had done only one previous shift.  Pete arrived and after an hour or so of boulder shifting, I was able to squeeze down into a surprisingly large passage.  Pete joined me and, passing a duck in our clean clothes, we proceeded to explore one of the largest caves in North Wales - Ogof Hesp Alyn.  Within two days we had over 2km of superb phreatic tunnels, chambers and pitches and lots of leads including a static sump.  North Wales was suddenly in the news and is now in its rightful place as one of Britain's top caving areas with a magnificent variety of caves and mines opened up by the N.W.C.C. and Grosvenor Caving Group amongst others. 

A choice mining treat this year was a visit along with twenty two other Mendip cavers, mainly B.E.C, to Somerset's last working colliery, Writhlington.  The 1,461 feet deep downcast shaft was descended and a mile or so of "gates" and workings inspected before got a ride back on the conveyor belt.  Oh, the heady pre health and safety days were in another world.  A surface geological visit to the Avoca Mines in Wicklow with my Welsh "cousin" Jeff Thomas and an introduction to the Blaenau Ffestiniog slate quarries also took place.

This year's expedition was the surreal "Amazin' Raisin Show" to the Reseau de la Pierre St. Martin in the French and Spanish Pyrenees in the company of Eldon, B.S.A, B.E.C,  D.C.C,  L.U.S.S,  A.C.G,  W.S.G,  French and Polish cavers. Ladders, abseiling and self-lining were our preferred techniques as S.R.T. had yet to make a real impact (though James Cobbett and I had experimented with dreaded Heibler jammers in Spain in 1970) and this was to make rigging hard work but classically satisfying for  our mainly north Midlands heroes.  Here we met Max Cosyns, maker of the infamous winch from which Marcel Loubens fell, got filmed by a Bulgarian T.V. crew in the Salle Verna, attempted to rescue five Poles doing an illegal through trip, burnt off Rubin "Gonads" Gomez (self professed top Frog caver), got sunburnt and stuck without passports in no man's land, de-rigged a 1300 ft pitch with ledges and came out by the light of a Camping Gaz stove (Ken James and I), set off across the lapiaz to call out a rescue at 2.00 am (Nigel Taylor and I), arrived to find the Speleo Club de Paris lying in pools of vomit outside their wine-soaked tents, pissed off Max, drank far too much and had a thoroughly excellent time.  To round it off, I got beaten up by an irate Polish road-hog in North Wales on the way home.  I think we may also have found some new passage.

Back in Wales, the Tan-yr-Ogof Caves near Abergele became my new dig as they may have provided a tourist attraction for the adjacent Gwrych Castle, a medieval banqueting site, resulting in endless free beer.

On the 29th September, the fun (but certainly not the surrealism) ceased when our Pegasus team went to look for a lost calf at Eldon Hole.  Sulo volunteered to abseil down but stupidly neither he nor I used lifelines to reach the ledge at some 40m from the floor.  As I climbed out he passed me, then fell to the ledge. Before we could react, he had rolled over to his death.  Endless repercussions then started as it was soon realised that Sulo Sulonen was only one of many names used by professional London con-man Paul Wynne or Frost (the latter following his theft of a very fine Rover car from the Russian Embassy).  A great friend to us all, if he walked in the Hunters' tomorrow no-one who knew him would be surprised!  We upset the local coppers again in November when a mighty, drunken firework display down Oxlow Caverns caused at least one rescue and the heady sight of linked chains of revellers emerging in puffs of smoke, running off and then returning soberly from a different direction as responsible D.C.R.O. members.  Sulo would have loved it.

Discoveries in 1974 were some 150m of workings in Pant y Buarth (Mold) Mine with local expert Chris Williams, a 15m, decorated extension at Tan-yr-Ogof, 20m of high level stuff in Ogof Hesp Alyn and 200m at Allt Wen Mine, Llanrwst with Shon Scheltinga, Neil "Bardic Nonsense" Weston (B.E.C.) and Arwel Roberts (the only man ever brave enough to give a speech in Welsh at the Pegasus dinner!).

Two grim rescues marked out this year.  The first, at Lamb Leer, involved "Black Wal" Willcocks' and young Rich Bainbridge.  A fantastic turn-out saw them both to the surface within two hours.  A month later in Merlin's Cave, Derbyshire, John "Shag" Smith of the B.S.A. - another great character - died on an exploratory dive.  I assisted the legendary Tom Brown to remove his body - which actually involved a lot of sitting on it and telling bad taste jokes.  Tom had been worried when the police arrived to collect him as he had spent most of the night in a drunken poaching spree and rescuing a mate had not been in his uppermost thoughts!

Back in North Wales, my mining enthusiast mate Shon had a plan to remove a 1905 Thomas Evans steam sinking pump from the depths of Cyffty Mine 45m entrance shaft.  With the help of mine explorers from Derbyshire, Mendip, Mid- and North-Wales and power from Cheg's Land Rover, this hefty iron monster was eventually stripped down and winched out for future display at the Llywernog Silver Lead Mine Museum near Aberystwyth.  Not before time either as just as we had finished the estate agent turned up to throw us off the land!  The bugger had nearly killed me at one point when the hauling rope snapped - luckily just after I had untwisted a guide rope from around my wrist.  The descending cast iron section ripped out 10m of stempling and the hauling rope stood 45m vertically in the air, Indian style.  Another interesting and particularly hairy bit of mine exploration was my ascent of 20 odd metres of compressed air pipes in a shaft at the end of Coed Mawr / Pool Mine's kilometre long and truly monotonous Level Fawr, Betws-y-Coed to an unreachable level and waterfall shaft beyond, wherein were said to be abandoned rock drills.  I don't know if anyone ever followed this up.

On rapidly to 1975 and a minor epic in March at Raddle Pits on Moss Rake, Bradwell Moor, Derbyshire.  This involved the rediscovery of lots of both cave and mine passage and an entertaining rescue starring the Peak's latest raving looney Derek "T-Pot" Staples, almost certainly the only man ever to eat my snot - and live.  As I pottered along one of the lower levels of this artefact filled ancient lead mine a mighty rumble from a ginged climbing shaft above announced the arrival of several hundredweight of deads and a severely bruised T-Pot.  The little sod was packaged and hauled 90m up the engine shaft and off we went to celebrate at the Three Stags' Heads, our favourite traditional Derbyshire hostelry.  Unfortunately, our plans to push on next day were thwarted by an enormous and irascible sparman who denied all knowledge of giving our mate Paul "Torchy" Foster permission to explore and threw us off the land.  Back in those days access at least was not as easily obtained as today and much "pirating" was necessary. Soon after, during a Pegasus trip down Disappointment Pot, we were accosted by Vic, shouting "Bill McGuinness has fallen down Bar Pot".  With thoughts of a paper bag job, we arrived to find that he had considerately only peeled off on the 10m first pitch, so we left the C.R.O. to fish him out and went on an alcoholic tour of Craven with Bob Cross and Jim Abbot instead.

As an interlude, a tale of the Stags springs to mind. Al Steans, a furniture remover, parked his van outside the pub en route to a delivery job in Manchester and had the foresight to lay out the customer's mattress at the back as a mighty P.U. was in the offing that night.  In the early hours he staggered from the boozer suitably refreshed and eventually forced his way into his pre-arranged pit.  Later that morning he awoke in discomfort to find his sleeping bag unoccupied and himself firmly ensconced among the springs of the mattress into which he had ripped his way in his emotional state.

The Gouffre Berger was this year's Great Irish / Welsh / English / Australian Expedition with guest appearances by such household names as Rich Stephenson, Martins Bishop and Farr, John Parker, Paddy O'Reilly, Mike Orr, Hywel Ball, Phil Collet, Dave Drew, Pete Lord, Sue Jordan, Dave Tringham, Jeff Phillips, Julia James and Neil Montgomery amongst many others.  A fantastic cave bottomed in magnificent company.  Paddy's superb reflexes were demonstrated as a rucsack fell down Aldo's Shaft while we gazed upwards and he leapt 5m sideways at the shout of "below" to receive the bag full on his head.  We were now into both ladders and rope-walking and I had been lent a home made, supposedly self-stopping descender made in Frome by Glyn Bolt of the Wessex.  The design for this was not quite perfected and I returned up Aldo's with peculiarly sore and short legs, but on showing the device to a certain local entrepreneur, by name Fernand Petzl, I received a big smile and my only ever sight of a Frenchman's eyes revolving with Franc symbols.  The "Buggery Box", invented in the famed Mendip Hills, is actually the proud father of untold numbers of the far more catchy sounding "Stop"!  The finale of this fine trip involved lots of drinking, "football" and welly-throwing sessions with N.C.C. stalwarts John "Lugger" Thorpe, Bob Cockeram, Derek Crossland and mates who were to feature prominently in the future.

Back to Britain, and a Land Rover drive north for not far off the same distance, took me to my next field post - the stunning county of Sutherland in the Northern Highlands of Scotland.  The gods were really on my side and this is still my (almost) favourite caving area and to my mind scenically unrivalled in the U.K.  Here I met Pete Dowswell, Chick Calder, Jim Campbell (who had caved with Neil Armstrong [the astronaut] in Ecuador), Bill Ritchie and other old mates exiled in the north, the G.S.G. having a long-standing contingent of Mendip members.  I soon joined the Grampian Speleological Group and got stuck into the digging.  Within a few weeks Chick and I had a short, loose and dangerous extension in the squalid Otter Hole but I was hooked on the previously unrealised potential of these remote limestone glens and have never looked back. 

In 1976 I even started a dig at Smoo Cave, on the north coast at Durness, but it never went far.  Bob Mehew, Julian Walford, Andy Parkes and Bill Ritchie (crofters' hero) joined me at a major dig at Uamh Cailliche Peireag, another unfinished project and on the 4th April Bob, Jim Smart and I dug into what later became known as Rana Hole.  At least I don't have to write that epic up now!  Lots of other caves and caving areas throughout Scotland were visited at this time and all were found to be fascinating and virtually unknown in the overcrowded south of Britain.

France was graced by our presence again this year and the Reseau Felix Trombe received the doubtful benefits of scores of assorted Derbyshire types drinking to excess and finding virtually nothing, even with sub-aquatic messrs Cobbett and Fish. We did get caught breaking into the important archaeological site of the Grotte de Montespan where Norbert Casteret did his famous free-dive to reach the "oldest statues in the world".  Torchy and I were blissfully unaware of the two car loads of irate Frogs berating James at the entrance as we were already inside, Torchy having previously intensively studied the insecure lock.  A small, elderly gentleman shouted up at our 2m high leader who replied in his own inimitable style, "My good man, we are the British Expedition to the Reseau Felix Trombe".  With a confused Gallic shrug the old chap replied, "But, I am Felix Trombe!"  At the end of the day all went well.  We drank wine and cooled bitter with our new chums, I spent a fine trip following  Monsieur Trombe's niece's derrière throughout the cave and Torchy's bag was found to be remarkably free of 20,00 year old clay bison statues!  A visit to the spectacular Grotte Casteret ice cave was also made and a thoroughly good time had overall in the Bar Centrale (St. Girons) and the cavers' bar at Arbas.  Perhaps our greatest triumph was in being evicted from the campsite at Prat by armed gendarmerie.

Around this time my long-suffering girlfriend Peggy got very understandably fed up with my selfish and totally obsessive lifestyle and went her own way.  She had been dragged down caves and mines throughout the British Isles and to not a few club dinners and P.U.s.  We once even took loads of people in wheelchairs down Gough's Cave and found it to be bloody hard work.  She still keeps an eye on me via our Irish émigrés Cheg Chester and Pat Cronin and if she ever reads this, I thank her for some cracking years.

While our Mendip contingent slaved away in Assynt, Pete "Snab" Macnab was bribing Farmer Mac Payton of Tyning's Farm with Scottish sheepdogs and pipe music to regain access to Tyning's Barrows Cave.  It worked – read on.

On the 13th February 1977, I passed a squeeze in this dig, hotly pursued by Ross White, John Dukes, Andy Sparrow and Graham Wilton-Jones.  Taking turns to lead we pushed a kilometre of roomy passage in under 6 hours and running out of light, decided to stop and "call it a day".  The end has been called "A Day" ever since!  This was almost a unique occurrence in a Mendip dig and the only one who moaned was Snab, who was absent at the time (but gracious enough to write a song about it).

In May, I fell out of the top bunk in the Belfry at 7 am and broke my femur, so prepared myself for some enforced leisure.  This was not to be and the results roll on to this very day.  The 24th June saw Bob Cross, Bill Combs (European Grotto, N.S.S,) and your cripple touring some of the old mines and digs of Mendip.  One of these was recorded as "a very interesting site in dolomitic conglomerate" and bore the name Wigmore Swallet.  We must have found it particularly interesting as next day we had permission from another Scot, farm manager Frank Booth, to dig it and Nigel Taylor, Bob, Stuart Lindsey (Cotham C.G.), Ross White, "Father" Sid Hobbs and your crutch-balancing scribe were hard at work with a bucket and pulley system which soon materialised in the improbably gorgeous summer weather of those days.  Fresh enthusiasts and the S.V.C.C. winch from Hillgrove Swallet arrived next day to bash on with our latest project as it was obvious that we would soon be in!  It had been dug and abandoned by the M.N.R.C. in 1934-7 and by the W.C.C. in 1938 but now the B.E.C. had arrived.  To cut a very long story short, there now followed some fourteen years of sometimes hectic and intense and sometimes sporadic digging by hundreds of cavers from across the planet resulting in (a) egg on the faces of the experts who said it would never go and (b) one of Mendip's finest stream caves.  The potential for many more kilometres of the Cheddar Rising system is obvious, especially since the brilliant discoveries of Chris Jewell, Stu Gardiner, John Maneely, Duncan Price and team, following in the bold fin-steps of Mike "Trebor" McDonald and Ross White.  Read all about it in old and new B.B.s, the Wigmore Swallet report and Descent and watch this space as a mighty Dave "Tuska" Morrison digging epic takes place to get normal diggers dry and direct to the end.

In Derbyshire, we cleared artefacts and digging gear from Hollandtwine before the sparmen filled in the engine shaft and we then took over the old Stockport Caving Club dig at Duce Hole, Foolow.  For light relief, a trip to the Castle Hill Mines / Canal Tunnel at Dudley ended hilariously with us floating along the tunnel on a fortuitously discovered polystyrene settee - and why not?

The first three months of 1978 seems to have been spent in either Wigmore or Uamh Cailliche Peireag  (some 630 miles apart).  My Assynt drinking partner and I split up the year with a quick evening trip down the short and damp Glenbain Hole between "swallies" but due to carbide lamp failure and general alcoholic incompetence, we emerged under the guidance of the Assynt Mountain Rescue Team some 18 hours later (after I had failed to turn up for work).  A dour, frugal and thoughtful Willy Morrison, mine host at the Inchnadamph Hotel, kindly offered us hot soup, much to our grateful thanks.  He only spoiled it by saying "That'll be 36 pence".  Our whisky bill was well worth it and the Team managed to acquire status and radios because of this shout but Alan "Goon" Jeffreys, Ivan Young and Dave Warren never forgave the rescue team for fishing us out before their free helicopter ride to The Inch from Edinburgh was over! 

Europe was again our summer destination but Austria bore the brunt this year and was the start of an ongoing tradition kept up to this day.  Stunned by the magic scenery and the whole aura of the Dachstein Massif we did lots of recce and discovered the deep (for us), cold, tight and wet Maulwurfhohle.  At Christmas we were off again but this time to do a tourist trip in the Holloch, Switzerland, an incredibly long phreatic system with super-efficient Swiss organization making life below the surface a pleasure.  Here we were privileged to meet Prof. Dr. Alfred Bogli, doyen of the system and a really nice bloke.

1979 and a return visit to Victoria Aven with Pete Moody resulted in my peeling off Triple Avens some 4m up with my new NiFe cell breaking my fall (and almost my back!)  I also had a possibly broken wrist.  Getting out was character building but easy in the sumps and was made a damn sight easier by Pete's strength and assistance as he lugged most of the kit and aided me on the up bits.  My wrist was only badly strained and I have a blurred recollection of playing sofa rugby that evening so it couldn't have been that bad!

The Dachstein featured again in July and we pressed on down in Maulwurfhohle.  Here an epic occurred when lightning struck near the entrance and knocked out Chris Smart - forever afterwards known as "Blitz".  Over 100m below I had just begun talking to him on the field telephone and also was knocked out for a few minutes.  I apparently then stood up, shouted "Oh my God" and fell over again.  Big Jim Watson (W.S.G.) rushed to my aid thinking that I had been felled by a boulder and Trev Hughes rushed up the ladder below to assist.  As many a young lady can verify, waking up with Trev gazing fondly into your eyes can ruin one's whole day.  Apart from a burnt and sore ear and paralysed finger and thumb I was okay once my memory returned and was soon out.  Staggering across the lapiaz in the dark, we scattered at the least sound of thunder. Next day was spent eating, boozing and playing crib in the relative luxury of the Weisberghaus.  A few nights later our old mate Hermann Kirchmeyer dragged us to a surprise piss-up in Hallstatt where we were "entertained" by coachloads of German old age pensioners and a local folk band playing "arse-kicking" music.  The sight of Trev on his knees dancing with a granny was rare indeed.  Some devious dealing involving a glass beer stein ended up with Hermann, Trev and I being accosted by a waitress later that morning as we lay rigid in a gutter in the town.  She suddenly recognised the Germanic member of the foul and antisocial trio and decided that discretion in this matter was the better part of valour - Austrian chiefs of police not being noted for their pleasantry upon being woken from a deep drunken sleep in a roadside drain!

Later that morning good old Hermann's robust sense of humour was evident again as he led us an hour's vertical walk up a cliff to the Hirlatzhohle – bastard.  This vast and rambling phreatic system with its rock-hurling draught is well described by "Madphil" Rowsell in recent BBs.

1980 and Belgium featured in January this year, in the company of Pieter Staal and his Speleo Nederland colleagues.  Caving in the Ardennes was not unlike on Mendip but the spectacular range of character altering monastic beers was a real eye-opener and was to lure us back in the future.  For me, the foreign travel extended somewhat in June when I was seconded by the Ordnance Survey to a six month posting with the Lesotho Lands and Surveys Department in the unfortunately limestone-free but spectacularly scenic Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa. Here I explored many surprisingly large wind and water eroded rock shelter caves in sandstone, many being decorated with San bushman rock paintings.  On a short break in the Republic I met up with fellow B.E.C. exile Colin "Pope" Priddle and we ended up exploring and digging into a choke of dry bat guano in the wild section of Echo Cave, a show cave near Ohrigstad in the Transvaal with thousands of resident "Berties".  We drank heartily with the Afrikaans owner and his mates and illegally with Isaac the Zulu night watchman and had a great time.  Twelve days later both of us practically collapsed with headaches, nausea, lethargy and severe breathing problems.  Dehydration, fever and profuse sweating followed.  At this time I was with my Basutho surveying assistant and his trigger-happy soldier mate in the remote Sehlabathebe area of Lesotho - some two days horse ride from the nearest doctor way down below us in Natal.  After a couple of days rest, enlivened at times by my pissed but worried colleagues trying to cheer me up with sporadic rifle fire, I felt capable of driving the Land Rover back to Maseru and on to a doctor in the Orange free State.  After prompting him I got confirmation that I was suffering from Histoplasmosis – uncurable, but only a passing problem if one is fit.  The Pope, back home in Germiston, was off work and in bed for three weeks and his specialist had given him two months to live before he, likewise, put the bloke right.  We never again dug into dry bat shit!  Our next outing involved a tourist trip to the spectacular Cango Caves in Cape Province and some serious research into the South African wine industry.

Back home on Mendip another bloody epic was about to commence as on December the 30th Mike "Quackers" Duck, Dany Bradshaw and I started digging below Morton's pot in Eastwater Cavern.  Quackers and I were back on the 1st January 1981 together with Fish and Pieter Staal, our first of many foreign diggers.  In October 2004 the bloody place eventually connected to the West End Series thanks to magnificent dedication by hundreds of often "press-ganged" labourers and the later major work of Madphil, Graham "Jake" Johnson, Adrian Hole, Emma Heron and Kevin Hilton (W.C.C.). This has all been written up in a series of B.B. articles for your delectation.

This year's classic rescue took place in Agen Allwedd, Llangattock and involved the retrieval of a Croydon Caving Club member with a compound fracture of the lower leg from the far end of the notorious Southern Stream Passage. Around 250 Welsh, Mendip, Midlands and southern English rescuers were involved and after 52.5 hours our man was back on the surface and later recovered well.  I remember overhearing a local lad saying to his mate "Bloody 'ell, did you see the size of those Mendip blokes!"

Twin Titties Swallet, Priddy received the attention of Martin Bishop during the year when much of the entrance shaft was cleared using my new Suzuki jeep as a motorised winch.  N.H.A.S.A, the original diggers, later returned to the site, but digging permission was eventually rescinded and this highly promising site still awaits a push.  The noisome Haydon Drove Swallet also got some attention but coming out with used bog paper adorning one's helmet did not exactly encourage a lengthy relationship with the place.  Surprisingly this one is also awaiting further work!

Now working in the Surrey area I moved into Blitz's house in Woking and we spent many happy hours visiting the underground stone quarries in the area and floating up and down the Greywell Canal Tunnel near Basingstoke.

On to 1982 with work continuing at Wigmore and sporadic digging taking place at Castle Farm Swallet II.  In Kent I found three possible blocked adit entrances to the Snape Iron Mine, but was not in the area long enough for a dig.  It was reopened years later by the Kent Underground Research Group.  On the Hill, a small cave unintentionally dug by someone else was explored.  St. George's Cavern, alias The Hole in the Road, was broken into by Irish digger driver Peter Cosgrove beneath the centre of the Old Bristol Road.  He then bravely descended the resulting 4m deep hole on the boom of the excavator into a 7m long chamber.  Throngs of Hunters' types then swarmed to the place to survey, photograph and eventually dig their way into five more small chambers before the place was unfortunately filled in.  At least it was interesting to experience quite roomy cave development in the limestone and dolomitic conglomerate at this low altitude and so near Wells.

In the far north, I squeezed down a severe, blasted vertical squeeze in Uamh an Claonaite to enter some 30m of roomy and slanting stream passage between Sumps Two and Three.  Getting out was "interesting".  In the Dales, I assisted Howard and Debbie Limbert and Lugger with their digs in Dalebarn Cave and on Scales Moor and sherpered bottles for Geoffs Yeadon and Crossley along a 100m+ grim wallow of a crawl in Ingleborough Cave.  They got within 20m of Gaping Gill on this trip.  Under Alan "Butch" Butcher's leadership work started on dam building for the great St. Cuthbert's Swallet Sump Two drainage project and some blasting was undertaken at the end of Tyning's Barrows Swallet.  The Suzuki again went into action at Gough's Cave where it was used to bring a trailer load of spoil from Chris Bradshaw's dig halfway along the main passage - a very novel exercise.  Another novelty was an hour's digging at the 70m level in the 100m deep Beeston Castle Well, Cheshire where Peter Stewart, Angus Innes, Dave Turner (B.E.C.) and North Staffordshire Mining Club characters were searching for "gold and hidden treasure".  Needless to say they never found any but the place at least had a very nice view.  At Wookey Hole Trev Hughes started yet another long term project at Hallowe'en Rift and we explored some 30m of low, phreatic bedding passage here in dolomitic conglomerate.

This year's foreign trip took place in the winter for a change.  Bob Cork, Dany and I had been invited on the British Speleological Expedition to Mexico - essentially a Derbyshire / Yorkshire run affair filmed by Syd Perou and Guy Meauxsoone (Group Speleo Alpin de Belgique).  Initially little of interest was found but later in the trip the very providential addition of three semi-aquatic Mendip men to the team saved the day when Bob free-dived a fairly committing sump at the end of the superb resurgence cave of Veshtucoc.  The cave had also been entered by free-diving a shorter, but snake-infested, entrance sump, Dave Gill being the hero.  Several kilometres of very fine river passage resulted and this, together with the fact that half of the expedition team developed Histoplasmosis, caught in the nearby cave of Boruhuix, made for a very entertaining film.

 This trip took us well into 1983 and on returning to Mendip reality took hold in the shape of Tynings and Hallowe'en Rift.  Reality then suddenly got even starker with the discovery by Keith Gladman and Andy Lolly (B.E.C.) of 200m of passage beyond Ifold's Series in Eastwater Cavern!  Much of the year was then spent in a series of hard digging and pushing trips in this new West End Series and these are well documented so you need not relive their horrors with us!

A dose of light relief took place in December when our Speleo Nederland and Speleo Limburg mates took us on a late night pirate trip into the Grotte de Han show cave in Belgium.  A great time was had visiting all the accessible passages but alas the underground bar was locked up.  The fun continued next day with a visit to the Café du Rocher, a pub with a cave in the back yard and an illegal trip up the working Lustin railway tunnel into the Resurgence Lucianne cave accessed via a 10m climb into the ceiling.  Once inside, we found the place to be like the League of Nations with cavers from Germany, Belgium, France and Holland milling about in seeming confusion.  Great stuff and well supported by further extensive field trials on the local ales.  Other away trips this year were to Counties Mayo (Aille River Cave), Clare and Kerry (Crag Cave) and a tourist holiday on which many French and northern Spanish show caves were visited with Jane Thomas, a very luckily gained ticket into the famous and stunning prehistoric painted Cueva de Altamira being the highlight.

"Big Pushes" at St. Cuthbert's occurred on the 21st July and the 22nd and 23rd September when some good progress was made into Sump 2 and the pumping system thoroughly tested.  Together with a Wessex team of Pete and Alison Moody, Pete Watts, Paul Whybro and Geoff Newton, Tim Large, "Quiet" John Watson and I were busily pushing new stuff in West End Series during September, October and November.    Some industrial archaeology made a refreshing change at Middle Engine Pit, Nailsea where Trev, Cheg, John Dukes and I assisted John Cornwell with coal mining investigations.

It was the 27th April 1985 and an early morning run to Sump 1 in Swildon's started off my wedding day!  It ended with a massive sing-song and P.U. in the Hunters' when my newly acquired father-in-law came back downstairs from his room as "they words" were less easier to make out in the immediate vicinity of Roger Biddle's passionate piano playing!  A few days later Jane, Phil and Lil Romford and I were in Crete.  Here a few grotty show caves, some artificial subterranea and the quite impressive Sarchos Cave near Heraklion were visited.  Phil and I had a particularly atmospheric overnight trip to a short but impressive cavern located high on the mountain of Sela Digeni.  With an entrance 60m wide by 80m high Kamares Cave held a population of choughs, swiftlets, bats and the odd goat.  The views over southern Crete and the Aegean Sea were magnificent.  Here we bivvied down following crispbread, sardines and hot whiskies and woke to watch the local goatherd at work.  A couple of hours poking about in the boulder ruckle floor of the main chamber revealed masses of Minoan pottery shards (Kamares Ware).  We then staggered back down to Kamares village to meet the ladies and have an impromptu session with the locals and a French and Dutch couple.  In this surreal, magic place the locals were not out of context!  Pub landlord Michaelis was a tin whistle playing, 80 year old ex Spitfire pilot with a distinct eye for the ladies and his mate Georgio was an equally ancient and sparkly-eyed Greek Orthodox priest who danced the afternoon away with Lil.

The St. Cuthbert's project was wound up in June after a magnificent effort and with better technology will no doubt be continued in the future.  In Swildon's, Oliver Lloyd got the last laugh on us when at his underground wake a rescue of ordinary cavers developed due to flooding.  I arrived to find the victims being escorted out by a wobbling selection of singing "mourners".  After pushing a small extension in Eastwater with Dave Nicholls and Mark Lovell, I climbed the 55ft Aven in Ifold's Series and another project, still not completed, was on the go.  A vocal connection was later established here with the Wind Tunnel / Boulder Chamber area in the upper series - see later.

It being the 50th Anniversary of the B.E.C., a big trip to the Gouffre Berger was this year's foreign outing and involved lots of assorted Mendip characters.  A great time was had by all and lots of people bottomed the cave - the eccentric Bob Lewis doing it stylishly in a furry suit!  I would still like to know why there was a kid's pram in the Great rubble Heap but Matt Tuck photographed it for proof anyway.

A truly memorable Dinner was held on the 5th October, made even better as the evening before was the 50th Anniversary Celebration of cave diving at Wookey Hole where three barrels were laid on.  It was a privilege to be in the company of such heroes as Graham Balcombe, Jack Sheppard, John Buxton, Steve Wynne-Roberts, Mike Wooding, John Savage, Eric Hensler, Willy Stanton, Dan Hasell, Bob Davies, Oliver Wells, Luke Devenish, Alan Rogers, Robs Palmer and Parker, John Parker and many others.  A double 40th birthday bash at Barrie Wilton's house on Sunday finished off this very bleary weekend.

 The attempted connection to the 55ft Aven in Eastwater started off 1986 and a dig in the floor of the Boulder Chamber itself soon led into some 7m of roomy, descending passage leading to a pitch or rift of about 5m.  Unfortunately, the unbelievably horrific boulders in which the "passage" lay made it suicidal to push so it was named Death Row and at a later date infilled after the whole lot started to collapse around me.  A smoke bomb fired by Jim Smart in the Aven revealed an alternative possibility and we were hard at work on this when Howard Price materialised to drag us off to a rescue at Longwood Swallet.  Glad to be away from dodgy boulders, we gratefully left the cave but were soon in for a shock.  In the Main Chamber a very tall 16-year old novice, Attila Kurukz, had died from chest injuries following the slippage of a large boulder.  Getting his body out was difficult and stressful in the extreme but luckily there was a great team of experienced Mendip and Derbyshire rescuers at hand and it was all over by 9.30 pm.

A rescue of a Hades Caving Club member from the Double Pots in Swildon's, into which he had fallen brought the following comment from Rich "Kermit" Warman, "If I'd known he'd had an epileptic fit I'd have taken my washing down!".

Back down Eastwater, a second front was opened up by Tim Large blasting up towards the Boulder Chamber from the top of the aven combined with working downwards in a more stable area below the Wind Tunnel.

Tourist "show caving" in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Yugoslavia revealed the spectacular systems of Postojnska Jama and Skocjanske Jama and the delights of the classic Karst.  A more serious trip to the region came with this year's Dachstein Expedition where a fine cave was quickly found after digging out a doline 4 minutes walk from the Weisberghaus in search of a supplementary water supply for barmy landlord Robert Pilz.  Unfortunately it soon bottled out but below the hut the deep Jagerhohle system kept the team amused as it headed down towards the Hirlatzhohle below.  Coming out of here totally knackered I was somewhat distressed when my harness came apart near the top of a 50m pitch as I had failed to screw up my main maillon.  Honking with fatigue and stress and nearly losing my teeth back down the pitch would not have been a problem if there had not been a large audience of South Wales Caving Club bods to hand!  This pot ended up some 600m deep after 25 pitches and was to be the target for the following year.

On Mendip, Wigmore continued to yield passage and a new dig at the aquaphobic Bowery Corner Swallet was started following abandonment by Pat Cronin's team - and never finished.

Our first breakthrough in 1987 was off the 55 ft Aven in Eastwater where the 10m high Aven Skavinski was climbed.  A 5m addition was also found at the top of the main aven following a bang.  Yet another dig came on stream, this time at the end of Sanctimonious Passage in Hunter's Hole.  This was to become a major banging operation resulting lots of very bad headaches!  A dig in Midnight Passage, Agen Allwedd, also took place and on this trip I assisted a slightly lost elderly gentleman from the cave.  It was only later that I was realised that I was caving with the legendary "Black" Ken Pearce - the "Iron Man of British Caving"!  He had fortunately mellowed over the years since his Berger team mutinied underground and he was very pleasant.  Once, when diving with James Cobbett in Speedwell cavern, James complained that Ken was standing on his hands as they surmounted a climb.  Without moving Ken replied, "I don't like caving with soft people".

Huntingdonshire, in the Fens, is not renowned in caving circles, but at this time I was working in the small town of Ramsey and went for a pint in the Jolly Sailor pub on the surprisingly wide main street.  On the walls were photos of the "underground river" and I realised that I had been missing out.  With workmate Roger Smith and Martin Grass in tow, a rubber dinghy trip up the 2,336 ft long brick lined tunnel running the length of the town was undertaken.  A straw decorated sluice chamber and various side passages added to the interest.  It was later surveyed and written up for a Subterranea Britannica Bulletin as I was a member of this society.  It is well worth a visit for those exiled in the far east.

Arduous digging in Bowery Corner, Hunters' Hole and Hallowe'en Rift took up most of the latter part of the year and on the very last day Trev Hughes, John Chew and I were at the end of the latter looking up into a 5m high passage and dreaming of a last minute barrel-winning extension.  After Trev had hammered out this banged viewpoint I was able to squeeze up into the passage to find it only 3m long and 1m wide but attractively decorated with splash formations.  There was no obvious way on in this rift (after five year's work!) but it was at least large enough for the three of us to sit in and open a bottle of sparkling cider in celebration / commiseration.

In January 1988, I took renowned folk singer Vin Garbutt to Swildon's as he really looked the part but he decided it was not for him and wrote an excellent song about the cave, White Pit and the Hunters' Lodge Inn instead.  In February I got an invite to Graham "Jake" Johnson's long term dig at Welsh's Green Swallet where one plaster charge was fired and another was washed away downstream.

The 16th April saw two Wessex and one B.E.C. team at work in the very depths of Eastwater.  Returning from the Jubilee Line to the Chamber of Horrors, the sound of a large stream was heard.  This had suddenly poured from an inlet passage at around 4.30 pm and was then followed by another roar from Blackwall Tunnel indicating that we were probably about to get into deep shit!  I raced off to Cenotaph Aven to warn Geoff Newton, Jake Johnson and Nick Pollard but they thought it was a B.E.C. con and were loath to leave their almost completed climb.  Eventually, everyone free-dived the almost sumped Blakwall Tunnel crawl and headed for Lolly Pot where a thundering waterfall practically filled the shaft.  A desperate struggle out revealed a diving team on standby as the cave entrance had actually sumped up at one point – not bad for a 30m boulder ruckle!  A couple of tremendous downpours in the North Hill area created the problem.

        A novel trip to Nenthead, Cumberland saw Pat Cronin and I assisting Cheg with his dig in the extensive Smallcleugh Mine and the next day pushing some 180m of neck deep adit level in Brownley Hill Mine - well, it was neck on me anyway - Pat had to swim half the time.

A bang above the First Rift Chamber in Eastwater was done for Jake and Nick Pollard in the company of Peter "Snablet" McNab, who for some unfathomable reason did part of the trip on a skateboard!  Next day they cleared the spoil and entered some 70m of quite impressive passage - Dark Cars and Sunglasses.  Banging other people's digs was obviously the answer.  Snablet was also with me on an 18m breakthrough in Hunters' Hole, which, though fairly well-decorated and roomy ended poorly and marked the termination of this difficult dig.  We didn't even bother to open the "Champagne".  The place was later adorned with a Gas Street sign pinched many years earlier from Newtown, Montgomeryshire.

In September, Jane and I flew to the United States and visited most of the fabulous show caves of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  Luray Caverns, one of the world's greats, was particularly notable for its Great Stalacpipe Organ, invented by one Leyland W. Sprinkle to bash buggery out of the formations with lots of little rubber trip-hammers (this is The States after all).  The result as this imaginative instrument tapped out the haunting notes of "Shenandoah" was actually very eerie and moving.  Underground war memorials are also a novelty in this cave.  The treat at Massanutten Caverns was owner Brad Cobb who was crippled by a stroke and arthritis and did the whole cave on two sticks at tortoise speed continuously mumbling "Weird, weird, weird".  He was great entertainment value though as he damned cave vandals and apologized for burnt out lights.  This great, old-time caving character had two ambitions left - to see the 100th Anniversary of the discovery of the cave in 1892 and to visit the Mulu Caves. I hope he managed both.

On to West Virginia and our next cave owning character, Gordon Mothes, whose 600 acre farm holds seven of the entrances to the 47 mile long (at the time) Friar's Hole System.  I managed trips into the Snedegar's, Cruickshank, Toothpick and Rolling Stones sections of this great cave along with lots of cave crickets and a couple of "spelunking" cows.  One entrance bore a sign warning S.R.T. cavers that, "Rats may chew the rope".  We stayed in Gordon's personal timber caving hut, well known to many British and Canadian cavers who seem to have adopted the system.  The nearby tourist section of the 40 mile long Organ Cave System was also visited and was fascinating due to the saltpetre mining artefacts left over from Confederate Army operations in the Civil War.  Cave owning character no.3 had a southern drawl, was a top bullshitter and was proud of his long but grubby cave with its bare light bulbs hanging on obtrusive cables strung from rotting poles and with the occasional tatty lamp shade.  Well worth a visit.

World famous Mammoth Cave, Kentucky was next stop, always the longest on earth and at this time with 325 miles surveyed and about a mile a month being added.  A couple of tours were done here before Jane started suffering from over exposure to the underworld and the guides / rangers found to be informative, professional and thoroughly in charge. I also slipped away to Sand Cave where Floyd Collins died in 1925 and found the experience particularly eerie in the wet and misty conditions of this lonely spot, where it was almost impossible to visualise the 10,000 rowdy onlookers at the abortive rescue attempt.

Back into Virginia and possibly the most novel caving trip ever as I wandered through the impressive 850 ft long and 100 ft high Natural Tunnel river cave accompanied only by the engineman of a fifty-car freight train on the tracks of the Southern Railway which used the passage as its name suggests.  Dixie Caverns also proved to be different when the attractive lady guide, having found out that I was a caver, got me to do much of the tour!

In Tennessee, Bristol Caverns just had to be done and was well worth a visit......

Tony Jarratt
August 2008

NOTE: Tony started writing this when he was told about the terminal nature of his cancer.  He tried very hard to complete it, but in the end he got beaten.  The account is incomplete, but no one but Tony could complete it, so here it is, as it is.

The account has a refreshing immediacy about it, perhaps an indication of his rush to try to finish it.  I have edited the text only slightly, largely limited to scattering a handful of commas over it and putting in a few paragraph breaks.

Tony Audsley

11 July 2009 

BEC Word Search

Below are 30 hidden names of caves or digs which can be found in or near Burrington Combe. A pint each from the Hunters to the first 5 people who send Hannah Bell the correct list of the 30 found names.





























Correct answers and winning names will be published in the next BB.

Mendip Cave Survey Scheme

A selection of Mendip cave survey scans is now freely available from the Mendip Cave Registry and Archive website at the following address. 


These surveys were previously available through the scheme, which has now been wound up since the surveys were rarely requested and many are now rather out of date.

The Mendip Cave Survey Scheme was an informal working relationship between the BEC, CSS, MCG, MNRC, SMCC and the WCC. 

BEC April Working Weekend 2009.

Luckily for all of us the weekend weather turned out to be fine and dry, there was a long list of jobs to be done and Henry Dawson had posted the work on the notice board. A big tidy up in the car park area was high on the list, and thanks to Martin Grass and Zot a trailer was loaded up and hauled down to the tip. A good turnout of members [including Kangy King] meant that there as a good chance that all the vital work would be done in 2 days.

Hannah has already set the trend by cleaning the walls in the upstairs new room, and Henry had put a vent in to aid circulation. Faye concentrated on the tackle store and also emptied the old inner sanctum, [she kept finding unknown antique items in dark corners] which was fun .We have yet to find the snowshoes belonging to Blitz.

We now have a better overview regarding ladder-making kit etc.

A huge wall cleaning effort was put in on the main room [ not an easy job!!] and then the walls were painted by an assortment of people accompanied by the sound of music, Wormster Rich and Ruth [the 2 r’s] and several young members of the club. Many thanks to all of you.!!

The Rope Washer has been refurbished by Slug and the Belsen shower area is in the process of being converted into an inside rope washing area. A big improvement, no excuse for not cleaning the ropes. We are anticipating a supply of new ropes soonest. Faye will sort those out in due course.

Entertainment was supplied by Wormster’s 2 children who proceeded to paddle in the washing pond and then have mud-slinging fights with each other, finally finishing up resembling Baby Hippos. Meanwhile on Saturday afternoon Ben the digger kindly loaned his JCB to us [in return for a few favours!!] so myself and my trusty Banksman Tony Audsley started digging the drainage trench and soakaway, in true BEC style it became the Time Team dig!! We had only 3 days to complete the task!! Tony turned out to have a good eye for anything that resembled treasure in the trench, we unearthed a pre roman axe head and Boadicea’s bedstead, plus several shards of iron age metal which we decided could be possibly ritual [or just junk!!!!!!!!!]. A magnificent parabola was cut to the prescribed depth and fall, followed by a deep soakaway.

When questioned closely by Mendip Knowall re the curve I told them that the 1972 GPS system in the JCB had failed!!!!!!!!!  Dany kindly measured the fall for us and the land drainpipe was duly laid in the trench with gravel. We can now grade and gravel the car park at a later date. 

Saturday finished up with a slide show provided by Faye the subjects were really interesting ie Lava Caves in Hawaii and caving in Brazil.

Food by Slug and Beer by Rob rounded off the day.

Ps Apparently Faye is an important English Caving Journalist,!! and as such can command great respect and assistance whilst on international expeditions, thereby increasing the tourist potential of Any Region in the World she chooses to visit.

I must try this ploy the next time I visit Australia.

The old club spirit has risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of the foot and mouth era.

Mike Wilson the virago viagra man

New French Caving Shop

Ever wondered how you get a job designing new gear for Petzl? A team of crack French designers have setup by themselves and are now selling an eclectic range of caving devices online at http://speleoclpa.free.fr/toujours_plus/matos.htm#matos. 

This first full catalog (and only) of virtual caving equipment is perfectly inappropriate and totally incompatible with daily practice. Why deprive ourselves of superfluous kit in our favourite activity, when most of the things we buy every day already do almost nothing? Think about what you could not do with these aberrant devices, our devices are strange and crazy with no real utility.

Latex helmet

No more problems of adjustment, which becomes dirty knobs, caps of moldy and never the right size. This revolutionary model, tested individually, comes in several flavours: chocolate, vanilla, honey, papaya, guava, banana and of course bat guano!

Shell coated with lubricant to facilitate the passage of narrow.

Finally a helmet that you will like a glove ...

€ 69.00 (per box of 24) 

Super Elastic Survey Tape

Who among us has not been disappointed one time or another, realizing that the wells that the sound is measured 50 meters, after clearing, a mere projection of 6.  How sad, what blow to morale for the thrill! Here is a device that will change your life.

This consists of a retractor which is mounted an elastic square super-resistant black. How does it work?

You want your well is a P 50. Pull down two or three lengths of elastic, block by block dérouleur incorporated. Enter the white marker and write 50 on the elastic. You can start topo your colleague takes the tip of lower decameter R6, you move the coil of decameter to the top and let the elastic stretch. Read then the specified height: 50 m.You're a superb P50 noted in your notebook or exits the club!... QED ...

CAUTION: Do not drop the coil of decameter after reading: risk of serious injury to your teammate!

€ 34.00 decameter in the square black elastic super durable.

8.00 € marker for white elastic, washable.

Carabiner special node Mickey

With its dual symmetric gates, it will allow you longer on the two loops of Mickey node at a time and distribute the tension in a balanced way on both sides.

How come we not have thought of that before?

NB: Please read the instruction manual before use to avoid opening two fingers of the hook at the same time.

18.00 € sold complete

Spare parts: 11.00 € up, € 14.00 down with your fingers.


Harnesse for Siamese cavers

BB532 20


Do you have a Siamese brother or sister? Are you are passionate for the exploration of potholes?

This harness is for you, no need to cobble together two different harnesses which may decrease the safety of all, finally the solution to all your problems underground exploration!

Harness for Siamese triplets on request.

Model € 85.00 double, ask for a quotation for other models.


Acetylene lamp LED

Finally the advantages of LEDs (autonomy, simplicity of implementation, reliability) and acetylene (diffuse light, heat) combined in a single device.

The top fans to reconcile the two types of lighting.

The manufacturer refuses to disclose the unique process of making electricity from the acetylene gas which is obviously top-secret!

€999.99 (delivered without fuel, water, batteries, without fixing a helmet, without fixing belt, guaranteed 20 years or 2 outputs groundwater).



Perforated Drums

Canyon, you are probably already happened to find your water bottle filled with water tight, in case of defective O-ring or cover badly screwed.

In order not to unnecessarily increase the bag, the bottle allows automatic removal of accumulated water.

 Indissociable kit perforated canyon, this is the solution to all your problems of wear or dizzy.

Optional accessory: waterproof bag to place inside the perforated drum, for those who really want to stay dry.

from € 8.00 to 3.5 liters and 40.00 € in 28 liters of € 12.00 to € 54.00 the inner bag.

Overview – Caving in the Abode of the Clouds – 2008

By Simon Brooks  & Mark Brown


An International Team totalling 42 Cavers (comprising of 20 from the UK, 6 from Meghalaya, 4 from Ireland, 4 from Switzerland, 2 from Denmark, 2 from Canada, and 1 each from Austria, Iran, Sweden and Belgium) spent up to three and a half weeks (4th to 27th Feb 2008) in the Jaintia Hills District of Meghalaya focusing on the caving areas of Shnongrim Ridge in the Nongkhlieh Elaka, the Litien Valley to the East and in the Semmasi Area to the North East of the Ridge.

During this time a total of 37 caves were explored, mapped and photographed to discover 13.978 kilometers of new cave passage.  Of the 37 caves mapped 17 of these were entirely new caves with the rest being extensions to systems that were partially explored in previous years.  Key achievements from this year’s exploration include:

  • The linking of the Liat Prah Cave System to Krem Labbit (Moolasgni) via a 3m sump free dive and the connection of two other potholes into the system and surveying of new side passages created a cave system of 30.957km in length.  This firmly established this system as the longest cave known to date in the Indian Sub-continent and more significantly made it the first Indian Subcontinent cave to exceed 30kms in length.
  • The extension of Krem Tyngheng in the Semasi area from 9.866km to 12.960km in length via some long swims to make it India’s 5th longest cave.
  • The surveying of two other caves in the Semasi area; Krem Labbit Kseh at 883m in length and Krem Bliat at 613m in length.  The former which is ongoing. 
  • The pushing of many side passages and climbs in a bid to link together cave systems on the ridge.  One aven of over 30m height was climbed in Krem Umthloo, which with other extensions and the proper linking to Krem Synrang Labit made this system 18.181km in length maintaining it as the third longest cave in the Indian Sub-Continent.
  • The extension of several existing caves in the area including: Umsngad River Sink that was extended from 1.25km to 2.15km in length and is still ongoing; Krem Kdong Thloo that was extended from 1.18km to 1.58kms.  In Krem Um Manong a bolt climb gained a high level passage taking the cave from 105m to 922m in length; Krem Synrang Ngap was extended from 4.51km to 4.92km in length; and Krem Mawshun from 3.33 to 3.624kms. 
  • The discovery and exploration of several new caves in the previously blank N.E. section of the Ridge near to the Liat Prah system including Krem Lumthymme that is 1.1km in length but unfortunately failed to connect into the Liat Prah system
  • The discovery and exploration of two new caves on the south flank of the ridge, that are likely to connect and form part of a larger system in what was previously a blank area on the Shnongrim Ridge map.  Both containing large sections of trunk passage and Krem Thapbalong Sim is currently 351.6m in length and ongoing and Krem Shyrong Shrieh is 1,390m in length and is also ongoing.
  • The discovery and exploration of new caves that have, once again, increased the total length of cave passage explored and surveyed on the Shnongrim Ridge from 139kms to 148.3 kms in total.  This being the greatest concentration of cave passage in one place within the Indian Sub-Continent.        
  • The completion of the surface mapping project of the main area of the ridge and Letein valley, which in combination with the cave mapping gives a clearer picture of the geomorphology and hydrology of the area.  This exercise alone has played a significant role in unlocking the secrets of the Ridge, contributing to the locating and exploring of additional significant cave systems as detailed above and giving a much better understanding of how the caves on the Ridge were formed.

In addition to the cave exploration, an International Conference entitled ‘Discover Meghalaya – The Caving Experience’ was held at the Pinewood Hotel in Shillong on the 22nd to the 23rd February.  The Government of Meghalaya Tourism Department and the MAA (Meghalaya Adventurers Association) hosted this with a significant input being made by the European team members.  The conference was attended by some members of the expedition, the MAA and over 60 delegates drawn from the Meghalaya Government and its various departments along with representatives from the coal and limestone extraction industry and Adventure Travel Agencies from across India and Bangladesh.  Regretfully the small independent mining industries could not be present.  The aims of the conference were to raise awareness of the great cave resource within Meghalaya; highlight the threats to the caves posed by the recent increases in the limestone and coal extraction industries (particularly the small independent mining operations) and try to identify ways of addressing this issue; and to develop strategies to promote the use of caves for tourism and local economic development.  The conference was a great success and was followed by a field trip into the Liat Prah System for 25 of the delegates that gave them the chance to experience the underground cave environment first hand. 

To date (March 2008) the whereabouts of over 1,150 caves are known in Meghalaya of which 669 have been explored to yield in excess of 324 kilometres of surveyed cave passage, with much more still waiting to be discovered.  Much of the cave that has been found to date is impressive river cave mixed with huge fossil passage that create cave systems equal in size and beauty to any found elsewhere in the world, putting Meghalaya firmly on the world-caving map as a significant caving region.

In the achievement of the above the Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project is indebted to the help and support it has received from; the Meghalaya Adventurers Association, the Government of India Tourist Office (East and North East India) Kolkata; the Meghalaya State Tourism Department; Officials and Government Departments within Meghalaya; and, very importantly, the People of Meghalaya.


Simon Brooks (Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project Expedition Coordinator) 
Mark Brown (Expedition Leader 2008)
3rd March 2008 

Meghalaya 2008 Hard Work Beneath the Ridge Produces a 30.9km+ System

By Tony Jarratt.


The Caving Team:- 

Austria - Peter Ludwig (LVHOO).  

Belgium - Jean-Pierre Bartholeyns (GIPS/SCBLS). 

Canada - Guillaume Pelletier (SQS), Joel Beauchamp.  

Denmark - Louise Korsgaard (DSS), Torben Redder (DSS).  

England - Simon Brooks (GSG/OCC), Mark Brown (GSG/SUSS), Imogen Furlong (SUSS), Richard Furlong, Peter Glanvill (BEC), Philippa Glanvill (WCC), Tony Jarratt (BEC/GSG), Alys Mendus (SUSS), Henry Rockliff (SUSS), Jayne Stead (GSG),Elizabeth Stead, Jeff Wade (SUSS), Terry Whittaker (NCC), Anne Vanderplank (BEC/WCC), Tony Boycott (BEC/UBSS/GSG).  

India - Brian Kharpran Daly (MAA/GSG), Ksan Kupar "Ronnie" Mawlong (MAA), Lindsay Diengdoh (MAA).  

Iran / Germany - Shary Gazy (DAV).  

Ireland - Robin Sheen (BC), Rowena Sheen (BC), Des McNally (UCDCPC), Sharon Hennessey (DITCC).  

Scotland - Ross Davidson (GSG), Fraser Simpson (GSG), Mark Tringham (GSG), Hugh Penney (GSG/GUPC), Kate Janossy (GSG).  

Sweden - Axel Rosen.  

Switzerland - Thomas Arbenz (SNT), Martine Joye Hapka (SCMN), Roman Hapka (SCMN), Rolf Siegenthaler (SGHB).

(An independent mini-expedition comprising Rob and Helen Harper (BEC), Stuart MacManus (BEC) and Keith Sanderson (WCC) were in the Garo Hills area of western Meghalaya from the 4th to the 18th February.   They had a very successful trip, which hopefully will be reported in the BB.) 

The Support Team:- 

Bung Diengdoh, Adison "Adi" Thaba (camp managers), Myrkassim Swer (chef), Munni Lyngdoh (Mrs.Swer), Vinod Sunar, Telford H. Dkhar (cooking team), Robin Gurung, Marius Lyngdoh, Alphon Massar, Albert Massar, Edmund Massar (drivers) and two others. 

Guides, Informants and Caving Friends:- 

Raplang Shangpliang (Shnongrim), Evermore Sukhlain (Shnongrim), Carlyn Phyrngap, Menda Syih, Pt Syih, Shor "Pa Heh" Pajuh, Kores Sukhlain (all Shnongrim), Na-U-Sukhlain (Dolloi - Nongkhlieh Elaka), Pherki, Abres (Khaidong), Dennis Rayen (Laitkynsew), Gregory Diengdoh (MAA - Shillong), Maureen Diengdoh, Shelley Diengdoh (MAA) and the Ladies of Shillong, Robin Laloo, family and friends, the people of Nongkhlieh Elaka and Semmasi. 

Journalists, Environmentalists and Tourism Promoters:- 

Sandeep Mathur, Christina Heyniger, Salim Merchant, Arup Ingty John, Amarjyoti Borah, Tarali Goswami, Sahir M. Latif, Vikram Mazumder, Manishanker Ghosh, Kyntiewbor War, Quiverland Langte, Kyrmen K. Ryja, Seniorsingh K. Ryja. 

As can be seen from the above list of participants, this year's Expedition fielded thirty-nine characters from Europe, India and the New World with a variety of caving skills from virtually none up to professional rigging standard.   Luckily Meghalaya has enough variety to cater for all tastes with vertical stuff aplenty and a few extensive horizontal systems accessible without SRT equipment.   Useful surface work includes mapping and reconnaissance; so all personnel have plenty to keep them occupied.   This report is compiled from the writer's logbook and the Expedition diary and the usual apologies are made for the boring bits.   It is more of a historical record than an exciting adventure story - especially this year as much time was spent tidying up the area, resurveying previous finds, training the novices, faffing about and failing to make the prophesied major connections!  A total of almost 14km of new cave was surveyed and, more to the point, a good time was had by all. 

The expedition results are here summarised by caves and not in chronological order as previously. 

Khasi Hills

Mark, Alys, Henry, Jeff and Dennis explored 56.15m of sandstone rift in Missing Waterfall Pot at the Eco Park near Mawsmai.   They stayed briefly at Dennis' resort at Laitkynsew and also visited the magnificent living root bridges. 

Jaintia  Hills 

Work began on the Ridge on the 5th February.   Cross Rift Pot, in Krem Synrang Ngap was rigged by Mark, Jeff and Alys and pushing commenced.   Next day, the writer and Anne joined Jeff but were stopped at a depth of 90m by two too-tight rifts so surveyed out.   At the downstream end of the cave Henry, Guilllaume and Rolf enlarged the squeeze and surveyed 277.8m of large passage to a draughting boulder choke.   The latter two and Jeff surveyed another 42.8m next day, but failed to connect the choke to Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo and so de-rigged. 

Krem Iawe was another priority and on the 5th Robin, Des, Sharon, Ronnie, Joel, Axel and the writer attempted to find a way through the main river passage choke in vain.   Other possible leads were investigated and a couple of climbs noted.   This was also an introductory trip for the newcomers who were suitably impressed by this stunning river cave.   The 12th saw Henry bolting the two climbs, your scribe and Kate digging, Pete G. photographing and Terry generally assisting. No extensions of note were found.   Another one bites the dust! 

Back near the camp, Krem Wah Lukor 3 was rigged and the 50m Scurion Pitch connected to the Krem Um Thloo / Krem Synrang Labbit system.   Also on the 5th, Krem Labbit Moolasngi 3 was rigged and some digging at the start of the upstream canal by Guillaume and Henry lowered the water level some 10-12 cm, which later was to prove important when, on the 10th Robin, Anne and the writer reached the upstream sump to find a tiny airspace - only noticed when lights were extinguished and it failed to get dark!  In Video Passage, Krem Liat Prah, Henry and Guillaume, arriving at exactly the planned time, were just visible and after much joyous shouting and bawling Robin did a committing 3m+ free-dive to connect the caves and push India's longest up to, eventually 30.958 km.   The connecting Krem Rubong was photographed by a team on the 8th and another large team photographed Liat Prah on the 21st.

Krem Um Sutiang was laddered by Robin, Axel, Joel and Ronnie on the 6th but a too-tight squeeze with clean-washed passage beyond halted progress.   A possibility for the future? 

Also today [6th] Mark, Alys. Rowena, Jean-Pierre and Peter L. hunted for Krem Myrliat 1 & 2 in vain, but J-P. almost fell down a "new" one.   A 10m deep pot with a chamber and a squeeze, passed by the slim Rowena, led to a second pitch.   The original pots were found next day with the aid of Henry and your scribe and the "new" one turned out to be 2 after all.   Some S.R.T. training was done here by Alys, Rowena and Ronnie and the cave surveyed and squeeze enlarged.   A choke ended exploration without a connection to Um Thloo and it was de-rigged while 1 was rigged to Um Thloo by Henry, Mark and Guillaume.   The latter accompanied Rolf, Anne and the writer through the squalid connecting crawls into Krem Synrang Labbit to check the survey and vainly push the upstream boulder choke and nearby leads.   Another failed connection resulted. On the 17th, the squalid crawl was re-surveyed by Rolf, Shary, Axel and Jean-Pierre before the system was de-rigged. 

On the 7th the neglected Krem Syrnun received a revisit by Tom, Peter L, Des, Kate, Axel and Joel - some of whom surveyed.   Next day Des, Jayne and Liz and Kate, Axel and Joel surveyed in two teams and work continued on the 18th.   The total cave length went from 193 to 528.7m.

Also today Robin, Sharon and J-Pierre surveyed a 

-------< Tony's account ends here >------

[Note: J.Rat habitually wrote in longhand before typing the article into his computer.   The very last line above comes from this manuscript version and, strictly speaking, should refer to the following day (8th).   Everything else is as it was typed into his computer.  I have made one change to his punctuation.

What follows is taken from J.Rat's logbook and checked against Simon Brooks' diary of the expedition].

- - - - -

On the 8th, Harry, Jeff and Peter rigged to the bottom of Krem Um Manong and started a bolt climb to a high level passage.   Jeff and Rolf continued the climb on the 9th, reaching a 3m diameter phreatic tunnel.   This was surveyed on the 11th (approx 200m) and a side passage dug to reveal a pot.   Two days later, Terry, J.Rat and Jeff returned to the tunnel with the intention of pushing beyond the pot.   J.Rat's description of the passage is too good to leave out so:-

A superb, flat, mud-floored phreatic tunnel c. 3m in diameter meandering for a couple of hundred metres was followed amongst some fine formations and millions of glittering crystals.   One section of the floor sparkled so much that it was difficult to see properly and felt like having a bad migraine!

Unfortunately, the pot did not live up to expectations and was choked 22.5m down.    The phreatic approach tunnel was named Zig and Zag Passage.

On the 15th J.Rat, Imo, Louise and Joel, with the assistance of a barefoot local man, visited the impressive Krem Shrieh Doline.   Imo decided to have a “fun abseil” down the vertical doline wall and in doing so, came across a draughting phreatic passage 8m down, provisionally named ‘Upper Cliff Series’.   This was explored and surveyed as far as two pitches, which required rigging.   An inlet passage was followed up to a second entrance in the jungle.   The team believed that this was new cave, but there was the slight nagging doubt that it might be part of the nearby Krem Pohjingtep, which none of the team had explored.   On the 16th, J.Rat returned with Imo, Joel, Ronnie, Brian and Tom.   Tom and Brian inspected the jungle entrance and assured them it was not Krem Pohjingtep.   Tom and Brian then left to recce the Letein Valley, while the rest of the team entered the new cave.   Imo and J.Rat worked on rigging the fossil pitch, while Terry Louise, Joel and Torben worked on rigging the active lower pitch.   Meanwhile, Ronnie, acting as courier, shuttled back and forth between the two parties ferrying the one and only drill the team possessed to do the rigging.   Eventually, Imo was able to descend the fossil pitch to a huge breakdown passage and a further pitch lipped with boulders, one marked with a pink nail varnish survey station.   The connection to Krem Pohjingtep had been made.   The lower pitch also made a connection, this time to the roomy phreatic passage not far beyond Krem Shrieh main entrance.

On the 23rd, J.Rat, Kate, Henry Axel and Joel set out to resurvey Swiftlet Pot and to attack the calcite squeeze blocking the way on.   The party descended the impressive entrance shaft and several other pitches to a depth of 62m.   Once at the bottom, Henry and Axel attacked the calcite blocked passage, located near a large heap of swiftlet guano, as J.Rat's log reads:-

A good draught and incredible echo, plus the fact that the 18Km+ Umthloo / Synrang Labbit system lay below, made this a very promising site.

They worked at the calcite with lump hammers, chisels and crowbar until it was time to leave, when Henry and Axel used up the remaining battery power by peppering the blockage with holes.   The climb out was memorable, J.Rat writes:-

The entertaining climb out, with its ”interesting” rigging, was considerably spiced up by the arrival, at 5:30pm of the resident swift colony, who insisted on sharing the same limited space as ourselves!   Axel got caught in a tight section as the clicking birds tried to get through and he expressed the hope that they didn't have bird 'flu.

The next day, Axel, Ross and J.Rat put in another 4 hours work nibbling at the calcite but still could not get through, although all three could squeeze in up to their waists.   Finally, the 24th saw Axel, Ross, Anne and J.Rat back again, this time armed with the drill, three batteries, two 12mm drills and plugs and feathers (and a video camera).   After 3½ hours chiselling, Ross stripped down to t-shirt and trousers and passed the desperate squeeze and Axel struggled through behind him.   They entered a 4m-diameter aven (Stonemason's Aven), which was over 20m high, but there was no way on at the bottom.   They left the cave just as the nightly swiftlet inrush began.   J.Rat summarised his feelings:-

A bit of a disappointment, but at least we have ticked off a long outstanding question mark.   This was the last trip of the expedition for me and pretty much summed up the whole trip – lots of hard work and a good time had but for a limited result.

Notes on the Article.

At the time that he died, J.Rat had been working on several articles, the Home Close article, which appeared in the last BB, an autobiography, this article on the 2008 Meghalaya Expedition and some other fragments.   He was working on this Meghalaya article up to the 23rd August 2008, just over a week before he died.   Unfortunately, J.Rat's laptop was also not in good health and Tony did say to me that it was a question of which of them would go first.  Well, the laptop is still with us, but it did manage to corrupt the Meghalaya article really rather thoroughly: -

Computers frequently produce gibberish but backwards text is a new one on me.   How about gninnuts, gnihpargotohp and gniggid?J.Rat had multiple copies on floppy disk, but sadly, they were all corrupt to more or less the same extent.  However, it was fortunate that he had not emptied his computer's “waste basket/Recycle Bin” for a long time and that his computer hard disk was liberally scattered with the junk that Word leaves behind it every time there is a crash.   Although these files also tended to be corrupt, it was possible to piece the overlapping good bits together.   

So, the article comes with a heath warning, I think that the first part is complete, as J.Rat wrote it, down to the marker.   The second part has been created from his logbook (XIV), checked against Simon Brooks' expedition diary.   Simon also checked over the final version, for which many thanks. 

I have no idea what J.Rat would have included in the second part of the article had he been able to finish it.  I have chosen those episodes in which he played a part, because I think that it is fitting.   It does mean, however, that this second section is probably not as balanced account of the expedition as J.Rat would have produced.

Tony Audsley, 17 March 2009.


May Day Forest Of Dean Meet

By Emma Porter and Mike Wilson

This meet was arranged by Emma Porter and Mike Clayton, who always give an open invite to all BEC members.  All of the forest caves are listed in the meet and all of them are available complete with keys, a guide where necessary, and permits - this means that anyone on the meet has total access to all the caves.

Zot and myself also brought 3 canoes along, as the rapids at Symonds Yat are a great canoe trip.

All in all over the weekend a large number of cavers turned up at the campsite (74 including day trippers). The BEC was represented by Pete Hellier, Kat Denham, Emma Porter, myself and Zot - pretty poor really!!!  The rest were Dudley Caving Club, Shepton Mallet CC, Craven PC, Gloucester SS, Royal Forest of Dean CC and some ex-Portsmouth Uni cavers.  Plus a contingent of Hungarian Cavers (many of whom I had met in Budapest).

The beer tent (with cheap beer) was provided by the Gloucestershire Cave Rescue Group.  It was originally suffering attempts to erect it inside out, but being a quick erect tent, it soon became obvious that the guy ropes were on the inside......  hey ho, up it went easily (wish I had a video camera).

Zot also brought 2 tents, one for each foot, the small quick throw up tent was up in seconds but when the time came to fold it back up it was a different story.  He spent some considerable time tent wrestling much to our amusement!! Still, his contribution of a large quantity of wood for the fire borrowed from the forest kept us all warm that night.

Shepton Mallet CC was the largest group, headed by Shepton Sean an ex-BEC member.  They arrived with some nice twee flags (so they could find their tents when inebriated). Unfortunately, one disappeared over the weekend never to be found again!!! I blame the Hungarians, you can never trust Johnny foreigner.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They were still searching when we left. Watch this space.

My tin knee stopped me caving (poor quality solder supplied by the national health) but we did manage several walks in the Wye Valley, including the ferry and rope bridge in the Biblins, only possible with a bucket full of painkillers and 2 ski poles. Good job I didn’t have to be risk assessed!!

A big thank you to Mike and Emma who worked hard organising the keys, permits, transport to the remote caves down forest tracks.  The meet raised a donation for the Gloucestershire Cave Rescue Group as a bonus.

Emma Porter and Mike Wilson

May Day Forest of Dean Meet 2011

I know it is a long way off...but I’ve already been asked when the next Forest weekend is.  

Mike and I organise the weekend every two years and we have already had offers from local cavers to lead trips for that weekend – so put it in your diary now!

Progress at Caine Hill Shaft

Tony Jarratt

Continued from BB 530.

Further Digging:- 21/6/08 - [22/8/08 *See Notes].

 At the start of this report ca. 4129 bags of spoil had been removed from the cave - an approximate total of 37.16 tons if under-estimated at averaging 10 kilos a bag.   Thanks to local historian Barry Lane, the mediaeval boundary document mentioned in the last article is herewith illustrated (Ed’s note – we’re still looking for this.).

Jake Baynes dug at the end of down-dip Pastel Passage on the 21st June and next day he was joined by the writer for more bag moving and digging - mainly by Jake who was in better health.  Quite a lot of bedrock walls and floor were revealed. Monday 23rd saw a redundant Trevor Hughes, a train driver with a day off - John "Hatstand" Osborne (W.C.C.) - and your scribe dragging piles of bags throughout the cave and continuing work at the face with about thirty bags filled. Later that day, Jane Clarke filled a few more and unearthed a large rock.  She had been inspired to go down for a look after listening to the enthusiastic ramblings of the morning's diggers in the Hunters' and waxed lyrical on the progress made since her last visit.  Trev reported the way on to have closed down to a narrow, infilled rift.  

100 loads reached the surface from Son of a Pitch on the 25th and fifty were Land Rovered to the dump.  Tonight's operatives were Mike Willett, John Walsh, Paul Brock, Jake and your scribe.  Jane, on a solo trip on the 29th, did a superb job of clearing most of the bags on the bend back to S.o.a.P.  Next day, the writer continued digging at the bottom of the "3rd chamber" and found the way on to be more hopeful than he had been led to believe.  He also stropped and shifted previously filled bags, replaced the worn out drag tray in Root 66 and emptied thirty plus sun-dried loads at the dump.  Two more Land Rover loads reached here on the 2nd July while 50 bags were hauled out from S.o.a.P. by Phil Coles, Pete Hellier, John Noble, Sean Howe, claustrophobic Geordie novice James Summerill and your scribe.  In the depths Mike, John W. and Martyn Compton (R.U.C.C./B.E.C.) dug and shifted bags back to the "2nd chamber".  They reported a low airspace at the face and a possible enlargement to the south but also the generally poor quality of the air - possibly due to the prevailing warm and still weather conditions.

Ginging work above the lintel commenced on the 4th when Tony Audsley affixed a metal working platform.  With a change in the weather to bloody wet and miserable the air conditions had improved by the 6th when Trev, Fiona Crozier and your scribe dug at the bottom and, briefly, in the RH up-dip Pastel Passage.  The bottom dig became impossible to work without a dose of bang or plugs and feathers so Trev cleared the supposed "inlet" above - the NW trending continuation of Pastel Passage and logical way on.  After an initial pinch point he was amazed to find the passage enlarging beyond and seeming to come in from the SW (almost certainly from the lowest point in Root 66, only 2-3m away) and heading off to the NE.  The infill consisted of attractive stratified bands of different coloured sediments ranging from black through to grey, yellow and orange.  Seeming to be a separate cross-tube it was named Rainbow Passage after the multi-coloured layers and to avoid confusion (?) with the lower, Pastel Passage dig.  It will now take priority over the latter.  The writer was back here next day but total body failure meant that only a dozen bags were filled.  To assist with Tony A.'s project the wire ladder on the entrance was replaced with two alloy builders' ladders.  Foul weather and Priddy Folk Festival then brought a lull in digging.  

On the 14th, half a Land Rover load reached the dump where Jane and the writer emptied almost all of the full bags.  A poor turnout on the 16th resulted in Mike and Trev struggling to clear S.o.a.P. and getting 44 loads to the surface.  The latter was back on the 20th with Duncan Butler.  They concentrated on bag shifting from the "1st chamber" to S.o.a.P. while the writer delivered one Land Rover load to the dump.  More bags were re-positioned throughout the cave on the 23rd by Mike and John W.  The rest of July was frittered away.

On the 6th August a strong team - consisting of Mike, John W, Jane, John N, Phil, Sean, Guy Munnings, Jake and Paul were briefly overseen by your scribe and Jeff Price as they moved bags from the "1st chamber" and S.o.a.P. outwards.  130 reached the surface to the satisfaction of the assembled.  Phil and John N. dug and bag shifted on the 9th, Jane tidied the three "chambers" on the 10th and Mike emptied bags at the dump next day. On the 13th Mike, John W, John N, Trev, Phil, Paul, Sean, Pete, Henry Dawson and Neil Usher got 101 loads out, eighteen of these freshly dug.  The latter worked in agony throughout due to a hernia but even lapsed B.E.C. men are capable of Excess!

NOTE 1: Tony's account ends here on the 13th August.  What follows is taken from his logbooks, XIV (pp157-159) and XV (p2). 

On the 16th, Phil and John N. filled 20 bags at the current end.  On the 20th, Henry D, Jane Phil, Paul, Mike, Pete, Jake and Anne Vanderplank got 112 loads out, thus clearing the cave.  Henry D then filled a dozen more at the end, where digging is easy and sandy and the ceiling is going up.

On the 21st, Tangent and JRat took one Land-Rover load, about 50 bags, to the dump to dry out.  The 24th saw Jane filling 13 loads at the end, Tangent, Darrell Insterell and JRat taking a 60 bag Land-Rover load to the dump and Henry D, Andy McDonald and Barry Lawton digging and shifting at the end.  The next day, Tangent filled ten bags from the right-hand up-dip Pastel Passage and another ten from the end.

NOTE 2:This article was found on Tony's computer after he had died.  Tony had been working on it between 7th and 25th August and had nearly completed it when he died.  I have taken the final entries almost verbatim from his last two logbooks.  The last entry is dated 22nd August 2009.

This, therefore, concludes Tony Jarratt's involvement with the digging at Caine Hill Shaft.  Other hands must now take up his pen, it won't be easy; he is a hard act to follow.

Tony Audsley, 13 July 2009



The "Cane Hill Document"

Local historian, Barry Lane of Westbury-sub-Mendip has turned up an interesting document dating from the time of the dissolution of the monasteries (round about 1540).  This refers to Cane Land and Cane Hill (although a possible alternative reading of 'Cane' could, in fact, be 'Cave' !).  The document also mentions Cokkes Close, which could possibly have corrupted to Coxton, as in Coxton End Lane.


Barry had suspected that the area mentioned in the document lay close to and rather behind Manor Farm, but he was not aware that the area was referred to as Caine Hill until a random (as ever) conversation with Tangent in the pub led him to make the connection.   

In the early part of the 16th Century, Henry VIII was having an argument with the Church over a wife.  As was the rule in those days, he won the argument.  He then followed established custom by grabbing all the church land he could get his hands on, had it valued and then sold or rented it and took the money; that being the important part.  

A 'Court of Augmentation' was set to administer the property seized by the King and this produced records of valuations and incomes, many of which have survived.  In particular, there is a reference to some land in Priddy and I am grateful to Barry Lane for supplying an image of the document in question.  I am even more grateful to Barry for supplying a transcription and a translation of the same.  

The document, a sort of early spreadsheet, consists of columns of preamble on the left, two central paragraphs of description, then valuations on the right.  The two paragraphs refer respectively to land at Priddy and West Harptree.  Only the Priddy paragraph is described below.

As was commonly the case with such documents, it is highly abbreviated, (a bit like mobile phone txts).  A transcription is appended here with  line breaks as in the original:-

FIRM unius pec Terr Dnical vocat

Cane land cont xvj acr, Cane Hyll

cont viij acr unius Claus voc vj

acr & iij Claus voc Cokk cont vj

acr, ac pasture ad CCC Oves ariet

sup Coiam de Menedipe, unacum decis

Garb ibm & arund quolibt alto anno,

cum alijs decimis Capell Sci laurenc

ibm ptim in tea Johis leng p annu, 

The suggested full text:-

FIRMA unius pecie Terre Domininicalis vocatur

Cane land continentis xvj acras, Cane Hyll

continentis viij acras unius Clause vocantur vj

acr & iij Clausarum vocantur Cokkes continentium vj

acras, ac pasture ad CCC Oves ariettas

super Communiam de Mendipe, unacum decimis

Garbarum ibiemm & arundinum quodlibet alterno anno,

cum alijs decimis Capelle Sancti laurencij

ibidem partim in tenura Johannis leng per annum,

 The translation, (complete with the preamble from the left columns and the valuation):-

County of Somerset

Lately of the Monastery of Brewtone in the aforesaid county.

Predie within the Parish of Westbury.

Is worth in,


THE FARM of one plot of demesne land called

Cane land, containing 16 acres, Cane Hylle,

containing eight acres, one close called Six

Acres & three closes called Cokkes containing six

acres, and pasture for 300 ewes

on the common land of Menedipe together with tythes

of sheaves and reeds there, each alternate year,

with the other tythes of the Chapel of St Lawrence

there, partly in the tenure of John Leng, yearly,


106 Shillings 8 pence 


In 1540, this could be expressed as an exact amount, one third of a pound was  EXACTLY six shillings and eight pence (6/8).  Today, it involves a recurring decimal which cannot be expressed so neatly so the best that we can say that the amount is just over:-

£5.33333333333333333333333333333333 ......

Such is progress.  

Tony Audsley 20 August 2009.



Belfry Access System

In 1969 the old Belfry burnt down (see BB 259) and the current Belfry was built over the next couple of years. In December 1971 new locks were installed and keys started to be issued. Since then we’ve had over 650 members join the Club and hundreds of keys issued.

Besides the fact that the keys are expensive and difficult to get cut there was also very little control over who actually had a copy.

A decision was made earlier this year to replace the locks and it was decided to go for an intelligent electronic key system.  One of the benefits of the BEC is that our members have knowledge and expertise in a wide range of professions. Stu Gardiner was able to advise us on cost effective and highly reliable solution that is used in a large number of commercial buildings.

The chosen solution is from Paxton Access who specialize in the manufacture of access control systems. Access control provides security by giving flexible control over who is allowed to enter Belfry and when. 

Each door has a controller which is connected a lock, key reader and exit button.  The controllers are interlinked and are programmed by management software that is connected via a TPCIP interface.

Over a period of a few months the required hardware was sourced via eBay by Henry Bennett. A computer was donated to the club by Hannah Bell to run the management software and this is located in the library. Stu Gardiner installed the door controls and we tested it on the library for a few weeks.

The management software running on the computer enables us to control exactly who has access to the Belfry. Since each key is individually controlled we can disable it when a member lapses. Similarly if a guest key is lost then we just disable it.

The system is completely backed up by a standby battery system so in the event of a power cut it will still be operational.

Henry Bennett

Assault on Assynt - Mendip Migration - 2009

By Stuart Lindsay 

Its 2009 and almost a year on from the untimely departure of Jrat, the April migration of Mendip for the assault on Assynt has started. Paul “Brockers“ Brock was the first to arrive, very apt, and was there to greet the overnighters Estelle and your scribe, arriving at 7 am. Straight to bed of course, but not to sleep, an untimely cup of mega strong coffee around Perth, and a GSG member and lady friend arising from slumber dashed all hope of that. So stowed the gear, had a conflab about an easy trip later in the day and got to bed about 10 am, arising 2 hours later. 


Allt Nan Uamh Stream Cave – survery detail.

An easy trip, an easy trip at Assynt? You have got to be kidding! Brockers taxied us to the car park, up by the “Inch” to go to the cave fondly called Knockers, (cnoc namh uamh) It was my first visit to Assynt so I was completely unaware of where the cave was, in relation to the car park, Estelle and Paul were fully clued up of course, being veterans. Suffice it to say therefore that a pleasant walk was rewarded with an interestingly fun trip of about an hour or so. The major feature is the fantastic water shute, at 45 degrees, water cascades down at a rate of knots, terminating with froth coating the ceiling over and around a sump. The climb back up is interesting, as exposed to daylight the rocks can be a bit green and slimy.

Crawls, stoops, wet stream passage, dry and dusty decorated chambers are features of the higher entrance, herein exploration still continues amongst “pooey gloop”? and the odd inviting passage that will eventually, in the decades to come receive attention. There is an exposed 3rd entrance, which Paul managed to exit from, about 20 feet or so deep. Knockers was an absolutely fantastic cave to warm up in for the assaults ahead.

What happened next? 

You walk back down the valley, admire beautiful scenery, distant deer, and eagles floating overhead, get changed and go for a couple pints in the “Inch” true Mendip style caving!

DAY 2. (26th April) More arrivals time, with 12 or more persons now ensconced in the hut. BEC representation now the aforesaid mentioned 3 plus Pete “hold It, hold It, damn the flash hasn’t gone off” Glanvill, the “explosive” Tony Boycott, Pete Rose and Trevor Neath made it 7. Tav had joined the merry band, along with “storming” Norman Flux, Milch and Kirsty, and Derrick “can you model for me” Guy.

Caving on day 2, another valley, another cave. Estelle, Paul Brock, Stuart L and Derrick joined with Tav to explore the possibilities of dig sites within ANUS C. (Allt Nan Uamh Stream Cave). Within the predominately Cambrian Limestone 4 or 5 sites were investigated, a little exploration around Drip chamber, Siphon chamber and then a touristy bit through the twin flat out crawls at sphincter, and crossing a couple of very interesting traverses it was possible to drop into the streamway and wade down to the “thundergast” a waterfall! At this point 3 of the 5 declined this submersion into near freezing water and all but one visited the upholder (lack of energy) to see the formations. Exit was uneventful, and for the more portly returning through the crawls at sphincter was less daunting.

Results of the investigations was that off of siphon chamber a dry, a small dry, passage referred to as Estelle’s Dry Crack was earmarked for future attention, as was the Pete Glanvill dig around the sphincter area. To these sites we would return. ANUSC is an active stream cave, with boulder choke terminations. Work is very periodic in a number of sites with plastic tubes pipes and the suchlike awaiting further use in situ or other promising targets within the system. ANUSC is a friendly system, with varying and interesting features. It is wet, dry, dusty, tight, exposed and eeeerroouuuuummm wouldn’t touch that bit!

You walk back down the valley, get changed and go for a couple pints in the “Inch” then back to the hut for another “master chef” meal from the recipe book of Mr Brock, with yours truly elected to prepare, chop and slice the supplied ingredients and prevent the simmering pot from burning…..for an hour or so!

Extract from the GSG log.

Team: Tav, Paul Brock, Estelle Sandford, Stu Lindsay, Derrick Guy.

Mission: Investigate 5 dig sites and tourist trip.

Extract: “then over to Damoclean – dug through the silt and gravel to get back to a depressing and dodgy end. Then dumped a load of digging kit at Toll Radian. Still looks a promising lead _ the week will tell if it’s a long term goer. Finally relocated Titian Pot for its second descent in 10 years. Good productive day with several leads noted”. Tav.

Day 3 (27th April) The day we met Coln Coventry. After 2 days of marching up and down the valleys a rest was called for, well it was a holiday! So a day off sightseeing up to Durness and a visit to Smoo and the infamous pie shop in Lochinver seemed in order. The party was Paul, Estelle and yours truly. In no time at all we had done the pretty route, visited a waterfall some 300m from the road, patronized the local shop in Durness for chocolate, ice cream and fizzy drinks and made our way down the stairway to the very impressive entrance of Smoo. A lonely figure sat back some way inside the massive entrance arch, an array of helmets piled up on a table beside him. As Paul got close, instant recognition resulted in handshakes, greetings and introductions. A short bit of spiel and we were off, into the boat, mind your head.. oooops duck…under the waterfall.. feed the piranhas…and on to shore, well passage and….. I will leave it like that as it may spoil it for you should you visit. However a 10 minute or so discussion ensued at the end of the passage, about the passage, inlet and sump and what, how, why and when things may have transpired, and then back in the boat to the entrance. Bidding farewell to Coln, back up the cliff, Paul and Stu then wandered over the top of the waterfall, and off across the cliff top after Estelle and out toward the sea. Took some pics and then headed for Lochinver and the pie shop. It was pretty obvious that a visit here meant no grub needed back at the hut so we terminated at the Inch, the usual finale.

Extract from the GSG log:

Teams: Tav, Tony Boycott and Pete Glanvill with Derrick Guy.

Mission 1 Blow up roof flakes at Estelle’s Dry Crack. Blow up roof of Toll Radian. Tav/ Tony Boycott

Mission 2 photos / filming and investigating PG dig in sphincter area. Pete Glanvill / Derrick Guy.

Extract: “Then off to Toll Radian to convince a boulder to relocate. (bit of hanging death in roof!) This was done successfully, but there is more hanging death to sort out before serious digging commences, it may be necessary to remove all and uncover the full rift to the surface. Then back to ANUSC- we were unable to look at the effects of the bang due to the presence of hanging fumes. So we wandered off to look at PG’s new dig. Spent an hour digging and looks pretty interesting” Tav

“voices were heard and it turned out to be Tav and Tony who had fought their way through clouds of fumes to check we were still alive” Pete Glanvill.

Day 4 (28th April) BOOM BOoooOM DAY and photos, too. The return to ANUSC and the assault on sphincter and Estelle’s dry crack dig with a little chemical persuasion, administered by Tony Boycott. Elsewhere a photo session with Pete Glanvill and strategically modelled by Derrick and latterly with Stu around the traverse and near the entrance to Oxford Street…All going well …when, off go the flashguns and BOOOoom, Tony had fired off the charge in PG’s dig near sphincter, and was headed our way, a hasty retreat is called for, off to the entrance is requested, as it was necessary to bang the charge at Estelle’s Dry Crack, before the combined fumes began to fill and percolate up toward the entrance… we all got out safe. 

What happened next?

(1) A note was left at the entrance, to warn the odd lone caver who may pass and decide to enter. As yesterday to the surprise off the visiting party a caver ascended from the depths on their way to thundergast! ! ! !

(2) Usual stuff, off down the valley into the pub, back to the hut and get some grub, have a few cans, back to the pub then hit the pit….NO 

Not quite, firstly up another hill to Toll Radian, and Titian Pot, as per the following log report, then to the pub!!

Extract from the GSG log: 

Team: Estelle, Stu Lindsay, Derrick, Pete Glanvill Tony Boycott along with Tav, joined by PaulB.

Mission: Clear Estelle’s Dry Crack, (ANUSC) and chemically encourage a bit more width! Also widen the dig near sphincter. Next to garden and tidy up Toll Radian entrance and reduce roof rocks to handy size.

Extract from GSG log: “…where Tav turned the hanging death into footholds (not without excitement). Pete Glanvill and Stu Lindsay cleared a load out. Roughly 30 skips in all. We opened a second entrance to make the hanging death safe- there is a large wedged block between the two holes…( not removed as would leave a large hole at surface)….Another bang to finish to remove the large boulder which used to be in the roof” Tav

DAY 5. (29th April) In search of the draught. Armed with my capping kit we set off for ANUSC, Paul, Estelle and yours truly. It was a heavy load but my fitness was growing. Estelle still suffered with a bad foot, a legacy from her liveaboard adventure in the Red Sea the week before. At the dig, Estelle’s Dry Crack, Estelle was soon at it pulling out the debris from the bang. Paul decided to go off to investigate the other site. I then set about removing a couple of lumps in the floor and a bit in the wall. Testing out my new rods of stainless steel 3 lots of rock were popped out. Drill chisel moved some more till it jammed, so lump hammered it and some rock out. Estelle attacked a similar bit of wall removing a fairly sizeable lump. Just before the return of Paul I managed to get in a couple of body lengths and scooped out a freezing cold hand full or two off salubrious mud.

Paul attacked the passage with vigour, a lump hammer and a shovel. The gooey mud was passed back down the chamber to Stu, about 8 buckets full, and duly disposed of either side of the entrance crack. Debris from the dig, rock that is, was used to under pin a boulder on the slope at entrance to the now enlarged but now damp crack. Both Paul and Estelle were getting cold, Paul because he had been flat out in the freezing goo, and Estelle due to lack of activity. Estelle had one final clean out and look up the passage, and exited to the sunshine outside. Stu crawled in for a couple token photos, tidied up and an exit was made. The passage, according to Tav is now about 4 m, 3 or more body lengths, and visually about the same amount again ahead. The direction seems to be going under the surface stream bed and heading under the opposite bank, near to the entrance. Estelle said she heard banging coming out of the rocks in the stream bed, as she soaked up the warm sun, prior to the arrival of Paul and Stu.

What happened next? The walk, the pub. Hut for grub a few cans and bed.

Extract from the GSG log.

Team: Peter Glanville, Tony Boycott, Tav and Derrick Guy

Mission. To complete the Foinavon Traverse.. a major walk, not a caving hazard.

Quote .“Foinavon Traverse from lane to Gualin House. Very fine walk 16 miles 11 hours could have been shorter if the truth be known” Tav.

Day 6. (30th April) Turmoil Thursday. It was a day when we “ were” then “weren’t” then “might be” but “might not be” but “ could be” but “wasn’t” and then “didn’t”. So Paul and I decided on a walk, a walk toward Suilven! A delay of some 45 mins due to heavy rain, and a later than expected start somewhat curtailed our effort. A walk up past the Kirkcaig waterfall took us to the other side of the loch, toward Suilven. It was drizzle, rain and a strong breeze, so 2 ¼ hours after leaving the van we returned. On the way back found a slo worm and heard a cuckoo. But there was no sign of the heron we saw on the way up. We returned via Lochinver, but didn’t buy any pies! The round trip, by road from the hut is a single track road passing through some spectacular scenery.

Extract from the GSG log.

Team: Tony Boycott, Tav.

Mission. Kit to Rana, grid to Toll Radian investigate bangs in ANUSC.

Quote. “The sink chamber dig, (Estelle’s Dry Crack.) is still interesting. The draught comes from a tight vertical crack which must connect back to the stream choke. The solid tube however continues beyond the current end in a straight line and seems to get bigger beyond. It has a chance of crossing beneath the surface stream and who knows?” Tav.

Day 7.(May Day) Confirmation day. Well this day was to execute the new “orange” whistle test, find the missing links, and complete the Rana to Claonite through trip via a couple of sumps, Estelle probably the first female diver to complete this. All was easily, well in caving terms easily achieved, as the connections seem close, and conversations could be had at both sites above the sumps. 

Now Rana is a spectacular system, especially if you are on the less skinny side of the divide between big and small ! The entrance is quite impressive, around 30m / 100ft of fixed ladders and “via a stainless hoopla” (makes via ferrata look tame) cows tails strongly advised. At the bottom, a rift, around 20 to 40 cms wide, and on this day with 5 foot of freezing water has to be negotiated to gain access to the main cave. It seemed awkward but was easily passed after “the it takes your breath away” inevitable immersion. The rift was in 2 parts. After climbing over a cluttered stone wedged in the passage the second part was passed above the water level. GOOD fun but more to come. This trip was for Pete Glanvill and Estelle the divers, making the whistle connections and doing the through trip. Paul Brock, Tony Boycott, Derrick Guy, and Stu Lindsay accompanying Tav on this mission……to find the links above or around the sumps. 

Past the skyeway progress was made to the black rift through a lot of breakdown in inclined bedding, and a couple of squeezes. The ladders on the split pitch total about 40 foot, cowstails advised for the access and midway switch from one to the other. At one point in the ancient history of this cave the passages must have been quite large, as the slabbing in them now is quite chunky, and extremely plentiful. Eventually you gain the streamway and the sump, 6b. Kitting up the intrepid pair set off about 15 mins after our arrival, Tav took the most likely point of access and 3 of us spread out, Paul had gone on his own “expedition”. Simple really, dive the sump prepare to blow and there you are chatting to each other a couple metres apart............who needs whistles! Meanwhile Derrick sets off on a voyage of discovery, in the direction of the duelling pianos, Tony can’t follow, Stu is on point duty at the sump .Paul returns and with Tav heads off to Edward concrete head, latterly followed by Tony and Stu and all 5 of us meet up in the massive breakdown chamber, Derrick had found his way from one side of the sump to the other through the boulders, the whistle blowing Tav having confirmed the second potential link.

Now the Neofleece, is a good concept, but a bit cold if left standing around for half an hour or so. But soon to be warmed up, Tony, Derrick and Stu head off for the highlight, (touristy bit of the trip ) TGNTM…The Great Northern Time Machine. Tony had a minor memory lapse from 6 years ago, and after all, massive great lumps of dusty mud covered rock everywhere do cause the odd bit of confusion, but it all adds to the suspense. Eventually found the sandy, dry “mud” covered floor which leads up hill on hands and knees to the centre piece. A MASSIVE lightly decorated chamber/s with strategically placed tapes as protection for most of the caverns delights. OBSERVATION. Always remember to carry a spare battery, take less pics or battery is fully charged, especially when wishing to take photos. Sods law, 2 of the best pics using a small camera were lost, when the over worked battery of Derricks camera gave up. At this point we were joined by Paul and Tav, and although it would have been nice to have spent a little more time here in, viewing and exploring, it was prudent to leave.

Getting out was going to be more difficult than getting in! It was all uphill after the crawl down through the muddy sand from the Time Machine. On reaching the ladders at black rift, and in hind sight it may have been advisable to have employed a life line. But whilst the climb is “tight” any error may have resulted in an awkward situation. A cowstail is advised for the swap to the upper ladder, and the exit off from it is awkward, being a “squeezy” bit up the last bit.( the ladder being hung some 6 foot lower than the entry / exit point). Derrick followed me up, and found it as exhilarating as did I, your scribe!!! BUT now it got interesting…………..

…………the next squeeze, for me, it was a bit tight on the way down, but I did have gravity on my side. Going back, you reach up and pull a bit, but get little help from the ground. Shoulders are in the breach, but hips with belt and cows tails are caught, wiggle wiggle, a little panic. I’m stuck, no I dropped back down. Off came the belt, as I added the comment, “well I suppose if I don’t do it this time off comes my coverall”.

(My mind also drifted back to an Aggy trip, where through the lower 2nd squeeze in a boulder ruckle, it had been necessary for my complete wet suit, down to my birthday suit being removed. Covered in scratches from being tugged remorselessly by the feet through the last 2 boulders, we eventually returned to the hut, only to be advised “oooooops forgot to tell you the boulder ruckle” it moved last week and the squeeze is now different and tighter).

Back to Rana, arms up, pull wriggle wriggle no foot holds, pain in chest, lump of rock sticks into sternum, push my feet please need something to push on, Tony and Derrick oblige, I am up, thanks again lads. Now, I still do not know if this was a character building exercise, as Tav sat patiently grinning just out of reach as I exerted through the hole, is there an easier route up? Did I go down through this one? ? ? uuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmm. ( 3 days later I had 2 large bruises on the chest )

By the time the last 3 of us reached the Skyeway, Tav and Paul had gone. Norman who had been beavering away when we entered had also departed. Crossing the rift to the ladders over and in the water was achieved, and the exit up the ladders was without incident. Even the hoopla course was a pleasant experience. There is quite a lot of rusting iron work in the shaft, and not just around the fixed ladders. I guess at some time in the future, this may be removed and a rope or ladders will need to be taken to the hole for future visits.

The divers had made a successful exit and collected their kit from the top of the shaft. Took a picture, and had a BOVRIL along with Pete and Tony Boycott, a good day and experience, and an appreciation, and admiration of the work that had been done, and a small tear as I thought of Jrat, and what he must have added to the many days of endeavours….jokes, stories … his spirit lingers on, I never dug at Rana but I could guess at what his presence at this achievement would have cast… I bet it was fun. Thanks to all diggers of Rana Hole.

What happened next?

Well a well spread out line of souls marched off down the hill, passing the bear caves, trudging over the spring and discarding wet and grubby clothing in preparation for a visit to the “ Alt”. Same tradition but different pub. Some ate within, all had a few pints and some returned to the hut to feast….A fantastic day, a fantastic cave trip, fantastic company and only a day to go as it turned out!!!! 

DAY 8. How to cajole! 

Three Mendippians set off for TOLL RADIAN,( the new one!), it’s been blasted, cleared a bit, tidied a bit and now needed a cover. Tav, Estelle and Stu Lindsay in rain and drizzle carry 2 grills of 4ft by 2 ft up to the dig.

(Pete Glanvill Derrick and Kangy King with Ivan go back into Rana for photos. Tony Boycott joins storming Norman to blow up some boulders, and MarkT is also there as well, but herein is a different story.) 

The toll of walking up and down the valley begins to show, 7th time in our visit, or maybe it was just the knowledge this was the last adventure, or nothing exciting was likely to happen, or simply carrying a lump of metal up a mountain for a few miles in inclement weather, I don’t know, but Estelle and myself were struggling, even Tav stopped a couple times ! Was it the rain?, for a breather? Or just to be sociable?

Got there, windswept and damp. Tav was soon down the hole, tap tap tapping, wedging gingerly around, under and wherever to “secure” the hanging death, at least he was sheltered from the elements, whilst the wind and rain was making it miserable for Estelle and me. 

Now how to cajole?

T “I’ll get the wedges in and we can go back down”! 

S “I reckon we ought to dig out at least 3 buckets”, 

E “OK just 3 buckets then”, 

S “Well 3 EACH that is.. jokingly!”. 

Rain has stopped, first bucket, 5th bucket, 10th bucket,

S “might as well make it 20 then.”

E Quick shout to Tav, ( at 17 buckets out), might be going to rain in a minute how many do you reckon?….. 

T “We’ll go for a quick 30, if it rains stop at 25”,

So 30 it was, the rain started upon reaching 30, but lasted for about 30 seconds. A quick tidy up, I took a couple of photos and that was it……………done and dusted, well, done and drenched!

What happened next?

Well as has been the way, back down the track to the little car park, stopping at the rising to wash out the kit. The Toll Radian entrance is only small but my is it mucky. There is a mixture of black, and I mean black, homogenised peat, mud and gravel amongst the pulverized roof rock and infill debris. It sticks and stains..urgghh..

Finally we down the last couple of pints at the Inch, cheers and beers and then reluctantly back to the hut. Collect up all the gear, tidy up the log, have a chat and finally go to bed in the small wee hours, it’s just a short nap! and an early breakfast.. we left early.

The route home took us via Ingleton, for a quick spend, “ouch, 3 figures”… “there’s a hole in my pocket dear Eliza….”

And that was that, fantastic week……………….when is the next one???? 

Rana Hole / Claonite


Over the past few weeks a number of GSG (Grampian Spelio Group) have been in the process of decommissioning the digging side of Rana Hole. The entrance shaft of Rana at the time of the Mendip Invasion back in April / May was a true classic descent, and a testimony to the diggers ( including our own Jrat and Brockers) as they progressed down via a hotch potch of scaffold bars fixed ladders and stainless steel hoopla's, I was lucky to have done it. It is now in the process of being de rigged and fitted with eco anchors. The Black rift is also being eco anchored and stabilised, just the odd loose boulder to be wary of!

The plan is to try and get all this work done by the end of September, but unlike Mendip it is not exactly on the doorstep. Plug and Feathers have been used to "tidy up" various anomalies to good effect, but, as has been found here on Mendip drill battery capacity is soon used up with the larger 20mm or 25 mm Plugs. Our own TrevH using 14mm Plugs  seems to have struck a happy medium, as my 10mm work, but are efficient only for chipping brick size lumps at best , Trev's 14mm size is more than capable of  breeze blocks plus. There is loads to do up in Assynt, so if you find your way up there,  or want to try something different, explore/assist, have fun, walk, enjoy a couple good pubs or juuuust laze around in the sun lounge and watch the occasional eagle glide by get in touch with the GSG. 

 Stu Lindsay 

You Bet We Will

When Jrat left his parting message to his mates he signed it off “keep on digging”.

This in turn was turned into a very marketable charity Tshirt by Tony Audsley who has sold gazillions of them and raised a whole heap of cash for charity. Well done Tony!


However the slogan has been taken to heart by certain members of a well known digging massive. It seems not a week go past without seeing a tag line Keep on (Digging, BBQing, Drinking, enter your random word here) closely followed by “You bet we will”. 

So enthused is one member that he even got it on his van…..

Diggers Shovel Award!

Jrat was very specific that he didn't want anything named after him. But after the Rat-Fest we thought that it would be very fitting that some of the money you all raised and more specifically some of the money Roger and Jackie Dors kindly raised at the Hunters would go towards a "diggers shovel", really its a stainless steel entrenching tool. 

This would be placed on the wall above the settle in the Hunters with a plaque showing the club or group that has discovered and surveyed the longest bit of cave on Mendip that year. 

The competition in keeping with Jrat's enthusiasm for all digging on Mendip will be open to ALL clubs and groups. We thought that it would be appropriate that this award would be acknowledged on the anniversary of Tony's birthday 21st November, which we think is a happier occasion. More information will follow but put a note in your diary for 21st November for the unveiling of the award at the Hunters lets say 20:00 hours shall we? 

So all you diggers you will need to get a move on to beat the Charterhouse team but who knows ......Keep on digging ! 

Steel carabiner without gate 

This is the steel carabiner that many cavers looked forward, it has so many qualities: 

• Better stiffness in the direction of the width 

• Greater resistance to shock

• No risk of forgetting the carabiner open 

• More pinch gloves with the finger notch 

• More body blocked by rust or clay 

• More blade spring oiling


€ 8.49 (delivered without hacksaw or lime)

Note: The pin pads and ratchet to the carabiner above are now available.

Descender 16

Twice more convenient than the 8 descender, this tool will allow you to multiply the possibilities of rappelling down the rope, whether you're right or left handed.

• Single rope on the right side or left side.

• Rope double the right side or left side.

• Two strings single, double, on both sides.

• Two double strings, in four, the two sides at once: for cavers very very heavy.

Very soon we will release the exclusive supplier in descendeur 24: SOUTERNET is always on the cutting edge of progress!

€ 16.16 each (also sold by lot for 16 communities).

Pitons, pins and pads ratchet 

You wait for months and we ask very often. Our office, always at the forefront of technological research and innovation for people who love the mountains and the underground world you finally: the cone and ratchet pin to use the hooks without finger. MAVC a ratchet is currently on the drawing boards. Who better than SOUTERNET forward your explorations?

€ 8.50 peak in the steel plate anodized black. 

8.00 € le piton classic stainless steel.

13.00 to 21.00 € pin ice (available in 4 sizes).

6.00 € Zicral the plate bent or twisted.

NB: models of indissociable finger without carabiner sold above.




Display Model already used. Scope 10 metres. Led 25 CDs. Battery lithium 1/2 AA 1300 mAh long duration (autonomy!), may explode in very wet conditions. Waterproof: mastic glue coating flexible on mini-dipswitch. If you lose in a hole: pull the Twine!  

5.00 € (delivered without batteries)




The Ancient And Honorable Order Of E Clampus Vitus

Creda Quia Absurdum 

(I believe it because it is absurd)

Motto of the Clampers

Underground toiling in one form or another has always been associated with beer and raucous activity but perhaps the greatest example, other than numerous BEC stomps, is a mock secret society called E Clampus Vitus set up in 1851 (or 1845 or 1852 depending on which research you read – the Clampers are heavily into vagueness while clarity is frowned on – hoorah!) in the Northern Californian gold mining town of Mokelumne.

Inspired by the Freemasons and the Odd Fellowship, two of the largest secret societies in America at the time, the miners got together to develop their own mock fraternity but one best suited to the riotous behaviour, humour and the general lawlessness of gold prospecting. 


Chapter banner

The brotherhood was organised around chapters and had meetings “at any time before or after a full moon”. These of course, and in the best tradition, were held in bars and saloons with the commencement of meetings started by the noisy discordant blowing of the Hewgag, a kind of improvised trumpet. These meetings were well oiled with beer and cheap whisky and were presided over by such titled sots as Noble Grand Humbug, Royal Gyasticus, the Clamps Petrix, the Clamps Matrix and the Grand Imperturbable Hangman.  

Initiates had to undergo all kinds of daft pranks to be admitted. Including being trundled about in a wheelbarrow while sitting on a damp sponge aka the Rocky Road to Dublin or hoisted into the air on a block and tackle usually after being asked some question mocking those of other secret societies. (The BEC committee should not take this as a suggestion for initiating new members) Once in, the new member was called Chairman of the Most Important Committee. 

Clampers, as they were known held parades with a billy goat as their mascot. They also sported a woman’s skirt as their banner with the motto, “This is the flag we fight under”.

Yet they also did more serious work. Life in the gold mining towns could be brutish, nasty, short and violence was prolific. Their down to earth humour helped build a strong community spirit. Clampers also raised money for widows and helped those out who had lost their homes to fire or flood. On the back of these activities the Clampers soon became the biggest albeit mock secret society in California. 

Sadly as the gold began to fizzle out so did the Clampers. They last held a meeting in their original form in 1916. But all was not lost. Fifteen years later Adam Lee Moore one of the few surviving members of the original brotherhood founded a new chapter in San Francisco and soon the order spread to Oregon, Nevada and Arizona keeping many of the old ‘ceremonies’ alive. All that is except public drunkenness, which is now frowned on.


A modern day Clamper

The Clampers are still in existence and wear red woollen shirts covered in badges, patches and medals made of tin can lids. Knowledge of Gold Rush history is one of the requirements for membership. They refer to themselves as an ‘historical drinking society’ or sometimes a ‘drinking historical society’. They can be found on Wikipedia and various lodges have their own websites, e.g. Grub Gulch chapter.

Long may they prosper!

Yer Ed. 


Digging for Mendip Caves

W. I. Stanton


(From: Studies in Speleology, Vol. IV, September 1983, 77

Reproduced here with the kind permission of Dr W. I. Stanton).


Only one-eleventh of the cave passage presently known under Mendip was accessible before 1900.   Most of the remainder was discovered by digging.   Of a range of possible surface digging sites, the most promising are the shale-edge sinks of Central Mendip.   Underground, almost any choked passage is worth a dig, as long as cave scenery and interest are conserved. Experiences in passing boulder ruckles and disposing of tipstuff are described.   Most diggers are either short-term opportunists or long-term planners.   It is argued that the supply of easily-found caves and grottoes is nearing exhaustion, so that conservation of those that remain is supremely important.


he Mendip caves are hidden.   Twelve out of the fourteen major systems were nameless hollows in the ground before digging revealed their existence.   The importance of digging to Mendip cavers may be judged by the fact that, in the year 1900, only four of these systems were known, and one of them, Wookey Hole, had always been open.   Their total passage length was 2.5 km.

By 1982, surface digging had opened the other ten major systems, underground digging (and diving) had vastly extended most of them, and the total passage length had increased to 35 km.   Nor was this all.   A large number of medium-sized systems (roughly defined as 120 m to 800 m long) had yielded to the spade.   In 1900 only seven of this category (passage length 1.6km) had been open, but by 1982 the number was 31 (passage length 9 km).

Statistically, then, the popular Mendip sport of cave digging is amply justified by results.   Every digger hopes that his work will add significantly to the length of known cave, but the main reason for digging is personal.   To the experienced worker, the moment of breakthrough into unknown caves, after months or years of effort, is incomparable.   In the darkness ahead lies mystery, beauty, challenge, danger, knowledge, fame - all the thrill of virgin exploration, so incongruous in exhaustively-charted Britain.   There, also, new facts may be gleaned, ancient questions answered, longstanding theories proved or disproved.   The unexpected is the rule.

So the speleologist strives for the excitement and the discipline of exploring new cave systems, and the months or years of digging are counted time well spent.

To some, digging is a fairly tedious chore, and they are only sustained by the hope of triumphs to come.   To others, the digging operation itself is fascinating.   It is seldom simple.   The larger digs demand skills comparable, in their complexity, to those of the engineers who built the railways.   Shafts are sunk, trenches driven, best routes chosen, solid rock blasted, boulder ruckles penetrated, unsafe ground made stable, flooding problems overcome, grottoes preserved, tip space found for tons of rubble, hoists or tramways established, and so on.   It is vital to foresee potential problems and prevent them arising.   A major setback, such as the collapse of a shaft, can so dishearten the digging team that the project is abandoned.

More for the specialist, but interesting, apparently, to many cavers, is the study of the sedimentary deposits dug through.   Mud, sand and rocks do not accumulate haphazardly, but as the result of certain well-understood processes.   By diligent observation the stratigraphy of a choke can be worked out, and, especially in surface digs, this can give clues to the history of a wide area.   For example, a dig at Charterhouse provided new evidence of the way that lead slaggers operated a century ago, and of local conditions in the Pleistocene periglacial climate thousands of years before that (Stanton, 1976).   Another Charterhouse "cave", Grebe Swallet, was proved by digging to be an 18th century lead mine with ore deposits still in situ.

Where to Dig.

"Caves be where you find 'em", the famous axiom first stated in the sixties by Fred Davies to express his scorn for speleological pundits, has been proved true time and again.   Tyning's Barrows Cave, one of the biggest to be found recently, appeared on its own when the ground collapsed in the great rainstorm of July 10th, 1968.   Little digging was required to open its full extent.   No-one could have predicted the presence of Wookey Hole Cave's top entrance, a few feet beneath the grass of a featureless field, had not a diver explored it from the inside.   The same diver, John Parker, discovered a vital link passage in Wookey Hole by climbing high into the roof of the Seventh Chamber, where no reasonable speleologist would have expected it.   These and other caves have just turned up, against the odds, whereas dedicated diggers, toiling for years at 'promising' sites, have had to modify Fred's axiom to "caves be where you make “em”.

Be that as it may, some parts of Mendip are more likely than others to yield unknown caves.   Basically it depends on how long a particular region has been subjected to cave-forming processes.   Central and West Mendip are the oldest karst areas, and in East Mendip the length of time that the Carboniferous Limestone has been exposed to the elements grows shorter the further east one goes.   Most of the East Mendip resurgences are immature (Barrington and Stanton, 1977, 208-209) and, unless abandoned upper levels exist, like those intercepted by Fairy Cave Quarry, the caves leading to such resurgences are likely also to be immature.   The St Dunstan's Well catchment is an exception, and on present form it is wildly optimistic to look for major caves in the Gurney Slade, Ashwick, Whitehole, Finger, Cobby Wood, Seven Springs, Holwell, Hapsford and Oldford catchments.

Having chosen a favourable area, where then to apply shovel to ground? Experience shows that the biggest swallet caves are those that engulf sizable streams from the Old Red Sandstone hills.   Not all of these streams break surface.   At Sludge Pit, Tyning's Barrows, Cuckoo Cleeves and in Fools Paradise in Swildon's and the August Series of Longwood Swallet, streams that enter or entered the systems not far below ground level have come direct from the Lower Limestone Shales.   On this basis, any depression at the edge of the Shales could lead into an important cave.

The hundreds or thousands of simple dolines that dimple the main limestone outcrop, well away from the Shales, are different.   Many have been dug, and several worthwhile caves entered (Cow Hole, Hunters Hole etc.), but only one is of major size.   The reason is the tiny catchment area of each doline.   Only a little water funnels down at the best of times, and its dissolving power is soon exhausted.   The stream, a mere trickle, is underpowered.

It would be wrong to assume that the limestone dolines are not worth digging.   The major exception to the general rule is Lamb Leer Cavern, a fossil system formed when the water table stood 150 m or more higher than now.   It is genetically unrelated to any modern streamway.   Several other limestone doline caves are fossil phreatic systems.   I suspect that many, even most, of the limestone dolines are the points at which the ground surface, on its downward journey under the influence of dissolution, has intersected ancient high-level caves.

There is always a chance that the immature system beneath a doline will connect, fortuitously, with a major streamway.   Cowsh Avens (Davies, 1975) are a classic example, with their roomy splash-carved shafts and tiny connecting creeps dropping 130m almost sheer from an infant doline to Swildon's Four.

A third class of depression is common in the Devil's Punchbowl - Wurt Pit - Wigmore area of Central Mendip.   They are termed leakage hollows, because they mark the points where small streams, gathering on a surface layer of residual clays, leak through into the Dolomitic Conglomerate below (Barrington and Stanton, 1977,223).   A few have been dug (e.g. Pounding Pot, Wigmore Swallet), but only at Wigmore has a small cave been found.   The streams, though often larger than those of the limestone dolines, are still underpowered, and they may be incapable of clearing the masses of clay that slump into the hollows.

Summarising prospects for the hopeful digger, West and Central Mendip are more promising than East Mendip, and the shale-edge sinks are probables, the limestone dolines possibles, and the leakage hollows doubtfuls.

Inside the caves the question of where to dig is basically simple.   Almost any choked hole, however narrow, may lead to an extension.   The obvious continuation of a main passage is not always the best site - as in G.B. Cave, where work in the Ladder Dig creep proved more fruitful than the assault on the terminal choke of the mighty Gorge.   Few digs have been pressed harder than the one at Blackmoor Flood Swallet, Charterhouse, where some 300 working visits were made by two teams in two years.   The passage being followed was a major abandoned streamway, starting from a shale-edge sink, but a mere 122 m of advance was achieved.   In contrast, an hours' work on the Blasted Boss, at the end of a flat-out crawl in Swildon's, opened up the St. Paul's Series, the key to several kilometres of passages and streamways.

What are the signs of a promising underground dig? The most popular preference is for a draught, the stronger the better.   A current of air blowing into or out of a small hole usually means that there is a large volume of emptiness, or a way to another entrance, on the far side.   (Beware, however, of the bodyheat convection draught, a local phenomenon created by the presence of the observer.   A draught rising past you is suspicious).

The outstanding example of an obstinate Mendip cave betrayed by its draught is Reservoir Hole, which in 1950 was no more than a chink in a cliff in Cheddar Gorge, emitting a powerful gust.   We blasted past the chink and two more tight places and came to a small chamber.   Beyond was a vertical rift jammed full of rocks, up and down.   The draught blew down at us among the rocks, so, after some unsuccessful ruckle-sapping, we blasted a 2.5 m tunnel through solid rock to enter the rift 7 m higher up.   Here it was open, a chamber with a boulder floor.

How now to find the draught? Bee-keeper fashion we ignited rolls of cardboard, filling the chamber with smoke.   Creeping through the murk, we located clear air zones at floor level.   The draught was welling up between boulders encrusted with moonmilk like Camembert cheese.   Four years' digging took us down 33 m through the boulders to a chamber.   At one end was a tunnel with our friendly draught emerging over an earth choke.   Months later we crawled forth from the choke into a larger gallery.

Our draught seemed lost, but one day it was noticed, much weakened, trickling out of a boulder pile that terminated an obscure alcove.   A few exciting days collapsing the boulders, and we were up in a rift chamber.   Delicate smoke tracing detected our draught, a mere zephyr now, wafting out of a massive boulder ruckle.   Digging up vertically through the boulders, 25 m in three years, we entered Golgotha Rift, which is draughtless.

There have been provocative draughts at many other successful digs including Lionel's Hole, the Fairy Cave Quarry systems, Manor Farm Swallet and Tankard Hole, and a strange reversing one at the Blasted Boss, already mentioned.

The other fluid that enters and leaves caves is water, but it is much less meaningful than air.   Even a large flow, several million gallons per day, easily traverses passages impenetrable to man.   Many large streams in East Mendip arise from or enter caves so immature as to be hopeless prospects.   The same may be true of springs like those of Axbridge, Ludwell and Dunnett Farm in West Mendip, but the limestone hills surrounding the lovely Winscombe valley have a history of ancient karstification that is still obscure, and surprises are possible.

Although modern water may be unhelpful, ancient streams have sometimes left us messages saying "dig here".   In Gough's Cave the scalloping said "dig in the Boulder Chamber", and the message was reinforced when excavation revealed a passage full of riverborne sand that had been punched through earlier mud deposits (Stanton, 1965).   Alas, the choke was found to extend below the water table.   Scalloping and the sediments left by old streams can even indicate the best direction to follow through boulder ruckles

Solving Problems.

My first cave dig was in Rowberrow Cavern in 1942.   Since then I have dug in 46 different Mendip caves and mines.   Most were straightforward digs involving well-tried methods (Cullingford, 1969), but a few required the development of novel techniques to solve special problems.

In Reservoir Hole, the commonest obstacles were extensive ruckles of small to medium-sized boulders, clean and free of mud.   The first major dig was downwards beneath Moonmilk Chamber, and we shored up the ruckle with timber and corrugated iron.   Rocks kept slipping down from outside the shoring, and we tried to stabilize them by pouring in liquid cement.   It worked, and suddenly a great light dawned.   Forget the timbering, just use the cement!

We used limestone dust and Portland cement in a 3:1 ratio, premixed dry and dragged down to the site in car inner tubes.   (These can survive falling, full, down 15 m shafts).   The grout is made up with water caught from local drips to a consistency varying from porridge to "Montezuma's Revenge", depending on the depth of penetration desired.   It is poured into the ruckle to form a curtain round the area to be excavated on the next visit.   The setting time can be shortened by using an accelerator.   We found that the grout was best applied with a small tin, to avoid pouring too much at one place by mistake.   If lateral penetration round corners is required, a funnel and flexible hose can be used.   Large voids should be filled with stones before applying grout.   When overhanging ruckles need reinforcing, special skills are involved - the successful practitioner of the 'sweeping upward undersloosh' is a real craftsman!

In this case, grouting gave quick and easy results.   No constructional skills were needed and the shaft is secured for ever, as grout does not rot or rust.   In effect, it is 'instant stal', which will consolidate any clean ruckle or scree.  

The next big ruckle in Reservoir Hole was beyond Topless Aven.   This time we wanted to work vertically upwards through it, and we adopted a flexible sapping/building approach.   By the delicate use of explosives, key rocks in the overhead ruckle were dislodged, an action that had two possible effects.

The first possibility was that a few boulders would fall, but the main mass of the ruckle would hold firm.   In this case, after a decent interval for stabilization, we would break the fallen rocks with a big sledgehammer and repeat the treatment.   As the roof of the boulder chamber thus formed rose, we distributed the rubble to support the walls and build up the floor.   So the boulder chamber would rise through the ruckle like a giant bubble, until it burst out into the space above.   Access to the chamber from below was maintained via a climbing shaft like a stone-lined well, carefully built of large rocks and extended upwards to keep level with the chamber floor.   After blasting, fallen rocks might cover the top of the climbing shaft, or balance precariously on its edge, or jam part way down it.   The first ascent after firing a charge was always interesting, and more than once the volunteer climber (an agile bachelor, for preference) was observed by his cynical comrades to shoot out of the shaft bottom a few inches ahead of a high-speed boulder.   "Forgotten something?" they would enquire.

The second possibility was that the whole overhead ruckle would subside.   When this happened, all the debris had to be removed before the next blast.   Gradually, as work continued, the ruckle slid down to the blasting point like sand into the hole in an eggtimer, and when the breakthrough occurred the first explorer popped up like an ant-lion at the bottom of a highly unstable funnel.   The first job then would be to make the funnel safe by building up a climbing shaft and adjusting the walls to a lower angle.

Working under the constant threat of bouncing boulders induces a state of tension, and it was no coincidence that workers in the Reservoir Hole ruckles tended to abandon them in the spring for some surface dig that was less emotionally taxing.   Even when the surface dig developed into a nasty underground one it was not easy to swap (for example) the cold, wet, slimy, miserable, safe conditions of Blackmoor Flood Swallet for the warm, dry, terrifying ones of Reservoir.   In fact only one injury occurred during the whole exercise, when a rock slipped and dislodged the end joint of a digger's finger.   He made a fast exit from the cave, leaving a blood trail, and the wobbly digit was sewn together by a kind doctor in Cheddar.

I have mentioned elsewhere (Stanton, 1982) the value of building temporary dry stone walls to protect cave scenery from the effects of blasting.   Scenery is damaged not only by flyrock (quarryman's term) but also by flymud from the tamping of plasters, which coats stal and passage walls with a messy brown film.   We resorted to shothole blasting where there was a risk of this kind.   A well placed shothole requires far less explosive to achieve the same result as a plaster charge, and it can often be tamped with water to avoid the mud problem.   In Blackmoor Flood Swallet we tried incorporating a length of heavy steel rod in the shothole tamping to increase its inertia, and it seemed that more rock was broken.   Drilling shotholes by hand is a chore that can yield proportionate rewards.   We found that penetration rate was increased by angling the hole downwards and adding water very frequently.   The cuttings then squirt out with every blow of the hammer - straight into your eye!

Water in a dig is a mixed blessing.   It can be invaluable when there is mud or silt to be removed.   In one dig we had a spoil disposal problem - lack of dumping space.   But the narrow canyon leading to the working face was cut in great banks of mud.   When the stream was in spate we demolished the mudbanks, allowing the floodwaters to remove them in liquid form.   It took us several days of furious trampling, knee-deep in inky fluid like demented vineyard workers processing the grape harvest, but we cleared the passage of mud and made space enough for months of tipping.  

In the lowest level of Reservoir Hole we cleaned up a section of disgustingly muddy passage by damming a tiny stream and sending it down a hose to a spray nozzle which removed the mud, over a long period, as slightly muddy water.  

On the debit side is the difficulty of digging a choked sump that floods as soon as it is disturbed.   In Blackmoor Flood Swallet we soon learned not to prod the terminal sump in the hope of draining the pool.   Usually the opposite happened, and we presented a sorry spectacle as we sat on submerged upturned buckets, drilling shotholes in the stal blockage beneath which the stream seeped away.   On one occasion the cave end was a deep pool and the way ahead was sumped.   To pass it, four wet-suited diggers packed themselves into the pool like lead soldiers in a eureka jar, displacing an equivalent volume of water forwards, downstream.   When they climbed out, water level fell enough to give a small air space in the sump, so the bravest wriggled through and removed the obstruction beyond.

All digs produce rubble that has to be dumped somewhere.   The method of disposal is a measure of the diggers' expertise and imagination.   At many places in Reservoir Hole we used tipstuff to build paths, as part of the routemarking that is vital to conservation.   This involved carrying bucketfuls of rubble for quite long distances.  

Sometimes the lack of tip space becomes critical, as in the case of Blackmoor Flood Swallet where we washed away the mudbanks.   This action created a tunnel some 2m in height and width.   Our strategy was to backfill it with rubble, leaving only a hands-and-knees crawl in the roof as a way out.   Backfilling began at the furthest point from the working face, and for obvious reasons the gap between tip and face gradually lessened.   The crunch, when the tip catches up with the face, never came for us, as we pulled out to return to the terrifying ruckles of Reservoir.   This may have been why we never had trouble with bad air; in Reservoir Hole's South Passage dig, where we used the same backfilling principle, ventilation through the narrow access passage could not supply the diggers' oxygen needs and remove their CO2 and the dig was abandoned because of splitting headaches.

Dig Psychology.

Characteristic of the Mendip digging scene is the infinitely variable approach of different digging groups to their subject.   Some believe in mechanisation and set up tramways or cableways with motorised winches and clever automatic tipping devices.   The trouble with this approach is that, because so much energy goes into the installation and maintenance of the equipment, the dig itself may suffer.   Sod's Law also applies, in fact another diggers' axiom (Lawder, 1954) states "The use of elaborate apparatus automatically ensures that an impassable rift will shortly be encountered".   But impassable rifts are not as terminal as they were, as was shown by the elaborately equipped excavation that laid open Rhino Rift (Audsley, 1971).  

Others believe in 'getting on with the dig' and limit their equipment to the basics: pick, shovel and bar, bucket, rope and pulley, hammer, explosives and cement.   Debris is removed by hand in buckets or sacks, sometimes by a human chain.   Some digs need no aids at all.   The clay in a passage in Lamb Leer was so sticky that it was dug by hand and formed into Hensler's Prefabricated Balls, which were passed along a human chain to the tip.

Diggers are either opportunists or planners.   The opportunist thinks in terms of a dig lasting a few days.   He ferrets ahead, opening a route no larger than is necessary to squeeze through.   If he breaks into a cave, the gamble has paid off.   If there is no breakthrough, and the dig, though still promising, becomes impossible to work because of its small size, he goes elsewhere.

The planner prepares for a long siege.   The stronger the enemy, the sweeter the victory.   He aims to be unstoppable, so he tries to create an appropriate working environment.   Physically, there should be plenty of room, stable roof and walls, a clean dry easy approach, and reserves of tipping space and engineering ingenuity enough to challenge the most formidable obstacle.   Psychologically, there should be no risk of major setbacks.   An inexorable march forward, even if slow, generates confidence and enthusiasm.

Sometimes the planner is forced by circumstances to lower his standards.   This happened in North Hill Swallet, where the relentlessly small dimensions of the natural passage forced the diggers to become ferrets, working in excessive discomfort: wet, muddy, oxygen-starved, in flat-out crawls, with no tip space except far away in the surface depression.   They were, as luck would have it, a special breed of hard men, whose machismo and sheer stubbornness ruled out any thought of defeat.   Their legendary exploits made them heroes in their own lifetimes, and a society was formed in their honour, by themselves, whereby the memory of those great years is kept forever green.

Most diggers follow a course between the extremes of planning and opportunism.   The two ethics do not go well together.   At Blackmoor Flood Swallet (Stanton, 1976) we dug on different days to another group who made no secret of their intention to explore all there was, if the breakthrough occurred on one of their trips.   As they were given to ferreting, while we were planners, we feared that we would do most of the work and they would make most of the first explorations.   Perhaps fortunately, no great breakthroughs were made, but we resolved never again to share a dig.

'Value for money' is a familiar concept, praised by all, but 'value for effort' in digging is by no means generally accepted.   The planners are kept going by the conviction that if they persist long enough, the reward of the first exploration will be theirs.   Some opportunists, it would seem, take care to be in the right place at the right time.   The first explorers of part or all of a new cave may be persons who contributed little to the dig or the buildup, as happened at Manor Farm Swallet, Wookey 24, Charterhouse Cave, and elsewhere.   Others may shrug their shoulders and say "that's life", but to planners, the injustice is distasteful.   'Reward for effort' is the planners' creed, and if a regular digger is absent on breakthrough day they will hold back, sometimes for weeks, until he can lead the way into unknown country reserved for him.

Some will argue that it doesn't matter who first enters the cave, as long as the cave is entered.   They are not usually planners, or diggers of any persuasion who have ever put a great deal of effort into a dig.   Few cavers will deny that the most exciting exploration is a 'first'.   Certainly the cave pirate must crave a 'first' desperately, if he is prepared to steal it from his fellows.

Keeping up with the Conservationists.

The observant digger will now and then come across things that he would like to preserve for others to experience.   There may be stalactites in the middle of the passage, a big exotic boulder, attractively coloured or sculpted rock walls, an ore vein, mining relics, a puddle containing cave bugs, sediments of geological or archaeological interest, a gour holding back a duck, crystals, mud formations or footprints in the floor - the possibilities are endless.   Such items make a visit to the cave more interesting, but they can seriously hinder the digger.

Features of this kind can mostly be preserved and displayed, given a little determination.   The immediate need is to protect them from the diggers, so face work must stop while the conservation works are carried out.   First the threatened site is clearly marked so that its existence cannot be overlooked.   Coloured tapes are invaluable for this job.   Then a path is laid, a wall built, even a notice placed.   Tapes (removable for photography) dangling beneath stalactites remind crawlers that there is something overhead to be careful of.   Rather than blast away the gour, a hole can be drilled through it, or a narrow channel chiselled, that can be blocked when the dig is finished.   If an object is loose, and liable to be collected, it may be walled off and a peephole left in the wall.   The vital thing is to do the work at once - yourself.   If it is left for someone else to do, later, the prized object will be damaged or destroyed.

It is not practically possible to preserve some things.   Stalactites that must be squeezed past, sediments in the choke that has to be dug away, a crystal pool in the floor - either they are dispensed with, or the dig judders to a halt as people lose patience.   All that can be done for doomed features is to photograph them, in black and white (for publication) as well as in colour.

A simple way to clean up a muddied passage is to place a bucket under a drip and sloosh the water around on every visit.

The Future.

It may well be that the golden age of Mendip digging is coming to an end.   Nearly all the large active shale-edge sinks of Central Mendip, and many of the minor ones and their dry equivalents, have been opened into cave systems.   A few enigmatic areas remain, where in spite of much work at apparently favourable sites (e.g. the Hillgrove group of swallets) nothing much has been found.

The shale-edge sinks further east have produced only one large cave, at Thrupe Lane, but Withyhill and Shatter caves show that they exist, at least in the St Dunstan's catchment.   The sites of the natural sinks on the north side of the Beacon Hill pericline are seldom obvious.   Further west in Mendip the Burrington swallets, in a unique position on the inner edge of the Burrington erosional terrace, form another puzzling group whose apparent potential has yet to be realised.

The limestone dolines offer a sporting challenge, but they are rapidly being lost as farmers and others fill them with rubble and rubbish.   Some, such as Tankard Hole, could have led to great things.   Of the leakage hollows, the less said the better.   One of them, one day, may lead to something good.   Intercepted caves, as found in gorges, valleys, mines and, alas, quarries, are more promising and will produce surprises.

Wookey Hole Cave is an astonishing anomaly in the Mendip scene.   It is the only large resurgence that has been penetrated and yet it is Mendip's third longest cave.   There must be a comparable system at Cheddar.

Underground digging still has great potential, but inevitably the scope for ferrets and opportunists will diminish, and progress will require the prolonged efforts of the planners.   Here too the divers will play an increasingly important part.

Less than a century has passed since digging for Mendip caves began.   When the century is up, in 1990, the golden age will be almost over.   Subsequent generations, looking back, will be amazed at how easy it was to find Mendip caves in the Twentieth Century.   And how the cavers of that age squandered their finds! 'Easy come, easy go' was their attitude to the lovely fascinating places that they discovered in such profusion.   The present movement towards cave conservation is born of necessity, as grottoes fade and are not replaced.   When our grandchildren sink their mineshaft into Tankard Hole, bypassing the rubbish-filled depression, and plan the usual Twenty-first Century five-year-dig, they will have learned the lesson of bitter experience.   Conservation of the natural wonders and beauties that they encounter will be their first priority.   Or so I piously hope.


AUDSLEY, A. 1971. The history of the present dig at Rhino Rift. J. Wessex Cave Club 11, 236-240.

BARRINGTON, N. & STANTON, W.I. 1977. Mendip, the complete caves and a view of the hills. Cheddar Valley Press, Cheddar, 236pp.

CULLINGFORD, C.H.D. (Ed.) 1969. Manual of caving techniques. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 416pp.

DAVIES, F.J. 1975. Not now and again, but again and again and again - VI. J. Wessex Cave Club 13, 224-227.

LAWDER, R.E. 1954. Back to Shakespeare, or how now old mole. J. Wessex Cave Club 3, 6-8.

STANTON, W.I. 1965. The digging at the end of Gough's Cave. J. Wessex Cave Club 8, 277-283.

STANTON, W.I. 1976. The dig and deposits at Blackmoor Flood Swallet. J. Wessex Cave Club 14, 101-106.

STANTON, WI. 1982. Mendip - pressures on its caves and karst. Trans. Br. Cave Res. Ass. 9, 176-183.


Meditation Boulding Mats

After an internship in Nepal climbing you have done a tour in India among the monks and mages Oriental income you are followers of yoga and meditation?

This mat is for you: you will but you on the passage of the most difficult to revise your mantras and consolidate your meditation.

An article motivating!

€ 130.00 standard, 150.00 € with stainless nails.

140.00 € model training with small nails slightly rounded at the end.



Closed universal key to open oneself

All your key problem of specific aperture resolved: do the same so you closed model with chrome vanadium cemented! You can finally open MAVC, screw the bolts and I could go with a single key.

You'll also be able to fit the holes with the screw anchors to the specific shape of your key and thus secured against theft: the ultimate! Take advantage of our bundle.

1.00 € key universal.

140.00 € per disqueuse, optional but highly recommended!

Lot of 3 moorings atypical.

€ 150 .00 lot together: 1 key, 1 disqueuse and 1 batch of atypical moorings.


Always North Compass

Tired of looking for the North and never find it? Tired of GPS which the batteries are always empty or will not work on land? Full back to try the foam on the trunk of trees or try to remember which side is the sun at noon at the solstice? You aimeiez material infallible, which shows North all the time and with which it is impossible to be wrong?

These compasses are revolutionary ones you waiting for!

28.00 € style stainless steel bracket (Option: 5.49 € to hang the chain compass blocker chest).

€ 34.00 patinated brass model of the former.

Not pictured: €84.45 waterproof model with prism for sighting area topography drowned. Greatly simplifies the layout plans syphons: rapporteurs, trigonometry formulas and computing software are now useless. A simple rule is enough!



Earlier this year a new caving shop opened in Cheddar called CaveClimb.com. So enthused was Mr Albert  Bat that he secured CaveClimb.co.uk for the proprietor and redirected to a Captain Jack Sparrow appreciation society site until a suitable ransom had been paid to the MCR.


The BEC get everywhere (even in cyberspace!)



New Members

Over the last year we’ve had quite a few new members joining. Please join me in welcoming

 Ben O’Leary Joanna Meldner Marc Cox

 Chris Belton Brian Bell David Waidson

 Siobhan Jenkins Nicholas Winter Bill Combley

 Paul Lever Paul clement walker Mark Denning

 Andy MacDonald Gary Kiely


BEC Officer Reports for 2008 - 2009

Secretary’s Report – Henry Bennett

The BEC continues to go from strength to strength and this is due not only to the committee but through the diversity of activities of our membership.

Over the year there are things that have gone well, some that haven’t and a few items that need more attention next year. The year started in inauspicious circumstances following the temporary appointment of Phil Romford as stand in Secretary at the AGM. This was quickly resolved and the committee got off to a good start with an acceleration in the speed of identifying tasks, researching and actioning them. A driving force behind this has been the adoption of email communications outside of meetings thereby empowering the committee to come to and action decisions more efficiently than previously.  

The meetings minutes mirror the offline discussions so there is no question that items haven’t been discussed, recorded and ratified officially.  The benefit to the Club is that there has been a significant gear shift in action over previous years while still retaining the oversight that only a formal and open meeting can provide. I was however saddened when Tim Large, old standing life member, attended the first committee meeting in November and aggressively threatened to take the Hut Warden outside to “sort her out” in the mistaken belief she was part of an anti Nigel group to remove him from Club activities.

At the AGM the club heard that early discussions had started in private about the potential purchase of the land under the Cuthbert’s Lease with Inveresk. Nigel Taylor agreed to continue work on this on behalf of the committee & trustees and this culminated in direct discussions with their Chairman in June.  I attended a number of meetings with the trustees to discuss the progress which eventually led to the calling of an EGM in July. Given the discreet nature of the negotiations with Inveresk it was agreed that details of the meeting be kept quiet until just before the meeting due the timings. At the EGM we outlined the full details of the negotiations and the status of our current legal “holding over” lease under the protection of the 1954 Landlord and Tenets Act.  Stuart McManus, Faye Litherland and I were instructed to fully investigate our position and report back at the AGM.  Stuart McManus brought a great deal of experience in dealing in contract negotiations and this resulted in our appointing Wards solicitors to work for us.

The uncertainty surrounding Mendip Farmers Hunt’s ownership of Underbarrow Farm continues. It’s now been 21 months since they purchased the farm with the intention of moving their kennels there and no planning application has been made. Currently the farm is rented to a pleasant couple unrelated to the Hunt. Independently of my role within the BEC I’ve been actively working with the locals involved in Priddy CANINE in campaigning against any move. Whilst some might see this as being “hot air” I truly believe that we would have hounds next door by now if no action had been taken.

Henry Dawson has done a fantastic job driving forward work on the Belfry. The Belfry extension was completed inside, the exterior rendered and in May we finally managed to get Certificate of Completion from Mendip District Council. The number of jobs completed is impressive but some were more urgent. After a number of years of being advised by the Trustees that the windows need replacing we now have new double glazed windows throughout the Belfry. I wonder how long it will be before a Belfry crockery cricket match occurs or we get a bullet hole through one of them?

Nigel helped replacing the oil tank but this didn’t go quiet as smoothly, as we had planned to drop it to the ground, but instead it was mounted on wooded sleepers on top of the original uprights which don’t adhere to planning regulations. To compound matters it was fully filled even after we requested the half load discussed be put on hold until we resolve the positioning. This will need remedial work once the tank is empty again. Bizarrely someone unknown decided to nick one of the old metal tanks which had holes in it. To prevent any future thefts from the Belfry Stu Gardiner installed CCTV cameras to watch over the site.

By the end of the last club year we had run out of spare Belfry keys to issue to our new members and ran into a number of problems with ex-members turning up and using club facilities and cave keys unannounced. Additionally on a number of occasions the Belfry was found unattended and unlocked midweek.  Since the keys had been in use for 38 years and hundreds had been issued it was high time to upgrade the Belfry access. Stu Gardiner, an Integrated Security Systems Project Engineer, provided advice and guidance on product selection and I sourced a complete solution at significant discount from eBay. Stu installed the system in May and we bedded it in for a month before issuing keys in June. We have procured sufficient locks to control all the relevant doors in the Belfry with future spares and a significant quantity of “keys”. The keys are standards based and will be easy to source in the future. Hannah Bell donated a PC to replace the aging system in the library and this is used to update the system when required. Since we realised that other members will need to assign keys in the future a comprehensive operations document has been written specifically for the Belfry.

When I took over the role there was no documentation or correspondence passed over with the role. Clearly this is not a very efficient way of running the clubs posts and I’ve asked all the officers to produce a knowledge base which can be passed on from year to year. The information in these ranges from where does the water pipe run across the car park to how do I handle bookings using our online calendar. It is hoped that this will significantly ease changes in personnel moving forward.

After several months of chasing we finally managed to get the Trustees legal paperwork sorted out with. Considering that we were paying solicitors fees for this work it is hard to understand why this took so long.

Toby Maddocks ran a well supported club trip to SWCC early in the year before stepping down as Caving Secretary due to work commitments. Stu Gardiner has stepped up to the mark and is not only ensuring that we are represented on the CSCC and other organisations but also in driving forward our caving interests. Congratulations go to both Stu and Henry Dawson on becoming MCR wardens. Meanwhile Faye has taken over running the Cuthberts leaders as a new leader herself. Bookings for Cuthberts trips can now be made online and sent directly to all leaders via a mailing list. Also since becoming a leader we have seen a significant increase in the collection of Cuthberts tackle fees. Leaders are reminded to collect the fees from non BEC members visiting the cave.

In the spirit of the club being an exploration club digging has continued a pace at Home Close, White Pit, Caine Hill, and Draycott Sleights. Many of our members have been involved in foreign trips and sport caving activity is high.

Hannah Bell has tirelessly kept the hut in a clean and well provisioned state. This is one of the most important roles in the BEC and also one of the most demanding. While there is a never ending list of tasks to do she has made the Belfry a desirable place for visiting clubs and members to stay at. Proof of this is in our bed night numbers which are up 33% over last year.

Hannah has also continued to act as the “social secretary” for the club by organising the Annual Dinner, much of the BBQ, and a sponsored walk.

Faye Litherland has laid down the foundation of a fine tackle store.  She has invested not only in new ropes, ladders and survey gear but also in the process and tools necessary for keeping it clean and available. Ian Gregory built and installed a new rope washer in the old Belson shower that Henry Dawson had converted into a washing station. Moreover she is rigidly enforcing the washing of all kit before it is returned to the tackle store. You have been warned!! Over the years the club has seen significant “shrinkage” of its available tackle and it is hoped that the new signing out process will prevent kit from walking off on its own.

A fresh range of Club clothing has been printed up by Faye. No longer do we have to merge into the crowd at the Hunters but can claim our rightful place in full visibility at the bar. We also have a supply of new BEC stickers which I had commissioned.

Mike Wilson has continued to steer the club down the road of financial stability and has provided a degree of governance over the investment and direction of the club. He has also tirelessly assisted in many activities around the Belfry.

Ian Gregory has slaved away at collecting subs and keeping our membership details up to date. However I think he would be first to agree that the role really requires someone located nearer Mendip. Hey Slug, when you going to move down this way?

Thanks go to Ron Wyncoll for checking our fire extinguishers and Fiona Crozier for her dedication to the Belfry firewood store.

The Belfry Bulletin has not been a good experience this year as we had just two issues again for the third year running. It’s not since 2000 that we’ve had more than three a year. Nick Richards has stepped down as Editor and should be a priority next year to attempt to return to bi-monthly editions. Producing the BB is a time consuming role (I know as I’ve formatted, printed and distributed the last few) and needs to be undertaken by someone with enthusiasm and IT skills.

While the majority of members who use the Belfry are supportative, I have been saddened by the small minority who seem intent on stirring things up. All officers’ roles are Honorary and that means voluntary. Whilst it is always going to be “hot in the kitchen” I would remind members that if you haven’t got the balls to voice your concerns face to face or over the phone then maybe you should refrain from flouting the etiquette of email.

By working as an integrated team the committee has achieved more this year than the last couple of years and I extended my sincere thanks to all the team: -  Hannah Bell, Henry Dawson, Stu Gardiner, Ian Gregory, Faye Litherland, Stuart MacManus, Toby Maddocks, MadPhil Rowsel, Mike Wilson, and Hels Warren. Thanks also to the small band of helpers who have worked on many other tasks around the Belfry and for the Club.

Overall this has been a positive year with much more activity than normal and I have enjoyed acting on your behalf. Whilst this year has seen primary focus on the Belfry I would be happy to serve the club again next year as Secretary with a stronger focus on communications and furthering caving activity.

Hut Warden’s Report – Hannah Bell

My strange liking for cleaning and tidying seemed to continue from the 2007-2008 year, through the AGM into this year.   Major new improvements to the hut have included the signing off the extension as a tackle store and members bunkroom, double glazing the entire hut, and fitting a new security system.   With the assistance of committee and dedicated members on working weekends the hut is in a good, clean and comfortable state.  The double-glazing will undoubtedly reduce heating and wood usage in Winter (and possibly block out dog barking if the hunt move in next door!).  The introduction of the new security system was low cost with most parts secured by Henry Bennett from EBay with free fitting by Stu Gardiner.  Before the new system there had been a few incidences of the hut being left open with no one around and cave keys going missing.  The new system means that whenever a person opens a door a central computer logs the action.  If the hut is left open the committee will be alerted to the fact and can easily pop over and close the doors.  It also means that ex members will no longer have access to the hut unless they pay their subs when their electronic key will be reactivated.

The main bunk room mattresses continue to have clean covers and pillows which are washed once a month which makes the bunk room stay fresher and visitors continue to commented on how these changes have made the hut a more welcoming and comfortable place to stay for guests and members alike.

After the decrease in 2007 and 2008 of large University clubs staying at the hut, we now have regular smaller groups staying such as Exeter, Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Aber as well as older clubs such as Red Rose, South Wales, Chelsea and Axbridge to name but a few.   This has resulted in new BEC members coming from Chelsea, Aber, Exeter and Portsmouth clubs instead of just large University clubs as was the case in the early 2000’s.

Below is a graph of hut use over the last three club years taken from signing in book entries.  It shows total hut nights against each month.


As can be seen from the above chart there have been almost double the guest bed nights each month compared to members stays with a consistent number of member nights especially around fireworks in November, Easter, May and August Bank Holiday activity.  There was a number of reciprocal bed night stays over Christmas, Easter and bank holidays.

The total number of guest bed nights in 2008- 2009 was 885 with members nights totalling 677.  Below is a chart detailing the number of total bed nights each year between September 2006 and August 2009.



The above chart reflects the total number of bed nights from September through to August each year for 2006/7 to 2008/9.   As can be clearly seen the number of guest bed nights continues to increase whilst the number of member nights has risen following a small slump last year.  The large number of working bed nights in 2008 reflected the final push to get the extension finished for signing off.

In the next issue of the BB I will be detailing a report of number of bed nights by member over the last 10 years.  Early statistics show that over the last two years the person to stay most at the hut was Mad Phil Rowsell with 131 nights between March 2006 and December 2008 whilst Henry Bennett stayed 128 nights and on more occasions than Phil by averaging one night a week over the same period!  Have these men no homes to go too?  It is good to see the hut regularly used by dedicated members.  It is also very pleasing that hut nights all round are up on last year.

Many members have continued to commented that the new members bunk room is comfortable and clean with the added bonus that there are single bunks for those who dislike sleeping on one big bed!  I have noticed that on many weekends when the main bunk room is only half, full the members one has been completely full as many active members prefer to stay in the separate bunk room and use the single and double beds.  Recently a mirror and bin has been added to this area.

Whilst the 2008 Christmas Curry Evening proved relatively successful with 12 local members going out for dinner, the August BBQ have again been very popular with 5 barrels of bitter and cider being downed.  Also this year I have organized a sponsored walk for Water Aid, which raised almost £300 for the charity – a large thank you to everyone who supported this event as well as those who took party.  After the success of last year’s annual dinner we are again going to the White Hart and tickets have almost sold out.  Next year’s dinner will be a massive affair and plans are in full swing to ensure a very large birthday party for the BEC!

In conclusion this year has been highly productive and my special thanks go to Henry Dawson and Henry Bennett for their hard work getting the extension signed off.   I would also like to thank the rest of the committee and those dedicated members who gave their time and experience in working on the hut over the last year especially Dany for fitting the double glazing!  

I would also like to add that I have very much enjoyed the role of Hut Warden over the last two years but feel it is time for someone else keen and enthusiastic to make their mark on the role.  I will be stepping down as Hut Warden at the AGM but would like to continue on the committee as I have time, enthusiasm and drive to get things done for the club.  I will be standing for the role of BB Editor with the issue you are currently reading having been mostly organised by myself.  If you choose me as your editor I will ensure bimonthly editions with regular dig, expedition, caving and mining updates as well as being a professional, readable and entertaining magazine.  If you do not choose me as your editor then I hope to continue on the committee as a floating member to serve your needs for the club.

I look forward to seeing you all at the AGM and dinner.

Caving Secretaries Report – Stu Gardiner

  As a floating member on the committee I took over from Toby Maddocks as Caving Secretary part way through the year, who stepped down due to work commitments.

Myself and Henry Dawson have started to get the BEC more involved with Cave Rescue as we feel this is an important part of Mendip Caving, the first Practice is arranged for 19th September and the aim is to hold at least two underground practices a year with a few surface sessions looking at equipment and techniques, one of these which was held just before the recent BEC BBQ where a practical demonstration with the stretcher followed a questions and answers session, where I feel many of the younger members gained an invaluable insight into what may be expected from them if a rescue were to occur. 

Digging is as always at the forefront of the BEC with several exciting projects underway. Caine Hill is as always progressing onwards with a dedicated team pushing hard (you bet they are). Estelle and others have an interesting site below Cerberus Hall which, although conditions are atrocious, is looking very good and could prove very fruitful indeed. Whitepit is ongoing with dig’s in Talus IV and at the terminal sump.  Jrats last dig at Holme Close (back door to Wigmore) is a feat of engineering brilliance and it is surely only a matter of time before this breaks through into the high level rift above the Young Bloods extension.  And a recent dig started on the Draycott Sleights proved to be a long forgotten Ochre mine which has received some interest by Somerset Wildlife Trust.

During Toby’s reign a trip to South Wales and a stay at the SWCC saw some good trips in OFD1,2 and Cym Dwr, DYO and Pant Mawr.  It was encouraging to see a good mix of members young and old and the feedback received was that the weekend was enjoyed by all, even if the weather was awful.  If I am fortunate enough to be Caving Secretary full time I would like to arrange a full calendar of trips throughout the year across the caving regions, with even an Ireland and possibly a European trip.

Caving at the BEC by members and visiting clubs has been consistently good and I would say that virtually every weekend the Belfry is buzzing with cavers coming and going from various trips on Mendip.  We also have a great selection of cave leaders including St. Cuthberts, Charterhouse (including 2008 extensions), Reservoir, DYO, OFD etc, however I would encourage more people to write up their caving and digging reports in the Log Book located by the trip board as this is a record of the clubs activities for future generations.

The callout board has been slightly modified to encourage cavers to add a little more detail to their trips so that the information can be correctly gathered in the unfortunate event of an incident.  This has been very successful and the majority are using this correctly, however there have been a few occasions where people forget to erase their trip afterwards or mistake PM for AM (please use 24 hour clock) etc.  Please can I ask everyone just to double check their trip details before heading off to avoid a potential callout.

We have a fantastic mix off people at the BEC with a huge wealth of caving related experience to call upon, be it digging, diving, surveying to list but a few and for this reason I feel we are the strongest club on Mendip if not the country (maybe the world), and although the Wessex may have Charterhouse and the MCG have Upper flood, the BEC has pure passion to just keep on digging and caving no matter how tough it gets.

2010 is going to be a great year and the Digging Shovel will be ours …………

Treasurers Report – Mike Wilson

  Again it has been a very busy   year      financially, the expenditure being split between the tackle store [we finally have a good one] and ongoing renovations of the hut. The major costs should be met by the year end [the windows being the final element to be paid for]. Unless there is a major disaster our outgoings should now settle down .unless we approve chintz curtains for the lounge!! The current account will stand at approx £3,000.00 which I will monitor as it gains little or no interest. The Cuthberts account is healthy at £2,000.00 approx but in the light of recent events I hope we can raise the bar and add pledges to the account. This year I have to reapply for the rates relief and unless the goal posts have moved we should get by ok. Next terms modest expenditure will probably be aimed at improving the interior of the hut [the committee will have to set the agenda]. Interest rates need to improve drastically as I am sure you all know that clubs get the minimum percentage on investments. I intend to stand for committee this year and hope to carry on the clubs wishes.


Hut Engineer’s Report – Henry Dawson

This year has seen more extensive improvement to your club premises. There have been a few working weekends on which attendance was fair to good and those who attended worked very hard. The last one of these was of particular note as a long list of jobs on the blackboard was completed by half way through Sunday leaving those present with the rest of the day to relax and go caving! 

The 2 large jobs scheduled for this year were rendering of the extension along with painting of the outside of the building and the long awaited installation of double-glazing at the club. I am very happy to report that both jobs have been completed in full. 

The other two slightly smaller jobs included installing a land drain in the car park. The price for gravel to fill it was the same for a larger load so the rest of the gravel was used to cover the car park. This has given a substantial improvement to the appearance of the garden and car park at the hut. It actually looks quite smart! The soak-away for the land drain has been finished as a small planting area to keep cars from driving over it.

The other small job was the installation of a tackle and rope washing area in the old shower. This was completed successfully and now gives excellent facilities for taking care of personal tackle and no excuses for leaving club tackle in a grubby state. 

I can now state that the extension has been signed off by building control. 

Below is a summary (not comprehensive) of jobs completed this year:

1. Fitting guttering to porch

2. Painting the front of the building

3. Fixing the changing room WC

4. Tidying up the outside areas of the hut – ongoing (digging gear has been tidied not thrown away and many trips to the tip have been made to get rid of waste)

5. Vents have been installed in the members dormitory to prevent condensation mould and mould cleaned off the walls

6. The bunk room squeeze machine has now been unveiled

7. The water heater has been replaced in the kitchen

8. The boiler has been serviced and adaptations made to the flue to give a much better combustion of fuel

9. The fire escape for the bunk room now has a hand rail

10. The fire escape for the extension now has a hand rail

11. The algal growth causing the fire escape for the extension to become slippery is now resolved. 

12. The changing rooms sinks have been embedded in a worktop to give somewhere to set down wash bags etc. 

13. Almost indestructible toilet roll holders have been placed in both WCs

14. An electronic pass entry system has been installed to the front door, tackle store and library. Most members have been issued with keys. This has been an important task run by Henry B and Stu Gardiner after a number of problems from unauthorised entry using ex-members keys. It will also quickly pay for itself in key deposits as keys are vastly cheaper and easier to obtain than Abloy keys used previously. According to one member the new keys can also endure a full wash along with all your clothing!

15. Bertie the Bat can once again squirt water on hapless individuals walking into the main room. 

16. The coping stones behind the BBQ have been rebedded in mortar

17. The common room has been repainted

18. A projector screen is now available that can be hung up quickly and simply

19. The tackle store now has passive ventilation and fittings for a dehumidifier

20. A large picnic bench has been put in place on the grass. It has a nice long chain on it to slow down the Wessex. 

21. Planting around the stream has been done to prevent walkers from stamping all over the wild flowers behind the BBQ. 

22. Installation of guttering to rear of extension. 

23. Painting around washing area to prevent falls

24. Repair of changing room external door

25. Fitting of hooks to allow gear to be hosed down outside

The front parapet wall of the Stone Belfry been refurbished to prevent water ingress. Maintenance of this building now resides with MCRO. 

A jobs list for the hut has been passed around the committee for comment to plan future works. This has also helped budgeting for works to ensure those scheduled for the financial year do not require us to dip into our savings. 

Jobs I would like to carry out this coming year if I am voted in include: 


• Blinds in the members dorm

• Extending central heating to the new extension

• Installing a digging store in keeping with the area

• Make the front door more secure

• Replacing rotten wood on the porch

• Moving wood store back to wall

• Replace ceiling in common room with new solution that avoids the cracking problem

• Tiling kitchen, showers, toilets and possibly drying room. 

• Socket for pressure washer in changing room


I would like to take this opportunity to profusely thank all of those who have contributed in any way (including making the tea) to works carried out on your club. The hard work and superb results seen this year could only be achieved following your generosity with your time and efforts. Thank you very much everybody. 

I would like to run again for committee serve the club as hut engineer for the next year. 

Membership Secretary Report – Ian Gregory

  It has been a good year for membership, with numbers remaining high, currently standing at 200.

Of those, there are the usual life, and Honorary Life members, totalling, and Joint members, and the Ordinary’s 

What we have seen this year though is a slight increase in New and Probationary members, 22 of them. Most are those who have joined are from their respective University Clubs, and as such I feel that the B.E.C. should continue to extend a warm welcome to such groups to help foster good relations with our potential future members.

There has also been some who have become Belfyites through other routes, mostly as friends and associates of other members, and the odd returnee, who have rejoined after a long break from the underground life.

There has been the usual loss of a few Members due to the phenomena 

Of “Natural Wastage”, e.g. giving up caving altogether, Personal Circumstances changing, Relocation to other area’s and the like. BUT, so far, at the time of writing, the Club has not lost a single member to the Grim Reaper, which, after the sad toll of the last few years is a most heartening and pleasant way to end my report. 

I am happy to stand for re-election for the 2009/10 year Committee, and will serve the club in whichever role that the membership chooses to appoint me to.

Tony Jarratt Caving Log Books 1956 2008

Before Tony Jarratt left us he kindly gave the Mendip Cave Registry & Archive permission to photograph and make freely available the contents of all 15 volumes of his personal caving log books, dating from 1964 to 2008 and detailing in meticulous detail all of the caving and digging trips he has been involved in. They make for a fascinating and often entertaining read.

Alan Gray has painstakingly photographed every page and insert within these books for the archive, and these images are now being made available to the general caving community via the MCRA website.

All fifteen volumes are available online now at http://www.mcra.org.uk/logbooks/ in the form of a picture gallery.

The website allows comments to be added to the pictures; please feel free to add your personal notes and observations on the entries, especially if you were there at the time!


Tackle Master Report - Faye Litherland

 Well, it has been quite a full year so far.  I have not managed to achieve everything on my “to do” list, but have certainly made progress.  

My focus this year has been on generating systems and buying equipment to ensure that any tackle purchased now and in the future could be looked after properly and maintained correctly.  For example, I saw no point in buying rope when we had no functioning rope washer.

The past year has seen the implementation of a new Tackle Management System (TMS) which comprises of the tackle booking out and usage logging system and also a new fault reporting system.  A deposit system has also been introduced as part of the TMS for high value and easily lost items such as survey kits and mobile rope washers.  In addition, we now have a full inventory of all tackle store items available for loan and whether or not they require a deposit.  This inventory is laminated and hung up in the tackle store.  

During the last year and since the introduction of the new TMS we have one ladder and spreader unaccounted for and the TMS seems to be working well with a very high compliance and acceptance rate from all members.  I am still hopeful that the lost equipment is at the back of someone’s car boot or shed and will be returned eventually.

The tackle store has been organised and we are well on the way to having a place for everything and everything in its place.  

We also have a brand new wall mounted indoor rope washer and indoor kit washing area, collectively known as the Rope Care Suite (RCS) as well as the existing outdoor kit washing area.  This means we are now the envy of many other clubs who have to stand in the cold and the rain to wash their gear.  Just to make sure you can get all of the equipment sparkling clean after each use, we also have a lovely new pressure washer.  Waterproof sockets are being installed in the very near future near the two hose outlets to allow convenient inside or outside usage.

When I took over as Tackle Warden I was disturbed to find that we apparently did not have a single set of working survey instruments in the club.  As I am continually told that we are primarily a digging club, I am proud to present the completion of two full, all singing and all dancing, survey kits.   We can now accurately survey our finds and stand a chance of winning the new J’Ratt Memorial Digging Shovel!  These kits which are contained in yellow waterproof boxes and are available for a deposit include:

• Suunto compass and clinometer

• Leica Disto A3 (one kit only)

• Survey tape

• LED Station light

• A5 Survey notebook cover and folder

• Scale rulers and protractors for accurate sketching with BEC branding

• Pre-printed waterproof survey sheets in offset station format

Several club members have signed out these survey kits and so far the feedback has been very positive.  Other club members who have seen them have gone away green with envy, especially over the loose leaf survey notebooks containing  the offset station format survey sheets, the small LED station lights, the protractors which have bats printed on them and the scale rulers which have “Everything to Excess” printed across the middle.  

Unfortunately this year’s post BBQ ladder making workshop was cancelled due to hangovers, lack of enthusiasm, heavy rain and unavailability of key personnel.  The intention was to make a number of ladders of both 5m and 10m lengths along with another Swildons Ladder.  It has been rescheduled for later in the year.

You will recall that at the last AGM a tackle budget of £1,250 was allocated.  I used part of this money to take advantage of the clearance stock from Bat Products and build stock of some items for the future.  To date £1,186 has been spent which roughly groups into the following equipment areas (full details available on request):

Ropes £31.95

Ladders & Spreaders £175.00

Tackle Bags £255.00

Ladder Making Equipment £122.00

Survey Sets £479.75

Miscellaneous £122.53

The full list of equipment purchased or donated is below:


• 11mm Static (Beal) 21m

• 9mm Dynamic (Beal) 18m

• 10m Lyon Ladders x 2 

• Tandem Suunto

• Rope Protectors x 5 

• Rope Washers (portable) x 2 

• Spreaders x 3 

• Suunto Compass and Suunto Clino x 1

• Draper 12v Engraver

• 30m Survey tapes x 2 

• Leica Disto A3

• A4 waterproof paper x 250 sheets

• Survey book covers x 2

• A5 survey folders x 2

• Karcher 3.99 Pressure washer

• Sketching instruments

• Waterproof Case x 2

• Petzl Classique x 4 

• Petzl Portage x 2 

• led lights for survey stations x 2 

• Rope & Ladder hanging hooks

• Rope Washer

• Plastic boxes for drill batteries x 2

• 11mm Static (Beal) 34m lengths x 8 (donated by Emma Porter)

• 200m 4mm ladder making cable

• Ladder making consumables

• 36V Hilti Drill, 2 batteries and assorted drill bits (donated by Jeff Price)


One truly gratifying thing is the way that over the past year equipment has magically appeared in the tackle store.  One minute you think you have everything tagged up and indexed and then “Poof” another six wire tethers, or occasionally a ladder turn up.  This has meant that the tackle store inventory has continued over the year to be a living document with pen additions until the next print.  A big thank you to those tackle store pixies, your help has been much appreciated.

Plans for next year (if you re-elect me!) include:

• New digging store by the wall to the farm yard

• Re-commissioning and re-location of the rope testing rig

• Ladder building workshop

• Purchase of additional rope for ladder lifeline

• Equipment inventory and FAQ to be available in members’ area on website

• Continue and complete the tackle store layout so that there is a place for everything

A very big thank you to everyone for your support this last year.  I am standing for committee again this year and would very much like to carry on with this role for another year to complete the work I have started. 

St Cuthbert’s Warden Report - Faye Litherland

As some of you are already aware, Toby Maddocks had to step down from his role as Caving Secretary due to work commitments.  Since then, Stuart Gardiner has taken on the role of Caving Secretary and since he is not a St Cuthberts Leader, I was asked to take over the St Cuthberts Warden role.

Update in brief since the 2007-2008 AGM:

• Two new St Cuthberts leaders have been appointed.

• St Cuthberts leaders email list is up and running so that we can all keep in touch with each other.

• Rope fixed aids have been removed from the cave and only pull through guide ropes remain.

• Three new dig sites have been approved by the committee.  These are: One in Cerberus Hall, one in the stream way at the bottom of Everest Passage and also a further attempt at Sump 2.

• Email discussions are ongoing regarding maintenance / replacement of existing fixed aids in the cave.

• Generation of a handover file for the next Warden (ongoing).

Plans for next year:

• Complete handover file for the next Warden.

• Hold leaders meeting for the discussion of fixed aids in the cave, especially on pull through routes.

• Resolve current maintenance issues with existing fixed ladders.

I have deliberately not covered the current St Cuthberts Land issue as that will be the subject of a different report presented at the AGM.

Thank you to everyone who has helped out over the last year with selling St Cuthberts Reports, taking tourist trips and generally being supportive and patient.  I am standing for committee again this year and would be happy to carry on with this role for another year.  

Librarians Report – Tim Large

I took over the position of Librarian on July 4th following the resignation of Phil Rowsell.  It was apparent that he had started some good work in sorting everything out, but as always there was still a great deal to be done.

Mike Wheadon (Archivist) and I have been checking and sorting the boxes left to the club by Wig and J-Rat.  Many of the documents comprise historical records that will be filed and catalogued.  In addition, Wigs collection includes club records from Alan Thomas dating back to the 60’s.  Mike and I were able to recognise the importance to the club history of some of these documents and therefore have not consigned them to the recycling bin!

Books have been donated by Kangy, Dizzie, some more books/journals from J-Rats collection, and recently a collection of material from Viv Brown.  This comprises his research into Caving songs.  There are hundreds!  Even our biggest devotees have not been able to recognise all of them, (now there’s a challenge). I am currently sorting these, with a view to releasing them as soon as possible to the library.

All the books need assessing as to their relevance to the clubs activities and whether there is any unnecessary duplication.  Any books under these headings could be offered for sale with any money raised being reinvested in books that members would find more relevant/useful/interesting.

Eventually I would hope to see a fully catalogued library list available on the website, so that members could scan this to see what is available.  This would also assist with a catalogue exchange system.  Having discussed Library matters with the Wessex Librarian, who thinks an exchange of catalogues, would be beneficial to all cavers, giving them a broader research base.  I am sure suitable arrangements could be made for interclub exchange and library access could be facilitated to members of other clubs on request or arrangement.

Another information service that could be offered via the Library is a database of websites of useful information and research that may be of interest to members.  I have my own which is updated (and added to) constantly so the nucleus of the scheme is ready and available; members could then update and add as they wished.  I am sure that there are many personal lists already out there just waiting to be shared!

Finally, one last project to be considered- a library of DVD’s on Cave, Mine or Karst related topics or indeed anything that members might feel of interest to caving life.  Any donations?

As you can see, there is much potential in our Library, although much to be done, and some time will be needed. 

Since I began caving, books, publications and research on caving/mining and related topics have always been of paramount interest to me, being the other side of the coin to the active digging, surveying and exploration.  Should the club re-elect me to the post of Librarian I will strive towards the aforementioned goals.


So Who Actually Uses The Belfry Regularly? 

By Hannah Bell

Active Locals, Active Visitors or Armchair Cavers?  A Belfry Usage Overview


Recently I was asked by a new BEC member how many other members stay at the hut within a year.  I was stumped as to the answer and all I could say was that I believed there was a core number of very active cavers who use the hut regularly, some other members who visit the hut annually and then a lot of old armchair cavers who never stay at the hut and only appear around AGM time.  Thinking perhaps my assumptions were wrong I decided to analyse the Belfry signing in book to see exactly how many members regularly use the club hut and who they are!  After a month of research I can now outline my initial findings for who has stayed at the hut over the 22 months between March 2006 and December 2008.  


In total, 95 members have slept at the hut during the period March 2006 to December 2009.  Bed nights were only counted when the person was actually a member.  If the person stayed as a guest either before being a member, or after leaving the club, the nights were not counted.  The top twenty people to have slept at the hut are listed below with number of bed nights listed in brackets.

1) Mad Phil Rowsell (131) 11) Barry Lawton (46)

2) Henry Bennett (128) 12) Duncan Butler (46)

3) Hannah Bell (83) 13) Rich Bayfield (45)

4) Henry Dawson (82) 14) Emma Heron (44)

5) Bob Smith (68) 15) Faye Litherland (44)

6) Chris Jewell (68) 16) Rich Smith (39)

7) Ian ‘Slug’ Gregory (62) 17) Jim Smart (38)

8) Jane Clarke (48) 18) Anne Vanderplank (37)

9) Helen Warren (47) 19) Louise Bayfield (35)

10) Stu Gardiner (47) 20) Ruth Allen (31)

The full list is at the end of this article.  Will your name be on it?  

I was pleasantly surprised that the majority of the current committee feature so highly on the listings with seven of the 2008-9 committee within the top 10!  I was also pleased to find that two of our current club trustees also have chosen to stay at the hut – Mike Wilson and Phil Romford.  It is good to see that those who run the club choose to get involved socially and to spend time using the facilities and meeting the people who actively stay there.  The furthest anyone has travelled to stay at the hut was Pete Bolt who visited from Columbia!  The person to travel the least distance to reach the hut was Bob Smith, who whilst currently not a BEC member, had been a member during this period whilst living on Priddy Green.

Another interesting statistic is that 8 of the top 20 people staying at the hut were women.  Twenty eight of the total members using the hut during the period were female.  This is just under a third of the total.

My research also looked at the number of times a person visited the hut to stay over the same period.  This is interesting as some people visit for a week at a time as a holiday, some visit only at weekends whilst others stay Wednesday after digging as well as at weekends.  Below is the list of who has stayed at the hut on the most number of individual occasions during the same period in time.  The number of occasions is in brackets after their name.

1) Henry Bennett (73) 11) Ian ‘Slug’ Gregory (26)

2) Henry Dawson (73) 12) Duncan Butler (25)

3) Hannah Bell (50) 13) Anne Vanderplank (24)

4) Mad Phil Rowsell (46) 14) Stu Gardiner (24)

5) Jane Clarke (41) 15) Rich Smith (23)

6) Chris Jewell (38) 16) Louise Bayfield (22)

7) Faye Litherland (37) 17) Helen Warren (21)

8) Bob Smith (34) 18) Tim Ball (21)

9) Rich Bayfield (28) 19) Ruth Allen (19)

10) Barry Lawton (26) 20) Jim Smart (16)

The above information shows that the same people who stay at the hut the most often, are also the ones who visit the hut to stay the most number of times.  For Henry Bennett and Henry Dawson to rack up 73 individual visits each over 22 months, this equates to almost one night per week every week was spent at the hut.  Have these men no homes to go to?  Pleasingly, five of the 2008-9 committee are in the top ten for number of stays with the top four comprising of the current Honorary Secretary, Hut Engineer, Hut Warden and ex Librarian.  It is good to know that those who run the club for everyone are so actively involved in the Mendip scene and are so regularly around the Belfry.  This means that guests staying at the hut have regular active BEC around to show them what a wonderful, vibrant and dynamic club we have!  


In conclusion, my initial belief was correct in that there is a core group of BEC members who regular visit and stay at the Belfry, with another group of members who visit the hut less regular having travelled from further afield.  As only 95 of our 180 plus membership had used the hut during the period, this shows that there is indeed a large number of people who never stay at the belfry.  Interestingly, seven of the top ten people to have stayed at the hut most often live within 15 miles of the Belfry.  It was my initial belief that some of the older members who attend the AGM and Dinner would stay at the hut afterwards for the barrel but I was proved wrong as the majority do not come back to socialise afterwards.  Those who attend the AGM and Dinner and do come back to the hut afterwards are those who also stay at the hut at other times during the year.  Having so many of the current committee so actively using the club facilities on a regular basis is great news in that it means that there are always active, welcoming, knowledgeable members around to meet and greet visitors and introduce them to the BEC!  This can only be good news in increasing our membership levels and in spreading the word about what a wonderful club we have.  I believe that there is nothing worse than regularly staying at a club hut where there are no members around to chat to and to get to know the local  area and caves.  I hope that these statistics prove that we have a good group of members, as well as committee and some trustees, who are regularly around the hut to not only go caving, but also to socialise and welcome the many varied guests we have staying!  I believe they are the ambassadors of our club!

In the next BB – statistics for the last ten years!  Will your name be amongst them?

Bed Nights from March 2006 to December 2009.


Mad Phil 131

Henry Bennett 129

Hannah Bell 83

Henry Dawson 82

Bob Smith 68

Chris Jewell 68

Slug 62

Jane Clarke 48

Helen Warren 47

Stu Gardiner 47

Barry Lawton 46

Duncan Butler 46

Rich Bayfield 45

Ems Heron 44

Faye Litherland 44

Rich Smith 39

Jim Smart 38

Anne Vanderplank 37

Louise Bayfield 35

Ruth Allen 31

Andy Kuszyk 30

Tim Ball 22

Charlotte Harris 21

Crispin Lloyd 21

Mark Stephens 18

Rob Bruce 18

Batspiss 17

White MEG 17

Nick Gymer 16

Maxine Bateman 15

Dave Garman 14

Helen Brooke 14

J Rat 14

John Christie 14

Rich Beer 13

Pete Eckford 12

Andy Norman 11

Ernie White 11

Jo Hardy 11

James Collings 10

Tangent 10

Kate Humphreys 9

Chris Belton 8

Estelle Sandford 8

Ken James 8

Tom Wilson 8

Rhys Davis 7

Ian Holmes 6

Carol Macnamara 5

Claire Footitt 5

Clive Betts 5

James Vile 5

Neil Usher 5

Rich Marlow 5

Steve Footitt 5

Stuart Lindsay 5

Tim Large 5

Dafydd Morris-Jones 4

Dom Gane 4

Gary Cullen 4

Jim Cochrane 4

Mike Wilson 4

Robin Lewando 4

Ron Wyncoll 4

Simon Clow 4

Sue Dukes 4

Viv Brown 4

Martyn Compton 4

Babs Williams 3

Helen Stalker 3

Matt Tuck 3

Phil Romford 3

Batstone 2

Donald Rust 2

Emma Porter 2

John Noble 2

Lil Romford 2

Matt Edwards 2

Olivia Dawson 2

Robin Gray 2

Steve Woolven 2

Sue Gray 2

Alex G 1

Dany Bradshaw 1

Greg Brock 1

Jinni King 1

Kat Denham 1

Paul Christie 1

Pete Bolt 1

Phil Coles 1

Roz Simmonds 1

Stu Sale 1

Toby Maddocks 1

Vince Simmonds 1

Zot 1



BEC Summer BBQ 2009

This year the BEC Summer BBQ took place on the August Bank Holiday weekend.  Around 150 cavers from the BEC as well as other clubs attended the event.  Whilst late afternoon caving games had been planned, the changeable weather and the fact that most people had actually gone digging prevented any activities from taking place.  The tackle store was converted into a bar and opened at 4pm and was manned run by BEC member Brian Bell who did a sterling job pulling the pints and making sure that all caver’s thirsts were quenched.

The BBQ was run as usual by Slug with assistance from Dany.  Hot dogs, burgers, coleslaw, salad and a variety of home made sauces were on offer for the discerning BEC member!

Above: A selection of the 10 barrels of beer on offer.                                Was Wormster’s Special Chilli Mustard too hot?

Music was excellently provided by DJ Martin Compton followed by DJ Mad Phil Rowsell.  Everyone had a good boogie and many a shape was cut on the dance floor by young and older alike.

Left to Right: Babs, Lil Romford, Brian Bell, Brockers,.                           Left to Right: Brockers, Estelle, Mark Denningt

Estelle, Mike Wilson, Rosie Freeman, funky chicken

The dancing and partying continued until dawn with many members not hitting their sleeping bags until gone 5am.  In total 5 barrels of bitter and one barrel of cider were consumed as well as countless burgers and sausages.  

My thanks go to Slug and Dany for catering, Brian Bell for managing the bar and to everyone else who cleaned, tidied, set up or put away.  We all worked together as a team and the weekend was a special one.  Thank you!

Combination pet

For those interested in caving with the "50 Million Friends" and never getting rid of his favourite companion.

Available in several models for: dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, boas, red fish. For an orang-utan take a man size XXXXL.

Model pictured: dog suit (available in model dog with whistles included).

From € 4.99 (model Hamster) to € 3845.00 (model Elephant)

BEC Sponsored Walk for WaterAid


In June 2008 a large group of both young and old BEC attended the Glastonbury Festival together.  It was a highly successful ‘caving holiday’ with much drinking, dancing and singing.  Some members chose to wear caving kit to the festival and we had a Camp BEC complete with club flag.  Then in March 2009 it was announced in the newspapers that there would be a sponsored walk from Priddy Green to the Glastonbury Festival site to support the charity WaterAid.  WaterAid provide both education on hygiene, as well as build wells, for impoverished people in third world countries.  For a gift of just £15 WaterAid can provide one person in Africa or Asia with a lasting supply of safe, clean water, sanitation and hygiene education.   The walk was announced as “Water Walk” and would take place on the 10th May.  After much nagging your scribe rallied a team of 5 BEC to take part on a walk which would be 10.75 miles in length and cover a large section of the Monarch’s Way.  By the day of the walk the team had already gathered over £200 in sponsorship money.

The morning of the 10th May dawned bright and clear in spite of the night before having been spent in the Hunters!  Faye Litherland, Barry Lawton, Jo Hardy, Rich Smith, Ruth Allen and I (Hannah Bell) arrived on Priddy Green for the 9am start only to be told that the route had now been extended to 12 miles!  With press photographers poised for interesting stories we dispatched Barry back to the hut to collect the BEC flag in order to make ourselves more noticeable.  Ironically the first mile of the walk was along the road almost back to the Belfry before turning over the fields towards Templeton.  The sun was warm, the wind light and the company merry.  After just over an hour we arrived in Wells for a short lunch stop.  Below is a picture of the group on our descent into Wells.

After Wells the walk continued through woodland into the village of North Wootton before descending into the village of Pilton.  It was at this point that we lost the correct path and ended up walking more than a mile south of Pilton making our walk more likely to have been 13 or even 14 miles in total length!

We crossed the finish line tired but elated that we had stuck together and all finished the walk.  Our time to complete the route had been five hours excluding our lunch stop.  Whilst we had not beasted it, we had made steady progress along the walk, finishing somewhere in the middle of all the walkers.  At the finish line was Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis and an ice-cream van.  So exhausted and tired were we that we completely ignored Michael and the swarm of press photographers and instead rushed to get Mr Whippy 99 Flakes from the van.  The strawberry sauce was divine!  We then had to wait almost two hours for a bus back to Priddy.

Some sponsorship came through after the event but I am pleased to confirm that Team BEC raised £295.64 (including gift aid) which whilst small is still significant and will make a lasting difference to those without basic water and sanitation.  A huge thanks goes to both the walkers who took part and those who kindly sponsored us.  


Majorca 2008






In early 2008 I decided I wanted sun, sand, sea, surf, sangria and speleology.  Luckily several other BEC I spoke to in the Hunters wanted the same thing.  The English weather had resulted in a washed out summer in 2007 and 2008 was likely to go the same way.   Having been on a caving expedition to Ibiza with Southampton University Caving Club in 2003 (no clubbing – the trip was with Christian Teetotallers alas but we did find cave!) I turned my attention to the other limestone covered Balearic islands.  This was when I stumbled upon a website selling caving and canyoning trips in Majorca.  Pricy and tacky I decided to organise my own  BEC trip to Majorca and only weeks after advertising had 12 members signed up as well as the odd Cardiff and Nottingham University caver.   In total 14 cavers travelled out to Majorca between 6th and 20th September 2008 with the express intention of finding cave and jumping down some major canyons.

Whilst a large amount of research had been conducted before the trip on the caves and canyons, unfortunately only a very limited amount of written material in English exists.  Luckily Kate Humphreys arrived on the third day with a printed copy of come cave descriptions, unfortunately to our misfortune the print out was not stapled together.   Our first whole group caving trip was to reach the Cueva Con Sion which according to the survey was a 30 minute walk from the car up a short mountain forestry track, just outside of the village of Campanet in the North of the island.  The survey print out said that full SRT kit was needed.  After two hours climbing up the mountain we finally found the cave at the bottom of a small cliff.  Everyone eagerly kitted up and in we went.  However after over an hour of exploring no pitches could be found although the size and shape of the cave formations were breathtaking.  Feeling very confused, after some more hunting for the way on, we left the cave.  It was only back at the villa that we realised that we had picked up the first page of the location of Cueva Con Sion and the internal description of a cave the other side of the island.  Next time we remembered to check the page numbers on the print out!

Below: Henry Dawson examining the Salt Crystal Pool, Cuevas Santa Maria, Majorca.

Above: BEC Girlies ready for Canyon Action (Left Jinni King, Right Kate Humphreys).

Another day was wasted trying to find two caves which since our cave descriptions had been written had been built over by trashy coastal hotel complexes.  We did visit the Cueva Santa Maria which was a large pothole into which early Christians had built two small chapels for safe pray during the Moorish control of the island.  Behind both alters we spotted small dark voids.  As none of us were particularly God fearing we decided to push through to see what we could find.  Alas we did not find Hades or the Stix but we did find some amazing floating salt crystals in large shallow pools, a wide column and lots of bat guano.

Whilst we broke into groups to go on various cave finding and canyoning trips we all undertook the Torrent de Baix together in a fast and a slower team.  This canyon is entered just outside the village of Carmari in the Northwest of the island beside a small arched road bridge.  The guide book said the trip would take a fit person 2-3 hours but even the fast group took 6 hours to complete the 6km route.  The vertical range was just under 400 metres with 17 pitches ranging from just a few metres to the last few which were around 10 – 16 metres in height.  This was a very good canyon for those new to the sport and was very pretty with amazing views towards the Northern coast and villages below.  All but the last couple of pitches were bone dry although according to the guide book it 

Above: Scrambling down the Torrent de Parias – a canyon with 300 metre high cliffs ending in the sea.

is a raging torrent in Winter and Spring.  The bottom of the canyon ended in a ten metre high dam which had to be climbed over. We all missed the stone cut steps and tried to scramble over loose boulders to the top before noticing the easier route.  Everything to excess as they say!  After the dam the way out to the car should have been through a gate on the river bank.  However after much searching we found no gate only a style into a farmer’s field.  We could hear the bark of large dogs nearby so decided to turn our lights off and walk across the field in search of the car.  The field ended next to a large villa complete with barking dogs.  Henry Dawson used hypnosis worthy of Crocodile Dundee to woo the dogs over and we all legged it through the villa complex and onto a road towards the cars.  It turned out that we had exited the river too early.

As well as caving and canyoning a large amount of snorkling and some diving was also undertaken.  After much exploration all over the island we can all recommend the Cala Carbo beach at Cala Sant Vincent to be the best for fish and sea life (Having revisited the area this year I again found this area to be best for snorkling).   There were noticeable underwater resurgences around both sides of the cove which produced very cold water and haloclines when swimming through them.  It would be interesting to find out whether anyone has dived these to any great depth!

All in all it was a very successful caving holiday although I cannot call it an expedition as we unfortunately found no new cave passage but this was not for want of trying.  We visited the two show caves Cuevas Del Drach (overpriced) and the Coves de Campanet (value for money).  Whilst on the trip one member turned 21 and another turned 22.  We also celebrated JRat’s wake with the consumption of vast qualities of Sangria.  The age range of those on the trip ranged from 19 to 43 and it was nice to have a variety of people including students, engineers, the unemployed and salesmen as it created a diverse group of BEC members.  My thanks go to Mike Wilson for supplying a large amount of information about Majorca before the trip as well as to everyone who took part  for making it so special.  All the information recorded on the trip including corrections to the printed cave surveys will reside in the BEC library for future cavers to use.

Above: Final Meal Out. 

Trip Members Left to Right: Graham Whelan (CUCC), Hannah Bell, Henry Bennett, Rhys Davies, Kate Humphreys, Charlotte Harris, Faye Litherland, Ralph Delaney (NUCC), Siobhan Jenkins, James Vile, Henry Dawson, Maxine Bateman, Jinni King. Missing – Paul Lever.


DD helmet (like Sustainable Development) 

DESCRIPTION: After the transition to electric lighting diodes which permit the emission of CO2 and smoke, this is the ultimate environmental change. This headset is surprisingly: helmet fibre biodegradable vegetable origin (from cake cereal Bio processed by an ultra-secret process), accessories colored with natural pigments (carmine cochineal, blueberry juice, saffron), chin strap Bio linen, harness natural latex (from plantations 'Bio rubber), photovoltaic cells, the latest generation high performance, coupled with wind cell battery without heavy metals. Weight: nc

PRINCIPLE: cells recover 30% of the energy used by lighting diode and their stand is removable by a clip (which is identical to that of the lamp). In turn, the wind turbine also produces electricity. Maximum efficiency in case of large air flow during the rapid descent of pitches and when you run into major galleries. The mast of the turbine is telescopic (from 15 to 40 cm) to take advantage of the best drafts and folds back to ease through narrow passages plus the rotor blades are flexible for greater longevity. Leave your helmet in the full sun or wind while you dress and travel to the entrance of the cave, then when underground enjoy over 100 hours of light totally free and with no impact on the environment.

€ 1345.90 helmet equipped, 100% recyclable, guaranteed 20 years and 0% carbon equivalent. Comes with a voucher for 5 free sessions of physiotherapy and osteopathy (massages and realignments of the cervical vertebrae).

OPTION: € 15.00 that allows the crank to get the extra light for long expeditions in narrow zones and little broken. Connects to the base of the turbine after déclipsage thereof: 30 towers will give you 2 hours of additional light.

Note: Deduct 35.00 € ecological bonus (see terms in-store)





Who stole our Bat?

On October 18th last year one of the BEC’s historical signs was crudely ripped off the entrance porch wall. The Belfry was reasonably busy that weekend with a couple of student groups staying. There were BEC members in the student groups and extensive questioning soon turned up that they knew nothing about the incident and were definitely not involved. 

Our suspicions are that it was nicked by a early morning raid by person(s) unknown who were not staying at the hut. Several clues soon surfaced on the AditNow and UKcaving forums. A long search was conducted over several months which led to trips down Box where it was reportedly seen and investigations of the forum posters. Unfortunately nothing has turned up.

The sign in question is not the one that was recovered from the burnt Belfry which is still hanging in the hallway but a similar looking sign as shown in the picture. It may be the sign hanging on the Belfry shown above.

If anyone hears any news about this we’d be very interested. 

A message to the perpetrator – The BEC is a peace loving club – Rest In Peace! We have not forgotten.

So Long

Producing the BB is a labour of love. Over the last three years Nick Harding has done a sterling job as editor. Getting the BB out the door requires many many hours of dedication for each issue. I suspect it works out at well over half an hour a page. On top of all that it requires good document skills and the ability to big up the membership to produce articles.

It would be really good to get back to regime where the club is producing Bulletins at least every couple of months.  However it won’t happen by just relying on new editor to push this through.  The club needs all of you to think what you can contribute. Been on an expedition?  Done something out of the ordinary? Been pushing cave, mines or the boundaries of sobriety that is worthy of comment?  Let’s have your articles and high resolution full colour photos so that together we can have a BB we are all proud of.

I’d like to wish the new Editor every success.

Finally – the digging shovel – oh yes....it will be ours! Happy explorations!

Henry Bennett



Cover Photo: Tony “Jrat” Jarratt in his element- photo by Andy Chamberlain

Ave Cavers!

altThe last time I was in Jrat’s company I was sat precariously on the bonnet of his landrover bouncing across a field to see the new Wigmore 10 ‘entrance’ shaft - or at least the pipes in the ground as it was at that stage, to Young Blood’s. This was after a beer or two at the Hunters of course. While Audsley, Richards and I stared down the 10m deep freshly lined hole, our voices echoing in that oddly hollow way down the tube, Jrat remained in the landrover, his breathing difficult. But you all know, as well as I, that he would have been thinking about that new dig and the possibilities and who-knows-what-adventures awaited the explorers in the years ahead. He also knew that he would not be there to see what lay beneath but he would have accepted that fact with humility and that fatalistic approach he took to life. Nothing less than courageous in my book.

Less than a week later he was gone.

It will be very odd never to see him again in the Hunters or spy the familiar Red Land Rover bouncing across a field or hurtling down one of the lanes around Priddy and frankly, this is the hardest thing - I can’t believe he’s gone. Rana, Meghalaya, Caine Hill, and a thousand other locations will also miss him, indeed the whole of the caving world. His memory will be with all of us every time we venture underground and I’m sure numerous discoveries in the future will be named in honour of the man. We just have to keep digging to make sure this happens.  

I feel privileged to be among the very many who knew him.

Dig on Jrat…There’s always a beer in for you at the Hunters 

Yer Ed.

Club Officers

Committee Members

Secretary Henry Bennett (1079)
Treasurer Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary Ian Gregory (1123)
Hut Warden Hannah Bell (1295)
Hut Engineer Henry Dawson (1313)
Caving Secretary Toby Maddocks (1310)
Tacklemadam Faye Litherland (1331)
Editor Nick Harding (1289)
Floating Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275), Stuart Gardiner (1347)

Non-Committee Posts

BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)
Auditor Chris Smart
Club Archivist Mike Wheadon and John “Tangent” Williams

Club Trustees:

Martin Grass (790), Phil Romford (985), Nigel Taylor (772) and Mike Wilson (1130)


Tony Jarratt – The Early Years

By Stuart McManus


alt I think it speaks for itself with the number of people who are here to-day, just how popular, respected and quite frankly loved Tony, “JRAT” was. I think it’s true to say that everyone who met Jrat liked him.

I have known Tony for over 40 years when as schoolboys, we were introduced by Dave Yeandle at the Axbridge Caving Group Hut in 1967, where we became firm friends.

It is not possible to cover even a small part of Tony’s lifetime of cave exploration here today as a caver for over 44 years and logging 11,481 hours underground. All his trips faithfully recorded in 15 wonderful logbooks.

So I thought that I would just cover what started, I think, as fairly humble caving beginnings to become one of Britain’s caving legends and possibly one of the world’s top cave explorers – as Goon said Tony is of international standing, caving has lost one of its greats.  

Tony started caving when he was 14, as he said “a Naïve 14-year old Brummie school-kid” who cycled with his mates to the dangerously unstable but very impressive limestone mines in the Black Country town of Dudley, they used hand torches and hurricane lamps – but records that at least he had a pressed fibre miner’s helmet given to him by his uncle Glyn Thomas a Collier from Tredegar.

His inspiration to go caving was “How Underground Britain is Explored” (Showell Styles) which he unearthed in Saltley Grammar School library, and from watching dramatic cave rescues on black and white TV. His mother regularly stated that he would not have a motorbike or go potholing! Which Tony records was wrong on both counts.

Tony’s parents moved to Congresbury in 1965 and in the July, he went to Nailsea Grammar school. Whilst at school he found a like-minded person in Steve Shepstone, and together they explored some of the Mendip caves. They both joined the EGONS (Exploration Group of North Somerset) when as he says his real caving career started, with endless visits to Burrington Combe and even the Ystradfellte area, in those days reached by car ferry and a fairly remote place when compared to today. He added Eastwater, Stoke Lane and Swildon’s to his list of caves visited, climbing the Forty Foot Pot in Swildons on the 3rd July 1966 and as he put it “was now committed to a cold, wet, muddy and totally absorbing future in the world’s entrails in company with some of the craziest characters on the planet”!

Digging was in his blood from a very early stage of his caving career, he records “On the 4th February 1967 he commenced his first dig, in the Water Chamber of Goatchurch Cavern and was able to see into a small stream passage with a small decorated chamber above.
This was eventually reached in July and though only tiny, its exploration proved to be the nail in the coffin of normality and a life now dedicated to digging grotty holes in unpromising and obscure places throughout the land”.

In September 1967 he commenced digging with the Axbridge first Nettle hole and then in the adjacent depression of “Foot and Crutch Pot”, entering the cave in June 1968. Subsequent extensions prompted the renaming of the caves as Ubley Warren Pot in September of 68.

Tony and Dick Pike were interviewed on BBC TV in Bristol by Nicholas Tresilian on the 9th September 1968 about the cave discovery! Tony earning five pounds five shillings for the interview or £5.25p in new money. That was about 60 pints of Ben Dors beer at the time, not bad for 20 mins work!

Caving and dig prospecting continued, recording in his logs his observations on potential digs and leads in any cave he went in. It was obvious that doing the tourist bits was just not enough!

On Boxing Day 1969 Tony had his first cave dive, with Alan Mills, he records “Al taught me how to use the kit (40 and Orca) dived through sump 1 and the ducks and sump II. Due to cold and my not being able to grip the gag properly with no teeth (he had recently had all his teeth removed in just two dentist sessions as a condition of joining the Ordnance Survey, this was due to gum disease and not a torture for joining the Civil service! 

He finishes by saying, Superb …will start diving properly in the new year!

Tony joined the Ordnance Survey and after training to be a surveyor was posted to Shropshire in 1970, which allowed him to rekindle his interest in mines in the area as well as continuing to cave, dig and cave dive in Derbyshire, Wales and Mendip.

December 1971 saw Tony’s first trip to Ireland and County Clare, sampling the delights of O’Connor’s bar and the caves of county Clare. He records that the Dublin birds are tremendous!

In 1972 Tony, as a Wessex member with Pete Moody and a strong band of divers discovered and extended Desolation Row above Victoria Aven in Swildon’s Twelve.  Unfortunately, this was not to lead to the bypass to sump 12 as they all hoped.

In 1973 whilst still living and working in north Wales, he was instrumental in digging in to Ogof  Hesp Alyn, which turned in to the biggest cave find in north Wales.

Tony was posted to Scotland by the OS in 1975 and I’ll leave Goon to talk about Tony’s efforts in Scotland, which as usual were extensive!

Tony Joined the BEC in July 1977. In the same month Tony gathered a team to commence the digging of Wigmore Swallet. The results of their mammoth efforts in this cave are well known.

From 1977 Tony’s areas for caving and digging stretched the full length of the country until he left the OS and took over Bat Products from Phil and Lil Romford. At this point Tony was in his element, he could concentrate on digging on Mendip, with the holiday trips to Scotland and of course the annual trips to Meghalaya in India, to name but a few.

He became a MRO warden in 1983 and only stepped down in 2007.

Tony’s life was caving; he was also renowned for welcoming and encouraging new people to caving. Many people have told me if it weren’t for Tony I would never have gone caving or joined a Club. These are the next generation of cavers and he involved them all in his projects and hence why there are so many cavers here today.

On seeing him in Hospital straight after the diagnosis of his lung cancer I asked him again something we talked about over 25 years ago, did he have any regrets, and as I expected he repeated what he had said then “if I die tomorrow I’d have no regrets I have met such a great bunch of people, done and seen a lot, no I don’t regret anything.

I think the final stage of his life confirmed to me and I am sure to all of you, his strength of Character, after his Chemotherapy he went home to carry on as best he could, and wouldn’t let the prognosis get in the way of sorting out his life, organising diggers, going to his own wake and so on  - Absolutely fantastic! 

I think you would all agree he was an inspiration to us all and was quite frankly typical Jrat.

An extract from Tony’s 14th Logbook I think really sums him up:

“The rest of July then becomes somewhat epic, with no work getting done in Caine Hill due to lack of personnel, a couple of very promising extensions being made above the downstream end of Wigmore Swallet and my diagnosis with incurable lung cancer. The latter at this stage in time is not painful so life carries on as best as possible. Dave (Tuska) Morrison suggested on the 4th August 08 to start a new Hymac dig and instantly I suggested trying to get a new entrance in to Wigmore. Dave having just lost his wife we are both in low spirits and this is the obvious cure!  I’m on deaths bloody door and organising a major dig! Unbelievable!”

Home Close Hole was created.

Even when he finally returned to hospital for what was the final time, and we were discussing the aerial shots of Home Close we had taken with him, he asked me to go to the Hunters on the Wednesday night and check on how many bags the diggers had taken out of Caine Hill. Tangent was a little reluctant to tell me I recall, and when I returned the following evening even though Tony found it very hard to talk, he again asked how many bags were taken out, I told him I couldn’t get a straight answer, and I asked him what punishment I should give them if the team had not removed at least 20 bags each, – 10 lashes each said Jrat with a broad grin!

I think you’ll agree we have lost one incredible friend but he has left a lasting legacy with the digs and cave sites both here on Mendip and throughout the land.

Tony Jarratt – India

By Simon Brooks



Right - Jrat going native in Meghalaya

I first met Tony, or ‘Jrat’ as he was most commonly known, in 1983/4 whilst caving on Mendip.  We got along well right from the start sharing a common interest in caving.  Moving to Derbyshire in 1986 I saw him less frequently, usually on forays south both to drink in the Hunters (AKA The Centre of the Universe) and of course to go caving.   It was in Jrat’s shop ‘Bat Products’ in 1990 that I met one of my cave diving colleagues, Rob Harper, who said he was interested in going somewhere different to explore caves and he asked me.  ‘Where would you like to go to find caves where no one else has been.  Meghalaya in northeast India I replied.  There is a 1km long river cave there and rumours of lots more, the only problem is that I is essentially a no go area regarding access.   Rob contacted me again a month and insisted that I should go to Meghalaya and take him with me.  Suffice to say after much letter writing etc 20 month after that we were in Meghalaya for the first time exploring some fine new caves.   When we returned the Meghalaya trip was hot news on Mendip and subsequent years saw large expeditions finding more and more cave.  Jrat had plenty of experience in International Cave Exploration and liked the sound of Meghalaya.  In 1997 he joined us for the first time and immediately fell under the spell of India and Meghalaya.

Unlike the more traditional expeditions we arrived in Shillong the capital of Meghalaya and went straight to the home of Brian Kharphran Daly our contact in Shillong.  Brian is the secretary of the Meghalaya Adventurers Association with whom the Meghalaya, Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Exploration Project had been working in partnership with since 1994.  As we sat in Brian’s sitting room discussing and planning the next months cave exploration and drinking bottles of ‘Asia 72’, or was it ‘He Man Bitter’, I can’t remember.  Jrat in a well ‘Asia 72 state’ beamed across the room and said.  “This is bloody fantastic, here we are in a little known part of India sitting in Brian’s front room with the cream of Indian caving discussing the caving activities for the month ahead”.  Jrat was hooked.  Needless to say Jrat went on to perform faultlessly later that evening when on returning to our hotel it was noticed that Jrat was missing.  “What” I exclaimed to his erstwhile minders (who for the purpose of today will remain nameless) “you have lost him, what am I going to say to the British Deputy High Commission”, Anyway, a quick search outside on the streets of Shillong soon found Jrat.  Who was sat down next to a small fire of street debris with a bunch of bemused Meghalaya Wino’s sharing their hooch whilst an also bemused pair of Indian Military Police Officers looked on not really knowing what do.  Apologising profusely for not taking good care of our colleague we rapidly removed him and took him back to the hotel.

This ability for Jrat to engage with the local people was a key feature of his time in Meghalaya.  In the Jaintia Hill on the Shnongrim Ridge where Jrat spent the last 8 expeditions exploring the many caves Jrat liked nothing more than to join the locals on reconnaissance trips looking for new cave entrances.  Jrat fastidiously collected much information about the caves, legends attached to each cave, who the guides were etc and as a result he became very good friends with many of the local Shnongrim Ridge inhabitants.  Each year they would welcome him into their homes.  Jrat responded by always welcoming them to join him and others around the campfire a share a beer (or several).  As the evenings grew old the discussions switched from caves to local legend and folklore and then onto the surreal.

It was this genuine interest and love for both the land and the local people of Meghalaya that endeared Jrat to Shnongrim Villagers and the many other people he met during the course of each caving expedition.  In 2004 this mutual respect was superbly summed up in a letter that was written to Tony Jarratt (or Mr Tonny as he was know) and the expedition team by Menda Syih (Propastor of Shnongrim Village) on behalf of the villagers, who said:

“Sirs, We would like to express our gratitude for your coming to our place and for your ability to mingle with us as friends.  So before you leave this place we have nothing to give you but only these few words “We wish you a happy journey and reach home safely.  Give our regards to your family members and friends.  We do hope and pray you come back next year.  Thank you.” 
Jrat was fascinated with the Shnongrim Ridge as a caving area having been involved in its exploration right from the very start.  As each year’s caving expedition uncovered yet more wonderful cave passage and new caves, not to mention the linking of one cave to another.  Jrat was convinced that many could be linked to create the magical 100 km long cave system.  As blank areas on the map become filled with cave Jrat always had a long list of ‘caving things to do’ that he would present me with at the start of each expedition.  These lists often became the focus of much of the exploration activity and lead to some impressive finds.  By the end of the 2008 Expedition (the expeditions and Jrat’s 8th year on ‘the Ridge’) one of the cave systems, the magnificent Liat Phah – UmIm-Labbit had grow to over 30 kms in length and is indeed a fitting tribute to the inspiration and motivation that Jrat provided to his fellow cavers on the Meghalaya expeditions.

Jrat eagerness to collect the local names for the caves and any legends etc associated with them did also have a downside.  Namely that at the end of each year we were always updating the Cave Registry of the Caves of Meghalaya.  Depending on whom Jrat spoke to or shared a beer (or several) with around the campfire the spelling of names would change one way one year and back again the next.

Living in Derbyshire and having an interest in farming in Devon I would often call in at the Hunters on my way down to Devon in order to see Jrat and discuss and plan future activities in India.  The discussions in the pub would invariably continue at Jrat’s home.  A process that was facilitated by reasonable quantities of beer (often India Beer brought in for the occasion by either Jrat or myself) or whatever else Jrat had lying around – we weren’t fussed.  Needless to say our social gatherings often concluded in the wee hours and always resulted in a ‘later than planned’ start for both of us the following day.  Jrat was frequently late opening the shop and I was late in getting down to the farm.  So much so that if the farm was aware I was stopping of in Mendip to ‘Discuss Cave Exploration in India etc’ then they always made sure someone else was available to feed cattle or see sheep as I clearly could not be relied on.  The positive side to this was that forays to India were always well inspired, planned and though out.

Jrat’s timing as always, was par excellent.  During his involvement in India he inspired everyone and effectively ‘saw the ridge out’ as we went there in 2000 and our last year on the ridge was this year (2008) as next year we move on to pastures new.

Jrat both inspired and touched all whom he met.  This was due to his single-minded energy and enthusiasm and the way in which he respected and got involved with everyone especially the local Meghalaya people.  I will now read the following Message of Condolence letter from our friends in Shillong that is indeed a fine testimony to Mr Jarratt’s life and the fantastic contribution he made to caving in India.

The message of condolence from Shillong was then read…



Tony Jarratt. 1949 – 2008.

by Simon Hughes


I first met Tony Jarratt at the far famed Cwmystwyth Mine on the 1st of May 1971. Our bunch (the North Cards Mining Club) had found a winze going down below Taylor’s Adit that ought to have connected to the eastern parts of Level Fawr, beyond the soft ground, but we needed about 100 feet of electron ladder. Tony had managed to borrow this from the Wessex and brought some assistance – John Alder, Roy Q, and John Savage. Sadly there was only about a quarter of a mile of Level Fawr that was accessible and the Kingside Adit, about 90 feet below that, was totally flooded. At this time he was living in a caravan in Newtown and working for the Ordnance Survey.

Three weeks later he returned to Cwmystwyth with Alan Mills and Ken James, from Bristol, to dive the flooded inclined shaft, sunk below Level Fawr, and the flooded adit known as Level y Ffordd, neither of which revealed much.

We developed a good friendship, and regularly went down mines whilst he was based in Newtown, an area devoid of caves. In the September of 1971 he, and John Savage, dragged me over to the Knotlow mine en route to the BCRA. A little later, we carried his diving gear into the Talybont mines so that a flooded winze could be examined. Again, acting as his Sherpa’s, we visited the Goginan Incline on the 5th of May 1974 and had an epic trip where everything that could go wrong, did so. Some weeks later there was a three-day return visit to the Goginan area when we camped on the dumps in glorious sunshine and spent the evenings in the Druid Inn.

In the early 1970s considerable advances were being made in extending the caves in north Wales, particularly Ogof Hesp Alyn, where we met up again for a rescue practice in the July of 1974, and later got ejected from yet another pub.

I also have a vivid memory of the Sheffield conference (1975?) where he persuaded me to return home on the Sunday evening rather than leave early on Monday and go straight to work. It was a dreadful journey and took hours longer than it should have. When I got up the next morning, the radio kept announcing grim news of multiple pile-ups in fog on the motorway. Had I not heeded Tony’s advice, that afternoon, I’m sure that I would have become involved in one of these.

Our last trip together was in 1975 at the Cyffty Mine near Llanrwst (where there used to be a good lock-in at the New Inn) when we assisted Neil Weston and Sion Scheltinga in recovering a huge Tangye Cornish steam pump that Sion later cleaned up and loaned to the Llywernog Mining Museum.
Having performed his duties in mid Wales, the Survey moved him up to Scotland in 1975 and I remember him complaining bitterly that if they moved him any further north that he’d drown. Despite being a good diver, he couldn’t swim without the gear! However, he soon acquainted himself with the Grampian cavers and always made the most of any environment in which he was based. After several years in Scotland he went off to Africa for a few years and we lost regular contact.

Tony was a very widely known, well-liked character, with whom I had some real laughs and mammoth piss-ups. Possibly the most memorable of these being when Tony, Sulo Sulonen (aka Paul Frost), Jim Cobbett and I decided to go to a Chinese restaurant after the 1971 BCRA conference in Nottingham. This seemed like a good idea and a few other lads tagged along. Jarratt bursts into the restaurant and commands “A table for 50”, at which the staff snap to, push the tables together, and 50 half pissed cavers are accommodated in moments. Stragglers drift in over the course of the evening and are also accommodated, passers by recognise us from the conference and drop in. Jarratt, at the head of the table, takes on the role admirably and as the evening progresses, the whole restaurant takes on a bizarre air along the lines of  “The last supper”. (Sulo fell to his death on the following weekend).

Several hours later, and after the demolition of a shed load of beer, the manager turns up with a bill for seven hundred and something pounds. Jarratt insists, “Separate bills”. Manager goes spare and some people are now on the verge of leaving. The waiters congregate by the door for fear of anyone doing a runner. Several whip-rounds were needed to come close to the sum.

Jarratt was also a maestro at finding places to doss down the night. From ’71 to ’74, he was often to be found on my settee. The strangest place that I ever dossed with him was in “Harpic’s dad’s greenhouse” in Sheffield after another BCRA meeting (1974?). Every bed in the house was full and there was even a local lass doing a brisk business in the bathroom.  Other seasoned co-dossers of note were P.B. Smith, Martin Bishop, Jim Smart, Nigel Burns and Tony Oldham all of whom were most adept at finding a place to get their heads down for the night.

It must also be said that we were regularly ejected from a host of pubs for singing from his vast collection of lewd songs. No night’s entertainment was ever complete without Jarratt giving his rendering of “Sweet Chariot”, frequently using a table as a stage. Once seen, never forgotten.......................................

He will be greatly missed.

Simon Hughes. 5th Sept 2008.

This was not read at the funeral but will be for the memorial at the Priddy Village Hall on Saturday 15th November 2008


For Caine Hill!

titleAs so often on retiring to the Queen Vic for a ‘libation or two…’, our conversation traversed a terrain that was as well worn and grooved as the glorious gruffy ground itself. All the while, empty pint glasses piled up around us like so many stacks of miners deads.

Then sometime this summertime, on a late Thursday lunchtime, we rested and refreshed from overseeing the newly made excavation of Holme Close Hole near Wigmore. After extolling the events of this excavation, our conversation once more settled upon an in depth consideration of Mendip lead mining. This surprised me because over the preceding weeks I had pondered, and possibly even partly rehearsed all that I might say to Tony given the chance to have yet another pint sat alongside him, there at the Centre of the Universe. However such sentiments remained unspoken. Sentences suspended in deference to the dynamics of dying departing days, maybe to be uttered in another moment, maybe not.

Instead we delighted in debating the details of Stocks House shaft with its Ancients’ and artefacts, its damp and dangerous diggings, its shotholes and serpentine swallets. The conversation reached its natural conclusion. The Hunters’ was shutting. Tony turned to me and said with a smile;

“You know Tangent…it was only you and me that truly appreciated that dig.”

I replied, suggesting that I thought Trevor too was a keen proponent of the place, but halted and met Tony’s hand sealing his statement with our habitual hearty handshake. Something that we held always in readiness for moments like this; of mutual agreement, inspiration, keen observation,  or most sacred of all an actual breakthrough…

With that we went Land Roving across Mendip to keep on digging for a few days more…

Good luck Tony. For Caine Hill!


Jrat’s Song

I’ll sing you a song of a caver I know
Who spends all his time in the dark down below
Though he never worries he does have one fear
That he’s late for the pub and dips out on his beer

Now Jrat liked digging and enjoyed a good thrutch
So he tried Nettle Hole and then joined foot and crutch
With a roar of delight he gave three mighty cheers
Then went off to the pub just to sink a few beers

He broke through in Tyning’s past porridge like clay
It got bigger and better till he called it a day
Then in his landrover, he knew where to steer
‘Twas back to the Hunters and a few pints of beer

Now Wigmore was slow, the spoil built a good wall
It seemed that we never would break through at all
But he kept on going and dug there for years
And when he broke through well he had a few beers

With Fred down in Cowsh he crawled into shit
But found it was cleaner across in White Pit
Though at Priddy Green Sink he got in Swildon’s rear
And came out the front entrance in time for a beer

There was Stockhouse, Five Buddles and a Rose on the brink
But the pride of them all was in Hunters Lodge Sink
Where he found bones of Bison and female reindeer
And its rumoured the sump there was filled with stale beer

Now up north in August he dug Rana shaft
He knew that beneath him was a wonderful draught
He’d searched for Belhaven for eleven long years
And the cave that he found was as good as the beer

From the Dachstein to Mexico, down to Peru
Or in Meghalaya he’s sure to break through
You surely will know him if you’ve worn caving gear
So let’s join our mate Jrat and have a few beers
Snab. 2008  Tune: Pub With No Beer 



There is a green place not far away they call the Mendip Hills,
Where in there lies a secret, under that which the farmer tills.
A rocky chasm buried deep, and in near silence too,
Save the eerie tinkling, of crystal clear water passing through.

Occasionally the clarity of this meandering stream, or pool,
Is disturbed and clouded by diggers using a trusty rusting tool,
For some way back or is it closer someone’s doing that,
Tis likely a Mendip digging party, egged on by its mentor, Jrat.

The master cave it was his wish, a worthy noble dream,
To dig them holes some deep, most dirty, even those that were clean,
But sadly now the time has come to lay at rest his well-worn shovel,
Though from where he is, I can scent, he can SEE that final tunnel.

So don’t give up you Mendip crew his tireless efforts were for you,
His guiding light will shine ahead through Mendips slimy, oft smelly goo
For sure enough by digging hard, in watery bows and muddy sink,
Someone will prod, or bang, or dive and find Jrat’s   the master link

Stuart Lindsay

In One Pair Of Eyes

By Stuart Lindsay

The date…. November 14th –16th 2008.
The location…….  The RATFEST.    Priddy,  MENDIPS hills
The event…………….A CELEBRATION…...folklore BORN.

In an expanse of time, an individual’s passing is but a minute in the history of Mendip.  This minute is threefold; this minute is NOW, is also the LAST minute of the past and the FIRST minute of the future. A minute past is a minute lost, and so we have..  In terms of time, Jrats passing, his minute, of some 40 plus years of endeavour, vision, excitement, near catastrophe and an insatiable desire to ensure that local economies did not go into decline by trying to drink most of them dry, will no doubt be the substance of folklore, if it isn’t already.  Like Balch before him, Jrat came, he saw, he explored, he noted, he learned (sometimes with near dire consequence), and most of all he shared, the giving and the taking!,  and  he encouraged. This article is written by one pair of eyes, but was witnessed by the eyes of many, but doubtless they will all have a story to tell.

This item is, and is not, about Jrat. His life and times will be told by many others, this item is more about the Jrat of the Rat fest, his celebration.  My weekend started Friday, again like many others, got my pit sorted out, had a snack and wandered off through the mist to the HUNTERS…Tony’s favourite watering hole. At 8 o’clock you could get a pint, have a chat, get another pint, have a chat, even hear what they were talking about down the other end of the bar.  “ Next couple of boulders and we are into miles of new passage.” (Ho ho ho).  By 9 o’ clock you had to queue a bit for beer, and repeat more loudly your conversation, by 10 it was a lost cause, people in the car park, queues at the bar and 110db and rising as more and faces joined more and more faces, It was like the 70’s all over again. AND so it was the Rat Fest had started.

Scrounging lifts or walking, as closing time drew close, people dispersed to get even more rat arsed, and either fell over or fell into their pit, .for tomorrow was digging morning, and village hall morning, or caving morning.  BANG BANG BANG, it’s ok I squeaked, throat not yet lubricated, I am awake, for it was only Mr Batstone getting me up, I’d kipped in my van. It was 0800 hrs, coffee biscuits and soon, the seconded few were winging it to the village hall, shepherded from the Belfry by the matronly Jane, !  It was cold, it was damp it was windy, as someone commented the old bugger has a funny way of showing his gratitude for what we are doing, lousy fluffy duck weather!  Any way what did it matter, we were all hardened cavers, and in some instances, “were” was the keyword!  Marquees up, wind defeated, bar the occasional indiscrete rasp!,  and most zoomed off for their chosen activity of the day. A quick brush round inside and around the Marquees, was deemed a good idea, keep most of the dirty feet off the hall floor. But like a well-orchestrated Jrat boulder dig perched over a fifty-foot pot, 5lbs of bang in place, not all good things have the desired ending. The afternoon short route from North Hill to the hall, in thick mist and lovely long wet grass, and super clean boots………ended in a 20 foot paddle through ankle deep super soopy glooopy poooopy, and long grass when needed?, none to be seen. HOWEVER, visitors to the gents must have thought the Greeks were in? ! ? the waste towel  bin was full of brown stained “recycled” hand towels,   vindaloo   vindaloo   vindaloo.

Anyway BACK to the morning, after seeing a sneak preview of the forthcoming nights entertainment got back to the Belfry to change into some digging clothes My chosen digortunity was Caine Hill, I cycled to Caine Hill from the belfry.  Some of the more endangered of the caving species may even recollect cycling   on trips to do a bit of caving in their more youthful years?? Before real cars were invented! (Didn’t cycle back though, stuck the bike in Mad Fi’s Doblo and got a lift). Caine Hill, down the manhole cover, and ladies, face packs are FREE. Trev is at the top, notebook out, added to the list, he comments, “got a few down, now you are here we can start pulling em out”. Bags, that is. Trev commented, I’ll stay at the top got me better clobber on, just put my oversuit over it, and should be OK pulling up. Moving on, as this is not a caving report, just to say, we did our bit, kept on digging and pulled out 90 bags. Super effort all Caine Hill diggers, well done.

Jumped out of Fi’s Doblo, and hastily transformed from a muddy scruff, cadged a lift, queued for 10 mins to get a pint, (GWJ was buying supplies for most of the weekend, I think). But armed with 2 pints I moved around to the barbeque, sorry the top of H H S, to await the ceremony. Mac and Jane gave a little speech and Tony’s brother and ********* deposited some of Jrat’s ashes down the hole. I also fulfilled my promise, that one day I would get to Mendip and buy him a pint, caver at peace.
After a hairy drive back to the “shed” thanks to Mr Audsley’s Land Rover, awaited the skirl of Snab’s

pipes. As a cavingoclade of cavers set off to North Hill, via the Mineries   the Buddles Waldegrave pond, no ice today!,  and onto the trek up North Hill,  there were quite a few rather bemused, and startled walkers as this eerie skirling dirge appeared from the mist and marched relentlessly up the hill. Halfway up the hill I paused to take a pic. In front of me the file evaporated into the mist, I turned and took a photo, of the file eerily and ghostily appearing from the gloom. But what’s that?   There in the misty shadows a bright effervescing, diffused yellow glow appeared in the light from my flashgun, my god was it an apparition, oh crikey no -  It was only GWJ in his Day-Glo yellow high viz jacket, with reflecta stripes, but just for a moment though…At the top, wind, heavy drizzle, thick mist, (or low cloud typical of Mendip) and this summer’s weather.  The crowd gathered atop, milling around like the famous penguins of Antarctica, juggling for position to keep out of the wind, or keep warm.  Well to more skirling and a odd verse of a song or two, eventually the Ashes arrived, someone commenting, blimey he was only a little bloke, had a lot of ashes though! At a more austere gathering probably not the time and place, but who knows, probably its what Jrat would have said himself, as we know he was always quick to the wit, and enjoyed it also. Again Tony’s brother scattered Jrat’s wish, and then followed a pinch for everybody.

(Now there were quite a few comments, quips etc in pursuing this last wish, by odd individuals. Bearing in mind the wind was a little unsteady directionally! and quite strong each person scattered a small portion, and I’m sure as most folklore stories unfold the stories, quips and jokes will be told)  In sincerity, this journey from the pub to the hill was  at times quite emotionally charged for most, and I don’t make light of this fact. The journey was a celebration, it was not a sad pilgrimage, the sad day was when Jrat passed on.  But he has not left us, alone, or in groups we have his memory, and although scattered to the winds we know where he is, in the caves, in the digs and on the HILL. May his spirit be a guide to all that follow.

Muddy feet and village hall, covered that earlier, mucky cavers!!!!!!!

So now it kicks off, tables are out, screens are up sound system on (and working) and up steps Mac, Mr Compere, Short film, chats etc and then some music blah blah etc etc. roll the film…

The film was a hoot, and there were many serious (well Jrat serious) moments, and many funny ones. Again as folklore unfolds those that watched and tried to listen, will digress their version of what they saw and thought they heard. My best bit was the “effing heck” of Jrat as he recoiled, the shock of the cameraman, as he near dropped the camera, and the teeth chattering loud bang coming out of the hole! Last time I saw anything like that it was at Wigmore, the only camera’s then contained celluloid films in 36 picture strips!, and cost  £6 in BOOTS or £3.99 at bonus print (with a free roll of film.) to get a  4½” x 3 ½”  prints.  Extracts from his logs, GEMS, blimey how his mind worked. There then followed a really good, no a couple of really good sessions, of music singing and dancing and a “ disco” to finish. A very good night was enjoyed by all………..

Well did I miss something out? Ummmmm.  Oh yes the landrover auction, auctioneers the 2 non descripts dressed in curtains with a flowerpot their heads, ( ho ho ho)  and at least one heavy hammer got £ ‘s more than they thought!.  Although attentive all night, and sang a bit, drank a lot, ate a beef and a pork roast roll, donated for scones and a bit of cake. I Missed the last bit, my lift decided to go early, so at 2310 left the building, arrived at the Belfry, and crackle crackle pop pop bang bang, oh shite, I missed the send off, the fireworks. Still, all ups have a down, unless you are Jrat, when most of his downs were usually rocks, and the ups were to the PUB.  I got a quick bite to eat, and a seat and as the hordes returned to the Belfry, was able to sup ale to the small hours whilst watching SUMO, Prancers and dancers, the wobbling and bobbling and the occasional, whoops didn’t mean to sit on the floor manoeuvre.

A goodnight, NO, a ***king good weekend, even enjoyed the clearing up at the village hall between 10 and 12 on   Sunday, along with all the other souls who dismantled and cleaned and scrubbed and mopped.   Even watched MG & GWJ and their party HOP OVER THE WALL to join another 140 plus cavers, aged from 10 to the over 60’s enjoying the delights of good old Swillies…the minutes past…


Long Time Passing

By Stuart Lindsay

It was the passing of Tony, Jrat that finally brought me back to Mendip, after a lengthy absence. Tony and Roger Marsh had tried for years to entice me back. The odd bods I met in my travels, as I infrequently popped into various outdoor adventure cum caving shops kept me up to date, and tried re wetting my appetite, but alas the flame on my carbide lamp lacked a spark.  I write this as a month has passed, I have now visited the hill more than a half a dozen times, and WOW what changes. A bar and strobe lights at the Belfry, an up stairs members bunk room…uuuuuumm that was the main topic of discussion back in 1982!  The old cesspit grassed over and a few extra trees, mere saplings 25 years ago now adding a dimension of maturity to the site.

So in 25 years what other changes have there been? Well furry suits and over suits are getting smaller!!!!  As are caving lamps, I guess my carbide lamp and Nife cells will stay in the cupboard, as the new age, ultra expensive generation of LED and duo Lamps make nice big profits for the purveyors of the same, all got to earn a living I suppose. Mobile phones, used to be like house bricks, in 1983 I could never get mine in my pocket!  Sat Navs and PDAs, back then map books were the order of the day,   If you had a computer you had to programme it. My first computer, storage was on cassettes!  An 8 MHz XT, and a 20 mb yes 20 mb hard drive was fast in 1984 and cost nearly a year’s wages, monitors 12” over £250 and printers used pins and ribbons and cost an arm and a leg, blimey how things have progressed in 25 years. I pods, game pods, DVDs, blu ray the latest in a line of changing recording media, plasma TV s, Satellite and cable, and of course the internet and e mail, and WI FI at the BELFRY ?!?

altCaving’s changed, back then it used to take a good 4 hours to get to the Dales, leave Bristol at 6 and sup Sam Smiths at the Bridge before 1030-ish, flat out on the motorway 70mph, but now with a wary eye, and flat out on the motorway, you can get another hours drinking time.  Actual caving, well yes major changes here, more rules, tighter restrictions, more bodies, soon need a multi story car park on the Green. Not been down Swildons yet, but has the 20 been worn down to the 15 ??!!.  Took a wander over Mendip, refresher so as to re align the bearings and see some of the progress. WOWEEeee Templeton Pot…I’ve seen grottier fire escapes on modern tower blocks, masterful...” Mendip winch meet in 2012??” through trip to the Ebor gorge??   Nice to experience a packed Hunters on a Wednesday night, seems to be digs everywhere. I’ve been to Caine Hill a few times…takes your breath away…literally! A very interesting site, it could be a long dig, and will be interesting when the first clear passageway is found to see if it picks up a draught. Certainly the entrance series looks to be well gooed up and even root tips down at 8m or more, would indicate Mother Nature has investigated a source for moisture, for many, many years. A frog, a mouse, albeit a dead one,(obviously suffered a lack of breath!)   Ejected by the digging crew…canary next?

Had a look around the Red Quar area, 25 years ago this area had promise. Wigmore holding the potential of quite a large catchment of passages, but there was always a reluctance to dig in the Dolly. The new dig, eventually to start in earnest, may yield up a secret or two. A triumph for radiolocation?  Now that’s not new, although there are people, enthusing over Radios and Caves.  Maybe future technology and cave hunting will be mini transmitters in little plastic bubbles floated down near impassable passages, or little swallets or attached to mini robotic camera / transmitters and sent along even smaller passages!  And on the surface, groups of cavers wandering all over Mendip with receiving loops tracking the underground progress. Whilst underground transfixed to the cavebot monitor, gasping in awe at the pictures coming back from the cavebot cam, of passages and formations of immense size and beauty!!    Just metres away………now where’s my chemical hammer?  Give generously to Mendip, mine a cave!!!!

Honestly .its really nice to see Mendip buzzing…so will 2009 see the most ever passage and breakthroughs made for many a long year???   I hope so, just got to lose a few stone, and get fit…well fitter.

The Belfry Extension

By Henry Dawson

 Top class display of banging and screwing.

Having spent quite some time pottering around the Belfry, the general dilapidation of the hut started to get to me a bit. The Belfry is the way it is for a reason, but on repeated trips down to Rose Cottage it started to niggle me that the extension never seemed to get any closer to completion. On Wednesday evenings and at weekends Henry Bennett and I started doing little jobs around the hut. These became more and more frequent moving to quite big jobs (a re-paint of the hut with over a dozen volunteers from Cardiff, Southampton and a few other clubs). Eventually a group of us were having one beer too many and started talking about the extension. The reason for its lack of progress seemed to be that no one was able to take the project on and give it the time and commitment to see it through. Only vaguely aware that I was slurring my words I decided that I would put myself forward to do the job.

Once decided, I was committed. Mike, Trevor, Tony, in fact anyone who I spoke to warned me that everyone would vigorously slag off all my work, generally criticise it and announce how they could do better. Working for the council I thought, ‘that sounds familiar.’  Undeterred I began trying to obtain the plans and wrote about the project to Tyrone, the Hut Engineer at the time. He was rather overwhelmed with work and other matters but gave his consent and pointed me in the direction of the plans. Getting these turned out to be something like trying to find the Holy Grail. Numerous versions had been produced, some superseding others, some not used at all. I built up quite a collection of paperwork and finally began to get a picture of what I needed to create.

Work started on weekends and some Wednesdays, but I rapidly found that by visiting the Belfry for caving, digging and building I was spending not more than 2 days at a time at home. Most people thought this sounded like a great idea, but my girlfriend was not most people. I conceded the point and began working at the hut instead of caving. When Rose Cottage finally petered out (bottom dig that is, I know the middle dig gang are sure theirs will break out into vast echoing chambers very soon) I suggested to Henry Bennett that we work on the extension some Wednesday evenings. ‘Just think what we can achieve!’ I think we surprised even ourselves when we wound up spending every bloody Wednesday for months and months in there.

It was causing problems with me working on the extension and not sitting on the committee. I had always avoided committees, however at the 2007 AGM I went election touting what progress I had made fixing up the hut to date. I felt pretty proud of what had been accomplished to date and didn’t see any problem with getting the post. Then the curse of email struck and I managed to offend (however unintentionally) most of the club membership. This didn’t help when elections came up. Many well-known members were also running for committee, even if one was running under a pseudonym.

I didn’t get it.

Now what? We needed a skilled Hut Engineer to work on the extension. Nobody on the committee wanted the post. In the end Toby (Caving Secretary) took the job and handed it over to me, co-opting me onto the committee. The extension was back in business.

The roof was soon insulated. The electrician had been in and the plasterboard was going up. The latter was a horrible job involving standing, sitting and lying in various positions somewhat reminiscent of those used on SAS prisoners and repeatedly berating Henry Bennett because he would either not screw fast enough or kept on spraying my face with dust. Mike Wilson appeared on several occasions and valiantly abused his mending knees to help with this horrible job. Dany’s comments about our accurate incisions of plasterboard sections, ‘looking like a rat had been nibbling them’, were probably not far from the truth in places, but people got better and the finished job looked rather professional.

It was around this point that we had our first casualty. Henry Bennett, Slug and I were setting a section of board in a location not easy to reach when one of the random sections of steel deposited around the Belfry got knocked onto Henry’s head. He made some pretty worrying noises as he crashed to the floor. The photo shows the mess it made of his head. Work was halted for the day but Henry was okay. A man with a thick head in more ways than one.

altThings were getting on okay and the Building Regs Inspector was invited in. This guy was a real peaked cap type. When he showed up Dany rolled his eyes and pulled a face like he had just seen someone total his van. We did our best with him, but he earned his reputation. Following the visit I wound up having a chat with his boss about the things he raised. He was pretty happy with the answers and the problems were solved. Now I set to work trying to get the requirement for a second fire escape to the common room removed. This new door in the back wall seemed totally unnecessary. Following some negotiations I managed to get it taken away in return for moving the old escape door.

The debate about the use of the extension kept on coming up. This was something nobody had been able to agree on 100% since we started the build. Everyone had a different view. This got progressively more obstructive to the point where a line had to be drawn and stuck to.  The original plans gave the use as a dormitory and it was decided that it would be a members only one. Downstairs was to be a tackle store and workshop. With the nod from Building Regs there was also a new inner sanctum. Bob looked very happy as his new tackle store slowly materialised. I don’t think he heard about our plans to cut a little hole in the door and have him sitting behind it dolling out the kit.

The second working weekend was initiated. Nigel showed up with a petrol saw, which he and Phil used to create two new doorways. There were not a lot of us, but those there worked bloody hard and by the end of it we had frames for two new doorways in, one door hung and the old fire exit blocked up. With so few of us helping ourselves to the barrel I became a little worried when I found one chap using a spatula from the kitchen as a pointing trowel.

The months wore on and Henry Bennett and I remained in attendance every Wednesday night. Cider helped but the tasks with big visual impact had mostly been finished and all that were left were fiddly finishing jobs. These took a long time and caused the finishing stages to drag and drag. The only real highlight was putting on the flooring compound. Not realising how high I was from the fumes I tried to text my girlfriend and accidentally sent a workmate a rather inappropriate message. On the 27th July the last session of work was done and the extension was completed ready for its grand opening at the Belfry BBQ and only a month behind schedule. 

The keys are being kept in the members’ key cupboard. Club tackle available to members only can be signed out while the bunkroom is for members only. Anyone who is dropping by is free to have a look around. Your author will be found underground again and enjoying a break from duties whilst the club bank account builds up ready for the next job. I have already thanked Henry Bennett in my annual report but he has put in hundreds of hours throughout this project and I would like to thank him again on behalf of the BEC for his continuing hard work and the effort he has given on top of the time he has spends as Membership Secretary. We are all truly grateful.

  Whacko! HB forgets to duck.


West Mendip Round Up

By Nicks Harding and Richards

Return to Hatley Rocks

When last we dug here two years have since lapsed – how time flies, Egad! Anyway feeling a bit cheesed off with the Hutton dig – change is a good as a rest n’ all that both Richards and Yer Ed returned to the tunnels we had emptied on the north side of Worlebury Hill and below the golf course. With the central tunnel ending in a narrow squeeze that led up into a small natural chamber too awkward to negotiate and more importantly a dead end (never say never mind) we decided to remove the backfill and choke that separated this tunnel and the higher entrance.
Much of the fill here is leaf mulch broken down to a sticky thick mud in which golf balls and other bits and pieces of that silly game are embedded – a kind of golf ball conglomerate. The floor has been found at the junction – the hope was it would descend, but it didn’t – and the blockage removed and dumped in the tunnel down to the squeeze. Some three years back we had drain-rodded the upper tunnel at this junction and found that the rods went 27 feet into the hill. We have reached bedrock and a boulder fill with a passage wide enough to get through.  
A reasonable session of boulder shifting had us looking down a passage still quite choked. The trouble now of course is the lack of suitable dumping space to continue.

Upper Canada Cave.

After two sessions with the bang in the second vertical shaft, laid and supervised by Adrian and Jude Van Der Plank and Aubrey Newport, we have found ourselves looking up the throat of a vertical passage to what looks like further boulder fill, although there does seem to be to some indications of continuation. 

  Looking up…

The dark patch just below the suspended boulder may very well be passage roof. Watch this…blocked…space for further updates.


Some New Mines Of Broadfield Down

By Nicks Harding and Richards

Several open mines were discovered during mineralogical fieldwork in November 08 and a return visit was made to explore these holes.

Bourton Combe.

This is an area of intense 18th C lead mining where at least 20 vein structures of various trends (but often c N-S) have been mined from lines of (now infilled) shallow shafts connected by stopes. Some veins reach c 500m in length and where seen consist of an outer crust of columnar calcite followed by cubes or larger masses of galena. The central portion of the vein is filled with white or gingery barite. Specimens collected demonstrate that other vein configurations occur.

In the adjacent Stancombe quarry these veins are periodically well exposed. Near the surface deeply weathered, confused Barite/clay veins follow joints, bedding planes (flats) and solutional hollows in the limestone. Sometimes very large lumps of abraded galena occur in the clay, a situation somewhat analogous to galena occurrences on Mendip. The veins die out with depth and display the lean ordered nature of primary veins.

1)    Mask Mine 5074 6868 on top of the east side of the combe
       L 5m VR 4m
       Shallow cutting in rock with miners walling leads to entrance crawl into a small chamber. Note the N-S < 60 cm calcite/barite vein (with minor galena) in roof.

2)    Conygeare Rift Mine 5094 6808 in ‘The Conygeare’
       L 16m VR 5m
       Mined rift in pecked out vein < 50 cm wide trending NW-SE, Nearby on same rift is a vertical, partly choked, well preserved ‘ginged’ shaft only 40 x 36 cm in cross section which can be seen to intersect the same rift.

3)    Caldera Pit 5109 6809 in ‘The Conygeare’
       Special mention must be made of this impressive spoil heap containing hundreds of cubic metres of waste-likened somewhat to a volcanic cone. A filled shaft is present on the top, and there are two other satellite pits, one of which is 1.5m deep and displays a square cross-section lined with good walling.

Corporation Woods

In woodland on top of the hill north of Wrington.

A large area of 19th C iron mining which extends into the adjacent Ball Wood, King’s Wood and to Cleeve Hill.

A series of >13 rifts expressed on the surface as shallow trenches and/or lines of pits generally of near E-W trend and some 30m in length. The rifts (where seen underground) are 0.5 –1m wide and are lined with c 6 cm of calcite with a central portion of fragmentary siliceous haematite and a little pink barite. There is also much red ochre and deep red soil. Very few are open and represent the underground sections between pits.

1)    Corporation Woods Mine 1
       4632 6411
       L 20m VR 4m
       Roomy passage up to 3m high in <1m wide rift.

2)    Corporation Woods Mine 2
       4621 6415
       L 9m VR 4m
       Roomy passage descends to miners wall.

3)    Corporation Woods Mine 3
       4618 6414
       L 8m VR 3m
       Recent collapse into small chamber with well constructed inclined miners wall and tight extension.

4)    Corporation Woods Mine 4
       4621 6414
       L 4m VR 2m
       Short passage heading east to dead end

5)    Blanco Pit   4601 6440
       L 24m VR 5m
       Just inside Ball Wood. At confluence if forestry tracks behind woodpile.
       Mine in NE-SW rift. Short shaft into roomy passages to NE and SW, both ending in chokes to adjacent filled pits. Earthenware bottles and a tin of ‘Blanco’ found.

Corporation Woods Mine

Note.     This is another short mine described in an earlier edition of the BB


VERCORS 2008 – Descent of La Cascade de Moulin Marquis

By Faye Litherland


The Drop!

For those who don’t know, the Cascade de Moulin Marquis is the largest waterfall in the Vercors region of France and falls over 380 metres from the village of St Julien en Vercors to a point next to the entrance to the Grotte de Bournillon in the Bourne Gorge.  If you have ever driven past the entrance to the show caves of Choranche you will have seen it dominating the cliff opposite.

My relationship with the Moulin Marquis began about eight years ago on an ill-fated visit to the region.  The weather was appalling and so most caving and canyoning was off limits.  We were on our way to visit the show cave at Choranche and I was awe struck by the sight of this waterfall. 
Someone mentioned that if you had enough rope (which we didn’t) it was possible to abseil down it.  From that moment on I became determined that one day I would do just that.  I would be one of the lucky few who had seen those beautiful moss structures close up and not just through binoculars.

I had intended to visit the Vercors again soon after, but it was not to be.  The canyoning book and caving guidebooks for the region sat on the shelf and gathered some dust until periodically I would take out the canyoning book and re-read the description of the Cascade de Moulin Marquis and dream.

It was not until the venue of the 4th European Speleological Congress in 2008 was announced as Lans en Vercors that I came any closer to achieving my ambition.  I quickly persuaded a few others that a visit to the Congress was essential.  Talk was of caves we would do, but I was still thinking of Moulin Marquis.

Once we arrived I wasted no time in letting people know I was interested in doing the cascade and was fortunate enough to be invited to join Greg and Helen Brock who once I had showed them the guide book were also keen to give it a go.

The night before the trip I could hardly sleep.  I was so excited I woke up at 07:00, very unusual without the aid of an alarm clock!  We eventually set off and Tim Ball and Duncan Butler very kindly agreed to shuttle us to the top so that a car could be left at the bottom for us.
A short walk from the village of St Julien en Vercors brought us to the top of the waterfall.  There were already two Frenchmen at the top getting kitted up who seemed very surprised that another group was going down and checked with us that we did know that it was nearly 400 metres of abseiling.  We assured them that we did and unconvinced, they then left us to it.


Helen Brock on the third pitch

Greg Brock was rigging and set out along the tree to rig the first descent.  That sounds pretty tame really doesn’t it?  I think we need a little more explanation of that first pitch.  The tree I am taking about grows horizontally out of the cliff face at the top of the waterfall.  The rigging point is two rope slings and a mallion at head height around one of the branches about 3.5 metres horizontally from the edge of the cliff.  Therefore, to get onto the first pitch, you have to walk out along a tree trunk for about 3.5 metres over a 380-metre drop with nothing to clip a cowstail into until you reach the anchor point.  This was undoubtedly the scariest thing I have ever had to do in my life to this point.  I consider myself to have a very good head for heights and yet I had to push myself to the limit of self-control to avoid bottling it.  I felt almost sick with fear and could feel the adrenaline buzzing through me as I stood at the edge waiting for my turn to descend.  “Focus on the tree, nice tree, nice tree, oh my god what a long way down, No! No! No! Look at the tree, nice tree”.  Greg had already gone down and had successfully found the next anchor point on another tree.  Helen was next and was obviously battling the same demons I was.  She stepped out onto the tree, traversed out and clipped in.  The release of tension when she was safe was obvious.  She went down and then I was alone.  Tim and Duncan had both said that they didn’t want to watch us go and had disappeared back into the trees.  Helen shouted “Rope Free” from somewhere below and then it was my turn.  Terrified and almost shaking I knew I had to get a grip on myself before I stepped onto the tree or I would fall.  I focused very closely on the tree branch where I was heading and took a few deep breaths, I could feel my body start to come back under control, but knew that the longer I stood there the harder it would be.  Having lengthened my long cow’s tail for a good long pick up, I set off along the tree. I know in reality it probably only took a few seconds to cross, but it was a very long few seconds until I was safely clipped to the anchor point.  Breathing a huge sigh of relief I threaded my descender and went to join Greg and Helen at the top of the next pitch.

We retrieved the rope uneventfully and threaded it for the next drop.  In the meantime the French group of two, who obviously knew the way, decided to leapfrog us and miss out a pitch.  Here we had a cunning plan…  Let’s let the French people go first and then we can see where the bolts are and follow them!  That will save loads of time looking for bolts ourselves!  For the third pitch this plan worked very well. 


Greg Brock descending into the abyss

Finally we were stood at the top of the fourth pitch. This is the start of the section of the cascade,which you can see from the road opposite.  With the French rope pulled through, Greg rigged our rope and started to descend towards the small ledge where the French people were now standing.  They completed their descent of the next pitch and then the ledge was free for us.  Helen and I were stood at the top and Greg seemed to be taking a while to reach the next anchor.  Eventually he yelled “Rope Free” and Helen started on her way.  She also seemed to be taking a while as this was only supposed to be a 25-metre pitch.  Eventually Helen yelled “Rope Free” and it was my turn.  I started to descend, and descend, and descend and then I saw what had taken Helen so long.  We had a 60 metre and a 50-metre rope knotted together.  We were abseiling on the 60-metre side, but 50 metres should have been plenty.  What I saw was that Helen had needed to join our emergency rope to the bottom of the 50-metre recovery rope.  We had not realized that the French people obviously had much longer rope than we did and were missing out anchor points on the way down.  We had just descended a 65-metre pitch; which should have been split into a 25 metre and a 40 metre.  With all of us clipped into the anchor point on the narrow ledge we started to pull down the rope.  Nothing happened.  We pulled again and again and still nothing happened.  We flicked the ropes.  Still nothing happened.  With all of our ropes committed I was starting to get a bit concerned.  Eventually with the aid of jammers and Greg’s superhuman strength, the rope started to move.  The karabiner came down and we all huddled against the rock face as the rope rocketed past us once it came free.  With the ropes recovered we continued to descend pitch after pitch, this time following the guidebook. 

If you look at the Moulin Marquis from the road opposite there is one thing, which stands out, other than its sheer scale of course.  The upper section is dominated by large green moss structures, which thrive in the continuously moist environment of the waterfall.  It is not until you are up close and personal that you see how beautiful and fragile these large structures are.  What is even more amazing is that because the water falls such distances between ledges, it forms a beautiful mist which when the sunshine hits it creates thousands of rainbows wrapped all around you.  I sat on the rope at that point for a few moments just looking and taking in the beauty of it before joining Greg and Helen below. 

As we continued to descend, the ledges varied from, water lashed with just enough space for three people to get their toes in, to dry and spacious enough to unclip and have a walk around.  Two or three times further the ropes got snagged, but again a few flicks and a determined pull saw them come free.

Eventually, after an adrenaline fuelled and awe inspiring five and a half hours we finally reached the bottom of the waterfall and returned to base camp for a well earned glass of red wine.

So was it worth it?  Was it really a trip to fantasize about?  Did reality live up to the dream?  Well I suppose that depends on you as an individual.  For me the sheer variety of amazing sights was certainly well worth it and for heart stopping adrenaline rushes I don’t think they come much better than getting onto that first pitch!


The Mystery Tunnels Under Frome.

By Mike Wilson

I recently discovered an article that had been written 2 years ago featuring the network of tunnels underneath the town of Frome. Not a great deal is known about them, and they appear to have lain untouched for many years. There are legends associated with the tunnels but a recently formed group of people [the Frome tunnel team] are hoping to explore the system and its age and purpose.


Note on the map arrows show direction where survey runs out.

The tunnels seem to be approximately 20 ft below the surface, a standard size 4ft wide and 5ft high well made in brick and arched. Flooring is generally brick or flagstones. It would appear that they connect some of the pubs and inns plus all of the main churches; it is thought that they are Medieval in date!! Frome is surrounded by spring wells, the main one is by St Johns Church the water runs down Cheap St, which is a feature of the town.

Some tunnels link up with deep well shafts in Catherine St and Broadway, suggesting that they may have been a medieval water supply system. The Ship Inn at Badcox top of Catherine hill has a stone block with a glass top covering a deep 49 ft well within this well there are entrances to the system one at 20ft and one at 30ft.4 tunnels run under the Griffin Inn in Milk St and there is a concealed entrance blocked off in the cellar, there used to be dozens such entrances! Many tunnels in the centre of town radiate out in many directions towards local villages. Longleat, Clay hill, Corsley, Champanslade and Mells are a few examples. It is rumoured that you could walk from Trinity to St Johns and beyond. This network must have taken considerable time and a huge effort to construct, yet we have no idea what purpose it served.

At this moment in time there has been no modern underground survey carried out or a total mapping of the system, this is due to lack of money and interest. Perhaps the BEC could take up the challenge!!! Dowsing has been used as a method of tracing the water courses a man called Don Reeves being the dowser, an accompanying map shows the results so far bearing in mind that some houses have had the tunnel sections bricked up.

One long tunnel has many branches which in turn branch again, this tunnel goes down Weymouth St into the ship inn public house there is a branch off here to Badcox but the main route is on down Catherine’s Hill into Catherine St, thence on to the Griffin in milk St from there it runs to Trinity Church. Follow the main course under Shepherds Barton steps under Paul St and Palmer St thence under the old Bath Arms pub crossing Bath St and Gentle St then on under St Johns graveyard along Vicarage St crossing Christchurch east and then on towards lock hill.

Other features talked of within the system are underground rooms, a cavern under the print works complete with a lake, and possibly a space under the town centre.

In 2004 the BBC made a documentary about the Frome Time Tunnel Team on Inside Out this was broadcast in 2005. Since then an Elizabethan icehouse has been found in the cellars of the Fountain Pub. The work goes on but sadly I cannot find a recent update. The main team members Robin Hill and Pete Clark are hoping to get some funding together and press on with this interesting project.

Mike Wilson.
Source: Wayne Cornish the Somerset Standard.


The Fernhill Project - Part II

By Tony Audsley

(Continued from BB 530).
By May, the bottom of the concrete pipe shaft had been secured and the diggers were ready to break out of the bottom of the shaft and get into the Fernhill bedding-plane.  However the way on into the top of the bedding-plane was blocked by some massive stal and this needed removing before we could get in.  The nearness of the pipes and the general fragility of the surroundings meant that extremely namby-pamby charges had to be used, but because the angled shaft behaved like a cannon and directed the sound waves at the opposite quarry face even these charges produced some very satisfying reverberations.  Gave the climbers something to think about anyway.
After a few such sessions, the bedding-plane was a comfortable digging width and a few evening's worth of hauling had generated a working space sufficient to accommodate two or three people, or more if they happened to be particularly friendly.  At this stage, the ungrouted material around the outside of the base of the shaft, i.e. above our heads, looked a bit iffy, but we thought that it would be good enough for now and we could deal with it later if necessary. 

And then, over the May bank holiday, it rained. Good honest bank holiday type rain.   The floor of the quarry was flooded and the clay and rock backfilling round the concrete pipes turned into porridge and slumped, completely blocking off the digging space below the pipes.  Attempts to dig out the slump failed, for as fast as it was removed, more material fell down from behind the pipes.
So what to do?  Well, there are probably more solutions to this problem than there are diggers, but the one used did actually work surprisingly well.  Originally, I didn't think that there was much point in outlining it in any great detail, as it seemed a one-problem technique and not one likely to be used again.  So much for thought. 

One of the nice things about digging is that you never know what the ground is going to throw at you next and recently, Home Close Hole came along saying "dig me".  So having dug it a bit and then installed a concrete pipe shaft, we now come to tragic bit ... there is nothing solid under the pipes.  The bottom ring of the Home Close Hole shaft sits on semi-liquid goo, with any solid rock being some distance away to the sides and an unknown distance away below.  In other words, the situation at the bottom of the Home Close Shaft is similar, just a little bit worse, than that at the bottom of the Fernhill shaft.   So, the technique is likely to get used again and with that as an excuse, I'll witter on about it for a bit.

The requirement at Fernhill was to push through the collapse material to reach the rock wall behind and then to drill about four inches into the solid.  The drill bit would then be extracted and replaced with a length of bar.  This done, the whole would then be moved sideways a bit and the process repeated (ad nauseam).  Not difficult in principle, but there are a couple of practical problems.  The first being to locate the end of the drill so that it doesn't skid all over the place before the hole get going and the second is to locate the hole once it has been drilled and to poke the bar into it.
The solution arrived at is the ACME 'Miracle' Drilling Jig, a wonderful bit of kit made up entirely of bits of scrap iron that were lying around the back of the Belfry.  (Tidy minded Belfryites, please take note, you never know when such stuff will come in useful).

The 'AMDJ' clamps under the bottom concrete ring and is held in position by wooden wedges and supported by a car bottle jack underneath.  The AMDJ's tube is then hammered through the fill until it reaches the rock wall.  The clamps are tightened, the drill bit is inserted and the hole drilled to the required depth.  The drill bit is then withdrawn.  At this point, the purist will insert a length of plastic tube and blow down it, thus getting a eyeful of limestone dust, but leaving a beautifully clean hole into which the bar can be poked. 

Next comes the tricky bit.  The bar is poked into the hole then held in position while the outer tube is withdrawn.  The sticky-down bits of the AMDJ are unbolted; the AMDJ is hammered sideways to the next position, assembled again and the process repeated.  By the way, if you think that this description is tedious, you should try doing it in practice.

This is all very good in theory, but what happened in the cave?

The initial work was carried out over two days, 1st and 14th July.  On the 1st, the team was Mandy Voysey, Alan Gray, Rich Witcombe Alice and myself.  We ferried what seemed like hundredweights of kit (generator, drills, steel bars, angle grinders, the AMDJ, eats, drinks, etc.) over to the shaft and then there was nothing for it but to start work.  I went down to play with my toys and the rest of the team variously tended the generator, planted trees, sunbathed and discussed the merits of Darwinism / Creationism.  (Honestly, it was good to be underground).

The second daylong session was somewhat similar, except that Clive North replaced Alan Grey and I forgot to bring the drill, which delayed the start a bit.  By the afternoon, the bars were in position and they supported the fill sufficiently to dig out enough of the collapse material to lie underneath the bars and work some steel lagging (cut up lengths of 'trident' fence posts from the Belfry digging store) on top to make a permanent support.

The evening of 16th July saw the removal of 32 loads of clag and the installation of a permanent support to hold the bars in position.  This was followed by another all day session on Monday 21st July, when we were joined by Jrat, on what I think was probably his last active digging session. 

Twenty six more loads came out, sufficient to make a Witcombe-sized working space, so he was pushed in to the hole, fed cement and stones and told to get on with wall building to meet up with the right hand edge of the steel-work.  Meanwhile, the rest of us had a pleasant day on the surface, sitting in the sun drinking Jrat's beer and chatting, while Jrat wrote up his digging log.

Right - Looking up the bedding-plane at the shoring, the bottom concrete ring and Alan Gray.

Digging could now restart in earnest in the bedding-plane, with wall building and cement shoring taking place on the left of the bedding plane and the exposure of a void on the right hand side.  The void itself is fine, but the general quality and arrangement of the roofing material leaves something to be desired.  Rich Witcombe has inserted timber, steel and cemented walling under the most offensive candidates, but a glimpse of the rest of it makes Home Close Hole seem ever so attractive, so I'm keeping out of the way for a while. 

Diggers and esteemed visitors May - October 2008

Alice Audsley, Alan Gray, Alison Moody, Clive North, Dave King, Duncan Price, Fiona Burchell, Geoff Dawson, Kate Lawrence, Mandy Voysey, Mark Lumley, Martin Grass, Matt Voysey, Paul Stillman, Pete Moody, Rich Witcombe, Rob Taviner, Steve Shipston, Tony Audsley, Tony Jarratt, Tony Littler.
26 November 2008

Caves on 45.

This little gem care of Pete Rose:

Born 4th Oct 1929 Leroy Van Dyke is known as the world’s most famous auctioneer – according to him that is. He even recorded a song called the Auctioneer and anyone interested in hearing this er…gem should visit his website, if you have nothing better to do, where you can learn all about this Country and Western star who has recorded over 500 songs in his career. Yer Ed.


The car not in its place out back
The suitcase missing from the rack
The note that says you wont be back
I feel my world caving in

The bed that showed you had not slept
The empty can where cash was kept
The empty room where the children slept
 I feel my world caving in

 My heart is breaking with the dawn
I should have left her alone
and come on home
I feel my world caving in

The dresser drawers hanging open wide
That held the babies clothes inside
It’s just as if everyone had died
I feel my world caving in

Repeat 3
Repeat 4
I feel my world caving in


On Digging to Wigmore Ten in Style

By Tony Jarratt and Dave Morrison

On August 4th, the two writers were both suffering from life’s problems and decided to talk digging instead – the cure for all ills.  Tuska was desperate to start a new excavator dig and Jrat knew of a good place to do it so the game was afoot.  Within a few days, equipment and permission was obtained – the former thanks to Dave Gibbons and Dave Speed and the latter to Nigel Perkins, Penny Wiseman and Arthur Bound of the Waldegrave Estate.  A successful outcome would be the discovery of a probably fairly vertical route down some 50m to the area of the too-tight head of the Young Blood's Inlet aven, recently discovered by Chris Jewell and team.  This would enable mere ordinary, non-waterproof cavers and diggers to reach the boulder choked current terminus of the system beyond Sump 10.  It would also ease the divers’ minds knowing that they no longer had to face the almost truly horrific possibilities of a rescue from this remote and awkward spot and, indeed, those of the M.C.R. personnel who would have to leave their beer for a very long time!

At 8.30 am on the 21st August, a very smart Hitachi Zaxis 130 LCN excavator rolled onto Home Close field east of the Wigmore track.  Bloodied at Fernhill Cave, this almost brand-new orange monster was capable of shifting about 5,000 tons of spoil in four days.  Driven by Mark Crook and with Tuska directing operations, it set about the most easterly of the central group of three depressions, 3-5m deep in dolomitic conglomerate (angular fragments of limestone and sandstone, locally cemented by silica and / or iron), furthest towards Eaker Hill.  Of this group of depressions, the other two are in a different unit of the Mercia Mudstone Group, composed of red sandstones, siltstones and sandstones with occasional gypsum and celestite deposits.  They are all located at 265m – as is Wigmore. 

Mark cleared off the surprisingly dry top layer of soil and prepared the depression floor for deeper investigation at the northwest end, where he eventually sank a roomy pit down to about 10m.  By knocking off time at 6 p.m., a solid, vertical and apparently water-worn cliff was revealed with a ledge and further drop below.   Mark also collected a load of concrete pipes from Mells and returned with them and Dave Speed - dig master of the finest.  Lots of people turned up to take photos and be thoroughly entertained, including Lord Waldegrave of Northill - William Waldegrave and his wife Caroline (he was impressed), Tony Audsley (who did a G.P.S. survey of the field and depressions), Nigel Perkins (who ringed the dig with an electric fence) and the estate’s agricultural agent Penny Wiseman, who gave the dig her blessing and commented on how tidy it was.  Even the weather turned out nice!

Meanwhile, below, Duncan Price and John Maneely were on their way to Wigmore Ten, where they cleared "snapper spoil and worked their way down through various bouldery voids until they were an estimated 3m from the noise of the main stream – beyond the choke.  Not having visited Young Blood's Inlet, they didn’t hear the digger above, of which they were well aware, but they did notice that the previously clear inlet stream was now black and stinking of cowsh.  Six weeks previously, the whole farm had been sprayed with this elixir and only one week ago a patch of ground just to the east of the dig had the treatment.  It seems to lie on a direct line with it and is almost certainly the cause of this localised pollution.   Jane Clarke reported a shallow, flooded depression in this area.

Next day Mark, Tuska, Jim Young and Tony and Alice Audsley were on site early.  More benching and deepening of the pit took place throughout the day and more rock walls were exposed to gain almost a circular pot.  J. Rat and Jane arrived at midday and were soon joined by Stuart McManus and Peter “Ratarse” Webb – all the way from Perth, Australia.  A suggestion from Mac that we should try to photograph the dig from the air led to a swift lunch followed by the three of us taking off from Bristol Airport at 4 pm and soon circling the place in the sunshine with R.A. operating his new camera to full effect!  We have all the necessary tools when it comes to it.  The dig resembled a deep opencast quarry from above, with the Dinky toy excavator pecking away below and a string of onlookers alongside.  Magnificent – thanks Mac, and R.A. for the excellent snaps.

Saturday 23rd, more of the rock walls were exposed and tidied in preparation for the insertion of the 10m of pipe.  This was unloaded on site in the prevailing dry weather by Nigel Perkins (now recruited) and the team.  

Being a Bank Holiday weekend, a good crowd appeared on the 24th including Lord Waldegrave of Northill – William Waldegrave and his wife Caroline – and Monty the deaf dog.  A valuable addition to the plant on site was a bright yellow JCB 434S AGRI earthmover driven expertly by Michael Gibbons.  Mark, after a heavy night, was back early on the Hitachi.

Early clearing work revealed much of the south wall of what seems to be a roomy rock shaft and it was very encouraging to know that one side wasn’t just a rock gully running off towards Attborough Swallet.  Eventually, the tenth ring was added to the entrance and most of the backfilling was completed just before 7 pm.  Despite an overnight downpour, conditions weren’t too bad and all went very smoothly.  The dig was called after the field name  - Home Close Hole - inoffensive and homely.  Tuska and the team were all rightfully well pleased with the outcome.

The drivers tidied up the depression, graded the topsoil and removed all the plant the following morning.  Four large boulders were left at the shaft top for future use as picnic seats or tripod rests and another ring is planned to go on in the future.   Thus ended phase one of the project.  Prospective diggers for stage two should contact the authors and any donations to the cause should be made out to the B.E.C. and given to Jrat (2). They will be gratefully received as phase one cost over £1,000.


We’re going to dig an entrance direct to Wigmore Ten.
We’ll make it big and dry and clean for normal caving men.
No nasty, shitty grovels or hundred foot long sumps,
No chokes to drop or rifts to bang or squalid pools to pump.

Our mighty digging engine eats a thousand tons a day
It mangles rocks and boulders and sand and silt and clay.
Our driver is a man of steel and tidy with it too.
If you give us a thousand quid we’ll let him dig for you.

Our Guru is great Tuska – top digger on the Hill.

The M.C.G, at Upper Flood, can set aside a key
so cavers ambling gently past can nip out for a wee
or they can hitch a lift back to the Hunters’ bar
where bullshit flows and Cheddar goes down fast in many a jar.

1:     Tony Jarratt finished this article on the Wednesday 27th August and it was found on his computer after his death on the 31st.  It has been very lightly edited (mainly punctuation changes) by Tony Audsley.
2:     Contributions towards the cost of this project are still urgently needed, please contact a member of the committee if you wish to make a donation.

This Is How To Fit A New One!
A peeping tom overheard this conversation in the GB lay-by.
We have to imagine a well-known BEC member and a female companion.
M:    Shall we strip off here my lover?
F:    Yes perhaps we should stay in the car.
M:    Can you give me some help I always find these things a bit tricky.
F:    Ok but I have never opened one of these packets before.
M:    No worries my lover, just tear off the strip and pull it out.
F:    WOW!  It’s big and black!!
M:      Yes I thought you would like it, perhaps if I hold it up you can peel it over the   tight bit?
F:    Bloody hell, I didn’t think I would need two hands for this!
M:    If you sit on my stomach and pull really hard it WILL fit.
F:    Oh god I have managed to tear it!
M:    Damn, that has ruined our fun for tonight!
And that’s how a BEC member tried on his first wet suit.

Hollow Hills
I can honestly say I’ve never been to a better attended funeral than Jrat’s. It was a mark and signal of how loved, respected and greatly missed he was and will be. On that sun-drenched afternoon outside Bath we said goodbye to a true great and even now I can’t think of this one-off character without getting a lump in the throat. Even though I’d only known him for 7 – 8 years it felt like a lifetime – the indication indeed of a genuine friendship I think. If only I’d had one more pint with him…

You all have your own memories.  
Atque in perpetuum frater, ave atque vale…
(And forever, brother, hail and farewell)
Caius Valerius Catullus.
I’ll leave the last words to the great man…

Tony Jarratt - Farewell

"Written to you all.

I would like to bid a farewell to my numerous caving mates throughout the British Isles and the rest of the world over the last 40 years.

I couldn’t have met so many nutters, characters, pissheads and selfless, generous rough diamonds in any other walk of life.”



Committee Members

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor (772)
Hon. Treasurer: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Henry Bennett (1079)
Caving Secretary: Toby Maddocks (1310)
Hut Warden Jane Clarke (983)
Tacklemaster: Bob Smith (1203)
Hut Engineer Henry Dawson (1313)
Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
Floating Fiona Crozier (1305), Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)

Non-Committee Posts
BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)
Auditor Chris Smart
Club Archivist Sue Dukes

Club Trustees:
Martin Grass (790), Phil Romford (985), Nigel Taylor (772) and Mike Wilson (1130)

Cover Photo:    Exit to Peilklieng Pouk, Meghalaya, India. Taken by Henry Dawson who assures me that the entrance is around 70m high.

The Belfry Bulletin is the official journal of the Bristol Exploration Club.  It is available to distribution via printed media, html or pdf. The BEC website offers the full archive of every single BB every published. The last years BBs are only available online to subscribed members of the club.

Ave Cavers!

Welcome to a packed issue of the BB.

Well firstly I would like to thank everyone who, through their prestigious use of tactical voting kept me in the position of BB editor. Once again I offer my apologies to the committee for not attending the 2007 AGM due in part to circumstances beyond my control. 

I must pause here to thank the BB editorial team i.e. Jrat and Henry B for polishing up this (e)steamed organ before it goes to press. Their skill enables most of my mistakes to be ironed out making me look better than I am… 

Although some do slip by, namely:

Master Audsley has asked me to point out to fellow followers of the bat that there is an error in BB528 in the Caine Hill article, I quote, ‘the photo of a bod at the bottom of the shaft is named as Dudley Herbert, it should be Mike Thompson.’

The editorial team have been delicately chastised, six of the best trousers down. Me included.

Lastly, here’s wishing everyone a splendidly fine Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Yer Ed.

Look out! It’s…. The Committee

To bring everyone up to speed here’s how the new committee looks.

Hon Secretary                           Nigel Taylor
Treasurer                                   Mike Wilson
Caving Secretary                      Toby Maddocks
Tacklemaster                            Bob Smith
Hut Warden                               Jane Clarke
Hut Engineer                             Henry Dawson (see below)
Editor                                          Nick Harding
Membership Secretary            Henry Bennett
Floating                                      Fiona Crozier,
                                                    MadPhil Rowsell,

Non-committee posts:

Librarian                                    MadPhil Rowsell
Hon. Auditor                             Chris Smart
Club Archivist                           Sue Dukes

The Hut Engineer will be Henry Dawson but due to the mechanisms of the constitution we could only appoint an existing committee member. Toby Maddocks was placed here but will not function in this role.

Tribute to "Alfie" - Stanley John Collins

Stanley John Collins, known to all his friends as "Alfie", passed away at his home in Litton, near Chewton Mendip, on 16 October 2007 aged 83. He had been a member of the Bristol Exploration Club for sixty years.

In his eulogy at the funeral in Litton Parish Church, Tony "Sett" Setterington explained how Stanley became "Alfie" - At the start of the Second World War, Stanley Collins was a pupil at a school in Maidstone, Kent, which for safety reasons was evacuated to Dorchester. While there he joined the Junior Training Corps, a precursor of the Army Cadets, and he found that he had to conform to Regular Army rules and wear a greatcoat in winter. Wartime rules required that brass buttons were clean but not shiny, a difficult condition to achieve, especially so if the buttons were not a matching set, which was true in "Alfie’s" case. At the time there was a film entitled "Alf’s Button", which told the fictional tale of a soldier, named Alf, whose greatcoat had one button made when Aladdin’s lamp was melted down and which retained magical properties when it was rubbed. "Alfie’s" odd button didn’t have any magical properties but it did earn him his nickname!

From school, "Alfie" progressed to the University of Bristol where he studied radio science, or in today's terms, electronics. He became an active member of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, demonstrating his fitness by cycling 100 miles in a day and posting cards en route as proof.

In due course he was directed to work at Kolster Brands in Sidcup, Kent, where he was a member of the team designing the first, post-war, 12 inch, black and white television set.

During his stay in Kent "Alfie" regularly travelled to Mendip on long weekends, and when wartime restrictions on jobs were lifted he moved to Bristol to work in the aircraft industry. When he was living in Clifton he married Jean and they had a daughter Sue, now living in North America. Unfortunately Jean became unwell and had to move into a care home where she eventually died.

"Alfie" joined the Bristol Exploration Club in 1947 and was soon actively caving and digging, especially on Eastern Mendip where he was involved with Pat Browne and his father in work in Stoke Lane Slocker and Brownes' Hole. He gave his name to Alfie's Room in the latter cave. After trial excavations in the late 1940s, he became a key member of the digging team which eventually opened up St. Cuthbert's Swallet in July 1953, but the tightness of the original Entrance Rift restricted access at first to only the smallest members of the BEC. The Rift was progressively enlarged and "Alfie" was able to join the exploratory trips and later assisted Don Coase with a preliminary survey of the cave.

On Saturday evenings the BEC would enjoy another of "Alfie’s" talents, playing the piano for sing songs in the Hunters’. At this time, he began composing his "Spelaeodes", lengthy comical recitations describing the travails of such fictional caving characters as Percy Pound, Dennis Drain and Kenneth Lyle. With cartoon illustrations by fellow BEC member Jock Orr, a collection of them were published as "Reflections" in 1971.

"Alfie" was a very capable DIY builder and, assisted by Jill Rollason, he erected the stone tackle shed at the Belfry. He also bought a pair of miners' cottages in Bishop Sutton near Mendip and, with some help from friends, converted them into a single house. For some years "Alfie" edited the Belfry Bulletin and when relieved of this duty following a Committee dispute he edited an alternative newsletter "The Bulletin", publishing it twice yearly for some 30 more years. He also continued to organise annual dinners for the older section of Mendip cavers.

With his second wife, Sally, and children, Jacqueline and Deborah, he moved to Long Roof Barn in Litton, but later "downsized" to a smaller cottage in the village when Jacqueline left home and Deborah sadly died.

A subsequent decision to build an extension for Jacqueline, her husband, Steve, and their family ended in disaster when a mistake by a builder caused a fire which burnt down the house, taking with it furniture and contents including computers, archives and musical instruments. A much-enlarged house was eventually rebuilt and both families moved in, but tragically Sally contracted septicaemia from which she never recovered. This was a terrible blow to "Alfie", who was already suffering with breathing problems and deteriorating health and he never really recovered. Although he planned to attend the recent "Veterans" dinner he didn’t manage it and died at home on Tuesday 16 October.

"Alfie" was a man of many talents, and any caver who was fortunate enough to hear him recite one of his famous Spelaeodes in the Belfry or the Hunters' will vouch for his wonderful command of the English language and his sense of humour and fun.

Based on the original eulogy read out during the funeral service by Tony "Sett" Setterington, amended and enlarged by Rich Witcombe

Membership News

In the last few months we’ve had a number of new members. Please join me in welcoming the following: Mark Stephens, Kate Humphries, Jo Hardy, Maxine Bateman, Jinni King, Sissel Balomatis.

Meghalaya - International Expeditions From a First Timer's Perspective

by Henry Dawson

I'm sure you have all read through expedition reports and have been adequately informed about the various different caves found, their lengths, locations and general characteristics, so for this article I would like to give a bit more of a first hand, human perspective of an expedition.

This was my first expedition. I had most generously been invited by Tony Jarratt. I thought about it for about half a second and accepted, then drove home figuring out how I would explain to the missus and my boss that I wanted to vanish for a month to go down holes in the ground.

I managed to get time off work and my girlfriend was disturbingly eager for me to go away for so long so all I had to sort out was the monetary side of things. I had plenty of warning and advice on good airlines to use from J'rat so booked tickets to places I had never heard of and counted up what I had left. This was disappointingly little but I got by for most things by extending the overdraft (and being a true Yorkshireman). I came unstuck with my insurance and jabs. Prior to the trip I got an e-mail from the organiser giving details of some companies. Being inexperienced I got the BCA all singing all dancing insurance and in retrospect I could happily have got away with the German equivalent of the RAC (The ADAC) who do a travel medical insurance that covers you for accidents and medical repatriation in the event of an accident and does not exclude caving. To gain this cover you need to join the ADAC (22 Euro) and pay an additional charge (11.70 Euro) for the medical cover.  The ADAC Website has further information www.adac.de (most of it in German with some English).  If you take this option you will need an additional travel insurance to cover delays and loss of baggage etc.  A normal travel policy that is likely to cost between £50 to £60 will cover this. I would recommend this to anyone going to remote locations where your friends will pull you out of the cave, as there is no rescue team.

Starting to panic a bit about the costs involved I was informed of what the Ian Dear Memorial Fund was. Once more I thanked myself for joining the BEC and made an application. Those controlling the fund were flexible and extremely helpful when considering my application. All I needed to do to apply was write a letter explaining who I was, what I was doing and why I needed the money. I gave this to a member of the committee and the application was dealt with expeditiously. The fund was very generous and made a substantial difference for me. To the fund and those looking after it I am very grateful and would recommend that all young members of the BEC consider applying for this help when going on expeditions.

The time came and I picked up Tony who insisted on going to the Hunter's before we did anything. We later climbed on the plane and Tony promptly set about harassing the stewards to get a supply of gin and tonics going. Numerous hours later we landed in Kolkata (Calcutta) and walked over to the domestic terminal fighting off taxi drivers and hawkers.  Here we met a few of the others and sat down for a seemingly interminable time period in an airport where everything closed overnight.

The next flight to Guwahati was quick and then we were in a Sumo 4x4 and settled in for a 4-hour journey through some really pretty hills covered with jungle. Feeling shattered I was reluctant to drop off as there was so much to see. We got into Shillong and I was glad of Tony's company as he navigated the cab to Brian's house. A lovely little compound right in the middle of town.

The next day we went for a wander around the market. This maze of tiny stalls had everything we needed so we stocked up on digging gear and blankets and I set about trying to get some warm clothes to replace the coat I had left at Kolkata airport. Indian airways seemingly indiscriminately confiscate whisky (fluids) and batteries from hand baggage. Its worth going with just a book in your hands on internal flights. I found Tony and Neil in the Centrepoint's Bar. The two of them had been going at it since before lunch and were not interested in leaving for such distractions as an evening meal. Having chosen the strangely ubiquitous Chinese food for tea I returned to find Tony and Neil in quite a state chattering away to some rich locals who had paid for their tab. Must have been rich! It got late and Tony fell over and whacked his head. We got him and Neil back to Brian's and crashed out. A fairly disturbed night followed and I was woken at one point as J'rat tried to get into Neil's sleeping bag by mistake!

The next day we piled into an old bus (the Meghalaya expedition is very organised) and settled in for 5 hours of driving past piles of coal and chatting to Phillippa Glanvill to get out to a patch of large tents on the side of a hill in the middle of nowhere. I wandered into what I would come to call the 'Bamboo Belfry' feeling like a novice amongst experts and feeling not a little trepidation. I had been to such remote places plenty of times before but never had I been amongst such a collection of cavers, for a whole month. The ice soon broke as we complained about the tea made for us by the cook (his name was Swer). Base camp was quite a luxurious place with long-drop toilets, people cooking and washing for you, warm water for bathing and an infinite supply of beer. Apparently we got through about 1000, 1 litre bottles!

Next day and I was put with Mark Brown and a few others. A great chap who did a brilliant job of managing the expedition for the majority of the time we were there. It was Simon Brooks who started the expedition and headed it up each year but after several years of attendance Mark had taken over a lot of the management. Most of the Meghalayan caves around base camp drop down 90-100m of pitches and then get into enormous trunk passages. It is hard to wrap your head around the volumes of water that flow through some of the passages. Photos do not really do them justice, as I was to find out.

My first cave had a 9 pitch SRT section followed by some level passage then we were straight into surveying. This surprised me as I am used to the idea of there only being a minority that get to push caves whilst the majority 'entrance bash' and carry out support roles. Not in Meghalaya. There is such as wealth of passage and such easy access that everyone on the expedition got to survey a reasonable amount of virgin cave.

We left the cave and were pressed into playing hula-hoop with a big gang of cheering village kids. I was pretty happy to find that those on the expedition were of a similar level to me and not the mega-cavers I was expecting. I also had a great opportunity to learn new skills such as surveying and setting bolts. Apart from a few SWCC courses this opportunity is sadly unavailable in the UK.

On my return to camp I found out that Tony's injured head had become worse and one of our expedition's four doctors had carted him off to Shillong for a brain scan. Thankfully this showed that he did indeed have a brain and that there was no lasting damage.

The days progressed and I was surprised to find that I woke every day really happy to go caving. Although rather wet, Meghalayan caves are warm and usually spacious. A set of thermals and a lightweight oversuit will do any caver in this type of climate. A shorty was enough for most wet caves and a Petzl Duo or similar AA battery run light will do in even very remote areas. Make sure you get good batteries though as fakes and local brands tend to be dreadful.

Just as I was getting used to everything at base camp I found out I was being sent away with some Germans to a little village in the jungle called Sielkan. Rather concerned at leaving all the people I knew I put my kit together and set about introducing myself to these new people. Then disaster struck! The Meghalaya Adventurers' Association had been pursuing an action in the high court to get better control of the illegal mining on the ridge. Lafarge was trying to turn the mountain into cement and some small-scale coal miners had got caught in the crossfire. These turned up en-masse looking rather menacing and ordered us off the ridge. Having found several dead people allegedly due to a squabble between the miners we took them seriously. Tempted to face it out, our minds were made up when they started threatening the villagers. We pulled all our gear out of the caves and sat in base camp looked over by a load of coppers armed with machine guns. Meanwhile Simon did some clever negotiating with the miners and after a few days sitting out some pretty persistent rain we got the go ahead and set off for Sielkan.

Sielkan consisted of about twenty bamboo huts two hours walk from the nearest 'road.' The village's water supply was from a huge doline through which a river flowed. This cave required life jackets and Henry Rockcliff generously lent me a wetsuit. I have to say that whilst I thought the caves on the ridge were beautifully decorated, nothing had prepared me for this! The main passage was a huge 40m by 30m river passage 3km long with a bat colony part way through numbering about 1 million bats. The side passages were various but the main one, appropriately called Perfect Passage (again large) was both varied and intensely decorated. This wonderland of gypsum, sandstone, limestone and every type of formation you could think of all in a plethora of ways, shapes and forms left me gaping. We netted about 3km of newly surveyed passage and exchanged a few anxious glances when we found both bear and big cat footprints down there with us!

On later trips we used the Bamboo Maypole to access high-level passages. For this technique you asked the village chief for the largest piece of bamboo he could lay his hands on and dragged it underground. The bamboo had to be fresh and green as it lost strength quickly once cut. Underground you tied a ladder to it with slings and had two ropes to steady it if necessary, then propped it against the aven and climbed up the ladder. It was all rather wobbly but worked brilliantly and saved many hours of bolt climbing.

Caving in new areas seems mostly to involve going and seeing the village head-man and asking permission to go down their caves. Then local kids are recruited to find entrances for some small remuneration, these are logged with GPS and many notes taken due to the lack of satellites then quickly checked to see if they go, a machete was essential.

The next few weeks passed with some good progress and quite a few comments made about J'rat's remarkable fortune at finding connections (although he puts it down to 40 years of caving and several years of thought). I learnt how to do survey book and got started on bolt placements. I was really enjoying myself and all too soon the expedition ended. We returned to Shillong for more drinking and shopping, then to Calcutta from where we flew home.

I would have found it very difficult to do this expedition had it not been for the generous support of the Bristol Exploration Club. To them and those on the expedition I would like to extend my profound and sincere gratitude.


Apologies to Jrat but the map below was left out of BB528.

Please cut this out and staple it, in a slapdash and crude manner into BB528.

Hutton Update: New Pit Opened…then closed again

Nicks Harding and Richards have opened up another pit on Hutton Hill. What at first seemed to be a rather uninspiring depression turned out to be a striking bedding feature. After a series of digging sessions including one with the antipodean Ray Deasy they have cleared this feature out.

But exposing the back wall and emptying out more material has revealed that the pit, one in a line of three, is in fact a dead end. Initial excitement, as is often the way, has now turned to disappointment. The pit is being closed down and their attentions are shifting to another collection of holes nearer to the entrance of Bleadon Cavern. 

Attempts are being made to open one of the two shafts in Upper Canada Cave. Both were blocked from above, which suggests upper passages somewhere between May Tree and UCC. 

Your Flexible Friend ... the Ladder

by the late Dave Irwin, in his memory

The use of wooden rigid ladders in cave exploration, including cane ladders of the Far East, is probably as old as The Mists of Time, but the use of the flexible ladder is another story. Whilst looking for references relating to this subject Ray Mansfield mentioned to me that he believed that the Chinese were using such ladders in caves during the 14th - 15th centuries but he could not relate to any particular source. Published accounts of exploration have stated that the first use of a flexible ladder was during the exploration of the Macocha Chasm in the late 18th century.   So it .may come as a surprise when it will be shown that a Mendip caver can claim the honour some 105 years earlier!

John Beaumont [c.1650 - 1731]

Details of the early exploration of Lamb Leer Cavern are well known to most Mendip cavers based upon four letters sent by John Beaumont to the Royal Society between 1676 and 1683. Due to the misleading Lowthorpe abridged reprint in 1705, together with several later editions of this work, the included errors were perpetrated by many later authors including Herbert Balch. Very few later researchers consulted the original documents; investigative work by Trevor Shaw resolved the problem correctly identifying the original documents. The references given here will relate to the original sources, namely the Royal Society Transactions and Collections to which Beaumont sent four letters, two in 1676; the others in 1681 and 1683. The topics were wide ranging but included details of 'rock plants' [Crinoids] he had investigated; an account of the ailments afflicting both miners and cattle, and he also submitted detailed descriptions of some of the Mendip caves he knew at Wookey Hole and Cheddar. His descriptions of the caves were based upon first hand knowledge the largest of which was located on Harptree Hill above the village of West Harptree. The exploratory trips into this cave were carried out by Beaumont accompanied by local miners and the published account of its exploration is a revelation. It is factual and, allowing for the presentational style of the time, his account would be readily accepted as an exploratory report in modern caving publications. The cave - Lamb Leer Cavern.

The then entrance shaft, now known as the Beaumont Shaft, was passed without comment implying that this was done using the miners’ techniques of the day, fixed wooden ladders or stemples or a combination of both. However, on reaching the head of the 20m pitch into Main Chamber he describes the descent in great detail- This is important for it implies that the technique was not commonly used by the miners. Beaumont wrote that:

... a vast Cavern opens it self, so that by the light of our Candles we could not fully discern the roof, floor, nor sides of it; I encouraged the Miners by offer of a double Salary to any that would go down in to it, they all refusing, I fastened a cord about me, and ordered them to let me down gently after the Rocks, but being down about two Fathom  I found the Rocks to bear away from me, so that I could touch nothing to guide my self by, and the rope began to turn round very fast, whereupon I ordered the Miners to let me down as quick as they could, and upon the descent of 12 Fathom I came to the bottom, where untying my cord I went about to search the Cavern ... This Cavern is about 60 Fathom in the circumference, above 20 Fathom in height, and about 15 in length, it runs along after the Rakes, and not crossing them as the leading Vault does. At the breast of this Cavern, which terminates it to the West, I discovered some good Lead-Ore, and all other kindly sorts of Earth and Stones which usually lie with it...

Not wanting to repeat the discomfiture experienced on the first descent and wishing to get his miners down into the chamber to work for ore and Bole earths , Beaumont

... got a Ladder of Ropes to be made for an easy descent into this great Cavern, and caused Miners to sinck ten Fathom deep in the bottom of it, just before this breast, and we had always some leading of Ore in our working, but finding often little Caverns in our work, which are not so kindly for one as firm ground, we at length desisted. ...

The discomfort referred to by Beaumont during the descent was also experienced by McMurtrie when he made the same descent by rope soon after its re-opening in 1880.

The 18th and 19th centuries

Though the publications of the Royal Society were widely read throughout Europe the use of ladders in cave exploration was not common practice for some time. Absolon relates that rope ladders were used to explore the Macocha Chasm or Abyss near Brno in southern Moravia in the Czech Republic during the 18th century .  Shaw refers to a 'proto-ladder' devised by Lazarus Schopper in his attempt to descend the chasm in 1723. The hair-raising design was that '... he drove pegs through his rope to serve as footholds.'

A rope ladder proper was used to descend into the main chamber of Grotte des Demoiselles in France in 1780. However, from the mid 19th century the flexible ladder was in common usage for cave exploration in Europe. Edward Hanke von Hankenstein devised a “folding ladder to aid his exploration of the Macocha Chasm in the 1860s”. Shaw notes that the 

... earlier use of ropes followed the then established mining procedures but Hankenstcin used folding ladders. Each was approximately 5 m long and could be assembled to a length of up to 60 m. The contraption weighed some 100 lbs.

How it was constructed and from what it was made is not stated.

Meanwhile in Britain ...

During the first quarter of the 19th century a large number of caves had been or were being explored. On Mendip the Banwell caves were accessible to the public during 1824-25; in 1837 Cox's Cave was accidentally found and opened for the public a year later. In the north some fifty caves were explored during this period including Goyden Pot [1832] and Ingleborough [Clapham] Cave in 1837.

It was not until the 1840s that the two best known shafts in the Dales, namely Gaping Gill [Ghyll] and Alum Pot received the attention of the 'curious'.  To explore these required a very different technique to that already used to explore the 'easier' caves. The first attempt at Gaping Gill was made about 1842  when John Birkbeck [1817-1890] was lowered down the shaft on a rope. How he clung to the rope is not known but it is possible that the end of the rope was lashed to a wooden bar upon which Birkbeck sat. Be that as it may, it was a hairy escapade.  William Howson, a local schoolmaster, was to later write that:

... this chasm has been descended to a depth of one hundred and ninety feet and there is no landing place until this depth is reached.  ..

According to Beck, Birkbeck made another attempt in the following year when, though not proceeding beyond the ledge, now known as the Birkbeck Ledge, he was able to plum the lower section of the shaft determining that the depth to the floor of the shaft was a further 150 ft.

Slightly earlier, through the 1830s and 1840s, Alum Pot created some local interest for guides could be hired for a descent into Long Churn Cave. The trip ended beyond Dr. Bannister's Handbasin at the head of the 12m Dolly Tubs, which had yet to be descended. On their return, the visitors climbed a short wooden ladder to avoid a wetting in the Handbasin.

Intrigued as to what lay at the foot of the Alum Pot shaft, Birkbeck and William Metcalfe [1815-1888] led a party of 10 including Howson into Long Churn with the intention of descending Dolly Tubs. For the trip they brought with them ropes, pulleys and a fire-escape belt. Ropes were used to descend Dolly Tubs and from The Bridge Howson was strapped into the fire-escape belt and lowered to the floor some 18m below but due to lack of adequate tackle to explore beyond this point the trip was called off.

Another attempt by the same group was made a year later but this time the descent would be by means of a winch slung from beams placed across the top of the main shaft. Of these attempts Howson recorded that the first down to the rock bridge was unsuccessful for fatigue

... and wet prevented the party from doing more than reaching the bottom, but next year the same adventurous spirits descended from the summit of the Pot by means of a windlass fixed on two baulks of timber laid across the chasm. ...

The timber beams were left in place until 1893 when they were declared to be rotten.  On the second occasion the final sump was reached. The situation remained thus until 1870 when Birkbeck and Metcalfe were joined by William Boyd Dawkins and three ladies. In all 10 persons went down making a successful descent to the bottom.  Short lengths of ladder and ropes was lowered enabling the shorter pitches below The Bridge to be tackled.  What type of ladder is unclear, some believe that they were rigid structures, lashed together for the longer pitches.

By the 1890s the exploration of caves in the Yorkshire Dales became a regular activity of the members of the Yorkshire Ramblers Club [YRC] and many of the entrances were by then well known though the caves were not explored until the early years of the 20th century. To undertake the exploration of Meregill, Juniper and other notable classics rope ladders were regularly used.

The YRC was formed in 1892 and one of the earliest projects was another attempt to bottom the Gaping Ghyll main shaft; the first since Clibbon's unsuccessful descent in 1882, though he too reached Birkbeck's Ledge.  In 1895 one of YRC founding members, Edward Calvert, investigated the top of the shaft determining that rope ladders would be the right choice of equipment in order to make the descent. Knowing that the measured depth of the shaft was about 360 ft he and others set-to and commenced building manilla rope and wooden rung ladders.   For various reasons the planned trip was delayed and, as Beck commented this was to cost Calvert “ ... the honour of the first descent, ...”

Meanwhile Eduard Martel [1859-1938] had planned a visit to Great Britain to address the 6th Geographical Congress in London, in August 1895. He took full advantage of the invitation and transformed his visit into a tour of various caving regions in order to collect information that was later published in his Irlande et caverns anglaises. This included a tour of the northern caves and investigations of the deep potholes that were known to exist not far from Enniskillen in Ireland. The site of special interest was the as yet un-descended Gaping Ghyll. Consequently he communicated with James Farrar, the landowner and obtained permission to make another attempt. Martel brought with him some 300 ft of ladder and some length of rope.  The ladder by itself would not reach the floor of the shaft some 360 ft below. This was achieved by lowering the whole ladder 60 ft down the shaft. To reach the ladder Martel had to first climb down the holding rope complete with telephone and its cable and lifeline. That day, 1st August 1895, made caving history by bottoming the shaft and recording initial details of the great chamber.

Though bitterly disappointed at being 'pipped to the post’ Calvert and his companions finally made the first British descent in the following year on the 9th May 1896 using a Bosun's Chair.  YRC also used ladders for the exploration of Long Kin West during October 1896 and for the exploration of Rowten Pot in July 1897.

Ladders used by the cave explorers at the end of the 19th century were of mixed design. Some explorers were using rope sides with a combination of wood and rope rungs. The wooden rung being introduced to stabilise the ladder during the climb preventing the awful closing of the rope sides making it very difficult to climb unless they were belayed separately. Others preferred to pay the weight penalty by having their ladders made up of rope sides and all wooden rungs.  In 1898 the 1st edition of Encyclopaedia of Sport included a section on cave exploration. 

... As the sport of cave exploration and the descent of potholes is a comparatively new one, and as little is known about it in England outside those districts where it is practised, a few words on its evolution are necessary to the understanding of its methods.....

This section was written by John Green, Edward Calvert, Frank Ellet and Thomas Gray; all 'first wave' YRC potholers. By 1910 YRC had 480 ft [146m] stock of ladder, which was probably a mixture of metal/rope rung combination as well as the accepted design of wooden rung/rope ladder.

So by the 1890s flexible ladders were in common use by cave explorers. But what of the design? A ladder with sides and rungs of rope would be extremely difficult to climb and not least tiring. Furthermore the rope would stretch and the sides collapse together so that the rungs hung in loops. A nightmare to say the least. To overcome the problem each side rope would require a separate belay point. The well known lifeline signals were introduced to caving about this time.

However ladder design had progressed by this time and two basic designs were regularly used; the pros and cons of each were obviously the subject of much discussion. The most rigid - stable of these designs was the rope sides and wooden rung configuration but they were heavy and extremely bulky. Martel used this design for his Gaping Ghyll descent.

In order to reduce both weight and bulk a compromise design between the true rope ladder and the wooden rung configuration was developed. It took the form of a ladder comprising rope sides but a mixture of rope and wood rungs thus keeping the ladder stable for the climber. It is well described in the Encyclopaedia of Sport, 1898:

ROPE-LADDERS — The ladders used are made with sides of half-inch rope, and rope rungs of slightly smaller material spliced in.   A wooden rung in every four or five may be added to keep the sides apart, but to have all the rungs of wood is too great an increase in weight and the bulk to be recommended, though some explorers prefer them. The ladders are most useful in lengths of 40 or 50 feet, made to join either by spring hooks or by lashing. One of the ladders should have its top bar made of wrought-iron and provided with three rings or eyes, the use for which will be seen later. ... Another method of descent is by rope-ladders. This is suitable for places which descend in a series of drops or "pitches," where there are ledges of varying widths. With a total length of 150 feet of ladder much may be done.

Having plumbed a depth of, say, 100 feet from the surface, the ladder is tied to two ropes (or to both ends of one rope) of not less than ½ inch diameter, one at each end ring of its top bar.  If possible, a plank should be fixed across the mouth of the shaft, over which the ropes attached to the ladder may hang, in order to avoid knocking down any loose earth or rock. The ropes carrying the ladder should be made fast to a couple of stakes driven into the ground a little distance from the lip of the "pot," and then, secured by a safety rope, paid out by hand over a pulley fixed into the plank, the exploring party will in turn descend. It may be found that the place the party have reached is not the bottom, and that the plumb-line is again required. Assuming it reveals another considerable drop, the ladder will have to be lowered until its head is level with the ledge occupied by the party, and then either be made fast there or, preferably, above.

The raising and lowering of the ladder will be facilitated by a length of sash cord being tied to the middle ring of the top bar of the ladder, passed through a pulley on the beam, and allowed to hang down the hole. Then the men on the first landing place will be able to help, by steadying and holding it while the ropes on the surface are being secured. This procedure may be repeated until the actual bottom is reached.

It must be remembered that the descent and ascent by rope-ladders is a very toilsome proceeding, and that practically no rest can be taken while on the ladder itself beyond getting breath, as the ladder swings away from the vertical line, which throws the man's weight almost entirely on his hands and arms.

For this reason, if for no other, a windlass is to be preferred for a deep descent which cannot be negotiated by a series of drops where rests may be taken. ...

Though the above was written by YRC members,  the first journal published by that club in 1899 contained a review of the caving section written by one 'L.M.'   The reviewer noting that the authors of the article called caving "mountaineering reversed" took issue with this and also on the matter of ladder design. 

... Frankly describing it as a sport, its writers make no apologies for pursuing it, regardless of public opinion, which always condemns climbing more or less, and cannot too utterly abhor the more apparent futility of its allied sport. ... The technical side is dealt with at some length, and the article gives a careful explanation of the most successful methods of exploring caves and descending potholes ... If there is a point upon which it is possible to join issue with the authors it is upon the form of rope-ladder best adapted for this work. In spite of its extra weight, a ladder with alternate rungs of wood and rope, or at least every third rung of wood, is to be preferred to the ladder with one wooden rung in every four of five recommended. Climbing a rope-ladder for even a short distance is exceedingly arduous, and the stiffness and rigidity imparted by the additional wooden rungs more than balance the increased difficulty of getting the ladder to its point of usefulness. ...

By the time of the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia of Sport the section relating to ladder design had been completely rewritten stating that:

... ladders used are made with sides of half-inch diameter rope with hardwood rungs. Experience shows that it is very important that the rungs should not be more than eight or nine inches apart - a longer step becomes excessively fatiguing on a long ascent. ...

The article included several interesting photographs including the work of Cuthbert Hastings. How many editions of the encyclopaedia was published is unknown.

Noon's Hole in the north of Ireland

YRC visited northern Ireland to explore one of the two famous shafts, the 80m Noon's Hole entrance shaft at Whitsun, 1907. Only armed with 20m of ladder the YRC team

... turned their attention to Noon's Hole or Sumera,  a deep pot-hole with a grisly reputation due to the fate of an informer who was thrown down about a century ago.  ... Our rope ladder was only 70 feet long, and as we could hardly make up more than 200 feet of life line, Mr. Lemon ... kindly lent us two 120 feet ropes, which we need to raise and lower the 70 feet ladder. It was the lot of our London member to make the first and only descent...

The London member was none other than Ernest A. Baker who reached a depth of 44 m [143 ft] before the return climb to the surface. A magnificent achievement.

Martel made his famous descent down the Gaping Ghyll [Gill] Main Shaft, excepting the first 70 ft which he climbed down on the rope holding the ladder, by climbing the rest in much the same way as he did when descending the great shaft at Padirac. The same shaft was bottomed by YRC in the following year.

A Novel Design

In 1894, Harold Dawson of Bradford, who “... possesses a complete apparatus for the descent of these pot-holes ...” made a descent of Alum Pot via Long Churn using 

... a wire-rope ladder, 42 feet long, divided into three sections (of 14 feet), fastened and unfastened by means of 'dog -clasps', so that in bearing a great weight it was utterly impossible for the clasps to come unloosened. This ladder was invaluable, it was flexible, and each one of the party of three had a section wound round his body, (immediately under the armpits) the ladder being of such width that it rested on the hips, and required no fastening over the arms, thus leaving them quite free; it was carried this way, and when any depth of a drop was encountered, one, two, or three sections were unbound and clasped together as the occasion required ...

The use of wire-rope is significant for this is the first mention of any deviation from the standard rope sides in common use at this time. How the rungs were constructed is not stated, it is probable that Dawson used wooden rungs but he could have used metal rungs which, if so, would probably have been made of steel. The structurally sound duralumin was not in common usage in large scale manufacture until metal aircraft structures became commonplace during the 1930s. It was, however, a significant advance in ladder design that was, for a time, a ‘one-off’ and not followed up by his contemporaries.

...and on Mendip

The early Mendip pioneers have often been criticised for not using ladders when descending the pitches in Lamb Leer Cavern, Swildon's Hole and Eastwater Cavern. Balch in particular came in for severe criticism for seemingly staring progress in the face. It must be pointed out, without going into detail, that the rope technique adopted by the Mendip pioneers, in particular in Eastwater Cavern was similar to that used by Mendip miners. Baker, who was a well respected alpinist would never have agreed to work with Balch under these conditions had he not thought it safe; however this is another story and is the subject of another paper.  Ropes were not completely replaced by ladders for some time. An account of a descent of Eastwater, in 1942, clearly illustrates the manner by which some cavers explored this cave.

Visiting Mendip from the north one Simpson and his friend joined up with two cavers from Bristol including one Fisher [the leader]. Ready for the descent they  

had ... a good long rope, which Fisher said we would use on the verticals. ... The only thing I remember after this was a continual scramble along narrow passages and down vertical rifts with the rope getting in the way most of the time. Eventually we came to a series of verticals down which the rope was necessary. Fisher belayed on a convenient boulder and proceeded to climb down, using the rope as a hand rail. We followed one by one and found ourselves at the head of another short pitch. Down we went again still cling[ing] to the rope, only to find another steep pitch following. This time we had to abseil down, and what a laugh Fisher and I had. We had safely reached the foot of the pitch and Holt [Simpson's friend] prepared to follow. Somehow or other he got the rope around his knee about halfway down and finish[ed] the latter half of the pitch almost head first. The last man fared better, as he wound the [rope] twice around his waist, presumably for safety's sake, only to find himself securely hung up about 6 ft. from the floor with the rope getting ever tighter around his waist. Fortunately we were able to ease him up whilst he extracted himself from the coils of rope, his only injury being his pride. We had now finished with the rope and continued on our scramble down to the sump, which we reached safely.

The return route was vastly different up a series of short water-worn verticals, which we climbed with ease. This brought us out at the bottom of the second rope pitch which we now had to climb. Fisher led the way and we followed one by one with little delay. We were now at the bottom of the first pitch and it looked a very tricky climb. Fisher made a very determined effort, and after a terrific hand over hand scramble on the last few feet, safely reached the head of the pitch. With Fisher at the top, we used the rope as a lifeline and after much panting and cursing reached the top without mishap.

Suffice to say that the party returned to daylight all in one piece!

Balch first used ladders in 1903 during his exploration of the upper series and opening up of the western extensions in Wookey Hole.

In 1914 Baker, made an attempt to bottom the Swildon's Hole Forty Foot Pot. Using a rope ladder he reached the bottom and progressed a further 60m before reaching another wet pitch, the Twenty Foot Pot. Lack of tackle prevented further exploration of the cave. Wet conditions foiled Baker's second attempt in 1915 and the weather intervened again in the exceptionally wet years of 1919-1920. Even so a number of groups attempted to reach the Twenty Foot Pot but the volume of water flowing down the Forty Foot Pot was again too great to enable a safe descent to be made. British weather can often be one of extremes. The wet conditions of the two previous years gave way to one with the longest drought of the 20th century during 1921. Breaking his journey to Europe for an Alpine holiday, Baker accompanied by his son, Gerard and cousin, Alan Baker, met Chandler and travelled to Mendip. Taking full advantage of the dry weather the party descended the cave and it was not long before they stood at the top of the Twenty Foot Pot.  The way on was clear and eventually a “... curious double fall, ... “ was reached. The party, ready to beat a retreat remained at the top of the pots whilst Baker continued   down the passage stopping just short of Barnes' Loop. After building a cairn he returned and the party left the cave. It was only after the event that Baker informed Balch of what had been found.   The furious Balch sprang into action and organised a large party which descended the cave on the 1st August.  Baker's cairn was reached and a section of the party continued down to the sump, known to them as The Trap. The weather remained dry well into late Autumn enabling a series of trips to be arranged principally to survey and photograph the new passages. Instead of the leisurely approach to caving on Mendip, perhaps three or four trips a year, Balch organised at least eight trips during that period. Rope and wooden rung ladders were borrowed from the small stock that had been built up by the recently formed UBSS enabling several of their members, including E.K. Tratman, to join the Balch teams.

Rope ladders in the 20th century

Ladders as described in the Encyclopaedia of Sport were widely used by YRC and the Yorkshire Speleological Association (YSA). The latter was formed in 1906 by Eli Simpson and others, and by about 1910 both clubs had accumulated sizeable stocks of ladder sufficient to undertake all the known northern caves. However, though all ladders were built from rope and wooden rungs there was no standardised width of rung.

Inspecting early photographic material taken between c. 1908 and 1921 a variety of rung widths were used. As early as 1889 Martel used a wide rung ladder to descend the Padirac shaft. However, by 1910 photographs taken at this time of Gaping Ghyll [Gill] show a narrow flat rung with a side rope pitch of about 7 inches. Even in the early 1920s UBSS were using ladders with 30 cm wide rungs.  This can be clearly seen in the Savory photograph of Edgar Tratman at the bottom of the Swildon's Forty Foot Pot. Another photograph of the Twenty Foot Pot, c. 1922, from the Molly Hall collection at Wells and Mendip Museum also shows a similar width of rung in use. The wide rung ladder design remained in use for some considerable time and was part of the ladder stock during the early years of the Bristol Exploration Club, 1935- c. 1940. A photograph of BEC members, including Harry Stanbury outside Lamb Leer Cavern, c. 1938, in his photographic collection clearly shows how bulky this equipment really was. During the post 2nd World War years rung width was reduced to a standardised length of about 20 cm. Quite apart from the rung width the wooden rung design took on two forms: a circular or rectangular section. They were made from seasoned straight grained hard wood. Round rungs were frequently used, the rung end being pushed through the rope strands which locked into a shallow groove close to the rung ends. The rung was then permanently locked to the rope sides by whipping above and below the rung. Though this design was widely used it was acknowledged that the rope was extremely vulnerable to severe chafeing when hung close to the rock face. Another problem caused several climbers moments of discomfort. The round rungs would rotate and unless the boot was well located on the rung the climber would find himself coming off the ladder!

The rectangular rung overcame the two basic disadvantages of the circular rung. As for the circular design the rectangular rungs were frequently located by whipping or lashing and in other cases a wooden peg was driven through the rung and rope, a method much favoured by CPC during the 1950s. In the north most were built in lengths of 20 or 25 feet to minimise the problems of transportation, bulk and weight; the 25 ft ladder weighing in at about 10 lb. (dry) and about 13 lb. (wet). For long pitches the ladders were linked by knotting or eye-thimbles were threaded into the rope ends and clipped together by karabiners among other techniques.

In the post 2nd WW years many designs emerged as a result of clubs developing their own designs and build standards. The Cave Research Group published details of the more commonly used methods of ladder construction in its various editions of British Caving and in the 1962 Some Technical Aids for Cave Exploration.     Clubs too published articles discussing the merits of various designs typified by one written by Plowes of the Orpheus Caving Club.   Their ladders were built in 15 ft and 30 ft length and were built from 1¾" manilla rope (approx. ½" diameter) and the rungs were made of oak or beech measuring 7½" x 1½" x ½"

... though the thickness, if the wood is not such good quality, might be increased to 5/8". Choose from straight grained pieces, avoid the 'sap wood" which is softer & be wary of possible splitting.

Half inch diameter holes, drilled in the rungs at 6" centres, carry the ropes. The rung protects the rope from damage by abrasion ... The rungs are secured by a method of lashing. The effect of this method is to thicken the rope ... Over riding of [the] rungs being practically impossible. ...

The ‘Electron’ Ladder

By the start of the 1930s French caving had emerged as a significant force in the speleological world and many cavers and there came about a major reassessment of caving equipment generally being used. Much of it was bulky, heavy and required large parties to transport the gear to its point of use. During the late 1920s the famous French caver R. de Joly began constructing a number of specialised tools as aids to cave exploration. Among these 'inventions' was a device known as the 'Galet', a folding frame in the form of a triple trestle, that allowed ladders to be kept away from sloping surfaces reducing abrasion to the ropes and rungs.    About this time another innovation was a major redesign of caving ladders where he replaced natural fibre rope with wire rope. The life of the ladder was considerably improved and the concept was quickly adopted by many cavers not only in France but throughout the rest of Europe and remained in general use up to the early 1960s.

De Joly's major breakthrough came in 1930 when he introduced the 'Electron' ladder which was an all metal construction.   This was revolutionary for it eliminated nearly all the disadvantages of the rope-wooden rung combination at a stroke. The ladder was constructed using flexible wire rope to which were attached duralumin tubes.   The whole assembly was some 75% lighter than the conventional rope ladder and much less bulky enabling smaller parties to work as a team. Being of metal it was much less susceptible to abrasive damage and, though it still required regular inspection, corrosion was a relatively minor problem.

During the pre 2nd WW years cavers were fully aware of the de Joly design but still clung to the wood rung ladders. In fact the debate relating to the various ladder designs continued into the 1950s. In the event it was not until the 1960s that the Electron ladder was in regular use. The difficulty of climbing the ladder was a reason but the root cause of cavers shunning the structure was simply perception. The slightness of the design gave little encouragement to those used to climbing the seemingly more substantial outlines of the rope ladder. Secondly, it was generally acknowledged that rope ladders were easier to climb. Their extra bulk held it in a vertical position enabling the climber to move up and down on the same face of the ladder whilst holding the side ropes which meant that the centre of gravity of the climber was close to the ladder. Attempting to climb an Electron ladder in the same manner causes the climber to lean back, placing the body weight onto the arms and hands. To bring the centre of gravity position of the climber closer to the ladder a new climbing technique was devised where each boot is on different sides of the ladder - popularly known as 'making love to the ladder’! Basically the technique is still used today.

Writing in the Craven Pothole Club Journal Smith reviewed methods of manufacturing caving ladder and at the end made some comment on the Electron ladders built by a fellow club member, Brindle.

... At this stage I ought to say something about the de Joly / Brindle type metal ladders. But words fail me! We tried out this ladder on the open pitch at Rift Pot and after this experience I would recommend that it should not be used on any pitch greater than 25 feet. To give them their due, they are light, fairly strong (although I have some reservations on this score) and they are easy to handle in confined spaces. But in my view they tend to put the whole weight of your body on the wrists and particularly so when you have been used to climbing wooden ladders where the weight of the body is taken by the upper part of one's arms. ...

However, after much discussion and debate the rope ladder eventually lost out to the lightweight Electron structure. By the 1960s cavers had broken away from the regular formal club meet and were now caving more frequently and in smaller groups. The increase in personal transport; the extensions to the motorway system saw cavers' habits changing dramatically. The increased freedom of mobility saw groups caving in most caving regions in the country on a regular basis, whereas previously it had only been possible on Bank Holidays or during their Annual Holiday. As a consequence of this change, the lightweight ladder and light synthetic ropes then coming onto the market swept the old equipment aside enabling small teams to undertake quite extreme caving trips.

In Britain the idea of building an Electron ladder was first taken up by Harry Stanbury of the Bristol Exploration Club about the time of its reformation in 1943. Scrounging materials from all manner of sources, remember it was during the middle of the 2nd World War, he built an 'electron' ladder using 5/8 inch [1.6 cm] diameter 20 SWG [0.9mm] duralumin tubing. The 0.08 inch [2 mm] diameter wire rope was passed through holes drilled close to the tube ends, round a 2 BA bolt [approx 4.5 mm dia] shank and looped through an aluminium spacer and out of the other hole [see photo]. Together with C. Drummond and Dan Hasell the trio tried the ladder out on Swildon's Forty Foot Pot on 3rd April 1943. Harry wrote in the BEC log book that the “ …ladder exceeded all expectations.”   The ladder still exists and was given to the Club a few years ago for safe keeping. It is an important piece of caving history and is now kept in the Club library.

In 1946, UBSS members, John Pitts and Charles Barker, co-discoverer of G.B. Cave in 1939, spent a holiday in Ireland with the intention of exploring Dunmore and Mitchelstown Caves. In a speech given in 1998, Pitts talked of their wanderings and of the caves they explored. Travelling around the countryside on Barker's motor-cycle, caving kit had to be kept to an absolute minimum and so instead of taking a standard rope ladder with them they constructed a light-weight ladder

... of wire and duralumin tube tailored for the pitch in the Old Cave at Mitchelstone (sic). We spaced the rungs as far apart as we dared in order to reduce the weight and took the minimum amount of rope that we hoped would be enough for tethers. Rope in those days of course was hemp.

A couple of years later Luke Devenish of the MNRC and WCC attempted to developed his own lightweight ladder. The problem was that Luke, who was always brimming over with enthusiasm, was no engineer. His first efforts used one or two duralumin plates for the rung between which a 3/16 in diameter wire rope was sandwiched, all of which was held in place by a bolt passing through the plates and strands of the wire rope. The weight of this was 10lb. for 25 ft of ladder. He made a variant which reduced weight further by omitting the second plate, the nut being clamped against the wire rope separated by a washer.

None of these trials made it into club 'production' but Devenish persisted. He next devised a tubular rung configuration using ½ inch diameter, 18 SWG duralumin tube and 3 mm diameter galvanised steel wire rope which was passed through holes drilled at the ends of each rung. To fix the wire to the tube each tube end was plugged with Plaster of Paris just beyond the drilled holes - the reason will soon become clear. The wire rope was then passed through the tube at which point the strands exposed inside the tube were separated using a screwdriver then was poured molten solder to fill up the void between the Plaster of Paris and the outer edge of the rung in order to prevent the cable slipping. Unbelievable! Even Devenish commented that it “... proved unsatisfactory.”

Don Coase of the BEC, an engineer, improved on the Stanbury design during the late 1940s by evolving a system whereby two plugs were inserted into both rung ends, the outer being a tapped hole for a 2 BA Allen screw which, when in place pinched the wire rope to form a locking device. This worked well but had the disadvantage of damaging several strands of the wire rope.

About 1951-52 a simple construction was devised by Ralph Lewis of the Westminster Spelaeological Group and remained in common use for the next two decades. The construction was simple in that a taper pin, specially ground at its smaller end, enabled it to be passed through the gap between the wire rope and one side of the duralumin rung trapping the wire against the opposite side of the rung wall. The design was first described in detail by Bryan Ellis in January 1957 , another appearing in 1967 by Cedric Green.   An in-depth article on ladder construction published in 1963 outlined the technology as it was at that time.

By the late 1960s two popular designs of ladder construction had been established once cavers had realised the disciplines associated with each type. The first used “Talurits” that were swaged above and below the dural rung and were extremely effective providing the right dies were used. The other being a combination of plugs, steel pins and epoxy resins.   The methods are still in use today

For some time there was no accepted rung pitch except that it was somewhere between 25cm and 30cm but the larger rung pitch made climbing tiring. In 1959 a caver was trapped in a narrow vertical tube in Peak Cavern. Although a ladder was being used it became impossible for the man to climb back up as the rung pitch was 12", too far apart to allow him to place his boot on the rung above and so start the climb out and free himself. From that time it became an accepted rule that rung pitching should be 25 cm. Today the commercial ladders have the rung pitch set at 25 or 30 cm.

Colour coding of ropes and ladders

During 1962 the Mendip clubs agreed a colour coding system for club equipment. Problems had occurred following a number of cave rescues where considerable trouble had to be taken sorting out which piece of equipment belonged to which club. During 1961 BEC circulated the other major Mendip clubs suggesting a colour coding scheme. Though one or two clubs used the same colour it was eventually sorted and the following system adopted : ACG -Yellow ; BEC - Blue ; Cerberus SS - Grey ; MCG - Pink ; MNRC - Green ; SMCC - Black ; UBSS - Orange ; WCC - Red and WSG - Brown.

When this article was started it was thought that it would be just a couple of pages of notes but in the end it became a semi-major undertaking to check as many references as possible. A discussion on the rope techniques used by the Mendip pioneers is an article just about completed that runs in parallel with this on ladders. Where it will be published is at the moment undecided.

Dave Irwin, Priddy. December, 2003


My thanks to Ric Halliwell [CPC], Ray Mansfield [UBSS], Don Mellor [CPC], Martin Mills [SMCC] and Graham Mullan [UBSS] for help obtaining details and copies of notable articles and books relevant to the topic.

Ed’s note:         This article was provided on paper and had to be scanned in. Further Optical Character Recognition work was undertaken to convert it to text. 

News from the Belfry

Work on the extension has proceeded at a furious pace over the last few months. Considering that the planning application went in back in June 1999 it will be good to get it finished.

The downstairs will be a new tackle store and workshop befitting for a club that prides itself in exploration. Upstairs will be a members’ bunk room.

Work is also underway on a feasibility study to extend into the roof space to create a Wig Memorial Library. Clearly this would be another massive undertaking and we are carefully reviewing the possibilities.

As most of you will be aware the Mendip Farmers Hunt has purchased Underbarrow Farm behind the Belfry. The Committee and Trustees are hard at work looking at the implications of this.

Ravens Well

A Collectors Evening Trip With Jeff Price

By Mike Wilson.

One evening, the first of October 1997 to be precise. Jeff kindly asked me if I fancied a trip into Ravens Well, he just said it is a bit of a collector’s piece. I readily agreed to join him and we met up at the Three Lamps junction where the Bath and Wells road meet.

Very roughly the entrance is situated down a winding lane opposite the three lamps finger post [see photos] and then over a wall into a concealed entrance slot. Ravens Well, I have subsequently found out, is also called the Temple Pipe. The system is basically a maze of underground man made tunnels arched in local stone linking several underground springs, designed to feed water to the Friary at Temple Gate. The Conduit was laid in 1366 and worked right up to the advent of the Railway at Temple Meads in the late 1800’s.

Whilst constructing the railway line the pipe was severed and then dried up .We spent a very interesting few hours in the system and at one time stood directly under the Three Lamps themselves. Since then I have discovered that there are several such systems under Bristol, One of them being the Redcliffe Pipe which runs from Knowle all the way to Redcliffe Church.

The outlet for this conduit still exists in Colston Parade close to the church. This ceased to work when it was struck by a German bomb during the war.

There are many more documented in the Central library, and the publication Underground Bristol. Zot and I have already taken canoes into part of the old Bristol Castle Moat and are hoping, to round trip the whole system in the near future. 


My thanks to Jeff for showing me this interesting little gem.


Forest of Dean Meet May 2007

By Emma Porter

A grand total of 65 adults, 4 kids and 1 dog ...................................

From BEC:        Emma Porter, Mike and Hilary Wilson, John Christie, Nick Gymer, Peter Hellier, Sean Howe, Tim Ball, Faye Litherland, Phil Coles, John Noble, Ruth Allen, Rich Smith and friend.

From Craven Pothole Club: Mike Clayton, Mike Bertenshaw, Arthur Champion, Gordon Coldwell, Graham Coates, Neville Lucus, Simon Parker, Perce Lister, Rob and Linda Scott, Tom Thompson, Andrew Wallis and Mike Whitehouse.

From Dudley Caving Club: Pete Anstey, Keith Edwards, Andy Grimes, Brendan Marris, Carole and Ellie Northall, Mel Wakeman and Dea Wilkins.

From Shepton Mallet Caving Club: Keith, Amanda, Tom and Poppy Batten, James Begley, Anthony and Cassie Butcher, Marian Challis, Hayley Clark, Phil Collett, Sarah Crofts, Andy and Kirsty Davey, Ivan Hollis, Chris Molyneux, Neil Walmsley, Ed Waters and Richard Webber.

Others: Chris “Zot” Harvey, Richard Dearden (WMCEG), Tibor “Dino” Dianovszki (Hungary), Bill Griffiths (WMCEG), Lisa and Brooke Hall, Iain Heald, John and Laura Haynes (ULSA), Amina Kasar, Heather Simpson (NWCC) and Rachel White (WMCEG).

Forest cavers: Dave Appleing, John “Mole” Hine, Gareth Jones and Paul Taylor.

In 2003, Mike Clayton and I organised a meet in the Forest of Dean primarily for Craven Pothole Club, in 2005 cavers from BEC, Dudley CC and SMCC joined the CPC for a long weekend in the Forest and this year, we were joined by even more cavers.  I have to admit; I started to get a little nervous receiving a barrage of emails advising me who would be there for the weekend! 

Friday 4 May 2007

The troops started to arrive on Friday night to Rushmere Farm Campsite near Coleford where we took over half the field, complete with sign advertising “Cavers’ Event” provided by Dea Wilkins.  John Christie arrived in good time with two barrels of excellent beer, so excellent that the second barrel of beer was started on the Friday evening!  A great evening was had by all, sipping beer around the fire till the early hours.

Saturday 5 May 2007

Saturday saw 6 underground trips to Miss Graces Lane (MGL), Wet Sink (Slaughter Stream), Big Sink, Otter Hole, Redhouse Lane and Westbury Brook Iron Mine. Paul Taylor led a mixed team of BEC/CPC/DCC for a “warm” trip in MGL (not recommended for hangovers!). Meanwhile, two teams consisting of CPC/BEC/SMCC headed down Wet Sink, a team of two SMCC/ two ULSA ventured down Big Sink (and seemed very happy when they were out!), and a team of DCC/BEC tried not to get lost in Westbury Brook Iron Mine (getting further than last time!) with the benefit of some local knowledge provided by Gareth Jones.  The Redhouse Lane Swallet team had a delayed start, after some location problems, which was not a bad thing as Jan Karvik and Andy Harp, both from Royal Forest of Dean Caving Club, had hoped they had timed it right and the entrance would be dug out for them – instead they were there first and had to dig it out for our team! Despite the open passage newly dug out once again, Arthur Champion still decided that the trip was a “once in a lifetime experience”.

Meanwhile, above ground (although perhaps not above water), Zot and Mike Clayton were having fun canoeing on the River Wye, which runs through Symonds Yat, and others were off exploring the Forest by bike and on foot.

We eventually all got back to the campsite to meet Dino from Hungary who had heard about the meet through some Hungarian friends of mine and once the Otter Hole team were back we settled down for a large Chinese takeaway, arranged thanks to Hilary and Mike Wilson. The weather held off as we socialised into the earlier hours once again.

Sunday 6 May 2007

Only three underground locations were explored on the Sunday, with three mixed club teams including a caver joining us from Chesterfield CC as they happened to be staying at the campsite, with trips into Wet Sink, Wigpool Iron Mine and the long descent into Robin Hood Iron Mine.

Due to the numbers interested in the Robin Hood Iron Mine trip and the time required for the entrance pitch, Mike Clayton and I decided to have some peace and quiet from all of the organising and enjoy the sun, relax (so we thought) and be surface support.

In recent years, Mike and I have been surveying this mine with some of the Forest cavers.  The entrance is a brick-lined shaft with a 65m free hang.  In order to safely rig the rope and as members of GCRG, we were kindly lent the GCRG tripod and Land Rover on which to transport it.  The tripod was rigged, only to discover that we did not have the right key.  A few calls later and a trip back to the GCRG depot and the lock was opened and the team descended.  The team went off to explore the mine, whilst I decided to avoid meeting the wild boar and went back to the campsite to sort camping fees and Mike went off canoeing with Mike Wilson and Zot.  I went back to meet the team a few hours later with some alcoholic refreshments and discovered that the entrance speed record had been beaten!

Once all were back from the day’s above and below ground activities, we spent the evening in the Kings Head, sampling the real ales.

Monday 7 May 2007

Monday was wind-down day with some threatening black clouds but which were fortunately just threatening. Several lost or unfortunate key incidents occurred and Mike Wilson had the group at the campsite putting into practice search techniques, although two calls to the AA had to be made anyway!

Meanwhile, a small group of DCC and WMCEG day-trippers headed to Wet Sink for some photography. However, the main trip of the day was to Wigpool Iron Mine, once again led enthusiastically by Mole.  It was an excellent trip and a real surprise at just how pretty it is (see Pete Hellier’s report in the previous BB).

The Forest multi-club weekend was a real success, with a large number of underground and above ground activities taking place and a great social event.  We raised through donations and beer profits, over £75 for GCRG which has been used to pay for two sleeping bags and thermo rests for a Surface Comms Kit, so thank you all!

Thanks to: Everyone that attended and who made the weekend such a success!  John Christie for collecting the beer, Mike Whitehouse and Dea Wilkins for selling raffle tickets and pouring pints, Mike and Hilary Wilson for meeting Mike Clayton and I to check suitable campsites, sorting the Chinese takeaway and helping with camping fees.  A big thank you must go to the Forest cavers who went out of their way to help us; Paul Taylor and Steve Tomalin for checking pubs in advance for real ale, Paul Taylor for lending us keys (and forgiving us when a key was lost!), permit assistance and a great trip into MGL, Gareth Jones for ensuring that the team got a little further on than last time in Westbury Brook, Mole for providing two entertaining trips into Wigpool which were one of the highlights of the weekend, Dave Appleing for sorting and leading the trip into Otter, Jan Karvik for access to MGL, Dave Tuffley for sorting the permits, Andy Clarke for permits for Wetsink and GCRG for lending us the tripod and Land Rover. 

Hope to see you in the Forest in 2009!

Emma Porter

Martian Caves

Caves have been discovered on Mars near the Arisa Mons Volcano. NASA believe the caves, named The Seven Sisters may contain ice and / or water. Some of the openings are said to be the size of football pitches. Rumours of a BEC expedition have yet to be quashed.

            “The bars are crap though

                        , no atmosphere”  JRat

A BEC sticker on the next Beagle expedition might be a start. Er…then again, maybe not. Ed.

Caine Hill Shaft - One of Britain’s Deepest Caves?

By Tony Jarratt

       “To some, digging is a fairly tedious chore, and they are only sustained by the hope of triumphs to come. To others the digging operation itself is fascinating. It is seldom simple.”

       Digging for Mendip Caves – W. I. Stanton – Studies in Speleology, Vol IV, 1983

Continued from BB 528. Photos by Sean Howe.

Further Digging 20/5/07 – 27/10/07

     Errata: The photo of “Dudley Herbert” on page 21 of BB 528 is actually of Mike Thompson.

     Robin Main of Priddy has confirmed that Caine Hill is the name of the steeply sloping field behind Manor Farm but has no idea of its derivation. A character met in the Queen Victoria Inn claims to have dug the foundations for the adjacent house and stated that the open hole found was not as big as we were led to believe.

     On the 20th May Trevor Hughes, Jane Clarke and the writer, assisted on the surface by Tim Andrews, Darryl Instrell and Bob Smith removed 64 loads of spoil and loaded Tim’s truck with over 1½ tons for disposal. Tim also donated another section of alloy ladder, which your scribe used next day to replace that on the entrance shaft – fixed to a shorter section. This was done as he had deepened this shaft and cleared clay from the ledges below to make a better bag stacking area. He hauled out 16 loads from here and then continued digging in Root 66. Tim later went to the end for a look and was suitably impressed. He was delighted that he now owns an actual cave as well as a mineshaft! 27 more loads came out on the 23rd when Jake Baynes, Paul Brock and the writer attended. The second pitch was re-rigged with an alloy builders’ ladder to ease bag hauling and digging was continued at Root 66. More work was done here, by your scribe on the 25th but the poor quality of the air drove him out after an hour. Conditions had improved on the following evening, possibly due to a change in atmospheric pressure, when he carried on with this project. On the 27th, despite atrocious weather, 55 loads were hauled out by Bob, Jane and the writer – all from Root 66 – and next day Jane, Bob and Hannah Bell stacked lots of clay on a convenient ledge ready for bagging and hauled 1 token load out. This clay was bagged on the 30th when digging continued at the end and 35 loads reached daylight; Henry Dawson, Bob and the writer making up the team. Several more small airspaces were revealed. Further digging and bag-filling was done here by your scribe on the 1st June and on the following day he concentrated on the dig in the main rift below Boxwork Passage where a tiny airspace was revealed on the NE side. A return was made next day when he cleared the remaining clay and a large rock step from the entrance shaft. 18 loads were hauled out. Another solo trip on the 4th June resulted in re-positioned entrance ladders, a scaffold bar and pulley on the second pitch, more digging below Boxwork Passage and 20 loads out – warm work in the prevailing fine weather. 50 more came out on the 6th when Hannah, Helen Stalker, Pete Hellier and your scribe cleared the cave – temporarily!

     Jake and the writer were back at the Boxwork dig on the 8th June when 19 bags were filled and hauled out and an arm-sized phreatic tube opened up on the SW side of the main rift. Next day the latter dug and filled bags at both sites. He returned on the 10th with Bob, Trev and Hannah to haul out 50 loads, some of these being freshly dug from both sites – where the diggers both got surprisingly cold. 1 token load came out on the 11th June when the writer concentrated on the Boxwork dig. A palm-sized slab of galena (lead sulphide PbS) 1-2 cms thick and weighing 800 grammes (1½ lbs) was disinterred from the clay floor indicating that the Old Men could well have been prospecting for this as well as ochre. Derived from a primary   hydrothermal vein deposit located many metres above the present land surface or from limestone dissolution around a minor “stringer” of ore, this residual, secondary galena has been smoothed and rounded during its downward progression from its original position – indicating the extreme age of the in-filled cave passage in which it was found (Barrington and Stanton, 1977, Stanton, 1991). A whitish coating may be cerrussite (lead carbonate PbCO3). Thick “veins” of sandstone-like rock in the walls of the rift here may be red-brown, silty mudstone, Triassic neptunian dykes formed from either seafloor or desert deposits which were washed or blown into open joints and fissures in the underlying bed rock and often associated on Mendip with primary mineralisation. Another airspace was revealed on the NE side with a void visible a couple of metres away but inaccessible without banging or chiselling. The airspace opened on the 2nd June connects with this so further removal of the clay floor was planned in the hope of entering it from below. Lots of bags were filled and stacked and even more added to the pile on the 12th ready for the Wednesday night team on the morrow. This turned out to be limited to Bob, Hannah and the writer but being of tough stuff they managed to load Tim’s truck two thirds full and haul out another 50 loads. 14 more came out on the 15th when Bob and your scribe continued digging in the floor. Further digging was done by the writer next day and on the 17th a strong team comprising Bob, Fiona Crozier, Trev, Duncan Butler and your scribe worked at both sites until poor air conditions drove them out after 55 loads had been removed. Bob came up with a name for the second drop – Son of a Pitch! A solo digging session by the writer next day was soon halted by the atrocious lack of oxygen but several bags were filled at the base of Son of a Pitch and 2 reached the surface. A walk around the field to the north on a quest for other mine workings revealed little of interest.

     New digger (and New Inn barman) Keith Creagh joined Jake and the writer on the 20th when the air was improved by the use of the vacuum cleaner to allow further digging in the pitch floor and the removal of 23 loads. Two days later the vacuum cleaner pipe was replaced with a longer length of greater diameter giving plenty of spare at Root 66. Here Fiona filled nine bags and used a valve and 1.5 litre bottle of compressed air to avoid the unpleasantly claustrophobic effects of the poor air conditions. The bag supply was kindly donated by interested villager Mark Glover. Meanwhile the writer filled lots more bags at the base of the ever-descending Son of a Pitch – having no bad air problems. The duo returned to their respective digs on the 24th in relatively excellent air conditions. Thanks to the timely arrival on the surface of Steve Woolven and Gary Cullen the total hauled out today was 47 loads. The atmosphere was much poorer next day when your scribe dug at both sites and removed 4 loads but when he returned with Fiona on the 26th conditions had dramatically improved and both sites were dug further. 1 load came out – the rock on which the first section of the entrance ladder was perched and erroneously thought to have been holding up the ginging! On the 27th the air was again poor but Hannah, Bob, Jake, Keith and your scribe dug a little at Son of a Pitch and removed 50 loads. Tim helped load up his truck with a ton or so of clay and the team accompanied him to the, as yet unseen, spoil dump where they were relieved to find that there is ample space for another 1,000+ tons. Unfortunately, in the fullness of time it will all get washed down Swildon’s!

     Solo digging becoming popular, Fiona did a stint at Root 66 on the 28th June and stacked about ten bags. She filled   another six on the following evening while the writer dug and drilled at Son of a Pitch.  A small, fragile lump of mineral weighing 340 grammes (12 ounces) was recovered from the clay floor. This was identified by Nick Richards as goethite (brown hematite – Fe3+O), an iron oxide associated with limonite (yellow ochre) and derived from the degradation of iron pyrites. Like the galena this is a residual deposit that has worked its way downwards from the primary veins way above. He also explained that the, sometimes powdery surface of the cave walls indicates that some of the limestone has been transformed to dolomite. More digging was done here by the writer on the 30th June and next day he returned with Fiona, Duncan, Trev, Bob, Helen Brook (S.W.C.C. – now also B.E.C.), Jinni King (Cardiff U.C.C.) and Kate Humphries (C.U.C.C.) to haul out 56 loads and continue digging at both sites. A passable route was dug to connect the bottom of Son of a Pitch with the continuation of the main rift and a small cord charge was fired in an attempt to gain access to the void in the NE wall near the base of the pitch. On a solo trip next day the writer was delighted to find that the bang had done a surprisingly good job and produced a vast amount of broken rock. Another bang was required to reach the void but air conditions did not encourage a lengthy stay today. Wednesday 4th July saw 7 bags out, mainly filled with bang debris. Hannah and Bob both put up with unpleasant fumes lingering at the top of Son of a Pitch while below, in more pleasant conditions, your scribe laid another charge. This was ready just as Sean Howe arrived – for a very short trip – before the bang was fired.

     The writer returned on the 6th intending to fire up the vacuum but Tim was at Priddy Folk Fayre so he nipped down to check the air and was amazed to find it good. More bang spoil was removed and another two shot-hole charge fired. The novelty tonight was the sound of live folk music heard from the dig face! Assisted by Bob your scribe cleared the spoil on the following evening and placed yet another two shot-hole charge. After firing, the duo savoured the delights of the appropriately named Potholer bitter at a very conveniently located marquee. The air was then left to clear for a few days and on the 11th July the writer filled and stacked bags at the banged bedding where it was now possible to crawl in and look down a small rift to the north. Suffering from a cold and with the air tasting unpleasantly metallic he clambered out to meet latecomers John Noble and Paul. The former went for a brief look around while the latter hurled obscenities from above. Not a particularly productive Wednesday evening!

     The next visit was on the 14th when your scribe drilled one shot-hole at Son of a Pitch and filled bags at Root 66. Next day he and Trev continued work here and on the 16th he was back with John. More bags were filled and stacked and another two shot-holes drilled but the air was atrocious so they persevered and hauled 24 loads to surface before retiring – leaving the vacuum cleaner running to refresh the place. This worked well and on the 18th July Fiona and your scribe enjoyed the conditions while filling bags at both sites. A charge was fired at Son of a Pitch and a token 2 loads reached the surface. A brief visit was made by the writer on the 21st when the air was found to be good enough to clear some of the bang-debris and next day Trev continued with this while Fiona dug at Root 66 and Duncan enlarged the connecting rift between the two sites. Your scribe acted as bag hauler for the three diggers. The worsening air quality and bang fumes released from the mud eventually stopped play but not before 50 loads went out. Another 30 reached the surface next day when John finally cleared the blasted rock and the writer dug at the other two sites. This was only possible because of the use of the vacuum cleaner and it was actually far more pleasant underground than on the monsoon-drenched surface. Another 23 loads came out on the 25th when all three sites were dug by your scribe and Henry D. arrived in time to struggle with the full bags after pioneering the use of the vacuum hose as a speaking tube! 1 load – a phreatically sculpted rock flake – came out on the 28th when the writer filled bags at Root 66, partly with vivid orange ochre. 34 loads came out next day when Paul and Fiona dug at Root 66, Jane and your scribe continued clearing the connecting rift and Nicks Harding and Richards hauled from the surface with the latter briefly studying the geology of the cave in preparation for another visit on a less hectic occasion. Bob assisted on the surface due to alcohol-induced cracked ribs – the second team member whose underground exploits were curtailed by over zealous cycling!

     Root 66 was dug again on the 30th July by enthusiastic new digger, Sissel Balomatis (Cheddar C.C.) and the writer. 21 loads were hauled out and a two shot-hole charge was fired in the dig just above the floor of Son of a Pitch. Much of the bang-debris was cleared by Siss and Paul on the 1st August when they also assisted Jake, John and your scribe to load over three tons of spoil into Tim’s truck which he took away to the dump. On the 3rd the writer filled thirteen bags at Root 66. He was back on the 5th with Fiona when much digging took place here and 18 loads came out. A solo visit next day saw more digging and rock removal at the same site. Mike Willett joined the team on the 8th and dug at Root 66 while Helen S. and your scribe shifted bags, 48 coming out in total. A power cut stopped the vacuum cleaner for a while and later, in the Hunters’ the culprit was revealed as a local who had chain-sawed a tree branch which, dropping on to the cable severed the village electric supply. He wishes to remain anonymous so we will call him “J.C.B”.

     On the 9th Tony Audsley commenced work on pointing the entrance ginging in preparation for the replacement of the rusting Acro-prop with a permanent lintel. He noted possible traces of original lime mortar. Some token digging was done by your scribe in Root 66 on the 11th and next day he returned with Duncan and Ray Deasy (on his annual visit from Australia) to continue with this until stopped by an apparent rock pillar in the middle of the passage. Duncan concentrated on enlarging the bottom of the main rift. On the 13th Tony continued fettling the entrance shaft while the writer laid a five shot-hole charge in Root 66. After firing this the duo retired for lunch then returned to continue with their projects. The morning’s bang had done a good job so a two shot-hole charge was fired to enlarge the squeeze from the main rift into Root 66. A total of 6 bags of spoil came out today. The spoil from the banged squeeze was cleared on the 15th  by Mike, Helen, Jeff Price and the writer when a total of 34 bags and skips reached the surface. The bang had brought down a vast amount of rock - far more than it should have - indicating that the roof here was potentially unstable and

that blowing it down had been a wise move! Two days later the writer bagged up much of the spoil from the bang at the end and this was hauled halfway out on the 20th, when he was joined by Jeff. 12 loads came out today, mainly rock and clay cleared from the banged squeeze. Tony measured up the entrance shaft. On the 22nd August the banged squeeze was finally cleared by your scribe when a possible way on behind clay infill was revealed to close down. Mike continued digging at the end of Root 66 and Bob took CO2 samples with an expensive electronic gadget. He recorded percentages of 0.5 at the bottom  of the entrance shaft, 1.3 – 1.6 near the banged squeeze and 2.34 at the Root 66 dig. A flame safety lamp used in conjunction dimmed as he descended the cave and expired at the banged squeeze. He was only able to re-light it on the surface. 16 loads were hauled out and many more left for future removal.

      2 loads of spoil from Tony’s ginging repair project came out on the 27th August when he prepared the entrance shaft for the casting of the concrete lintel. Meanwhile the writer cleared the terminal Root 66 dig and laid a four shot-hole charge. Unfortunately this misfired so was left for a day as a precaution. Being a bank holiday there was a plentiful surface support team of Rich Witcombe, Paul Weston and the two Nicks. The charge was rewired on the 28th but again failed to fire – as it did twice more next day when all connections were changed and the firing cable tested. Even Tim’s lawnmower battery was tried in vain and your scribe, baffled, gave up the attempt preferring to return on the 30th with a fresh detonator and length of cord to join the two sets of double shot-holes. This thankfully did the business and on the 2nd September Trev and the writer bagged up lots of spoil and moved full bags towards the entrance. 1 load came out. Tony continued with his entrance fettling next day and drilled the “solid” walls while your scribe got rid of much of the blasted rock dumped on the surface by adding it to the drystone wall across the road and bringing it up towards its original height. Root 66 saw action again on the 5th when Mike and the writer filled bags at the end and, aided by Jeff, hauled 35 out. A clay-filled and easily diggable phreatic tube was opened up beyond the banged section and hope was restored. On the 8th September the writer filled and stacked lots of bags here until the air went stale. Digging did not reveal the ceiling of the tube thus ensuring that it was pleasantly spacious. “Free diving” was almost necessary to regain the surface through the hordes of mosquitoes now infesting the main rift! Next day he returned with John to continue digging and hauling. 53 loads came out. Bob and Jane briefly assisted on the surface. The two returned next morning and pushed on into the phreatic passage – now almost of kneeling height. John poked upwards with a crowbar to reveal a phreatic ceiling and your scribe then went in for a look. A lip of ochreous clay was pulled down to reveal a lengthy and (allegedly) draughting airspace. Jane arrived to fill more bags and confirm the draught. Tony, assisted by Paul, continued with lintel preparations and Rich professionally repaired more of Robin Main’s drystone wall opposite Tim’s house – an excellent PR job. They continued with these projects in the afternoon whilst the writer filled more bags at the end and decided that the dig now looked more promising than ever before and almost certain to yield significant cave.

     Tony spent six hours working in the entrance shaft on the 11th September, assisted from the surface by Alice Audsley. He constructed a timber former, intending to install this at a future date. On the 12th Mike and your scribe continued with the magnificently easy dig at the end and, assisted by Jeff, Pete, and Tim Ball on the surface, hauled out a total of 60 loads. Mike was perplexed by the disembodied voice of Tim issuing from the vacuum pipe, as it appeared to emanate from a blank rock wall! More bag-filling was done by the writer next day and on the 14th  Tony continued fettling the shaft while Tim Andrews went almost to the end to check on progress. The following day Mike moved all the full bags to Son of a Pitch and filled another eleven before poor air stopped play. In the evening the writer, Henry D. and Barry Lawton filled a few more bags at the working face and then hauled out 74 loads, clearing the cave. Life was much improved by the use of an electric leaf blower provided by Tim A. to blast fresh air down the vacuum hose. The 16th saw your scribe, Duncan, Barry and Bob removing 26 loads – all freshly dug from the end. Two shot-holes were drilled in the side passage just above the floor of Son of a Pitch. Two more were drilled next day when the writer and Henry Bennett dug at the end and brought out 4 loads. Tony laboured in the entrance shaft and on the surface to complete the lintel framework and could be heard, as if above, from the end of Root 66. Mike, Jane and your scribe were back at the working face on the 19th to dig and haul bags and the following evening the latter banged the four outstanding shot-holes, Judy Andrews actually firing the charge. He returned to clear these on the 24th but was not encouraged by the tiny way on so continued digging at the end. The almost 2m high passage here transpired to be a choked roof joint with the main phreatic tube continuing at the same level below – good news. He was joined on the surface by Tony whose open-topped Land Rover was commissioned to deliver a rigid steel ladder from the Belfry.

On the morning of 26th September Tony washed down the entrance shaft walls, getting soaked in the process and later Mike and the writer hauled 22 loads out, moved full bags towards the entrance and filled many more at Root 66. Phil Coles arrived providentially at knocking off time and was impressed with the progress made since his last visit. Three shot-holes were drilled in the walls of the main rift as the commencement of a project to create a skipway between Root 66 and Son of a Pitch. Study of the geological map indicated that the cave is south of the Priddy Fault and running parallel in the direction of Cowsh Aven Series in Swildon’s Hole to the east. The estimated depth puts the current end of the cave almost at the level of Swildon’s / Priddy Green Sink entrances - indicating that a connection with this system is more likely than the hoped for breakthrough into ancient fossil passages heading towards Cheddar. Rich has suggested that the phreatic Tubledown dig on the western side of the Swildon’s Five streamway may be a possible contender. A link would add 15 metres to Swildon’s current depth resulting in a system 169 m (554.49 ft) deep and a connection to Wookey Hole would make the total depth, at the present state of exploration, some 279 m (915.39 ft)  – one of the deepest in Britain; the Wigmore Swallet – Gough’s Cave potential being 296.4 m (972.4 ft) . Time and hard work will tell but it’s nice to know that B.E.C. explorers are heavily involved with both! Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, incidentally, is at least 308 m (1010.55 ft) and will probably forever be Number One. At least one cave in northern England has similar potential to the Mendip systems but the writer has no information on this to hand.

     More digging took place at the end on the 30th when Trev and your scribe also moved full bags towards the surface. Tony and Pierre Abastado (Marseilles via Estonia) then arrived and the rest of the afternoon was devoted to transporting all the full bags on the surface to the spoil dump, utilising both available Land Rovers – an estimated six tons! On the following day your scribe filled more bags at the end and drilled three more shot-holes in the main rift, which were later charged with cord and fired by Pierre (as a recompense for Waterloo). Tony, assisted by Pierre and Alice and Rosie Audsley laboured to install the lintel shuttering in the entrance shaft. Further work was aborted due to a duff cement mixer. Weather conditions were atrocious but 10 loads came out today. The writer also surveyed the cave resulting in a current length of 22.90 metres and depth of 12.41 metres. Tony and his team returned next day in better conditions and with a working cement mixer and successfully constructed the lintel with a bag of cement and five bags of ½” to dust. He was back on the 5th to reduce the shuttering. On the 7th October 33 loads came out courtesy of Trev, Carole White and the writer. One detonator from the last bang had misfired but the problem was resolved by Trev. Lots of B.E.C. dinner survivors visited but failed to dirty their hands! Your scribe and Carole were back next day to take a Land Rover load of bags to the dump, clear the latest bang spoil and drag bags around the cave until driven out by residual fumes. More lintel work was done by Tony next day - a magnificent construction bearing the inscription BEC 2007, above which is a Scandinavian runic carving doubtless intended to curry favour with the gods of the cave (or it could be a sort of mason’s mark!). A drag tray was installed in the widened main rift on the 10th and Carole, Mike, Jake, Phil and the writer hauled 60 loads to surface, most of which were dumped by Land Rover on the following evening. On the 12th your scribe returned to widen the skip-way, shift bags and dig at the end but was a little dismayed to find the terminal passage trending to the right (south east) and indicating that the way on may be in the floor. On the 14th, accompanied by Trev, he moved bags throughout the cave.43 loads reached the surface. 2 more came out on the 15th when the writer filled lots more at the end and took a Land Rover load to the dump. The 17th October saw Mike, Siss, Paul, Sean, Pete and your scribe moving bags throughout the cave and Phil and Jake hauling 90 loads to the surface in a magnificent team effort. Some digging was done at the end. Jane and your scribe filled more bags here on the19th and reached a smooth limestone floor. All full bags on the surface were dumped. The writer returned next day to fill many bags and reveal much more of the floor. When finally cleared this will give the passage a superb cross section. 

     On the 21st October Trev (as a birthday treat) and the writer hauled bags throughout the cave and attempted to break up a large rock obstructing the south-easterly way on but decided that bang was needed. This was done by your scribe next day after lots more bags had been filled. More bag-hauling was done on the 24th by Mike and the writer. 22 loads came out and the bang debris was cleared to reveal the passage seeming to turn to the left beyond the site of the late rock and following the general trend east-north-east. The latter filled more bags here next day and on the 26th and 27th he was back continuing this work. Vast amounts of ochreous clay need to come out but plenty of small airspaces are encouraging and there is no shortage of room in this stunningly pleasant and easy dig.

Thanks are due to Henry Bennett and Madphil Rowsell for computing the survey figures.


     BARRINGTON, N. and STANTON, W. I.    1977.  Mendip, the Complete Caves and a View of the Hills. Pp. 228-229.

     STANTON, W. I.      1991.  The habitat and origin of lead ore in Grebe Swallet Mine, Charterhouse-on-Mendip, Somerset     Proc. Univ. Bristol Spelaeol. Soc., 19 (1), pp 43-65.

To be continued in BB 530.

Vale:  Mervyn Hannam

Mervyn Hannam passed away at 4 am, 2nd.January 2008, at the Royal United Hospital, Bath. Mervyn was a long standing BEC member, and the proud holder of BEC membership number 104.

On behalf of the BEC , we extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Dorothy and his family. Further to all those who caved and knew him with him over the years.

At his funeral the following Eulogy was delived:

I speak on behalf of the BEC, especially the older members. Mervyn joined the club in the late 1940's and has remained a life member ever since; although he gave up active caving when hobby time became in short supply due to work, including working in Canada, and family pressures.

During his active period he was especially involved in opening up and exploring Cuthbert’s Swallet. It was during this period that Mervyn was allocated the initials T.B.C.O.M. , ‘the best caver on Mendip’ from his habit of ensuring that every new member of the club recognised his, self appointed, status.

Some special meetings come to mind.

When Mervyn reached retirement age he found time to organise a lunch at the White Hart in Trudoxhill, which has its own brewery, thereby proving that he could organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery.

Mervyn missed a visit to the air museum at Kemble when he was North Africa lecturing on oil and gas pipe-line protection but he did help by finding information on the internet, for a visit to Woodhenge. Regretfully plans for future visits to sites will have to be reconsidered.

Mervyn had an infectious laugh, was a great friend and will be sadly missed.

Tony Sett

Rose Cottage Cave - Despondency Sets In

By Tony Jarratt

         “Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed”

                                                                   Kate Fox, Watching the English.

Continued from BBs 522-528.

Further Digging 28/5/07 – 26/9/07

     On the 28th May Jake Baynes, John Noble and Phil Coles took down extra scaffolding for the spoil rift and continued clearing and wall building at Halfway Dig in preparation for the last, desperate push at this site.

      Plan B Dig was partly cleared on the 6th June by Henry Dawson and Henry Bennett but another session was needed to bang a large, peeled-off boulder and to remove the last of the spoil blocking the rift and cutting off the draught. Henry B. and Barry Lawton (Aberystwyth U.C.C.) attempted this on the 10th but a broken power cable near Halfway Dig defeated them. They were not amused. The cable was replaced on the 13th June when an eleven-hole charge was fired at Plan B Dig and a one-hole charge on a rock at Halfway Dig. Tonight’s operatives were the brace of Henries and Helen Stalker. John N. and Phil C. inspected the results on the 16th and reported that it “Will be a close run thing between entering open space and running out of stacking room”.

     On the 4th July Henry D. and Tim Ball continued clearing Plan B Dig to get a better view of the potential but were not over enthusiastic and didn’t like the air conditions. Above, at Halfway Dig Henry B. joined Jake B, Phil C. and later Sean Howe for another clearing session but this team also became despondent at the prospect of dragging spoil all the way out to the surface.

Things were not looking good in Rose Cottage Cave! There was an improvement a week later when Henry B, Hannah Bell and Helen S. cleared more spoil at Plan B Dig and were enthusiastic after investigating possibilities for following the elusive lost draught in the upper part of the cave. On the 18th Henry D, Sean H. and Pete Hellier finished clearing Plan B Dig before drilling five shot-holes and firing a cord charge. 

     The submersible pump and lots of redundant tools were recovered from the new entrance by the writer on the 30th August when it was noted that the pitches had been thoroughly cleaned by this year’s excess of rain water. Hannah and the Henries were back clearing at Plan B Dig on the 5th September when they decided that another charge was needed before they gave up. This was laid as an eight shot-hole charge by the duo on the 12th September and left for a couple of weeks for the fumes to clear.

     As an alternative project the Henries took a draught testing device down the cave on the 19th September with the intention of finding the best place to dig in the boulder ruckle but were defeated by a distinct lack of airflow. They returned to Plan B Dig on the 26th and, despite lingering fumes were able to drill and fire a nine shot-hole charge in the rift as a third person was now needed to allow spoil clearing.

Continued in BB 530.

Rose Cottage Cave – Plan B dig abandoned

By Henry Bennett

When Prancers Pot was first found in March 2006 the bottom of the cave ended in a muddy pool back underneath the final descending rift.  A quick investigation of this looked like it might go with a concerted digging effort. In order to dig it we need to bail the pool and it was noticed that a flood rim mark around the passage was at the same level, about 6 ft up, as a small tube entering the rift at the opposite end of the rift passage.

Several trips took place when we established that we could bail all the water down this hole but it was slow work. A manual pump wasn’t much faster (and broke) but running 110v down to the pool and using an electric pump did the job in minutes. Work then began on removing the fine clay from the blocked passage. However it soon became clear that the pool pinched in on all sides with a solid floor. But since the water disappeared down the drain hole and didn’t reappear we decided to give the drain hole a go.

We started this knowing it would be a long term drill and persuade operation.  After approximately a body length horizontally we met a narrow rift going down.  The thinking was that we could follow this rift down and see if it opened out into anything more interesting. Henry Dawson and myself, plus a hoard of eager diggers, started a concerted effort in early summer 2006 to reach the bottom of the rift which always seemed tantalisingly close but too tight to reach. Details of these trips are in the previous BBs to date, but suffice to say that we started off digging every week and in the last few months have had to shift to every other week due to the quality of air.

When we eventually reached the bottom of the rift it was unsurprisingly blocked by debris that had been brought down during our operations. Several feet of this was cleared and a larger section of rift (but still small) was entered with some enthusiasm. Work continued on down, removing the spoil in the rift and expanding the wall dimensions, but it was not exactly fast. Plus the absence of a draught was not encouraging.

Finally after we’d pushed down about 20ft (guestimate from memory) we decided to call it a day. While future diggers may decide that it is worth another look we felt it important to document why we stopped.

Rose Cottage with its close proximity to St Cuthberts could provide substantial passage. The draught at the entrance indicates there is something down there. But the main draught does not go down into the main cave proper. Most of it filters though the massive boulder pile between Mount Hindrance Lane and the top of the Corkscrew. At the other side of this trauma something must be heading off.  Identifying a route through this area is a daunting task and needs some thought, someone very brave or very stupid. Looks interesting…

Down and Out in Paris

By Faye Litherland

It started as most things do with several beers at the pub and a discussion about limestone quarrying techniques.  Having only visited the Wiltshire Limestone quarries up to that point I was very interested in the stone used for other famous cities and that is how the trip to the Paris Catacombs was born.  Tim Ball had wanted to go for ages, but lack of time and planning had put it on the back burner.  I had a mission………

The Paris Catacombs were quarried to provide the stone to build Paris.  Initially Paris was in the centre around Notre Dame, and the catacombs were on the edge of the city.  As Paris grew it eventually started to expand over the catacombs and the government became concerned about the potential for collapses in the area.  Therefore in 1777 a program of consolidation and inspection was started.  Before an area was built over, the area below was filled in and strengthened to support the structure above and passages left for access and ongoing inspection.  This support structure was then marked with a unique designation, which is still visible today.  An example of one of these designations is 29T 1877.  29 is the wall number, T is the designation letter of the inspector for that wall and 1877 is the year of inspection. Therefore we can tell that this particular wall was built in 1877 and was the 29th wall that Inspector Designation Letter T inspected in that year.  We could go even further and look back through the records to find out who held that letter in that year and find out more about them.  This consolidation continued until Paris grew to the point where even its graveyards on the edge of the city were needed for building land.  At this point some bright spark in the city government decided to remove all of the bodies from the cemeteries and transfer them to the catacombs.  This would free up the cemeteries for building.  The lower levels of the catacombs were filled with the bones of the dead and still are.  Opportunities for dramatic poses and proclamations of “Alas poor Yoric, I knew him Horatio - a fellow of infinite jest” abound.  There is a section of the Paris Catacombs which has been converted into a tourist attraction, but that wasn’t what we wanted to see.  We wanted the wild untamed Catacombs experience, not the sanitised for the masses, glass walled tourist trip version.

There are a couple of problems with visiting the non-tourist parts of the Paris Catacombs.  The major one being that it is illegal and getting caught will land you in hot water with the gendarmerie and in receipt of a fine. The other problem is finding an open entrance.  The entrances get located by the Gendarmerie and closed up, and then another one gets opened etc.  Hence it is essential to have someone with local knowledge.

So, the question is, how does one find people involved with illegal and clandestine activities in the French capital?  Obviously they don’t advertise in the Paris equivalent of the yellow pages.  There was only one place to go www.darkplaces.co.uk. I sent a message to “Root” who runs the website and he put me in touch with someone called “Paulo” who put me in touch with a Frenchman who goes by the name of “Oxs” (a nickname from the Asterix cartoons).  After many emails the date for our catacombs visit was fixed and then all Tim & I had to do was get to Paris and wait on a street corner, on a certain date, at a certain time, dressed in old clothes and wellies and with no underground equipment visible.  He would find us.

Tim & I had no idea what to expect, but had been warned to take a few beers to share, but nothing in a glass bottle.  So there we were, on a street corner on the outskirts of Paris, looking like we had crawled out of the gutter with my tatty old rucksack containing our caving helmets, lamps, six beers and my photography equipment.

True to his word, at the agreed time, Oxs arrived accompanied by a large bottle of unidentified spirits, which he insisted on sharing with us as it was in a glass bottle and had to be finished before we went underground.  As you can imagine, we strenuously resisted for all of a few seconds. We then had to wait for his friend “Source” to arrive as he was struggling to park.  Eventually we were all gathered and ready to make our way to the entry point.  There was no messing about for this part.  We were told that we would walk casually towards the entrance and then go down as fast as possible and seal it behind us.  I had expected the entry point to be down a back alley somewhere, but as we were crossing a busy roundabout opposite a bus station, Oxs pointed down and said “we are here”.  I was stunned; we were about to effect an illegal entry into the bowels of Paris in full view of lots and lots of witnesses.  Oh well, I had left a call out for someone to find me and bail me out of jail if I didn’t get into work by the following Wednesday.  Down we went and Source secured the hatch above us.

We made our way down a series of ladders for about forty metres passing through the newer sewer and cable run levels until we reached the catacombs level.  We were standing around sorting ourselves out when we heard someone else coming down the ladder.  I saw a look of amusement in Source’s eyes and then we witnessed the French sense of humour at first hand.  They waited until the other people were on the ladder and committed to the descent.  Then Source blew his whistle as loud as possible and yelled the equivalent of “Stop, Police” in French.  The descending stopped and turned into rapid ascent at which point our French guides burst out laughing and the poor frightened victims made their way down to join us. 

This is the spirit of the Catacombs.  With the exception of a few pairs of explorer friends (they call themselves Cataphiles), none of us had met each other previously, but within minutes we were all sharing beer, wine, food, cigarettes, experiences and other things. There is no language barrier underground.

I had expected the Catacombs to be tunnels full of bones and not much else, but there are open areas too where the first consolidations were made using arches rather than infill. Some of these areas have been beautifully decorated to make “rooms” where the walls are decorated with murals of original art and copies of works by Dali and Botticelli to name but a few. Artists from the surrealists, cubists and renaissance are all represented.  These rooms are where the party happens.  We moved from room to room during the night, joining and leaving various groups as we went, drinking, smoking and partying to the ever present music supplied by someone’s stereo, as our guides Oxs and Source became more and more incoherent and unsteady.

Eventually the party crowd thinned out and soon it was just Tim & I, Oxs, Source and a guy called Oxalite who we had collected at one of the parties.  We made our way to another room where there were stone benches built into the walls.  Candles were lit and lights were turned off.  It was time to sleep.  I was so exhausted that I did manage to sleep quite well on the cold stone although Oxs noticed me shivering in my sleep at one point and put a space blanket over me.

We slept for probably four hours and then we were off again.  Our guides were considerably more sober by this time and I was starting to have some confidence that we would get out alive.

With the night’s party over it was time for sightseeing.  As well as having visited the bone deposits during the night we had also seen the wall inscriptions from the consolidations.  We then visited an area which was used by the Paris School of Mines. Each year the students had painted murals on the walls and these could be traced back through several decades. Unfortunately this practice has now been stopped due to health and safety concerns.  We also visited the site where a body was discovered, now called the Tomb.  A man had become lost in the catacombs about two hundred years ago and was only found twenty years later.  He was identified by his clothes and a key, which was found on the body.  He died only metres from an exit.  His body was removed, but an inscription was placed at the site as a stark reminder of the perils of wandering around without a map and enough light.  During the Second World War part of the catacombs was used by the Nazis and we visited one of the old bunkers, which is still mostly intact.  We also visited the sales room for the quarries and saw the “Bancs de Pierre de Cette Carriere”.  This is a set of display steps, which has the different types of available stone displayed, a bit like a colour swatch but for limestone.

Tired, dirty and happy we decided it was time to leave the catacombs after over twelve hours underground. Here again normal safety practices went out of the window.  We all huddled forty metres above the ground on a ladder of questionable vintage, while Source opened the manhole to the street level above.  Our instructions were clear.  Get out, walk away and take the next right into a side street and then wait. Don’t look back and don’t run.  We managed to exit without being chased by the Gendarmerie, falling off the ladder or dropping any of the good citizens of Paris down our open manhole.  Tim & I said our goodbyes in the safety of the side street and then made our way back to our hotel followed by an interesting smell and a lot of curious stares.

Several nights later we found ourselves on a train bound for Nemours.  We had been accepted into Oxs confidence and he wanted to show us a site, which is unique to Europe, an old underground sand quarry with sand of such purity that it was used for telescope lenses.  Still not sure what to expect, we arrived on the platform in Nemours to wait for Oxs.

He had said he would cook us dinner so we had assumed we would be going to his house before the quarry visit.  How wrong can you be?  I found myself in charge of carrying two baguettes through a sand crawl with the strict instruction not to get sand over them.  Tim was in charge of the cheese.

The sand quarry was truly amazing.  The sand vein was located between two rock bedding planes which meant that there was no contamination from vegetation or soil unlike other open cast sand quarries.  I was amazed by how extensive the workings were. There were very few artefacts in the quarry although areas of pit props were evident and there was one section of railway track.  It was not long before we were tired of walking through the deep sand on the floor and decided to have dinner.  This was cheese fondue with copious quantities of wine.  Oxs had been steadily making his way through the wine all evening and yet, to our amusement, declined some of the beer Tim & I had brought because he was driving!

We got a few hours sleep that night at Oxs’ apartment and he very kindly dropped us off at the edge of Paris the next morning on his way to work.  We made our way back across Paris to our hotel to be stared at yet again by the clean, non-sandy Parisians.

So is Paris the most romantic city in the world?  I am not sure, but it is definitely good for a dirty weekend!


Poetry Corner


Picture a shed on the edge of the Mendips

with lunatic cavers and a dig by the side.

Suddenly someone builds an extension,

with loads of help from mates who abide.

Colourful timbers of varying sizes a wonderful construction to see.

brickie and labourers beavering away,

plus Dany the chippie and me.

I wonder how long it will take to finish,

so we feel the benefits me and you

Visualise the fun, we can have in it!!

our colourful psychedelic room with a view.

Full of suggestions the committee pondered,

on how to make use of this space.

Franks’ view is that it should be a vibrant, colourful

calm and ambient chill out place!!!!

Kaleidoscope murals covering the walls,

with white rugs and cushions on the floor.

Using feng shui for the total space,

thereby ensuring an ambient décor.

Imagine the setting as you lounge on your cushions!

Coolly moonbathing in this heavenly womb.

all the decisions that no one will make,

in the BEC psychedelic room.

Viva the committee.


(Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds anyone? Ed.)




1.          Tony Bamber

2.         Cambell McKee

3.         Dizzie (nee Akers)

4.         Alfie Collins

5.         Frank Seward

6.         Johnny Shorthose

7.         Betty Shorthose

            8.         ?

9.         Possibly Eddie Cole

10.        Jack Brown11. Don Coase

12.        Looks like Pete Stewart       But is probably not

13.        Freda Huchinson

14.        Can’t tell, face obscured

Many thanks to Tony Sett for identifications.

Memories of Mendip in the Forties

I happily slept on the hay in the barn,

with Postle and Don and the rest.

We drank and we swore, and the clothes that we wore

were far from our cleanest and best.

For we went down the caves that ran under our feet

and many a squeeze came my way;

with old carbide lamps and thick ladders of rope,

whilst the darkness chased terror away.

There were chimneys we climbed; there were boulders we scaled;

and the streams that ran swift after rain.

There were times we were lost, when I felt rather scared

‘til we’d sussed out our trail once again.

We’d a car boasting sidescreens, and running boards too,

with a windscreen that folded down flat.

And a neat dickey seat, tucked away in the rear.

There were many who envied us that.

While the others had motorbikes, battered and old,

but lovingly tended with care,

for petrol was scarce, and money was short,

but somehow we always got there.

In the evenings we’d roar down the road to the pub,

where Alfie played tunes that we knew.

And there we heard tell of one “Eskimo Nell”

as we drank our host’s excellent brew.

All too soon, time to go, and we’d climb on our bikes

or crowd in our Lea Francis car.

Then once more we’d roar to the Belfry and bed

and be grateful it wasn’t too far.

For a Club had been formed, with a bat as its badge,

and a hut was soon bought for a song.

To start with we slept on the old wooden floor

but I’m glad to say, not for too long.

Now we’ve benches and bunkhouses, showers and loos,

and places to dry out wet clothes.

I haven’t been caving for twenty-odd years

and I won’t go again, I suppose.

But Alfie plays host to us “oldies” each year

at a Dinner, both happy and sad,

while we think of those missing, who ought to be there,

and talk of the Good Times we had.

Dizzie Tompsett-Clark        21 February 2001


Our Message to Wig

Hello Dave aka Wig

it’s all your pals down here

we’ve trogged down to Cerberus Hall

to serenade you, friend dear

There is no need to say

how sad is this time

but all of us remember you

in your youthful prime.

Full of energy, wit,

and a character to boot

always a warm welcome

and sound advice to suit.

The Cerberus Chamber is yours

for just as long as you want,

like the long shadows of Priddy

and all the trees we plant.

Sadly missed is a phrase

that always sounds quite trite

so we will all raise our glasses

to a great mate goodnight.

vaya con dios Dave

Everything to Excess.

Mike Wilson


We all Likes Bloodywell Caving

When I were a youngster I were good as can be

With me nine to five job and home for me tea

Till a devil with horns and a beer gut or three

Took me caving, bloodywell caving

Caving, caving just you and I

Caving, caving when we are dry

Some does it open and some on the sly

But we all likes bloodywell caving

He said it’s a doddle, a countryside stroll

And I took it for gospel till we entered Cow Hole

I think he mistook me for some kind of mole

Going caving, bloody well caving

Then I did Goatchurch, all covered in mud

And then I did Swildon’s when it was in flood

Manor Farm was the place where I first spilled me blood

Going caving, bloodywell caving

Now Cuthbert’s is dry, I was told it’s a cinch

But the liar who told me that I’d like to lynch

Cos the entrance shaft surely could do with a winch

Going caving, bloodywell caving

Now Otter is fine if you’re watching the tide

And Neath is a squeeze, but it’s pretty inside

You get sodden and wrinkled and do it with pride

Gong caving, bloodywell caving

But the best time of day is when caving is done

And we go to the Hunters’ and drink down the sun

It’s then we tell weegies that caving is fun

Going caving, bloodywell caving


The Shaves Of The Mendip Hills

                 Yer Ed makes some surprising discoveries about caves and beards.


One of the most frequently asked questions by those who do not occupy the underground realm of caving is why are there so many beards? Today, beards and caving are almost synonymous and indeed one only has to frequent the various watering holes populated by those who indulge in that passion to see that beards are far from dying out – as some have wrongly claimed (see Haver’s The Shaved Men of Caving for a description of such misconceptions). It seems there is a long tradition of not shaving in the pursuits of a subterranean nature. Indeed, one may even consider it an act of freethought rebellion to indulge in wanton facial hair expression and rightly so. There is nothing more liberating than being one of the few who venture where the many fear to squeeze bedecked in enough facial hair to startle itinerant spinsters. 

The tradition is thought to have started with Gough whose magnificent facial hair was the talk of Cheddar. Scholars of this subject though rightly claim that beard wearing predates the great man by at least a century. Antiquarian and bon viveur John Pilsbury sported an enormous beard; one that was often reported as being ‘like the sail of a mighty galleon as she battled the storms of the Cape of Good Hope’. Pilsbury was fond of exploring the region in all weathers and a brisk southwester whipping across the Mendips was hardly likely to deter him. While regaling rude mechanicals of his adventures in inns of the area he often claimed that when caught out at night such was the enormity of his whiskers that he could curl up beneath them and sleep soundly, safe in the knowledge that…‘the rain could nought but penetrate the resplendent outpourings of my chin.’ 

Of course it soon became clear to Pilsbury that crawling through the tunnels and orifices of the Mendips was becoming an arduous task hampered as he was by the size of his mat. Although on one occasion he was deeply thankful that he had ignored his wife’s protestations to remove the wretched beast. In short he owed his life to it. While negotiating a squeeze he popped out ten fathoms above a deep abyss (which cave this is in no one is absolutely sure) but was saved from falling after his beard snagged on a knobbly protuberance of stal.

In his diary of 1756 he wrote:

I fell out, evacuated from the perilous opening, to what I deemed was my certain doom. Had I not been in possession of the fibres of my chin I would have that day met my maker. The knobbulous rockform had halted thereon my plummet and to it I made vigorous blessings as well as to my follicles…

Pilsbury spent three long days suspended over the deep pitch, turning lazily at the end of his beard until “certaine men of Priddy” rescued him. While waiting, he occupied his time in the long hours conjuring up caving techniques centred on the use of the beard. Predominant of which was SBT or the Single Beard Technique.  On paper and from his brief experience of it SBT seemed a novel and workable exploring tool but it was to prove, in reality, an untenable idea. Pilsbury finally met his doom during a test run swing off a steeple of rock in The Trousers of the Saint passage in Ball’s Opening just north of Wells. His beardless body was found wedged in the Bishop’s Nuisance Thrutch, now renamed, in his honour, Pilsbury’s Rip.   

His rescued beard, until quite recently, used to hang in the back of a cupboard in Wells museum. The identity of precisely which cupboard though has now been completely forgotten and the item lost to history.  

Another famous Mendip beard was Ezekiel ‘Thatch’ Whackery who facial hair reminded many of a map of Africa. Not only it must be mentioned due to its likeness of that continent but to its sheer size. Thatch had started his career as something of a cur of low moral fibre working near the coast, not far from present day Weston super Mare, smuggling barrels of brandy and other fancy goods in his whiskers. He even, if what was famously reported is true, carried two gentlemen avoiding a gambling debt, to Swindon without once letting them tumble from his face. It can only be assumed they clung tenaciously to his chin throughout the entire journey hidden from the authorities under his voluminous beard. 

Thatch, who incidentally was the first to explore Dripping Hole near West Harptree, had the ability to roll his beard into something that resembled a thick rope from which he could suspend other fellow explorers – in essence a human belay, or use it to scale certain rock formations in the various caves he ventured into. Beard historians (Or Barb-arians to give them their proper name) have rightly noted that Thatch had inadvertently stumbled upon the SBT independently.  Some have disputed this. Although Thatch came along some twenty years after Pilsbury, there is no evidence the men ever met, Thatch spent long hours talking about caves to elderly men of the area – some of whom had rescued Pilsbury’s body from the Bishop’s Nuisance Thrutch. So it is not without historical veracity that Thatch knew something of SBT.

Either way he became the most famous exemplar of SBT. Scandal dogged his later years when it was claimed that Thatch had returned to his old smuggling ways. In June of 1791 he was apprehended leaving a tobacconists with a hundredweight of rough shag lodged under his chin. He was incarcerated in the local stocks for a week and his beard was cut off in punishment. (It later appeared in an auction house in London where it sold for thirty guineas)

Further scandal would shock the caving world, in the early part of the 19th century, when a series of accidents revealed an underground market of fake beards. Explorers, usually from beyond the borders of Somerset, would purchase chin adornments in the mistaken belief they would aid them in their subterranean quests. It turned out that a shipment of substandard glue from the Far East had rendered the items useless as well as potentially dangerous. The Sheriff of Somerset launched an inquiry and formed a group of facial hair police called The Fuzz to track down and punish purveyors of pseudobarbafollicae.  It was due to his overwhelming success that even genuine caving beards fell into obsolescence - even those distributed to women - without which they were unable to explore the netherworld of Mendip. Thankfully that dogmatically sexist period was brief.

                                                ‘Beard madam?’

                                                            Monty Python’s Life of Brian       

Wetheral Fudge who caved once then retired unmoving to his bed for the remaining sixty years of his life was the last of the Great Beards of the Golden Age. Incidentally it was said that when he died rigor vigorous set in such was his lack of activity over that long period. His beard was the last of the greats to venture beneath the fields of the Mendips albeit on a once in a lifetime excursion. For a while, after his demise his beard hung in a Wells public house above a dartboard. Eventually the wretched thing began to stink up the place due to an inordinate amount of discarded ale and foodstuffs lodged in its hairs. It was laid to rest next to Fudge, beard and one time caver united once more.  

In the early and mid part of the 20th Century the beard in caving circles went into decline due in part to the shaves of the Mendip Hills but thankfully in more recent times the association of caving with facial hair has once more been re-affirmed. Balch sported a fine moustache but never went for the complete Monty.

Anyone interested in beard fieldwork can do worse than visit the Hunters Lodge Inn wherein any number of beards can be espied. One beard watcher (known as a whisker) went undiscovered for a whole month having taken up residence in a hide in the corner of the pub.

It seems that caves and beards are synonymous and who would have it any other way.

Long may they grow.  

See Celia Canth’s By A Whisker for further reading.

One famous Banwell caver, William Beard, actually changed his surname by deed poll in honour of facial hair. His original name was Stubble. – Jrat

Stop – Press  -  Breakthroughs at  Rana  Hole, Assynt,  Scotland

Tony Jarratt

     Over the Christmas – Hogmanay period a minor Mendip Invasion of Assynt took place with Paul Brock, Siss Balomatis, Duncan Butler, the writer and Robin “Tav” Taviner (GSG/WCC) in attendance. Norman Flux, Mark Brown and Anwen Burrows represented both GSG and SUSS and a host of Grampian members, including old Rana lags Julian Walford, Ivan Young, Martin Hayes, Andy Peggie, Roger Galloway, Annie Audsley, Kate Janossy and Derek Pettiglio appeared. Fraser Simpson luckily made a brief appearance armed with his video camera.

On Boxing Day Paul, Siss and your scribe visited Skye-way and the impressive Two A’s Chamber before squeezing down into some 70m of rift and bedding passages found earlier in the week by GSG local Chris Warwick and daughter Shona. A new stream entered on the north side as a 5m waterfall and sank in a boulder choke in the floor of Way On Chamber. A passage above was blasted after a couple of minor extensions were added to the cave.

Next day your scribe, Paul and Siss squeezed into c.20m of choked phreatic passage (Santa’s Grotthole) then joined Julian and sons who were digging in vain at the floor choke. To aid access a charge was fired in the rock wall on the S side of the choke. On the 28th Tav and the writer cleared the spoil and started shifting the choke when black voids appeared below and part of the floor collapsed into a short pitch – much to your scribe’s distress! Leaving it to settle they banged their way into 6m of passage nearby – Misfire Rift. Having optimistically brought SRT kit and a rope they were duty bound to garden and push the pitch so Tav acted as safety man while the writer descended the steeply angled and well decorated Black Rift for some 8m to a c.6m vertical drop into Black Cuillin Chamber where two ways led off. Mark, Anwen and Duncan visited next day and thoroughly emptied the rift of tons of “hanging death”.

A large team were back on the 30th and after Mark rigged Black Rift he pushed into some 50m of narrow, dry phreatic passage into Blue Chamber – named after its resident sump pool and in memory of Paul’s late lamented Border Terrier. Others dug in a boulder blockage in the northerly trending stream sink a few metres from the pitch but decided bang was needed so your scribe was inserted to drill three obstructive sandstone boulders. Drill and rock quality problems prevented this but after a half hour’s work with a crowbar the writer pushed the furthest rock forwards and followed it through into a 2m high stream passage. Mark, Paul, Siss, Fraser and Duncan (a perfect mix of GSG, SUSS and BEC) joined him to traverse over the shallow Flake Rift on a massive and dodgy looking rock flake, ascend a short and muddy climb and squeeze through a low section to the head of a steep flowstone slope in the side of a mighty chamber after a total of around 20m of new passage. Your scribe worriedly free-climbed this as he expected another deep pitch into Belh Aven in Uamh an Claonaite below. To the north a massive and unstable boulder slope (Raigmore Steps as it turned out) led to a wide breakdown passage with a roaring streamway and plenty of scuff-marks and footprints to prove that after 12 years of digging they had made the connection – into the base of Belh Aven and not the top as predicted! For the writer it was almost 32 years since he first dug here! Thoroughly elated they visited the stunning Great Northern Time Machine, inspected the bear bones nearby, posed for Fraser’s video and returned to Two A’s Chamber to imbibe the “Champagne” providentially left therein (and a second bottle with the rest of the team on the freezing surface!). Many tourist trips then followed and on the 1st January, Mark bolted up Belh Aven for some 60m to a horrific boulder choke (Belh End) with the green-dyed Rana stream entering. A magnificent week’s digging and exploration with, luckily, all the right tools and dedicated company for the job. Norman now has to find a new project! The combined system is around 2868m long and 111m deep – Scotland’s longest and deepest by far. Slainte.

Keys and leaders

By Toby Maddocks

A plea from your Caving Sec…

After numerous calls and emails from club members and after checking the members’ key box for quite a few weekends many of the keys are missing in action.

If you have used a key from the members’ box recently, or even not so recently and not yet put it back, please can you do it as soon as possible. Our Hut Warden and other committee members have found it quite embarrassing when keys are missing from the members’ box and members have not been able to the cave of their choice. I will publish a list and put it up by the box shortly so that we know what should be there. If you do use keys from the members’ box, please can you sign them out as well – the book is now pinned to the wall by the front door (left hand side as you come in). Many thanks to the members that have been doing this.

On a lighter note, though I would like to ask if anyone who might be interested in being a Cuthbert’s leader please email me. I’m currently training up myself with a couple of other BEC members so that we can share the load of trips into our cave with the current leaders. At present to become a leader you need to:

Have completed a minimum of 15 trips with current leaders

Be able to have sufficient knowledge of the cave so that you are able to protect the cave formations.

Have completed your training / validation trips with a wide range of current leaders and have gained secure knowledge of the main tourist trips.

If you would like to know more then please email me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   Happy caving!!


Another  Cave  Theme Beer  Label  and Associated  Ephemera

By Tony Jarratt

      In keeping with the fine traditions of the B.E.C. every now and then the Belfry Bulletin features a short article on “speleobooze” ephemera (see BBs 505 and 506 – Armchair Caving for the Alcoholic). The latest British item to come to the writer’s notice is from a very fine bottle-conditioned golden ale brewed locally by Cheddar Ales and rejoicing in the name “Potholer”. Many members will already be familiar with the excellent draught version (4.3%) frequently available in the Hunters’ and New Inn, Priddy and which recently won a silver award at the Tuckers Maltings Beer Festival in Newton Abbot.

Having been generously given bottles by Mike Hearn and Milche your scribe duly sampled it (Simply Gorgeous) and attempted to remove the label for his collection, being totally defeated by the quality of the glue. Mike, now part of the brewing team, then arranged with owner and head brewer Jem Ham for a small supply of labels, one of which is reproduced here. Its colouring is yellow ochre darkening to brown for the cave walls. The name of the cave illustrated is unknown, as it apparently originated in a photo library, but somewhere in S.E. Asia seems a good bet – it certainly isn’t on Mendip! For a Mendip brew the name “Potholer” may seem inappropriate though it was meant to be “…synonymous with Cheddar and the local area.”  Perhaps in the future we will see “Cave Digger” brown ale or a watery, gaseous brew called “Cave Diver”!

     Another local brewery is producing “Cave Bear” draught ale but this has been neither seen nor sampled and it is doubtful if there is a bottle label to collect.

     To accompany the ale Ford Farms of Ashley Chase Estate, Dorset are making a very acceptable Cheddar cheese, which is matured in the artificial tunnels in Wookey Hole Cave (as illustrated) and recently a similar operation has been set up in Gough’s Cave, Cheddar. Alas, the latter does not have a collectable, cave ephemera label.   

Ed’s note: Cheddar Ales are in the process of brewing a new beer called Totty Pot.  (see next BB --- JRat)


Vale Mark Jones

Once again we have to report the sad loss of one of our members, Mark Jones.

Mark joined the BEC in 2000 (membership number 1272) and was also a leader of the Midsomer Norton Scout Group. He was a talented IT teacher and about a year ago he moved to Bahrain in the Middle East to teach at an English school there. He was originally booked to stay at the Belfry for a week before Christmas but changed his plans after being offered a place with one of his local caving friends.  Sadly it was on his way back to the airport on 4th January when he was involved in an accident.

The funeral was at St Crust Church, Llanrwst, North Wales on Monday 14th January. Many of his friends and family convened in the the Eagle Hotel, Llanrwt Market Place, afterwards to celebrate his life.

A local Memorial Service for his Mendip friends is due to take place as this BB goes to press at Somervale School.

Donations to the MRO please.

On behalf of the BEC, we extend our deepest sympathy to his family.


Dave “Wig” Irwin’s Plaque Unveiling.

By Martin Grass.

On Saturday 10th November a large team in assorted caving kit assembled at the Belfry to descend St. Cuthbert’s Swallet for the unveiling of the memorial plaque to Dave Irwin in recognition of the work he had carried out in the cave over the years and specifically the survey of the cave.

However the event goes back some months to when Dave passed away and a few of us along with the BEC committee thought it would be a great idea to place one final plaque in Cerberus Hall to commemorate Dave’s life. Already plaques to the cave’s main discoverers, Don Coase and Roy Bennett are in the hall and it was felt this would be a fitting tribute to a caver who had done in excess of 750 trips into the cave, mainly for surveying and digging purposes.

Initially we decided to have a plaque the same size as Roy’s so it could sit on the other side of Don’s and balance everything out. This should have been 12 inches by 12 inches but as we added Cave and Surveyor to the original wording of Dave Irwin and his year of birth and death Wells Stone masons changed the size to 17 inches by 17 inches without telling us. Thus when I collected it I did think it was slightly larger than what we had ordered! It was also on the slightly heavy side and when Mac weighted it we found it was 30 kilos, Dave was still giving us headaches from beyond the grave!

Mac put it in a wooden frame and it was padded out with carpet and tape slings were secured to the frame for hauling. Now all we had to do was get it down the cave in one piece. So a cunning plan was hatched, Mac, Dany, J’Rat and myself would go in and drill the holes, tidy the wall and direct operations while Greg Brock and a team of young fit cavers would carry it down the cave with us giving encouragement! As it turned out Greg carried it most of the way with it slung over one shoulder and his whole body bent over and leaning to one side. He looked like Christ carrying the cross!

Still, we had our problems. Despite Mac making a wooden frame with pre-drilled holes and Dany’s expertise in drilling straight holes, on our second visit to put the plaque on the wall the holes did not quite line up and then one bolt sheared off! Now to plan B. So on the third visit Mac and Dany drilled bigger holes and very carefully drilled holes all the way through the stone. Everything was then set in epoxy resin and Dany held the whole lot on the wall while it set as it kept slipping forward even though it was on a metal bracket that Mac had made.

On the last trip we removed the bracket and Dany cemented in the gaps and it was at last complete. Big thanks to all the cavers who helped on the various trips into the cave over a very short period of time. On the 10th November we assembled a motley crew of 49 cavers in Cerberus Hall. These ranged from old stalwarts like Pete Franklin and Mike Palmer now in his 68th year down to young Helen who is 20. It was a truly representative bunch. John Irwin, Dave’s nephew, unveiled the plaque and we toasted Dave with his favourite tipple of lager and lime. We did have a bit of a wait as Pete Glanvill, who entered the cave last, had come along with a friend of his daughter Sally, a violinist called Bridget. Pete told her that as she had been down Bakers Pit she would not have a problem with Cuthbert’s! Terrified as she was we did eventually get her to Cerberus Hall with her violin and she played a few tunes for Dave before the damp air made all the strings on her bow come off! Finally Dave’s ashes were placed in the stream and a slow exit was made. This quickened considerably once Mr Nigel had popped like a cork out of the entrance rift!

On the surface a great team had produced hot soup, Indian snacks and of course a barrel of Potholer. An excellent day was had by all and in true BEC style it was “to excess”. Big thanks to all those that made it possible, by putting up the plaque, cooking food and sending hot soup down the cave (how did you get it past Nigel in the rift?). Those in attending the unveiling underground were:- 

John Irwin, Bob Cork, Barry Lawton, Alex Jones, Alison Ball, Pete Glanvill, Sally Glanvill, Bridget and the violin, Greg Brock, Helen Brock, Martin Faulkner, Martin Webster, Pete Hellier, Phil Coles, Jake Baynes, Greg Villis, Justin Emery, Mike Palmer, Mac, Martin Grass, Cheg Chester, Darrell Insterell, Phil Romford, Pete Franklin, Alison Moody, Jamie Wonnacott, Pete Hann, Graham Price, Chrissie Price, Nigel Taylor, Butch, Andy Chamberlain, Sean Howe, Steve Neads, Estelle Sandford, Mike Wilson, Crispin Floyd, Robin Gray, Damian Butler, Trevor Hughes, Bob Smith, Chris Smart, Mary Damson, Helen Brown, Stu Gardiner, Robin Lewando, Sue Dukes, Nick Gymer

Dave Irwin, in memoriam


The unveiling of the plaque

By Sue Dukes.

On Saturday 10th November nearly 50 cavers kitted up to slither down the entrance rift of St Cuthbert’s Swallet to pay homage to their old friend, and unveil the plaque which had been placed there earlier by some stalwart club members, including the honourable hut warden (who took a nasty tumble in the Wire Rift, and as a consequence of which was unable to join the wake).  I won’t list the names of the worthy at this time, but she has a list, which will no doubt go into the BEC annals for all time.

I met Wig, who was never called Dave, many years ago, when I was 23.  We frequently jaunted down Cuthbert’s to take measurements or draw profiles of passage for his long-term project to produce a book on the cave. We also shared a love of music. Those who knew Wig will recall he was an avid aficionado of classical music; a pianist himself, he also had an awe-inspiring collection of classical vinyl records (which I hope are going to a good home). At that time we also made a monthly trip into the Old Vic in Bristol to get some culcher (and the odd beer or two).  He had a kind nature, an amusing take on life, and modestly referred to the part of Concorde he designed as “that fussy little bit which fitted somewhere under the wing”.

Cavers, according to Wig, come in three types: troglobites (cave dwellers), troglophiles (surface dwellers who venture into the dark), and accidental visitors (washed in by water). On this momentous of trips to commemorate Wig’s life and his dedication to the exploration of Cuthbert’s there was an abundance of all three.  There were a few surviving troglobites long past breeding age; many surface dwellers gasping their way through almost-familiar passage (don’t I remember that from some otherwhen?); and a couple of accidental visitors.  Although there is a strict rule that no novice cavers should attempt this potentially dangerous cave, exceptions were made, notably for Wig’s nephew John, who made some of us experienced older cavers look like geriatrics (shoot the bloke who said, ‘we are’), and for Glanvill’s young fiddle-playing friend who was pressed-ganged into service to play the Last Post or something at the unveiling of the plaque.  She bravely made her way, with some help, through a cave he had blithely told her was like Goatchurch with a few ladders.

Safety rules were adhered to in a loose fashion, the diverse adventurers being divided into groups with leaders.  Some stout souls also volunteered to man the entrance, taking names of all who went down and eventually, with much struggling and cursing, came up again, according to the laws of nature.  We managed not to lose or damage a single trog, so well done to the organisers and leaders – talking of which, never have so many Cuthbert’s leaders been spotted together at the same time, leading rise to the supposition that they are not a dying breed as previously suspected, but simply shy.  Had there been a problem a complement of MRO personnel, of course, were on hand, but I have to mention they all scarpered out fast after the ceremony, to get to the barrel… by the time the last weary souls stumbled into the Belfry gasping for a drink in the late afternoon the barrel was empty and the food gobbled.

A reporting team from Mendip TV was also on hand.  Their cameraman gamely got his civvies wet and muddy in true reporting fashion, wedging himself above the entrance rift to catch the flavour of cavers slithering into the dark.  Some fairly tasteful footage of the event can be seen on MendipTV.com.   I took my camera down, and managed to snatch a few passable shots of the ageing fauna in its various guises.  I did notice other cavers flashing here and there, so there might be a few more interesting shots in the offing.

Everyone gathered in Cerberus Hall where Wig’s plaque joined that of Roy Bennett and Don Coase, apparently the last, which will do so.  While we waited and waited and waited for the fiddler to arrive, we did good justice to the BEC song, which echoed around Cuthbert’s in a remarkably church-like fashion. (It’s a shame the only time caving songs seem to be sung these days is at the BEC dinner or funerals.  Remember those Saturday nights:  Biddle on the piano or Simon on the box, and Ben’s perpetual moan about ‘they words, they ’orrible words?’)

Eventually Pete and the bone-weary fiddler arrived.  Exhausted and hot, she slid the top of her boiler suit down, and Alison, to the annoyance of certain older male members, lent her a belt to preserve modesty as the garment succumbed instantly to the pull of gravity.  The fiddle emerged from its cocoon of bubble wrap, and the last of the lager and lime, being Wig’s choice of drink (he wasn’t perfect), was handed around.  Eulogies were spoken, personal silences were observed, and then as the fiddle began to echo melodiously around the hall we raised a toast to Wig:  caver, friend, and Cuthberts’ leading authority.  At which point the fiddle bow immediately began to disintegrate, to our great amusement.  It was Wig having a last laugh.

The trip back out took a long time as the logistics of 50 people in varying stages of fitness did justice to the entrance rift.  My small party didn’t hurry back, but took a leisurely detour via Quarry Corner, to High Chamber and the cave pearls.  We still arrived at the foot of ladder chamber behind a queue of rapidly chilling bodies, and tucked ourselves into Pulpit to wait it out.  Eventually we, the last five, clambered back into dusk to be greeted by some very merry bodies who were surprised to see us, having assumed everyone was out half an hour previously.

Thereafter, everyone repaired to the village hall for beer, the auction, nosh, stomp (good job most of us are already deaf), and more beer.

Sue Dukes

Wig’s Book Auction

On November 19th Priddy Village Hall played host to an auction of books from Wig’s library. The whole affair was well attended and as they say everything had to go. Most of the more valuable books, the heart of the auction sold below their reserve prices although one or two did sell for a handsome price.

Hot on the heels of the prints were some of Wig’s prints and pictures, although I understand one patron did end up paying £25 for a photocopy.

Along the side of the hall the bulk of Wig’s books had been split into tables with prices for each. Whereas the rare books were snapped up, on the whole, by the same people, these tables offered the majority a crack at owning some of the great man’s library. There was something of a mad rush after the prints were sold as everyone rushed to bag the books they had chosen during the perusal period.

 One thing should be mentioned, the rare books had had their lot numbers stuck directly onto the covers with scotch tape. Unfortunately this meant that a number of covers were ruined when an attempt was made to remove the labels. In future it is the opinion of the editor that any books sold are placed in clear plastic bags to avoid damage and depreciation in value. 

Post auction guests were invited to groove the night away at a stomp.

The Statistics of the Post Auction Stomp

By Ian “Slug” Gregory.

I can report that whilst everyone who wanted it was offered "seconds", there was one particular "Greedy Bastard" who came back not only for said "seconds", but also thirds, then fourths, and finally…FIFTHS. (I suppose that had we not run out of food, he would have come back for sixths.), and the name of that person ....Henry Dawson...making up for the "Club Dinner e-mail incident" no doubt.

If you are interested, we fed 117 in the evening (121 if you count Henry's four extra portions: -D ), and prior to that 60 odd had soup and snacks at the Belfry after exiting St Cuthberts.

Afternoon: 3 gallons each of mushroom, tomato, and oxtail soup,120 mini indian snacks, 4 lbs. of butter, 6 loaves of bread. Prepared by Brenda Prewer, and myself. Evening: 120 jumbo sausages, 100 beef burgers, 56 lb's of potatoes, 24 lbs garden peas, another 4 lbs of butter, and 2½ gallons of Dany Bradshaw’s own recipe onion gravy.

Yep, as Wig liked to point out, the whole club motto is "If Something Is Worth Doing, It’s worth Doing To EXCESS"

I think We Did.

BEC T-Shirt Design Competition

Since we have now completely sold out of all of our clothing stock we are going to run a competition for the redesign. Previously we have printed T-shirts, rugby shirts, car stickers, “BEC get everywhere” stickers, jackets, ties, and other random stuff. Clearly we’ll be producing the popular items and we’ll also look at doing hoodies.

There are very few guidelines to this brief except these: (1) T-shirt designs should be full print (even two sided) while rugby tops would be restricted to a simple logo. (2) Artwork should be final or capable of being produced to a print standard. (3) You may enter for a single item or a range of styles. (4) No dates are to be printed

The club will judge the result for themselves via an online poll on the BEC website. This will be used by the committee for determining which design to go with. All entries to be in by end of January 2008.

The winner will get a free t-shirt and a warm feeling that they’ve done good.

Henry Bennett

Letter to the Club

By Martin Grass.and Stuart McManus

Dear Committee,

As you are now aware Dave Irwin’s book auction raised £6,884.86 after deducting the hall hire, band and other sundry items, which less the beer purchased by the BEC (£414.99) means Wig’s family have donated £6,469.87 to the BEC.

Firstly thanks to all those who helped at the event and during the day with the plaque unveiling in Saint Cuthbert’s. It was great to see so many members from across the generations!

Mike, Dave’s brother, had originally intended for some of the proceeds of the auction to go to the Priddy church fund but he was so moved by the day that he has requested the full amount go to the BEC.

Although there are no stipulations on how the money is to be used we believe that some of it should be put to a lasting memorial to Dave (I know we have the plaque).

In addition the club has been given all of Dave’s original surveys, drawings and note books. We are aware that at the last AGM a suggestion was made that these go to Bristol library but we do feel they would never be seen there.

The final decision has to be yours but as “unofficial” trustees of the money we would like to see, as a very minimum, a suitable set of cabinets for the storage of the note books along with a survey Plan chest or similar piece of furniture purchased for these very valuable achieves. We can then advise Mike and his family of this legacy.

We are aware that at the last committee meeting your new and enthusiastic librarian suggested that perhaps part of the new Belfry extension could become a larger and better library dedicated to Dave’s memory and we would certainly endorse this. It is in fact a credit to those that have built it that the standards and finish are of such a high quality that it would seem a shame to turn it into a dirty old work shop!

On the above we are in your hands however we would like to be kept informed/ consulted if possible by the committee so we can advise Mike to what use some of the money will be put.

Finally there were two boxes of books left from the sale and these we have placed in the library. If the club does not have copies of the contents then please use them, the remainder is for you to do as you wish. One suggestion was for the club to take a stand at next year’s Hidden Earth and sell the books along with copies of the St. Cuthbert’s report. As it is “up North” next year you may find that some of the books will go quite quickly for a reasonable sum. Alternatively Tony Jarratt has said he would purchase the lot from the club. The decision is yours.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Everything to excess,


Martin Grass & Stuart McManus.

22nd November 2007.

Hollow Hills

As you are well aware we have new neighbours at the Belfry. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming months. Due to the nature of the beast or ‘beasts’ in this case, a certain level of concern is unavoidable. Let’s hope that the issues are resolved to the satisfaction of all.   

Just a quick reminder: Documents for the BB should be sent or emailed in Word or RTF Format. Pictures – you’re still doing it! – should be either gently placed on a CD Rom or whipped through a photo software package to get them down to a workable size – preferably in black and white as that’s how they’re going to be printed. Other than that keep sending me your articles!

Yer Ed.  


Cover Photo:     Deanne Wilkins in Baradla Barlang, Hungary - photo by Emma Porter

Ave Cavers!

Welcome to the new issue of the BB.

First off, apologies for the lateness of this issue. This was due to a heavy writing workload that had to be shifted out of the way and a thumb injury but not one, I’m sad to say, related to beer or caving adventures. Although maybe I should have lied and claimed as such. Anyway, excuses done with.

First thing you’ll notice is a change in format. This has been done to save on printing costs. In essence we’re packing the same amount in but in less pages but I would appreciate feedback to see if the new style meets with everyone’s approval. Negative and positive welcome of course.  I think though, that essentially, if we’re saving on printing costs then that’s no bad thing.  It’s the contents that count after all! 

As ever I’m on the look out for articles for the next BB due out in the autumn.

Yer Ed.

Club Officers

Committee Members

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor (772)
Hon. Treasurer: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Henry Bennett (1079)
Caving Secretary: Toby Maddocks (1310)
Hut Warden Hannah Bell (1295)
Tacklemaster: Bob Smith (1203)
Hut Engineer Henry Dawson (1313)
Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
Floating Fiona Crozier (1305), Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)

Non-Committee Posts

BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)
Auditor Chris Smart
Club Archivist Sue Dukes

Club Trustees:

Martin Grass (790), Phil Romford (985), Nigel Taylor (772) and Mike Wilson (1130)

The Tunnels of Temple Meads


Following visits to a few of Bristol's more subterranean attractions on an Open Doors Day, I stumbled into some fellow cavers whilst sneaking around the bits of Redcliffe 'Caves' still closed to the public. We got to chatting and I found out they had been on a tour of some tunnels under Bristol's railway station; Temple Meads. I had got wind of these tunnels in the side note of a council newsletter some time ago. Despite a certain amount of lateral thinking and quite some persistence I had been unable to get a look around them.

Tales about the size of the network made for raised eyebrows and with some of what I thought was gentle probing I managed to get a name and a number to contact. Surprisingly I had the details of the station manager. This is not something I would have had a hope of getting out of any publicly accessible part of the country's railway structure.  I would very much like to pass this on to the readers of this article, but unfortunately the number is ex-directory and the manager wanted it kept that way.

Anyway, I arranged a tour around the underground bits of the station and managed to get permission to bring along a few mates. It was on a weekday, but all that I asked who could escape work readily agreed and a date was set.

Henry Bennett, Mike Wilson, Bob Cork and myself showed up at Temple Meads main entrance with overalls and headlamps having pretty much no idea of what we would be in for. Cooing over Mike's motorbike and dodging seemingly homicidal taxi drivers we were introduced to a platform manager dressed in a suit with a little torch. Feeling a little silly with all our caving kit we followed him around the platforms looking like we were going mountain climbing.

The tour started above ground and a few anxious looks were exchanged as the manager started taking us through the history and future of the station, its trains their engines and so on. Not really what we were hoping for! Thankfully the trainspotter's bit didn't last long and we were ushered into a private lift. We emerged in an enormous tunnel running all the way under the station. You could hear the trains thundering away above and various individuals with overalls and carts pottering about the place like something out of a James Bond film. They had a fire last year down there and whilst redecorating they had simply painted over all the melted fixtures and fittings making the tunnel look a bit like a Dali painting.

The underground sections of the station were quite large. After the main tunnel we had seen there were a couple of other tunnels and a large number of arches which ran back for a long way under the station. Many of these interlinked to form a maze of sorts. The construction was of simple brick lined, arched roofs with a flat floor.

The tunnels were used to shelter from air raids during the Second World War. Under the station we came across 2 sections of track with points on. The guide informed us that these were used to train people up on fixing points when the Germans tried to blow them up. Apparently we got pretty good at it. There was an air raid shelter as well. This had bathrooms, bedding areas, the lot, but it had very recently caved in so we couldn't get in to have a look. The damp and deterioration had reduced the shelter to a pile of twisted rust and timber.

We proceeded to a second gated area and after exploring a number of wandering tunnels we found some tiny train tracks. These ran up a gentle incline past a stooping section, to a loading and storage area. Standing there admiring some formations on the walls the manager let us know we were right under the restaurant in the middle of the station. Sure enough, if we all went quiet we could hear people chatting away over lunch and brewing up cups of coffee. Apparently the restaurant had been the first class lounge and diner in times gone by and all food was brought in this way. The access hatch to the restaurant had sadly been concreted over. I reflected that it would have been quite fun to have emerged from the floor next to some couple eating their lunch.

One thing we did not expect was the sheer amount of booze the first class travellers had got through in their day. Before the days of the British Rail sandwich first class rail travel was sheer opulence. The wine cellar stretched on for ages. I reckon it held between 10,000 and 16,000 bottles of wine including a locked off section for the pricey stuff. Some of the bins still had the labels on, somehow unmarred over time in the damp environment.

We picked our way around rubble, decaying electrical fittings and piles of random railway type tools and spares back to the secondary tunnel. Here we climbed some steps and popped out of a door in the middle of platform 7. This was the end of our tour. It had been interesting, but not amazing if I am honest about it. Something to add to an Open Doors Day tour around Bristol rather than an outing in itself. Well worth seeing if you are in the area on the day though. We thanked our guide profusely and wandered over the road to find the nearest boozer. Not a bad way to spend a morning and an interesting little diversion into a bit of Bristol most of the population will never see.

By Henry Dawson

Wessex Challenge

At the end of May the Wessex Challenge was dragged kicking and screaming out of a long slumber. Memories of the days when the BEC had two teams (one to race and one to run interference) were retold over foaming tankards and the club’s men braced themselves.

Meanwhile the BEC girls got their act together and decorated a fine chariot built by Ivan, Ben and Henry B.  Duncan Butler donned a bra to join Hells Brooke, Hells Warren, Olivia Dawson, Ruth Allan and Hannah Bell. As the Race Commentator blew his whistle the field was quickly moving away with Dick Dastardly and Co speeding across the grass on their big wheels.

Meanwhile our girls bravely slogged it out while cursing the sleds on the trolley. (I wasn’t keen to cut them off as I need to get my booze into Glasto on it). After the race the MCR had a fund raising BBQ and stomp. In true BEC style the party continued on into the night at the Belfry.

The Cerberus team won

Ben Wyvis: Exploring a Route from the South

Our house at Little Farness on the Black Isle in Ross-shire has a panoramic view, which includes Ben Wyvis (OSGB NH463683),  which is a Munro and also includes a very distinctive curious cone shaped hill

Between them and us are several ridges, which with distance merge into one, giving the impression of a continuous plateau. The map says otherwise. There is the Cromarty Firth, and two major glens, Glen Glass and Coire Mor between the house and the summit and it has taken some time for me to sort out the complex landscape.

As the eye follows the line of the mountain part of a cliff can be made out just below the summit. I had been wondering about this and the cone shaped hill for years.


Ben Wyvis is a Munro. It is a vast estate and the Munro Guide route up the An Cabar ridge from the north gets you to the top in a few hours. On top you can ‘feel’ that there is a cliff to the east but it is difficult to see properly from the plateau. Other approaches take much longer.

From the North the traverse from An Cabar to Tom McConnich is a popular long day but there is no really satisfactory way of making a circular route and the Cliff is hidden. In the South we tried cycling Glen Glas and climbing from the end of Loch Glas via Tom McConnich but got sore bums on an endless stony track, which was just as bad on the return. Again no satisfactory view of the Cliff can be had. I tried viewing from different places to look into the Glen,

It wasn’t until I traced a route on the map to the precipice from The Heights of Docharty at Dingwall that I made progress. I took my bike onto a very rough steep track past the cone shaped hill.

Cabar Ridge - right.

The track climbs steeply to the bealach (that’s a pass you ignorami)

Earlier we’d taken bearings from he house but it was hard to decide which of the Wyvis outliers the cone was. From where I was now, the map showed that it’s called Cioch Mhor. I got as far as the plantation where I left the  bike and walked for another hour from there climbing up to Meille na Speireig.

Above The view from Meille na Speireig

From Meille na Speireig the steep bit of Coire an t-Socaich could be seen clearly but from this perspective it didn’t look promising.

I sat with the view for a while enjoying it with satisfaction

I imagined an exploratory route up a buttress, which looked as if it might give some scrambling.

On the way back I had great pleasure in climbing The Cone or Cioch Mhor. It gave fine views for a highly recommended three or four hour round trip from the Heights of Docharty.

A friend in the Scottish Mountaineering Club sent me all the information on climbs on Ben Wyvis that he could find. These were three winter climbs done fairly recently and described as gullies. So I felt I had to get closer and rub my nose in the rock. Frustratingly time passed and I couldn’t find a friend to hold a rope. In the end early one morning at sunrise I set off on my own.

This time I didn’t bother with the bike. Last time I had to carry it across two fords, over several gates and push it most of the steep way up; coming down was slow too. It was just as quick to walk in. From Meille na Speireig, where I turned back last time, I went down heather slopes to Junction of Allt


Mhoir and Allt Comhlaich

An t-Socaich

Route taken

and following the grassy banks of the burn where it cut its way through peat hags and made an easier route until I could look into the longed for Coire An t-Socaich.

At first it looked exciting. The cliff An t-Socaich seemed to be continuous to the top. As I got closer I saw that a gully splits the face and later, nearer to the promised land I realised that the gully split the steep cliff of an t-Socaich into a lower and higher part with no satisfactory line on broken rock.


Even winter climbing would lack continuous exposure.

View from the top of Glas Choir and the Loch and right showing the time consuming terrain of Coire Mhor

I set off on the line I’d promised myself. This was no longer the vertical line I’d seen in profile but lay as a route sloping up across the cliff finishing at the top of the lower cliff there it turned and went uphill on decent scrambling to finish high on the hill. The view from the top of Glas Choir and the Loch and right showed clearly the time consuming terrain of Coire Mhor that I’d crossed laboriously. However the return route went quickly over the summit of Ben Wyvis and back to the junction of the burns and after the long-while of speculation I was now FREE to celebrate!

Total time 10 hours including 1 mile, which took 2 1/2 hours over terrible terrain. Exploring the rarely visited cliff was rewarding but it takes a considerable effort to get to the base of the crag just to make a few routes

Ref. OS Explorer Map 437

By Kangy, September 200

Diary Dates

19th July BEC vs Wessex Cricket - Mindless fun in a cow field.

16th August Belfry BBQ - Beer, Burgers and Boogie (and maybe come cider)

23rd August 4th European Speleological Congress.

23rd -25th August (Bank Hol weekend) BEC trip to the Yorkshrie Dales - Contact Chris Jewell

20th -21st September - Derbyshire trip Contact Chris Jewell

13th September CSCC General Mtg

26th -28th September Hidden Earth - in Otley, West Yorkshire.

4th October AGM and Annual Dinner - Turn up and support your club.

25th  October SUICRO - Guinness

New Members

In the last few months we’ve had a number of new members. Please join me in welcoming

Rob Bruce

Olivia Dawson


Steve Collins

Helen Warren

James Collings

David Garman

Andrew Collins

Martyn Compton


Crimson Hill Canal Tunnel

The Chard to Taunton canal was not a success. It was constructed to carry coal and other goods from Chard to Taunton where it met the Taunton Canal but, to coin a phrase, missed the boat at a time when rail transport was in the ascendant. It opened in 1842 and by 1866 had closed. The canal was about 13 miles long and incorporated a variety of technologies to cross the hilly landscape between Chard and Taunton. These included 3 tunnels, 4 inclines, a lock and a couple of aqueducts. The 1800 yard tunnel under Crimson Hill between Beer Crowcombe and Wrantage took 2 years to complete and is still today one of the longest in the country.  Chard History group published a small booklet on the canal in 1967, which was reprinted in 1988.

The tunnellers apparently began by excavating outwards from a central shaft. There were deaths due to collapses during the course of the work. Today the northern end at Wrantage is readily accessible via a farm track and footpath. The attractive portal is an interesting feature in the landscape. Nearby is an interpretation board that provides some background to the tunnel and canal’s history.

As a long time resident of Chard I had been aware of the canal from childhood. The reservoir providing the headwater for the canal is now a moderately important wildlife reserve and fishing lake. Land development has obliterated the old canal basin in Chard but its route can still be traced through the fields at a variety of locations.  I visited the northern entrance more than 10 years ago and had wondered for some while how far it went. Rumour had it that the far end had collapsed. Nick Chipchase told me that he had struggled some way up it many years ago but that the thick clinging mud on the floor had defeated him. A local bat

group used to do a count in the tunnel by using an inflatable dinghy but they didn’t venture that far in.  Access is a bit debatable as well as at some time the landowner has obviously extracted water from the entrance area.

My interest was renewed when I got the opportunity to visit the southern end of the tunnel, which lies in the garden of Old Star Cottage in the hamlet of Beer Crocombe. Roger Clarke the owner had the old canal cutting in this garden but didn’t start digging until a neighbour told him that he had a canal tunnel there!  Pete Rose provided a humorous report on a trip to the tunnel in November 2004 (Belfry Bulletin No 521, Spring 2005) and we planned to return at sometime for more photography.

In the summer of 2007 I contacted Roger again and he told me that he had paddled to an earth choke some 500 yards up the tunnel (measured with string); the choke probably corresponding with the air shaft mentioned by Pete Rose.  Feeling thwarted I decided to visit the northern end with a more reliable inflatable device namely a canoe left by my late father and never used.  September the first 2007 saw me, Philippa Glanvill and a friend of hers Christian Guppy pumping away at the entrance to the northern end preparatory to our first trip. We wore wet suits as well!  The canoe proved helpful but as it could only accommodate 2 people, and that’s at a pinch, progress was slow and made slower by the canoe grounding on the muddy bottom. The water in the tunnel for the first 600 metres is never more than thigh deep but the mud on the bottom is tenaciously glutinous making progress tiring.

The tunnel is surprisingly high, probably about 3 metres, and about 2.5 to 3 metres across with a high arched roof. In the first section there are shallow alcoves at intervals at about head height, which we surmised were drainage holes. Placed regularly along the roof are rusting structures resembling inverted pitchforks.  At points where the drip from the roof was heavy were some delightful orange stalactite and stalagmite formations.  The odd lesser horseshoe bat could also been seen high up in the ceiling.

 The tunnel runs on a bearing of about 140 degrees in a virtual straight line and daylight can be seen from the centre more than 500 metres in.  At this point the walls bulge slightly probably more to do with ground movement than the  construction methods used. At 600 metres the tunnel widens to about 4 metres and less than 50 metres later is the first collapse.  The water emerges from the base of the collapse, which is passed by climbing up into the space created by the roof fall before rapidly descending the far side.  The rock is soft – a form of lias which contains big bands of calcite. It looks as if the collapse has occurred at the location of an old surface shaft and there is a very heavy drip here. 

Beyond the collapse the water is clear, green, chest deep and cold.  Martin Grass, Philippa and I returned at the end of November and surveyed up to the collapse.  After a brief foray across the next section to a point where the passage narrowed again, Martin and I  vowed to return with the inflatable canoe.  In mid December we were back.  The widened section is probably in total a distance of something like 60 metres or so and just beyond the left hand wall has peeled away over a 4 metre stretch. It is rather alarming to climb up and peer into the space above the collapse. There is airspace running for as far as the eye can see in both directions above the tunnel roof!  A stream trickling in has deposited calcite cementing the roof bricks together, which is slightly reassuring.

Beyond another wall collapse we entered the ‘unknown’, the canoe now being essential. I estimated the water depth to be something approaching 2 metres.  A loud crunching accompanied our progress through a calcite raft  stretching across the entire passage and extending several metres in front of us suggesting few people had been this far. Sadly about 200 metres from the choke we came to a solid bank of mud obstructing the passage.   If the total length of the tunnel is 1800 yards I estimate there are about 4-500 meters of canal tunnel that are currently inaccessible. Digging would be feasible but one would be digging standing in cold water. Strong swimmers immune to cold or owners of inflatable dinghies can apply!

My next project is to obtain some better shots of the southern end of the tunnel, which contains some absolutely stunning straws.

By Peter Glanvill

Barlangs in Budapest and Under Aggtelek

Egeszsegedre!  The bottles clink and we pass around the local Bulls Blood and Unicum. It is great to be back again in Budapest, the “city of caves” with our Hungarian caving friends.  There are eleven of us from different UK caving clubs and two of our Lebanese friends, here to enjoy a short city caving break before heading to the 11th International Cave Rescue Conference to be hosted in Aggtelek, north-eastern Hungary.

Hungary has a rich speleological history, and its scientists were the pioneers of speleotherapy, still practised in Hungary today.  There are three main caving areas, in the north both the Bukk and Aggtelek are typical Karst areas with stream caves and in the capital, the Buda Hills which make Budapest unique, by having the highest density of thermal caves anywhere in the world


The Team:

From BEC: John Christie, Mike Wilson and Emma Porter (GCRG/MCRO)

Others: John Allonby (CPC), Jo Campbell (SMCC), Mike Clayton (CPC/GCRG/MCRO), Firas Fayad (Speleo Club du Liban), Pete Gray (CPC), Tony Harrison (Moldywarps Speleological Group/Swaledale MRT), Chris “Zot” Harvey, Hadi Kaassamani (Speleo Club du Liban), Neville Lucus (CPC), Mike Peters (CPC), Steve Tomalin (GSS/GCRG) and Deanne Wilkins (Dudley CC)

(this blurring of this photo summed up the weekend)

Em and Dea with Mendip's finest - photo by Mike Clayton

After arriving into Budapest airport on the morning of Saturday 12 May 2007, we were greeted by our friend Marci and swiftly transported to our accommodation for the next three days, a small caving club hut in the “Beverley Hills” part of Budapest, nestling between foreign embassies and millionaires’ pads.  It is a very precious piece of land as far as cavers in Hungary are concerned, the equivalent of an SSSI, hosting stunning views overlooking the Danube and the city. But what makes this land so special is that hidden beneath the surface lies a mini Lechuguilla, called Jozsef-Hegyi Barlang.

Like many caves in Budapest, Jozsef-Hegyi was discovered by workers excavating the land to develop and build houses.  The small cave entrance was found in 1984 and excavation work had to cease whilst the cavers were given a set time period upon which to dig, extend and explore the cave.  The cavers were fortunate to soon break through into some large chambers full of gypsum and due to the importance of the find the builders were not permitted to continue with their works.  Whilst this important and unique cave has in the short time been saved, due to the cave being positioned in such an exclusive part of Budapest, the cavers have at times had to fight to keep the land from being developed and hence access is very restricted, even to cavers.

After a short rest in the sun from travelling, we were led into the 5.5km long and 103m deep cave by our good friend Csaba “Mr Dyson” Koblos, entering a 20ft shaft via a metal ladder, the alternative route via the cellar of the caving hut was unfortunately locked.  We carefully descended the entrance series via rope climbs and boulder chokes until several large chambers were reached, the largest chamber being 70m long by 20m wide.  Once through the entrance series, the cave is an abundance of gypsum crystals and flowers, aragonite needles reaching 5-10cm in length and the amazing Christmas tree features, formed it is believed, by the result of calcite flakes precipitating on the former water surface and being deposited on top of each other.  We had a steady paced trip in order to keep cool and had ample opportunity to admire the underground delights.  It was a real privilege to be able to venture into the gypsum wonderland but almost a relief reach the surface away from the fragility and pristine nature of the beautiful cave.

The following day, we ventured to the nearby show cave of Pal Volgyi discovered in 1904.  Here, large quarrying activities in the Szep Valley revealed a number of underground labyrinths and now Pal Volgyi is part show cave after being opened to the public in 1927.  In 1994, the cave was already the second longest in Hungary and the longest in Budapest and by the end of 2001, a connection was created between the 13.3km long Pal Volgyi and the 5.4 km long Matyas-hegyi Barlang that opens in the opposite quarry. 

Like the majority of the Budapest caves, access is restricted and we were fortunate to have a guide pre-arranged.  After originally being split into two parties, we quickly merged into one large group, as the route finding on the round trip became more complicated and Zot discovered his chest girth was not quite conducive to some of the squeezes (or maybe it was just an excuse to be rescued by Szilvia, one of the female cavers in the group!).  The route gave us a good insight into the nature of the cave, with its maze-like routes and bizarre rock formations that resembled exploring the holes in a large piece of cheese.  Further into the system, in the western part, it is said to be particularly pretty, although time and our group size prevented us from going this far.

On our way back to the caving hut, as on previous trips, we climbed the steps above the show cave of Szemlohegyi Barlang to a small memorial garden to cavers who have died in the pursuit of exploration, to pay our respects.  It is a beautiful setting with a piece of limestone and plaque for each caver overlooking the city – a poignant reminder of the risks of our passion.

Deanne Wilkins in Baradla Barlang, Hungary - photo by Emma Porter

The last day of our short city caving break was spent exploring the “Pearl of the Danube” with all its interesting architecture, lively streets, sprawling over both sides of the river.  Budapest is perhaps most well known for being a spa city with its alleged medicinal waters and so a drink of the sulphur water at Lukacs Medicinal Baths was in order (which cured Jo’s knee pain!) followed by a trip to enjoy the thermal pools in the architecturally elegant surroundings of the Gellert Spa with its Art Nouveau furnishings, artistic mosaics and stained glass windows.  Our day in the centre of the city ended in an “eat and drink as much as you want” for £10, which saw the group making the most of the latter before staggering back to the hut to grab their possessions to meet the coach at Szemlohegyi Barlang.  Upon our arrival at the show cave, we were given a quick tour around the show cave before Mike Wilson, Zot and Firas headed back to the UK, and for the rest of us, a beer was thrust in our hands to ease the four hour journey to Aggtelek.

The Aggtelek National Park is dominated by extensive Karst plateaus with an average altitude of 600m, and together with the neighbouring Slovak Karst, the caves feature on the World Heritage list.  The venue of the 11th International Cave Rescue Conference was in the heart of the National Park in north-eastern Hungary, between the two villages of Aggtelek and Josvafo and saw cavers converging from Mexico, Scandinavia, Lebanon, across Europe and the largest group, apart from the hosts, being the Brits.

During the journey, we met up with the other delegates of the Conference, including two more from the UK, Pete Allwright (CRO) and Roy Holmes (CRO).  Despite the beers, it seemed a long journey to Aggtelek and we arrived in the early hours of the morning of Tuesday 15 May.  We were soon guided to three cosy wooden cottages by our friend Moha and crashed out, making sure we were ready for some serious partying when the conference started.

Registration at the conference commenced later that morning and we were shortly planning some underground excursions.  With Pete Allwright, Roy Holmes and Tony Harrison providing the British representation at the conference lectures, our Hungarian caving friends had a whole schedule of trips planned for us during the week and we were soon heading to Rakoczi Barlang, to a cave that was discovered through mining.  The cave was accessed via an abandoned tunnel, which was constructed in the 1920s and the miners came across the cave whilst digging new side passages in their search for iron ore.  Unfortunately, not realising the significance of their discovery, one of the lakes was filled with thousands of tonnes of spoil.  Today, this cave is now protected and a series of fixed metal ladders leads visitors around some beautiful formations to a lake.  With the cave only being 650m in length, we managed to put in an appearance at the opening ceremony of the conference before giving one of our team, who was heading home to Beirut that evening, a traditional send off!  Several beers and Unicums later, we carried him from the pub back to meet his lift to Budapest airport and we joined the rest of the British contingent for the Gulyas Party, and enjoyed some goulash and local beverages. 

On Wednesday, we headed off to Slovakia, the border being all of 1 mile away, with Gustav from Meander to explore Buzgo Cave, following a series of wire traverses to the end.  In the afternoon, we joined all the conference participants for the excursion to the cave baths of Miskolctapolca, a popular tourist attraction. The cave baths were formed by thermal waters and a building was constructed in the 1930s around the cave and made suitable for bathing in 1959.  There are several artificial extensions to swim through interspersed with natural cave passage and small pools, Jacuzzis and several large outdoor pools.

Formations in Ochtinsha Aragonite Cave, Slovakia - photo by Emma Porter

The following day, we visited three show caves in Slovakia and saw the stunning aragonite formations in Ochtinsha Aragonite Cave.  Whilst only 300 m long, this cave was protected in the World Heritage List in 1995 due to its unique aragonite needles and phenomenal helictites. We then visited the long straws of Gombasecka cave in Slovakia before returning to Hungary to then party in only a way the British can in the famous Baradala Barlang to the Miskolc Dixie Band.  A superb feast was enjoyed by all, with plenty of drinking, singing and the Brits introducing the other cavers to the Hokey Cokey!

Of course, we could not be in Aggtelek without completing a traverse of Baradla Barlang from Aggtelek to Josvafo.  The total length of the system is 26km with a quarter lying in Slovakia, known as Domica Cave.  The traverse is an underground hike through massive chambers, some extremely well-decorated.  At the picnic tables, we shared some food and drinks before deviating down the Radish Branch to admire the Mother in Law’s Tongue. 

Whilst some of our group were flying back to the UK, the final day of the trip saw a smaller Anglo-Hungarian contingent entering Domica Cave by a lesser-known entrance.  The trip was perhaps the highlight of the week, as we followed the beautiful stream passages, skirted round gour pools and crossed the underground border post.  Our Hungarian friends pointed out the remnants of the metal gates that had once divided the cave and the two countries, and advised us that this has been their “Berlin Wall”.

A very big thanks must go to our Hungarian friends and hosts of the conference for looking after us so well as usual.  And in return? Whilst we may not have attended many lectures, we explored underground in both Hungary and Slovakia and kept the party going every night!! Egeszsegedre!! 


Craven Pothole Club The Record, No 52, July 1998, pp40-44, “Pestera in Padis, Barlangs in Budapest”, Porter, E

Craven Pothole Club The Record, No 42, April 1996, pp19-21, “A Winter Expedition to Hungary”, Thompson, T

Descent magazine, No 198, Oct/Nov 2007, pp32-34

Slovakia Show Caves 2003 Bella, P DTP studio GRAFON ISBN 80-89130-09-7

Ochtinska Aragonite Cave 2001 Pavel, P DTP studio GRAFON ISBN 80-968414-7-5

A similar article appeared in Craven Pothole Club The Record, No 90, April 2008.

By Emma Porter

Badger Hole, Stratton on the Fosse

On the 14th April 2007 a hole approximately 1.5 metres in diameter and 3 metres deep appeared in a field at Manor Farm between Stratton on the Fosse and Radstock.  Working locally at the time I was asked to investigate what the hole was as coal mining was known to have taken place in the area.  On the 29th April Henry Bennett, Bob Smith and myself arrived to take a look down the hole.  A rigid ladder was used to descend the hole as the sides belled out after a depth of 1 metre.  The base of the ladder was placed on the top of the sizable cone of collapsed soil debris. 

The farmer had alerted us to the possibility of a badger being alive and down the hole so it was with trepidation that I descended the hole to take a look around.  Once on the top of the debris cone I could see that the chamber was roughly 4 metres long running East to West and 2 metres wide North to South.  All around the entrance hole was evidence of claw marks on the hard clay soil.  This confirmed our suspicions that the badger was indeed down the hole. 

Whilst the amount of infill was large it was possible to crawl to the eastern and western ends of the chamber under the roof.  To the east was a large collection of boulders the size of footballs.  To the western end was a descending mud filled passage about 40cm high and over a metre wide.  The passage was a couple of metres long but length was difficult to determine as the passage narrowed through a boulder slot at which point lay a very dead badger! 

As the passage past the badger blew a slight draught, and knowing that the closer I got to the badger the smellier it was, I decided to be the first to enlarge the passage.  With myself digging, Henry and Bob took it in turns to haul a skip up the descending passage to dump the spoil at the eastern end of the main entrance chamber.  As my proximity with the badger increased I swapped places with the boys who spent much effort trying to widen the passage without having to get too close to the badger.  The mud dug out had a high clay content and contained grapefruit sized rocks.  After a couple of hours work it was possible to crawl down to a second slot, which had been unearthed to the right of the badger. 

The boys moved out of the way to let me have a look through the whole.  Whilst the smell was stomach wrenching the slot was promising.  Through the hole the passage opened up to 3 metres wide and went on for approximately 4 metres.  The floor was covered in football-sized boulders whilst the roof was made of very poor chert, which crumbled to the touch.  After a cigarette break discussion it was decided to abandon the hole as the roof was far too unstable to allow any sizable digging to take place at the end.

The hole was marked on a GPS as ST670520 (N51.26665, W2.47418).  The farmer planned to fill in the hole and informed us that other holes of a similar size had appeared in previous years in neighbouring fields.  The Radstock area is well known for its association with coal mining, with the last pit closing in the 1970s.  However after conducting research from Radstock Mining Museum it was determined that the coal seam did not extend to where the hole had appeared nor into the neighbouring fields where other holes were recorded by the farmer.  Continuing my research with a company of local construction engineers it appeared that stone from the surrounding fields had been extracted in the 18th and 19th Centuries to be used to make lime at a nearby kiln site located on the A367 opposite the junction with the B3355.  This location was only 600 metres from the site of the hole.  This led to the possibility that the hole was a ‘windypit’ and the result of stone extraction for lime production.  Only the examination of more holes, as they appear, will confirm this hypothesis.

By Hannah Bell

Snailbeach Lead Mine Trip

Being a CPC groupie as well as a BEC member I decided to attend the Meet at the Dudley CC hut near Dudley Zoo. Emma Porter was the Meet leader along with Mike Clayton.

Accommodation was provided by the Dudley CC in the shape of a converted Windmill called Ruiton Mill .The original mill was built in 1682 but actually fell down in the 1800s so Ruiton new mill was constructed in approx 1872. There is some doubt re its use, certainly it was not milling seed or corn, the general view is that it was used to grind stone.[ this is borne out by the lack of machinery].

Dudley CC have been fortunate in that the local council have spent large sums of money in renovating it. Making it a very cosy clean place to stay, with 10 bunks and an upper room with z beds.

About 18 people turned up for the meet including a BEC group [Sean Howe, Nick Gymer and myself plus a potential BEC member, Dino the Hungarian.] Quote “I love digging.” The rest were a mix of CPC and Dudley Cavers.

Saturday saw us all driving to Shropshire for a trip down the Snailbeach lead mine. This is one of the biggest mines in Shropshire and is reputed to have produced the greatest volume of lead per acre than any mine in Europe. There was an ingot found nearby in 1796 weighing 193 lbs and marked IMP HADRIAN AVG. Mining ceased here in 1955.

The mine is now managed by a local mine exploration group who kindly offered to act as guides on the trip, as the workings are maze – like and flooded in places [in fact the lower levels beyond 90 metres are impassable.]

The entrance is on one of the upper adits and runs into a series of criss-crossing galleries. To reach the next lower level it is necessary to abseil down a steep slope to a re-belay. Here is where the routes split. The LH route is the classic way and the RH is the scenic route. We had originally decided to effect an exchange but due to the number of people on the trip, some not confident on string we just split up into various groups going different ways.

I went with a party who were going the classic way and spent a few hours exploring the 40 metre level and then went on to join the group who were descending to the 90 metre point. By then time was running out so we slurped along this gallery which had the most amazing glistening roof I have ever seen.

Obviously mines don’t have much in the way of pretties but this mine had lesser barites and calcite seams, which are quite beautiful. Apparently the barites was mined extensively as a sideline.

Back on the surface we looked on an old survey and found we had only scratched the surface of the system. The 342-yard level being the deepest part of the mine. These levels were only able to be worked because a drainage adit had been mined into the side of the hill at the 112-yard point in the Hope valley. This shaft was 1200 yards long and augmented with a pumped system [beam engine.]

We all toddled back to the hut and went out to eat at a recycled pub in Dudley where you can eat all you like for £10.00. This includes Indian Thai and Chinese cuisine. Thence into the local called the Crispin where there were 8 real ales on sale. Neville Lucas decided to drink from left to right so that he wouldn’t miss any.  The ales included Tom Tiddleys Lancaster ale and a fine local stout.

Back at the hut we watched a slide show on Lebanese caving and the China expedition in 2005.  Some beautiful views of tower karst and vast cave systems.

Sunday we walked around the entrances to the vast limestone mines near Dudley Zoo. These were fed by a canal system, which enabled the miners to extract large amounts of the limestone for the iron industry for which Dudley is famous. We asked how the Black Country got its name. Rumour has it that Queen Victoria travelled through this industrial region by train and asked for the blinds to be pulled down so she couldn’t see this black region!!!!!!!!

It is possible to enter the caverns by tourist barge which we duly did, finishing off a pleasant weekend. We also got an invite for a special trip into the Wren’s Nest system in the future.

Get the full lowdown on Snailbeach from this detailed book. Available from Bat Products

Many thanks to Emma and Mike for arranging the trips and for Brian the dog for sleeping in my bunk I felt quite at home. [Brian is the much-travelled CPC stuffed dog who normally overlooks the Gaping Gill Meet.]

See you there.

By Mikle Wilson


How the Atom Bomb Saved a Million Bats

or, Project “X-Ray”, Killer Bats versus Japan

In wartime, desperate, often bizarre, schemes are hatched. Like a 5-ton bomb that can bounce on water, or exploding camel dung.  But some of the most outlandish, and I would say sickening ideas involve the use of animals as weapons. From the ancient Chinese’s deployment of “ incendiary monkeys”, to the Afghan Mujahadeen’s suicide bomber donkey.  (A pack mule laden with explosives and parked outside a Russian occupied building), the human race has exploited the animal kingdom since the dawn of history.

What follows is the true account of an American plan during WW2 to strike back at Japan by using bats fitted with incendiary bombs.

Dr. Lytle S. Adams, a dental surgeon from Irwin, Pa., was vacationing in the south-western US on December 7, 1941. Like millions of Americans, he was shocked at the news from Pearl Harbour and couldn't believe Japan had been able to mount such an attack. In those days, "Made in Japan" meant cheap, shabby, and inferior. Americans' image of Japan was of crowded cities filled with paper-and-wood houses and factories.

Dr. Adams pondered how the US could fight back. In a 1948 interview with the Bulletin of the National Speleological Society, Dr. Adams recalled: "I had just been to Carlsbad Caverns, N. M., and had been tremendously impressed by the bat flight . . .. Couldn't those millions of bats be fitted with incendiary bombs and dropped from planes? What could be more devastating than such a firebomb attack?"

Dr. Adams went back to Carlsbad and captured some bats. At home, he read everything he could find about the tiny flyers. He learned that there are nearly 1,000 species around the world and that each bat lives up to thirty years. The most common bat in North America is the free-tailed, or guano, bat, a small brown mammal that may catch more than 1,000 mosquitoes or gnat-sized insects--a load twelve times its own size--in a single night. Weighing about nine grams, it can carry an external load nearly three times its own weight.

On January 12, 1942, Dr. Adams sent to the White House a proposal to investigate the possible use of bats as bombers. In those days, well-meaning citizens were proposing all kinds of warfare ideas, most of them impractical. However, this idea, after being sifted through a top-level scientific review, became one of the very few given the green light. It was passed to the Army Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) for further inquiry in conjunction with Army Air Forces. The official CWS history states simply: "President Roosevelt OK'd it and the project was on."

Dr. Adams and a team of field naturalists from the Hancock Foundation, University of California, immediately set to work and visited a number of likely sites where bats would be available in large quantities. Bats are found mostly in caves, though great numbers roost in attics, barns, and houses, under bridges, and in piles of rubbish. "We visited a thousand caves and three thousand mines," Dr. Adams later related. "Speed was so imperative that we generally drove all day and night when we weren't exploring caves. We slept in the cars, taking turns at driving. One car in our search team covered 350,000 miles."

A Choice of Bats

The largest bat found was the mastiff, which has a twenty-inch wingspan and could carry a one-pound stick of dynamite. However, the team found there weren't sufficient numbers available. The more common mule-eared, or pallid, bat could carry three ounces, but naturalists determined it wasn't hardy enough for the project.

Finally, the team selected the free-tailed bat. Though it weighed but one third of an ounce, it could fly fairly well with a one-ounce bomb. The largest colony of freetailed bats found by Dr. Adams' naturalists, some twenty to thirty million, was in Ney Cave near Bandera, Texas. The colony was so large, according to a report by CWS Capt. Wiley W. Carr, that "five hours' time is required for these animals to leave the cave while flying out in a dense stream fifteen feet in diameter and so closely packed they can barely fly."

Collection of the bats was not difficult. Three nets, about three feet in diameter, on ten-foot poles were passed back and forth across the cave entrance as the bats flew out. As many as 100 could be caught on three passes. They were removed from the nets and placed in cages in a refrigeration truck. Dr. Adams took some to Washington, releasing them in the War Department building to show Army officials how they could each carry a dummy bomb.

In March 1943, authority to proceed with the experiment came from HQ. USAAF. Subject: "Test of Method to Scatter Incendiaries." Purpose: "Determine the feasibility of using bats to carry small incendiary bombs into enemy targets."

The bats' habits were studied intently. Meanwhile, Dr. L. F. Fisser, a special investigator for the National Defense Research Committee, began to design bombs light enough to be carried by bats. He did not find it difficult, because there was a precedent for miniature incendiaries. England's principal firebombs, used in World War I, were called "baby incendiaries." Filled with a special thermite mixture, these bombs weighed 6.4 ounces each.

Arming the Bats

Dr. Fisser designed two sizes of incendiary bombs for the bomber-bat experiments. One weighed seventeen grams and would burn four minutes with a ten-inch flame. The other weighed twenty-eight grams and would burn six minutes with a twelve-inch flame. They were oblong, nitrocellulose cases filled with thickened kerosene. A small time-delay igniter was cemented to the case along one side.

The time-delay igniter consisted of a firing pin held in tension against a spring by a thin steel wire. When the bombs were ready to use, a copper chloride solution was injected into the cavity through which the steel wire passed. The copper chloride would corrode the wire; when the wire was completely corroded, the firing pin snapped forward, striking the igniter head and lighting the kerosene. Small time-delay smoke bombs were also designed so ground observers could trace test flights of bats. They burned for thirty minutes with a yellowish flame that could be seen several hundred yards away at night; white smoke was also emitted.

To load a bomb aboard a bat, technicians attached the case to the loose skin on the bat's chest by a surgical clip and a piece of string. Groups of 180 were released from a cardboard container that opened automatically in midair at about 1,000 feet, after which, says the CWS history, "bats were supposed to fly into hiding in dwelling and other structures, gnaw through the string, and leave the bombs behind."

In May 1943, about 3,500 bats were collected at Carlsbad Caverns, flown to Muroc Lake, California., and placed in refrigerators to force them to hibernate. On May 21, 1943, five drops with bats outfitted with dummy bombs were made from a B-25 flying at 5,000 feet. The tests were not successful; most of the bats, not fully recovered from hibernation, did not fly and died on impact. The bat-bomber research team was transferred a few days later to an Army Air Forces auxiliary airfield at Carlsbad, N. M.

Newly recruited bats were placed in ice cube trays and cooled to force them into hibernation. They were then transported to the airfield to await test mission assignments. Captain Carr explains how the test cartons were prepared for the drop tests: "Bats were taken from the refrigeration truck in a hibernated state in lots of approximately fifty. They were taken individually by a biologist, and about a one-half inch of loose chest skin was pinched away from the flesh. While this operation was being done, another group was preparing the incendiaries. One operator injected the solution in the delay [mechanism], another sealed the hole with wax, and another placed the surgical clip that was fastened to the incendiary by a short string. . . . The incendiary was then handed to a trained helper who fastened it to the chest skin of the bat." Drops were made from a North American B-25 and a Piper L-4 Cub.

Complications Arise

There were many complications. Many bats didn't wake up in time for the drops. The cardboard cartons did not function properly, and the surgical clips proved difficult to attach to the bats without tearing the delicate skin. When these problems were somewhat resolved, new bats were taken up for drop tests with dummy bombs attached. Many simply took advantage of their freedom to escape or refused to cooperate and plummeted to earth.

The Army tests were called off on May 29, 1943, and Captain Carr prepared a final report. "The bats used at Carlsbad weighed an average of nine grams," he wrote. They could carry eleven grams without any trouble and eighteen grams satisfactorily, but twenty-two grams appeared to be excessive. The ones released with twenty-two-gram dummies didn't fly very far, and three returned in a few minutes to the building where we were working. One flew underneath, one landed on the roof, and one attached itself to the wall. The ones with eleven- gram dummies flew out of sight. The next day an examination of the grounds around a ranch house about two miles away from the point of release disclosed two dummies inside the porch, one beside the house, and one inside the barn."

More than 6,000 bats were used in the Army experiments. In his secret report, dated June 8, 1943, Captain Carr concluded that a better time-delay parachute type container, new clips, and a simplified time-delay igniter should be designed if further tests were to be carried out. He also recommended a six-week controlled study of bats during artificial hibernation. After this, he said, another test should be conducted with 5,000 bats.

Captain Carr reported tersely that "testing was concluded . . . when a fire destroyed a large portion of the test material." He did not mention that, in one test, a village simulating Japanese structures burned to the ground. Nor did he state that a careless handler had left a door open and some bats escaped with live incendiaries aboard and set fire to a hangar and a general's car. Records do not reflect the general's reaction, but he could not have been pleased. Shortly thereafter, in August 1943, the Army passed the project to the Navy, which renamed it Project X-Ray.

A Silly Idea is Palmed Off onto the Navy

In October 1943, the Navy leased four caves in Texas and assigned Marines to guard them. Dr. Adams designed screened enclosures that were prefabricated at Hondo Army Air Field and placed over the cave entrances to capture the bats. A million could be collected in one night if necessary. By that time, the Navy had handed the project off to the Marine Corps.

The first Marine Corps bomber-bat experiments began on December 13, 1943. In subsequent tests, thirty fires were started. Twenty-two went out, but, according to Robert Sherrod's History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, "four of them would have required the services of professional firefighters. A new and more powerful incendiary was ordered."

Full-scale bomber-bat tests were planned for August 1944. However, when Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations, found that the bats would not be combat-ready until mid-1945, he abruptly cancelled the operation. By that time, Project X-Ray had cost an estimated $2 million.

Dr. Adams was disappointed. He maintained that fires generated by bomber bats could have been more destructive than the atomic bombs that levelled Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ended the war. He found that bats scattered up to twenty miles from the point where they were released. "Think of thousands of fires breaking out simultaneously over a circle of forty miles in diameter for every bomb dropped," he said. "Japan could have been devastated, yet with small loss of life."

I don’t suppose He was counting the bats in that comment.

This is the container to be used to deploy the Bats over Japan. When dropped, from about 5000 feet a small parachute would pop out to stabilise the canister, at 100 feet the side casings would fall away and a series of trays on strings would then spread out, one above the other in a line, not unlike a stack of those Chinese Bamboo steamers. This would (should at least) give the bats time to wake up and fly off in search of dinner. In doing so pulling a tiny wire to initiate the timer fuse. As dawn broke the bats would look for a roosting site amongst the local buildings, and set them ablaze.

With acknowledgements to:

The U.S.A.F. Magazine, Original author C.V. Glines, and Dr. Scott Pedersen, PhD. Associate Professor, Department of Biology & Microbiology South Dakota State University, a.k.a. BATHEAD.

See also:- Bats and Bombs by Charles E Mohr in Celebrated American Caves pp 206-233

By Ian (Slug) Gregory.

Club Matters

Due to the continued abuse and lose of Cave Keys, we have introduced new key tags. These have been designed to be too big to be left in your pocket and therefore needed a new key cupboard – same place as before, same members access as before.

To clear up any confusion: members’ keys must not be lent to visiting clubs. Guest key deposit has been raised to £20. Please return keys as soon as possible (we already have one member who has failed to return our GB key after 4 weeks!!).

It was decided at this June’s committee meeting to increase the hut fees to £2.50 per night for members and £4 per night for guests. This is an increase of 50 pence per night. This difficult decision was taken in the reflection of the current economic climate with increasing fuel and amenity costs. The price of oil, gas, electricity and water have increased.

After almost seven months Mendip Farmers’ Hunt has still not submitted a planning application to move their operations (60 hounds, fleshhouse, stables, etc) to Underbarrow Farm. However in the last few days they have moved a member of their staff into the property.

Henry Dawson and I have spent every Wednesday night for many months working on the Belfry extension which is very near to completion. The upstairs members’ bunkroom is now fully operational and increasingly popular. The tackle store downstairs is now functional (key in members’ key cupboard) and we have vacated the Stone Belfry. Please ensure the tackle store is kept locked.

A working weekend also took place recently which was extremely productive. Amongst the many tasks undertaken that weekend was the fitting of a new thermostatic shower and the cutting out of the two remaining doorways for the extension. Many thanks to all those involved.

Plans are well underway for the BEC Summer BBQ on 18th August. The Shepton had a 50’s shin dig, the Wessex a tea party – the BEC continues to lead the way!

The Annual General Meeting is, as always, on the first Saturday in October. This year it falls on Saturday 4th. Nominations for the BEC committee are hereby called for. You can nominate yourself but must be seconded by a ratified full member. Send this to the Hon. Secretary by the 31st August.

After a number of years in Cheddar we return this year to Wells where we have a new venue for the Annual Dinner.  A new function room at The White Hart Hotel has been booked and tickets are selling fast. Book now to avoid disappointment!

Henry Bennett


Wigmore Extended


The following is the combined text from two Descent articles and this is presented here so that it can form part of the BEC reference material. 

Chris Jewell

My Wigmore story begins with reading Mendip Underground one evening at home in Potters Bar (a long way from Mendip!). According to Mendip Underground “the stream resurges at Cheddar Risings giving a potential depth of some 300m to the bottom of Sump 3 in Gough’s Cave, conceivably one of the deepest caves in England and with a potential length in excess of 10km” With my enthusiasm fuelled by this I purchased a copy of the Wigmore report from the BEC library, started reading all the old CDG dive reports and persuaded Tony Jarratt to tell me what he knew over a pint or four.

Amazingly for such a major cave on Mendip, with excellent potential, only a handful of people had been to the end. This seemed too good an opportunity to pass up - caves change over time and fresh eyes and fresh enthusiasm can open up new possibilities. Having been down the cave once before as a dry caver I knew it was a fairly sporting cave, which required quite a lot of tackle. Therefore I’d need to keep it rigged for the duration of the project (thanks to the WCC!!) and have a plentiful supply of sherpas (thanks to the BEC and friends).

As one of the original diggers and local cave guru I discussed my plans with Tony Jarratt whose enthusiasm for the project was contagious, whilst he also provided lots of practical assistance, such as putting me in touch with one of the original explorers Mike “Trebor” McDonald. 

I undertook several initial trips into the cave, firstly to check out dive base and the state of the kit left there from previous exploration projects and then later to drop off cylinders for my first dives. Thanks to Fiona Crozier, Duncan Butler, Matt Blount, Bruce Blagden and Rich Beer for their help hauling out the abandoned cylinders and old dive gear.

I then made a series of dives over several weekends assisted by several people, Rich Bayfield, Fiona Crozier, Ian Peachey Rich Llewellyn and Andy MacDonald, progressing further each time and becoming comfortable with the cave and the sumps. Firstly to the beginning of Sump 5 on my own, then with Stu Gardiner’s support (a recent BEC convert and my new diving partner) I passed the Rubik Sump and reached the start of Sump 7.

Stu Gardiner takes up the Story…

When I was still very new to caving and the Upper Series in Swildon’s was still an epic journey I recall my friend and caving mentor John Freeman telling me that he used to carry “Trebor” McDonalds cylinders down this awful place called Wigmore Swallet. I distinctly remember him saying that it was one of the worst places on Mendip to lug equipment through and that he would never go back again. This story had put me off the place for years and I could never find any valid reason to venture into such a place.

So in August 2007 when Chris asked if I would like to join him in having a look at the end of Wigmore with a view of possibly re starting the abandoned dig I was naturally sceptical due to John’s comments about the place. But then after doing some research and speaking to various people I came to the conclusion that this place had potential and surely must be worth a look.

The 9th August came and there I was at dive base kitted up and ready to go. The River Yeo although icy cold was unimaginably clear, but like most Mendip sumps the heavy silt soon clouded up to reduce the visibility to zero. The original dive line was still in a good condition and a testament to the previous divers who would have laid it in liquid mud. We continued on until we reached Sump 5, known as the Rubik Sump, which was Chris’s previous limit the trip before. Here I waited in waist deep water while he slotted himself in and checked out the nature of the beast, making a few attempts before pushing all the way through. After a short wait though the line started to twitch and he returned after checking out Sump 6.

Chris Jewell continues…

After the success of the previous trip with Stu I was ready to attempt Sump 7 and head to the end of the cave. Unfortunately Stu had other commitments so I resolved to make the trip on my own. BEC members Mark Stephens and Duncan Butler provided the Sherpa support. A ladder would be required for a pitch known as Slime Rift and I also strapped a bolting hammer and driver to my cylinders, as I knew there were very few places to belay off. The Rubic Sump was more awkward with ladder in hand but I soon reached my previous limit at the beginning of Sump 7. 

For anyone who doesn’t know the cave the sumps are all fairly short and shallow, with the exception of the 65m long, 6-7m deep Sump 7. The original divers used 4ltr cylinders to reach the end and my preference was for 300bar 3’s to give the same amount of gas. Filled to 300bar they had settled down to about 280bar once in the cold water and I was confident this would give me plenty of air for the trip. However I didn’t want to hang around in the deeper parts of the sump unnecessarily and planned to make a swift swim through 7. Being the only diver in the cave and ahead of the silt cloud the vis was excellent. I could easily see the passage shape, where in the past the original divers had groped around in zero vis. After the initial arch at the bottom of the pot in Sump 7 I rose up the silt bank to see a shimmering surface. Straight away I was confused…”the sump was meant to be much longer than this?!” I thought to myself. The tell tale line heading down the silt bank into the darkness provided the obvious answer – no one had spotted that surface before! With no proper line reel and mindful of my objective at the end I continued my dive downstream, leaving the air bell for the future.

After the earlier narrow passage of Wigmore, Vindication Streamway is an impressive place more reminiscent of the Swildon’s streamway and deserving of some real attention. I progressed down the cave until Slime Rift where I placed a bolt for the ladder and moved on towards the end. After navigating the first boulder choke I was stood at the terminal choke, a silt covered pile of boulders, “Goodbye Bob Davies”.

As a dig site I decided it wasn’t as much of a lost cause as the original cavers had considered it. The water clearly backs up here but I could see space between the boulders which a bit of digging and shoring could do something about. Satisfied with my recce trip I turned tail for home and the party at the Belfry, which I was already missing. Once on the surface my thoughts headed back to Wigmore, we needed a proper crack at the end soon and I ought to check out that airbell as well…

A few weeks later after the BEC AGM and dinner I stood packing my dive gear by the car. I had persuaded Rich Llewellyn Smith and Barrie Lawton (both BEC) to help me down the cave. However due to a late night and ‘everything to excess’ my enthusiasm was waning and it was already approaching midday. I mustered the last of my energy for the trip with the thought that whilst the weather was good I should at least check out the airbell. My plan was to make it a quick trip, probably find the airbell didn’t go anywhere and be back with Rich and Barry in less than an hour.

I’d carried a line reel and several silt screws down the cave on previous trips so I placed one of these (plastic drainage pipes to the non divers) in the silt below the airbell and unwound my reel. The inevitable silt cloud caught up with me whilst I did this and I emerged out of a muddy swirl into clear water, watching the reel unwind as I moved towards the reflection above. Just before I broke the surface I remember thinking “Go on…please!!” …and wow…it didn’t disappoint!!!

I was able to explore a large stream inlet up to 15m high in places and frequently 3-4m wide. I followed the stream upwards for over 100m over a boulder strewn floor before the passage divided. The water issued from a small crawl whilst I followed the passage into a high chamber with a climb at the end. This climb looked easy enough with a bit of gear and some company so I retreated to follow the stream coming from the crawl and explored an estimated 40m of passage to where the gravel prevented further progress. Extremely pleased with myself but mindful of the cold sherpas, who had been told that if I was gone for more than two hours to start worrying, I called it a day and headed back to Yeo Pot for a early evening exit. Knowing Tony Jarratt would be delighted I quickly headed for the Queen Vic for dinner, to tell him what I’d found and start planning the return!

Stu Gardiner continues

On 14th October after an evening with Chris at the Belfry tinkering with kit and making final plans we headed off early on the Sunday morning armed with a mountain of equipment and fortunately the Sherpas to move it! The plan was for one group to help us down to dive base and a second group to come in several hours later to help us out. Thanks to team 1 (Matt Traver, Ian Peachey and Mark Stephens) for getting up early and to team 2 (Matt Traver (yes twice in one day), Helen Brooke and Bruce Blagden) for staying late. Dive base was reached with few events other than that of Ian’s headlight falling off at the top of Black Pudding Pot plunging him into darkness. Each of us carried a small tackle bag consisting of surveying, bolting and photographic equipment, which we dived through the first four sumps before I reached my previous limit …

The Rubik Sump was next… I had been beating myself up all weekend and during the entire trip over this and wasn’t looking forward to it. The Rubik Sump is basically a sumped rift and requires a feet first entry on your side; the original divers recommended that you unclip one of your cylinders so that you can drag it behind you, therefore making it easier to squeeze through. This was out of the question though as we had a tackle sack each to contend with. I inserted my legs into the sump and bit down hard on the mouth piece as the jagged rock was determined to rip it from my mouth. The cylinders were a constant pain as they kept rolling in front of me and snagging, not to mention the rear of my harness catching on the other side of the rift. For the first 10ft it was a tedious backward and forward type motion to free up hoses, harness and wetsuit. Then after about 20ft in my mouthpiece was torn from my mouth as my hose caught up. My left hand was holding the bag behind me and I would not have been able to re seat it without letting go of it which would have been a bad thing as it potentially could have blocked the rift and our only way out. So I had little choice other than to let go of the dive line and rapidly replace my mouthpiece… a quick blow out and I was breathing again. Relocating the thin strand of dive line in the murky water was easy even in zero visibility as thankfully the passage was so small! The sump then increases in size a little as you drop out into the bottom of the rift and it’s possible to roll over and dive out in a normal fashion. The Rubik Sump was everything I had imagined it to be but I was now on the downstream side and still had to go back through!!!

Diving down into Sump 7 was quite nice, with pretty good visibility. I followed the line down under the arch and followed it up the silt back to where I located the line Chris had tied on. I backed up Chris’s snoopy with a peg, looked left and saw the large glimmering airspace. Following the line up I surfaced in the air bell and was instantly amazed at what Chris had discovered!! I de -kitted at the side of the pool and waited for Chris to come through, anxious to explore the new passage!!

Now in caving mode we set off up the new passage following the water. Large boulders and mud strewn floors were encountered until we came to a steep mud bank that was spotted on Chris’s previous trip. I managed to climb up trying not to damage the mud too much to discover a sizeable chamber with three passages leading off. Two of these will require bolting and the other seems to drop back down onto the stream way but will need a line due to the smooth mud coated sides. Back in the main passage we continued along to the end to the climb, which had previously stopped Chris. Upon a second inspection, with better lights, we decided that more hardware would be needed to tackle this, and so left it for the future.

The next priority was to investigate the inlet passage and the source of the water running into Sump 7. After a 30m hands and knees crawl in 3” of water a low section was reached that required the gravel floor to be dug out. The passage could be seen beyond and a water cascade could be clearly heard around the corner. I started digging with a crow bar to loosen the gravel, which was not ideal but was better than nothing. A few attempts were made with helmet off but it was still too tight on my shoulders so I then handed over the digging to Chris. He continued to dig the gravel out while I filmed on the digital camera and he made two attempts, passing it on the second. Unfortunately passing it meant leaving his helmet on the near side and sitting up in the dark virgin passage he was reminded of why we always wear helmets!! After the cursing I recall him shouting through “you better come through Stu!” I squeezed through and off we went… to find another 30 – 40m of passage ending in a similar low section with ongoing passage seen beyond. This can be easily dug out to gain access but due to time restraints we retreated back to the main passage to start the surveying.

The surveying took around 2 hours, which left us just enough time to take some pictures, though ideally more flash guns were needed. However this is something that can be done on a subsequent trip.

 Back at our dive equipment we kitted up and started the journey back to dive base. All was fine apart from being very over weighted with the kit bag in Sump 7 and having to climb out from the elbow of the sump. Arriving back at Yeo Pot dive base I was pleased that we were only 30minutes late – at 5.30pm, but was surprised to find a distraught fiancée waiting for me.  Apparently we were 1.5hours late and a rescue was not far off!! We later figured that my watch had been knocked and set back 1 hour between dive base and Sump 7. I blame Rubik Sump as it managed to knock everything else!!

This new discovery is very exciting especially with the inlet being in limestone. Digging and exploration in the new series is always going to be a slow and difficult process due to the nature of the cave for transporting equipment and the evidence of water backing up in wet conditions. Personally I felt a radio location exercise of the large chamber and the climb would help us pin point the new system and may open up a possible surface dig to try and find an alternative entrance.

The new section of passage is trending roughly South East and the main part we surveyed is 135m long. When you add in the un-surveyed crawl a reasonable estimate would put this new section over 200m in total.

On 15 December I returned with Simon Cornhill (CDG) to tackle the climb at the end of the dry terminal chamber. Simon had gear problems and had to exit the cave to get another cylinder. Meanwhile, using a specially made dry bag with a diving dry zip and inflator, I transported a drill and batteries downstream to Young Bloods’ Inlet.

The bag worked extremely well, except that I’d used carry mat to pad the drill, which made the whole thing very buoyant. This mean I had to weigh it down with lots of lead and stones. In the water it was fine but it then weighed an absolute tonne between the sumps!

When Simon arrived we managed three hours of bolting and climbing, reaching a point over 20m above the floor with the aven still going. A loose rock was encountered which will need to be brought down at a later date. Sherpa assistance for the trip out was kindly provided by Andy Rumming (DSS), Alan Brady (DSS) and Ian Peachey.

On 6 January I was back at the inlet in very high water conditions with John Maneely (WCC) to push and survey the stream inlet crawl as well as drop off more gear for the aven climbing. We then set off up the crawl, easily passing the previous constriction Stuart Gardiner and I had dug out and on to where we stopped last time. Here the roof was very close to the water, making digging extremely difficult. I dug as much on my front as possible before I tried to get through on my back pushing gravel out of my way as I went - discovering that it is actually possible to dig whilst lying on your back! (as long as you can get your arms out).

I pushed through and John followed me 5m to a sump pool, which doesn't look amazingly promising - but is worth checking out. I lay in the water feeling the pool with my feet until I got too cold and we turned tail to start surveying.

In cold conditions, we surveyed the wet crawl back to where we’d previously dug through, before the cold then forced a halt. The carry out was long and hard and we eventually reached surface with the help of Sherpas, Ian Peachey and Bruce Blagden (SCG) after a 9 hour trip.

On 2nd of February we decided to put three divers through the sumps for the first time. Hilary Greaves (RRCPC) joined John Maneely and myself to finish off the aven climb. Fiona Crozier (BEC) and Katie Steckles (MUSC) provided the Sherpa assistance and for once the men were outnumbered by the women in the cave! After about a further 6m of vertical climbing I reached the top of the aven and a flat roof. The only possible lead was an impossibly tight rift heading off south east. Slightly disheartened I abseiled down so that John could head up with a tape measure to check the height – 26m in total. After cleaning the mud covered ropes and climbing gear the three divers pulled some of the kit out, leaving the rest for some shorter climbs closer to the sump pool. As we couldn’t retrieve all the kit it’s important to say thanks to Bruce Blagden who went down midweek to get my cylinders out after this trip.

After a few weeks off on Saturday 23rd of February we arranged a radio Location exercise with Brian Prewer (WCC). Stu Gardiner, myself and John Maneely made up the team, this time assisted down to the sump by Duncan Price (CSS) and Matt Jones (KUCC). (Do you get the impression it’s become a real multi club affair now!)

On the way downstream I decided to make a few notes about the general trend and bearing of the passage and sump depths. The latter proved impossible after two divers ahead of me but I managed to record the general trend to be E, with occasional sections heading SE or NE for short distances. Unfortunately these detailed notes did not survive the trip so most of this is from memory and we still need to do this properly for the Somerset Sump Index (I’m sure one of the reasons Duncan agreed to carry was to nag me about this!).

Stu had entered the water first and taken the radio location kit, which was stored in an ammo can. This survived the trip without flooding and when John and I arrived he was already set up transmitting. Meanwhile I climbed back up the ropes in the aven to rig them as a pull though so we could use them else where, whilst leaving thin string in their place in case anyone wanted to pull ropes back up in the future.

Apart from some strange noises and an unidentified voice on the frequency the radio location exercise was pretty efficient and we were quickly able to head off for objective number 2 – the un-dived sump. I’d carried my kit up from the sump pool so wearing one bottle with the other in Stu’s bag we set off. I seemed to have under estimated the awkwardness of this crawl, as we hadn’t gone far when it became apparent I’d need to push my cylinder ahead of me through lots of low ducks and crawls. Here protecting the valve and keeping it pressurised became very difficult. After lots of clanks and some hisses my regulator began to play up and after a quick conference about needing this in good working order to get back out – we decided to retreat and come back better prepared for the awkward carry. 

Back in the main passage we then contented ourselves with several hours of aid climbing in a sizable muddy chamber somewhere above the sump pool. This area looks interesting and there are several options here, the next trip will be very telling about the prospects here.

Once we ran out of bolts we turned for the surface and made it out just in time for the pub! The kit the three of us couldn’t carry out we went back for on Sunday with additional help from Fiona and Rich Llewellyn Smith (BEC).

On the radio location side, Brian was assisted by Phil Hendy (WCC), John Riley and Charlotte Riley. They left a stake in the ground to mark the spot on the surface and we were delighted to find three large depressions nearby – so there may be a surface dig starting here in the future!

Wigmore Stop Press…

On the last trip we (Duncan Price and I) dived downstream to Vindication Streamway and then free climbed back over the sump pool and into a small chamber at the top. We then followed this back along a short crawl until we could hear water. A bit further ahead Duncan spotted a rope and hanger and we realised we'd connected the passage back to Young Bloods' Inlet. This means it is no longer necessary to dive Sump 7 to reach the end of the cave. Plus if someone dug into Young Bloods' from the surface it would be possible to reach the end without diving at all!

We named the new piece of cave - The Generation Game - due to the gap in ages between Duncan and I!

By Chris Jewell and Stu Gardiner

Pete Rose, Pete Glanvill and Nick Chipchase's 40 Year Celebrations


10th July ...... The trio celebrate the last views of the forty-foot pot in Swildons with a photo shoot at the bottom of the forty. They will be wearing their old wet suits, but will not guarantee the zips doing up!(nde) .They will panic during this  and bolt for the entrance. ref Mendip caver Vol 4 no.5.,B.B. 1998(Vol 50,no.5)

24th July . Discovery of Dairyhouse Slocker streamway by Pete R and Nick


15th June.........Nick C, Pete R and M. Hayes visit Dairyhouse Slocker. Upon exit, crawling under a long coffin shaped boulder Nick C kicked the said boulder. A large rumble was heard from the shakehole and Dairyhouse remains sealed to this day. (nde). We shall scatter fake ashes in the shakehole (environmentally safe of course).


14th December........ NEDFROB day. Nick C, I. Lake, Pete R.  Pete R discovers that short fuses do not allow time to get out of the cave. In a frantic dive out of the first chamber Pete felt rubble on his legs and crawled out in smoke to an amused audience. We may call in Downside to bless the cave. (nde)


22nd Sept......diving of the sump in St.Dunstans by Michael Glanvill, watched by C. Corbett, Pete G., Nick C  and Pete R . A 6-hour trip ferrying in and out gear. Most of us would not get there now so we scrap that...perhaps a ceremonial rolling of a dive cylinder into the entrance?


19th March....... Pete R., Ted Popham, John Keat, G. Price and Nick complete the Fairy-Hilliers link. If possible we could have a shaking of hands through the link from both directions (may need a push)


March ........ Pete and Nick celebrate a breakthrough in their W/L Dig. Hoping that the W/L survey was up to it. The vast blank space to the south of the cave should have seen lots of passage. We retired to clear the fumes outside, only to see Eric Catherine's party emerge from Shatter Cave complaining of noise and smoke. We had in fact been 90 degrees out and the passage emerged in an alcove in the second chamber. A little collector’s item for a squeeze

We have more celebrations we could plan for, including N.H.A.S.A. Gallery (lads it really does go), Green Lake Grotto, Jonathan's Chamber. Ask Nick what a nedfrob is! nde  is a near death experience. We might not make these celebrations ...two have already passed away (John Keat and Michael Glanvill)

Pete Rose, with logbook references from all 3.

For Caine Hill

Continued from BB 529.

*Inspirational title conceived by Tangent at Mike Thompson’s funeral. Say it fast for the full effect!

Further digging 29/10/07 - 30/1/08

On the 29th October the writer, accompanied by a plethora of annoying bluebottle flies, filled and stacked bags at the end of Root 66. He was back again on the 31st, following “Alfie’s” funeral, to haul 8 loads to surface before digging and stacking at the end of Root 66. Here he was joined by a newly – mended, scantily dressed (and impressed) John “Tangent” Williams and the duo then concentrated on dragging bags throughout the cave. 91 loads were hauled out on the 3rd November by Mike Willett, Fiona Crozier and Duncan Butler and next day Trevor Hughes, Duncan, Barry Lawton, Richard Llewellyn Smith and the writer, assisted on the surface by Nigel Jackson (WCC & Kent UCC) and Marian Byram, removed another 77. About seventy bags were dragged from the end and stacked in Son of a Pitch by Tangent, Carole White, Martin “Billy Whiz” Smith (BPC) and your scribe on the following day. Some digging and removal of rock slabs from the floor was also done. On the 7th Sean Howe photographed the cave with Phil Coles as his model. They then assisted Paul Brock, Siss Balomatis, Mike, Fiona and the writer to drag full bags throughout the cave and haul 93 loads to the surface. Some token digging was accomplished. Lots of proper digging was done next day when the writer excavated at the lowest point in Root 66 and at the face. One large rock slab was disinterred and broken up but a larger one above it was left for a future hammering or banging session. Unable to leave it alone the obsessed one was back next day but the slab defeated him, though it was undermined and partially dropped. More bags were filled and digging to the left of the slab revealed a tiny phreatic tube with an airspace. The (possibly) main way on to the right of the slab was further cleared and also boasted an airspace. The slab was eventually reduced to gravel by Duncan on the 11th November. Also present were Fiona, Ian “Slug” Gregory, the writer, Barry Lawton and three Aberystwyth U.C.C. members – Alison Ball, Alex Jones and Josh Lasson. Thanks to their assistance 80 loads reached the surface. More digging was done at the end and further excavation was indulged in, next day by your scribe. He also took three Land Rover loads of bags to the dump. Assisted by Jane Clarke, Tony Audsley and Millie the dog these were emptied in the afternoon – around two hundred in all!

With a mended knee Alex Livingston returned to the fray on the 14th in the company of Mike, Tangent and your scribe. He was impressed with the progress since his last visit in late April. At the Root 66 working face more bags were filled and Mike dug at the end to find the floor and ceiling coming together in a solid rock, mud-choked constriction. This was unexpected but not novel. Tangent, lacking caving gear, arrived in time to haul out 60 loads and keep warm in the freezing conditions above. A litre of red drain dye was poured into the dig near the bottom of Son of a Pitch in the hope of a trace to the wet weather inlet trickle in Root 66. A calculation of the amount of loads hauled out by the team since the 19th March (2,530) plus an estimated minimum of those removed by the original diggers (170) but excluding the Old Men’s efforts gives a total of 2,700. At an average weight of 10 kilos the result is 27,000 kilos or 24.3 tons. No wonder the spoil heap looks impressive!     

Desperately in search of the way on the writer returned on the 16th November and dug out the floor and the alcove with airspace near the end but both routes were too small. He then poked about at the end until a sweep of the crowbar brought down a heap of spoil from a small phreatic tube on the left. This revealed a roomy airspace above and heading NW but needing bang to make accessible. Two long shotholes were drilled in the left wall in preparation for this. He returned next day to fill a few bags, drill a third shothole, extend the vacuum hose, take a survey leg and fire a mixed cord charge. A Land Rover load of bags was delivered to the dump. The bang was found to have done the job when your scribe returned on the 18th. After a digging session the airspace was reached via a classic phreatic S-bend some 2m in length. Here the infill reached the ceiling but more excavation revealed a second airspace beyond. This was almost reached next day when the writer, Tangent and Paul all dug at the end until poor air stopped play and diverted them to hauling bags back to Son of a Pitch. On the 21st Jane emptied bags at the dump during the day and in the evening Mike, Tangent and the writer (as a 58th birthday treat) were back at the face after a minor delay recovering Mr. Willett’s car keys from the inside of his locked vehicle. Lots of bags were filled and many were hauled back to the bend. 21 reached the surface. At the face a third, and much larger airspace was opened up at the last minute but not properly examined due to the proximity of closing time. This was resolved next day when the writer dug up into it to find that it again ended after a metre or so but has regained the north-easterly trend of Root 66. He was back on the 25th when more digging took place and the ceiling at the end was found to be loose. He repeated the exercise next day and also managed to drop a large split section of the left wall of the S-bend. Removal of this was planned by micro-blasting. On arrival at the Hunters’ the sad news of the death of Mike Thompson, the instigator of this dig and renowned Mendip caver and cave diver, was received. The team are now under an obligation to push this cave in his memory.

On the 28th November Tangent and Sean winched out 100 loads while Mike, Jake, Phil, your scribe and new team members Justine Emery and Malcolm Austin laboured below. A micro-blasting attempt was made to split the obstructing rock using a single detonator but this failed to work and “stitch drilling” was resorted to. One chunk was hammered off and then Mike was sent into action resulting in removal of the remaining lumps to a wider section of passage where they could be further reduced. Jake found another airspace on the west side of the S-bend, which the writer proved on the 30th to be the expected connection with the alcove dug on the 16th. He also smashed up Mike’s boulders whilst contemplating on how the hell he managed to drag them out in the first place! More bags were filled and stacked and Duncan continued with this on the 1st December.

The 2nd December saw Duncan and your scribe desperately trying to reduce the back-log of full bags! Though none reached the surface a goodly amount were dragged back towards it. They then ruined the good work by filling lots more at the dig face. On the 5th Mike, the writer, Keith Creagh and Mark “Buddy” Williams (SMCC) hauled bags at various points throughout the cave and managed to get 78 out. Another 42 came out on the 10th courtesy of Darrell Insterell and your scribe. Thanks to the timely assistance of visitors from Moles C.C. – Jim Lee, Rob Norcross and Alan Richards - the cave was emptied of full bags on the 12th. 85 loads came out under the supervision of Mike and the writer and Siss filled five more at the end while Rob took some digital images. Two days later your scribe filled another thirty with spoil from the floor at the S-bend and the largest part of Root 66. He repeated the exercise next day and also removed a large section of the LH wall at the end. It being the festive season the position of the dig could now easily be seen from all over Priddy as Tim had decorated the tall tree above the entrance with Christmas lights. On the 16th a Land Rover load of spoil was dumped and all the full bags in the cave were dragged back to Son of a Pitch. 10 loads reached the surface before potential frostbite stopped play. Tony Boycott, Darrell and your scribe then headed for some warmth while passing Grampian S.G. member Pete Dennis mounted his motorbike for a decidedly chilly journey to Aberystwyth. Next day, after taking three Land Rover loads to the dump, Siss dug at the end, the writer continued clearing the S-bend and Mike cleared the bags. About forty-five loads reached Son of a Pitch. On the 19th December Phil and Jake dug at the end while Mike and the writer excavated an interesting hole in the floor of the largest section of Root 66. The others also had a later look and pronounced it to be “promising”. 93 loads reached the surface and over thirty freshly filled ones got to Son of a Pitch. One very large rock was left on the lintel for future ginging use. Jake did a solo-digging trip on the morning of the 21st and filled twenty-nine bags with spoil from the floor of Root 66. He found that the hole in the floor closed up but after excavation enabled a digger to stand upright without touching the ceiling! In the evening your scribe filled another seventeen, mainly from the terminal dig. On the 23rd, after delivering a Land Rover load of bags to the dump, Darrell and the writer dug upwards in the rift crossing the largest part of Root 66 and hauled bags to Son of a Pitch. They returned next day to haul out 60 loads - aided by Rich Witcombe. Four of the regulars then departed for some glory in the far north leaving Mike and Tangent to finish off the year by digging at the end on the 29th and hauling all the full bags to Son of a Pitch.

Trev and your scribe commenced the 2008 session on the 6th January when the former removed much of the loose LH wall at the end of Root 66 while the latter continued with the rift dig. Conditions had become decidedly sticky heralding the onset of the “Reverse Midas Touch” with which the Club diggers are cursed. On the 9th Mike heaved out a large rock from the end while the writer cleared spoil from around the remaining slabs to reveal that this “wall” was actually a pillar with clay-filled voids behind and above. A possible way on to the left was revealed but the remaining rocks were too big to shift without being reduced by bang or caps. Lots of bags were hauled up to Son of a Pitch. More were dragged up to here on the 14th when Siss dug at the end and your scribe gradually reduced a large rock before going to the face to crowbar down the remains of the pillar. Four potential ways on were revealed – up in the ceiling, straight ahead and to both sides. Two days later Mike hauled out 77 loads to surface, aided by your lightweight scribe. Trev returned on the 20th to drill and break up most of the toppled pillar using his home made plug and feathers and the writer bagged up the resulting debris next day. A shothole was drilled in the loose slab remaining in preparation for banging and this was lengthened on the 23rd when Mike and your scribe hauled bags and dug at the end. This hole was made redundant by Trev on the 26th when he managed to plug and feather the slab using shorter holes drilled vertically. 

Taking advantage of a spell of very fine weather Tangent and the writer spent the afternoon of the 27th emptying bags at the dump. The latter continued with this next day and also delivered a Land Rover load of recently filled ones. If left to “dry out” for a few weeks they are very much easier to empty. On the 30th January Mike, Sean, Alex and your scribe hauled bags to Son of a Pitch from where Phil, Siss and Paul hauled out 41 to the surface. Siss also emptied bags at the dump and another Land Rover load was taken over to dry out.

A reliable informant has pointed out that Caine Hill is also the name of a noted Australian lunatic asylum. If the cap fits …     

Further digging: - 2/2/08 – 16/6/08.

Tangent reported that the name Caine Hill dates from at least Tudor times as it appears in a document of that date describing the course of a boundary. More research is needed on this. Westbury-sub-Mendip historian Barry Lane is on the case.

The 2nd February saw Trev breaking rocks with his plugs and feathers and digging in the “2nd chamber” where he got the first view of open voids above (see plan) and this was continued by Henry Bennett and Henry Dawson on the 13th when they reported an increase in the draught due to the interception of a higher level phreatic tube with airspace which runs both up and down-dip (later named Pastel Passage). Quote: “There was at least 6-8” airspace if not more which you can see down for about 12-15 foot and then it just seems to continue the same. Wow! Looks funky.” – Henry B. On the 15th Trev and Henry B. did more rock splitting, digging and bag filling and used an electronic draught tester – in vain. The Henries returned on the 20th with Mike, Pete Hellier and Sean and got 72 loads to surface with all full bags underground being dragged up to Son of a Pitch. On the 25th Tony A. Land Rovered two loads to the dump and two days later Mike and Phil filled twenty-five bags at the end, enjoying the novel fresh air. Trev was back on the 2nd March to dig, break rocks and fill another twenty-five bags. On the 5th the writer, impressed with the progress made in his absence, filled fifteen bags and dragged out enough spoil to make a couple of metres of progress in the up-dip phreatic tube. Some work was also done on the equally promising down-dip tube. He returned on the 9th to fill another fourteen bags and dig both the up-dip and down-dip passages. Another two metres were gained. Next day he filled thirty-three bags and opened up a second up-dip passage running parallel to the original one and almost certainly connected. A further two metres of progress was made here. The 12th saw Mike, Paul and your scribe shifting full bags up to Son of a Pitch and the bend. A few bags were filled at the end and the first section of air hose was removed from the cave, as the use of the vacuum cleaner was no longer necessary. More bags were hauled up to the bend on the 16th when Trev and your scribe dug in the down-dip and RH up-dip passages, filled lots more bags and stacked them ready for removal. Next day the writer dug in the down-dip and LH up-dip passages and added many more to the rapidly growing bag pile. This intersected, and important, phreatic tube was named Pastel Passage due to the attractive multi-coloured ceiling pockets. A large boulder embedded in the floor was eventually loosened ready for extraction. This was attempted in vain on the 18th and so your scribe contented himself with enlarging the passage around the boulder and filling lots more bags. One result of this was the revelation of the true size of Pastel Passage – over 1m high and 1.5m wide.


Bag hauling was now desperately needed and so on the 19th March 40 loads reached the surface courtesy of Mike, Tim Andrews (the cave owner), Paul, Phil, John Noble and the writer. Many others were moved upwards throughout the cave and yet another failed attempt was made to remove the loose boulder. More spoil was bagged up from the down-dip passage. This was Tim’s first visit to the current end and he was impressed with both his cave and the effort being expended to push it further. Compass bearings in down-dip Pastel Passage revealed it to now be heading away from the Sump IV area of Swildon’s Hole and towards the Priddy Fault and the sink near Dale Lane – a big blank space on the map! This brings up the possibility of a connection with a completely different area of Swildon’s! To quote Andy Farrant in “Swildon’s Hole 100 Years of Exploration” – “…lumps of ochre seen deep in the cave at Heaven and Hell Aven in the North West Stream Passage are derived from weathered iron-rich deposits somewhere above.” This point is some 370m horizontally and about 100m vertically from the current end of Caine Hill and sounds particularly unpleasant.  Incidentally this was the first anniversary, to the day, of the present team’s involvement at the site. Taking advantage of the Good Friday holiday Trev was back on the 21st with a mission to break up the loose boulder. This he did admirably and also removed another large rock beneath it and about eight bags of spoil. Later that day Barry Lawton and your scribe bagged up the broken rock and continued digging and bag hauling throughout the cave.

A keen hauling team materialised on the 24th March to remove 105 loads from Son of a Pitch. Tony and Annie Audsley, Roger Galloway (the latter two both Grampian S.G. members), Anne Vanderplank and the writer were today’s labourers. The bag dump at the bend was cleared and Roger and Annie, both seasoned diggers, visited the working face where they were enthused with the potential. Later that day your scribe emptied bags at the spoil dump at Tim’s request and Trev continued this on the 26th. This is an ongoing task, which you, the reader, are cordially invited to assist with. On a nice day it can even be almost enjoyable! About a hundred full bags were dragged up to Son of a Pitch, later on the 26th by Mike, Paul and the writer and many more were cleared from the “2nd” to “1st chambers”. The second length of redundant air hose was removed. Next day Trev and the writer emptied most of the full bags. One Land Rover load was delivered to the dump to dry off. Another load was dumped on the 30th before Trev and your scribe re-stocked the bag pile at the bend and filled more bags in the “chambers”. Down-dip Pastel Passage was dug and found to be larger than expected, with no sign of a solid floor. Another Land Rover load of spoil and rock was dumped next day. Further clearing then took place at the face by your scribe. A narrow section of the ongoing passage was found to have a solid rock floor but by digging below this a low airspace in a wider section was surprisingly revealed, the rock floor above forming a phreatic bridge. Paul, Phil, Jake Baynes and the writer concentrated on bag hauling from Son of a Pitch on the 2nd April and got 71 loads out by using Tony’s lintel as a convenient staging post. Fifty of these, one Land Rover load, were dumped next day.

The 4th April saw Caine Hill’s first tourist trip when Tim’s Canadian cousin, Derek Andrews, went as far as the “1st    chamber” and took photos. He was a trifle stunned by the experience (“Do you actually do this for pleasure?”) and declined a visit to the end! The writer dug in down-dip Pastel Passage while Jake excavated the LH up-dip tube. Jake discovered a 2cm length of clay pipe stem at the base of the entrance shaft – another bit for Tim’s artefact collection. The 6th and 7th April saw your scribe feverishly excavating down-dip below the rock bridge and reaching the end of visible passage. At this point the passage appeared to turn left in the direction of the “1st chamber”. If a connection could be engineered this would greatly assist bag hauling operations. Tony delivered a pile of superb limestone slabs recovered from Fairy Cave Quarry to the Shaft on the 8th in preparation for ginging above the lintel as the excavated rock is not up to the high standards of A.T.L.A.S. Next day a Land Rover load of spoil reached the dump and then Mike, Paul and the writer concentrated on shifting bags throughout the cave – eventually clearing Pastel Passage and the “2nd chamber” and re-stocking Son of a Pitch. All full bags at the dump were emptied on the 11th. On the 13th and 14th your scribe continued digging in down-dip Pastel Passage and stacking bags here and in the “2nd chamber”. A superb waterworn limestone floor was revealed below the rock bridge and the northern wall of the passage found to be developed along a thick and easily removable calcite vein. When empty of spoil and bags this ancient phreatic streamway is an impressive sight! A small, continuing airspace at the end appeared to be above another bridge with the way on apparently at depth. The passage to the left was found to be a low phreatic tube and impassable at this level. Next day Jake and the writer dug here, in the RH up-dip passage and in the floor of the “2nd chamber” and hauled a few bags to the bend.

Bag hauling continued on the 16th April when Mike, Paul, Jake, and the writer hauled 110 loads to surface from Son of a Pitch. The latter two were back on the 18th to haul bags throughout the cave and continue with their adopted digs. Trev, Jake and your scribe spent the afternoon of the 20th continuing bag hauling and clearing the dig sites. One Land Rover load was taken to the dump. The writer was back next day and dug both down-dip and RH up-dip Pastel Passage. A connection with the LH passage was felt to be imminent. St. George’s Day, the 23rd, was celebrated with another massive hauling session throughout the cave. The celebrants were Mike, Paul, Jake, Phil, your scribe and guest digger Ian Peachey (SMCC). Another Land Rover load reached the dump where Tim is planning to use this ideally sticky clay as the dam for a future pond. Paul and your scribe then headed north for greater glory – see Rana Hole article – and only Trev and Jake continued the good work.

On the 27th Trev dug down-dip. Jake filled bags with spoil from the “2nd chamber” on the 30th April and again on the 2nd March. He was back here on the 4th while Trev again dug down-dip. The writer continued with this dig on the 5th and unearthed the way on under the SW wall of the passage. He also removed the aluminium builders’ ladders from the entrance shaft and installed a wire ladder to make bag hauling easier. 11 loads were hauled out and taken to the dump where, next day, all full bags were emptied. A major hauling session took place on the 7th when Mike, Jake, Paul, Phil, Pete and the writer were joined by long absent original digger John Walsh, who was amazed at progress since his last visit. 80 loads reached the surface and a Land Rover load was delivered to the dump. This continued on the 10th when Jake and your scribe hauled bags throughout the cave. Next day the latter was back together with long-distance digger (in all senses of the word) Ray Deasy. More bags were filled in the down-dip dig. The writer took advantage of the superb weather on the 12th to empty all of the remaining bags at the dump. 162 loads (a record) came out on the 14th when Mike, Paul, John W, the writer and newly recruited digger Dave McBride emptied out Son of a Pitch and the rift above. Another excellent hauling session on the 18th saw S.o.a.P. almost completely filled and the “1st and 2nd chambers” briefly emptied. Trev, Paul, Phil, John N, Jake and your scribe were today’s team. Three Land Rover loads reached the dump and Tim provided valuable assistance by pressure-washing the hauling ropes. Further underground hauling by Ray and the writer next day saw the bend refilled. Digging and rock breaking in down-dip Pastel Passage revealed the way on to be probably straight down in the floor as foreseen by Trev and not down-dip as erroneously thought by your scribe. 

Bag emptying continued on the 20th and also on the 21st – when another 121 loads came out from S.o.a.P. courtesy of Mike, Paul, John W. and the writer and one Land Rover load reached the dump. The diggers were kept amused by a bevy of teenage girls with a barrage of questions like “Are there rats down there?”, “Do you make money out of this?” and “Have you found any gold yet?”. “No” was the answer to all of these! Incidentally, the total loads removed to date are c.4079 equalling 40,790 kilos or 36.71 tons. More bags were emptied by your scribe on the 25th while Trev smashed up a large rock at the dig face and filled over twenty bags. On the 28th John W, Ian and the writer re-stocked S.o.a.P. with over a hundred bags from the bend and “1st chamber”. The latter returned two days later with Jake and the pair dragged bags throughout the cave and cleared Pastel Passage.

Two Land Rover loads (eighty bags) reached the dump on the 1st June. Trev, Jake and the writer then dragged more bags throughout the cave and continued digging. More work was done here next day when your scribe established that the way on was cutting back under the floor of Pastel Passage and not straight ahead as thought. This now roomy stacking area will be referred to as the “3rd chamber” for the purpose of digging reports (see sketch survey). On the 4th Mike cleared all the full bags from here back to the “2nd chamber” while the writer festered on the surface awaiting a non-existent hauling team. Early pub night! Your scribe was back at the end on the 6th but was driven out by ill health after filling only half a dozen bags. Duncan visited next day and was enthused. Another visitor was Dr. John Wilcock (B.C.R.A.) who was attending the Cavers’ Fair and was recruited by your scribe to continue his Mendip dowsing project at Caine Hill. John got two distinct reactions in the field north of the entrance. One of these indicates a passage running from the current end of the cave towards the copse behind Manor Farm and thus towards Swildon’s Four – where contenders for a connection are High Loop Passage, Fault Passage and Priddy Green Sink / Cowsh Aven Series. The other ran back from the copse along the line of the wall running south towards Caine Hill Cottage. He got no other reactions in any direction. If he is correct this gives a third possible route for a link with Swildon’s Hole. Time, and effort, will prove him right or wrong and will be an excellent test of the dowsing phenomena. The 8th June saw Trev, Duncan, John Christie and the writer hauling 50 loads out, Land Rovering them to the dump and emptying those on site. Next day your scribe filled bags in the “3rd chamber”, revealing an attractive, waterworn floor. Hauling continued on the 11th when John W, Mike, Paul, Nick Hawkes and the writer almost cleared the “1st chamber” and the bend back to S.o.a.P. Nick, being a professional mining geologist, also closely examined the lower part of the cave and took rock and mineral samples for further study. His initial opinion is that this is a phreatic system developed along fractures in ancient hydrothermal mineral veins. The following evening Jane and your scribe emptied bags at the dump. Jake did a solo trip on the 14th when he dug and tidied up the bags at the end. Two days later the writer filled more bags here and noted several small airspaces opening up in the fill.

Continued in BB 531.

By Tony Jarratt

Mendip Digging News

Congratulations to Pete Hann and his Wessex digging team on the breakthrough earlier this year at their long term dig in Charterhouse Cave. Some 330m of streamway were initially entered with the G.B. Cave stream coming in on the right – a dye test took 35 minutes. A mud blockage was then dug to yield a further 40m of passage ending in a diveable downstream sump and with a tight crawl to a roomy inlet passage (a parallel streamway), later pushed for 70m to another sump, later found to be undiveable. It is believed that at c180m this is now Mendip’s deepest swallet cave, having surpassed Longwood Swallet’s 175m. The potential here is tremendous and since the discovery of the Upper Flood Swallet extensions much attention has been focussed on the Cheddar catchment. Pete and Aubrey Newport are supposedly digging in White Spot Cave, Pete Glanvill, Tony Boycott, Martin Grass and Chris Binding are working at a particularly squalid site nearby, Graham Price intends to dig Hangover Hole (above Timber Hole) and the Bracknell / M.C.G. diggers are beavering away in Stainsby’s Shaft / Blackmoor Swallet – where a tempting void was opened up on the 6th April leading, in May, to very promising but extremely unstable “Old Mens’” workings. Another M.C.G. team recently explored some 60m of maze passages off East Passage in Upper Flood. This still leaves Old Farts’ Dig, Manor Farm Swallet, Timber Hole, Tyning’s Barrows Swallet, Rhino Rift and Longwood Swallet up for grabs. Any takers?

By Tony Jarratt

More Cave Related Ephemera and Some Interesting Gossip.

In addition to the article in BB 529 another Ford Farm cheese label has turned up. It bears the title “WOOKEY HOLE Traditional Farmhouse Cheddar” above a photograph of an empty rowing boat on the River Axe in the 1st Chamber. The entrance to Charon’s Chamber is in the background (see illustration).

The Cheddar Brewery has introduced Totty Pot Porter and the writer undertook extensive field trials to confirm its excellent quality. Unfortunately the origin of the Cheddar cave name Totty Pot (incidentally delineated by the Ordnance Survey in attractive Gothic script) may put off potential imbibers. It was named by cave archaeologist and Wessex member Chris Hawkes after the mumblings of his then very young daughter Sarah – sister of Nick (sometime BEC) - who was allowed to accompany her dad at the dig site together with her potty. Richard Witcombe states in Who Was Aveline Anyway? that the cave was “Named after the makeshift bucket used on the first day’s digging by the Wessex in 1961.” There are no prizes for guessing what this “makeshift bucket” was, or what baby Sarah had to resort to! Thanks to Tangent, Chris and Richard for this gem of wisdom. Anyway, back to ephemera. Illustrated is the bottle label with a depiction of a black, yellow ochre and red ochre “cave painting” Aurochs on a blue background and a short note about the cave. Thanks to Mike Hearn for this. It’s good that they are continuing with the cave theme though and perhaps we can look forward to “Priddy Green Sink Brown Ale”! 

The rest of this article has gone on vacation somewhere and cannot be found. In the meantime we bring you some background information on Cheddar Ales. Apologies…

The labels read:

Nestling on the slopes of the Mendip Hills, within a stone's throw of the famous Cheddar Gorge, Cheddar Ales is a microbrewery producing premium quality real ales for you to enjoy at home as well as in the best pubs. Head Brewer, Jem Ham, insists on using only the finest ingredients and time-honoured methods as old as the hills themselves to produce a range of beers for traditional and modern tastes alike, that are best described as Simply Gorgeous.

Potholer is an award-winning Golden Ale. It's refreshing, with zesty fruit flavours, a rounded finish and bags of aroma. It is brewed using the best quality Maris Otter, crystal and wheat malts and hopped with a blend of the choicest whole hops.

Totty Pot is a small cave near the head of Cheddar Gorge, just one and a half miles from the brewery. Discovered in 1960 many archaeological remains (dating from 6500 b.c.) have been found, including Auroch bones and Microliths (small flint tools).

Totty Pot is an award-winning Dark Porter with a deeply satisfying roasted malt character and subtle hop highlights. It is brewed using the best quality Maris Otter, wheat and dark malts and hopped with a blend of English whole hops.

Pouring instructions: Careful, this beer contains a live yeast sediment which helps give the beer a more natural flavour. To get the best results allow the yeast to settle by storing the bottle in an upright position and then pour carefully without disturbing the sediment. Serve slightly chilled 10-12C  - Enjoy


By Tony Jarratt

The Mendip Invaision - Discoveries in the Rana Hole/Uamh an Claonaite System

Photo Jrat looking up from entrance of 2B's Chamber by Simon Bookes

This year’s Mendip Invasion of Assynt in NW Scotland was a poorly attended affair from the south with Paul Brock (B.E.C./G.S.G.), Anne Vanderplank (B.E.C./W.C.C.), Robin “Tav” Taviner (G.S.G.) and the writer making up the team. Tony Boycott and Tangent were unfortunately unable to join us but support came from Yorkshire (Dave Hodgson, Jamie Anderson, Norman Flux, Mark Brown and Anwen Burrows), Derbyshire (Nick Williams, Eddy Mason and Simon Brooks) and Edinburgh (Fraser Simpson, Roger Galloway, Annie Audsley and Ivan Young). Just before the Mendip team left more G.S.G. members turned up and surprise visitors Yvo Weidmann and his girlfriend Martina arrived from Switzerland. Yvo is a top European cave diver, surveyor, Meghalaya veteran and cave photographer whose work can readily be seen and appreciated in most, if not all, Speleo Projects calendars.

Paul and your scribe drove up on the 26th (well, Paul did) in eleven hours but this did include stops at the Black Isle Brewery for supplies and fish and chips in Ullapool. A session in the Alt Bar that night saw them not at their best next day and almost abandoning digging due to the glorious weather. Tav and Anne succumbed to this to ascend Arkle while the hungover ones eventually staggered up the Allt nan Uamh valley in the wake of Fraser, Yorkshire Dave and Jamie who were intent on completing the first diving through-trip from Claonaite to Rana. In the latter the Black Rift was rigged with ladders and the awkward traverses and knobbly crawls leading to Blue Chamber negotiated – Slipping Into Something More Comfortable (S.I.S.M.C.). After admiring the blue and crystal-clear static sump the duo crawled on into the 30m up-dip extension discovered by G.S.G. men Julian Walford and Martin Hayes on the 12th April. Here they admired pure white stalactites and helictites, mud formations and strange red crystals on the floor before looking for possible dig sites. Paul spotted the best option which was an almost vertical “bedding plane” filled with dodgy boulders to a height of about four metres to where a small black space hinted at open passage beyond. Each wielding a small crowbar they set about the choke at two places and easily disposed of tons of rocks with the aid of gravity and the roomy passage below. The writer was then able to push boulders into Paul’s dig from above and after about an hour and a half was able to traverse across the steep slope below even larger piles of “hanging death” to reach the black space. A squeeze upward and he was in more roomy passage and soon joined by Paul. Amazed at their easy victory the explorers realised that they were standing at the bottom of a huge and steeply sloping passage or chamber with a dry mud-covered breakdown floor. Now feeling much improved and almost bursting with excitement they scrambled up the 60 metres or so to the top of the chamber to find it over 30 metres wide at one point and with a central roof height of 5-6 metres. There were no formations but some impressive geological features which are well worthy of study by an expert. Near the top of the chamber, where huge breakdown slabs blocked any way on, a 20 m long passage was explored to a mud choke and a lower passage (later called Not Two B) and pushed by Paul for about 25 m, also led to a long term dig. Further down the chamber a descending side passage, later pushed by Annie Audsley, also ended at a diggable mud choke. A couple of other unpromising sites were also later noted. Totally gobsmacked the jubilant duo named the find “Two B’s Chamber” as it was Bigger and Better than two A’s Chamber – and was found by two lucky B.E.C. Bastards – and set off into the depths of Claonaite to meet the divers. They had just emerged from Sump 6b when the pair arrived and were also much pleased by their successful dive, though not looking forwards to dragging all their kit up through the generally vertical passages of Rana Hole. Fraser had to drive home but the other four later celebrated at the Inch. Paul was so embarrassed by today’s discovery that he at last joined the G.S.G!

Two B’s Chamber is probably the second largest in a Scottish limestone cave – with the possible exception of the partly sea-eroded main chamber of Smoo Cave, and has undoubtedly formed by roof collapse into the original phreatic bore tube heading through Blue Chamber and onwards to The Great Northern Time Machine – Scotland’s largest chamber – where it was joined by another phreatic bore tube coming in from Two A’s Chamber, Belh Aven and Portobello Promenade/Memories of Tangalle. Investigations above the Twin Falls of Jabaroo may reveal more breakdown passage running back up towards Blue Chamber. Without the fortuitous short phreatic tube dropping into Blue Chamber from the awkward S.I.S.M.C. this fine addition to the system would be inaccessible. Could this be a flood overflow conduit formed along a convenient joint after the main bore tube became blocked with glacial (?) deposits? Much more recently this passage was utilised by the Black Rift streams.

The discoverers were back down Rana next day along with Ivan, Annie and Roger and a survey was completed from Black Cuillin Chamber to the end, a total of 261 metres (new passage making up 166 metres of this) and showing that the end of the chamber is located in the limestone band to the east of Beinn an Fhuarain. The passage seems to be running roughly parallel with the Claonaite streamway some 150 metres further east. To inspire further celebration it was now realised that the system had been pushed to just over 3 kilometres – another Scottish record. Eddy, Nick, Tav and Anne had meanwhile been touring and looking at digging sites in Claonaite Seven.

For a change Campbell’s Cave was the focus of attention next day with Roger, Annie, Anne, Norman, Paul and the writer preparing the surface depression for a major onslaught. Stone steps were constructed, the spoil heap extended, the cave entrance area stabilised and a massive wall commenced in the stream channel. No forward progress was made but good weather made this tidying operation a pleasure.

Roger, Annie, and the writer were back down Rana next day but on a purely tourist trip to show Richard Mackenzie (the owner of the Inch) and his Dutch friends Jan and Joris Van den Berg the cave as far as the head of Black Rift. All thoroughly enjoyed it – especially 11 year old Joris - and were most impressed with the engineering. Roger started a dig in the higher reaches of Two A’s Chamber (to which he and Annie returned on the following day and declared a long term job).

Simon Brooks exiting Blue Chamber Sump (photo Paul Brock)

The 2nd May saw Norman continuing work on the Rana breakthrough-point dam while Tav, Paul and your scribe assisted Simon with his diving gear. Blue Chamber sump was the target but unfortunately after some 5 metres it was completely silted up. Simon then visited Two B’s Chamber where he took lots of photos with the writer for scale. Tav and Paul went to dig at a site above Sump 6b where a breakthrough was made after half an hour into some 50 metres of bedding passage with a dug (and horribly loose) connection to The Palatial Abode of Edward Concrete Head and thus a round trip of academic interest. It was named “Duelling Pianos”. The possibility still exists here of a by-pass to Sumps 4, 5 and 6b.

Your scribe, being fed up with the A.N.U.S. valley, walked from the G.S.G. cottage to the Abhainn a’ Chnocain area on the 3rd May. The partially blocked entrance of the 8 metre long Easter Bunny Cave was easily found and made accessible – if a trifle squalid - within 20 minutes. Half an hour of crowbar and entrenching tool work on the terminal collapse revealed a 2 metre extension and no possible chance of any more. At now 10 metres in length it can be thankfully ignored in the future. It was found by the writer and Helen Macpherson on 4th April 1980 and had been awaiting another visit since then! The entrance was partially refilled with peat, rocks, slime and an old bucket. Directions to its exact location can be found in the G.S.G. Hut Log should any masochistic grotthole connoisseurs be reading this. Back at Taig nam Famh a visit was had from a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses but they were repulsed by Anwen who gave them a piece of her mind regarding their missionary zeal amongst perfectly happy tribal societies. Roger, Annie, Mark and Norman continued clearing the Skye-Way in Rana.

Other activities included hill-walking; dig investigation by Nick and Eddy in Traligill and levelling of the site for the store extension by capping and banging. The latter was particularly impressive as large chunks of shattered pallet landed on the cottage roof and debris rained from the skies following a 9 shothole charge of 12gm cord! Refreshment at the Inch, the Alt and back at Taig nam Famh was a suitable reward for the hard work regularly expended.    

A serious geological and geomorphological study now needs to be done on the Rana Hole/Uamh an Claonaite System. The huge lumps of broken stalagmite bosses at the top of Black Rift should surely be perfect for dating purposes and would give an indication as to when breakdown created Two A’s Chamber. They also indicate a much warmer climate with plenty of vegetation when they were formed. The high-grade survey of the system needs upgrading and perhaps re-surveying in Claonaite Seven, especially in the complicated area around Duelling Pianos. Tav has found a possible link dig to Otter Hole and there are many more sites of interest as shown by the above results. The southern contingent hope to return for the G.S.G. Annual Dinner in October when some of these sites will hopefully be investigated – if they have not already yielded by then!

Errata: Breakthroughs at Rana Hole, Assynt, Scotland - BB 529, p61, “Mark bolted up Belh Aven for some 20m…” Not 60m as stated.

By Tony Jarratt

St. Cuthbert’s Nostalgia

As the decades ease by some caving trips stand out more than others. In the 1950s there was one such trip – into the not-long-since discovered St. Cuthbert’s Swallet.

On the evening of Friday 19th March 1954 I humped my heavy rucksack the one mile to Walton–on–Thames railway station and caught a train to Waterloo from whence I took the tube to Gloucester Road station where I met Dennis Kemp (WSG). I squeezed myself and kit into his already crowded vehicle and we headed towards Mendip: I think I was a WSG member at that point in time. The stated plan was to do a long trip to the Black Hole area in Swildon’s.

We duly arrived at the (old) Belfry where discussion soon indicated that, due to weather conditions, Black Hole was out of the question. I remember feeling very disappointed. However, it soon transpired that there was a 24-hour trip planned for St. Cuthbert’s – from midday Saturday until midday Sunday. I volunteered to join that trip and was accepted (beginner’s luck – I had only been caving for about a year).

A group of BEC members, whom I recall included Sybil Bowden-Lyle dammed the stream on Saturday morning to allow us to go down at 12.00am. The other members of the team were Bob Bagshaw, Roy Bennett, Norman Petty, Don Coase and John Stafford; all much older and more experienced than I was. On the way down we spent what seemed like ages (actually about an hour) putting in a Rawlbolt at the top of Arête Pitch. The descent of the Water Chute introduced me to the use of “knobbly dogs” (short alloy bars on a single length of wire – AJ). The roomy yet complex aspects of the cave were quite fascinating. Its vertical nature was something I had never previously experienced (Pulpit Pitch was awesome!). It was also perhaps the wettest cave I had been into!

At last we arrived at the Dining Room. Here we put down all the food and cooking equipment that we had been carrying.

After a “meal” of soup, bread, tea and biscuits we set off to explore the Rabbit Warren; I recall the names Plantation Junction (where we made great efforts to pass the stal. formations that block progress upstream) and the Tin Mine. Our explorations eventually brought us to Curtain Chamber. We seemed to have been on the move for many hours but we were back in the Dining Room by 7.00 pm.

After another brew-up and meal we set off up a short climb and entered Cerberus Hall. Since I had probably been selected as “duty ferret” I wriggled through a flat-out crawl at floor level to find myself looking down a rather steep passage. The passage turned to the right but appeared to continue, so I started off headfirst downwards. On reaching the point where the passage turned, I could see that it led straight into a lake of beautiful green water. I performed the necessary acrobatics to get my feet to where my head had been and went on down to water level. I think everyone went down to have a look into Lake Chamber. Our next exploit was to make the connection via Rat Run to Everest Passage. This involved John Stafford pushing a small boulder with his nose, having committed himself to an upward squeeze in which the boulder was sitting!

Yet another brew-up restored us for the next phase of exploration. This time we visited Upper Traverse Chamber and High Chamber. It was now very early on the Sunday morning and we were getting quite tired. Back in the Dining Room we took our time over a final meal before setting off for the surface to keep the midday rendezvous with the damming team. The journey was slow and rather arduous, as we had to roll up all the tackle we had taken in. An enduring memory is that every time we set off on a new excursion from the Dining Room I thought how similar it felt to what I imagined it must have felt like going out into no-man’s land on a WW1 night patrol (it must have been a mixture of the wetness, the mud and the obligation to do as everyone else did). I think also that khaki was the dominant colour of our caving clothes.

Above the Water Chute on the way out Roy Bennett and Don Coase climbed up into Drinking Fountain Passage. They had not been gone long when the ominous sounds of nailed boots sliding down a rock wall signified that Roy had not quite managed to make a short climb. Luckily no harm was done and we carried on out. I remember hoping that the people on the surface would not be late putting in the dam. They were on time and we duly emerged very wet and very tired at midday.

Dennis Kemp’s Land Rover was loaded and ready to go so I wasted no time in sorting myself out. There were no hot showers in those days of course and I recall being very concerned that parts of my body (mainly hands and feet) were very wrinkled by long exposure to cold water. I even wondered if they’d return to normal.    

By Tony Knibbs (MCG)

Hidden Earth 2008

This year, Hidden Earth www.hidden-earth.org.uk, the UK's national caving conference and exhibition is taking place on the weekend of 26-28 September 2008 at Prince Henry's Grammar School in Otley, West Yorkshire. It is always an excellent and informative weekend as well as being a great social event.

Emma Porter has taken on the task of being Lecture Secretary for this conference, so please contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (remove nospam) if you would like to give a talk. Hope to see you there!

Emma Porter

More Pits Than You Can Shake A Stick At

A brief update on the Hutton adventure.

After the discovery of Upper Canada Cave our hopes have been high that we are in the right area for the lost Hutton Cavern. The number of pits, as described by previous hunters of the lost cavern are numerous and most, as we have discovered are dead ends but one or two prove to be exciting. 

In recent months our focus has been nearer to Bleadon Cavern where after two very shallow and boulder filled depressions were emptied and refilled we found a broad pit lined on two sides by miners’ walls. Some time back we had an initial look at a square cut section of rock that looked a bit too unnatural but rejected it after finding bedrock.

In an act of shear bloodymindedness we went back to it and found that what we thought was bedrock was in fact just a small slope before a descending natural wall, which we followed down emptying out as we went – that’s the chamber not us by the way.

The Cole Chute.

Scraping around moving material we found a triangular opening that led into a small space. When it was discovered that that went nowhere we unearthed a bedding chamber (appro’ 4ms wide and 5ms long) through cracked wall blocks. The adventurous N. Richards slipped through, donating his record collection to Harding should the roof collapse – it wasn’t the safest looking of bedding chambers - but was disappointed to discover it wasn’t going anywhere. It was named the Cole Chute after the landowners – who do go somewhere – canoeing mostly.

This is a rough map due to the fact that just before going to press Nick R was languishing in hospital with some mystery ailment and as he had the correct measurements in his notebook the above image is a rough editorial approximation only.

Nick R in the tunnel. The roof just up to the right proved to be less than stable

Further emptying of the pit revealed a sizeable bedding feature composed in the main of perilously unstable rock which adding a certain frisson to the digging experience. Pursuing a smaller opening roughly in a northern direction we found a small phreatic tunnel below a slab of rock. We followed this down, our optimism ever growing, but after a session we found with a hard slap of reality that it was pinching down to a too tight squeeze.

At the start of the tunnel beneath the slab of rock we found a very narrow blocked passage that looked as if it was heading to surface – it was filled with rubble. Digging in the floor of the entrance to the small tunnel and directly beneath the slab of rock spirits were lifted again by the removal of boulders – something appeared to be happening again but repeated removal of these boulders produced more infilling from the collapsing bedding.

When spirits fell again we retreated. Nick R tested the roof just above the entrance to the small tunnel only to have the whole lot collapse.

This dig has been abandoned due mostly to frustration. Although essentially interesting the slabs of bedding in this pit make working here a bit touch and go. Secondly it doesn’t fit into the descriptions referring to the entrance to Hutton Cavern. This pit may indeed continue on into the depths, it has that ‘feel’ about it, but interest has flagged for the moment and the desire to find Hutton Cavern pushes on to other locations on the hill.

By The Two Nick

A Trip to Cheddar Ales

Behind the walls of this unimposing building one of the best beers in the region is created. 

The grand equation that is caving rarely works if one vital element is left out i.e. beer. Somehow the maths fails to add up. Or at least the experience without a post explore sup is somehow an incomplete experience.

The simple ingredients.

Yer Ed visited Cheddar Ales in February for a trip accompanied by Yer Ed’s father who despite sporting a beard (see BB 529) is sadly not a caver but a fine connoisseur of things brewed (other than tea). He was there in his capacity of President of the Weston Lions, his second tour of duty in that post, to arrange the Lions Beer Festival for this summer in sunny Weston super Donkey. This was done as an informal recce and to arrange a beery viewing with a select band of BEC-ers at a later date.

Then in April Jem Ham gave us an entertaining tour of the process of beer making answering questions (especially from the engineers within the group) about the subtleties of the craft. It’s extraordinary how, with a few simple ingredients carefully blended, so many varieties of flavours can be created to keep a multitude of cavers happy. Sadly numbers were not as expected but then that really was the fault of Yer Ed who arranged a visit early in the week. Next time it won’t be and if Jem will have us back I’ll arrange a more suitable and work friendly time.


Jem Ham takes us through the brewing process. Everyone is keen to get to the sampling.

After the tour Jem had kindly laid on barrels of beer for consumption including Cheddar Best, which proved to be a firm favourite. This has now been changed to Gorge Best. And most of us, I believe ended up taking a glass home with us as a souvenir.

Although looking like a Russian missile silo this is where the alchemy happens?


An added bonus was that the sacks the hops and wheat come in make excellent digging sacks. Mike has already delivered a stack to the Belfry.

Yer Ed would like to thank Jem and Mike Hearn (BEC 1986-97) for being magnificent, friendly and generous hosts. I’m sure all of you have your own ideas for cave related beer names, I for one can think of loads.


The Fernhill Project

Jack Waddon looking into the entrance of the cave, 1960

The cave was exposed by quarrying in 1960, opened and explored in 1960 by WCC, and the entrance was permanently buried under quarry tip about 1965

(Barrington and Stanton, The Complete Caves of Mendip. First edition, 1970).

In fairness to Willie Stanton, he did remove the word "permanently" from later editions of his book.  It was however, not an unreasonable statement, for a vast amount of surface clearance material had been bulldozed over the edge of the quarry.  This material poured into the entrance bedding-plane, filling it and eventually produced a heap which rose almost to ground level.

It is unfortunate though, that the entry in 'The Complete Caves' implies that Fernhill Cave was opened up by the Wessex, as this isn't exactly the case.  So, perhaps it would be a good idea if we start with a bit about the history of the cave.

The first caver to take notice of the cave was Jack Waddon, a BEC member who was nosing around looking for caves - sorry, conducting geological field work - in the quarry.  He noticed an enlarged bedding-plane in the (then) north-west corner of the quarry working face (note 1).  The bedding-plane was largely filled with a thick layer of stalactite, but at one point, a gap in the stal flow emitted a strong draught.  This was on the Whitsun weekend of 1960.

Jack returned to the quarry on 17th June the same year with Phil Davies of the Wessex and together they removed sufficient rock to make a passable entrance.  Jack squeezed in and made the first descent of the bedding-plane to a boulder-strewn floor some 43 feet below (note 2).  He made this descent without tackle and, as the bedding-plane gets wider with depth, he may well have found the ascent a little tricky for he comments that a 'knobbly dog' would have been useful. 

Strange that he didn't have to plaster the top with 'P' hangers before it was safe to descend.  It seems that things were done differently in those days.

The following day, Jack and Phil returned and explored the cave together (note 3), conducting a rough survey and photographing it carefully, as they thought that the formations might be damaged by blasting very soon.  A more accurate survey was made in July 1962 by Dennis Warburton, Jim Hanwell and Phil Davies of the Wessex (note 4).

How much investigation and probing was carried out in Fernhill is now unclear.  In November 1961, Balch Cave was broken into by the quarry and as this was a more exciting prospect for exploration, it must have drawn people away from Fernhill.  At some stage, the cave was closed by the waste tipping mentioned above, but even the date of this is unclear, Stanton says 'before 1965' and photographs taken in 1964 show that the entrance is blocked, although the bedding-plane itself is still visible.

The bedding-plane.  The entrance is on the right, under the tip.

That is the end of the first part of the story of Fernhill cave.   For over 40 years since then the cave slept quietly on, largely undisturbed, under a mound of quarry waste.  There were a few attempts by the Cerberus and more recently by members of the ATLAS conglomerate (possibly ATCONG in modern speak) to force a route from Fairy Cave through the intervening boulder ruckle.  All these attempts met with failure, but at least the ruckle did not get contaminated with squashed digger.

The idea of reopening the cave never quite went away and kept distracting ATCONG from our main problem, that of finding somewhere decent to get a drink on Eastern Mendip.  Anyway, to get to the point;  Alan Gray, (who despite being a lager drinking Axbridge member isn't entirely bad), started to examine old photographs of the area.  He was helped in this by Hannah Bell, who came across several prints in the Wells Museum collection.  Alan reckoned that he could identify rocks in the present quarry face that were present in 1960s photographs of the cave entrance.  He went on at great length about this in the pub, possibly hoping that if he talked enough, he could avoid having to buy a round and he very nearly got away with it.

In a very creditable piece of detective work, Alan identified three key areas of rock which were in the old photographs and also identifiable in the quarry face today. One is particularly clear and is marked with an arrow in the photographs.  Appropriately, it bears a strong resemblance to that icon of the 1960s, the CND symbol, (a sort of inverted Y to those of you who didn't experience the 60s and much the same to those who did experience the 60s and so can't remember anything).

The entrance is under the mound on the right.

By December 2007, the rest of us were sufficiently convinced to put our money where Alan's mouth is and we started a collection.  It was obvious, however, that extra funding would be necessary.

Just a minute.  All cavers like bats, they are our friends and we all love them dearly.  We were not thinking about re-opening a cave;  we were creating a bat roost.  The main chamber of Fernhill was said to be some 20 metres by 12 metres; that's quite a bat roost.

Natural England likes bats as well.  It is extremely fond of them; it thinks they are a Good Thing.  Natural England has more money than the average caver.  A lot more.

Richard Witcombe, cunning fellow that he is, put two and two together and came up with considerably more than four.   This meant that the project was beginning to look possible.  With further help from the Fairy Cave Management Committee and the Council of Southern Caving Clubs, we were on our way.  Seriously, we are very grateful for this financial help, as the project would not have been possible otherwise.  Formal acknowledgements and a list of private contributors is at the end of this article.

Dave Speed organised the excavation, because he is good at that sort of thing and Dave Gibbons provided an excavator, driven by John Stevens and a JCB 4345 articulated shovel, driven by Kevin Sparkes.  The machinery was delivered to the quarry on Friday 4th April and John and Kevin had a preliminary bash that afternoon, although work did not start in earnest until Saturday.  On Monday, the siege really started and continued slowly but surely through the next few days.  Nothing exciting, just dig, scrape, drive and tip over and over and over again.

Excavation underway. Note the arrowed boulder top left.

Now we come to the exciting bit.  On Wednesday 9th April at about mid-day (or 13h 16m 48s according to the camera) John uncovered the top of the wall of the entrance bedding-plane, complete with its stal coating.  Alan Gray could relax at this point, as he was no longer in danger of being strung up in one of the ash trees at the edge of the quarry as food for the rooks and crows.  He also could be satisfied that his predictions, particularly that of depth was close enough to qualify for a cigar - (but he didn't get one).

On Thursday, work continued on deepening what was now becoming a pit, as John had had to bench himself down to get deep enough to expose the entrance some 4(ish) metres further down.  As the pit was deepened to reach the foot-wall of the bedding-plane an interesting phenomenon developed in the 'wall of death' at the eastern end of the excavation trench.  A 40cm (ish) layer of compacted clay in the fill formed a supporting arch for the material above while the spoil below the arch fell away.  This created a tunnel-like structure running for some 4 metres directly under the vertical wall of spoil at the end of the excavation.

 Rich Witcombe, Dave Morrison and Jackie Ankerman admire the clay arch.

This arch rather concentrated the mind on installing the concrete entrance pipes as quickly as possible, for the arch was shedding material from the bottom at unnervingly regular intervals and at the same time it was supporting an almost vertical 7-8 metre wall of quarry waste above.  This was no time to hang around, the shaft needed to go in without delay.  The pipes were fed in as near to the line of the hanging-wall of the bedding-plane as possible, with Jim Young in the danger zone manoeuvring them into position.  Jim claims not to be interested in caving and so refuses to wear a helmet, but he did compromise this time and put on a woolly hat.

The pipes were placed some 3 to 4 metres to the left of the original route into the cave but to have sited them any closer to the 'wall of death' would have been foolhardy.  As the pipes were fitted together, John backfilled the excavation and continued thus until 10 metres of pipework had been installed and a reasonable ground level had been reached.

Jim Young and Dave Speed installing concrete rings.

The Speed/Gibbons complete service to speleology then lifted a large concrete pad from the other side of the quarry and installed it by the shaft to act as foundation for any winches, railway track and suchlike fripperies that may appear in the future.  They also transplanted a large ash tree and placed a substantial flat stone slab next to it, so that we could sit in the shade and have a place for a barbecue.  Who could ask for more?

We could, of course, have asked for easy access to the bedding-plane and also that the bedding-plane should be miraculously free from blockage, tumbling boulders and quarry waste.  Nice thought, but it's not what we got.

The present situation is that we have a magnificent spoil-heap and a 10 metre shaft, inclined at an angle of about 55°.  This inclination is a mixed blessing.  Because there is a small angular divergence between the shaft and the hanging-wall of the bedding-plane, about 5°, it means that spoil can exert a wedging action between the rock wall and the pipes as it compacts.  There are signs that this is beginning to happen.  On the other hand, an angled shaft means that a rubber tyred truck can be used and this opens up the possibilities of having a railway system and one can never have too many of those.

The situation at the bottom of the shaft is also mixed.  After several stabilisation sessions, which involved plastering everything in sight with cement, we exposed the hanging-wall and actually got into the bedding-plane by removing massively thick slabs of stalagmite from the foot-wall.

And then, over the May Bank Holiday, it rained.


The material round the base of the shaft turned into slurry and slumped.  So now, the shaft ends in a pile of mud and rubble and the bedding-plane is but a memory.

Work on stabilising this collapse has started (1st July), but that's probably enough to be going on with.

Contributors to the fund:

Jacky Ankerman, Tony Audsley, Hannah Bell, Tony Boycott, Pat Cronin, Geoff Dawson, Alan Gray, Dave King, Mark Lumley, Clive North, Duncan Price, Dave Speed, Rob Taviner, Mandy Voysey, Matt Voysey, Richard Witcombe.


A very heartfelt thank you to:-

  • Hobbs Holdings Ltd, for permission to do the work.
  • Natural England, The Fairy Cave Quarry Management Committee and The Council of Southern Caving Clubs for financial assistance.


  1. Jack Waddon, 1960. Fernhill - A New Mendip Cave. Belfry Bulletin, 154, 6-7. 
  2. In 1960 it was 43 feet deep, metres didn't exist. The modern equivalent is 13106.4 mm.
  3. E.J. Waddon & P. Davies, 1960. Fernhill Cave - An Interim Report. Jour. Wessex Cave Club 6 (77) 112-117.
  4. P. Davies, 1962. Fairy Cave Quarry System. Jour. Wessex Cave Club 7 (83) 17-19.

By Tony Audsley

Hollow Hills

Firstly it’s high time I thanked Henry B and Jrat again for licking the crude editorial matter into its presentable form. It will be interesting to see how many, if any have any comments about the new format for the Belfry Bulletin. But as mentioned above anything that helps keep costs down is a welcome thing.

I’m now accepting articles for BB 531 so here’s to a summer full of digging and interesting discoveries. I would also be pleased if someone would bring us all up to date with our new neighbours and what, if any, developments have occurred.

Yer Ed.



Committee Members

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor (772)
Hon. Treasurer: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Henry Bennett (1079)
Caving Secretary: Toby Maddocks (1310)
Hut Warden: Jane Clarke (983)
Tackle Officer: Chris Jewell (1302)

Non-Committee Posts
Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Nick Richards (1290)

Club Trustees:
Martin Grass (790) and Nigel Taylor (772)


Ave Cavers!

As everyone will now know weÙve lost two more. Wig and Barrie W. 

Strange indeed. One moment youÙre talking to someone on the phone (or indeed sharing several pints) and the next theyÙve shuffled off this mortal coil.  I for one will miss the verbal dressing down after the publication of each BB.

Apologies to the loyal readers of this esteemed organ for the late arrival of said journal. This is due in part to the sad departure of the Wig whose second part of the history of the BEC will have to remain unfinished (as far as I know) until such time as someone else is willing to become club historian. This lengthy screed would have taken up a large chunk of this BB. This meant I had to round up some more dispatches from around the caving globe. There were also some personal writing projects that also fell in the way (deadlines and all that). But anyway, itÙs here now.

Well as per usual an error slipped through. On the cover of 527 I made Harry Stanbury 10 years older than he was. So, mea culpa and six of the best trousers down for your editor who was not tired and emotional at the time – no sir… 

The cover photo shows Jrat in probably the best fluffy anyone has ever seen. If you get the chance see the original colour image – itÙs bright enough to startle blind spinsters. 

Nick Harding

BEC Summer of Excess 2007

11th – 12th August – BEC BBQ (Mendip)
Getty messy on Mendip at the annual BBQ complete with disco!

25th – 27th – August – Yorkshire long weekend @ YSS
3 days of top class caving, BBQÙs in the summer evenings and drinking in the Helwith Bridge. Contact Chris Jewell to book places.

22nd – 23rd Sept – Hidden Earth@Tewksbury – Summer Excess reunion!!
Listen to tales of expedition caving during the day and party the night away at the national caving conference.

6th October – BEC AGM and Annual Dinner


Vale: Dave “Wig” Irwin. 1935 – 2007.

Dave sadly passed away in April this year. I had the honour of being asked to read a eulogy to him at his funeral and write an obituary to him for the BB. I spent a lot of time researching his life and writing and rewriting his eulogy until I felt it reflected what Dave had achieved in his 71 years. I have therefore printed below, in full, the transcript of the eulogy as my obituary of Dave.

He will be sorely missed not only for his knowledge of caves, caving politics and bibliography but also for his vast musical knowledge. As well as by cycling friends and post card collecting enthusiasts. With the committeeÙs permission we plan to erect a memorial tablet to Dave in Cerberus Hall in St. CuthbertÙs in recognition of his enormous contribution to the cave and particularly to the survey of the system. It is hoped that the official unveiling will be followed by a few drinks at the Belfry as a celebration of DaveÙs life.

Martin Grass.

A Tribute to Dave “Wig” Irwin.

I am told that there is a guide to eulogies that recommends that you concentrate on one subject of the deceasedÙs life, but in the case of Dave that is not possible as whatever he did he did it with passion, conviction and dedication. He was a member of the Somer Valley Cycling Club for about 16 years and was honored with life membership several years ago for his services to the club. He was also obsessed with his classical music collection and undoubtedly his favorite composer was Mozart. I remember fondly one incident when as teenagers Chris Hannam and I had convinced him he should widen his musical remit and he reluctantly let us play some heavy metal LPÙs on his beloved and very expensive sound system. He was not impressed with the music but was surprised how his windows rattled!

However I knew him best from caving and that I believe was the strongest of all his passions.

In fact in an email he sent to an old caving friend in Canada shortly before his death he actually wrote that he was “completely married to caving” and often said he was not interested in it, “just obsessed”.

Dave started caving in 1953 and in the early years was a member of the Westminster Speleological Group. However he soon joined the BEC and on the 10th.June 1963 became member number 540. Within three years he had become a life member of the club and over the years held many posts including librarian and Belfry Bulletin editor. 

Dave was a team member of the 1960Ùs trips the BEC made to the deep pits of Austria and was an inspiration and a source of much knowledge to the many trips that followed right up to the present day. In June 1967 he and his great caving friend Roy Bennett explored the Aille River Cave in Co. Mayo Ireland just before a team from the Craven were due out to look at it. I know when we went there twenty years later, and I went to him for information, he delighted in explaining that he and Roy had not bothered with boats or fins (as the Craven planned to) to explore around 3000 feet of swimming passage! 

St. CuthbertÙs Swallet was DaveÙs favorite Mendip cave and all those interested in the system would go to the “Wig” for information. He knew every part of the cave and was always willing to direct you to possible new dig sites or suggest passages that needed looking at. He was the driving force behind the high-grade survey of the system and with so many complicated and interconnecting passages he became famous for his “closed traverses”. These were never more than a degree or two out, quite a feat in pre computer days. After his first heart attack in 1995 he never went back down the cave but I know on speaking to him he had completed in excess of 750 trips into the cave and at the height of the surveying and digging in the Dining Room during the late 60Ùs and early 70Ùs he would clock up over a dozen trips a month.

Dave wrote many articles on numerous subjects for the Belfry Bulletin over the years as well as a number of Caving Reports. The long awaited publication of the St. CuthbertÙs Report in 1991 along with the very detailed survey was the culmination of many years hard work and will remain as a testimony of his dedication and love of the cave.

As well as his membership of the BEC Dave was a founder member of BCRA and contributed many items to them for publication including most recently “Cave Studies Series” on “SwildonÙs 2 & 3”. Articles were also regularly published in the Shepton Mallet CC journal and as a member of the University of Bristol SS he was a contributor of numerous articles, many on obscure caving related subjects, to their proceedings.

Dave was also an Honorary Vice President of the Wessex CC and had been editing their long awaited “History of SwildonÙs”. The final copy of which he had just sent out for proof reading.

He was also a warden for the Mendip Rescue Organization from 1966 to 1982.

He co-authored four editions of “Mendip Underground”, the first two with Tony Knibbs and the later ones with Tony Jarratt. We all remember the phone calls and scraps of paper asking for final confirmation of a passage description or details on access. I even went underground at a very late stage in the completion of one copy to confirm some detail or other and to take a particular photograph that he wanted.

Like many of us Dave collected caving books new and old but his main passion in caving collectables was post cards. He literally had hundreds, we all bought them back for him from all around the world and he always wanted at least four copies of each one. The collection had a great number of Cheddar Caves and he even published a very large bibliography of them. I am sure he never knew how many he had but he did tell me once he thought it was around 50,000!

He chaired the Mendip Cave registry and in 1997 and again in 2005 compiled and published the two volumes of the Mendip Cave Bibliography

Over the last couple of years he also contributed monthly articles on Mendip Caving to the Mendip Times.

That is just a brief history of accomplishments for a man who did so much. I did not touch on his work life, but I do know he worked for a year in Los Angeles on the thrust reverses for ConcordeÙs Olympus engines. On his return in 1972 he purchased Townsend Cottage in Priddy where he remained until his death. He loved Townsend and had an open door for cavers old and young. Everyone went to him for information and 9 times out of 10 he knew the answer without looking it up. He was a mine of information and helped all who asked. You even got a cup of coffee if you could find a clean cup.

Being a youngster I did not know Dave as long as many of you here, only a mere 35 years, but as a fellow trustee of the BEC along with Nigel Taylor and the recently departed Barry Wilton, I know he always had the ClubÙs best interests at heart. He took me all those years ago on my first trip to sump one in SwildonÙs and we surveyed Wigmore together as well as a few other trips. We all have our own special memories of time with Dave and we will cherish these, and if there is a heaven, I am sure it will not be long before we see a high grade survey of it and all start receiving a collectorÙs pack of postcards from on high.

In true BEC style Dave throughout his life did EVERYTHING TO EXCESS, we will all miss him.

Farewell old friend.

An Ode to Wig on the Occasion of his Birthday (Opus 70)

to the tune of Brighton Camp, an 18th Century melody commonly known as “The Girl I left behind Me”

Words by Snab

(As sung at the great manÙs wake!)

Some men win fame and great acclaim, like Brunel or Charles Darwin
and their names grow big, for example Wig was once plain Dave Irwin.
Then he said one day, having lost his way, ‘IÙm off to the caversÙ purvey
IÙll get all the gear, my aim is clear; IÙll do the Cuthberts survey.

So with compass, clino and with tape, as far as I remember,
he mapped the underground landscape, from Whitsun to September.
For years and years and years and years, every crack and squeeze and streamway
and potential dig was checked by Wig, while doing the Cuthberts survey.

Now, for months on end, he would descend, to check, recheck or discard
until some friends driven round the bend would communicate by postcard.
He made an inventory of them till he got one from Chris Harvey,
saying, ‘this is Zot, Have you lost the plot? Have you finished the Cuthbert survey?

A curse did smite this Belfryite; he just had to list each item,
so locating nibs he began to write Mendip Underground despite ‘em.
The postcards then came flooding in, from Mulu, France and Torbay,
with queries from the Hunters Inn, ‘Have you finished the Cuthberts survey?Ù

The contents of his house did grow; he was trapped by books and postcards,
but was rescued by the MRO with the help of local coastguards.
The same age as the BEC he blamed, they blamed his failing memÙry,
as they pulled him out he was heard to shout ‘IÙve lost the Cuthberts survey!Ù

They searched WigÙs house all through the day, round Mendelssohn and Schubert,
while Swildons just got in the way, there was no sign of St Cuthberts.
Then a smile appeared across WigÙs face, and they cheered as he said ‘DonÙt worry,
ItÙs down at Tony JarrattÙs place, IÙve finished the Cuthberts survey!Ù


From the Belfry Table

Well greetings again from the Belfry Table!  Much is happening, both underground and atop the Hill.

It was a particularly sad start to the year with the passing of Harry Stanbury, Barrie Wilton and Dave Irwin, amongst several other long standing members.

Also though not members, but close friends of many in the B.E.C, Roger DorsÙ brother in law and ValÙs husband Phil, and Nigel Fraynes mother, Di Frayne. Both were particularly friendly people whose time had come all too early, and we extend the ClubÙs sympathies to their respective families.

There have also been a spate of both marriages and births amongst the younger members and this serves to demonstrate lifeÙs rich cycle – “Bobble” to Bob Whites daughter Roz “Rose” White, and a child to Rosie and Vern Freeman.

The event planned for HarryÙs Tree Planting was postponed due to planning problems and this will be held later in the year, probably in the Autumn, as will a retirement “Do” to mark the retirement as MRO Wardens of Tony Jarratt and Alan Butcher after many years of stalwart service!

Dave Irwin will be remembered again in the Autumn,  - though the date is yet to be confirmed, by way of a “Stomp” in memory of the Wig, which will follow on after an earlier in the day event - when a plaque erecting ceremony in St.Cuthberts will be held. It is intended that a memorial stone will be added in memory of all the incredible work Dave had undertaken in St.CuthbertÙs during his lifetime and the end result of his production of the impressive survey of the system. Further details will follow as arrangements are set in place.

Tony Jarratt et al are well at work on their “Caine Hill” Dig atop the Batch in Priddy. My informants advise that he has unearthed about a pound and a half slab of pure galena recently ….!

The MRO/ St CuthbertÙs Mock Rescue was held on Saturday 23rd.June and common consensus was that it was deemed a great success with various techniques being applied and tested in various regions of the cave. Many BEC members took part, and hopefully much useful experience was gained by younger members.

Mike Wilson and co, held a very successful weekend in the Forest of Dean, and a wide cross section of members attended with varied activities undertaken.

COMMITTEE 2008: Have you thought of playing a part in your Club? This is the first call to encourage anyone interested, to think of standing, to speak to me or any Committee member and make their presence felt, though traditionally as Secretary, I should call for nominations in August, the frequency of the BB might not match this date, so PLEASE… act soon if you are interested. All you need is to nominate yourself and be seconded by a ratified (full) member in writing and send it to the Hon. Secretary.

OFFICERS REPORTS are also now called for, in order that they can be published in time prior to the AGM, on Saturday 6th. October 2007.

The ANNUAL DINNER will be again at the Bath Arms, 7.30 for 8.00, Saturday 6th. October, MAKE A NOTE NOW!!!

Bob Smith is soon to build a “clay oven” at the Belfry, so if we are not careful, it may be the Shepton for T, the BEC for pizza and the WCC can still 4 coffee!!.

Time to get down from the Table!,     Have a Good Summer,

Nigel T,
Hon. Secretary, 24th. June 2007


Vale: John “Jingles” Williams 1956-2007

Henry Bennett

Back in 1987 John burst onto the Mendip caving scene.  For those of you who remember, those were heady days when the BEC regularly had a whip round for a barrel when the Hunters closed.  John was often at the forefront, pushing back the limits and taking the club motto to heart. Eventually he moved from London to live on Mendip to become more involved with the club. As well as a caver, he was also one half of the Belfry Boys who entertained many with their singing for several years in the 90s. Eventually after eleven years in the club he left to pursue other interests and was no longer seen much on Mendip.

After a long period of illness he finally succumbed and died on 20th March 2007.  His funeral was well represented by BEC members past and present. The following eulogy was given by his sister, Babs.


“The element potassium is a metal which, when dropped into water, dances fast and furious across the surface. Then quite suddenly it bursts onto the most exquisitely beautiful pink light. The light burns so brightly that it hurts you eyes. It is a really magnificent sight. So it was with John. He arrived in this world and danced, always trying to live life to the full. He was a very intelligent man who explored life in every way possible.

He explored the earth physically, both on land and at sea, through his passion for caving and scuba diving and in later years by combining the two when he took up the very challenging sport of cave diving. In all of these pursuits he was fearless and a great leader. For those of you who enjoyed these sports with him, you will know that he was enthusiastic and great fun to be with, always bringing a little bit of magic to any trip.

John also explored the world creatively. He had a great love of music and his tastes knew no bounds, as he loved rock, pop, folk and classical music equally. He was a very competent guitar player and enjoyed many years of singing and performing folk music. His creativity also expressed itself in the form of writing and he has written several short stories and poems and was actually in the process of writing his first novel.

John explored the world of technology and was a gifted computer whiz. He always astounded us with his ability to understand the latest cyber gadget to come on the market and I donÙt think he ever needed to read any instruction manuals!

John explored the world spiritually and had an in depth knowledge of most religions and beliefs. It was this side of him that made him a kind and caring person who was very generous with his spirit.

But for me he was the most wonderful brother. I could not have wished for better. He was always there for me through thick or thin and I will miss him dreadfully.

He was the light that burnt so very bright.

I will now read an anonymous poem, which I believe, conveys a message that John would want to leave you with.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there I do not sleep
I am a thousand wings that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain
When you waken in the morningÙs hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there”

Babs Williams


Hirlatz Expedition, 3rd-11th February 2007

Expedition Organiser: Madphil Rowsell
Report by: Andy Kuszyk

Participants: Peter Seethaler, Madphil Rowsell, Rich Hudson, Chris Jewell and Andy Kuszyk.

Apparently, according to Rich Hudson and Madphil Rowsell, the way to pack socks and your SRT kit is to pack your socks in your SRT kit, as well as fitting Snickers bars down those little gaps left at either end of your sleeping bag when itÙs wedged in a bag, and pilling as much as possible into your mug before trying to squeeze it in the billy can. It was only the first morning of the expedition, we hadnÙt even left for the cave, and already I was realising that I had much to learn about mostly everything.

To be fair to the guys, packing our bags well was definitely a priority. We all needed to fit as much gear in as possible to prepare for our seven-day camp in the Hirlatz cave, Dachstein, Austria. Madphil and Rich had done a carry into the cave (about half way to the end) the previous day but, even so, a significant amount of kit was still left to be taken in. Having arrived late the night before, I was frantically trying to fit everything in my bag on the morning of the trip.

With our bags weighing in at 17kg and my rucksack for the walk up to the cave standing at a blistering 24kg, we eventually set off up the snowy mountain side. Peter Seethaler picked out a route up the tricky slope towards the cave. After about 45 minutes slogging up the snow, feeling very glad I had pointy walking poles, we were trudging across a shelf of snow, pearly white, approaching the base of a towering Alpine cliff. Greeting me was the sight of the metre-wide entrance to what I was sure was the longest cave I would have ever been in.

I wasnÙt really sure what to expect from the cave, having heard bits and pieces from various people, but my overriding impression was that it was going to be big, with various Indiana Jones-style fixed aids. Having passed the entrance series, filled with icy pools and various ice formations, the cave did not disappoint. Ladder after ladder seemed to lead up enormous slopes only to deliver you at the head of yet more ladders leading down a similar distance. After a few hours we reached an awe-inspiring metal bridge spanning a 60m canyon that really serves as a tribute to the amount of work put in by Austrian cavers to make the journey in as efficient as possible (and very much reminded me of a scene from the Lord of the Rings!). Very soon, however, the cave started getting big(ger) and we began wandering through huge galleries and passages. Many were larger than any I have seen in Britain, making the Time Machine in Daren Cilau look like a small tube. Not only is the Hirlatz long, but it is also impressively sized, presumably due to its ancient lifespan.

After about 6 or 7 hours on our first day, we finally reached the first camp that we were to be staying at, Grunkogel Biwak. We brewed some dinner (dehydrated Indonesian rice!) and whilst the others headed back to retrieve the gear carried in the previous day, Rich and I retired to our bags to keep warm – a necessary activity since, by our best guesses, the ambient temperature was between 3 and 5oC.

The next day saw us make a swift Ready-brek breakfast before packing our bags and heading off. Strapping roll-mats to the side of our heaving bags, we still left 2-3 loads behind when we set off for the far west. We were to return for this extra gear later so that we could fully establish a camp in the west. By about 2pm we had reached Sahara. This was the site for our camp and is an impressively sized chamber, immediately before the final sump. Sahara was something else, filled with copious amounts of desert-like sand, stretching out around me beyond the limit of my faint LED light.

We established our camp in Sahara on a shelf of sand by one wall, quite close to the first aven we were to climb. Having dumped our bags and unpacked, Madphil and Chris prepared to start bolting using the petrol drill we had borrowed from the Austrians, whilst Peter, Rich and I headed back to the previous camp to collect the rest of the gear. After a couple of hours, we were all reunited back in Sahara and I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly the guys had managed to start bolting – after only about 2 hours they had managed to bolt about 15-20m up and across the wall of the chamber towards the aven itself. Rich and I continued to climb after Madphil and Chris had finished and by the end of the day we had managed to begin the ascent into the aven proper – not bad after a few hours on the job!

The third morning dawned cold and black. After someone had finally volunteered to get out of their sleeping bag to put on a brew, we enjoyed a hot cup of tea and some porridge before setting off to work. Madphil and Chris immediately began to continue climbing the first aven. Peter, Rich and I moved over to the second aven that weÙd come to look at, nearer to the entrance to Sahara. This aven had a long slope running up to vertical walls, so we began by bolting a traverse in order to reach the slope. Free climbing the slope lead us to the base of the chamber wall which Peter and Rich began to climb. In the afternoon, Peter took Madphil and Chris to look at other leads nearby, whilst Rich and I returned to finish the job with the first aven. MadphilÙs account of the top didnÙt sound encouraging and we soon found that the aven ended around 60m off the deck. At the top were a couple of tight, muddy rifts that led off, far too tight to squeeze into with no large amounts of space beyond. After having de-rigged the aven, Rich and I brewed some dinner, ready for the guys to return from their scouting trip.

Upon the return of the others, we shared the news of the close-down and started making plans for the next day. Madphil and Rich were going continue bolting the second aven, whilst Chris and I were to go with Peter to look at a lead further away.

The next day Peter led Chris and I to another large chamber a couple of hours away called Untertisch-Kathedrale (Under-table Cathedral). We took PhilÙs battery drill as well as the usual climbing gear and plenty of rope with the hope of starting to climb a large aven that had been spotted in previous years. Having crawled through large amounts of thick, sticky mud to reach the chamber, we began climbing up the loose and slippery slopes to the base of the aven, which was extremely muddy. In fact, the bottom of the aven (which was massive) reminded us of the bottom of any number of larger pitches at the top of the mountain – exciting stuff! We began the ascent and after a couple of hours fighting against many mud slopes and loose climbs we finally found ourselves facing another sheer cliff face that led up into the dark abyss above. We could do no more that day, not only had we run out of rope, but it was also getting late, so we decided to start heading back. We left our rigging in place, because next year the aven definitely deserves some serious attention.

Returning to camp we found that Madphil and Rich had already hit the sack having had another hard day in their harnesses. TheyÙd made significant progress, rigging about 70m off the deck with the aven showing no signs of stopping. Chris and I brewed up our dehydrated HunterÙs Stew and called it a night.

The next morning I allowed myself a lie-in, being pretty knackered from the late finish the day before, and when I awoke was greeted by an awesome sight. I could hear the distant sound of a petrol engine whirring and upon sitting up (presumably with perfect night vision from my 8 hours) saw the whole aven illuminated by the caving lamps of Rich and Madphil. The shaft was immense, with an enormous bridge stretching across its span part way up. The guys had climbed a long way but the shaft was still far from complete, tunnelling straight up into the unknown. It was a fantastic sight.

Chris and I spent the remainder of the day resting and cleaning our SRT kits (which were completely covered in thick, gloopy amounts of sticky mud) and some ropes, whilst Peter headed out of the cave alone. Madphil and Rich came down half way through the day before returning to the mammoth task of climbing what was definitely becoming a monster aven, at least in my eyes.

That evening, the remaining four of us headed over to a small inlet nearby so that Chris could practice a bit of bolt-climbing. The climb didnÙt lead anywhere in the end, but it was a good exercise and worth completing.

Thursday, our sixth day underground and last day in Sahara, dawned with a slightly urgent air to it. Chris and I were busy packing up the camp all morning, trying to sort out as much gear as we could, whilst the guys were making a last, desperate effort to reach so much as a ledge in the aven. However, after a few hours, their efforts were not wasted and we managed to gather from the echoing yelps that a discovery had been made. Although the aven was far from over and the roof was still completely out of sight, Madphil and Rich had reached a slope leading off from the aven that led into a chamber. From here, a passage led off but this was left for the Austrians to explore since the aven had been discovered by the Austrians around 10 years previously.

And thatÙs how we left it. Rich and Madphil came down, we packed our bags to bursting level, stowed what camping gear was remaining out of the reach of the spring floods and left Sahara. A few hours later we reached Hal Des Staynens (HDS) Biwak, a camp about 4 hours from the surface where we stopped for the evening. We had a leisurely dinner, treating ourselves to copious amounts of custard for dessert and began to discuss the prospects for next yearÙs expedition, a thought that we were all very keen on.

Four hours after setting off the next day, I found myself crawling through the low entrance. There was a howling draught rushing past me into a passage ending in a blazing slot that opened onto a stunning mountainside. The sky was a brilliant deep blue; the trees a thousand shades of green and the valley itself took up an incredible amount of space! Spending a week in the Hirlatz hadnÙt felt at all strange, but the sight of open hillside was certainly a beautiful one.

We donned walking boots and descended the entrance ladder onto the snowy slope that awaited us, spending the next hour or so slipping down the slope towards the bottom of the mountain. Arriving at the car park I felt both hungry and tired, but I also felt that weÙd definitely achieved something in the cave. WeÙd completed all of our objectives and confirmed a couple of very interesting leads, leaving plenty to be explored on future expeditions – a privilege that I hope IÙll be able to undertake in future.

My thanks go to Madphil for organising the expedition. RichÙs help was also invaluable, not least for sorting out some surprisingly tasty dehydrated meals. Peter Hubner deserves a special mention for, although he was ill and couldnÙt join us underground, he still picked Chris and I up from the airport and drove us all the way to Obertraun. Finally Peter Seethaler and the Austrian cavers deserve a thank you for allowing us the opportunity to explore the Hirlatz on what I can only describe as a first-class expedition. I would also like to thank the BEC for making the trip possible via access to the Ian Dear Memorial Fund. 



To see a full size  image of the above map click here.


Caine Hill Shaft - Priddy

By Tony Jarratt
Photos Tony Audsley

“Our Miners in digging dayly meet with these caverns, which are of different widenesses, some of them being very large;” – J. Beaumont, 1681

NGR ST55/5248.5103 Alt. 253m

Digging Operations 2003 – 16/5/2007

Desperately needing a change of scenery from the squalid conditions of Rose Cottage Cave a few of the team have recommenced work at this interesting site situated in the front drive of Caine Hill Cottage, Coxton End Lane, The Batch, Priddy. Beneath a manhole cover a 5m deep ginged shaft leads to a waterworn and steeply descending natural rift partly enlarged by the Old Men as they followed a calcite vein in search of workable lead or ochre. The shaft was uncovered by Priddy tree surgeon Tim Andrews whilst enlarging the entrance to his drive in 2003. It was covered with a metal sheet and below a now demolished dry-stone wall but it is now entered via a manhole frame fitted by Alan Butcher (SMCC) and the late Barrie Wilton (BEC). Mike Thompson (WCC) heard about it in the New Inn and in 2003 commenced digging with John Walsh (BEC), Dudley Herbert (BEC), Tony Audsley (BEC), Rich Dolby (BEC), Mark “Shaggy” Howden (BEC), Tim Andrews and others but they dropped out for various reasons after a couple of years and the place came up for grabs. Tim was very happy to see it dug again and is an essential team member as he gets the spoil disposal job. Research into the name Caine Hill has failed to yield much information as to its origin though it may refer to the hill on which The Batch group of cottages is situated. A workman at St. CuthbertÙs lead works, Silas Vincent, once inhabited the nearby Windy Ridge ( ? ) Cottage (now demolished) but there is no evidence to connect him with its excavation. The discovery of a possibly nineteenth century clay pipe bowl, some domestic rubbish and scattered animal bones – later identified as deer by Hannah Bell - may be derived from an earlier cottager with a taste for ‘baccyÙ and venison.

The writer had previously dug there on 16th August 2004 in company with John Walsh, Jeff Price and Matt Butcher (SMCC) when 51 bags of sandy clay and a few rocks were brought out and loaded onto TimÙs pick-up truck. Further work was out of the question, all the breathable air having been used up by the diggers. He returned on 19th March 2007 with Trevor Hughes to find an alloy rigid ladder in the shaft, a second one partway down and many full bags awaiting removal. Lots more were filled and a total of 50 were hauled out with a few more left for the next session. Trevor was overjoyed with the dryness of the place and the ease of digging. The writer returned on the 21st along with Phil Coles, Sean Howe, Hannah B, Bob Smith and Henry Bennett. Another 35 bags were hauled out and tipped into TimÙs truck, which he had parked alongside in anticipation. Passing Templeton diggers were astonished to see the BEC working on an obscure, unknown and apparently secret dig! On the 25th he was back along with Trev H, Bob S. and Tangent (surface operative) and another 31 loads came out. It was now obvious that we had gone beyond the Old MensÙ trial and were in completely natural, and very old, cave passage with probably glacial infill. Small phreatic solution pockets containing calcite boxwork emphasised this. Next day Trev and your scribe continued digging and after the timely arrival of Tony Audsley and Rich Witcombe a total of 39 loads came out – much to RichÙs delight as he quickly claimed most of them for infilling at Rose Cottage Cave. Tony also brought up some photos of the site taken before August 2003, some of which are reproduced here along with others taken this year. A chat with Tim revealed the fascinating information that when his new cottage foundations were dug over seven years ago the builders opened up a large, deep hole down which stones dropped for some time and which was apparently trending in the direction of the car parking area in front of Manor Farm on Priddy Green. This may have been natural or mined. The writer was once shown a very strongly draughting hole under the kitchen window of Tree Tops, The Batch – only a couple of houses away from Caine Hill Cottage and apparently the drainage from the septic tank in front of this house flowed freely into another hole so there is obviously something reasonably sized in this area (albeit malodorous!).

On the 27th March Trev H, on a solo trip, filled another ten bags and reported that the LH wall seemed to be undercut enough to allow further downwards progress though the narrowness of the passage was not encouraging. It became even narrower on the 28th when Phil C, Sean H, Jake Baynes and the writer filled another twenty-one bags. The total of 31 (and one frog) were hauled out by Bob S. and Hannah B. Next day your scribe returned to fill another twenty bags and prove that the rift was not pinching out, though digging in the constricted space was awkward.

April FoolsÙ Day saw some of the finest back at the working face. Trev H, the writer, Henry Dawson, Jane Clarke, Tim Ball and Fiona Crozier removed 54 spoil bags and did some tentative digging in the higher level of the rift as the bottom was beginning to narrow down. This problem was solved on the following day when your scribe, assisted by Tony A. drilled and banged the constriction to give more working space and used the vacuum cleaner to clear the fumes. They were later joined by Rich W, Paul Weston and Mike Hearn (the latter two “pressed” from the HuntersÙ) and 24 bags of clay and bang debris were hauled out for infilling at Rose Cottage Cave. Passing walkers thought that we were either mining (true!) or cleaning out a sewer. Another 22 loads came out on the 4th with Jake B. clearing the rift below the second alloy ladder, Pete Hellier and the writer working at the bottom and Phil C. and Darrel Insterell hauling. Seven bags were filled at the bottom on the 6th when your scribe drilled one shot-hole and the following day he drilled a second, charged the two with mixed diameter cord and gave Tim the chance to blow up his own cave! The fumes were again sucked out to pollute the pure Priddy air. The spoil from this bang was cleared on the 9th when Tony A, Bob S, Paul W. and the writer laboured underground while Mike H, Rich W. and Nicks Harding and Richards provided afternoon surface support. A total of 42 loads came out and the diggers were greatly encouraged by the opening up of a draughting hole on the right hand side just beyond the banged section - 13 metres from the entrance. Most of the spoil was taken away and dumped by Tim during the lunch break. Rich did a useful PR job by rebuilding the drystone wall opposite the driveway and Tony took more record images underground.

On the 11th April both the bottom and part way down digs were worked by Jake B, Sean H, John Noble, Paul Brock, Phil C. and your scribe with Bob S. as surface operative. 40 loads came out. Hannah B. took away bones unearthed by the previous diggers for identification at Wells Museum. Another 17 loads came out on the following evening when Jake B, the writer, Andy Norman and Ernie White (the Barnsley Boys) continued with both digs. Andy suggested that the crystallization is of hydrothermal origin and he collected a lump of dogtooth spar for further study. On the 15th Chris Batstone, Faye Lillington, Tim B. and the writer dug at both sites and Martin “Milche” Mills (SMCC), Bob S. and John “Tangent” Williams hauled 25 loads out (and one frog) with another 12 loads from the bottom dig coming out next day courtesy of your scribe and Paul W. 31 loads came out on the 18th with Jake B, Hannah B. and your scribe digging and John N, Phil C, Pete H. and Sean H. hauling. Jake and the writer returned to their respective favourite digs on the 20th when the former opened up a passage on the RH side of the upper dig with limited airspace and the usual soft clay floor. 11 loads from here were hauled out. Another 53 loads, mainly from the upper dig, came out on the 22nd when Trev H, Paul B. and the writer took turns at the face where the excellent calcite boxwork on the phreatic-pocketed ceiling was admired. On a solo trip next day your scribe continued digging here and was able to squeeze in some two metres. Further work here would require the removal of a layer of the solid rock floor and the lack of airflow is not encouraging. It is suggested that this short but attractive feature is called Boxwork Passage. Further excavation was continued at the lower dig where it is now possible to work beyond the entrance squeeze and bag up the multicoloured ochreous infill. The second aluminium ladder was replaced with a wire ladder to give more working space.

The two enthusiasts were back at their respective digs on the 25th April, accompanied by Alex Livingston and Sean H, the latter recording progress with his digital camera. A record 61 bags were hauled out in very poor air conditions. Many more bags were filled from both digs on the 27th – Jake B. concentrating on Boxwork Passage and your scribe on the lower site. 1 load came out but dire air conditions discouraged further work. On the 2nd May Bob S. and Hannah B. hauled out these full bags, 27 in all and two days later Jake B. filled up lots more at Boxwork Passage and the main rift below it. Bob S. returned on the 7th May and he continued here while the writer pressed on at the end where the sudden opening up of a tiny, draughting hole made air conditions far more pleasant and enthusiasm was re-kindled. 54 loads came out on the 9th May when Bob S, Hannah B, Jake B, Pete H, John N. and the writer turned up in inclement weather when the best place to be was underground; as it was the following evening when the latter filled several “Tesco” bags and removed a large rock at the end. He suggests that this passage is called Root 66 due to the enormous amount of said growths sprouting from the infill. More work was done at both sites, next day by their respective enthusiasts and on the 13th and 14th May the writer continued clearing sticky clay from Root 66. He carried on disinterring a large rock here on the 16th, aided by Phil C. who also dug below Boxwork Passage. The short scaffold tripod left by the original diggers was replaced with the trusty, telescopic alloy one recovered from a long sojourn at West Horrington Shaft but due to a lack of personnel only 2 loads came out.

The current length is c.19m.and the depth is c.12m. Work continues.

To be continued in BB 529. 

Upper Canada Cave

By Harding and Richards.
Bad Photos by Yer Ed. Good ones by Sean Howe.

In the ongoing quest to track down the Lost Hutton Cavern to add to the Catcott collection the Two Nicks reopened May Tree Cave that was last looked into in the 70Ùs by Chris Richards who suspected there might have been a way on at the end of a small chamber stacked with deads. In his quest Chris had found the initials DW candle marked on a wall down an apparent dead end. With this as a spur, David Williams a local man of the cloth had visited Hutton Cavern, the boys ploughed on.

Rather than wrestle with little stacking space in May Tree the Two Nicks deciding it would be easier to empty boulders upwards rather than struggle below, it was back to the surface. Digging down they found a small tight bedding chamber (after 5 months of toil) and an ochreous slope under which they found the other end of the boulder filled chamber. An old stemple (presumed) was found in the rubble over which it was concluded buckets were hauled up from below. At least for this section of the cave.

This was cleared (the nearest stacking space sadly was the connection to May Tree Cave) and a shaft was found, complete with large blocking stone, descending steeply but easily free climbable, its right-hand wall comprising of a huge pile of well stacked deads. This shaft descended into a series of low ochreous chambers that snaked back under and beneath the entrance shaft (as well as being below May Tree). A two hundred year old spade head was found at the base of the entrance shaft as well as a small number of Pleistocene bones (these have been given to Weston Museum), which were found amongst the boulders. Further evidence that perhaps this is generally the right area for the lost Hutton Cavern.

The last small chamber appeared to be a dead end but was merely a blocked squeeze. This was soon cleared with prestigious use of a lump hammer, and a tight, gently angled descending passage called Clay Pipe Passage, complete naturally enough with clay pipe, was followed for 10m or so to a 2 m drop into a chamber. In the ceiling of this chamber was a shaft that probably connects with something above – just where this connects is a mystery, as there appears to be no ‘downÙ connection in May Tree above. it will need banging of course. Looking gingerly up one can see several large boulders wedged into it, but quite what popping it will bring down is anyoneÙs guess.)

Through a narrow slot on the other side of this room both gained access to a chamber known now as Watership Down, after the unwelcome discovery of a rotting corpse of marooned rabbit. The walls here were relatively clean and ochre free. In the floor of this chamber was a narrow opening, which led into a long steeply descending rift The Combe – down which the miners had lobbed rubble the removal of which, in certain sections along the sides may reveal something interesting. The whole rift felt deeper than it appeared. The section is very airy but as yet from wither this air comes is anyoneÙs guess.

At the end of this rift stal covered boulders had blocked the way on, although void could be seen beyond – a half hour dig and the Two Nicks slipped through into a very large bedding chamber 15m+ long and 6m+ wide now known as The Field. Disappointingly this fizzled out or at least appeared to but at the far end there exist two or three possible digs into tunnels. This chamber was more than expected but less than hoped for but still a good find. It appears as though no one had been in there before as there were no scuff marks etc to suggest miners. The chamber was airy which suggested further connections.  Both Jrat and Jane C  - second and third pairs of eyes to visit Upper Canada Cave, busied themselves in the further extremities of the chamber and decided that perhaps it does go on. 

As can be seen from the survey the length is 77m but this leaves out the May Tree Cave the connection of which is now choked with boulder spoil.

ItÙs not Hutton Cavern but will add something towards the barrel!

We are of course rapidly running out of pits to open – this will either bring us closer or more disappointingly away from the lost Hutton Cavern. Either way weÙll know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. 

Thanks to Jrat, Jane Clarke, Madphil and Richard Marlow and to Dave and Bernard Cole, the landowners for their patience and generosity. 

NB. The cave entrance is on private land so visits have to be arranged through the Two Nicks.

In the diagram of the pits below – the entrance to Upper Canada Cave is the pit adjacent to Blind Pit.

The dynamic duo at the western end of ‘the FieldÙ

The surface entrance to Upper Canada Cave

The 200 year old spade head      Pleistocene bones from Upper Canada Cave


Meghalaya 2007 - Extending India's Longest and Creating its Third Longest Caves

By Tony Jarratt and Henry Dawson

“Hundreds and thousands of feet below the earthÙs crust, far from human view, lies meandering passages, waterways, spectacular sights in the form of stalagmites and stalactites, and rumbling waterfalls. Those who have explored the innermost depths of Meghalaya marvelled at the sights which greet them while exploring the caves that are abundantly found in different parts of the state.”

E.D. Marak, Minister, Information and Public Relations, Meghalaya.

“Natures Exotic Gift The Caves of Meghalaya” – Brian Kharpran Daly, 2006

The Team:-

India: Brian Kharpran Daly (M.A.A./G.S.G.), Shelley (nee Diengdoh) Syien (M.A.A.), Maxwell Syien (M.A.A.), Duohi Jeet, Com Mo Dias, Arki, Sngap Bha (Tongseng village).

Germany: Heidrun Andre (H.F.G.N.), Georg Baumler (H.H.V.L.), Rainer Hoss (H.F.G.N.), Herbert Janschke (H.F.G.O.K.).

Austria: Peter Ludwig (L.V.H.O.O.).

Switzerland: Thomas Arbenz (S.N.T.).

U.S.A: Barbara am Ende (N.S.S.).

Canada: Ian McKenzie (A.S.S.).

Ireland: Des McNally (U.D.C.P.C.), Brian Cullen (D.U.P.C.), Quentin Cooper (B.C.), Robin Sheen (B.C.).

U.K: Simon Brooks (O.C.C./G.S.S.), Mark Brown (S.U.S.S./G.S.G.), Tony Boycott (U.B.S.S./B.E.C./G.S.G.), Kate Janossy (G.S.G.), Tony Jarratt (B.E.C./G.S.G.), Neil Pacey (R.R.C.P.C.), Henry Rockliff (S.U.S.S.), Fraser Simpson (G.S.G.), Jayne Stead (G.S.G.), Peter Glanvill (B.E.C.), Phillippa Glanvill, Henry Dawson (B.E.C./R.U.C.C.), Joe Duxbury (G.S.S.), Amanda Edgeworth (S.W.C.C.), Mark Tringham (G.S.G.), Rhys Williams (S.W.C.C.).

Zoological Survey of India (Eastern Region Station):

Ilono Kharkongor (scientist), Silbaster Swell (collection tender), Madhar Soonar (lab. attendant), Gerald Japang (driver), Shinoti Kharkongor.

The Support Team:

Bung Diengdoh, Adison “Adi” Thabah (camp Gods), David Kimberley Pakyntein (driver/organizer), S.D.Diengdoh (bus driver), Jonathon Wanniang (driverÙs mate), Myrkassim Swer (chef), Munni Lyngdoh (Mrs. Swer), Vinod Sunar, Robin Gurung, Raja Paul, Champa Thapa, Radha Rawat (indispensable helpers), Bod Kharkongor (driver), Khraw Mylliem (driver).

Guides, Informants and Old Friends:

Evermore Sukhlain (Shnongrim), Larsing Sukhlain (Sutnga), Shor “Pa Heh” Pajuh, Kores, Gripbymon Dkhar (Semassi), Raplang Shangpliang (Shnongrim), Prusly Tangliang (headman, Semassi), Ramhouplien Tuolor (headman, Sielkan), Carlyn Phyrngap (were-tiger), Menda Syih, Na-U-Sukhlain (doloi, Nongkhlieh Elaka), Bill Richmond Marbaniang and the Meghalaya Police, the people of Sielkan, Semassi and the Ridge, Maureen Diengdoh, Robin Laloo and our friends in Shillong – and the staff of the Nazareth Hospital, Shillong.


Brian Kharpran Daly and the Meghalaya AdventurersÙ Association, the Government of India Tourist Office (East and North East India) – Kolkata, the Meghalaya State Tourism Dept, officials and government depts. within Meghalaya.        

Compiled from the Expedition diary, a G.S.G. newsletter article by Simon Brooks and Mark Brown and the writersÙ log books.

By 3rd February a team of five had assembled on the Shnongrim Ridge where our bamboo base camp was located and last yearÙs ultra-promising cave, Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) 3, was rigged by Henry R. He was joined by Robin and Brian C. and underground sites of interest were noted. Next day they were joined by Tony B. when they rigged Krem Wah Sning entrance pot to reach a 60m crawl and second pitch. Meanwhile more of us had gathered in Shillong and a select two hit the local beer to excess resulting in your scribe admiring the marble floor of the Cloud Nine bar from extremely close quarters! On the 5th two more pitches were dropped in Wah Sning and a complex series of walking and crawling passages entered, three of which were left unexplored. Henry R. and Quentin surveyed upstream through deep water in K.L.(M).3 to reach a sump – almost certainly the downstream end of the sump at the end of Video Passage in the 22km long Krem Liat Prah system ( IndiaÙs longest cave).

A stream sink, Krem Wah Sarok 2, was descended by Mark B, Robin and Brian C. on the 6th when a strongly draughting canal, almost blocked by flowstone, was reached after a series of classic pitches. More of the team arrived at the camp. On the 7th Mark B. rigged Krem Umsohtung in Lelad village (cleaner this year and losing its nickname of “Toilet Cave”) and, joined by Pete G, Phillippa, Barbara and Henry D, surveyed the remaining lead in the first upstream side passage. Due to Barbara being tired and dehydrated a slow, assisted and very late exit was made. Back at camp there was more excitement as your scribe was found unconscious as a result of his head-banging activities and was unceremoniously transported to the Nazareth Hospital in Shillong for a CT scan and a night under observation. He is very grateful to Dr.B, Jayne and Shelley for their concern and company and would like to state that the scan proved that he does have a brain! Meanwhile Des, Joe and Peter L. rigged two pitches in Krem Wah Sarok 3 and Henry R, aided by Brian C, climbed into high level passages in K.L.(M).3. One of these was surveyed by Neil and Quentin to a point very close to the attractive resurgence cave of Krem Rubong 1. Next day they returned with Mark B, Henry D. and Robin and continued the survey to a boulder choke where they fortuitously heard Pete G, Phillippa, Thomas, Barbara and Brian K.D. who were on a photographic trip in Rubong 1. The removal of a boulder allowed the ExpeditionÙs first major link to be made and the surveys to be connected. Much of the K.L.(M).3 streamway was also surveyed. In Wah Sarok 3 Joe, Des and Peter L. explored and surveyed.

They returned with Brian C. next day and pushed on down to make the second important connection when they popped out in Video Passage, Krem Liat Prah. A large team in K.L. (M). 3 surveyed and photographed and pushed a couple of unpleasant crawls. Others recced on the surface and the invalid and his minders returned to the Ridge to join in the fun. Much more surveying was done in K.L.(M).3 on the 10th with teams going in from both entrances. Some odd problems were found with loops failing to close and after discounting ghostly activity (the local spirit inhabits the adjacent Krem Wah Shikar) they were blamed on local magnetic anomalies. Further up the Ridge Brian C, Thomas and Peter L, guided by Raplang, found Krem Dngiem 1 (Bear Cave) and also, as a bonus, Krem Dngiem 2, Niang Ju and Toss Rock Pot.  200m of fossil passage was surveyed in Dngiem 1.

Sunday 11th saw Peter L, Brian C. and Quentin finishing the Wah Sarok 3 survey while Henry R, Joe and Peter G. dropped into the impressive jungle doline of Krem Moo Sata 1 to swing into an ongoing upstream passage 15m off the floor. The hope in this area was to find a link between the Liat Prah (“northern” Ridge system) and Krem Synrang Ngap (part of the “central” Ridge system). The writer and Des, meanwhile, abseiled into Liat Prah via SnowmanÙs Pot but failed to find the route to Video Passage. The survey of Dngiem 1 was continued by Tony B, Thomas and Phillippa resulting in 250m more in the bag while Mark B. rigged the End of the World traverses to reach a big pot. A c.40m pitch before this reached big passage. At K.L.(M).3 Neil, Robin and Henry D. completed the streamway survey and located a large, ongoing inlet. Barbara and Jayne continued the surface recce.

The K.L.(M).3 inlet was pushed next day by Neil, Phillippa and Quentin along 120m of flat out crawl to an aven. At Moo Sata 1 Joe, Henry D. and Peter G. rigged the opposite side of the great doline to find a downstream passage. The undescended pot in Dngiem 1 was dropped for 42m into Liat Prah at the junction of No Draught Passage and the Aircraft Hangar to give the third connection of the Expedition while nearby Barbara and Robin recced in the area of the Knee Wrecker Pots finding six new shafts. Tony B. and Jayne photographed bones and rescued a calf at the nearby Knee Wrecker 2. At Wah Sarok 3 Henry R. and the writer checked out Video Passage in the hope of connecting with K.L. (M). 3 but were confused by the old survey which bore little resemblance to the passages entered. Back at camp things were hotting up with first the welcome arrival of our German colleagues and later the decidedly unwelcome arrival of a delegation of twenty eight threatening coal miners demanding that we leave the area or our safety could not be guaranteed! The team discussed options and our friend Bill Richmond Marbaniang, chief of the Meghalaya police, was phoned. The next arrivals were a team of five biologists from NE India University and a well-armed squad of camouflage-uniformed para-military policemen who had been sent by Bill to guard us. All this fuss was due to forthcoming    environmental problems which will adversely affect the Ridge, its stunning and important cave systems, the biology and hydrology of the area and the lifestyle of the local villagers - though our worries are more about the rapidly developing quarrying industry than the less threatening coal mining, destructive though it has been to the once idyllic countryside to the north west. A Public Interest Litigation had been filed by the Meghalayan AdventurersÙ Association to the Indian Supreme Court in a bid to protect the Ridge and the mine owners were concerned that this would threaten their livelihoods.

On the 13th belongings were packed and caves de-rigged as the team prepared to leave while Simon arranged a meeting for the following day with Brian K.D, the police, mining representatives and a lawyer. Tony B. took the biologists into Krem Rubong 1 to take samples and photographs and Fraser managed to get some video footage during the de-rigging so the day wasnÙt completely wasted. Torrential rain heralded the day of the meeting and resulted in the police truck having to be towed up to the road. Biological work continued in Krem Wah Shikar where the two Peters and Barbara accompanied the scientists. Simon and Brian K.D. returned in the afternoon to announce that a favourable outcome had been reached with the miners and the Expedition could continue. Sighs of relief and celebrations all round!

Krem Dngiem 1 was revisited on the 15th when photography (Des and Mark B.) and videoing (Fraser) took place with the writer acting as reluctant model on the exposed End of the World traverses. Mark dropped the superbly decorated pot at the end into Trafalgar Square in Liat Prah then dropped the pitch below the End of the World into another part of the same cave – our fourth and fifth connections. In K.L.(M).3 Henry R, Ian, Brian C, Quentin, Phillippa and Neil continued surveying inlets both up and downstream. Joe, Barbara and Peter G. finished the Krem Moo Sata 1 survey and Pete photographed the cave. This was not to be the hoped for missing link. Robin and Peter L. bottomed Krem Moo Sata 2 (?) at 17m – another possible link written off. An eight strong Anglo-German team left camp for the Sielkan area where they would stay for several days in a bamboo hut on a less exotic diet but with no shortage of rice! The recent rain meant that the last 3.5 kms of road had to be walked carrying full kit to reach the path back to the village. Navigation problems caused the team to walk to the base of the hill and back twice before being rescued by a bizarrely equipped local with a digital camcorder who showed them a video of Georg! Eventually they gratefully collapsed in the headmanÙs hut with a brew of tea. 

Sielkan Pouk

On the 16th Peter G, Barbara and Thomas surveyed the connections from Liat Prah to Krem Dngiem 1 where Joe, Brian C, Fraser and Peter L. were surveying the traverse and Trafalgar Square Pitch. More photography and videoing was done and the cave de-rigged. Des and Robin descended the large collapse doline of Krem Umthymme and dropped a 5m pitch into a boulder choke which was dug to open up a squeeze and route through boulders to the head of a 15m pitch. At the ever popular K.L.(M).3 Quentin, Henry R. and Neil continued tidying up the survey. Mark B, Ian and your scribe returned to Krem Umsohtung to finish the downstream survey when a flowstone blockage halted all further progress. In the stunning river cave of Sielkan Pouk Georg, Kate, Herbert and Henry D. surveyed 620m of inlet at the end of Perfect Passage while Simon, Heidi, Rainer and Mark T. took photos. All then had a communal “cave bathe”. Perfect Passage was heralded as the most beautifully and extensively decorated passage yet seen in Meghalaya – and for many of the team it was the finest ever seen! Several branches of the system were explored but only the high level fossil passage and an inlet “went”. The main passage was left ongoing as time ran out.

At last, on the 17th, the spectacular Krem Labbit (Khaidong) system (the upstream part of Liat Prah) was revisited by Brian C. and Henry R. who examined several outstanding possible leads. Des, Fraser and Joe videoed and de-rigged Umsohtung while Neil, Robin and Mark B. rigged Krem Um Im 1 which needed resurveying. A fresh sump stopped progress after a couple of hundred metres so they de-rigged the cave and set off back to camp. Today the Gods were with them as a plume of warm air was noticed rising from a nearby doline – probably caused by the cold temperature following heavy rain. A draughting walking-sized passage was found and named Dragon Hole. It looked good. Not too far away a surface recce team of Quentin, Phillipa and the writer checked the Krem Waipong area and found three steaming and draughting caves roughly above the western end of K.L.(M).3. Peter L. and Thomas recced and mapped in the rarely visited area around Krem Umsngad at the opposite end of the Ridge. Others recced and found that Krem Wah Sarok 2 was correctly called Krem Heh U Reh. At Sielkan Pouk about 660m was surveyed by Georg, Mark T, Herbert and Henry D. in the fossil passage. This large and geologically interesting gallery followed the contact between the limestone and sandstone above. It was carpeted with gypsum needles but unfortunately choked, though there may be potential for digging. (Good man Henry!). Meanwhile Simon, Heidi, Rainer and Kate went bamboo maypoling downstream but with little result.

Sunday the18th saw Robin, Henry R. and Phillippa bolting up a wall at the side of the boulder choke at the end of Disto in Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and entering a continuing, large fossil passage. At Dragon Hole Fraser, Peter G, Barbara and Brian K.D. surveyed 149m to a 20m pitch. Videoing and photography was also done. Neil, Quentin and your scribe, back down K.L.(M).3, removed a boulder in the promising but low and exceedingly grotty “All Bound for Moomooland”. Beyond, more squalor led to a view through an impassable rift into bigger stuff beyond but without bang or caps there was no way of getting through into what was assumed to be part of  Liat Prah. The hoped for major link was thus left for a determined siege next year. A crowbar and reflector were left in the rift in case it could be found from the far side. Joe and Brian C. descended two pitches in Krem Dngiem 2 and got the ExpeditionÙs sixth connection by arriving in an aven just off No Draught Passage in Liat Prah. They surveyed the link. Mark B. and Peter L. rigged the old favourite, Krem Synrang Ngap, in preparation for a big push. At Sielkan Zuala Pouk was explored and surveyed for 36.39m by Simon and Henry D. but dense jungle obscured the whereabouts of Bak Pouk.

Bats – Sielkan Pouk

Despite the resolved problem with the coal miners it was around 3.15am sometime this week that Peter L, awake at the time, heard a shotgun being fired over the camp by a passing well-wisher and the pellets landing on the tents.

Next day Ian and Brian C. surveyed the new fossil passage in Krem Labbit (Khaidong) for over 200m to a choke. Robin and the writer took the supposedly easy option of Krem Wah Lukor 1, located within walking distance of the camp. This turned out to be a 9m deep blind pot with a narrow shaft to one side which has yet to be dropped and will connect with the adjacent Krem Wah Lukor 2 where a 30m pot was dropped into a series of horizontal passages intersecting a deep daylight shaft, Krem Wah Lukor 3, 17m above the floor. The cave had a good feeling about it.

Peter L, Des, Fraser, Barbara and Peter G. returned to Dragon Hole. A 23m pitch, canyon, traverse and 45m pitch led to a large passage or chamber. Photos and video were taken. Way down the Ridge Thomas and Brian K.D. followed the dry Um Sngad riverbed through a gorge to reach two flood-prone cave entrances below a cliff with a 5m climb down into a large passage. The big push in Krem Synrang Labbit involved Mark B, Henry R, Phillippa and Quentin who reached the impressive M.A.A. Chamber in 3 hours. They pushed on through draughting passage heading NE, the Kit Kat Trail, but ran out of time and emerged at 2.30am after a 14-hour trip. Imagine their delight when the planned radio contact failed and they had to walk home. Four more cavers arrived in camp today. At Sielkan a spectacular through trip was made from Sielkan Pouk to Pielklieng Pouk with 60m of new, high-level passage bagged on the way. This was found with the aid of the bamboo maypole but was only an oxbow.

Stal – Sielkan Pouk

On 20th February local stars Pa Heh and Kores, accompanied by Henry R, joined Robin, Mandy, Rhys, Joe and the writer at Krem Wah Lukor 2 in order to identify the daylight shaft located in a patch of jungle. In the cave more rigging and surveying was done until the rope ran out at a 10m pitch into a large passage at right angles. At Sngad River Sink Peter L, Thomas, Max, Shelley, Fraser and Brian K.D. explored and videoed. Large washed in trees were a hazard! The Dragon Hole team of Neil, Des, Brian C. and Pete G. dropped the 50m pitch into the ceiling of the Grand Trunk Road in the Krem Um Im 6 section of, guess where, Liat Prah to get the seventh connection of the Expedition. Another 600m was surveyed by Georg, Herbert, Mark T. and Rainer in Sielkan Pouk along Footprint Inlet before running out of time.

Simon, Kate, Heidi and Henry D. were guided to a blind 50.5m deep shaft through sandstone into limestone and because of the localsÙ tales called it Ongoing Cave. It dropped down to a rift with climbs that tapered down in size – not going! The villagers called it the “hole with no end” and it was described by the headmanÙs wife as “the hole, which, if a stone is dropped down, it will fall for five minutes”. (ThatÙs deep!).

The 21st was the occasion of the Moolasngi village fete which most of the camp dwellers attended. Sadly there were no fighting bulls at the event. Six of them then changed places with the Sielkan team. At K.L.(M).3 Quentin, Henry R. and Brian C. tidied up the survey while Neil, who had forgotten his helmet, located a rift passage and three shafts on the walk back to camp. The latter may have been Krem Skap 1,2 and 3. Joe, Barbara and Peter G. went to Krem Iap Ksew ( Dead Dog Cave) and a nearby steaming rift, which they named Dog Breath Cave. In one of these Joe dropped a 10m pitch into some 50m of ongoing canyon passage. Robin, Peter L. and your scribe were back at Krem Wah Lukor 2 and the final pitch was dropped into the farthest upstream end of the superb, 14km long Krem Umthloo – the writerÙs baby!

This was Expedition connection number eight and particularly satisfying as it was likely to herald further exploration in this very fine, and far from finished, system. The Sielkan Pouk team of Simon, Georg and Heidi had a photographic trip before heading back to camp. With the others they hiked out to find no waiting jeeps and wondered if the miners had had their way. These turned up three hours late and without beer (!)  but the relief was such that the drivers  were forgiven.

DogBreathCave or Krem Iap Ksew 2 was revisited on the 22nd by Quentin, Pete G. and Barbara who surveyed 70m to the top of a 24m pitch. Peter L. and Simon surveyed in Sngad River Sink and reached a sump. Robin, Mark T. and Joe were in the same area. The writer, Ian and Neil revisited Video Passage in Krem Liat Prah via Krem Wah Sarok 3 - fully intent on sorting out the fictional survey but were gobsmacked when they realised that survey stations found were of very recent origin and that they had unwittingly connected with Krem Wah Sning – link number nine of this very lucky Expedition! Not trusting a rope protector on the big pitch they left Liat Prah by the main entrance having completed the first through-Ridge trip in the lower part of the system. Heidi, the two Henries and Brian C. surveyed 144m in Krem Dngiem 2. Mark B, Phillippa, Mandy, Rhys and Fraser videoed and photographed in Pielklieng Pouk then most did the through trip.

On the 23rd Quentin, Peter L. and Mark T. dropped a pot and pushed a squeeze in Krem Iap Ksew 2 then followed a streamway to more deep pitches which Peter bolted while the others surveyed 3 Rats Passage – complete with itÙs particularly active and apparently “cuddly” residents! Mark B, Phillippa, Mandy, Rhys and Fraser photographed and videod in Pielklieng Pouk before returning to camp. Robin, Des, Ian and Neil descended Krem Wah Sarok 3 to survey and confirm the link to Krem Wah Sning from Video Passage in Krem Liat Prah. In Krem Labbit (Khaidong) Brian C, Kate, the Henries and your scribe checked all possible leads near the Krem Chuni entrance including a high level passage which the Henries bolted up to (amongst a spray of vomit from one of them!). The only one of interest led to a dodgy vertical boulder choke with an open, stepped aven above which either needs bolting for safety or dropping into from the surface. Eight of the team set off for Semassi village where Peter G, Georg, Joe, Simon, Rainer and Heidi took a bamboo maypole into Krem Tyngheng to check high level leads in this fascinating and labyrinthine river cave.  

Next day Mark B, Quentin and Phillippa recced in the Dukan Sha and Lumthari areas finding a blind 30m shaft (which may have been Krem Kacha and some entrances in the base of the escarpment NE of the chai shop. At K.L.(M).3 Kate, Henry R, Mark T. and Rhys pushed three climbs, which led to short lengths of passage. Krem Wah Sning was visited by Robin, Ian and Brian C. to survey a couple of passages and check out an aven for a possible link to K.L.(M). - in vain. The writer, Neil and Mandy took the chance to carry on a project attempted last year but foiled by poor route finding. Krem Myrliat 1 was dropped (after confusing it with the undescended and adjacent Krem Myrliat 2) into the far reaches of the 14km long Krem Umthloo (part of the Southern System) and a couple of inlets leading north from one of the main upstream feeders were checked. Your scribe had noticed the proximity of these inlets to the 4km long stream cave of Krem Synrang Labbit (part of the Central System theoretically feeding the Krem Iawe resurgence at the far eastern edge of the Ridge and with a potential length of over 20kms) and had a wild idea that they may be connected. After a couple of blind passages we reached Letter C Gallery, explored and surveyed to an apparently too low crawl by Thomas Matthalm and team some years ago. A strong outward draught was followed through a roomy but muddy low section to reach two fine avens, which were not on TomÙs survey and with a dearth of survey stations. Beyond these, and at a total distance of only 134m from known passage a sluggish streamway was met flowing from left to right in a rather complicated area of chambers, chokes and low, muddy passages. Here an obviously differently marked survey station was found and tied into. Confusion then reigned as the explorers argued as to where the Hell they were! After a snack of Britannia coconut biscuits they headed out – filthy, wet and tired but keen to compute the survey figures. Mandy got this job and all were soon admiring the perfect fit of the ExpeditionÙs tenth and most important link. Umthloo and Synrang Labbit were now IndiaÙs 3rd longest cave at 18kms and part of the revised Southern System – the Central System now being redundant! A link with the Northern System of Krem Liat Prah and its satellites is now the project for next year and would be well on the way towards the creation of a 100km + Meghasystem. As German Tom and Austrian Peter L. had failed to push low passages from both sides this new link was named (with tongue in cheek) after our biscuits – the Britannia Connection! Suitable celebrations were held that evening. In Krem Tyngheng Georg, Heidi, Rainer and Peter G. surveyed 483m of maze passage while Simon, Barbara, Herbert and Joe pushed and surveyed passages in the Fossil River Series.

On Sunday 25th February Mark B. rigged a series of pitches in Peaceful Cave, Lelad, whilst Rhys and Brian C. surveyed. At base level small and decidedly unpleasant draughting ducks drove them back out. Krem Wah Shikar was visited on a tourist trip for Tongseng village lads Duohi Jeet, Com Mo Dias, Arki and Sngap Bha, led by Robin, Fraser and Des. They thoroughly enjoyed it and were duly photographed and videod. At Dukan Sha chai shop Henry D, Peter L, Mandy and Phillippa explored and surveyed 350m of spider-infested small passages, a larger fossil passage and a streamway / canal in a low level cave apparently called Krem Son Pow 2 and nicknamed “Drunken Goldfish Cave” when it was realised that “son pow” was their guideÙs request for “more money”! It later became Krem Kdong Thloo. Neil, Henry R. and Kate bottomed Krem Mih Dohtli 2 at 20m after two short pitches and Krem Mih Dohtli 1 after a 25m-drop to boulders. Quentin, Ian and Mark T. went to Krem Iap Ksew 2 and failed to descend the last shaft “due to blind shafts within the shaft, before locating a 15m draughting shaft”. At Krem Tyngheng a total of 533m was surveyed by the same teams as the previous day to the NW and SW of the main passage.

Krem Iap Ksew 2 was revisited next day by the same team who finally bottomed and surveyed the pitches and got the ExpeditionÙs eleventh connection when they tied into survey station 105 in Krem Shyien Khlieh just north of the camp. Fraser, Des and the writer descended Krem Wah Lukor 2 to the ledge with a stunning view of the Pinetree Pot daylight shaft, Krem Wah Lukor 3, in order to video Henry R. and Peter L. abseiling in from the open shaft in the jungle where a 1.5m long snake had earlier been seen. After almost two hours of waiting and listening to Henry drilling and whistling somewhere above the cameramen got fed up and mutinied. The writer descended the next pitch to suddenly see Henry appear high in the ceiling of a towering aven offset from the daylight shaft. The “Snake Shaft” was not the correct one but had also connected (Expedition link number twelve) via a window reached by a desperately exposed traverse above a blind, 40m deep shaft. It thus became Krem Wah Lukor 4. With some very imaginative rigging Henry reached the floor, followed by Peter who de-rigged Krem Wah Lukor 2 while Henry and your scribe surveyed out and de-rigged 4, at one point pausing to admire a small, black and deadly-looking scorpion resting on the cave wall. The aven became “Tubular Bells Pot” after the tunes played on the superb formations decorating its walls, and the views from the window – 40m above the floor and with a 40m-drop only some 4m away on the other side – were spectacular. Crossing the traverse scared the shit out of one particular old Mendip git with a headache! Robin, Neil and Kate went to a supposedly new pot named B6 but found it to have been previously bolted. 45m and a 25m pots were dropped to a lot of awkward, draughting cave ending in a small streamway. They were informed that it was Krem Syrnum – partially explored in 2002 but positioned incorrectly on the map. Phillippa, Henry D, Mandy and Rhys continued surveying for 175m in Krem Kdong Thloo, mainly in upstream walking-sized passage whilst Mark B. and the Brians surveyed 635m downstream and through a duck to an entrance shown to Mark two days earlier. Simon, Heidi, Herbert and Peter G. surveyed some 200m in a maze of wet, downstream passages in Krem Tyngheng then walked back to camp, feeling somewhat vulnerable as they trekked through the mining settlements! Tyngheng, the never ending cave, was left with 30 unexplored passages!

Nice Passage!!

February 27th and the last caving day of the Expedition. Krem Synrang Ngap saw the Marks, Henry D. and Brian C. pushing several grotty side passages in the far reaches and failing to find the major connection to Krem Synrang Labbit while Henry R, Heidi and the writer went for the soft option at the much closer downstream choke – two boulders were blocking the way to black space beyond. They were lucky to get there as Heidi sustained a badly twisted ankle en route but insisted on continuing. Here Henry produced his not very secret weapon – three “snappers” made from shotgun cartridge black powder scrounged from Pa Heh, inserted in drilled holes, tamped with cornflour and water paste and electrically fired one at a time. The first failed and the others produced smoke and noise but little else. It was a good effort though. A calcite rib on the wall was then chiselled off just enough to allow the skinnier Mendip member of the team to squeeze through and enlarge the place from the far side so that Henry could join him. They explored some 160m of huge and splendidly decorated high-level passage ending in a proper boulder choke with several ways on down in the floor. It was named “Adventurous Hobby ExplorersÙ Hall” following a derisory comment from one of our Germanic colleagues! Lack of time prevented surveying or pushing but it will be a great start to next yearÙs trip. There is a good chance of connecting with Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo and / or Krem Bir 1 or even of bypassing these altogether and heading for Krem Iawe. Robin, Joe and Kate pushed on in Krem Syrnum and got the thirteenth and final connection of the Expedition when they appropriately dropped into the old favourite Krem Liat Prah to bump up the length of IndiaÙs longest cave to 26kms. Great stuff! A large Sngad River Sink team clocked up a lot more metres in this seemingly endless maze cave.

The following day all packed up, bid a fond farewell to the Ridge and its amazing cave systems and returned to Shillong where Daniel Gebauer, Sebastian Breitenbach and Norbert (?) had arrived – too late to join us but intent on doing their own thing. Andre Abele had been with Daniel in another part of India and he was met later in Calcutta on his way home.

Mark Tringham post dump?

The evening of 1st March was spent at the lakeside residence of Robin Laloo where many partied the night away before leaving for Guwahati and Calcutta on the 2nd. The 3rd was Holi festival and many of the team, particularly Phillippa, got plastered in the traditional coloured powder or liquid dispersed on this occasion. Cold beers at the Fairlawn finished the day and by 2.15 on the afternoon of the 4th Dr. B. and your scribe were supping proper ale in the HuntersÙ after a very successful, if somewhat traumatic, Expedition with 16kms surveyed and 13 important connections established. Apart from the above lots of people spent days recceing, rope washing, computing data and drawing up surveys. Fraser and Phillippa introduced a novelty item with a spoof video of “Big Brother Meets Father Ted” – essential viewing at this yearÙs Hidden Earth Conference! The usual thanks go to all those who worked hard in many ways to accomplish this and particularly Maureen and Brian for again letting us turn their house into a transit camp and caving hut.    

Some facts and figures

24 caves, 16 of which were previously unexplored, were surveyed and photographed resulting in almost 16 kms of passage, 11.8 kms of this being on the Ridge where there is now 138 kms – the greatest concentration of cave passage in one area on the Indian sub-continent. The total length of passage found by these Meghalayan Expeditions is now over 310 kms in 653 caves with another 450 yet to be explored! The Krem Liat Prah system was extended from 22.202 kms to 25.225 kms and the almost connected Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) 3 from 649 metres to 3.775 kms. Its connection with Krem Rubong 1 gave a final length of 4.590 kms. The Krem Umthloo / Krem Synrang Labbit system has jumped into third place at 18 kms. Krem Tyngheng went from 7.752 kms to 9.221 kms and the Pielklieng Pouk / Sielkan Pouk system from 10.428 kms to 12.434 kms. Two promising caves for next year are the Sngad River Sink at 1.265 kms and Krem Kdong Thloo at 1.185kms. Much of the Ridge exploration was greatly helped by Thomas ArbenzÙs magnificent map to which he has dedicated most of his limited holidays. A reduced and simplified version appears with this article. 

The Longest and Deepest Limestone Caves in the Indian Sub-continent – March 2007-04-17

1.         Krem Liat Prah System – 25.225 km.
2.         Krem Kotsati / Um Lawan – 21.53 km.
3.         Krem Umthloo / Synrang Labbit18.091 km.
4.         Synrang Pamiang – 14.157 km.
5.         Pielklieng Pouk / Sielkan Pouk – 12.434 km.
6.         Krem Tyngheng – 9.221 km.
7.         Krem Shrieh – 8.862 km.
8.         Krem Mawkhyrdop – 7.194 km.
9.         Krem Lymput – 6.641 km.
10.        Mondel Kol – 5.831 km.

1.         Synrang Pamiang – 317m.
2.         Krem Kotsati / Um Lawan – 215m.
3.         Krem Umjasew – 197m.
4.         Krem Umthloo / Synrang Labbit – 188m.
5.         Pielklieng Pouk / Sielkan Pouk – 180m.
6.         Pakaw Pouk – 170m.
7.         Krem Shrieh - 169m.
8.         Krem Risang – 154m.
9.         Krem Wah Ser - 145m.
10.        Krem Shyien Khlieh – 143m.

All are located in Meghalaya state.

Selected references

Belfry Bulletins 516, 519, 522, 525, 527 (This diary article was published in error, all information therein being included in the article in 525).

Grampian S. G. Bulletins 3rd Series, Vol. 5 Nos. 4, 5.  4th Series, Vol. 1 Nos.2, 5.  Vol. 2 Nos. 2, 4.  Vol. 3 No. 1.


Rana  Hole,  Assynt -  the  Saga Continues.

By Tony Jarratt
Photos by Paul Brock

The article on page 36 of BB 527 (not listed in the contents!), having failed to lure any new diggers to this epic project, it was a very limited “Mendip Invasion” that headed the 625 miles north at the end of February. From the Hill; Paul Brock and your scribe, from Chard; Peter and Philippa Glanvill and, later in the week, the Bristol contingent of Tony Boycott and Jayne Stead. Mark Brown and Norman Flux had travelled up from Sheffield a few days earlier in the trusty “big van full of more digging technology”. Perfectionist Norman had designed a winch with three cycles in parallel to replace the tandem version and had thought up various improvements to the hauling system. They were joined by Edinburgh digger Roger Galloway. Derek Guy drove up from Stirling and arrived with the Mendip team to find that the lads had, thankfully, already transported the new winch up the mountain and were in the process of fettling it.

Mark fettling the headgear while Norman adjusts

the ‘Fluxcavator Mk 5Ù cycle winch

On the 29th February seven diggers set off up the Allt nan Uamh valley in glorious weather but with extremely strong wind. Your scribe, dressed in green wellies and a pale blue and pink tartan fleece suit and carrying two conspicuous road signs provided much amusement and curiosity to several walkers visiting the Bone Caves. Trying to explain what he was doing was not easy and the road signs were much regretted when he rounded “windy corner”, just beyond the Bone Caves, and was blown off his feet by a strong gust. With an almost vertical drop down to the valley floor he got away lightly but practically crawled the rest of the way. At Rana Hole he joined Paul to fill bags with spoil while the engineers continued the good work. 17 kibble-loads of spoil were hauled out, mainly from the now collapsed pile of mud and rock to the rear of the floor of the shaft. Much junk was also pulled out and a huge perched boulder was drilled and banged. Red dye was dumped into the trickle of water sinking at the bottom but was not detected in the underlying Uamh an Claonaite when visited by Simon Brooks later in the week. Does this mean that Rana goes somewhere else? Time will tell. While all this was going on Pete, Philippa and Derek, after a tourist trip in Claonaite, had found a possible new cave near the main stream sink. This was tentatively called Three GÙs Cave for lack of a local name and was later dug and banged before the team headed down for libations at the Inch.

Next day there was no support for Rana so Paul and the writer drove north to Durness and Smoo Cave. Here they abseiled the 24m deep Falais Smoo (Chimney of Smoo) directly into G.S.G. member Colin CoventryÙs inflatable dinghy which he had paddled across the lake chamber below: he runs short tourist trips in the cave. After inspecting his dig above the flowstone barrier at the end of the large inlet stream passage they were ferried out to the landing stage at the Starrsach (cave threshold) before heading to the Smoo Cave Hotel for replacement of lost body fluids. Earlier in the day a salmon sandwich had been purchased here for ColinÙs lunch and delivered to him by the simple expedient of chucking it down a skylight in the roof of the cave – “fast food” indeed! The extremely dry conditions had made todayÙs abseil a pleasure as usually the whole of the Allt Smoo stream accompanies one down the pot making the descent spectacular, noisy and bloody wet.

Overall view of the dig

Back at Rana on May Day, after a diversion to clear some 3m of spoil from Three GÙs Cave, Paul and the writer continued digging, rock breaking and bag filling at the bottom while the engineers fettled away above them. The three GÙs themselves later assisted and, watched by a Golden Eagle, 70 kibble-loads of spoil were winched out. The Mendip duo walked back down via the ridge of Beinn an Fhuarain surrounded by spectacular vistas and feeling too warm in T-shirts at 7.30pm! They were so impressed that they mobile-phoned the absent Jane Clarke to describe the view and inform her what she was missing. Photos were taken as evidence.

The walk up the valley was almost too hot next day and it was good to get underground. Another 70 loads of spoil and one toad came out courtesy of the new winch – the “Fluxcavator Mk. 5”. Tony Boycott, Jayne Stead and Julian Walford assisted Norman, Paul and the writer today and the others went walking or climbing in the continuing heatwave. Sunburn was suffered by several of the team!

Julian, Mark and your scribe returned on the 3rd to fettle, bail and dig. There were too few people to winch, as A.N.U.S. Cave and Three GÙs Cave were being visited, photographed and dug.

A thirsty man but nattily dressed!

(The colour scheme is spectacular. Ed)  

A large team made up for this on the 4th with Ivan Young, Norman and Paul below and Mark, Julian, Philippa, Tony and the writer on cycle duty. 120 loads came out including a large, netted boulder and several drums of water. The rather obvious spoil heap was pretty much levelled at the request of George Vestey, the landowner. He is happy with the dig as long as his deer are not molested. As if…

Another 70 loads came out on the 5th when Norman, newcomer Caroline Stubbs and your scribe went below and Mark, Paul, Ivan, Philippa and Julian put up with the gradually changing weather conditions on the surface. This was the last day and with a total of 347 loads out and the eventual perfection of the new hauling system all were satisfied. The site was “put to bed” and the redundant tandem winch painfully wheeled back down to the road before celebrations took place at the Inch. Richard, the landlord, was not well today after having overdone it with hotel residents and Jamaican reggae band the Skatalites * until 5.30 am.

During the week Simon Brooks and the Glanvills dived in Claonaite with Fraser Simpson videoing and Simon also dived and dug underwater in the Cnoc nan Uamh System upstream sump. A few other minor caves were visited and Hugh Penney, Marco?, Carol Walford and Kate Janossy got some climbing in. A magnificent week - and not a midgie in sight!

Brockers in A.N.U.S Cave

* ‘The Skatalites meet at King TubbyÙsÙ is a particularly good album featuring the fine drumwork of Leroy ‘HorsemouthÙ Wallace.  Ed. Iree!


Rose Cottage Cave  - Connecting the Entrances and Other News

By Tony Jarratt

“Well, if you know of a better ‘ole, go to it.“  -  C. B. Bairnsfather

Continued from BBs 522-527.

Further Digging: - 15/12/06 – 30/12/06 and the connection.

On 15th December J.C. and T.J. pumped out the pool in the Inlet Tube of the Surface Shaft and filled around eighteen bags with sloppy, gravelly mud. Two days later these two were joined by T.H. and 43 loads were hauled out. Another thirteen bags were filled by T.J. on the 18th and stacked ready for removal. R.W. and T.A. continued with the ginging project. On the freezing cold night of the 20th, after the team had hauled out 15 loads, P.B. and T.J. dug and stacked over a dozen full bags of squalor from the Inlet Tube while H.B, P.C, S.H. and P.H. established further hammering contact from PaulÙs Personal Project in the main cave but were still baffled by the direction in which to dig. The annoying puddle here was drained and 12 skip-loads were hauled out. J.C. filled six bags in the Inlet Tube on the 22nd during a session of “soggy digging” and later that day T.J. filled eleven skips at P.P.P. where he attacked a new site about half a metre above the dig by the drained puddle. This seemed to be a steeply ascending phreatic bedding plane with a stringer of grey organic mud – identical to the Inlet Tube and a good contender for the connection. Masses of heavily calcited breccia blocked the route and were almost impossible to hammer off so next day T.J. and J.C. returned armed with the Hilti drill and detonators. An experimental session of  “micro-blasting” resulted in the removal of two skip-loads of breccia and rock and considerable confusion on the wisdom of wiring detonators in series and using a flat firing battery. The resulting supposed misfire was checked by T.J. and J.C. on Christmas Eve and they were relieved to find that the detonator had actually gone off and was intact enough to provide the latter with an interesting festive pendant. Some token digging was done but the warmth of the Belfry soon lured them away.

With T.J. off to Sutherland for a weekÙs digging at Rana Hole this left J.C. to continue alone at the Surface Shaft side and on the 28th she filled several bags with slop and frustratedly wrote in the log book “How much further can it be?” She was  joined next day by T.H. when the misery of the Inlet Tube drove them to P.P.P. A suggestion that an iron fence rod should be thrust into the dig face just above the micro-blasted site led to J.C. returning to the Inlet Tube where she almost got her eye poked out when the eternally over-enthusiastic T.H. applied this technique! Another hour or so of digging enabled the connection to be made and the first exchange trip done. H.B. and Doug Harris (MCG) did the second one following a drilling session at Plan B Dig on the 30th. This was the last trip of the year.

Halfway and Plan B Digs:- 3/1/07 - 9/5/07.

A major clear up at the Inlet tube and P.P.P. took place on the 3rd January when over 70 loads were hauled out via both entrances and much of the digging gear removed. The tidying team was M.S, H.D, H.B, B.S, Hannah B, S.H, T.J, A.V. and P.H. Halfway Dig was visited by J.B, J.N. and P.C. who continued clearing spoil from the site and gave thanks that the connection dig was over so that they could recruit the staff. R.W continued with the entrance walling on the following day.

Plan B Dig was banged by H.B. and T.H. on the 7th while J.C. and T.J. cleared rocks from Halfway Dig and dumped them further down the cave in any convenient space available. On the following day R.W. continued drystone walling while T.A. extended the length of the steel ladder in preparation for its permanent emplacement in the Surface Shaft entrance. More clearing of both digs took place on the 10th by H.B, H.D, T.J, P.C, B.O, A.L. and Hannah B. On the 14th January T.J. and J.C. continued removing rocks from Halfway Dig and also pumped out the pool in the lower Surface Shaft dig in order to flush out the connection crawl. The Surface Shaft steel ladder was finally bolted and cemented in position by T.A. and R.W. on the 15th. Two days later H.D. and H.B. drilled 13 shot-holes at Plan B Dig and fired a mighty charge while at Halfway Dig J.N, P.C. and A.L. continued clearing while P.B. gave them the benefit of his recently perfected dig engineering knowledge. Four other regulars succeeded in escaping the mayhem to visit other clubsÙ digs – J.C. and T.J. to bang the West Passage chokes in Upper Flood and S.H. and P.H. to assist the Shepton in Gibbets Brow Shaft. More digging and clearing at Halfway took place on the 22nd January when J.B. and T.J. shifted a large amount of mud and rock and measured the spoil rift for future scaffolding. Two short lengths of this were taken down on the 24th by J.B, T.J. and Rob Harper. More clearing was done at Halfway and a three shot-hole cord charge was laid in two boulders to give future working space. H.B. and H.D. continued clearing at Plan B Dig and fired the Halfway charge on their way out. The Henries were back at Plan B on the 28th but due to damage of the electric cable caused by rocks thrown down from Halfway Dig no drilling could be done so they assisted T.H. and T.J. with disposal of said rocks. The bang debris was cleared from Halfway and another charge fired on the half-boulder remaining.

The 29th January saw R.W. and T.A, briefly assisted by T.J, continuing with the shaft walling, spoil heap walling and general tidying up of the site. Two days later H.B. and T.J. fitted the scaffold bars in the Halfway Dig spoil rift. H.B. then drilled thirteen shot-holes at Plan B Dig while T.J. and P.C. continued clearing Halfway. The former then joined H.B. below to assist in charging the holes with mixed cord before firing on the way out. The spoil was cleared on February 11th by H.B. and Rich Bayfield who then “drilled for England”. Three days later H.B. and S.H. laid and fired a 14 shot-hole charge here.

The 17th and 18th February saw T.A. at the Surface Shaft where he “Sneaked in some concrete blocks … while Richard wasnÙt there. (Fixed the foundations for the gate).” He and R.W. continued walling next day and on the 20th R.W. fixed the spoil heap wall and steps.

Halfway Dig was visited by J.B, P.C. and P.H. on the 21st when photos were taken and two scaffold poles inserted as shoring. No digging took place due to lack of dumping space.

On the 26th February H.B. and Hannah B. returned to Plan B Dig (after an abortive trip on the 18th when bad air stopped play) and did some clearing in more breathable conditions. The same area was visited by J.C. on 3rd March when she led a tourist trip for Dominic Gane, Steve and Claire Footitt and Peet Stracey. The problem today was exceptionally wet conditions, which soon drove them back to the Belfry. Allegedly the inflowing stream had been coerced to go down the new entrance by T.H.

R.W. and T.A. continued walling on the 5th in equally unpleasant conditions and on the 7th T.A. bolted on the steel grid gate. Later that day T.J, B.S. and J.C. descended this shaft with intent to dig a side passage but they were defeated by a 3m+ deep pool. A quick trip to Bored of the Rings in the old cave and a grovel through the link gained a view of the pool from the far side. The noise of falling and flowing water made the whole cave feel more “alive”. By the 12th March the weather was much improved and R.W. and T.A. continued walling, briefly assisted by T.J. All admired the colourful addition to the landscape in the form of an ancient and decrepit JCB – severely bogged down in its self-made swamp between the Belfry and the cave and bearing recently added “L” plates. Anyone requiring further information should not ask Ben “Driver of the Year” Selway as a smack in the gob often offends!  In its favour it came in useful as an extra prop in a short documentary film commenced on the 14th March by Alistair Koliasnikoff and Predrag “Pedja” Nikolic of Thames Valley University. H.D, S.H, P.B, P,H, J.C. and T.J. were filmed and interviewed either coming out of the original entrance shaft or hauling skips, four of which, full of rocks for R.W.Ùs wall, reached the surface. Some filming was also done in the HuntersÙ but the underground shots failed due to humidity affecting AlistairÙs camera. H.D. and P.B. checked the state of the drill left at Plan B Dig (it was in good condition despite the recent flooding) then helped J.C. dump six bags of poo, which she had filled in the utterly squalid Halfway Dig. The consensus of opinion tonight was that everyone needed a change of digging scenery!

The next bang at Plan B Dig took place on 21st March when H.D, assisted by M.B. fired a six shot-hole charge while many of the team paid heed to the above and escaped to the relative comfort of Caine Hill Shaft (see separate article). A brief visit was paid on the 26th when R.W, T.A, T.J. and T.H. used 38 bags of clay from this shaft to help infill around the new entrance.

The spoil from the Plan B Dig bang was cleared by H.B. and H.D. on the 28th and seven more shot-holes were drilled.

Another 24 loads of Caine Hill Shaft spoil were dumped on the 2nd April by R.W, T.A, T.J, Paul Weston and Mike Hearn. The seven shot-holes were charged and fired by H.D and H.B. on the 4th and cleared on the 11th. Meanwhile, on the surface Ben S. used his resurrected JCB to improve the Priddy Pot water leat. The Henries returned on the 18th to fire an eleven-hole charge, which they cleared on the 25th before repeating the process. Sometime at the end of April Jake B. continued clearing spoil at the Halfway Dig. On the 9th May the Henries were back at Plan B Dig where they cleared more bang spoil and fired a ten-hole charge.

Landscaping of the spoil heaps has been continued by Rich W, Tony A. and the writer using soil and turf resulting from Ben SelwayÙs JCB operations.

To be continued in a future BB.

New and Resurrected Diggers

Doug Harris (MCG), Bob Smith, Hannah Bell, Rob Harper, Rich Bayfield, Matt Blount, Paul Weston, Mike Hearn.

The Old Brigade

Jane Clarke, Tony Jarratt, Trevor Hughes, Pete Hellier, Paul Brock, Phil Coles, Sean Howe, Henry Bennett, Tony Audsley, Rich Witcombe, Martin Smith (OSCG), Henry Dawson, John Noble, Anne Vanderplank, Jake Baynes, Ben Ogbourne, Alex Livingston, Ben Selway.

The Film Team

Alistair Koliasnikoff, Predrag “Pedja” Nikolic, Mario Michalidis, ( Thames Valley University).   


Charlie Adcock (Event Horizon Pyrotechnics).


Website and mailing list updates

Henry Bennett

Since the last BB was published, a private email mailing list has been set up. So what the heck is a mailing list? In short it is a tool for broadcasting a single email to every member of the club who we have an email address for. Any mail sent to the list from a certified address will be sent to all club members with BCA active caving insurance directly and via digest to other members. Since it is a private list it is not possible for spammers to abuse.

IÙve implemented this to empower all members of the club to communicate more effectively.  Previously to broadcast a notice of an upcoming event meant doing it before the BB went to print. This has meant that in the past many members were not aware of events as it didnÙt appear on their radar.

IÙve also implemented tools to enable you to update your personal details online, in case you have moved house. This has been as part of an effort to consolidate membership records and any payments you have made. For those of you with concerns about the Data Protection Act, donÙt worry, we are fully compliant.

Bob Smith has moved the weather station from the Belfry roof to the Wessex where it is now accessible online via the web. Want to know how much rain has fallen before you plan a trip down West End? Simply look up weather on www.bec-cave.org.uk or go direct to www.mendipweather.org.uk.



By Harding and Richards

NGR 40675884. Banwell.

Length: 6.5 ms   VR 5ms

Alco-hole is a previously missed ochre cave in the woods that crown the hill not far from a ruined cottage. It is a rift with an ochre vein in ceiling and it has been used as a dump for numerous bottles; gin in the main, hence the name. The floor is choked with material and it appears that the mine goes deeper. Bats have taken up residence.

There are other filled in workings in the same woods that lie south east of Alco-hole at around 100 ms distance. There are also badger holes in an ochre cave 100ms south west of this location. 

The Adventures of Zot 2

‘Zot goes to Thrupe Lane SwalletÙ

By Mike Wilson

As I was involved in this venture, with Rich Long, and others I have noted their comments and then filled in the gaps accordingly.

So here we go, one year, many moons ago Zot and I decided on a trip to Thrupe so he and ZotÙs Dog got themselves ready for the off by having a last drink or six in the Hunters the night before!!

Sadly as had happened many times before, ZotÙs Dog didnÙt make it any further than the pub because Zot wandered off and left him there. Still I guess this avoided any complications at Somerset Customs regarding rabies [not that I am in any way saying that either Zot or his dog were Rabid!!] Just in case you are all wondering what happened to the dog left in the Pub, his friends would either take it home for him or look after it until we saw him again. It wasnÙt just dogs he used to leave in the Pub it was girl friends as well!! H and I once had to take a young lady home from a pub in Mells when he decided to go home and leave her there. ItÙs a long walk from Mells to Paulton in high heels!!!!!!! [I canÙt be doing with this!!]

I digress; we arrived at Thrupe Lane Rich Long Mark, myself and eventually Zot, with the intention of going to Atlas Pot via the EagleÙs Nest route. We changed in Mrs ButtsÙ garage entrance and politely declined a glass of their cider [deciding that later was safer than sooner].

Zot opened his screw top drum and this wonderful aroma of rotting clothing and damp wet earth wafted out. It doesnÙt pay to wash or dry caving grots too often he said, its bad luck!! Actually the smell was a little like compost when wet. Or a recent grave dig!!

Next question, “hey team has anyone got a spare oversuit!!” Obviously the answer was no, not many people carry two suits except for Shepton Sean who has three in case the conditions change. “Well” said Zot, “I will just have to use this one that I found by the side of the road!!” He held up an emaciated heap of tattered road workers yellow waterproof overalls that had obviously been thrown away in a dirty ditch and left to rot. The zip was useless so he tied the waist and sleeve cuffs with baler twine [very effective stuff in the wet], poured washing up liquid into his wellies [he always did this to hide the smell and help him prise the boots on]!!!!

And so on down the cave. As you all know beyond the entrance pitch is a rift, which is quite sharp, spikey and not at all water worn. ZotÙs suit was soon shedding yellow bits everywhere and making tearing noises. This continued all the way down through to Butts chamber, down the streamway to the top of the waterfall. Mark, Rich and myself abseiled down the pitch while Zot guarded the rope, at least that was his excuse. When we were prussiking up, Rich was heard to say that we would have no problem finding our way back just follow the yellow markers. This proved to be the case. There were chunks of ZotÙs suit all the way back to the entrance. !!!! Having filled 2 gallon containers with Mrs ButtsÙ excellent homemade cider we retired to the Belfry to share it amongst our mates.

NB the other effect of filling your wellie boots with washing up liquid is that they foam at the mouth as soon as you encounter any water much to the amusement of your mates, just another route in the life of a caver.


Multi-Club meet to Forest of Dean Fri 4th May to Mon 7th May

By Peter Hellier

Because of all the other things in oneÙs life, I decided to pop over on Saturday morning and return Sunday evening. This maximised time caving and face-showing on the domestic front, as well as a bit of socialising on Saturday night.

Worried that some keenos may have been setting off at 9:30, I arrived at about 9:15 and looked for the BEC contingent. Mike Wilson was still/again doing battle with his knees, and not going underground. I decided that Chris (Zot) Harvey was probably not caving as no caves had streams big enough for his kayak, but knew Sean Howe was up for something. So, I found myself heading for Slaughter Stream Cave after the key had arrived at 10:30. In the meantime I experienced EmmaÙs wonderful organisation by completing the Camping Register, the Going Down a Cave log, and the What I Want from the Chinese tonight order.

To be honest, my presence turned an 11 man SMCC trip into a 12 man multi-club trip, and I somewhat relied on their tackle, but at least they need not worry about being ‘the slow oneÙ with me around. Based on a laminated A4 survey (thanks again to Emma), and a little bit of ancient memory, we had a cracking trip.

This was my first Forest of Dean caving trip so I did not have a great deal of pre-conceptions. The entrance consisted of an impressive series of fixed ladders against endless stacked, shored and cemented-in boulders, and a final fixed ladder out of daylight. The first pitch to rig was just a few metres, but we rigged it properly with ladder and line, though really it was only needed for one small part. The main pitch was a rather nice 11m freehang. The breakthrough crawl led quickly to a streamway which we followed downstream. By then we had split the party up, and I was in a group of 5.

The plan was to do a round trip as referenced in the guides, with a bit on the side to see the famous dog skeleton and prints. Having left the stream just above Sump 1 , we regained it and followed down towards Sump 2 before returning to The Coal Seam and the circular trip. Generally we were on a fairly well beaten track most of the time, but without the A4 survey we would have needed a copy of descriptions from somewhere. I was very surprised at just how much fossil cave there was, of good caveable proportions – I think I was expecting something less mature. The dead dog had travelled (when it wasnÙt dead) a considerable distance judging by the footprints in the now dried up mud, quite apart from the mystery of how it got there. Now, even its bones appeared powdery, though its collar, bowl, teething ring and lead seemed to be in very good condition.

On returning from there we met the other party of 5 (2 had returned earlier), who had done the same trip as us. I still canÙt work out how we did not meet them on our return from the lower streamway earlier…

The connection back to the breakthrough crawl was down a climb that was a bit splashy even after the very dry weather we had in April, but a nice end before the climb back up to the late afternoon heat. We spent 4 - 4.5 hrs at a sensible pace with quite a number of social stops. There was not much very technical or demanding, though my knees and back found the Sand Deserts hard work, and we all got a bit warm in some of the very dry areas. The sand in this cave being, I believe from the limestone itself, which is largely a brown sugary textured and coloured dolomite, and not any nearby sandstones. 

A superb trip overall, and suitably celebrated at the pub on the way back, courtesy largely of ‘Butty BachÙ a local brew.

Sunday, and a trip to Wigpool Mine. On the upside, this was a lead trip with fine formations, so not to be missed, but on the downside was the fact that it was a mine, and ‘smallÙ. When our guide turned up on a motorcycle combo, and changed into shorts and sweatshirt, I think I was not the only one to fear for the worth of the trip. Our leader, ‘MoleÙ obviously lived and breathed mines like this, and was a wealth of information about the mines in the area. Unfortunately he forgot the key to our exit, so we had a half hour to enjoy the bluebell woods before pacing off to the entrance.

The trip started in what was more badger hole than mine, and very red and ochreous. The theory is that the upper levels had all been dug out as miners extracted the ore, traces of which could be seen at times, though it was clear that at least some of the surfaces were fully natural. In fact the upper series felt more of a cave than a mine.

It has to be said that this was a photo trip, which lent a relaxed air to the proceedings, and normally there were formations to be viewed while the photographers did their stuff ahead. The formations in the cave were generally pure white, which was particularly stunning against the very dark reddish rock. And they were good. They were also very fresh, and small in size, though not extent, which supports the idea that the passage did not exist before the voids were mined out.

We then dropped to the mid levels of the mine, which were very mine-like, and one could march off along the 2m square section passages, and we were shown where the different shaft would have entered. There was little hardware remaining other than a few timbers.

The plan was to do a circuit into the lower levels, but water levels prevented us from completing the loop. This meant we had to head back up which certainly generated some heat, first back to the main haul-ways, then on up to the highlight of the trip, some more formations.

This involved a climb up the dip of the rocks which here were very steep, and caused a few slippages. The main body of the formations were on a deep shelf of rock, so could be viewed as it were from the side. The highlight being a small pool containing some pom-poms under the water, and worth the trip for those alone. It was not far from there to the exit, for which we were glad Mole had obtained the key.

One of the main mysteries was how Mole had managed to avoided getting his knees filthy, and seemed to have avoided sitting on a wet rock for the whole 4 hr trip. Presumably he was more agile than the party, which was half his age (writer excluded).

WhatÙs happening at the Belfry

By Henry Bennett

Since the beginning of the club year a huge amount of work has gone on at the Belfry. This has been achieved through working weekends and a few members putting in time when they get a chance. One of the main driving forces has been our Hut Warden, Jane Clarke, who has input a huge amount of effort and time. Numerous maintenance jobs have been undertaken including repainting the main room, hallway, loos, doors, outside walls, providing more visitor storage in the bunkroom and mattress covers, new seating and better storage in the changing room, taps replaced, automatic lights fitted…the list goes on. As well as this, a massive effort to clean up the Belfry, inside and out, has been undertaken and several loads of rubbish have been dispatched to the council recycling centre. Many thanks to all involved, you know who you are.

Recently we identified that the gas cooker was a serious hazard and need urgent replacement. Fortunately, Ian “Slug” Gregory had some contacts in the kitchen equipment auction market and managed to provide us with a fantastic commercial oven and hob to replace it. After the initial problem of it not fitting through the door (amazing what an angle grinder will do) we got it in. Chris “Batspiss” Batstone also pulled out all the stops to getting it plumbed in. Many thanks to both of you!!

Work on the extension is progressing steadily. While many might not see any material progress a huge amount of effort has been made on arranging quotes for work and getting key things ordered. The stairs are due to be delivered later this month and we expect a rush of progress after they are installed. Once again we need skilled bodies (or people who can work under instruction) to move things forward. Contact Henry Dawson if you can help.

HungaryBudapest Caving

By Zot and Mr Wilson.

Some months ago Zot and I were invited on a trip to Hungary, starting in Budapest doing some caving there and then on to Aggtalek for the rescue conference. We decided to go to Budapest for a very long weekend and then return to England for various reasons.

There were other BEC members on the trip Emma Porter and John Christie plus various members of the CPC .In fact it was a fairly international occasion with 2 cavers from the Lebanon and of course several Hungarians who were a great help.

We decided to travel to Luton Airport as the fare was only £50 return from there [the drawback being that the flight left at 7.00am. The plan was to all meet at the airport and travel together. Thanks to Slug we stayed overnight at his flat in Bedford and travelled down to Luton early in the morning. Arriving at Luton car park Zot says, “here Wils IÙve left my wallet at Slugs!!!” No chance of going back to Bedford so we decided that I would sub him for the trip.

We had forgotten what a dump Luton airport is!! The baggage wait was huge and disorientating and the security check was worse. Zot was stopped because he had a tube of toothpaste in his hand luggage, not in a clear plastic bag !!And everyone had to take their shoes off [this did not include Zot as he was wearing wellie boots to save baggage weight!!]

Budapest airport was a complete contrast, clean and tidy with no delay; Emma had laid a bus to take us to the caving hut. Thanks Emma!! [Called the JÓSEPH-HEGYI] it was situated on the edge of a hill with a wonderful view of the Danube and the City a really peaceful spot. See photo.

There was a little co-op type shop nearby which sold food and beer. Dino, one of the local cavers kindly negotiated a price per crate [3 per day].

The main cave in this region is situated in the cellar of the hut and is called Jóseph-Hegyi-barlang. It was found while excavating the foundations for a house on the site and is a geothermal cave. The entrance is a concrete tube with a fixed ladder [of the window cleaner type] approx 10m long. This is followed by a fairly small twisting route down to an awkward 14m vertical free climb with a hand line. After another series of crawls the cave opens up into a series of chambers. These are extremely beautiful with gypsum crystals, and a wonderful floor that resembles a collapsed wedding cake [this was a lake that had dried up and collapsed leaving layers of icing like sections on the cave floor]. There were also gypsum and aragonite flowers in various sections of the chambers. All in all a fantastic place to be!! We managed a fairly lengthy photo trip thanks to the local cavers who provided access and a leader.

Out in time for a sausage barbecue, kindly put on by the local cavers, slightly marred by one of the Hungarian group who seemed to think that green leaves are a good thing on a fire, not true!!! ItÙs oh so hard to be happy when you are engulfed in choking green smoke, but the cheap beer helped no end. There was also a very yappy sausage dog, which was extremely lucky to escape the barbecue!!

Day 2 saw us walking to the next cave, which was about 1km away. This cave was called Pál-völgyi-barlang. A round trip was planned with a bonus [a bar at the end]. Quite a large group that day so we split into 2 groups. I believe the cave was about 2 km long. Tourist entrance and then a lot of tortuous crawling passages, some tight, interspersed with several small chambers. The cave itself was formed by geothermal activity so it was warm and fairly dry. The best kit is grots and overalls and plenty of liquid. Just a small anecdote, Zot was following a Hungarian girl, and got stuck in a tight twisting tube. Three of us were following behind and heard him say, “Here love I think I am stuck can you pull on this, harder, harder!!” The imagination ran riot at this moment and we all fell about laughing. Luckily he got through only to find a tight spot further on.

We also had a contingent from Guantanamo Bay with us, all wearing orange overalls I donÙt know how they managed to escape the regime!! Its tricky caving with chains around your ankles and a blindfold!!

This was a 4-hour trip in what was in places very soft rock, which is a kind of marl [not red]. Very interesting cave and bar.

The last day for us was spent in Budapest R and R; Dino took us to a Gothic spa where there were several pools some warm and sulphurous and some cool. There was also an outside pool with a wave machine [great fun]. To cap it all 2 scantily clad young ladies in thongs took ZotÙs eye, while I pointed out that there were a large number of East European ladies with blue floral swim hats and oceans of cellulite [he wasnÙt interested in those].

We finished the trip off in a restaurant, which did eat and drink all you can for 2,400.00 florints about £10.00 in sterling. Many thanks to Mr Dyson, Dino, Emma and all the other Hungarian cavers who helped to make this trip a success.

I Forgot More Than YouÙll Ever Know (About Wigs)

Music:  Don & Phil Everley
Lyrics:  N Harding and D Irwin

For those of you who have yet to visit HuntersÙ Lodge Inn Sink a myriad of delights await the visitor. The strenuous exertions of negotiating the 45-degree incline of Pub Crawl is amply rewarded by emerging into Happy Hour Highway with its splendid vistas.  Beyond that a fine, well mud-padded crawl through a phreatic tube leads to the wonderful formations and colours of the BarmaidsÙ Bedroom, with the bones yet to come, and below a fine descent on the stal flowed Pewter Pot leads to the awesome connection into Bron Ale Boulevard.  However the cave does have its Siberian section.  On entering Happy Hour Highway one can levitate under a menacing boulder and enter an unpleasant descending crawl, which is guaranteed to rip holes in all new oversuits.  A rope assisted descent of Rocking Rudolph leads to a tight crawl, which in turn becomes a strenuous contorted wriggle and we emerge gasping into the Stygian gloom of Hangover Hall, a truly unpleasant place of oppressive menace.  From there we dug a further 20 feet into Stillage Sump chamber.  For six months we attempted to penetrate further by bailing said sump.  This involved the construction of an elaborate dam system by which we blocked the stream, which backed up Rocking Rudolph whilst in our self-inflicted tomb we attempted to dig and pump the sump. However, like St Genevieve and King Cnut before us, we failed to hold back the water and eventually with winter storms coming on we abandoned the dig and adjourned to the relative comforts of the new dig at Rose Cottage. 

Jake Baynes was convinced though that further extensions of HuntersÙ Lodge Inn Sink were not to be found at the bottom of Slop 3, at the bottom of Pewter Pot which seems to be the general consensus, but by trying to achieve a high level bypass of Stillage Sump.  Fine in theory, but the actuality is that above Stillage Sump there is a fearsomely unstable looking boulder ruckle.  For some months Jake has been asking me to accompany him down to inspect said ruckle and I had been able to fob him off with a series of well-constructed excuses.  Finally though, Jake resorted to emotional blackmail and said that he was going come what may and if I refused to go with him he would make a solo trip.  So, on a fine Wednesday evening in August when all sensible folks were frolicking in the warm embrace of Rose Cottage, I reluctantly returned to the dig.  It was worse than we remembered, the detritus of the abandoned dig lay everywhere like a failed gold rush claim. Everything was covered in inches of black silt, a clear sign of the winter ravages.  Surprisingly a large toad had survived and as on our previous trips we frequently extracted small toads, this time we rescued one fat toad, which at least gave some point to the trip.  Jake meanwhile had ascended into the ruckle and urged me to take a look for myself, which I did with some reluctance and it looked just as dangerous and hostile as remembered.  Jake urged me to imagine this potential digging site when safely shored and with proper shoring he is convinced that we can then move horizontally above the sump. This idea, danced just over the horizon of my imagination, failed and all I could achieve were visions of the whole lot crashing into the sump.  So I made a hasty descent whilst Jake pushed and prodded at the boulders, several of which made ominous rumblings.  I decided it was foolish to remain below on the downward side of the ruckle and so moved upstream listening to the alarming crashes and bangs coming from above, thinking that at least from an upside position I could retreat for help should the whole lot collapse. To take my mind off the situation l looked again at the leaking dam and wondered if in CattcotsÙ day the remedy would have been simply to block the holes with some fine weasel hair, horsehair and wildebeest hair wigs as per Nick HardingÙs excellent articles on The Wig In Caving.  Eventually the foul air, which was giving us headaches, was made worse by JakeÙs noisy injections of methane gas so we called it a day and retired to meet the Rose Cottage crew in the HuntersÙ.

Being intrigued by NickÙs article I had begun doing some research into both The World of Wigs and Samuel Butler of “Fleas are not Lobsters, dash my wig” quote.  Relieved as I was to get out of H L I S, I began spewing Samuel Butler quotes all over the digging crew until Tony, desperate to escape my word hoard said “why not put them in a BB article Phil” and so for those of you who would like to know more about Samuel Butler here are some more of his quotes.   Its was surprising to find that many of them are in every day common parlance including “spare the rod and spoil the child” which because of change in usage of words became twisted by the Victorians as an excuse for adults to inflict violence on children, whereas originally it was to protect against such activities, spoiling at that time having beneficial not detrimental connotations.

There are lots of others such as “it is better to have loved and lost” etc. etc. but here are a few less well-known ones that seem apt to BEC.

 “You can do very little with faith, but you can do nothing without it.”

 “ Independence is essential for permanent but fatal to immediate success”.

 “Though analogy is often misleading, it is the least misleading thing we have”.

 “Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises”.

 “Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on”.

 “Any fool can tell the truth but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well”.

 “The advantage of doing oneÙs praising for oneself is that one can lay it on so thickly and exactly in the right places”.

 “The public buys its opinions as it buys it meat, or takes its milk on the principal that it is cheaper to do this than keep a cow.  So it is, but the milk is more likely to be watered”.

 “Morality turns on whether the pleasure precedes or follows the pain.  Thus it is immoral to get drunk because a headache comes after the drinking, but if the headache came first and the drunkenness after it would be moral to get drunk”.

 “It is the function of vice to keep virtue within reasonable bounds”.

 “Civilisation rests on two prerequisites.  The first being the knowledge that fermentation produces alcohol and the second being the voluntary inhibition of defecation”.

(Imagine the BEC dinner without either of the above.)

 “And shall I unlock my word horde?  Nay for I do fear it much.”

(This when cornered by a rampant bore in the HuntersÙ.)

As for wigs themselves, the custom of wig wearing is of great antiquity.  If, as seems probable the curious head covering of a prehistoric ivory carving of a female head found by M. Piette in the cave of Brassempouy in Landes represents a wig (see Ray Lankester, Science From An Easy Chair, fig 7) the fashion is certainly some 100,000 years old.  Wigs were known amongst ancient Egyptian, Greek and Chinese cultures either as an adornment or to supply the defects of nature.  They were also used theatrically and in second century Greece various comic and tragic masks had hair suited to the character represented.  A. E. Haigh, (Ancient Theatre page 221, 239) refers to the black hair and beard of the tyrant, the fair curls of the youthful hero and the red hair characteristic of the dishonest slave of comedy.

Both Romans and Carthaginian Empires were major centres of wigness.  Polybius (iii, 78) says that Hannibal used wigs as a means of disguise.  The fashionable ladies of Rome were much addicted to false hair and we learned from Ovid that the golden hair imported from Germany was most favoured.  Juvenal (vi, 120) shows us Messalina assuming a yellow wig for her visits to places of ill fame, and the scholiast on the passage says that the yellow wig was characteristic of courtesans. 

In more recent times the wearing of false hair was prevalent amongst the ladies of Europe.  Queen Elizabeth I had 80 attires of false hair and, interesting for a virgin Queen, one merkin.  For those of you not familiar with the merkin, it is a pubic wig initially first documented in the 14th Century and later used by ladies of the night as a means of disguising the ravages of syphilis.  During the American War of Independence and War of 1812, a merkin, because of the similarity of pronunciation, was used as a pejorative term by the English for an American.  I understand that such use has recently reoccurred on the Internet.  I am also told by my researchers that merkins are now widely used in erotic films where the elder viewer dislikes the modern tendency for a shaved pubis.  Mary Queen of Scots also had numerous wigs.  When her fratricidal relationship with Elizabeth culminated in her beheading, the High Executioner, being drunk on Malmsey, botched the job taking three wildly inaccurate swipes before severing MaryÙs head.  As tradition demanded he then held the severed head aloft for the traditional round of applause.  Consternation ensued when he found he was in fact clutching a wig and MaryÙs bald head bounced to the ground and rolled towards the less than pleased audience.

It was not until the 17th Century that the wig, or peruke, was worn as a distinctive feature of costume. The fashion started in France at the court of Louis XIII who was prematurely bald and wore a wig imitating natural hair.  The fashion gradually spread through Europe and as most folks were plagued by lice (creeping dandruff) the advantage of taking the wig off and not having to scratch was much appreciated. Wigs became larger and under Queen Anne obtained maximum development, covering the back and shoulders and floating down over the chest.  It was at this time that their shape and forms altered and began to denote rank and occupation with the wonderful names and descriptions in NickÙs previous articles. The fashion began to fade in the reign of William IV and now only remains in the judiciary and parliament. Hats and for certain occupations helmets took precedence.  In caving the practice had more or less died out before the 2nd World War except for the occasional ceremonial use.  Older members will no doubt recall the famous BEC powder blue wigs worn by committee members right up until the late 60s when they were consumed in the fire, which destroyed the Belfry Mark II.  If any older member has any of the famous colour slides of the committee members in full regalia, perhaps they could submit to HenryÙs excellent web site.

EdÙs note: This article had been lurking at the bottom of Phil CÙs cupboard of curiosities and having been rejected by the Wig on a previous occasion it was high time it went in.

A Caving Anecdote

Phil Coles

For reasons I don't pretend to understand - rugged individuality?-cavers generally don't like organised team sports especially spectator sports like football. However there are a few cavers that buck the trend....

Paul Brock phones the Noble household to see if John can come out to play i.e. go caving. John's good lady wife Julie answers the phone and tells Paul that John has gone to watch a football match with Phil Coles.

Paul, disappointed that John is not available, tells Julie that he would quite like to see a football match but he is put off by all the fighting/swearing/drinking and general unruliness that he might encounter.

Julie retorts, "Well Paul, you don't HAVE to go with John and Phil"

Boom boom

Reciprocal Rights with Other Clubs

Henry Bennett

The BEC maintains a reciprocal rights scheme with a number of clubs around the country and weÙve recently been confirming and reviewing the list.  At present this is the list of clubs who we have rights with:

  • Bradford Pothole Club
  • Craven Pothole Club
  • Grampian Speleological Group
  • South Wales Caving Club
  • Yorkshire Subterranean Society

If you are planning on staying at one of these clubs you should ensure that you book in advance of your visit and avoid members only weekends. Most clubs now have online diaries and booking systems which you should take advantage of.

These arrangements enable you to pay members rates for use of facilities.  No other rights or privileges are conferred by these arrangements. In particular, we remind you that reciprocal rights do not bring any access to caves managed by these clubs. The normal permit systems have to be followed.  Additionally, you should check in advance about access to hut keys if required.

Hollow Hills

Make Hay!

So little time – so many caves.

The one certainty in life is that we are here for a short time then itÙs off into that great darkness where no caverÙs lamp will illuminate. With more recent losses in the club it should remind us that it is ever more important to keep caving. All the trivialities of day-to-day existence amount to nothing in the end and it is not so much how we live but what we leave behind. So the more caves you find the more you will be immortalised in speleological history and the more glasses will be raised on your passing.

There are no excuses! Keep digging.

Just a reminder about submitting articles: Text files are fine, preferably as a word document. Photos: BLACK and WHITE JPEGS – and make sure the image sizes are reasonable – no 1000cms x1000cms please! I think most, if not all photo packages will convert colour snaps into B and W.  Photoshop will get good images down to and below 100kb or so. 

If you are able please could you also email a copy of the images to Henry for the web version of the BB. Full color and hi-res is what we need here!