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The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Estelle Sandford

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Treasurer: Chris Smart
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Estelle Sandford
Caving Secretary: Andy Thomas
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Nick Mitchell
Hut Warden: Becky Campbell
Librarian and Floating member: Alex Gee

Editorial

I am repeating this to make it very clear.

Please bear in mind that I only have two more BB’s to do then it will be someone else's problem!! We need to find a potential replacement editor (s) fairly soon as there is NO WAY, with my other commitments, that I will be able to do another year.

We have had a kind donation of a Pentium laptop, which will be available for the next editor to use for the BB.  We are also gradually getting enough money together from the sale of the second hand computer spares and the old computers that have been kindly donated by members, to get a zip drive and hopefully soon a scanner as well.  Keep the unwanted bits coming, they may be of no use to you, but you never know someone might want them!  All monies made from this are going into the 'editors fund' (this is not my beer fund!!) to help make future editors jobs easier by supplying the equipment that is needed for the job.

If we don't find another editor then there will be no BB after October!!

There are other possible solutions that may lighten the load: - job sharing, reducing the number of BB's, having a separate journal maybe twice a year and a short monthly/bimonthly newsletter, etc.

I know at this stage, we have no one who has expressed any interest in taking over the job. Remember that the BB is the primary form of communication for many of the club's members, and is a vital part of the club's existence.

Letters and articles in the BB are not necessarily the views of the Editor. the BEC Committee or the club in general.


 

Caving and BEC News

Stop Press - Scotland '99 BEC/GSG

ANUS Sump 4 has been passed by Simon Brooks and is now on Sump 5.  Also after a major digging effort on Rana Hole, a streamway can be heard rumbling below from the bottom of the dig.  More information and photos will be in the articles in the next BB.

BEC Working Day and Barbecue

This will be held at the Belfry on 19th June 1999.  There are many tidying up and cleaning jobs needing attention at the Belfry, so please come along and help.  BBQ free to those who work for at least half of the day.

The Barbecue is open to all, but please advise a member of the committee if you are planning to come to just the barbecue and not the working day, so we can gauge an idea of how much extra food is required.  Barbecue will start at around 7:30pm.  There will be a charge for non-workers to cover the cost of their food.

See Belfry or the Hunters notice board for more information, or contact the committee.

St. Alactite's Day

(This appeared in the post, sender unknown!!!  (I didn't recognise the handwriting on the envelope?) Thanks for the info, whoever you are!! - Ed.)

Amid all the ballyhoo surrounding the fact that we shall be writing the date of next year as 2000; a much more significant date is liable to be overlooked.

St. Alactite's Day (according to the preamble to song No.19 in 'Alfie's Manuscript Collection of Mendip Cavers' Songs') falls on the fifth Tuesday in February - an event which only occurs once in every twenty-eight years.  It so happens that it will next occur on Tuesday, February 29th, 2000.

If any Mendip cavers happen to be looking for a chance to get completely paralytic at a reasonable interval after New Year's Eve next year - here is a ready made excuse!

Reminder

Photos are still required for the photoboard at the Belfry and also the Belfry Bulletin.  Slides or prints or pre-scanned files are all more than welcome.  All slides or prints will be returned if requested.  The photo board has had the same set of photos on it for many months now so it would be nice to see some changes.

Ed.

Burrington Cave Atlas

I still desperately need photos for the Burrington Cave Atlas.  The text is ready to go, but I am seriously lacking in photos (or pictures). Please can anyone help me out on this as soon as possible as I would like to go to print with this over the summer months.   Ed.

Nicknames

I have had some response to this, but I know there are many more of you out there who have nicknames, so come on tell me how they came about.   Ed.

Millennium Celebrations

The BEC committee is looking for ideas for celebrating the Millennium.  We have had ideas about T-shirts/sweatshirts etc. but need a design.  If anyone has any design ideas or any other ideas for celebrating the Millennium (also our 65th birthday) please contact a committee member.  Ed.

BEC History

Dave Irwin has suggested a Millennium publication of the history of the BEC.  He has said he would co-ordinate the data but needs other members of the club to work on editing chapters of the club's history.  The areas that have limited information are 1935-1960, with regards to the Belfry's and the digs during this period if anyone has any information or photographs, please contact Dave.  More details on the plans for this will be available over the coming months.  The plan is to try and release it as a special BEC publication at Christmas or early next year.

Exhibition at Axbridge

An exhibition illustrating the many ways Cheddar Gorge has been presented to the public is on display at the King John Hunting Lodge at Axbridge.  Various archival items have been lent by Kevin Wills (ACG) and Dave Irwin. Admission is free and runs until late September 1999.

Caving Logs

Dave's Irwin and Turner have just completed scanning the BEC Caving and Climbing logbooks - a long, boring but necessary task.  Checking the final result it appears at least eight (yes, 8) logbooks have been lost. If any member has them in their possession will they please return them soon so that they too can be scanned and stored in a safe place.  It is known that the 1950-c.1955 climbing logbook is in the possession of a club member.

The intention is to put all the files onto CD-ROM in Adobe Acrobat format, copies of which will be available for a tenner to members inc. P&P and £20 to non-members, the profit going to club funds; only Luddites will be unable to read them!  They will also include copies of Belfry Bulletins 1-99 in the same format.  If you are interested in a copy please contact Estelle (Ed); we are trying to gauge interest at this stage, there is no release date as yet.

It is vitally important that this form of club documentation is stored electronically and widely circulated amongst the membership and other club libraries.  If, like the 1949-51 caving logbook, they are lost, then the history of the Club and work carried out by members will have gone forever.  Wig

How to do it without trying!!!

The Wessex Cave Club is planning to publish a detailed Centenary report on one of Mendip's famous caves - Swildons Hole.  It is hoped to be published on or around the 16th August 2001, 100 years after the date the cave was first entered by Troup and Hiley.  The content is expected to include a history of exploration, geology, geomorphology, hydrology and bibliography.  Les Williams is the mastermind behind the idea and has almost achieved the impossible.  Of the sections mentioned above only the geological chapter is actually being written by a WCC member!  The BEC are supplying the history (Wig) and hydrology (Roger Stenner) sections, the UBSS/ACG (Andy Farrant) the geomorphological chapter and the Mendip Cave Registry the bibliography.

Wig St. Cuthbert's Swallet Newssheets.

We are missing No. 8 from the Club collection.  Does any member have a copy?  Photocopies will do quite nicely.  Anyone with a copy would they please contact either Dave Irwin (01749 870369) or Dave Turner (01373 812934) as we wouldn't want to be flooded with copies.  Also missing from the club library and general collections is BB 341, if anyone has a copy of this, could they please contact either of the Dave's.  

A Gentle and Polite Reminder

Several items from the Club Library are still out on loan.  Will all members note that 'Jake' and 'Wig' are cataloguing the library during May.  To do the job successfully requires all items to be in the Library, seen and checked. Please return your loans NOW.  Wig

Gonzo displays all

In association with Cheddar Showcaves, Gonzo has been able to hold a two month exhibition of his painting and pastel work in the restaurant next to the caves museum.  His work includes scenes from Mendip, Derbyshire and South Wales caves.  For those of you building your 'national gallery' collection of cave paintings most, if not all, are for sale - the bigger the canvas - the greater the price!!!  I understand that the other budding 'Turner' is REG and he will be displaying his 'all' during the autumn.

Update of recently paid up members for the membership list

1079     Henry Bennett, London
1183     Andy Newton, Shipham, Nr Cheddar, Somerset
731       Bob Bidmead, East Harptree, Nr Bristol
1088     Nick Gymer, Theydon Bois, Epping, Essex
1110     Gwyn Taylor, Keighley, West Yorks
1170     Andy Sanders, Gurney Slade, Nr Bath, Somerset
1230     Clive Stell, Bathford, Bath
1231     Tim Chapman, Fareham, Hampshire
862       Bob Cork, Wells, Somerset
868       Dany Bradshaw, Wells, Somerset
1057     Mark Lumley, Stoke St Michael, Somerset
1014     Chris Castle, Shepton Mallet, Somerset

Austria Expedition '99

There will be an Austria expedition to the Dachstein during the first two weeks of August, if interested please contact Pete 'Snablet' MacNab on 01334 xxxxxx.  Other contacts for this are Rich Blake and Tony Jarratt.   (Snablet has prepared an article on Austria, which will be in the next BB if you want an idea of what to expect - Ed.)


 

Scotland 99 - A Taste of Things to Come!!!

Photos by Pete Glanvill

Article next BB - (I hope!! - Ed.)

 

Left: Derrick Guy near Thundergast Falls in Alt Nan Uamh Stream Cave

Right: Derrick Guy at the Bottomless Pillar Pool in Claonaite


 

Swildons Hole 11th July 1968

By B.E. Prewer

In BB 498 I wrote a short note about the Great Flood of July 1968.  After a lot of rummaging through about 500 caving slides I managed to locate a few pictures that I took on the trip down Swildons the day after the flood, 11th July.  Unfortunately the slide quality was really poor - a mixture of camera and flashlight pox (that's my excuse).  However, high level technical talks with Eric Dunford and Dave Turner revealed that it might, with a dose of modem technology, be possible to enhance the pictures.  Well after much fiddling Eric came up with some improvement, so it was then over to Dave for another dose of technology. I never imagined that a near black and white and out of focus slide transparency could suddenly have colour and clarity.

Here are the results of much labour - two pictures (black & white I'm afraid) both taken in the Old Grotto.  Notice the amount of hay hanging from the roof.  On that first day the hay was still green, within a few days it had turned black and had begun to smell - a few weeks later it had practically all gone.

 

As I said previously, with few exceptions, every passage in Upper Swildons had flooded to the roof and the large stalactite above the 20' Pot also had hay hanging from it.  In 1968 farmers still cut the grass for hay and in this case the grass had just been cut and had been left to dry.  The storm of 10th was accompanied by strong winds and it was this wind that blew the hay into the entrance of the cave.  The hay may also have been responsible for a temporary blockage and water build up at the entrance.  It is known that the whole swallet filled with water at some during the day.  The probable cause of the dramatic backup of water in Upper Swildons was the restriction in the streamway below the 20' Pot at the Shrine followed by the bursting of the plug at the bottom of the old 40'.


 

Cartoons


Tales of Nigel’s Drysuit Part 5



 

Song: The Butcombe Blues

By Mike Wilson

Having drank all night at the Hunters
And managed to stay standing up
You find to your horror some punters
Gone and purchased a barrel to sup.

So you stagger to the bog in a stupor
And manage a fumbling pee
Then back to the bar for another
Is this twittering wreck really me?

Last orders are called and the lights flash
Finish your pint at a push
Chip in for the barrel with hard cash
Then nip out for a lift what a rush!

In the Belfry it's heaving
All alcohol song and sick being the norm
Watch the proles hastily leaving
Pursued by Willet in beer monster form!

The nights not finished till morning
You crawl out of your pit looking grim
Climb over the debris still yawning
Having indulged in alcohol's whim

Short of cash and totally exhausted
Let's go down to the caff for a bite
Last night couldn't really be faulted
SHALL WE HAVE ANOTHER BARREL TONIGHT FOR THE NEWLYWEDS JOHN AND JUDE CHRISTIE

 

My apologies to Jude for this one!!! - Photo courtesy of Mike Wilson.


 

Stock's House Shaft~ Chewton Minery - Another Lost Cave Rediscovered.

By Tony Jarratt

Situated at NGR ST 5487 5138 is a large, grass covered mound which the writer identified as the spoil heap and "collar" of an infilled lead mine shaft, one of the most distinctive of the hundreds of overgrown workings located in Stock Hill Forest and some 50 metres SSE of the Cornish Shaft entrance to Five BuddIes Sink.  It was thought possible that it could have been one of Thomas Bushell's twenty shafts, sunk around 1657 in the search for a natural cave or "swallow" from which to drive his drainage adit to unwater the deep, flooded Row Pits mines nearby, and thus worthy of investigation.

 

The shaft “collar” from the road.  Photo – A. Jarratt

The doughnut-shaped heap indicated possible collapse of the "ginged" top section of the shaft, leaving a shallow depression - nicely camouflaged by brambles - and digging commenced on 25th July 1998 in order to ascertain if this was correct. Four sessions during the summer failed to reveal any stonework so the site was left alone while work continued in Five Buddles.

On 19th October flooding of the latter drove us back to the shaft and operations started in earnest in November, eight sessions being recorded that month.  We were surprised to find solid rock not far below the surface - the shaft being sunk in a spur of dolomitic conglomerate some 2 metres above road level.  The infill of rocks and clay also contained a goodly amount of wildlife!  Frogs, newts, toads, lizards, slow worms and, to Malcolm's distress, a large adder were removed from the dig and transferred to safer ground.  The now obviously rock-walled shaft was roughly square and about 2 metres across and a temporary lid was fitted to discourage passers-by from falling in.

Work continued throughout December (16 sessions) and the depth increased to 7 metres.  An ancient drum winch (last used 35 years ago!) was borrowed from the U.B.S.S. and a scaffold tripod erected.  This brought us to the attention of the Forester who, while reasonably happy, was somewhat wary of yet another hole appearing and insisted that permission to dig was confirmed with his superiors in the Forest of Dean.  The relevant paperwork and insurance cover was accordingly sorted out - a year after our initial application had been sent to them (!) and at a cost of £35.  The shaft had now developed an oblong shape and the lack of shotholes kept us hopeful that it was a 17th century working. RSJ s were installed 2 metres down and a section of concrete tube later concreted in place with the surrounds backfilled.  A particularly aromatic session occurred one Wednesday evening when Trevor's cat piss soaked digging bags blended with the writer's dog shit coated wellies - not nice in a confined space!  During the Christmas week two more pipes were added and more backfilling was done; to the entertainment of hordes of walkers, "dog emptiers", Hunt followers, etc. who were infesting the area.  Possible side passages off the shaft all turned out to be mere alcoves but were useful hiding places when full bags of mud and rocks were heading skywards. Despite lots of effort right up to New Year's Eve we failed to get a breakthrough and win the Digging Barrel (a draw).

During January 1999 the shaft was further excavated over the course of 18 visits.  Hundreds of spoil bags were removed but no rubbish or artefacts found as in the Cornish Shaft.  At a depth of some 8 metres we were disappointed to find a distinct shothole section proving that the working was more recent than anticipated, though this may merely indicate that the shaft had been enlarged by later miners. At least 17 shothole sections have been found to date.

On 20th January, Trevor Hughes, digging at around 12 metres depth, shouted up the shaft for the surface party to be quiet - an unusual request from "Biffo"!  His excited bellow that he could hear a stream flowing below him caused astonishment and disbelief in those above and a couple of winch men were sent down to confirm this unexpected development. The tedious shaft excavation now took on a different aspect and enthusiasm ran rife.  During the next couple of days another 3 metres of spoil was frantically hauled out and on 22nd January open passage was entered at a depth of 15 metres - yet another "hopeless" dig vindicated.  A 3 metre long, 1 metre high and 2 metre wide streamway with a strong flow of water running from west to east had been breached by the Old Men on the south side of the shaft.  Two streams entered from an impassable rift and a low bedding passage and the combined flow entered a choked downstream sump.  It was thought possible that, being 1 metre lower than the streamway in Five Buddles Sink, this could have been the downstream continuation but testing with flourescein disproved the theory.  The stream probably sinks in the swampy miners' reservoir on the opposite side of the road, a ditch marked as "stone drain" on the c.1860 Chewton/Priddy Mineries map undoubtedly providing a good supply of water in flood conditions. (This was dry on 17th March so could not be tested to the still active streamway.)

On 24th January Dave Speed kindly delivered two larger sections of concrete pipe surplus to requirements at His Lordship's Hole dig.  These were intended for use as the top pipes on both Stock's House and Cornish Shafts.

Throughout the rest of January and February digging at shaft bottom and in the streamway continued sporadically due to the miserable weather conditions and escape of various diggers to Meghalaya and the Millennium Dome.

In March the roof of the downstream sump was blasted to give us some working space and digging below the water level continued.  The fourth and final concrete pipe was emplaced and more backfilling done.  With drier weather in April banging continued downstream and some excavation of the silt in the upstream inlet was also carried out. This is the current position but when water levels drop a major assault is planned.

HISTORY

The original name of this working is not known and so it has been named after Stock's House, a cottage immediately across the road, of which only the foundations remain and which seems to have been associated with the Chewton Minery/Waldegrave Works since at least 1860.


The construction of the concrete piped shaft top. Photo - A. Jarratt

J.W. Gough (The Mines of Mendip, revised edition, 1967) records the following complicated history of this immediate area in the chapter on the final phase of the lead industry.

1859 - 1866: Lease held by Edward H. Barwell & Co. with "Captain" F. Bray.  (Captain being the Cornish term for mine manager).

1868; Edward H. Barwell's lease (of Chewton Minery) was acquired by "The Waldegrave Lead Smelting Company" of St. Austell, Cornwall which had five Cornish directors. The chairman was the Rev. E.J. Treffry; secretary - T. Kinsman and mine manager - Captain F. Bray.

1869-70; The latter two formed the "Mendip Hematite and Lead Mining Company" which was licensed to open mines on the Waldegrave estates.  This company went into liquidation some five years later and Captain Bray, in partnership with James Brock, continued buddling at Chewton Minery under the name of the "East Harptree Lead Works Company Ltd." of S1. Austell.  They also mined iron ore at All Eights, Wigmore Farm.  This company became defunct in 1875 and seems to have been in existence for less than a year.

1879-80: Thomas Willcox was managing the St. Cuthbert's Lead Works for George Ball; later, John Edmund Watts/and finally James and Marion Theobald.

After 1897 this concern was taken over by a syndicate who had hopes of renewed deep mining: -

" the firm acquired a lease of a considerable area in Chewton Warren (now Stock Hill Forest - A.J.) where they excavated cuttings and constructed a tramway about half a mile long to convey the produce to the works.  (The track from the Forest to Mineries Pond and the ruined St. Cuthbert's Works. Stone "sleepers" can be seen all along this. - A.J.).  They also sank some shafts at several places in the hopes of striking lead-ore, but found scarcely anything; "(Gough, p.202).

Later the "New Chaffers Extended Mining Company (1903) Ltd.", with manager Mr. Parry, were active in the area and the St. Cuthbert's Works finally closed in May 1908.

From the evidence of shotholes found in the shaft and the above information it is suggested that Stock's House Shaft dates from the 1897 era and was sunk by "the syndicate" in a vain search for fresh deposits of galena; though it could also have been previously worked by any of the earlier companies and may even originally have been one of Bushell's twenty "cave-hunting" shafts.

Note:    To confuse matters further Burt, Waite and Burnley (Devon and Somerset Mines, 1984) give different names and operating dates to these companies!


The Diggers.

Jake Baynes, Stuart Sale, Malcolm Davies, Rich Blake, Boo Webster (Orpheus C.c.), Tony Boycott, Toby Limmer, Bob Smith, Trevor Hughes, Robin Gray, Chas Wethered, Martin Torbett, John "Tangent" Williams, Gwilym "Taff' Evans, Pete Hellier, Mike "Quackers" Duck, Ivan Sandford, Davey Lennard, Rich Long, Martin Selfe, Helen Skelton (Camborne School of Mines C.C.), Simon Brooks (Orpheus C.c.), Tim Lamberton, Rob Harper, Graham "Jake" Johnson, Roger and James Marsh, Richard and James Witcombe (A.T.L.A.S.), Andy Smith, Ian Matthews (Frome C.C.), Ben Wills, Becca Campbell, Sarah Timmis, Tony Jarratt.

Valued Assistance.

Jeff Price, D.B.S.S., Forestry Enterprise, Roger Dors, Dave Speed.

 


 

The Mendip Newspage

By Andy Sparrow

Resin Anchors in Rhino Rift

On the 20th February Rhino Rift was, at long last, re-bolted with resin anchors (P-hangers).  The operation was organised by CSCC equipment officer Les Williams who arranged for a generator and extension leads to be provided ensuring there were no power supply problems for the drilling of holes. Ivan Sandford and Paul Brock arrived by Landrover at the cave entrance together with the generator and bolting kit, while Dave Cooke and myself walked over from Longwood Farm with the necessary ropes.

The military precision of this operation was short lived when, meeting at the cave, neither team had remembered to bring a key.  A group descending nearby Longwood (same key) saved the day and the operation was soon underway.

The objective was to bolt the traditional direct or left hand, route.  Mendip being Mendip we often struggle to find ideal placements owing to the soundness of the rock and, especially in this cave, abundant flowstones. The other big problem is the frequent lack of an ideal position to give a user-friendly free hang.

 

Kit arrives at Rhino Rift - Now, who's got the key?

The First Pitch proved fairly easy and the resin anchor placements are pretty much identical to the old 'spit' bolts.  Halfway an anticipated problem was the rebelay.  There is a lot of flowstone here, which is not generally recommended for any type of anchor placement. After close examination a good buttress of rock was spotted about 3 metres off the line of descent and an anchor was placed here.


Drilling on the Second Pitch


Cookie drilling above the Second Pitch

The Second Pitch started easily but the rebelay at -3 metres was problematic.  There was a good solid overhanging wall around the comer into which one anchor was placed.  We decided to place the second one out on a nose of rock simply so that it would be visible and would then lead the rigger on to the second bolt (rebelays this close to the pitch head should always be on double anchors.)

On down to the Third Pitch which proved very easy as expected.  We placed two anchors at the bottom of the Second Pitch to try and lead cavers over to the right hand wall and away from the highly dangerous rubble slope.  At the head of the Third there is a simple two anchor Y hang for a straight hang.

So how is the newly P-bolted Rhino?  Dave Cooke tried out the route the following weekend and reported that all the anchors seemed to be sound.  Another group already in the cave had missed the new offset rebelay on the First. This is likely to be a common occurrence until people are advised of where to look. Cookie says that this anchor also works fine as a deviation - which is handy.  The other group had not correctly interpreted the placements at the second and had deviated from the anchor on the 'nose' (no doubt making it bloody hard to pass!).


Busy with the resin gun on the First Pitch

One thing that does excite me about the new route is the position of the First Pitch rebelay. I've yet to try it but it seems almost certain that a hang from this position will easily pick up the bolts from the more technical Right Hand Route.  This would allow some excellent combinations of the two descent routes. There are no current plans to resin anchor the Right hand route because the bolts are all in pretty good condition but eventually it will happen.  If anyone finds stripped bolts on the route let me know and it may precipitate some action sooner rather than later.


 

A Training Facility for Cavers

 

Picture: The Wall

As previously reported here Mendip cavers are to acquire a purpose built indoor training facility. Wells Community Education has been granted a lottery grant for the construction of a new sports hall at the Blue School in Wells.  This is part of a wider policy to promote and encourage sport in the community and included in the grant were funds for the building of a climbing wall in the old school gym.  Since the gym has been regularly used for caver training events it was felt that a facility for cavers should be included.  This was conceived and designed jointly by the climbing wall company and myself.  The good news is that the facility is finished and ready for use. 

The next stage is to discuss times, costs and conditions of usage, which will be published at http://www.ascaveservices.demon.co.uk/newsoae:e.htm shortly and in future BBs.


Left: Chris Castle on the Wall
Right: Beryl Hearn in one of the chimneys on the wall
Digital images by Andy Sparrow 


 

Scotland ’99 – Derick Guy in the Connecting Crawl in Claonaite

Photo – Pete Glanvill



 

The Belfry Fifty Years Ago

By Tim Kendrick

If you see an old geezer wandering wistfully around near the Belfry some weekend, be tolerant, please. It may be one of us, who were once like you, back for a look.

I'm told things haven't changed at all since I spent Easter there exactly half a century ago, but I don't believe it.

In fact, much must have changed, but I hope everyone still finds the same warm welcome there, starting friendships that last a lifetime, as I did.

The Belfry I knew is half a world and half a century away from my present home in British Columbia, but the memories are strong.  So, at Estelle's request, I'll try to pass on some of the flavour of holidays at the Belfry in what must seem like ancient times to most readers.

First a disclaimer: Others have been active in the club for decades and know much more of its history than myself.  I am presuming to write this only in the hope of reviving some memories and maybe prodding others into doing the same.

Easter 1949 was sunny, we had a great time, and I've got the photos to prove it.

Like many there, I was young.  Chafing at the restrictions of school, home life, first jobs, university or the armed services, the Belfry seemed like a different world to many of us.  It represented freedom.  There were few rules.  Males and females slept in the same room - a novelty at a time when Youth Hostels were segregated as strictly as nunneries.

Wartime restrictions and shortages still lingered in England, and few young people had cars.  The BEC was a motorcycle culture.  We fixed our own bikes and we didn't wear crash helmets. Mucking about with machinery was called "festering" for some reason - a term peculiar to the BEC, I think.

There were no speed limits on country roads and little traffic.  Nobody worried about police traps or being caught while driving under the influence, which was common after visits to the Hunters or other pubs. Most of us smoked like chimneys and nobody bugged us about it.  Escaping real life, I rode down from the Midlands whenever I could, always trying to beat my previous time to the Belfry.  Setting off before dawn and riding wide open on empty roads with more wildlife than traffic, I once hit a big rabbit with my footrest - we had good stew that night.

We're all old farts now, those of us still around, and some may shake their heads at the way young people behave these days, forgetting we used to be the same, if not worse.

Anyone remember "Foulmouth" McKee, notorious for getting the club banned from a pub in Priddy after using the "F word" to the landlady?  The locals must have loved us!

Thanks to the Internet, I'm happily in contact again with Dizzie, Angus and others from those days after a fifty-year gap.

Back then, Angus did Evel Knievel stunts off a plank ramp outside the Belfry and still remembers a drag race we had after unlawfully posting sentries to close off a straight mile of road near the Belfry.  He rode an ancient but extremely potent racing bike and I a modem Triumph T100 with megaphone exhausts and a satisfying roar.

We caved hard, drank cider hard and soft, and quaffed beer by the gallon under the wary eye of Ben Dors, Hunters Lodge landlord, who saw us as a very mixed blessing.

Back from the pub, on good evenings we sang raunchy songs and downed more ale around huge campfires. When finally zonked, a circle was formed and the fire ceremoniously peed out.  Ladies were often present.

Maybe I'm looking back through the rose-tinted glasses of time, but I recall no accidents or anyone getting sick apart from some monumental hangovers.  There were no fights and few hard words.  Drugs and pot weren't even an option.  We were a happy lot, having the best of times, and it shows in my photos.

The Belfry itself was nothing like the brick building I see on the BEC Web site today.  Originally it looked like a big, beat-up plywood crate that would be at home in any Balkan refugee camp.  By 1949 the BEC had moved house a few hundred yards and had built a new wooden sleeping annex, but my overall memories are of grunge and a comfortable chaos.

The only electricity came from the rattling, smoky little four-stroke "Genny".  There may have been running water, but it seems to me that we did most of our post-caving cleanups in Mineries Pond.

The outhouse, or "detailer", was definitely of the gross variety.  A terrible tale was told about the guy who forgot to check the level, and sat down dangling into the caustic chemical goop designed to keep the contrivance approachable.

I'll leave caving epics to others, but the "in" cave that Easter was Stoke Lane, its sump newly penetrated by the BEC. Going through that black and stinking sump rated as one of my scariest cave trips to date, right up there with being lowered 365 feet into Yorkshire's Gaping Ghyll.

Swildons was popular - an easy "Top of Swildons" used to clear hangovers without too much strain.  Some believers had started to dig in a small way at nearby St. Cuthbert's Swallet, but few were hopeful of it going anywhere.

Caving gear was primitive, most of it army surplus.  Cave divers, all pioneers in those days, used dangerous re-breathing gear with caustic chemicals.  Imagine life with no plastic: no Ziploc bags to keep stuff dry in caves, no neoprene wet suits, no nylon ropes, no glowing Spandex or Nikes.

Ropes and ladders were of the hairy variety in every sense.  Wire ladders were being made by a few skilled cavers, but they were expensive and required a new climbing technique.  Many didn't trust them - they looked far too flimsy to bear the weight of real cavers.

I can't recall seeing or using karabiners or other mountain hardware.  I don't think Jumars and the like had even been invented.

Like many other BEC members, I was a keen photographer, and still am, but cave photos were a challenge.

Electronic flash was still a dream so we used flash powder, a semi-explosive mix with a magnesium base. This was heaped on a small device with a metal tray then held well away from the face and ignited by a spring-driven flint wheel.  Maybe this is where the term "flash gun" originated.

Large cave chambers called for large loads of powder.  These took a bit of courage to set off by hand.  With all caving lamps doused, and the camera shutter opened on "Bulb" setting, big piles of powder went off with a huge "Whooff", followed by mushroom clouds of white smoke rising above the sometimes-scorched photographer.

But where have all the really good photos gone?  I just had an old folding bellows Kodak, but some more senior cavers actually had good jobs, fine 35mm cameras, and were already skilled photographers - Don Coase, for example.

It's tempting to ramble on sentimentally for pages, but I won't.

As I write, an old photo album is propped open against my computer.

There in front of me in 1949, young friends are at ease, sprawled in the sun outside the Hunters, the year 2000 impossibly distant.  In the photos they are caving, eating, drinking and enjoying life to the full, so it's hard to face that many are dead and the rest are old in body if not in spirit.

To the current generation I can only say - you should be so lucky!

Email: teekay@[removed]

More photos and history at Tim's Website at: http://www.netidea.com/-teekav/caves.htm 

The following photos were taken by permission from Tim’s Website, hopefully they will bring back memories for many amnd maybe stir up some more stotries form the past.

If anyone can identify persons in any of the pictures, please either contact me (editor) with the details or e-mail Tim direct.

 


 



 

A Scottish Winters Tale

By Kangy King

That day we'd planned to go to Cairngorm to ski because there have been early dumps of snow on the hills and skiing has been quite reliable.  Friend Greta phoned at 07.00hrs to say that she had contacted the Ski Station and because gale force winds were forecast had decided to save her day off and forgo the pleasure of arctic skiing.  Janet and I were sceptical that the winds would be worse than we'd experienced the day before on Cairngorm, when despite little visibility, we'd skied on good snow.  However, there it was, we'd had our fun the day before and we decided no Greta, no ski.

Sunshine lit the Strathconon Hills which gleamed white in the distant view from our front door.  So out of ski stuff into hill stuff and off to a good start.  The drive was punctuated with flurries of snow.  The main roads were clear.  We arrived at the Braemore junction and drove carefully along the Poolewe road which hadn't been cleared completely until we arrived at our start, the gate to the Fannichs. Nowhere to park except in deep snow. We drove further, to a layby. This too was inaccessible. I executed a 48 point turn and slid back to a wider part of the road where we had a coffee, decided to leave the car as far over as possible, and go for it.  No sooner had we picked up our rucsacs when a snowplough stopped just behind us. The driver stepped down from his cab. "Ye canna leave it there.  We'll ha' tae push it off the road.  Have ye no heard about the blizzards coming?"  We were too embarrassed to argue and drove off while the plough followed uncomfortably close.  Janet studied plan B on the map; to go for Beinn Enaiglair.  There was a large car park at the junction a few miles down the road and if possible we could try it from there.

The car park was accessible. The stalkers path through the estate was not.  A notice told us that the route for hill walkers had been relocated and could be found over the stile to the East.  We found it easily enough but there was no path to be seen under a foot of snow. The first few steps told us that the snow was powder and the ground not frozen.  Oh dear.

We struggled along the fence to the end of the plantation and with the prospect of picking up a well-marked path once we'd joined the original route, Janet struck up the hill. It was only a short time before she walked into a deep bog hidden under the covering of snow.  Stuck almost up to her waist in freezing water she could hardly move until I was able to give her a hand to pull her out.  She was soaked to the skin.  Without discussing it further we turned and retraced our tracks back to the car.  With luck we could get back home in time for lunch and wait for a better day.


 

Vale: N (Tommy) L. Thomas.

By Dave Irwin

Following a long illness 'Tommy' Thomas died on the 5th April 1999 aged 71.  'Tommy' joined the Club about 1965 when he had a new round of caving activity.  He started caving in the late 1940s and was a founder member of the SMCC.  Working near Norwich and family commitments prevented regular visits to Mendip.

However, when I first knew him, the Marble Hall area of St. Cuthbert's Swallet had just been opened up and he was frequently with us on the exploration/photographic trips.  His interest in cave flora and fauna helped to identify a sub-species of Niphargus in the Maypole Series of the cave.  He also collected specimens from Swildons Hole and Cuckoo Cleeves.

In 1949 Tommy was involved with the removal of the human and animal bones from Bone Chamber in Stoke Lane Slocker.  Using hydrochloric acid he managed to retrieve a human lower jawbone partially buried in stalagmite.  Last year I was in contact with him on a number of occasions relating to the Stoke Lane exercise and he was extremely helpful partly aided by his remarkably clear memory; he also supplied further information to Bryan Ellis who has contributed to the forthcoming history of the SMCC.

'Tommy' kept up his membership of the BEC to the end. Molly, his wife died in 1998.

Our condolences and sympathies go to his daughter and his brother, our very own Alan Thomas.

Wig


 

The Priddy Connection

- A history of Priddy Green Sink and its implications on downstream Swildons Hole, 1957 -1974 By Dave Irwin

At the northern edge of Priddy Green, close by Fountain Cottage, is the location of the village fountain; the water that feeds it having been piped from Priddy Spring - also the main source of the Swildons Hole stream.  The fountain was in regular use by the villagers until 1955 when mains water was laid on. (note 1)  Waste water from the fountain sank close-by into a small swallet and had been observed by Herbert Balch in the early days of the exploration of Swildons Hole.

Balch thought that it was possibly the same small stream that he saw emerging from a small hole a short distance upstream of Sump I in Swildons Hole.  The date was the 1st August 1921 and the inlet eventually became known as Priddy Pool Passage. (note 2)  However, in the 1950s, the water flowing out from this point was shown to be water coming from Black Hole Series and not in any way connected with the water sinking at the swallet at the northern edge of Priddy Green.  Mike Thompson described the location of Priddy Green Sink and other sites of interest in the vicinity of Priddy Green. (note 3)

... In the immediate area of the Green there are at least two other sinks. One in the farmyard  (note 4) by the telephone kiosk the other by the council houses.  The latter can be said to be active in that it takes most of the local sewage.

Between 1950-1962 activity in Swildons Hole was intense and extremely rewarding. (note 5)  Though the CDG Somerset divers were full of hope of passing Sump III, MNRC cavers searched for a possible high level route over the sumps off the Swildons Two streamway.  The Black Hole Series (1949-1950) was discovered. However it was not the hoped for high level bypass to Sumps II and III. (note 6)  The belief that Cheddar was the resurgence for the water flowing through Swildons was still prevalent at this time and hence it was thought all the major passages would be heading west.  The discovery of St. Paul's Series, in 1953 by MNRC and WCC, came somewhat as a surprise; it was a 900 ft long passage heading south!! For some time, work progressed at the First Mud Sump - it was trending west.  The second mud sump (now the Mud Sump), at the southernmost extremity of the series, was known to occasionally open and from it emerged a strong draught; this site was ignored for over a year.  Eventually, partly because of the difficulties of progressing through the First Mud Sump and Dennis Kemp's insistence that the second ought to be attacked, Oliver Wells moved the diggers' attention to this point. The breakthrough into Paradise Regained (1955) followed eventually leading to the opening up of the U Tube into Shatter Passage (1960) and the other high level passages in this area, S.E. Inlets.  At the western end of Paradise Regained lay the infamous Blue Pencil Passage where a large stream could be heard at its lower end; many who heard it thought that they were heading out into the Swildons II streamway - even though Kemp had surveyed the St. Paul's Series and Paradise Regained passages!!  Sheer bloody mindedness caused him and his faithful band of followers, mainly from the Westminster Speleological Group, to blast and dig their way through 30ft of constricted passage  - involving 'continuous' work for two and a half years!  In June 1957 success was theirs and before them lay the streamway of Swildons Four with its wonderfully varied scenery. (note 7)  The pundits were astonished!  Doubt was now forming in the minds of the 'boffins' and quite lengthy arguments commenced as to where the Swildons water resurged - Cheddar or Wookey. This was finally ended by the 1967 water tracing of the Central Mendip swallets. Swildons stream flowed to Wookey Hole.  Persistence, mainly by WCC and SMCC, paid off and during the next few years, 1958 - 1966, large extensions were made in Swildons Hole opening up most of the passages that are known today

At the time of the discovery of Swildons Four the water flowing down Cowsh Aven had been correctly guessed as having come from the Manor Farm area - many of the clues were frequently seen and smelt in the Swildons Four streamway!  To effect a 440ft deep entrance from Priddy Green itself was a dream held by many which would avoid the 'long drag' through St. Paul's Series, Paradise Regained and Blue Pencil Passage. (note 8)  More seriously, the discovery of the Four streamway presented a potential problem.  Cave diving aside, (note 9) to reach the Four streamway was one of the most severe undertakings on Mendip at that time; it was regarded as a 'super severe' trip and cavers ventured into this region with caution.  Many people commented on the feeling of isolation (some still do) when in the passages beyond Blue Pencil Passage.  Those who regularly undertook the trip into Four realised that the 'traffic' was on the increase and they became concerned about the potential rescue problems.  From both a divers and cavers point of view any opening up of Cowsh Avens to the surface would be a quicker. (note 10)

... easier, less dangerous access to Swildons IV, facilitating the further exploration of V and VI .... [and the) possibility that high level passages may be found to by-pass the present obstacles to V, VI, or both ....

During February 1958 the first attempt to climb Cowsh Aven was made by Len Dawe, Mike Thompson, Frank Darbon, Jerry Wright and Ken Dawe, who, variously, were members of the SMCC and WSG.  The WSG members treated Cowsh Aven as one their great prizes and when they heard that the Sandhurst cadets were going to Jump on the band-wagon Ralph Lewis and Darbon of WSG, manufactured a special maypole, each section being only 2 feet long, to enable the poles to be manoeuvred through the bends at the bottom of Blue Pencil Passage.  They succeeded in getting up Cowsh Aven and encountered two more, the first, Great Aven was at the time particularly wet with a heavy stream falling; the second was christened Wright's Aven after Jerry Wright had climbed it to confirm that it closed down to an impenetrable crack.  Having met an impasse, though they had returned again on the following weekend (23rd February) they made no further progress.  A short series of acrobatics by Thompson and Ken Dawe opened up the roof level oxbows above the Swildons Four stream way leading off from the top of Cowsh Aven. (note 11) A follow-up trip on 28th September attempted to cross what had become known as Mike's Horror  (note 12) but due to excess mud and the stream way 40ft below the attempt was called off.  With great difficulties now being encountered in the avens work concentrated again on the active stream way and downstream sumps and the Shatter Pot and S.E. Inlet area.

Water tracing:

To help contain the ever increasing number of unsightly carbide dumps that were appearing in the new sections of passage, Fred Davies, (note 13) Alan Fincham and Keith Robins took two tins down the first being left in Breakfast Chamber (the small chamber at the head of Blue Pencil Passage) and the other taken into Swildons Four and left on the ledge opposite the exit from Blue Pencil Passage.  Moving downstream on a quick sightseeing tour the party could not fail to notice the odour  (note 14)

... of pigsh or cowsh.  Found very powerful stream, heavily polluted, pouring down the aven.  This was causing the smell. Must be small flood sink somewhere close to a farmyard and almost above us.  This muck caused fantastic foaming on the sump. Changed carbide, ate chocolate, then out as fast as possible.  Came up Wet Way for the hell of it.

The observation prompted an attempt to prove the water connection between Priddy Green and Swildons Four. This work was carried out by W.J.R. (Wally) Willcocks  (note 15) of the SMCC in November 1958 in association with Oliver Lloyd during a CDG event in Swildons Four.  Because much of Mendip water is used for domestic and farming purposes conventional water-tracing techniques could not be used.  Willcocks came to the conclusion that copper sulphate would do the job.  Thus 71b (3.2kg) of dissolved crystals was poured  (note 16)

... into "Cowsh Swallet" ... just prior to the entry of the cave .... Dr. O.c. Lloyd took spaced samples of the water flowing down the relevant aven .... '

The results showed conclusively that the two points were connected by the water.  In November 1959 Davies summed up the enthusiasm that followed  (note 17):

Following the evidence obtained by "Wally" ... Jim Hanwell of the Wessex approached Mr. Main and obtained permission to dig the swallet in the hope of entering Swildons IV and so providing an escape route from those distant parts of the cave. (note 18)

Hopes were high when work was started at 5.30 a.m. on Wednesday 26 August. By nine that evening vast quantities of soil and rock had been removed ...

Digging progressed at an unashamedly enthusiastic pace, as Jim Hanwell commented at the time  (note 19)

... work has been carried out on every weekend and some weekdays .... we held the optimistic view that we would soon "see where we were going" ... (note 20)

After a few false starts it was realised that there were no identifiable signs of a discrete passage and so it was decided to uncover the pipe laid by the Mains which discharged near the swallet.  The idea was to follow the waste water  (note 21)

... as it soaked away.  The task was not an enviable one, but we were greatly assisted by excellent weather, and some 40 willing helpers (representing most of the Mendip caving clubs) to whom we are extremely grateful.  In this way we had soon opened up a third shaft, which extended to enclose the area excavated by the previous two

The fine weather that had been in the diggers' favour could not hold. Indeed it soon broke but not before a shaft, six foot square and ten feet deep was shored with a prefabricated wooden structure. (note 22)

... Despite a small setback when the shoring collapsed work has now started on the installation of permanent concrete pipe as shoring since we are confident that this will go, although it may need much chemical persuasion ....

The twenty-eight inch diameter concrete pipes were placed on a solid limestone-concrete footing producing a solid seven-foot deep shaft - such were the diggers' confidence of success. It was not long that good progress had been made reaching a depth of 30ft.  The enthusiasm for this project was reflected in various club journals. Even the Belfry Bulletin caught the infection and prophesied that something would be found there! (note 23) A surface survey to establish the altitude differential of the entrances to Swildons Hole and Priddy Green Sink was carried out on the 9th September 1959.  Both sites were found to be within one foot of each other. (note 24)

The work now took on a serious turn, chemical persuasion was frequently used which tended to slow the digging operation.  However, by Easter 1960 a significant stage was reached - open passage had been found. The blasting that had opened the initial section of the cave made the way through narrow joints but during the Easter break a hole [The Window] was breached entering a passage formed in fault breccia through which an active stream was running [Fault Plane Passage]. (note 25)  This discovery was a sizeable T shaped passage, twenty feet long and gradually descending, which led to a squeeze between boulders. (note 26)  This obstacle was cleared and a further short section of passage and small chamber entered which ended at a silt-choked passage. (note 27)

... Removal of spoil and debris is now a very difficult job but it can truly be said that we have now entered real cave and are not simply excavating an artificial one ....

Some 100ft of passage, reaching a depth of 80ft, had been discovered.  Lloyd arranged that the 'sewer boat' be brought out of the Swildons Hole Priddy Green Passage dig in the hope of easing the movement of spoil within the dig but it proved too big to be of use (8-10 July 1960).

The end chamber had been entered early in August 1960 and called, somewhat tongue in cheek, Great Chamber.  During one of the digging sessions in Anniversary Rift beyond Great Chamber cavers working there (Thompson, Ellis, Hanwell and Davies) had been warned that it had started to rain. (note 28)

We did not realise the need for haste and were settled at the top of the aven (note 29) when, preceded by a steady roar, a wall of water rushed through the squeeze and into the aven.  This did not make the exit from the cave any easier.  Mike Thompson was carrying his Oldham accumulator whilst traversing the squeeze, he let it go and the water carried it, plus his helmet, to the bottom of the aven.  The cave would appear to flood rather rapidly .... re-entered the cave when the rain had stopped, recovered Mikes helmet & lamp, buried under 6" of rubble ...

A topic of great import reared its head and was discussed by Davies in the Shepton Mallet Caving Club journal - it concerned the name of the cave.  Cowsh Swallet had become generally accepted among the diggers but Davies wrote: (note 30)

... Cowsh Swallet was I believe, first coined by Alan Fincham and I for the hypothetical swallet which fed cowsh down the aven in Swildons N.  Now that this has been shown to be the same as that known for years as Priddy Green Swallet then surely this name should stand. "Cowsh" however, is now accepted by many cavers, and, if W.S.G., who were responsible for its exploration, have no objection, I would suggest that this now be transferred to the aven, i.e.  The water of Priddy Green Swallet enters Swildons IV via Cowsh Aven.

Though Priddy Green was retained it became 'Sink' instead of 'Swallet' - a pity.

However, digging continued and stacking of spoil was somewhat eased by the slightly spacious nature of Great Chamber. Hanwell wrote (note 31)

A very tight awkward squeeze past a pronounced boss led into another small chamber, and the removal of the boulder floor gave access to a short aven terminating in a gravel choke.  As this was on the eve of the first anniversary of starting work we felt justified in naming the latter 'Anniversary Rift'.

A low grade working survey was produced by Hanwell, Davies and Thompson and published bearing the date at which each significant point was reached.  The cave was now 100 feet deep. (note 32)  However, by the end of 1960 enthusiasm had died away and little work was being done.

The diver’s activities in the active streamway and the spectacular discoveries in Shatter Series (note 33)

... put the dampers on the green and robbed it of its former popularity .... Without doubt the Green is one of the most important digs on Mendip and to admit defeat now would ... be most unfortunate.  In spite of the great advances already made using the conventional route, the advantages of a backdoor to Swildons cannot be too clearly emphasised, bearing in mind the almost terrifying result of the rescue practice in Blue Pencil Passage. Not only does the grim prospect of an accident in Series Four grow with the ever increasing population of the caving world, but the journey to the 'coalface' of exploration gets even longer.

'Jim' Giles had summed up contemporary thoughts in a nut-shell.

Following the divers successes in the opening up of Swildons VI and VII the idea of a quick way into the cave via Priddy Green Sink and Cowsh Avens became an even more attractive proposition for, and what is now generally forgotten, the logistics and sheer slog of transporting bulky diving gear, masses of dry clothing, cooking facilities and other sundry items down through PR into Swildons Four required large sherpa parties. (note 34)  Thus in 1962 Mike Thompson suggested resurrecting the work in Cowsh and giving it another try.  Mike Boon judged that.

... spectacular discoveries from this direction would obviously spur diggers at Priddy Green to face the worms and green slime with some degree of hope

Further expansion of Swildons Hole

In the intervening period little work had been done at the digging face of Priddy Green Sink. Following the enormous effort put in during the eighteen months from August 1959 and through 1960, digging effort decreased to a sporadic activity during 1961 and the subsequent four years. Work had ceased, not because of lack of interest but because the variety of operations being carried out within Swildons spread the limited number of diggers and divers too thinly. (note 35)

The divers, Steve Wynne-Roberts, Boon, Fred and Philip Davies, Thompson had progressed downstream opening up the cave as far as Sump VIII. (note 36)  In 1961 Boon broke the twenty five-year old stubborn impasse at Sump III by successfully passing it from the downstream end.  He also made history in that the passage through the sumps and airbells shortened the 'carry' distance and now enabled standard lengths of scaffold tubing to be transported into Swildons Four and also because he used lightweight personal diving equipment now coming in common usage it meant that divers in the future would be able to travel through the cave without the need of huge support parties.

Elsewhere in the cave the Shatter Pot 'U' Tube had been passed and Shatter Passage entered. Wynne-Roberts and Bob Pike had climbed the South East Inlets, Double Trouble Series explored, Vicarage Passage was opened up and eventually connected to Double Trouble Series forming the now popular 'round-trip'.  The exploration did not end there; in fact this phase in the history of Swildons Hole was not to end until 1966 following major discoveries including Swildons IX - XII, Victoria Aven, North West Stream Passage and those climbing epics recounted in this paper.  A period in the story of Mendip caving that cavers now dream about.

1962 Cowsh push

Since the initial investigation of Cowsh Aven Series the place had been largely ignored because the 'pickings' had been easier and more profitable elsewhere.  Between 1958 and 1962 came the short-lived but energetic digging of Priddy Green Sink and by the end of 1960 this too had run out of steam. Though a little work was carried out in Priddy Green during 1961 it was not until 1962 when Boon suggested that an attack at Cowsh Avens was in order in the hope that if they had success there it might just get another push underway in Priddy Green Sink.  And so, though many thought this effort would not be forthcoming in a committed way for it would spread the limited resources too thinly on the ground, a party was assembled from members of MNRC and SMCC and the date set for 20th May 1962.

The Hensler Maypole that had been used in Vicarage Passage was transported from Swildons Two to Four via Sumps II and III, which in itself was a considerable benefit, not only did it reduce the length of the carry but also standard six foot lengths of maypole could be used instead of the 2ft lengths required to transport a maypole through Blue Pencil Passage.

Among the cavers involved from the MNRC were Dave Turner, Bob Craig, and Ron Teagle, Pat Mellor, and, Shirley Drakes and David St. Pierre from SWETCC and Boon who, in his graphic style, recalled the method of attacking Great Aven. (note 37)

... The base of Great Aven is shaped like a boat in plan, with the stream falling straight down the sharp end. We raised five of our maypole sections without much trouble, but by the time we had fixed the sixth it had become very hard to raise and was under considerable tension.

The upper tip of the pole was snagging on the underside of small ledges jamming its upward movement as each successive length of pole was added.  In the end the party located the pole by swinging it and as it swung pushed upwards hoping that it would miss the ledges!  They were successful and Mellor put his life in the hands of the others for now the top of the maypole was lost in the general gloom and spray. He reached a ledge at 32ft but not the main ledge reported earlier by Noel Cleeve who had free climbed to the 40ft ledge.  Boon and two others joined Mellor and they assessed the situation.  Free climbing was out of the question for the next eight-foot section was a smooth cylindrical wall; it required that the maypole be drawn up. However, events controlled the next action!  When the bottom of the maypole had been lifted 20ft from the floor of Great Aven, the lower sections of maypole tubing decided to separate and fall back to the floor; the bods at the bottom having to scatter in all directions to escape the metallic bombardment.  Boon reported' …. no one had been brained.'  The maypole stripped, reassembled and ladder attached was pushed upwards but the inevitable happened.  It had jammed.  However, when the maypole was free the ladder had attached itself to some projection. A further four sections of maypole were assembled and Mellor climbed this to free the ladder.  As he did so  (note 38)

... a torrent suddenly discharged itself from the aven so we left the maypole in position and retreated from the ledge, with Mellor muttering 'wetter than the wet pitch in Lost John's' ....

The upshot of all this was there had been a thunderstorm on the surface; thus ending a 15 hour trip. (note 39)

Three weeks was long enough to get over the worst feelings of the last trip and a strong party made its way through to Cowsh Aven (9th June).  A mixture of MNRC and SMCC members consisting of Boon, Davies, Ken Dawe, Turner, Craig, Thompson, John Letheren and Teagle.  Back at the ledge in Great Aven a rawlbolt was eventually positioned some 20 ft above the ledge and a ladder attached.  Dawe suggested someone should free climb up from the top of the ladder he wasn't - he was a married man!  Boon was nominated or volunteered and found himself about 8 ft above the ladder climbing on slimy rock. (note 40)  He required extra protection and his eye

... cast around for a crack to take a second running belay ... The most obvious chance was a large upturned spur of chert like an oversize coat-hook on the left-hand wall.  I tapped this gingerly with a piton hammer whereupon it promptly cracked across the base, but stayed in position .... By now I found that staying on my greasy perch was becoming an effort, and I asked for one of the 'expansion stemples' ... to be sent up on the second line.  In an unguarded moment I leaned my hand on the coat-hook whereupon it broke off and fell uninterruptedly for 27' until it struck the middle of Mike Thompson's back as he hunted for a stemple.

Thompson left the cave with Dawe, leaving Boon to carry on although there were shouts to come back down. Boon couldn't get down from his current stance and could only progress upwards.

Using a combination of slings and pitons he worked his way up from  (note 41)

... the deadly little cluster of running belays on sloping ledges for a further 10' to the top of the aven ... The aven narrowed considerably in this section and a tight passage carrying the stream entered on the line of the main axis. The squeeze into this was exceptionally tight, but as the passage ahead seemed dead straight, 1 decided to force it, and after a few feet emerged into a good chamber.

This was 35 feet above the ledge plus the 42 feet from the ledge and they had succeeded in adding a further 77 feet upwards towards Priddy Green Sink.  Boon was followed by Teagle, Turner, Davies and Letheren, and a short ascending passage halted any further progress by ending at the foot of yet another aven - Main's Aven named in honour of Albert Main of Manor Farm.  Davies attempted to climb Main's but only made about 15 feet when it became clear that free climbing to the top was not possible. (note 42)  The sections of maypole could not be passed through the squeeze at the top of Great Aven and so it was decided to strip all the equipment out of the avens leaving only a couple of abseil slings.  This was regarded as the limit for upward exploration from the Swildons Four streamway and  (note 43)

... work has re-started vigorously on the Priddy Green Sink above ....

New Discoveries. Priddy Green Sink, 1962

Following on the heels of the Great Aven epic, work recommenced within Priddy Green Sink.  A variety of clubs now became interested and helped out with the general slogging work.  The SMCC Hut Log for 1962 includes the following entry by Boon dated 29th July  (note 44)

... These months saw a revival of interest in P.G. the work being done by Wessex, Shepton, BEC, MNRC, etc, and by some powerful newcomers to the scene, the RAF Compton Basset boys. Work has concentrated on the end choke, where the water appeared to sink indeterminably into a slit cum boulder floor beneath a rock arch ....

Digging trips resumed including a number made by Thompson and Turner to the terminal choke.  But the 'great' breakthrough came from the newcomers in the form of the largest feature yet discovered in the cave - a chamber about half way down the cave, RAP Aven [Chamber] - the point where the 1995 digging commenced. Boon on his first visit to the new chamber commented that it was  (note 45)

... huge compared with anything else in the system, a water splash formed pothole broadening with depth and choked with big boulders. It is in fact a small brother to the great avens below.

Digging at the lower end of the cave continued until 1965 but conditions were really dicey several diggers experienced near misses - John Cornwell in 1962 and Tim Reynolds in 1965 both narrowly missed being decapitated due to falling boulders.  Below Anniversary Rift a boulder ruckle was encountered where the excavators had to work below it.  The diggers became extremely frustrated for each time they removed a boulder another slid down to take its place!

On 27th July 1963 William Stanton, aided by Bryan Ellis and Fred Davies, surveyed the extension (note 46) and commenting later in the WCC Journal (note 47) the surveyor suggested that digging in the new chamber might be a better prospect than persevering with the lower dig and its potential dangers.  The two points were in close proximity with each other and digging from the chamber would mean moving down through the boulders rather than working under them. (note 48)

Sporadic digging continued into 1964-65, mainly by SMCC.  Late in 1964, on 6th October, Thompson and Roger Biddle returned to RAP Aven [chamber] (note 49) and located a possible dig site in the floor, but the way on was blocked by a large boulder. (note 50)  This was removed a few days later resulting in a disappointingly too-tight bedding plane.  Not to be defeated at the first attempt the following day, 11th October 1964, Biddle attempted a new site at the far end of the chamber but again the boulders were too big to move.  The final attempt was on the 20th October when Thompson, George Pointing, and Biddle were heaving boulders and banging with little to show for their joint effort.

Enthusiasm was flagging and though there were a number of SMCC, WCC and SVCC mixed 'banging' and digging trips during 1965 work at the site was effectively at an end.  Caver perception had formed the opinion that prospects were not good and added to that working conditions could be abominable. (note 51)

Went to Cowdung Swallet with Roger Biddle and Pete Smith.  While Pete sorted out the bang and dets Roger and myself descended to drill a suitable hole for a charge.  Upon arriving at the end we found that a large amount of krut had fallen from an aven onto the working face.  After a cursory examination and dig we decided no banging could be done, and as the place was smelling violently [sic] we packed up and left. By far the worst conditions I have ever seen down the Green, with liquid 'krut' running down the walls and great hoardes [sic] of worms and flies.  And so back for a wash .....

The concentration of effort moved back into Swildons Hole culminating in the three year epic push principally by Davies, Ray Mansfield (UBSS) and Brian Woodward (SMCC) between 1970 and 1973. (note 52)

1964 SVCC Extensions

For a period of two years exploratory work in the Cowsh Avens was at a standstill; the top of Main's Aven had not been reached.  Work too in Priddy Green Sink had also ended due to the difficulty of digging. The divers, having reached Sump VIII had re-generated sufficient interest to keep the idea alive of bypassing the sumps.  WCC diggers were achieving great results in Shatter Passage in their attempt to by-pass the downstream sumps - though this was generally regarded as being highly unlikely as a result of the Ellis - Davies survey which had shown a considerable displacement of the two passages.

In 1964 -1965 a renewal of interest to seriously assess the possibilities of by-passing Sump IV by a high level route came from two sources, a joint WCC/SMCC venture and from a relatively new Mendip club who had several extremely good climbers amongst its membership - the Severn Valley Caving Club.

During a visit to Swildons Four, late in September 1964, a party of SVCC became intrigued by the climb up Cowsh Aven.  Bob Lewis, knowing of the WCC/SMCC interest in the area, attempted the climb but 'rotten' rock made life difficult and he inevitably peeled off landing in the stream! Not to be defeated he tried again but eventually, the others, now cold and irritated, brought Lewis down again. On the 4th October, Lewis was back with Ken Higgs, Mike Wooding and Mike Tait.  Collecting the scattered sections of maypole left by the MNRC and SMCC teams following the previous attempts in the Cowsh Avens, Cowsh Aven was scaled and the team found themselves faced with the daunting task of scaling Great Aven. (note 53)

... This is very impressive, being about 90 feet high and 25 feet by 10 feet at the bottom.  Our feeble lights could not pierce the darkness to show the top.  Magnesium ribbon failed to reveal the rumoured ledge at 40 feet, and after I had climbed a little way up at each end, we retired thoroughly impressed ....

A few days later, whilst the honest members of SVCC were ensconced at their work places Wooding and Keith Hanna (UBSS), being students having plenty of spare time on their hands (1) made their way back to Great Aven.  Sweating and heaving they succeeded in getting the maypole back up to the base of the aven and the fabled ledge was reached.  At that point the ladders and maypole sections were brought up enabling Wooding to make the top, though not without some excitement when the maypole was about to collapse, he having to free climb the final 20 feet  (note 54)

... The remainder of the climb was free and quite easy, though a little exposed.  I reached the roof and was about to curse our sources of information, as there was no apparent way on, when I noticed the stream emerging from a small hole.  This was gratefully entered, although it was necessary to remove slings and hammer before I could get through.  A short scramble led to the base of Main's Aven, again, the top was invisible.

On the next full trip, 11th October in order to make life more comfortable and escape from the spray at the bottom of Main's Aven, the SVCC built a temporary polythene shelter which, though good in theory, proved of little use in practice.  An attempt to climb the aven had been made on the day before by Wooding who had not succeeded.  On this occasion, Wooding absent, the climb was abandoned but Paul Allen noticed a hole in the side of the aven not seen by previous parties. (note 55)

.. , Spurred on by this discovery Paul made an attempt to climb up to the opening, but it was left to Bob to finally make it. A very thrilled party followed by ladder, up a step in the passage, to a small chamber, at first sight a cul-de-sac, but with two inconspicuous fissures in the roof.  One of these was noticed by Paul, who failed to get through; Ken, however, had very little difficulty in passing this tight vertical slot and entered a high level mud passage one end of which led back into Main's Aven, the other continuing via a fairly lengthy crawl to the top of a large shaft.  The passage was appropriately named Ken's Crawl. ...

As in the case of Barnes Loop, which could, but for chance, so easily have been named Baker's Loop, Ken's Crawl could so well have been Paul's Crawl! That's life.  Having smelt success SVCC arranged their next trip for the 17th of October.  Wooding was to meet Lewis, Allen and Higgs on Priddy Green but overslept at the UBSS hut at Burrington.  Late though he was he eventually trudged the seven miles across Mendip to Main's Barn where he met

... Bob Lewis, missed Paul and Ken, in the rush to get underground to miss ... the seething hoard of Imperial College Caving Club members ....

Wooding, impressed by what he was shown, soon climbed up to the small chamber and, having stripped off, was able to pass both squeezes, one gaining another chamber, the second to Ken's Crawl. Joined by Lewis they moved forward along Ken's Crawl to the head of the pothole Bladder Pot. (note 56)

... After half an hour we gave up an attempt to drill a bolthole and instead arranged a belay of two "manky" pegs and a "thread" for the ladder.  Firmly life lined I descended the ladder to a ledge, and by chance noticed that one side-wire had been cut clean through by a falling stone.  The rest of the pot was climbable however, so I continued down to the floor, over peculiar rounded stalagmite formations, to the top of a vertical slit behind a large stalagmite beehive.  A stone cast through this gave indication of a further pitch, so a retreat was called.

This was Boss Pot. Exiting from both the new extensions and the cave itself proved interesting.  The explorers experienced difficulty descending Great Aven because of the damaged ladder but that wasn't the end of it - some kind, thoughtful,  person had coiled their ladders for the 20ft and 40ft neatly at the top of the pitches! Wooding phrased it rather gently but with feeling' ... the journey out was one of those things one likes to forget… '. It had been an eleven-hour trip which had almost resulted in a rescue call-out for they met a party on their way across the fields to the cave.  Keeping the pressure up, on the following day, Wooding, Brian Roach, Allen, Lewis, Higgs, Lloyd all moved to the head of the BP, having had to fight their way through the regular overcrowding of Swildons One.  Lloyd and Roach broke away from the party before Blue Pencil Passage, the former donating his usual well stocked food supply to the intrepid explorers as they moved off to unknown territory. (note 57)

No trip seemed to be free of problems.  This one was no exception; the abseil rope on Main's Aven had jammed and so the ladder could not be pulled up; Wooding attempted to prussick but failed after several attempts.  Finally everything rested on the climbing ability of Lewis. Eventually the ladder was in position and all were at the top of Bladder Pot. Wooding and Lewis descended and moved down the vertical slit arriving at a small chamber with an obvious exit, requiring a 12ft ladder, giving way to a vadose canyon at the lower end of which Wooding stopped just before a

... big black hole.  I ventured nearer with difficulty and tossed a stone in.  This fell free for about 30 feet and landed in water; we could hear a stream flowing somewhere below us ..  By now, however, I was fighting a losing battle with the mud to avoid falling over the drop, so we turned back ...

The following Wednesday Hanna and Wooding returned to survey the extensions.  Commencing from Main's they continued through Bladder Pot to the drop over a streamway.  Early the following morning, 2.30 am they had the figures worked out and plotted; Wooding noted that  (note 58)

... it was obvious that the furthest point reached was very close to the "Four" streamway just upstream of "Cowsh". Depressing news perhaps, but the top of Bladder Pot was half-way to Priddy Green Sink, so the continuation off the top of the shaft, opposite Ken's Crawl, seemed the most promising place ....

Shortly after the SVCC cavers and Barry Lane (BEC) and Bob Craig (MNRC) re-examined the Dawe- Thompson Traverse followed by an investigation of a side passage at the top of Great Aven by Wooding. This was eventually pushed to a side aven that now bears his name. (note 59)

Oliver Lloyd paid the SVCC a great compliment in his regular WCC Journal Mendip Notes on their fine achievement. (note 60) The top of Bladder Pot is at the same height O.D. as Main's Aven. (note 61)

Fault Chamber extensions. 1957-1960

The possibility of further extensions from Fault Chamber to by-pass Sump IV had been noted by a variety of the Paradise Regained explorers soon after its discovery.  WCC members, Joe Candy and Chris Hawkes, noted and investigated various spots close-by and in 1957 members of the UBSS observed the high level development in the roof of Fault Chamber which became their particular interest, although sporadic, for the next three years.  It also involved the first serious underground climbing, without maypole, in Swildons Hole and together with later events in Cowsh Aven Series during the mid-1960’s was to raise climbing standards to unprecedented levels.  The UBSS, known often by their nickname 'The Spelaeos', (note 62) brought in one of their climbing members, David Tyrwitt, who made it up to a prominent ledge some 30ft above the floor of the chamber on the east wall. This was on the 14th December 1957. (note 63)  A further nine trips between 1957 and 1960 took place  (note 64) some actively encouraged by Oliver Lloyd who was there to keep the momentum going. Some typical entries by Lloyd in the UBSS log  (note 65) indicates the tedious nature of the work

Saturday. 31st October. 1959
Oliver Lloyd, Gerry Witts, Kit Eaton & Barry Perrott to Fault Chamber in Swildons Hole.  Work on this site has been slow for the past year, while Jerry, Kit & Bernard crept up the walls of G.B., hammering in bolts at the rate of two an hour.  Even when parties had visited Fault Chamber the rate of rawlbolt fixation was only one in two hours.  Flushed with success, Jerry & Kit approached what was to them a new problem with confidence ... When they saw the situation at the top of the climb, however, gingerly tapping rocks & generally getting a hollow sound, they appreciated more fully the fact that there is no place under Mendip quite as dangerous as this one ....

Saturday 20th February. 1960
Double Fault Chamber (Swildons) Expedition
First party ... made Fault Chamber by 5.10. We got the ladder up to the top rawlbolt, which was just short of the 9" layer of stalagmite.  The next, which we inserted was about 3½ up & to the left in some stal, over rock (fairly firm).  Jerry moved the ladder onto this & then climbed the gulley for 10', where he put in 4 pitons & let himself down, having the lifeline up through the pitons.  The job we left the second party was therefore to consolidate by putting a r. bolt up by the pitons .... Fault Chamber is getting safer the higher one climbs. not that that is saying much. O. C. Lloyd

The last trip was on the 22nd April 1960 when C.J. 'Kit' Eaton completed the climb at a height of 90ft above the floor of Fault Chamber, leading off directly above the 30ft ledge. The UBSS Logbook entry reads that he reached a point where' ... the aven bent over to the right like the crook of a walking-stick and closed down into a pool ... '

Fault Chamber Avens. 1965

Early in 1965 Severn Yalley CC took up the cudgels again following their epic in the Cowsh Avens. This time Paradise Regained was their target.  High level holes were known to exist there and so on 10th January they were back in the cave intent on carrying out a systematic search.  Eventually their investigations took them into Fault Chamber. Having received unsatisfactory answers to their questions relating to the high level climbs, Tait and Higgs (SYCC) were back at the site on the 24th January 1965.  It was not long before they were at the ledge and noted the series of rawlbolts progressing higher up the wall for the next thirty feet or so. Higgs followed these and found another set progressing about thirty feet higher still.

To the left of the ledge was a traverse leading past loose boulders to an open passage which was left for another occasion.  Intrigued by what had been seen, Lewis, Higgs and Bob Holland returned a week later (30th January).  Lloyd had heard of their interest and informed them that no serious attempt had been made on the traverse. (note 66)  The way across had a (note 67)

... fairly smooth face tilted at a little more than 45° from the horizontal, with 50 feet of nothing below, and several tons of loose grand-piano-size boulders above!  Admitted, there is an opposing wall quite close at hand, but it is overhanging, has no hand grips, and only one foothold.

A limited amount of gardening had to be carried out to expose a foothold and then Lewis started across, belayed by Higgs. Holland wrote (note 68)

' ... it was positively electrifying, especially when half way across, where the vadose trench opens onto the traverse, 'Lew' tenderly put his 'size ten' on a rock and asked us to tell him if it moved much. He got his answer quickly - it slid down about a foot, and so did everything backing it up .... '

For the second half, a jug hold in the roof and 'swing' and Lewis was in the rift passage.  Although he disappeared from sight his vivid description of the size, nature and stability of the passage was ' ... dotted with Anglo-Saxon colloquialisms ... ' to add emphasis to his remarks about stability nearly every move he made created a new avalanche.  On the way back to keep his mind 'occupied' Lewis contemplated the name 'Lew's Traverse', but later, in a calmer frame, of mind eventually settled on Churchill Traverse. (note 69)

A week later, 7th February 1965, Lewis and Higgs were back at the site.  At the far side of Churchill Traverse Higgs spotted a tight continuation at the limit previously made by Lewis.  This led to one of the major discoveries to have been made in this part of the cave.

The passage continued upward increasing in gradient as they progressed until, suddenly, they were at the foot of a 40ft high vertical aven.  A passage could be seen a short way up in the wall but' ... in spite of further promise of further extension this was not seriously attempted ... ' This discovery became known as Severn Aven. Back at Churchill Traverse, Lewis, elated by the significant discovery, attempted the vadose trench that opened out above the mid-point of the traverse. (note 70)

... This passage soon became less steep, although the risk of a tumble was accentuated by the extreme instability of the rock.  It ended in an awkward climb which, in the circumstances, it would not have been wise to try - even so, The Trench .. , has given us some 50 feet or more of passage.

A subsequent maypoling exercise on 10th October 1965 was a joint attack on the terminal point of both Severn Passage and The Trench.  The result of both attempts were inconclusive.  Although much time and energy placing rawlbolts to get the maypole into position in the upper aven of Severn Passage left what happened at the top unresolved. (note 71)  The party retreated to Churchill Traverse and The Trench - now regarded as one of the more horrific places to be found under Mendip.  Allen described it as ' ... this frightfully loose piece of cave passage ... '  (note 72) and Mills (SMCC)

 

' .. the whole of The Trench is terribly loose and unstable - one literally daren't touch the walls or roof and tread warily.  All the time the heaps of boulders and the very steep passage falls away and your second is advised to keep close. Some boulders fall and ricochet down to Fault Chamber at least 200' below .... '  (note 73)

Blue Pencil Aven

This, the third of three sites that were pushed hopefully to connect with Priddy Green Sink or by-pass Sump IV was looked at by WSG in 1956.  During the 1956 August Bank Holiday, Kemp and Andrews spent the whole of that weekend  (note 74)

.. , working on Blue Pencil Passage, and looking at a few other small passages.  Among these was the up-stream continuation of Blue Pencil; turning right from P.R. rather than dropping down to the left into Blue Pencil .... After a short crawl, we entered the bottom of a high, rough walled Aven.  We climbed this easily for an estimated 20 feet, but then the climbing became more difficult ...

They were also in a location that no one else knew and if there had been trouble help would not have been easily forthcoming.  The next known attempt was on the 17th October 1964, also by a member of WSG, Henry Oakeley who, with his twin brother Christopher and a friend Tim Watts, all from St. Thomas Hospital, made their way to the base of the aven. The Oakeley's made the climb to a ledge at the 40-foot level and though the going became more difficult the chimney narrowed but was sheer.  Oakeley wrote  (note 75) that his brother reached to within 12 feet of the top by a bunch of orange coloured crystals.  A way on at the top could be seen and was thought to be passable.  By chance, a chat with Mike Thompson drew Roger Biddle's (SMCC) attention to the existence of the partially hidden Blue Pencil Aven. However, Biddle must have known of the Oakeley's attempt for there were two WSG members on the inter-club party he raised for a trip to the aven on Sunday, 22nd November 1964. (note 76) Somewhat disingenuously Biddle failed to acknowledge their achievement except for a passing note in the SMCC Log Book that the 40 foot ledge had already been reached. (note 77)

... Here I found a line and crab which had been left by a previous climber (who failed to finish the climb). (note 78)

Biddle reached the ledge and before Mills attempted the final section of the climb the lower pitch was rigged with ladders.  Mills  (note 79)

.. .found this section to be fairly easy, it being possible to back-up, or straddle, most of the way to the top.  "Below", shouted Martin as a boulder of no mean dimensions whizzed past my ear and crashed within a few feet of those at the bottom of the aven. After a few more boulders fanning my face a worried voice came from above  "I'm holding up a very large boulder, but can only support it for about five minutes whilst you get clear".  My feet did not touch a rung as I descended and then shot through the squeeze to safety.  The boulder whistled down slicing twice through a nylon rope and coming to rest with a resounding crash at the bottom.

Further ladders were hauled up by Mills enabling Biddle to reach the top where they then explored about 80 feet of tight passage floored by gours and pink flowstone [Milche Passage] opening up at the end, a cross-rift and boulder choke.  The stream entered the shaft via an impassable fissure just below the top. A survey of the discovery was made by Biddle and Mills on the 5th December 1964

The Cowsh Epic. 1970-1973

During 1970 Davies and Mansfield frequently took to caving together looking around the often frequented sites on the look-out for possible digs.  On one such trip in Swi1don's Four, Cowsh Aven was the last to be viewed; it had been eight years since Davies had been up to the then limit of Main's Aven.   Both wanted to view the SVCC extensions and so on the 20th June 1970 a party comprising Davies, Mansfield, plus Tony Knibbs (MCG), Mills and Woodward made their way down to Swildons IV.  Pegging their way up Cowsh Aven the top was eventually reached.  The follow-up trip on the 27th June was a familiarisation exercise in order to assess the potential digging sites.  As a result of this work they noted a number of sites first having made their way across the Dawe-Thompson Traverse with the aid of a fixed rope and on up to Bladder Pot, hence into Ken's Crawl to Main's Aven.   This was Davies' first view of that shaft from the top.

An abseil trip down Great and Cowsh Avens got the party back into the IV streamway.  Davies noted that the exit from Main's Aven into the top of Great Aven was not an easy manoeuvre for it  (note 80)

... entails wriggling through a tube tighter than the Goatchurch Drainpipe and debauching over a 35' drop to the ledge .... (note 81)

The potential sites would, in Davies' words

... give us some interesting caving for a few months.  At that time we did not really known what a ''few months" meant. ...

Mansfield entered the following comment into his personal log-book, 27th June, 1970  -  (note 82)

... A bloody good trip. Further trip next week - have we ideas up our sleeves?

The way up through the SVCC Extensions was the first of what was to become a regular route for an extended push in the Cowsh Avens lasting over three years.  Early Sunday morning trips were to become a regular event, entering the cave at 9 am, progressing up the SVCC Extension and abseiling back down Great and Cowsh Avens to the Swildons Four streamway and out by early afternoon, having successfully fought the hordes in the Swildons One streamway on most occasions.

A couple of weeks later, Davies, Mansfield and Bob Mehew (SMCC) intent on examining Wright's Aven never actually reached the Swildons Four streamway but found

... some poor lost creatures in Brealifast Chamber and had the task of escorting them out.  That's the drawback to being underground by 9.00 a.m. - you pick up all the previous day's debris! (note 83)

However, Mansfield, Mehew and Davies were more successful on the 12th and 19th July when they first looked at the continuation of Ken's Crawl at the top of Main's Aven but progress of six feet showed that the passage reduced to an 8" tube and the site was abandoned for a slit in the side of Bladder Pot that indicated enlargement a short distance beyond a squeeze.  This was banged and on the 26th the Bladder Pot hole was large enough and a small chamber entered with no obvious way on.  On the same trip Reynolds and Stanton produced a survey of Great and Wright's Avens.

Having gained a majestic extension of 10 feet Davies and Mansfield felt that better sites could be investigated and so they moved to the top of Main's Aven. (note 84)

Close examination of the roof above Maine's [sic] Aven showed it to have a narrow crack running approximately north/south. Water flowed out at the north end where it was about 3" wide. At the south end it was 6" or 7" wide and a lamp seemed to light up a well stalled enlargement 4' or 5' up.

On the 21st September, after seven 'banging' trips, each charge enabling progress of about 6 inches towards the widening, Davies was able to

... squeeze up past a large block detached by our last charge and into a man-sized opening above. I was facing west, my head turned to the left, and could see only a continuation of the crack less than 3" wide all round. With a feeling of disappointment I carefully turned preparatory to climbing down ... As my head turned towards the north - the rift is narrower than the length of my helmet - a great sight came into view.  A horizontal enlargement led off to the north and the sound of falling water ....

Encouraged by the prospect of further open passage a charge was laid and another on the 27th September. They returned with Woodward on the 4th October, and all except Woodward were able to crawl through ten feet of passage to the base of a two-foot diameter, seven-foot high tube.  Davies noted that' ... a cursing Woodward pleaded that we should not go too far .... ' The floor was covered with sand and a mass of ' ... writhing red worms, whilst an 8" diameter hole in the roof gave us a limited view of a continuing vertical aven ... '  More bang and the hole was passed on the 11th October, 1970. (note 85)

The three, Davies, Mansfield and Woodward, plus Alan (Satanic) Mills (SVCC), Tony Jarratt (ACG) and Webster (BEC) were able to move up through the hole into the 20ft high 'aven' above which was even smaller in horizontal section; the stream entering at floor level from a 2 inch crack.  Lesser mortals might well have given up long before this point but a 6-inch diameter hole some ten feet up the wall proved of interest to the team.  A black space and, again, the sound of falling water gave the team renewed encouragement and, as Davies commented, work re-commenced with enthusiasm!  Breaking their way through this hole was not to prove easy for it was formed along a vein of calcite and this material tended to absorb much of the impact of the explosion.  On one occasion 3lb of plaster was used giving a progress of one inch, consequently progress was extremely slow.  It was not until December 1970, after a number of trips before they could claim success was theirs.

On the 3rd December it was agreed that there would be two trips that day to get the maximum effort from a couple of 'bangs'.  Mansfield and Knibbs descended in the morning and duly fired their charge not knowing that the way through into the space beyond was now open and the luck to explore the continuation fell to the Davies' party comprising Webster and Woodward. Their reward was an 18ft high by 10ft diameter aven which became known as El Krapitan.  Davies noted that

... Water cascades down its north wall and sinks in the boulder floor, but one's lamp does not seem to light much as the black greasy rocks reflect very little light.  Our point of entry was 7' up the south wall.  After several abortive attempts I succeeded in reaching the top.  A crack, amid the falling water, gave most help for the first 10', and as the aven then narrows down it is possible to reach across and obtain friction grip on the opposite face.  The climbing does, however, follow the general pattern of Cowsh climbs, best tackled by bridging facing out.  Strange but true.

At the top of El Krapitan a 15ft long low crawl over gravel led into a confined space just large enough for two men to work, the stream issuing from a small hole a few feet above the floor in which a 3ft long pool was found, floored with stinking ooze - this became known as Shit Sump.  However a rift in the wall on the north side was the preferred route - it was obviously cleaner!  A succession of 'banging' trips, in the same manner as the many before it lasted until the 24th January 1971 when success was theirs again!  Joined by Wynne-Roberts, the trio, Davies, Mansfield and Woodward cleared the debris from the last bang making a way sufficiently large enough for the 'midget' of the group, Mansfield, to get through to yet another aven.  Climbing this for 15ft he eventually found himself in the largest feature yet discovered in the Cowsh Series. The remainder got through and became puzzled - they were in the cleanest part of the series indicating that the contaminated water from Priddy Green Sink did not enter this region.  Shit Sump had to be the inlet for that water - or so it would seem. Davies commented that these upper avens would not lead them to Priddy Green Sink - if not, where were they going? They had reached some 300ft above the Swildons IV streamway, but according to the Stanton survey some 200ft south-west of ' ... that promised land .... ' Their thoughts relating to Cowsh Avens were firmly driven from their minds for on the way out they intercepted a rescue in progress - that of Dudley Soffe who was trapped in the Oxbows; few, if any, involved that day will ever forget the event!

A period of consolidation followed this incredible series of trips. (note 86)  Firstly a series of water tracing attempts were made, each doomed to failure.  Certainly the flourescein did not show at Shit Sump where Davies and Mansfield waited those long shivering hours.  Later, on 21st February 1971, Mansfield and Mehew went up to the sump again and waited whilst Rhodamine was poured in at the entrance of Priddy Green Sink by Kay Mansfield - again a negative result.  Not to waste time a charge was set off at the lip of Shit Sump in an attempt to reduce the water level in the sump. Continued banging at the sump resulted in a sizeable spoil heap which required dumping through the approach crawl and out into El Krapitan - quite a job in itself as the crawl is low and twenty feet long!

By the 10th April 1971 matters came to a head.  The sauce boat used by Oliver Lloyd in Priddy Green Passage dig near Sump One was taken to Shit Sump on 18th April by Davies and Alan Mills and a further charge set off at the sump.  In fact a number of charges were set off in the hope of breaking through Shit Sump but enthusiasm gradually waned

... as the hard rock absorbed shock after shock and only a few cubic inches were brushed from the surface .... There were several possible sites that could be pushed; perhaps radio location would help us to decide upon the best.


During late 1971 Brian Prewer had improved his signalling device and had already checked the Irwin-Stenner survey of St. Cuthbert's Swallet in 1969 with good results and so it was felt that it could be used to locate the Top Avens of Cowsh Series with some confidence.  So, on the 29th January 1972, 'Satanic' Mills, Woodward and Webster set up the aerial in Top Avens and the following weekend, the 6th February 1972, Mansfield, Woodward and Webster took the transmitter but it had been damaged on its way through the cave.  Work had now all but ceased and it was not until about June 1972 that things got under way again.  Davies and Mansfield had reviewed the situation and Shit Sump had by this time been passed to a disappointing continuation that did not seem promising.  Mansfield proposed work commence at a double rift that branched away on the route up to Top Avens.  This was done resulting in a short route known as Mansfield's Hole.  In parallel with this work Shit Sump was also pushed as far as possible.

An unexpected check was to interrupt events.  Speleo Rhal members based at Southampton became interested in the work at Cowsh Avens and knew of the problems relating to the attempt to radio locate the area.  Mike Haselden asked if it were possible to take the gear to the upper regions of Cowsh Series for a trial.  The offer was gratefully accepted and on the 22nd July 1972  (note 87)

Davies and Mansfield met the Speleo Rhal lads Haselden and Dave Davidson in Swildons Four at three in the afternoon.  It was the beginning of one of those trips where nothing goes right; a double event, one of which could have created a serious situation had it not been for the positioning and ingenuity of the members of the party.  Mansfield and Haselden had passed through the low crawl into Top Avens followed by Davidson who was moving through the crawl on his back. At one point he pulled a flake in the roof to ease his onward movement when a large 4ft  long by  12" and  12"  boulder settled downwards from the roof and rested on the lower part of Davidson's leg. Davies, following up as 'tail-end-Charlie' could communicate with the other two in Top Avens.  Manhandling the boulder proved fruitless but eventually a sling was positioned about the boulder enabling a simple hoist to be constructed.  This arrangement lifted the boulder sufficiently so that some of the stones and gravel, under the trapped man, could be scraped away.  This worked and he was able to continue the crawl into the relative safety of Top Avens. (note 88)  The boulder then settled leaving plenty of room for the others to crawl over the top of it. (note 89)  Not to give-up entirely a transmission was made by the remaining pair but, in the event, the transmitter's signal was not received on the surface and a totally demoralised party exited from the cave. (note 90)

... The incident of Dave's Knee had a more profound effect than we had at the time realised.  Ray and I did not feel like returning to that region to push harder on the hole which we were attacking, fearing further loose rocks.  We therefore decided to attack Shit Sump again ....

Undeterred, they were back at Shit Sump on the 20th August 1972 where they found that the bang had caused the water level to drop by some three inches.  An intensive effort was made on the site throughout the remaining months of 1972 but progress was painfully slow and the passage was getting progressively tighter. In the end it was felt that more profit might be gained by attacking Mansfield's Hole and at the upper end of Top Avens. (note 91)

... Perhaps time had soothed our jagged nerves.  So back we went ....

Speleo Rhal made a further series of transmissions with improved equipment from Mud Sump, Double Troubles and then Main's Aven  (note 92) and later in the year, in October 1972, (note 93) they transported the transmitter, this time, through Dave's Knee to Top Avens; the operation was a success carried out at 2 am to ensure minimal electrical interference. Though there were some discrepancies between the various transmissions it showed the Cowsh Aven Series diggers that the lateral distance from Priddy Green Sink was considerable in caving terms and that Top Avens was only a few feet in altitude below the lowest point in that site.  Faced with the fact that the horizontal development off the Cowsh Series was always notoriously tight and under-developed it was argued that even if they didn't meet up with Priddy Green Sink it would get closer to the surface and possibly open up new cave if they continued at Mansfield's Hole.  Woodward argued for continuing' ... 'cos it was there ... .' ; and so they did. By early February 1973 another aven could be viewed from below and on the 25th Davies, soloing from El Krapitan, returned to Mansfield's Hole to view the damage from the previous 'bang'; on the 11th March 1973 when Davies, Alan Jeffreys (GSG), Mansfield and Woodward returned a way could be seen to yet another aven but was separated by 6 feet of narrow rift that required widening. Another series of trips, now more erratic due to other commitments, carried over into 1974. In the NHASA log book Davies summarised the events as follows: (note 94)

Feb 1974 Swildons Hole - Cowsh Aven Series. Activity in this region has been rather erratic ... However, a hard core, Brian Woodward & FJD supported at times by Paul Hadfield, Ray Mansfield, & Mike Roger have kept the business progressing

Slowly the horizontal squeeze has been enlarged, progress not eased at one point by a clumsy operative dropping our only crowbar down a 3" rift 30 sees after stating "I must be careful not to drop the crowbar here".

Finally however BW & FJD were able to crawl out through the hole on Sat 16 Feb into an AVEN/RIFT. About 3-4 ft wide 15 ft long where entered, the floor 20ft below, and the roof? Well we just kept climbing, it got narrow & thrutchsome but still kept going up - we enthusiastically estimated 100ft - to a chockstone and tight comer, but could be seen to continue.

This shaft named GRAVEL PIT from vast quantities of that material that abounds

FJD

Another couple of bangs and they were past the right angled bend.  Davies made the following entry in the NHASA Logbook: (note 95)

Sun 10 March ... Some gardening needed on climb of Gravel Pit but comer now easily negotiable.  Tight tube up for another 20ft before a flake protruding from wall made it too tight. BW managed to hammer this off & progress another 4ft to CLAY ROOF

Though the upper end by the clay choke had been open a side rift was also worked on but to little avail. Thus effectively ended the Siege of the Cowsh Series - a marathon 3-year effort.

The Main family were told, in detail, of the result of their labours and they were kindly permitted to enter the fields behind the barns for a radio location.  The actual event took place on Monday 22nd July 1974 and no-one appeared too enamoured with the prospect of taking Prewer's heavy gear to the highest point in the Cowsh Aven Series.  However, once set-up and the transmission started, the surface gang with the receiver, pin-pointed the site fairly quickly.  It has been estimated that Cowsh Aven Series reaches to within 50ft of the surface but some 200 feet from the known section of Priddy Green Sink. (note 96)

Acknowledgements:  The author wishes to acknowledge the helpful comments, criticisms, information, and loan of reference material not in the BEC Library from Tony Boycott, Hon Librarian UBSS, Paul Allen (SVCC), Fred Davies (WCC), Ray Mansfield (UBSS), Tony Jarratt (BEC), Mike Thompson, Janet Woodward, Hon. Librarian SMCC, and Brian Prewer [BEC] for the loan of the NHASA Logbook.

Dave Irwin, Priddy, 20th February 1996

Entrance Covers to Priddy Green Sink

Originally the entrance cover was made of concrete then in 1964 [Mendip Caver No.5 [Tony Oldham Ed.] September issue, page 2:

... Concrete cover on this dig has been replaced with a metal one.  The handle to lift this cover can be obtained from Farmer Maine ...

Very few people visit the cave and it becomes a notorious site for its disgusting condition. Eventually the cover becomes dangerous and for safety reasons Fred Davies replaced the old heavy cast iron lid with a pre-cast 4" thick concrete slab placed over the shaft, this being covered with about 12 inches of soil.

1993

Re-opened in 1993 - local flooding about the green in the area of the sink saw Prew and Butch raising the lid and clearing the obstruction. 

Adrian Hole and Tony Jarratt are preparing a note of the more recent digs and subsequent breakthrough into Swildons. (1996)

Maine's have installed a slurry tank, which should free the cave from its odours.

Notes

  1. The water from the spring was used for many years after, the pipes being connected directly to the mains water supply. The spring is still used for domestic water supply in times of drought.
  2. The name Priddy Pool Passage was not coined by Balch.  It appears to have come into common usage when it was realised that the water which outflowed here was the same as that that entered Black Hole Series near Fool's Paradise. However, both Oliver Lloyd and Oliver Wells referred to the site as Priddy Green Dig (or Passage) and often used the abbreviation PG Dig.  This is closer to Balch's intention . The earliest use of the name Priddy Pool Passage, seen by the author, is in the 2nd Edition of Caves of Mendip [p.67] by Nicholas Barrington, Dalesman Publishing Co., 1962, based, no doubt, on the hunch that the surface water feeding this rising came from Priddy Pool in Nine Barrows Lane.  Whether Barrington had the right to change an already accepted name is open to question.  It's worth noting that in the first edition of Barrington the name was Priddy Green Passage [p.64]. Ref. also: Witcombe, R.G., 1992, Who was Aveline anyway?  WCC Dec Pub Series 2 No.1, p.66.
  3. Thompson, M. M., 1960, The Priddy Green Sink WSG Bul 3-5(Apr)
  4. Now a cluster of stables
  5. During the 1950s Swildons Hole was one of the most popular trips on Mendip - particularly a trip to Sump III - a 'full Swildons'.
  6. This was later to rnaterialise itself in the form of the high level Vicarage Passage and Trouble Series. Trouble Series explored 1961 and linked with Vicarage Passage on 4th August 1962
  7. At this time a trip to Swildons Four was regarded as one of the most severe undertakings offered by any Mendip cave.  This fact is not surprising - lighting was basically carbide with rudimentary electric lights whose batteries were encased in semi-dry metal tobacco tins attached to the back of the helmet; the relatively fragile goon-suit was the standard waterproof by the end of the 1950s (the wet suit did not come into common usage until c.1964) and the problems of rescue from Swildons Four and beyond had not been solved.  Rescue of a severely injured person from beyond Blue Pencil Passage was considered almost impossible; Sump III had not yet been passed.  When Boon successfully passed Sump III minds were then focused on the possibility of rescue back through Sumps III- 1.  Added to all that and not least was the fickleness of the Water Rift and the Forty Foot Pot in wet weather conditions.  Although the Forty Foot Pot no longer presents the problems it once did, rescue of a seriously injured caver from any point beyond Blue Pencil Passage or Sump II is still a major unproven problem for the MRO; cave divers have developed techniques for passing an injured caver through Sumps 2 and 3 it still remains an event which MRO hope will never happen for they do not have all the answers to guarantee a successful rescue.
  8. There were a number of problems besetting these explorers that made the dream of an entrance to this part of the cave from Priddy is extremely attractive.  The notoriously fragile goon-suit was the only available protection against the cold and wet; the wet-suit was still 4-5 years in the future.  In the cave the variability of the water levels in the Water Rift above the Forty-Foot Pot and the water levels in the Mud Sump meant that there were times during the year when little work could be carried out.
  9. Wells' enthusiasm for the downstream sumps resulted in the opening up of Swildons Five and Six paving the way for the next generation of divers in the early 1960s who pushed on to Swildons Sump VIII.
  10. Hanwell, J.D., 1960, The Priddy Green Sink. WCC Jnl 6(76)4Q-42(Nov. 1959 - Mar. 1960)
  11. Boon, JM. and Thompson, M.M., 1963,  The Avens in Swildons IV. SMCC Jnl 3(5)3-14(May) and Biddle, R. and Ellis, B.M., 1970, (as above) p.31-32, entry by Ken Dawe, 21 June 1958
  12. Now known as the Dawe-Thompson Traverse
  13. Unless otherwise stated Davies = Fred Davies
  14. Biddle, R. and Ellis, B.M., 1970, (as above), p.36, entry by Fred Davies, 24th August 1958
  15. Also known to some as 'Black Wal'
  16. Willcocks, [W.J.R] Wally, 1959, Water Testing on Mendip. SMCC Jo1. 2(1)4-6(May)
  17. Davies, Frederick J., 1959, Priddy Green Swallet. SMCC Jnl 2(2)6(Nov)
  18. August 1959
  19. Hanwell, J.D., 1960, The Priddy Green Sink. WCC Jo1 6(76)40-42(Nov. 1959 - Mar. 1960)
  20. This was the first time that such intensive multi-club digging had taken place on Mendip.  In fact during the 1960s several 'digging teams' emerged such as the 'Tuesday Night Dining Room Diggers', NHASA and later, ATLAS.  Such groups are commonplace today.
  21. Hanwell, J.D., 1960, [as above]
  22. Davies, Frederick J., 1959, [as above]
  23.  ... hoped that this dig will lead fairly directly into the aven in Swildons IV, but even if it doesn't, it looks fairly likely to lead somewhere and will doubtless increase the underground knowledge of the area .... '   Anon, 1960, Digging News. BEC Bel Bul 14(143) 6-8(Jan)  In fact from the author's records at least 46 working trips were made at the site up to the end of February 1960; a quite exceptional effort for this phase of Mendip caving.
  24. Biddle, R. and Ellis, B.M., 1970, (as above), p.Sl : survey carried out by Brenda Willis and N. Humphris
  25. Hanwell, James D., 1960, The Priddy Green Sink WCC Jo1 6(77)77 -78(Mayl Aug)
  26. Thompson, M. M., 1960, The Priddy Green Sink part II WSG Bul 2-3(Oct)
  27. [Davies, Frederick J.] led], 1960, Priddy Green Swallet SMCC Jn1 2(3) 12(May)
  28. Ellis, B.M., 1990, Extracts from the Hut Log Volume Four: July 1960 - December 1964: 1960 SMCC Jnl 8(10) 360375(Autumn): 25th August entry by F. Davies.
  29. Anniversary Aven
  30. Davies, Frederick 1., 1959, [as above]
  31. Hanwell, James D., 1960, The Priddy Green Sink SMCC In! 2[4] 12-17(Nov), survey
  32. Hanwell, James D., 1960, [as above]; it should be noted that a similar version of the same survey may be found in SMCC Hut Log Volume Four, entry dated 26th August 1960, reprinted in Ellis, B.M., 1990, Extracts from the Hut Log Volume Four: July 1960 - December 1964: 1960. SMCC In! 8(9)369(Autumn)
  33. Giles, P.M. (Jim), 1962, Digging 1961 BEC Bel Bul (167)3-9(Jan), surveys
  34. The use of mountaineering terms such as 'Tigers and 'Sherpas' came as a result of the 1953 Everest Expedition that finally conquered the 29,000ft. high peak.  Other examples, on Mendip, of the Himalayan connection will be found in St Cuthbert's Swallet and includes Everest Passage and Kanchenjunga
  35. Not only was exploration taking place in Swildons.  Fairy Cave Quarry discoveries were beginning to be made including Balch Cave; Long Chamber Extension in St. Cuthbert's Swallet; diving in Stoke Lane Slocker sumps, Pinetree Pot and Ubley Hill Pot and many other sites were opened between 1960 and 1963
  36. This was the 'new' generation of CDG divers.  The 'older' group had dispersed in a variety of ways : Balcombe had retired, Coase had tragically died in 1958, and Oliver Wells and Robert Davies had emigrated to the United States of America
  37. Boon, 1M. and Thompson, M.M., 1963, [as above]
  38. Another rapid flooding of the series was observed in 1973 when Davies, Alan Mills, Dave Causer et a1 were ascending the SVCC Extensions. Reference:  Davies, Frederick J., 1974, Not Now and Again, but Again and Again and Again. Part V WCC Jn113 (156) 135137 (Dec), survey
  39. Turner, David P., 1995, [per comm.]
  40. Boon, 1M. and Thompson, M.M., 1963, [as above]
  41. Boon, 1M. and Thompson, M.M., 1963, [as above]
  42. Top of Main's Aven was reached by Severn Valley Caving Club in 1964 and not by the MNRC and SMCC party as stated in Pictorial History of Swi1don's Hole and reprinted on the latest version of the Swi1don's Hole survey published by WCC (1995).
  43. Cheramodytes [pseudo a.c. lloyd], 1962, Mendip Notes.  To Swi1don's VIII. WCC Journal No.85, p.71
  44. Ellis, Martin (Ed), 1992, Extracts from the Hut Logs Volume Four: July 1960 - December 1964. - 1962 SMCC Jn1 9(2) 117-127 (Spring) surveys.
  45. Ellis, Martin (ed), 1992, [as above]
  46. Ellis, Martin (Ed), 1992, Extracts from the Hut Logs Volume Four: July 1960 - December 1964. - 1963 SMCC Jnl 9(3) 162-168(Autumn), surveys.
  47. Stanton, W.l, 1964, More of the Dam Place. WCC Jnl 8(94)38-41(Mar), survey [survey notes]
  48. Ellis, Martin (Ed), 1992, Extracts from the Hut Logs. Volume Four: July 1960 - December 1964. - 1963 SMCC Jnl 9(3)162-168 (Autumn), maps, surveys
  49. Although known to Biddle as Bassett Hound Chamber or B.H. Chamber
  50. Ellis, Martin (Ed), 1993, Extracts from the Hut Logs. Volume Four: July 1960 - December 1964. -1964 SMCC JnI9(4)184-196(Spring), surveys
  51. Allen, Paul, 1965, Caving Dairy, 1965. Vol.3, p.25-26
  52. All further references to Davies refers to Fred Davies unless otherwise stated.
  53. Wooding, M., 1965, Cowsh Aven Series SVCC Jnl (1)21-24
  54. Wooding, M. 1965, [as above]
  55. Wooding, M. 1965, [as above]
  56. Wooding, M. 1965, [as above]
  57. Roach had fallen off Greasy Chimney and left the cave with Oliver Lloyd.  This may seem amusing by today's cavers but the chimney at this time was 'greasy' - it being coated in a liberal coating of mud that made climbing extremely difficult in wet boiler suits.  A short section of ladder was placed there for a few years by which time the mud had been 'worn-off' making it the easy climb it now is.
  58. Wooding, M., 1965, [as above]
  59. Not named on the 1995 WCC survey of Swildons Hole.
  60. Cheramodytes [pseudo O.C. Lloyd]. 1964, Mendip Notes. Above Cowsh Aven. WCC Journal No.98, p.174
  61. A comprehensive description was published by SVCC to counter inaccurate descriptions prevailing at that time. Lewis, Robert G., 1965. A Brief Description of the Cowsh Aven Extension. SVCC Ntr 3(2)1-2, table of tackle requirements
  62. UBSS members were known as 'Spelers' at their Summer Camp at Burrington, 1919. both names derive from Spelaeological.
  63. UBSS Logbook Vo19 [p.1l-12.]
  64. 5 in 1958,2 in 1959 and 3 in 1960
  65. UBSS Logbook Vol. 10: 13 September 1958 - 21 February 1960 [p.91 and p.1l8]
  66. Lewis wrote: ' ... We had been informed by Oliver lloyd that no serious attempt had been made on the traverse - yet we had also been assured by various other persons that the whole area had been thoroughly investigated; one more example, is it not, of people who don't bother to look properly?....'  Lewis, Robert G., 1965, Recent Extensions in Fault Chamber, Swildons Hole. SVCC Jnl (2)6-9
  67. Holland, R., 1965, Fault Chamber, Swildons Hole. SVCC Ntr 3(4)2-3(March)
  68. Holland, R., 1965, [as above]
  69. The grand old man having died in January 1965
  70. Lewis, Robert G., 1965, [club trips] SVCC Ntr 3(4)23 (Mar)
  71. Severn Aven was finally maypoled to the top by Keith Glossop and Bob Lewis (SVCC) on the 27th April 1968.  No new passage was found.  Allen, Paul, 1968, Caving Diary, Vo1.6, p.14
  72. Allen, Paul, 1965, [trip report, 10th October 1965] SVCC Ntr 3(8)[3-4]; party comprised Lewis, Allen, Mills and Doug. Macfarlane.
  73. Ellis, Martin [Ed], 1994, The S.M.C.C. Hut Logs. Volume Five: January 1965 - September 1968: 1965. SMCC In! 9(6)252-264
  74. Andrews, Tom, 1965, That Aven Again!! WSG Bulletin (1)36-37(Jan-Feb)
  75. Oakeley, Henry, 1965,[Blue Pencil Aven] WSG Bulletin (l)36-37(Jan-Feb)
  76. The party comprised R. Craig (MNRC), Martin Mills, Philip Romford and Biddle (SMCC), Barry Lane (BEC), and two members of WSG, J. Warren and Jon Gulliver.  Gulliver, Jon, 1965, Discovery in Swildons Hole. WSG Bulletin (l)35-36)(Jan-Feb)
  77. Ellis, M., 1993, Extracts from the Hut Logs. Volume Four:  July 1960 - December 1964. - 1964 SMCC Jnl 9(4)184196(Spring),surveys
  78. Biddle is less forthcoming in his report published in the SMCC Journal which states 'On the ledge 1 found a sling and 'crab' presumably left by some previous climber.'   Biddle, R., 1965, Blue Pencil Aven. SMCC Jnl 3(9)1317(May), survey
  79. Biddle, R., 1965, [as above]
  80. Davies, Frederick J., 1974a, Not Now and Again, but Again and Again and Again. WCC Jnl13(152)32-34(Apr), survey
  81. In fact Great Aven is about 80 feet high, the ledge is about 40ft from its floor.
  82. Mansfie1d, R.W., 1971, [Personal logbook] Vo1.5. Jan. 1968 - May 1971. [now housed in the UBSS Library (1996), p.84]
  83. Davies, Frederick J., 1974a, [as above]
  84. Davies, Frederick I., 1974b, Not Now and Again, but Again and Again and Again. Part II. wee Inl13(153)57-60 (Jun), survey
  85. Jarratt, A.R.,1970, [personal log book]
  86. It should be noted that most of the diggers involved with this project were also involved elsewhere on Mendip, e.g. North Hill Swallet, S1. Cuthbert's Swallet and Twin Titties Swallet
  87. Fred Davies' date given in Part III of his articles (ref. below) is not correct - it should read Saturday 22nd July, 1972: it should also be noted that Mansfield's Logbook is also in error for it gives the date as the 23rd July 1972.  Davies, Frederick J., 1974c, Not Now and Again, but Again and Again and Again. Part ill WCC JnI13(154)78-81(Aug)
  88. Davidson's humorous account outlines some of the finer detail: ' ... We were joined in Swildons 4 by Fred and Ray and the job of ascending Cowsh Aven began.  Ray went up first with the rope and life-lined the rest of us to the top of what turned out to be an interesting climb .... When you get to the top, you get the feeling that you are nearly out in fresh air again. Well, no such luck!
    'We eventually arrived at the pre-selected spot for transmission ... Ray entered the final chamber first, with Mike close on his heels, then I followed, well tried to!  In fact it took just over half an hour for me to squeeze through about 10 ft of fairly easy passage.  Well, it was like this: I had just got my head and shoulders through, when a rather large rock took a fancy to my legs.  Now this rock was fighting in the heavy class, and was not very keen to let go.  Fred produced a crowbar and hammer from somewhere or other, and started chipping at one end.  Mike was in the middle with an improvised winch of slings and waistbands, whilst Ray and myself tried to dig out the loose rocks from the other end.  After a lot of pushing and pulling I got through.'

    Davidson, D.W., 1972, Radio Location - Cowsh Aven Speleo Rhal CC Ntr 2-3 (Aug)
  89. Fortunately Davies was on the 'home-side' for he could, if it had become essential, leave the cave and call the MRO.  In the event this was not necessary but Davidson found later that he had suffered a broken kneecap but made his painful exit from the cave unaided.  The approach crawl to Top Avens was then christened 'Dave's Knee'

    Davies, Frederick J., 1974c, [as above]
  90. Davies, Frederick 1., 1974d, Not Now and Again, but Again and Again and Again.  Part N WCC Jnl13(155)104105(Oct)
  91. Davies, Frederick 1., 1974d, [as above]
  92. Haselden, M., 1972, Da Da Oit '0' for Goal. Speleo Rhal Ntr 3-6(Aug)
  93. Davies, Frederick J., 1974d, [as above]
  94. NHASA Logbook, September 1970 - December 1991 [includes great detail of several excavations and discoveries during the period covered by the logbook] [currently in the possession of Brian Prewer, St. John's Cottage, Priddy, Somerset]
  95. NHASA = North Hill Association for Speleological Advancement
  96. Davies, Frederick J., 1975, Not Now and Again, but Again and Again and Again.  Part VI WCC Jnl13(I60) 224227(Aug), maps  [Prewer carried out a repeat transmission in 1995 and obtained the same results.]


 

B.E.C Life Members Questionnaire

By Roz Bateman

I would like to thank the enormous response to the questionnaires sent out to our 40 life members in October/November last year.

Not only did the exercise help to update the life members addresses or iron out incorrect names or post codes but also aid in bridging the gap between the current active members of today with names of the past.

A small comment section in the questionnaire lead to some interesting reading.  I have selected a few quotes which I hope will not only reflect the general view of the BEC by its founder members but also shows thanks and encouragement to those who's efforts are noted towards the club.  So please keep digging, travelling/caving abroad but most of all keep those caving articles coming not only will your efforts be noted down in history but many fellow members old and new can also enjoy your adventures and caving successes or experiences.

Reflections on the BEC, quotations by our life members.

The improvements in the BB during Estelle's editorship is most noteworthy.  Long may this improvement continue - will try and dredge up some memories from the neolithic layer!!! !(HS)

Many thanks to all the committee members for all the work they put in on behalf of the club (JR)

Best series of BB's ever - congratulations!!!  Steer clear of non-caving jokes - I've heard most of them (Another Internet browser ??). Plenty of Mendip news please. (KK.)

For the last twelve months the Belfry Bulletins have been excellent, congratulations to Estelle on a first class publication that I have actually looked forward to reading. Probably the best the BB has ever been and certainly the most interesting and generally informative of all the current Mendip caving journals (and I am including the UBSS) .... (BE)

Estelle will be a hard act to follow - I left the Belfry on 3/12/77, never to set foot in it since I am not a suitable person to write for the Belfry Bulletin although I continue to read it with interest and wish it well (AC)

We older members are grateful for the chance to comment on the contents of the BB.  Old codgers weekend 24th - 25th May, if you think an evening gaffering during this visit is worth while then choose a date and I will oblige (TS)

I would like to congratulate the committee and especially the editor on the high quality of the BB and range of interests/topics now reported (MH)

The BEC still means a lot to me although I have in effect lost contact with the club itself, but the friendship I formed in the early days of the BEC are very important to me.

I last went caving - a full GB - in Aug 1981.  Unfortunately I came off a 500 cc motor bike avoiding a dog the next day and broke my collarbone.  That's life for you.  Very best wishes to you and the club. (DC)

In 1953 I started caving on Mendip.  Being London based I was a member of the newly formed W.S.G. We camped and used the Belfry facilities as guests.  I did this for several years before joining the BEC.  This was because it was believed you could only be loyal to one club. A quaint point of view by today's standards.  Later I responded to the call and became a life-member.  In 1960 I got married, started a business, stated a family and then moved to Derbyshire.  From then on my visits to Mendip became few and far between.  From time to time I stayed at the Belfry with members of my local Matlock based club.  Most of the time this was fine and I was glad of my B.E.C membership in organising these meets.  However it was not always so.  Sometimes things did go wrong.

There was a time when a group arrived at 2 AM on Saturday morning making a great deal of noise. When I asked them to quieten it down a bit, I was threatened with physical violence.  The following night after the Hunters shut, this group came in very drunk and performed 'The dance of the Flaming Arseole!'  This involved taking cushions from the Belfry furniture putting them between their legs, setting them on fire and jumping all round the Belfry.  My great regret is that they did not keep them in place long enough.

However the BEC has served me well.  Overall the club has provided me with what I wanted and still does today.  Although I am now a geriatric of almost seventy and no longer have either the levels of energy or the physical strength I used to have, I am still caving today.  Be it a rather more gentle level than I used to.  Although I have not stayed at the Belfry lately, it is always there should I want to.

Estelle is doing a magnificent job.  She is going to be a very hard act to follow.  What I enjoy most is news of Mendip in general and the BEC in particular. I like to read about caving activities, be it original exploration in far away places or just fun and sporting trips on Mendip, they are all of interest to me.  I am also interested in MRO callout accounts. Historic events - yes indeed - I might even have been involved.

I sent two original pictures to Jingles a long time ago.  I presumed he received them, the post office has not returned them and to the best of my knowledge they have never been published.  Both were taken in Cuthbert's in the early 1950's - one of Norman Petty using the telephone to the Belfry and the other was of formations. Does anyone know anything about these photographs?? (LD)

Started as a caver in 1949 I took up climbing and then mountaineering Pyrenees 1951, Alps 1952, Iceland 1953, Spitzbergen 1954, Greenland 1957, had included peak in France, Xmas day 1953.  Climbed masses on mountains and volcanoes in East Africa and Old Belgian Congo.  Took up geology as a career in 1983 on study trips all over Britain, 5 trips for 3 or 4 weeks to the ---- Alaska.  Travelled in 75 different countries returning from China 2 weeks ago.  Too old to care at 76 but still very interested and still an active foreign traveller (TF) have you met this incredible caver on your travels?? Lets hope he remember his BEC stickers to leave a mark of respect.

The Belfry Bulletin is extremely important for the club.  Not everyone is lucky enough to live on Mendip and often members have to move away or even live abroad.  News from Mendip and peoples trips aboard continue to be read not just by the people who drink in the Hunters but at present Belfry Bulletins are sent to 10 different countries including Africa, Austria, Belgium, Australia, the States and to members in 26 counties across the UK - ' The BEC get everywhere' continues to stand.

Memories of Belfry days can be good or different, trying to reason with a Drunken Belfryite can have limiting effect.  Much work has been carried out in the Belfry over the past year the quality of the facilities now available is continuing to improve.  An improvement to some may not be welcomed by all.  However life goes on at the Belfry and whatever rumours of it having a bar or a new fire may not appeal - many an inquisitive member has disapproved in concept but in reality has been amazed by the high craftsmanship and the homely and welcome atmosphere of a hot fire and the Belfry Bar.


 

In The Wake of Shackleton

By Joan Bennett

I have always been interested in the Antarctic and envied ex BEC members like Graham Phippen, Zot and Ross White who were able to go there in the course of their work.

I always preferred Shackleton to Scott in any debate about the personalities of the two British explorers, so when the opportunity to go on a cruise to the Antarctic, labelled "In the Wake of Shackleton" it seemed to be just right for me.  The ship was originally a Russian Polar Research vessel and carried less than 50 passengers, the Expedition leader was Tony Soper (the birdman) and Lady Philippa Scott, widow of Sir Peter Scott, was a guest lecturer.  Cruises such as these are becoming more popular, concentrating on wildlife and going to out of the way places.  There is a panel of experts and lecturers, and landings are made in inaccessible places by Zodiac semi-rigid inflatables.  The atmosphere is very informal, no nonsense about dressing for dinner, and such like.

 

Pack ice and tabular berg - Weddle Sea

The cruise itself started at Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego, past Cape Horn, across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula, weaving through passages and islands around the Peninsula, visiting various scientific bases, and landing at interesting places.  Next call was Deception Island (a volcanic island).  We then crossed north of the Peninsula and penetrated the western part of the Weddle Sea.  It was here that we picked up the route of Shackleton after he lost his ship Endurance. We went as far south as we could, then made for Elephant Island, which was his first landfall after leaving the ice, and where 22 men spent four months living in upturned boats.  After that to South Georgia, following the route which Shackleton sailed with 5 others in the lifeboat, the James Caird.  After several days we sailed to the Falkland Islands, and returned to Ushuaia nearly three weeks after we had left.

Shackleton was of course a great explorer.  His exploits in the Antarctic are legendary.  When the Endurance was caught in the ice in 1915 the conditions that year were very bad.  When we were in the area, we went through lots of pack ice, very exciting with the ice grinding and cracking along the sides of the ship.  It was only a short while before that a large area of the Larsen Ice Shelf, which was attached to the Peninsula on the western coast of the Weddle Sea, just south of where we were, had broken free, so that there was a lot of pack ice.  We were very lucky in that we met up with the Royal Naval survey ship - also named Endurance which had a helicopter aboard.  They took off to see if there were any leads which we could follow, but the pack was extensive, so we turned north, towards Elephant Island.

Left : Elephant Island
Right:  Shackleton's grave, South Georgia

We left the Weddle Sea at about 17.00 and arrived off Elephant Island at about 6.00.  We were hoping to land on the spit where the ships crew spent the winter months awaiting rescue by The Boss, but the conditions were not good enough. Just to see this tiny piece of beach was quite instructive.  It was the only landing place which we saw as we sailed pass all the steep cliffs and glacier snouts.  We left Elephant Island at mid-day on Saturday arriving in South Georgia on Tuesday morning.  The crossing was quite rough, winds gale force 6-7, but at South Georgia they were up to force 10.  Many of the passengers were somewhat ragged around the edges, glasses in the bar went careering down the tables, and meals were not well attended. We arrived at Grytviken in the early morning, cleared customs, and landed on the island to visit the remains of the old whaling station, the museum and the restored museum and the restored Norwegian church.  We also paid our respects at Shackletons grave (he died here in 1921) drank a toast in his favourite brandy, and sprinkled libations over the grave.  Here we also met a marine sergeant who had just crossed the island, following the route taken by Shackleton.

We went to the barracks, and were told about the start of the Falklands War.  (Shades of Ross White).  After spending the day sailing to and landing in one of the remote bays, that evening we had dinner with the harbour master and his wife, and a couple who were sailing around the world, and have spent the last 5 years in South Georgia (they gave us a super lecture on S. Georgia, where they have spent much time mountaineering and skiing).  I ate with the CO of the garrison who is also the local magistrate, and we were later joined in the bar by the Ghurkas who make up the army complement.  Politics raised its ugly head here, as the chef s assistant, who was Argentinean, was not allowed to land in S. Georgia or the Falklands.

We saw quite a lot of wildlife, starting with the sighting of a condor whilst in Tierra Del Fuego, several types of albatross many petrels and shearwaters which followed the ship, cormorants, skuas, gulls, terns, and on the Falklands the rare striated caracaras, night herons, and kelp geese.  We saw 5 species of penguin, 5 of seal, and 8 of whales and dolphins.

On the whole we were lucky with the weather, having mostly good visibility, although the swell meant that we could not always land where we wanted.  The scenery was magnificent, and the glaciers were really awe-inspiring. We sailed along glacier snouts several kilometres long, we sailed past tabular icebergs, castellated icebergs, decayed icebergs, bergy bits, brash ice, pancake ice.  We watched, and felt, glaciers calving, looked into, but did not go into ice caves of gigantic proportions, and the deepest blue imaginable. Many of these sights were seen from the zodiacs, and we also went into the pack in these small boats.  A glaciologists paradise.  We also experienced strong katabatic winds in South Georgia, which blew up out of nowhere, luckily before we set out in the zodiacs.


Stromness Harbour, South Georgia

The effect of the geology on the scenery was very interesting, ranging from the continental Andes, and the fjords in well-wooded, Tierra Del Fuego; the black volcanic ash of Deception Island, with a caldera about 8 miles long and which compares well with Santorini.  The last eruption was in the 70's.  The granite and gabbros of South Georgia, which forms such beautiful mountains, very steep ridges, and shapely peaks, like the Isle of Skye, and the Falkland Islands, an extension of South American, being on the continental shelf, and which are very like Dartmoor, treeless moorland areas with low tor-like hills.  There are still a lot of landmines here, areas where people cannot go, but the sheep and penguins find a safe haven.

In December 1997 a protocol was passed by all the interested countries to stop all mining and oil exploration on the continent - this was one good thing to come out of the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez in Alaska.  We visited a number of the scientific bases and I was horrified to see the mess and degradation of the areas around some of the large bases.  On Prince Edward Island where we dropped off some Russian scientists, there were bases run by Russia, Argentina, Chile, and China, and there was also an airfield.  The only justification for tourists is to keep the scientists in check.  To prevent further pollution we were not allowed to dump any rubbish either on land or in the sea south of the Antarctic Convergence.

Certainly a trip to remember.  Trouble is I am now hooked, so in 1999 am heading north to Iceland, Jan Mayen Island and Spitsbergen.


 

NCA Policy on fixed Aids

 

Policy on fixed aids.

PREAMBLE

With the introduction of the Anchor Replacement Programme, British cavers now have the benefit of a properly controlled and managed programme of installation for fixed aids intended primarily for SRT.  However, in many caves in the UK, SRT is not an appropriate technique to use and over the years many other types of aid (for example, iron ladders, chains and Rawlbolts) have been used.

The purpose of this policy is to formalise the use of these aids in order to provide the same level of protection for the users and for the installers as now exists under the Anchor Replacement Programme.  Within limits necessarily set by the need to maintain adequate controls, this policy has intentionally been drafted so that it may include aids which have already been placed in caves prior to its introduction (subject to an appropriate adoption procedure) and so as not to limit the selection and installation of fixed aids to a small and specially trained clique of personnel.

POLICY STATEMENT

The aim of the NCA under this policy is to provide fixed aids that are tested or inspected regularly, and where appropriate remedial works or replacement carried out.  The number of aids covered will be kept to a minimum, and where possible alternatives are considered.  Where using other routes is safe and practical, consideration should be given to the removal of aids.

The aim of this policy is to make caving safer and to provide protection for those who place fixed aids on behalf of other cavers. It is not the aim of this policy to make caving easier.

1. DEFINITIONS

1.1        Cave means any natural or man made underground cavity used by cavers.

1.2        Fixed aid means artificial fixtures or fittings placed in a cave for the purposes of safe access, progress or egress for regular use or for rescue, excluding those items covered under the Association's separate policy on anchor replacement.

1.3        Fixed aid does not include parts giving structural strength to cave walls or supporting roof structures etc.

1.4        Constituent Body means a regional council, member cub or specialist body of the Association.

1.5        Maintenance shall include, where appropriate, testing and replacement.

2. OBJECTIVES

2.1        To safely provide and maintain fixed aids within caves, potholes and mines.

2.2        All aids shall be in caves open to NCA member clubs, as controlled by the constituent bodies of NCA.

2.3        Installation or adoption of any aid under this policy shall first be approved at a committee meeting of the relevant constituent body.

2.4        Co-ordination of this policy is the responsibility of the association's Equipment Committee.

3. CONSERVATION

3.1        Prior to fixing any new aid or replacing existing ones, consideration will be given to conservation, both with regard to the immediate area of the aid, and also to those areas to which it provides access.

3.2        The constituent body officer responsible for conservation shall be consulted prior to any new or replacement aid being installed.

4. RESCUE

4.1        The British Cave Rescue Council shall be the final arbiters of any matter relating to rescue.

4.2        Fixed aids covered under this policy shall neither hinder or impede any potential rescue efforts.  If necessary the aid shall be readily removable by the rescue team.

4.3        Prior to removing or replacing any aid, consideration shall be given to the potential of the aid to cause a rescue.

4.4        Consideration when installing or replacing aids shall be given to such factors as flooding, e.g. where a ladder would be better than a chain.

4.5        In cases of doubt with relevance to rescue, the local team must be consulted.

5. SELECTION

5.1        The selection of the fixed aid system shall be a matter for discussion by the relevant constituent body, taking account of nationally agreed guidelines.

6. INSPECTION AND MAINTENANCE

6.1        A programme of regular inspection and, where necessary, maintenance, shall be established.

6.2        Inspection and maintenance shall be properly documented in accordance with section 7 of this policy.

6.3        Persons carrying out inspection and maintenance shall be adequately competent.

6.4        Inspection and maintenance shall be in accordance with nationally agreed guidelines

6.5        Any recommendations resulting from an inspection are to be carried out within a suitable time scale.  Failing this, the aid is to be removed from use until such time as the recommendations can be fulfilled.

7. RECORDS

7.1        Adequate records must be kept by the relevant constituent body for each fixed aid.

7.2        Records shall be sufficient to clearly identify:

- the location of the aid in the cave;

- the type of aid;

- the date(s) upon which the aid was placed and last inspected;

- the details of any maintenance work carried out;

- the names of persons carrying out installation and/or maintenance;

- that the type of aid selected is appropriate for the application;

- any pre-installation testing and evaluation performed on the aid.

8. INSURANCE

8.1        Any individual or group authorised to work on behalf of the association under this policy will be indemnified by the association's insurance in so far as they are acting as officers of the association.

8.2        Any works or inspections carried out as part of this policy will be covered by the Association's insurance.

9. DISCLAIMER

9.1        Nothing in this policy shall be taken to absolve the responsibility of an individual using any fixed aid to check that it is fit and safe for its intended purpose.

9.2        Only aids which have been installed fully in accordance with this policy shall be considered to be within its scope.

Draft 1 (based on DCA Draft 4 and discussions at the Equipment Committee Meeting of 13 June 1998).

Draft 2 agreed at the Equipment Committee meeting of13 February 1999

N. Williams
99D0355


 

Rolling Calendar

Date                          Details -  Contact

28030/5/99                 ISSA Meet, Bradford Pothole Club Gaping Gill Winch Meet - ISSA

30/5/99                      OFD Open Columns Day

4/6/99                        BEC Committee Meeting

16/6/99                      June Bulletin Cut off - Editor

12-13/99 (provisional)   BCRA Regional Meeting, Punch Bowl Inn, Swaledake, Yorkshire - BCRA

19/6/99                      Working Day and Evening Barbecue at the Belfry. All Welcome to the barbeque - The Committee

30/6/99                      June Belfry Bulletin Out - Editor

2/7/99                        BEC Committee Meeting

2-4/7/99                     ISSA Meet, Dan yr Ogof - ISSA

7/7/99                        Open night, Floyd Collins (Musical). The Bridewell Theatre, London

24/7/99                      Mendip Challenge, based around Priddy Stomp at Priddy Village Hall in evening, with the Cheddar Blues Band – details to follow - John Dobson, ECG

28/7/99                      August Belfry Bulletin Cut off - Editor

6/8/99                        BEC Committee Meeting

9/8/99                        August Belfry Bulletin Out - Editor

29/8/99                      OFD Columns Open Day

31/8/99                      Committee members reports to editor - Editor

31/8/99                      BEC End of Financial year – all accounts and receipts to treasurer ASAP - Treasurer

31/8/99                      Ghar Parau Foundation Grants applications deadline

3/9/99                        BEC Committee Meeting

3/9/99                        Nominations for Committee Close - Secretary

10-12/9/99                  Hidden Earth ’99 BCRA Conference, Leeds - Dave Gibson

24-26/9/99                  NAMHO 99 Conference, Whitemead Park, Parkend, Nr. Lydney, Glos - John Hine

2/10/99                      BEC AGM and Dinner

3-30/10/99                  Brush with Darkness 2

Wells Museum           Robin Gray

8-10/10/99                  ISSA Meet Indoor Workshop with Robin Gray, Mendip - ISSA

2-3/11/99                    Cave Art exhibition by Robin Gray, Explorer’s Café-Bar (Gough’s Tear Room) Cheddar - Robin Gray