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Rose Cottage Cave - Three Months Hard Labour

Tony Jarratt

“Digging in caves needs considerable dedication, an utter disregard for discomfort, and nerves of steel.”

Bruce L. Bedford, Challenge Underground, 1975.

Continued from B.B.s 522-526. (These articles are penned in order to provide a historical record of the work put into the exploration of Rose Cottage Cave and to illustrate the repetitive and generally unexciting effort expended by the team - not as considered literary efforts!).

Further Digging 12/9/06 - 13/12/06

At the Surface Shaft Dig T.J. filled ten bags with gravelly clay on the 12th September and hauled 1 to surface. Digging continued next day when T.J, S.H. and W.U. removed 50 loads. Meanwhile, somewhere below them, P.H, J.B, H.D, P.C. and A.V. worked frantically in the Halfway Dig to open up a series of tiny but promising voids and even further towards the Earth’s centre laboured H.B. and B.S. as they smashed up a rock pillar and drilled three shot-holes at Plan B Dig. A view into the ongoing rift and the presence of a strong outward draught provided encouragement tonight. A solo trip in the Surface Shaft on the 15th saw another thirteen bags filled with 1 hauled out. The calcite false floor in the ceiling was removed to reveal more mud and the conglomerate-like calcited gravel at the face was found to be akin to rock in its consistency and a sod to dig out. Next day N.U, T.J. and T.H. (the manly hunks) cleared 50 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig, briefly assisted by J.C, A.V. and F.C. (the girlies) on their return from Halfway Dig where they had filled fifteen bags. On the 17th our token Australian digger was ex-BEC member Steve Milner – now a C.E.G.S.A. man. He joined T.J, A.V. and H.B. to liberate another 36 bags of spoil from the Surface Shaft Dig. In the afternoon the team admired R.W. and T.A.’s efforts on the continuing ginging operations. Work at both sites continued on the 20th when S.H, B.O, T.J, H.B. and A.V. dug and hauled out 60 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig – now very roomy and phenomenally easy to excavate - while J.B, J.N, P.C. and T.M. dug and dumped 10 loads from Halfway Dig before becoming uninspired by its potential and frustrated by the lack of stacking space.

Inspired by the comfort of the Surface Shaft Dig T.J. returned on the 21st September to fill twenty bags in an hour and the following evening he was joined by H.B, A.V. and N.U. who continued digging and eventually hauled another 60 loads to the surface. The nature of the passage had now changed from a narrow, steeply dipping rift to a phreatic bedding plane with the in-filled rift above but still descending at the same angle. An apparent floor of calcited cobbles and slabs on top of bedrock provided an attractive feature, which will be washed off at some future point. H.B. and N.U, now firmly hooked, were back the following morning to dig and haul out 32 loads and report that they had unearthed several large rock slabs that needed breaking up. Next day, the 24th September, T.J. did an early morning trip to fill eleven bags and haul 1 out, returning in the afternoon with T.H, P.B. and J.N. to shift another 34 while J.B. and P.C. dug 8 loads from the Halfway Dig, which again looked promising. A one shot-hole charge was fired in a slab in the Surface Shaft Dig and the resulting debris, 11 skip loads, came out next day when the morning shift was A.V, T.J. and T.A. The latter also took photos and measured the underground rift climb at 5 metres. Another one shot-hole charge was fired in a second boulder. After lunch the walling team continued with their project and put up with the post-Hunters’ audience on this fine, warm day.

N.U, on a solo visit to Surface Shaft dig on the 26th September, filled five bags and found that there was considerable bedding-plane development to the NW below the rift climb. This was enlarged next day when he returned with T.J. and S.H. to remove 36 loads. The latter took lots of record images of the dig. At Halfway Dig J.B, P.C, A.V, J.C. and T.M. dug and (miraculously) dumped another 21 loads, finding the going easy in loose, clean rocks and the way on apparently downwards. H.B. and H.D, fresh from their explosives users’ course, laid a four shot-hole 12gm cord charge at Plan B Dig, which was later fired by the Halfway team as they left the cave. J.B. was back at Halfway Dig on the 28th when he filled a dozen bags and he did more work the following day in company with P.C. and J.C. while T.J. and A.V. removed 12 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig and installed improved vacuum piping. Hammering in this dig could be, unsurprisingly, distinctly heard in Mt. Hindrance Lane – the entrance passage of Rose Cottage Cave proper.

October 1st saw T.H. and T.J. removing 17 loads of mainly broken rock and a one shot-hole 12gm cord charge fired in the Surface Shaft Dig while J.C, J.B. and P.C. continued burrowing away at Halfway Dig. Next day the bang was found to have been ineffectual so J.C. and T.J. spent some time hammering at rocks and calcited gravel in an attempt to establish the way on in the Surface Shaft Dig. The more easily dig-able “Inlet Tube” on the right seemed to be the best bet, though a trifle cosy. Halfway Dig was visited by J.B. on the 7th when six bags were filled and lots of cobbles removed until light pox stopped play. Next day B.E.C. dinner survivors T.H. and Nick Gymer removed 5 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig and walling here was continued by the latter, T.A. and R.W. on the 9th.

H.B, H.D. and J.C. cleared and drilled eight shot-holes at Plan B Dig on the 11th and were pleased to report that stones thrown forwards into the rift dropped for an estimated 3 metres. Their colleagues, P.H, J.N, J.B. and P.C. meanwhile worked at Halfway Dig until bad air surprisingly drove them to the Pub. (Five other regulars had been dragged northwards for an intensive week’s holiday digging in Rana Hole, Assynt, Scotland). Two of these, T.J. and P.B. were back on site with J.C. and T.H. on the 16th when five of the Plan B Dig shot-holes were charged and fired, Halfway Dig inspected and another, three hole charge fired in the Surface Shaft Dig. 6 loads were hauled out from here by J.W. using his good arm and glad to be back in the swing of things after smashing his collar bone up in a cycling accident. The spoil from this bang was cleared next day by T.J. and J.N. when about fifteen loads were filled and stacked. In the afternoon R.W. and T.A. brought the wall up to surface level and debated on how to finish it off; concrete pipe or stonework?

The 18th October saw another three teams at work. 10 loads came out from the Surface Shaft Dig where F.C, N.U. and T.J. dug in the Inlet Tube and laid a three shot-hole charge at the face. At Halfway Dig P.B. and P.C. dug onwards in a sandier infill until poor air drove them out. H.B, H.D. and P.H. descended to Plan B Dig to drill and fire a seven shot-hole charge after finding that three of the last holes had been ineffective, having blown out. P.B. and T.J. continued with both digs in the Surface Shaft on the 22nd when 17 loads reached the surface and much more was left bagged below. A monstrous rock kept P.B. occupied for a while but he triumphed eventually. Pete Eckford assisted with hauling. J.N, P.C. and J.B. meanwhile struggled on in the airless conditions of Halfway Dig. More work took place in the Surface Shaft Dig next day when J.N. opened up an encouraging small airspace in the floor dig and T. J. fired a two shot-hole charge to gain easier access to this. The Inlet Tube was found to be issuing a trickle of water, hinting at its possible origin in Bored of the Rings. Many more bags were filled. In the afternoon the dedicated wallers pressed on before the weather broke. The bang debris in Surface Shaft Dig was cleared by T.J. on the 25th while H.B. and P.H. cleared much of that from Plan B Dig in poor air conditions. Two days later the air was better and H.B. and Ernie White continued clearing before drilling a four shot-hole charge, which they fired on the way out. At the same time J.B. dug at Halfway and also reported better air conditions after opening up an area of airspaces and large boulders in the floor. Up in the Surface Shaft Dig T.J. and Andy Norman moved lots of full bags up to the top ledge, broke up rocks and drilled one shot-hole. A second shot-hole was drilled by T.J. on the 29th while J.C. and F.C. filled all available empty bags with spoil from the Inlet Tube. Another 12gm cord charge was fired. The broken rock was partly cleared next day by D.I. while T.J. took top cave photographer John Forder and his wife Miranda to Aglarond 3  (their trip report and pictures can be found in a recent M.N.R.C. journal) Some clearing was done at Plan B Dig in fumey conditions and Halfway Dig inspected. A single shot-hole charge was then laid and fired in the Surface Shaft Dig. In the afternoon he joined R.W. and T.A. on the walling epic.

November 1st saw the onset of winter at last with much colder weather and a lack of desire for surface hauling. The spoil from the last Surface Shaft Dig bang was cleared by T.J. and lots of bags filled from the Inlet Tube Dig. S.H. arrived later to haul 15 loads to surface where they were emptied behind the new ginging. Previous to this he had assisted J.B, J.N. and P.C. at Halfway Dig where large boulders embedded in the floor presented removal difficulties. H.B. and H.D. cleared most of the remaining spoil from the Plan B Dig bang and drilled eight shot-holes. Despite the dramatic weather change bad air conditions were still prevalent throughout the cave. J.C. and T.J. hauled out 15 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig on the 3rd November and shifted and filled many others. J.B. dug alone at Halfway next day and was encouraged enough to return on the 5th with P.C. and open up various draughting voids between boulders. Meanwhile T.J. and D.B, assisted by H.D. on the surface, removed 27 loads of spoil from the Surface Shaft Dig and another 15 loads were dragged out later that day by T.J, T.H. and P.B. who also filled many more bags from both dig sites. T.J. was back here next day with a hungover H.D. and Robin Sheen of the Burren Crawlers. After hauling out 36 loads they were joined by explosives technician Charlie Adcock, his assistant Ambrose Buchanan and a couple of his northern mining enthusiast mates, Karl Fearn (Cumbria Ore Mines Rescue Unit) and Paul Cheetham. T.J drilled three shot-holes in the roof and floor of the lower dig and A.B. charged them with malleable plastic explosive (actually a commercial bomb filler!) and three detonators wired in series. C.A. used his state-of-the-art exploder to fire this impressive charge and the team retired to the Hunters’ for well-deserved libations. C.A, K.F. and A.B. returned in the afternoon to clear 16 skips of shattered bang debris, which T.J. hauled out while P.Ch. cleaned the drill and R.W. re-arranged the adjacent spoil heaps as part of the walling project.

P.B, H.D, J.C. and Martin Smith were back down the Surface Shaft Dig on the 8th when the rest of the bang spoil was cleared – 25 loads being hauled out by A.V, T.J. and C.A. Two shot-holes were then drilled and another charge of “Charlie’s Special” prepared for future use. H.B, K.F. and A.B. drilled one more shot-hole in Plan B Dig then charged the total of nine holes with more of this powerful explosive connected to “non-el” detonators, firing on the way out after P.C, P.H. and J.N. had completed their shift in Halfway Dig - having revealed a too narrow, descending open rift which itself was begging for the next application of “chemical hammer”. Much of that evening’s pub conversation revolved around the latest choice of “guest ales” which inspired C.A. to propose a regular “guest explosive” at the dig. Those who had seen him in action on TV’s Inside Out documentary two days previously were well aware that this was not merely pub talk! The Halfway Dig rift had not long to wait as next day H.B. and H.D. descended upon it to drill a couple of shot-holes and fire a 40gm cord charge. T.J. also fired that laid the previous day in the Surface Shaft Dig. 

Henry B. returned to Plan B Dig on Armistice Day in company with Martin Beal (Chelsea S.S.). The last bang had turned the rift walls to a heap of dust but the pair had no time to clear it as the apparent lack of fumes had deceived them and in making a hasty retreat M.B. actually blacked out for about twenty seconds giving H.B. great cause for concern as his addled brain despaired on the thoughts of trying to pull his 6ft+ mate up Prancer’s Pot alone and without flaking out himself. Luckily they made it out and yet again a valuable lesson had been learnt – a process common to all trainee bang enthusiasts! Discussions with doctors Boycott and Glanvill suggested that CO2 was the problem - possibly heightened by the fact that non-smoking, ultra-fit, high altitude mountaineer M.B. was more susceptible to this than his somewhat less healthy life-styled colleague! Later that day J.B. and P.C. cleared some of the spoil from the fume-free Halfway Dig and reported that more widening was required. This was done on the 12th by H.B. and M.B. who only got in a single shot-hole charge due to an excess of un-cleared spoil while T.J. and P.B. cleared the spoil from the last Surface Shaft Dig bang and laid another two hole, 40gm cord charge. 4 skip-loads and a frog were hauled out. 1 more load came out on the 13th when T.J. bagged up the resultant bang debris and fired another two shot-hole charge. In the afternoon he assisted R.W. and T.A. with their entrance walling.

November 15th saw two teams hard at work in the Surface Shaft and Halfway Digs. In the former T.J, P.B, P.H. and A.L. cleared the debris from the last bang at the bottom, dug in the Inlet Tube and raised 50 loads to surface. In the latter J.B, P.C. and J.C. also cleared bang spoil and had a general tidy-up. Two draughting ways on could be seen, both requiring chemical persuasion. This was provided on the 17th when T.J. fired a one shot-hole, 12gm cord-wrapped charge on two large boulders located between these holes. A huge and suspect slab in the ceiling was noted so an old miners’ trick was used to check its stability. The narrow bedding-plane crack above it was filled with smoothed off clay so that any movement would be made evident by its disturbance – a “tell tale”.  J.B, J.C. and Ian Matthews cleared and stacked more spoil in the meantime. J.B. and P.C, desperate for glory, went down next day to explore the miles of passage beyond but the Law of Sod came into play when they noticed that the “tell tale” had indeed opened up to prove the instability of the hanging death above. Wisely they called it a day. Over a dozen bags of spoil were filled by T.J. from the Inlet Tube Dig in the Surface Shaft on the morning of the 20th and in the afternoon R.W, T.A. and T.J. continued with the walling project. A section of plastic drainpipe was emplaced at ground level. To keep the grafters happy J.C. made the tea.

The next burst of enthusiasm was on the 22nd November when digging and hauling in the Surface Shaft Dig resulted in 43 loads out. A.L, P.C, B.O, J.C, J.N, P.H. and T.J. were to blame. J.N. and P.H. also attempted a joss-stick scent connection between A1 and Halfway Digs, alas in vain. In the surprisingly bad-air free depths H.B. and H.D. cleared much of the spoil from the last Plan B Dig bang and reported a slight draught. On their way out they drilled and banged the hanging death at Halfway Dig. Some of the spoil from this bang was cleared by J.B. and P.C. on the 25th and R.W. re-arranged the Surface Shaft spoil heap next day. On the 27th he was joined by T.A. and T.J. for more walling in between heavy showers – these deterring F.C. and J.C. from a proposed Morton’s Pot trip and encouraging them to clear more bang spoil in Plan B Dig.  This was followed up on the 29th when H.B. and H.D. drilled and fired a four shot-hole charge while J.B. tidied up at Halfway and T.J. filled six skips with slop at the flooded Inlet Tube Dig in the Surface Shaft. A look at Paul’s Personal Project in the main cave convinced him of the imminent connection with this. He filled another seven bags here on 3rd December when purple drain dye was put into the pool in the lower dig. More work was undertaken at this site on the 4th when T.J. continued digging in the Inlet Tube while H.B, Carole White and Martin “Billy Whizz” Smith (B.P.C.) hauled out 31 loads. Martin rightly pointed out that skips made with the handle at the bottom are a lot easier to empty – a good point. Another 32 loads came out on the 6th when P.B. and T.J. bailed and dug the Tube while J.N, P.C. and I.M. got the thankless hauling jobs. T.J. bailed and dug here again on the 8th while H.B. and A.V. dug in the same bedding plane but straight ahead and above the lower dig. A hammering and voice contact was established between these digs and P.P.P. in the main cave.

To establish the distance left to dig both the Bored of the Rings loop in the main cave and all of the Surface Shaft were surveyed on the 10th by H.B, Chris Smith and Doug Harris (M.C.G.) and a gap of some 4-5m computed by H.B. – thus ensuring that he could claim a pint from T.J. who was insistent that it was less than 3m! Meanwhile T.H, J.C. and T.J. dug, hauled and stacked bags in the Surface Shaft, 6 loads reaching daylight. The following morning the site was tidied up before A.V. and T.J. went to Paul’s Personal Project in the main cave where they attempted to dig towards the Inlet Tube but were somewhat stymied by the lack of decent sized passage. Nevertheless several skips were filled and parked ready for removal. In the afternoon R.W. continued drystone walling the spoil heap.

Plan B Dig at last got a revisit on the 13th December when H.B. and H.D. cleared the spoil from the last bang enabling them to get a clear view down an open but too narrow rift estimated at some 5m deep. They were much enthused. Not quite so enthused were P.C, P.B. and T.J. – immersed in squalor many metres above in the Inlet Tube after having used the submersible pump and best Belfry saucepan to drain it. Lots of muddy gravel was dug out, bagged and stacked and 9 loads reached the surface.

With the Digging Barrel deservedly going to the Mendip Caving Group the team were able to relax and save the huge breakthroughs for 2007!       

Continued in B.B. 528.

New (and resurrected) Diggers

Steve Milner (C.E.G.S.A.), Tim Large, Nick Gymer, Pete Eckford, Andy Norman, Ernie White, John and Miranda Forder (M.N.R.C. – photography), Charles Adcock, Ambrose Buchanan, Karl Fearn (C.O.M.R.U.), Paul Cheetham, Robin Sheen (Burren Crawlers), Martin Smith (O.S.C.C.), Martin Beal (C.S.S.), Ian Matthews (Frome C.C.), Chris Smith, Dog Harris (M.C.G.)   

The Old Brigade

Tony Jarratt, Sean Howe, Walery “Wally” Ufimzew, Pete Hellier, Jake Baynes, Henry Dawson, Phil Coles, Anne Vanderplank, Henry Bennett, Ben Selway, Neil Usher, Jane Clarke, Fiona Crozier, Rich Witcombe, Tony Audsley, John Noble, Trevor Hughes, Paul Brock, Toby Maddocks, John “Tangent” Williams, Darrel Instrell, Duncan Butler, Alex Livingston, Carole White, Martin Smith (B.P.C.)

Grateful acknowledgements to all those who have contributed to the bang fund and thereby kept this important project going and to Nigel Taylor, Aubrey Newport and Charlie Adcock and his Event Horizon team for their pyrotechnic input.

Cave Trivia


I couldn’t resist this. The following are the episodes in which caves appeared – sometimes ever so briefly…And by caves I mean bad Styrofoam and plaster sets.

The Cage
What Are Little Girls Made Off?
The Menagerie parts I and II
The Devil in the Dark
Return to Tomorrow
Bread and Circuses
Spock’s Brain
And The Children Shall Lead
The Cloud Minders
All our Yesterdays