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Rana  Hole,  Assynt -  the  Saga Continues.

By Tony Jarratt
Photos by Paul Brock

The article on page 36 of BB 527 (not listed in the contents!), having failed to lure any new diggers to this epic project, it was a very limited “Mendip Invasion” that headed the 625 miles north at the end of February. From the Hill; Paul Brock and your scribe, from Chard; Peter and Philippa Glanvill and, later in the week, the Bristol contingent of Tony Boycott and Jayne Stead. Mark Brown and Norman Flux had travelled up from Sheffield a few days earlier in the trusty “big van full of more digging technology”. Perfectionist Norman had designed a winch with three cycles in parallel to replace the tandem version and had thought up various improvements to the hauling system. They were joined by Edinburgh digger Roger Galloway. Derek Guy drove up from Stirling and arrived with the Mendip team to find that the lads had, thankfully, already transported the new winch up the mountain and were in the process of fettling it.

Mark fettling the headgear while Norman adjusts

the ‘Fluxcavator Mk 5Ù cycle winch

On the 29th February seven diggers set off up the Allt nan Uamh valley in glorious weather but with extremely strong wind. Your scribe, dressed in green wellies and a pale blue and pink tartan fleece suit and carrying two conspicuous road signs provided much amusement and curiosity to several walkers visiting the Bone Caves. Trying to explain what he was doing was not easy and the road signs were much regretted when he rounded “windy corner”, just beyond the Bone Caves, and was blown off his feet by a strong gust. With an almost vertical drop down to the valley floor he got away lightly but practically crawled the rest of the way. At Rana Hole he joined Paul to fill bags with spoil while the engineers continued the good work. 17 kibble-loads of spoil were hauled out, mainly from the now collapsed pile of mud and rock to the rear of the floor of the shaft. Much junk was also pulled out and a huge perched boulder was drilled and banged. Red dye was dumped into the trickle of water sinking at the bottom but was not detected in the underlying Uamh an Claonaite when visited by Simon Brooks later in the week. Does this mean that Rana goes somewhere else? Time will tell. While all this was going on Pete, Philippa and Derek, after a tourist trip in Claonaite, had found a possible new cave near the main stream sink. This was tentatively called Three GÙs Cave for lack of a local name and was later dug and banged before the team headed down for libations at the Inch.

Next day there was no support for Rana so Paul and the writer drove north to Durness and Smoo Cave. Here they abseiled the 24m deep Falais Smoo (Chimney of Smoo) directly into G.S.G. member Colin CoventryÙs inflatable dinghy which he had paddled across the lake chamber below: he runs short tourist trips in the cave. After inspecting his dig above the flowstone barrier at the end of the large inlet stream passage they were ferried out to the landing stage at the Starrsach (cave threshold) before heading to the Smoo Cave Hotel for replacement of lost body fluids. Earlier in the day a salmon sandwich had been purchased here for ColinÙs lunch and delivered to him by the simple expedient of chucking it down a skylight in the roof of the cave – “fast food” indeed! The extremely dry conditions had made todayÙs abseil a pleasure as usually the whole of the Allt Smoo stream accompanies one down the pot making the descent spectacular, noisy and bloody wet.

Overall view of the dig

Back at Rana on May Day, after a diversion to clear some 3m of spoil from Three GÙs Cave, Paul and the writer continued digging, rock breaking and bag filling at the bottom while the engineers fettled away above them. The three GÙs themselves later assisted and, watched by a Golden Eagle, 70 kibble-loads of spoil were winched out. The Mendip duo walked back down via the ridge of Beinn an Fhuarain surrounded by spectacular vistas and feeling too warm in T-shirts at 7.30pm! They were so impressed that they mobile-phoned the absent Jane Clarke to describe the view and inform her what she was missing. Photos were taken as evidence.

The walk up the valley was almost too hot next day and it was good to get underground. Another 70 loads of spoil and one toad came out courtesy of the new winch – the “Fluxcavator Mk. 5”. Tony Boycott, Jayne Stead and Julian Walford assisted Norman, Paul and the writer today and the others went walking or climbing in the continuing heatwave. Sunburn was suffered by several of the team!

Julian, Mark and your scribe returned on the 3rd to fettle, bail and dig. There were too few people to winch, as A.N.U.S. Cave and Three GÙs Cave were being visited, photographed and dug.

A thirsty man but nattily dressed!

(The colour scheme is spectacular. Ed)  

A large team made up for this on the 4th with Ivan Young, Norman and Paul below and Mark, Julian, Philippa, Tony and the writer on cycle duty. 120 loads came out including a large, netted boulder and several drums of water. The rather obvious spoil heap was pretty much levelled at the request of George Vestey, the landowner. He is happy with the dig as long as his deer are not molested. As if…

Another 70 loads came out on the 5th when Norman, newcomer Caroline Stubbs and your scribe went below and Mark, Paul, Ivan, Philippa and Julian put up with the gradually changing weather conditions on the surface. This was the last day and with a total of 347 loads out and the eventual perfection of the new hauling system all were satisfied. The site was “put to bed” and the redundant tandem winch painfully wheeled back down to the road before celebrations took place at the Inch. Richard, the landlord, was not well today after having overdone it with hotel residents and Jamaican reggae band the Skatalites * until 5.30 am.

During the week Simon Brooks and the Glanvills dived in Claonaite with Fraser Simpson videoing and Simon also dived and dug underwater in the Cnoc nan Uamh System upstream sump. A few other minor caves were visited and Hugh Penney, Marco?, Carol Walford and Kate Janossy got some climbing in. A magnificent week - and not a midgie in sight!

Brockers in A.N.U.S Cave

* ‘The Skatalites meet at King TubbyÙsÙ is a particularly good album featuring the fine drumwork of Leroy ‘HorsemouthÙ Wallace.  Ed. Iree!