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Hon. Sec: A.R. Thomas. Allens House, Nine Barrows Lane, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Hon. Editor: - S.J. Collins, Lavender Cottage, Bishop Sutton, Bristol

Editorial

Is Cave Photography Dead?

Elsewhere in this B.B. you will find an appeal by Nick Barrington – of ‘Caves of Mendip’ fame – for photographs.  Some years ago, the B.E.C. was noted for its high standard of cave philosophy.  We held photographic competitions – we wrote articles on the subject – and many of our better (and in modern terms, hairiest cavers) were also expert photographers.

This tradition dated from the quite early days from the quite early days of the club – with members like Don Coase, ‘Pongo’ Wallis and ‘Shorty’.  Even in later years, the discovery of Balch Hole resulted in B.E.C. photographers descending on the cave in droves – all banging away with flashbulbs and discussing things like the merits and disadvantages of synchroflash versus open shutters with some heat.

It will be a pity if Nick’s latest project fails to get off the ground through lack of suitable material. It will be sad from our club’s point of view if there are no B.E.C. photographers included.  It would seem a good time for some of our younger cavers to rediscover the delight and snags of cave photography.

A.D.P.U.

For the uninitiated, it stands for ‘Abseil down – prussik up’ – a technique which is getting rather more talked about of late.  A short symposium on the subject of prussiking is to be held in the autumn, but the organiser is short of speakers.  Does anyone feel he is an expert on prussiking.  Contact Alfie.

“Alfie”

Appeal For Pics

Nicholas Barrington hopes, if a sufficient number of really good photographs can be obtained, to produce an art book (A4 size) depicting scenes under Mendip.

It would probably include several sections – Early Caving – Cave Diving – Formations – Pitches, and so on. If any B.E.C. members have any top class photographs which would be capable of being included on their own merits (they would just have captions rather than any accompanying editorial matter) would they please contact Nick at the Oak House, Axbridge, Somerset as soon as possible.  It is envisaged that a reproduction fee will be paid per print used.

There is one category of print where prints less than top quality will be accepted, and that is of any photos showing ‘news type’ shot – e.g. the first trip down Cuthbert’s.

Also, if any member has good prints of any formations on Mendip which have since been destroyed or damaged (e.g. the ‘streaky bacon’ curtain in Rod’s Pot) could they please contact Nick so that the print may be included in a further edition of a revised ‘COMPLETE CAVES OF MENDIP’ to punch home even further (Nick, note clever avoidance of split infinitive compared to original! – Ed.) the high rate of despoliation of our limited number of caves.

The final prints will be reduced to 4 inches across with a maximum height of 6 inches, but larger sized prints for reduction would be appreciated.  Postage and cost will be refunded, and the greatest care taken of all originals.

PLEASE ACT NOW AND CONTACT NICK STRAIGHT AWAY.  SEND YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS TO N. BARRINGTON, THE OAK HOUSE, AXBRIDGE, SOMERSET.

The Fixed Tackle Question: Yes, But

Let me say at once that I thought Tim Large’s article from Cuthbert’s was very good, and I think that the Committee did the right thing by endorsing the Cuthbert’s Leaders decision. If it comes to a straight “Yes” or “No” on taking out the tackle, then, from what I’ve heard, it’s “Yes.”

On the other hand, I find myself not quite in agreement with some of the thinking behind Tim’s article, and wonder if my point of view is shared by anyone else.  At ant rate, I hope that Tim and his colleagues will find my arguments understandable, if not acceptable.

‘Caves is like nature makes ‘em.’  Well this is certainly true – up to a point, but not by itself a very valid reason for the removal of fixed tackle.  The trouble with most slogans is that they are black and white statements, whereas the real Cuthbert’s, as nature made it, had an entrance rift so narrow that only Viv Brown and Roy Bennett were able to descend it at the time, just to quote one example.  Leaning the odd bit of ‘iron oxide’ up against the odd rock means that at any time, the removal of the iron oxide will at once restore the cave to its virginal or pristine state – whereas the breaking off of stal, through clumsiness, vandalism, or some good reason like the opening up of more cave, or putting in the odd rawlbolt is an irreversible process.

In our day (as ‘Butch’ or ‘Milch’ would say) we were very keen to keep caves as near as possible to ‘like nature made ‘em.’  Tim’s expression deserves to go alongside Fred Davies’s famous dictum – but with certain mental reservations.  There are due to the fact that cavers are also as nature made ‘em.

These two facts must be taken together.  If Tim’s saying be taken too literally, then no caver who cannot negotiate the entrance pitch in its original state has any real right down Cuthbert’s.  This would have ruled out people like Don Coase and the Wig to start with.  On the other hand, we would be daft to try to make all cavers fit all caves.  If nature has made a caver seven feet tall, or twelve inches thick, or even sixty year old; then nature has played the bloke a dirty trick and there isn’t much we can do about it.

In this context, Tim’s assertion that cavers have changed must mean that caves should change to fit them – or at least the fixed aids in the caves should change.  This is natural and quite as it should be – you can’t expect anything to stand still for ever.  Many years ago, there was a very great difference in outlook between cavers and climbers (or at nay rate between Mendip cavers and climbers).  Climbers would argue for hours about artificial aids. Most climbers of those days were all for pitting their wits against a climb with the absolute minimum of aids of any kind.  They maintained that the use of pitons was only permissible on the odd occasion when a perfectly good climb contained one small section not possible without one.  They talked with scorn about the ‘dangle and whack’ boys who bashed up impossible climbs by sheer weight of ironmongery and maintained that you might just as well run scaffolding up a rock face and call it a climb.  Cavers, on the other hand never argued about artificial aids at all.  The more the better was the accepted idea.  They maintained that the object was to get down the cave and do things – like photography, surveying or just plain sightseeing – not to perform fancy tricks on the way.  These tricks were better left to climbers who, after all, had nothing better to do – because you don’t climb up a rock face just to see it.  You can do this much better from the bottom with a good pair of binoculars.  On the other hand, you can’t see a cave except by going down it and thus, so the argument ran, the important thing was to get down there rather than to argue about how you should do it.

Since those days, both caving and climbing have changed.  Climbers, wanting new routes to do (after all, you can’t discover a whole new mountain in Britain today) tended to accept aids rather more than they once did as cavers, adopting many climbing techniques, needed the fixed aids put in by an earlier generation less and less.

Good.  So let’s take out most of the fixed tackle and let modern cavers really get to grips with the cave!  Let us not forget, though, that caving does not entirely consist of purely sporting caving.  There are other things to be found underground besides the ‘port and challenge’ mentioned by Tim.  Cave photography is one, and there are many more – and they cannot be done satisfactorily by climbing up and down fire escapes!

In fact, the ‘sport and challenge’ argument is not a very good one.  I once went down Goatchurch with Noel MacSharry, who took me over a route which he had sorted out which made parts of the cave surprisingly hairy and just shows what can be done in an easy cave by using imagination.  If sport and challenge was the only criterion, one could find them equally well by climbing the Martyr’s Memorial in Oxford without bothering to go underground for them at all.

Caving is liking caves, no matter why.  I would sooner see our caves full of people who really liked being in them – for whatever reason, as long as it was not anti-social, than to see too tigerish a spirit dominate our pass time.  One of the beauties of caving is that it can offer such a diversity of activity to such a wide range of people.  In this context, I take issue with Tim on his assertion that nobody should ‘see the pretties’ until they had earned this right by their physical fitness alone.  I am not advocating the carting down of loads of semi-invalids into Cuthbert’s to see the Curtain, Cascade etc., but I do assert that the ability to get there without tackle should not be the sole criterion by which their right to see them should be judged.  By all means, let us make those who need it take tackle with them – after all, modern tackle is not all that heavy or bulky – but let discrimination stop there unless the man is obviously unfit to be underground at all. As an example, we all owe the caves we enjoy to those people who dug them out, often with none of the subsequent limelight.  Nobody, for example, would question John Cornwell’s decision to put a railway into Rhino while it was a dig.  If he had sine wanted to put in a few fixed ladders – or a winch or something, he would have more right, for my money, than most.  If a famous artist wanted to paint a scene in Cuthbert’s which stood a good chance of becoming an internationally famous picture, and one of great value to caving and to posterity, I can’t really see us refusing to lend him a helping hand on the way there and back.

In conclusion, by all means let us make the cave tougher and more natural for those who can gain from this move – but don’t let us refuse, or even look down our noses, at the is idea of reasonable trips with tackle for experienced cavers who are fully aware of the limitations imposed by age, temperament or physique and who are fully prepared to cave responsibly within those limits.

“Senex.”

*****************************************

PLEASE NOT:  Tim Large – our Caving secretary – now lives at: -

39 Seymour Avenue
Bishopston
Bristol

Notice

Oliver Lloyd will be holding his 60th Birthday Party in the Old Grotto, Swildons on Wednesday, August 4th 1971 at 7 pm.  There will be sherry and cake.  Any members are invited to attend.

Letter

Editor’s Note:    It is always nice to welcome a new writer.  Chris has taken up the challenge about cavers not being literate as climbers.  He explains this in the letter below before showing us what he can do in the way of caving in the article that follows his letter.

Dear Alfie

When Tim Large and oi were at Belfry t’other noight we wur aving a nosh when oi did zee a vurry thin book loing on the table loike.  Oi did ztart to read thik book (cos even an old B.B. wur better than watching thik large feller feed is foice) when oi did come across thicky harticle by some cxloimer feller.  Oi seed thy note as ow thewe do not think them cloimers be more literate loike than us coivers and oi think that these should know that oi thinks thee do talk a load of cobblers, so please do ‘ee vind with thicky-yer note, a harticle on coiving.

oi opes thee don’t moind as ow it wur written by a non-member.  This is coz oi aint hasked anyone to second my happlification yet an oi aint done that fer as ow oi aint got money fer me subscerition.  oi did think as ow thee be thee always be zaying as ow thee be short of harticles and thee moight find it worthwhile fer to vill some zpace.

Oi do rekon thik reason as why coivers doesn’t writ is coz un do hunderhestimate the hinterest of what un do do.  –Moind ‘ee, not as ow oi can zee hayun being worried as ow us did get ter zump one an back. Alzo, oi done zee as ow thur be hanything much about muddy zumps wot can be maid ter zound all poetical loike – after all, us don’t zee un zticking up out of layers of cloud loike, do un?  (If thee knows of un that do, make sure thee tell oi mind, coz oi’d loike to see un?).

ztill, loike oi do say, oi suspose thur must be fellers what aint bin zome places other volks ave, so maybe as ow us can hinterest they volks after all with summat loike thick-yur harticle what do feller.

Porth yr Ogof

By Chris Howell

Although it is one of the smaller Welsh caves, Porth-yr-Ogof can provide an entertaining couple of hours caving of a type which cannot be found on Mendip.  I do not propose to try to provide a complete description of the cave, since this has already been undertaken by Standing and Lloyd (U.B.S.S. Proceedings, Vol 12, No.2 1970).  Their account, together with a grade 4C survey, can be obtained for a few pence as an off print of the main work.  The numbers and letters in brackets in my account which follows refer to the U.B.S.S. survey.

Whilst it is possible to explore a large part of the cave with only normal caving gear (as the expense of wet feet) the most worthwhile trip, from the main entrance to the resurgence really requires a wet suit and confident swimming, or else a rubber dinghy.

The usual approach to the cave is from the car park situated at SN.928124 (1” O.S. Sheet 141) by crossing the style and following the steep footpath down to the grassy bank beside the river Mellte.  “River” might almost seem to be a misnomer for, at this point, except in very wet conditions, the river bed is normally dry – the bulk of the water having already sunk in its bed at Church Sink, half a mile upstream.  To the left can be seen the rocky gorge leading into the tremendous arch of the Main Entrance (E) and, immediately in front one stands at the bottom of the path, are several small resurgences which unite among the boulders and flow into a deep pool alongside the rock ledge which leads to the cave.

Turning back to the right, a few steps over a grassy bank towards the cliff leads to a low entrance just inside of which the underground course of the river can be seen and heard as it emerges from a sump (3) on the left.  The underground watercourse at this point is substantially accessible only to divers on the upstream side, and for a description, the reader should refer to the Standing/Lloyd publication.

Inside the entrance, the stream can be followed along a well developed passage with prominent scalloping, which is one of the most noticeable features of the entire system. After about a hundred and seventy feet, the stream can be seen to disappear down a roomy tube on the left of the main passage, and a stooping crawl along this leads to a small chamber where the passage sumps (4).  Except in very dry conditions there is a considerable volume of water and consequently strong current through this sump and the writer considers that there is a strong possibility of making an unintentional trip through the submerged section, which is about four feet long, unless some care is exercised.  The water deepens in the last few feet before the sump, and a body lowered into the sump is forcibly drawn through.  There is NO guide wire, but a light directed into the pool on the far side of the sump can be seen through the submerged arch, which appears to be quite roomy.

Returning to the main passage, one can turn left and quickly reach the downstream side of the sump, where the water wells up in a small chamber separated from the main passage by a rock flake.  Under the conditions in which I have seen this sump, it would not be possible to pass it in an upstream direction on account of the current.

Having passed several small passages on the right, all of which connect with the cave just inside the Main Entrance, one finds deep water and a gradually descending roof which heralds the arrival of another sump (5).  Under dry conditions, Standing and Lloyd state that it is an awkward duck with a small airspace, although I have always found this section to be submerged. The stream steam flows through the sump into a section of deep water passage before falling a few inches into the lake just inside the Main Entrance.  The sumped section is about nine feet long, but a much longer dive should be allowed for because of the restricted airspaces on both sides. Again there is NO guide wire.

A return tom the Main Entrance can be made either via the sump or by using one of the side passages already referred to.

‘Imposing’ is not too strong a word to use in describing the Main Entrance of Poth-yr-Ogof.  When the stream is in flood, the sink is unable to take the full flow of the river, which then continues along the normally abandoned river bed before entering the cave, where it may fill the full width of the entrance chamber to the depth of a foot or more.  It need hardly be said that unless one has experience of the cave under these conditions, it should be left well alone, with the possible exception of the right hand (dry) series.  Fortunately, if one is in doubt about the advisability of making the trip through trip, two collapsed entrances and the resurgence itself can be visited to obtain an idea of the conditions within the cave, before embarking on any ‘one way’ voyage of discovery!

The Main Entrance is reached along a wide ledge beneath the cliffs with a deep pool on the right hand side. Below the entrance arch, a boulder floor fills the full width of the cave with a small stream flowing along the right hand wall.  Straight ahead, large tree trunks serve to remind one of the power of the river in flood. (A more odorous reminder can be provided form time to time in the form of farm animal carcasses).  The writer has a particularly unpleasant memories of the remains of a small cow which lingered for some months in the stream way several years ago.

Proceeding into the cave, deep water is reached near the edge of the dark zone.  Across the lake (known variously as Llyn-y-baban – the baby’s lake, or White Horse Pool) can be seen the calcite pattern which has been responsible for one of the alternate names of the cave – White Horse Cave.  It is possible to identify a rather lean looking horse, facing left, with peculiarly long front legs.

A scramble round the left hand ledge of the lake gives access to the passage along which the river flows from the sump (5) and the Upper Stream Passage.  It was in deep water in this passage that we recently spent some chilly moments watching some quite sizeable, pale fish.  From their size and shape they must have been trout and they seemed quite unconcerned by our lights, even when we submerged headsets in an attempt to avoid reflection off the surface while watching them.

The main stream passage beyond the lake contains deep water for a hundred and fifty feet – it cannot be bottom walked in its entirety as far as I know, although I have never made the trip with anyone over six feet in height!  If one is a strong swimmer, it is possible to swim for this section, although it would be difficult to maintain ones bearings, as the passage is wide in places and rather featureless.  Only the right hand wall provides the occasional good holds and underwater ledges on which to rest, and only at one place it is possible to climb out of the stream completely.  This is more trouble than its worth, even if one can identify the small passage several feet up on the right hand wall.

By far the best method (probably because the opportunity to use this particular technique in caving is rare) is to embark upon an inflatable rubber dinghy and paddle off into the darkness, leaving the hordes of sightseers with which the entrance chamber abounds in summer, agape with admiration or something.  It is a pleasantly lazy way to do ones caving – the more so if one does not bother to take a paddle, although this method of progress is very slow indeed, and one is likely to end up revolving slowly in the middle of the passage, with no obvious progress being made – the dinghy hissing ominously – and the walls receding rapidly on each side whilst frantically threshing the water with very ineffective hands.

Probably the best compromise is to have a couple of people in the dinghy, and a couple outside who can hang onto the wall.  This permits those outside to pull the dinghy along, and also to obtain support where there are no holds.  It also permits a form of alternating one-upmanship as the dinghy occupants can jeer at the swimmers (or, better still, non-swimmers) as they drift out of reach of the wall, to be followed by abuse of the swimmers as the latter do their best to capsize the boat in their efforts to regain a hold on the wall.

It should be possible in normal water conditions, given a strong head, to make one’s way along this section with the aid of holds – swimming or floating across the odd few feet where holds are scarce or non-existent.  A watch should be kept for sudden changes of level of the ledges beneath the surface.  Unless one is a strong swimmer, some additional form of support is probably a big psychological advantage.

The deepwater section is soon passed, and the river flows over a boulder strewn floor with a large sandy bank on the right hand side.  At the back of this bank, passages link with the dry series, so providing by-pass to the river section.  One of these passages – The Canyon – is particularly worthy of note on account of its regularly developed form and scalloping along the bed of the shallow tributary stream, which flows along its length.

The main cave at this point has been given the name ‘The Great Bedding Cave’ and the full width of the almost flat and totally unsupported roof span is very impressive. Here, and at two further points downstream, abrupt changes in the roof level indicate the collapse of successive beds in the limestone.  The bedding planes are clearly seen, as is the amount of debris adhering to the roof. The cave probably sumps completely more frequently than one would imagine.

In springtime, the sand bank provided a seed bed for numerous seeds washed in by the river and these sprout to a few inches in height in the total darkness, before being washed out by successive flooding.

Following the river along its course, one reaches the first (I) of two collapsed entrances to the cave, situated alongside two avens.  As mentioned previously, theses entrances provide a ready means of ascertaining the depth and force of the water in the main stream passage.  The stream here flows over areas of exposed bedrock before rounding a lengthy left hand curve with the entrance to an oxbow in its outer wall, and reaching the second collapse entrance (J).

Beyond this point, the stream drops slightly; to flow into a pool across which daylight from the resurgence can be seen.  A large, usually just submerged, boulder marks the beginning of deep water and at this point on the right can be seen the other end of the oxbow.

The resurgence (N) can only be passed by swimming, or using a dinghy as the water is over fifteen feet deep for most of the distance.  The main difficulty is the lack of headroom just upstream of the exit.  Only once has the writer gone through on a dinghy, and then only after partially deflating it.  Attempts to float through – one on either side of the boat can be complicated by the restricted width of the available headroom and one or other of the party are liable to find themselves being forced below the water surface. The best method seems to be to go through with someone at the head and stern of the boat, and with only one person at the side.  Control is usually rather awkward but with a bit of co-ordinated thrashing and poking at the roof and walls on the odd occasions when they drift into reach, some results are usually obtained before the swimmers leave hold through exhaustion.

If the water level is high, care must be taken to avoid being swept of a small fall following the resurgence pool and out into the river – although the hard men are likely to undertake a trip under those conditions and hardly likely to need the advice of the likes of the writer!

The return to the entrance is best made by climbing up the left hand bank and walking back along the old abandoned streamway to cross the road to the car park.  On the way, note the collapsed entrances and small entrances (F, G, H etc.) on either side of the path.

The only substantial part of the cave left to describe is the dry series, entered by a passage on the right of the entrance chamber.  The passage leads to a complex three dimensional series, inevitably called ‘The Maze’.  Two climbable shafts lead to the surface (D1, D2) as do two ladderable avens (G, H). Further passages connect with the Great Bedding cave, and with the Canyon, via a muddy pool called the Creek.

Contrary to what has been printed elsewhere, Hywel’s Grotto, with its formations, is easily found by taking the last passage on the left before the Creek when approaching from the canyon side.  A flat out sandy crawl leads to the Grotto which is quite extensive and contains some remarkably unspoilt formations, including attractive pools.  The Grotto offers some scope for photography, as indeed does the whole cave.

A visit to Porth-yr-Ogof would not be complete without a walk to view the scenery downstream.  The left bank of the Mellte brings one to the Upper, Middle and Lower Clun-gwyn falls.  The former two are most impressive in flood with falls of 40 – 50 ft.  A track over the shoulder of the ridge to the left of the Lower Falls leads to the right bank of the river Hepste, and on to Sewd-yr-Eira falls and on to farm Caerhowel, near Penderyn. The return to Ystradfellte can be made by following a signposted minor road.

Then caving and walk together provide a pleasant day out, being only a couple of hours drive from Bristol.  Ystradfellte is easily reached from Hirwaun on the ‘Heads of the valleys’ road, by taking the A4059 (Brecon) road from the roundabout, and then following the signposted road beyond Penderyn Village.  Liquid refreshment is available, by courtesy of Rhymney Ales in the village itself and is very welcome after the long haul back on a warm evening.  Campers may like to note that the landlord has a campsite not 50 yards from the bar, but food is not available in the village in great variety or quantity.

Monthly Crossword – Number 12.

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

5

 

6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7

 

 

 

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Across:

4. Rung, long ago. (3)
6. 8 out of 12 for this cave. (6)
7. Found in places galore on Mendip. (3)
9. See 12. (3)
11. N perhaps? (4)
12. 10across it, apparently (Horizontally of course). (4)
13. Unusual meet (1,1,1)
15. Has its reverse nearby as a rule. (3)
18. 1 down is its usual result (6)
19. Tome previously in Sago’s Pot. (3)

Down:

1. See 19 across. (3)
2. Might be felt at end of underground route (3)
3. Tackle is, in caves. (4)
5. Taken by lines. (6)
8. Gin sir? No water. (6)
9. Water?  Not likely! (3)
10. Holds its liquor? (3)
14. Proceed to ancient city for cave formation. (4)
16. Something that clings to a wall. (3)
17. Cave navigation aid in Wookey eight. (3)

Solution To Last Month’s Crossword

 

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A

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