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Charterhouse Cave

by Graham Wilton-Jones

Sixty years ago U.B.S.S. first paid attention to the swallets and shakeholes around G.B. and one of their first successes came with a breakthrough in the easterly, active swallet. This was Read's Grotto, named after the same Reginald Read of Read's Cavern.  The grotto itself, several tens of feet in through a restricted entrance passage, marked the end of the cave - the boulder chokes were considered a waste of time.  Twenty years ago the entrance fell in and an undisturbed chaos of brambles and weeds conceals the shakehole.  Only a few feet away from Read's is an outcrop of limestone split by a wide cleft. Boys from Sidcot School dug here for some time, revealing a number of narrow passages, small chambeers and loose boulders.  In 1976 the last digging trips were made and interest waned - the loosest of the boulders had won.

Earlier this year Pete and Alison Moody had a look at the abandoned digging site and Alison pushed on down a narrow rift below loose boulders to arrive at a three inch wide slot through which the draught blew.  Two bangs and they were into another rift from where the way to the present end of the cave was wide open.

After the squeeze, which is now gated, the rift drops gently as walking height passage until stals and some false floors in the roof force you to crawl beneath.  Already much of the stal is becoming muddied as it is very vulnerable and great care is needed in this and several other sections of the cave. The discoverers have put in protection tapes in a number of places and have also taken in water containers and scrubbing brushes to use as necessary.  Beyond the crawls it is possible to stand again for a while.  The rift passes a smaller rift on the right through which a beautiful white stalactite is visible - the main route passes this a little more closely later on.  A second passage on the right is the way on but when Jane and I visited the cave we continued straight ahead and thence up through a dig in gravel and false floor deposits to enter a much larger passage.  This has only recently been found.  It is thought to be the old entrance passage to the system, deriving from a glacially obliterated swallet.  It is well decorated and ends in breakdown and stal having headed out towards Longwood.  The passage can be seen from further down the cave but cannot be entered from there. Back at the way on it is necessary to grovel through a shallow pool and then pass underneath the beautiful white stalactite.  After another rift with a pool is a drop into a larger rift leading down cave, and there are now no complications in the route.  The passage gradually enlarges and soon enters a big chamber about half way between the floor and the roof.  The chamber is about 80 feet high and 40 feet long.  On the right is a near vertical well of mud, boulders and stal, beneath which the floor slopes steeply away over mud and large boulders.  Clearly there has been a monumental collapse in the not too distant past.  On the left hand overhanging wall, some twenty feet down from the roof, perches a precarious pile of mud and boulders.  On the right water running down the wall is just be beginning to wash off the mud and gravel to reveal clean white stal underneath.  There are passages at the top which could prove quite awkward to reach.  At the bottom of the chamber the main passage continues to drop quickly, often over boulders, sometimes across small potholes, and after a short distance there is a slight, left hand bend.  Climbing up here leads to the top of the main chamber and the route to Pearl Passage. Carrying on downwards shortly drops to the base of the Main Chamber underneath a G.B. type bridge of large boulders.  The roof quickly comes down to form the end wall of the chamber but a crawl among stal leads to the final chokes, which seem to lie under the edge of the Great Swallet.  It may be that a way around these chokes can be found and dye tests have been carried out to determine whether this would lead back to G.B. or into the great unknown.

The climb up into the top section of Main Chamber is a slightly awkward overhang - at present many of the holds here and elsewhere in the cave are liable to drop off at the mere mention of their presence.  Above the climb a passage leads past good mud formations to an excellent view of the Main Chamber.  This has been estimated to be about three quarters the size of G.B. Main Chamber.  There is a good vantage point for viewing the chamber and its very good stal.  This is at the end of a mud and rock floor close to the edge of the lower passage. A path has been made through the floor formations but most of the other stal will remain inviolate, being high up in the roof.  One of the alcoves has been reached high up at the south-western end.  Other passages at roof level remain to be entered.  At the beginning of the chamber, up in the right hand wall, is Pearl Passage.  The pearls and the passage in which they lie are to be taped off, but an aven beyond leads to passages that lie within a few feet of Devil's Elbow in G.B.

Like all the caves in the G.B. area Charterhouse Cave is on Bristol Water Works land and is controlled on their behalf by the Charterhouse Caving Committee.  Our rep on this committee is Tim Large who is also C.C.C. secretary.  C.C.C. have decided that, in view of the vulnerability of the formations in the cave, the site shall be gated (this has already been done) and that each member club of C.C.C. shall hold a key.  Each member club shall supply two leaders for the cave, presumably for their own club and for trips requested by non C.C.C. clubs.

All trips at the moment are working trips - exploration, taping, surveying, etc. and tourist trips are not yet possible.

Congratulations to Pete and Alison on this fine discovery.  They surely deserve something like this as a result of their efforts instead of those tight, muddy grovels in that love of their life, Swildons.

At the risk of putting a bat among the stalactites, condolences to Sidcot schoolboys (who should really be spending time on their studies, anyway!).