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Progress At Brixham

Since the visit to Rock Dove Cave at Berry Head in 1983 I have some done some more work in the area, in the last few months combining forces with Chris Proctor.  I will initially describe the diving work done on the south side of Berry Head.

In my previous article on Rock Dove Cave I wrote that little of great significance has been found underwater up to that time.  Soon after this I began to find submarine caves!  A map and descriptions of some of the sites can be seen in CDG N/L No. 70 (January 1984).  However it was in the summer of 1984 that a really interesting fins wad made which confirmed that Devon did have the equivalent of “blue holes” i.e. flooded cave systems.  The area lies under the southern end of the wall of the fort on Berry Head.  The first cave examined consisted of a big underwater chamber from which a rift led off but narrowed rapidly.  However an ascending tube in one corner could be seen leading up to an airspace; near here hanging from the roof was some eroded stal. Unfortunately the tube is too dangerous to ascend with diving gear because of the swell so any future attempts would be best conducted in a wet suit at low spring tide when breathing apparatus may not be required.

Only a few yards from this so far unnamed cave is Compass Cave on of the longest sea caves on Berry Head.  It consists of a high rift which must have a vertical range from sea bed to roof of around 15 metres.  I will quote from my CDG log on the cave from the entrance in: “At the base the cave is 3m wide and it was followed for 30m before the presence of large numbers of Compass Jellyfish (Chrysaora Hysoscella) completely psyched me out and I was forced to retreat.  The view on the return dive was quite surreal.  In the green glow from the cave entrance could be seen dozens of jellyfish suspended at all levels in the passage.”  A later dive  at the site showed the cave to gradually dwindle in width but was still passable at a distance of 40 metres where the floor consisted of clean washed shingle suggesting that the site was sometimes exposed to air.  In the air rift part of the rift stal can be seen on the walls. The cave needs a visit in a wet suit on a low spring tide when it should be possible to reach the end without diving gear.  At the entrance is a complex network of phreatic tubes with multiple entrances and an estimated total passage length of 50 metres.  These caves are a haven for marine life including conger eels!

Apart from Compass Cave other caves exist on the south side of Berry Head at sea bed level providing sporting cave dives.  One phreatic tube led for 15 metres through a limestone spur and several rifts were not explored but could be seen going in for a considerable distance.

We now move to the north side of Berry Head and work there.  It was after contacting Chris Proctor on another matter that we met up one afternoon to visit Corbridge Cave. Initially things went badly wrong – my light failed and my camera developed a major fault.  Feeling rather disgruntled I decided to take a look at another cave Chris had mentioned.  This is a rift at the edge of the concrete apron on the floor of the old quarry which extends to the cliff edge.  It drops down to the sea.  Pete Rose climbed down the ladder into the rift but found himself 6m above the floor. Plan “B” was put into operation; this was to swim round and gain entrance to the cave from the sea.  An electron ladder was lowered down the cliff at a point a few yards to the south and being the only one with a wetsuit I ended up descending the ladder into the sea.  I found myself facing another unknown sea cave so swam into this instead.  I approached a steep and slippery climb but opted for a short duck under the left hand wall in waist deep water.  I emerged in a cave passage developed along the strike. On the cave walls were hydroids and sea anemones.  In places were ancient stal flows; this; this was clearly a “land based” cave invaded by the sea.  A short crawl led to a tiny inlet passage on the landward side whilst on the seaward side lay a steeply ascending tube.  Mindful of the tide I returned to the entrance and Chris and Pete who had begun to wonder where I had got to.  This cave was dubbed Garfish Cave from the dead garfish I found floating in the entrance.  I swam round to the original destination which was named Cuttlefish Cave, after a dead cuttlefish floating in it!  This didn’t go in as far and possible extensions seemed to be choked by boulders at sea level although there might be passages at higher level.  Again there were ancient stal banks.

Since then Bryan Johnson and myself have surveyed Garfish which was fun as the tide started to come in whilst we were doing it.  The final legs were partly guesstimated.  During the surveying Brian climbed the ascending tube to a point where daylight was visible and he has found the corresponding hole in the quarry floor on a subsequent trip – a dry way in may be feasible.  Bryan’s sampling of the sea water and the inlet water suggests that the inlet water is being diluted by fresh water.  There are other sea caves near here which will need further attention but access is controlled by the tides!