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Sweetwater Pot

by Peter Glanvill

Since its closure some years ago the quarry at Berry Head and Berry Head itself continue to provide interest and opportunities for discovery.  At the end of July 1986 Brian Johnson, myself and respective families converged on the quarry, ostensibly to do some diving and photography in the sea caves.  Despite the unpromising weather the dive was accomplished successfully although poor visibility caused the resulting pictures to be less than satisfactory. After a barbecue lunch, Brian wandered off with some SRT rope to examine a hole in the west wall of the quarry whilst I did some more marine life photography in Garfish Cave.

After completing my work and de-kitting, we drove up the ramp to see what Brian was up to. The background to his exploration goes back some months to when Chris Proctor and Tim Lee noticed a possible cave entrance below an overhang 40 ft above the quarry floor.  Attempts to climb up to it had previously been thwarted by loose rock which was piled up in a natural rift breached by the quarry and which threatened to avalanche down on the unfortunate climber.  Brian had tried traversing along a bench at the same level but again failed because a Neptunian dyke interrupted the bench.  It was therefore a question of abseiling down the quarry face when we could get the rope and manpower organised.  Brian was the first to get it all together.

I arrived near the top of the ramp to see Brian emerging and bellowing that he had found the finest cave in Devon and a diveable sump.  I kitted up in record time and was soon gingerly abseiling off the top of the quarry hoping the fence posts used as belays were well secured!  Landing on the ledge beside Brian, I was quickly briefed.  The cave was a rift and had been breached and de-roofed at a point where it dropped steeply.  This meant that one had to climb down and cross a pile of mobile rubble before entering the cave proper.  It emitted a noticeable draught, the origin of which is uncertain.  Inside, the rift was 10 ft wide and about 25 ft or more high. Straight over a lot of shattered rock was a continuation of the rift, both up and down.  Downwards seems to close down into small fissures whilst upwards the rift led to a branching of the ways.  In the left hand wall was a complex of sculpted tubes containing shattered rock whilst on the right lay a small short rift.  Brian feels it may be worth pushing one of the tubes which seems to draught.

Back at the entrance, the rift also descended back towards the quarry face as well as ascending to another impassable upper entrance.  A downwards extension is the piece de resistance of the system. A free climbable mud free rift steadily drops (penetrating at one point a Neptunian dyke) until a sump pool is encountered.  The pool contains fresh water, which is surprising when you consider that only 50 metres away horizontally lies a tidal sea water resurgence!

Feeling extremely chuffed; Brian and I called it a day.  After a period of wracking his brains, Brian decided to call the new find Sweetwater Pot. We returned the following weekend with Brian¬ís "lads" and John Whiteley plus diving kit.  Chris Proctor turned up to survey and photograph the cave as well as push the remaining side passages.  Before we did anything underground, Brian and John cleared a lot of loose rubble before a traverse line was rigged around the dyke on the bench level with the cave.  A rather cramped diving support team assembled to watch Brian kit up for the sump dive.  He bravely submerged head first on a base fed line.  The line steadily wound out and the muffled boom of bubbles became more muted. At last, tugging on the line indicated Brian's return; fifteen metres of line had been laid out.  A brown glow preceded Brian as he surfaced.  He announced that the sump was a vertical continuation of the rift and bottomed out in a mud bank.  The rift appeared to have lateral extensions.  The sump depth makes Sweetwater Pot one of the deepest in Devon and raises the question of what else might we find in the quarry.

More recently Chris Proctor has abseiled into a couple of other caves in the quarry, both quite short but making up for this by being surprisingly well decorated.  He will be making a separate report on this.

SKULLCAP CAVE

Taking climbing gear and some helmets with us, Brian Johnson, myself, Brian's sons and Jim Durston visited Chudleigh in late August (1986) with the intention of inspecting the Palace Quarry side of the Kate Brook.  Apart from Clifford's Cave there are no significant caves in this area despite it being a large lump of limestone.  After a brief and friendly meeting with Mr. Shears, the owner of Glen Cottage, we were given permission to enter the quarry.  We started our trek by examining an entrance at the edge of the quarry (West).  Here, Brian had noticed an entrance some time previously.  He felt this was probably associated with a tiny draughting hole on the other side of a rocky spur here.  We hacked our way through the undergrowth to Tramp's Hole, an excavated archaeological site about fifty yards or so further on.  This has a large (3 metres by 2 metres) entrance but goes back only 5 metres to a heavily stalagmited boulder choke.  The cave looks as though it might have been a resurgence.  Further struggles brought us to Black Rock, where Bruce's Burrow was found to have disappeared, possibly under over burden removed prior to quarrying.  We then climbed up the hill to emerge at the top of the quarry.

What greeted us there was a large entrance only a few feet from the top of the Eastern face of the quarry.   Mr. Shears informed us that it could not be far from the Black Rock Shaft filled in when quarrying began.  Brian and Jim abseiled into the cave and found it to consist of an eight foot square chamber with two choked passages leading off.  Not surprisingly, it seemed to be a popular bat roost.  Inspection of other caves on the quarry face showed them to be choked but diggable tubes.  Well pleased with the day's efforts, we went off and did some proper climbing.

Brian returned later in the following week and started to dig out one entrance of the draughting cave. He found the cave to penetrate the spur but halfway along noticed a tunnel leading into the hill into which he dug on another visit.  The discovery of some animal bones meant a halt to the proceedings until in mid-September Dave Curry could take a look and pronounce on the dig.  He felt the bones were modern and that digging could continue. Brian forced his way to the end of the main tunnel and found that it terminated in a sloping, mainly earth filled tube.

Since then, digging has widened and lowered the entrance crawl whilst the end is now being attacked. The cave continues to descend, with the fill being soft easily dug earth.  Points of interest are the presence of a slight draught near the end and a narrow aven which seems not to close down as rapidly as one would imagine. Scallop marks on the walls indicate a vigorous inward flow at some time.  The cave lies 12 metres above Cliffords Cave and does not seem to be associated with it.

Peter Glanvill