The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Dave Turner

Belfry Bulletin Index

Dave Irwin has compiled and produced an index for the BB up to the end of 1987 (No. 442) and the Committee has decided that it should be issued to all CURRENT Members.  I aim to publish this in place of, or before, the next BB.





A Message From The Hut Warden

It’s good to be able to report a healthy period at the Belfry which is being used by numerous members every weekend.  A problem in recent weeks has been overcrowding and a shortage of bunks ­ there are only 22 places since the alterations.  A booked group of guests turned up recently to find all the bunks taken and a 'hostile attitude' from the members present.  Of course it is our hut but we should stop to think how we would feel after travelling 200 miles to find our bookings worthless.  (And remember - we could hardly afford to run the hut without guest fees).

Following this incident I caused a minor storm by suggesting that booked guests should have priority over members - an emotive issue!  After a stormy debate with hut regulars we reached a solution which should simplify things:-

1.                  The current limit of 12 for guest parties will be reduced to 8.

2.                  The smaller bunkroom, having very seldom been used as a women's room, will become the guest room - where booked guests will have priority.

3.                  The larger bunkroom will become the member’s room ­ priority to members and member’s personal guests (one per member).

The new system will start from 1st March.  No doubt the final demise of the segregated bunk room will cause howls of outrage from some quarters, if the feelings are that strong we will have to review the idea at the AGM.


Andy Sparrow



As the B.E.C. has "adopted" St. Cuthberts it is only too right that we actually do something positive to protect the place and so, with this in mind, a dissertation, illustrated with photographs, has been submitted to the "Eyecatcher Awards" which is the practical base of the 1988 European Year of the Environment. They are offering prizes from £500 to £5000 and the subject can be on any topic of conservation, from conserving a coppice to neutralizing the Wessex's cess pit.

I hope that a novel project like cleaning a swallet hole and taping formations will tickle the judges' fancy. Any monies that may be awarded will be used to finish off St. Cuthbert’s (not in the biblical sense), promoting the 'Adopt-a-cave' scheme, promoting cave conservation generally and also educating cavers on the merits of not dumping carbide, toffee wrappers or sweaty bang.  The dissertation sets out the problems within the cave rubbish, dirty and damaged formations, carbide etc., and the efforts taken to remedy them, including taping and cleaning, education and supporting the 'Adopt-a-cave' scheme.  A number of photographs have been provided so the judges can get some idea of what a cave looks like, plus photos of stals "before" and "after" cleaning.

Progress in St. Cuthbert’s is slow but sure.  Over 175 assorted objects d'art have been brought out - ranging from a six foot length of corrugated iron to (and I'm not kidding) a cuddly toy.  Ten carbide dumps have been found, the 'nearest" in Mud Hall.  Some new taping has been done but there's still a bit to do, plus lots of cleaning with sponges and water.  Taping is hopefully being done sensibly and not indiscriminately.   It is there to make us think before crossing and is not intended as a Berlin Wall.  Photographers please remove muddy boots and overalls before crossing.  Do not cross if you have no valid reason for doing so.

"We do not crap in the place we eat or sleep, so why crap in the place we play?"

In conjunction with the caving Secretary, Martin (Captain of Industry) Grass is changing the lock, collating the list of leaders, issuing new keys and generally sorting out access. This has been found necessary as the key system is being abused and we need an up-dated leaders list.  Anyway the lock is getting a bit manky and needs a change.



Agen, Agen & Agen: A Year Of Gothic.

It all began for me with an innocent 'phone call from John Hunt inviting me on a digging trip down Agen Allwedd - the dig was 'draughting' and reports from other BUSS members said that the passage looked 'just like Daren'.  Since a lift was going from Birmingham, I took up the offer, squashed into a Ford Fiesta with Steve Tooms, Rob Murgatroyd and Jim Arundale, and headed down to South Wales and a heavy night in 'The Brit.'.

10th Jan. 1987.  At midday we finally got 'round to going underground - the four of us from Brum, John Hunt; & some chap called John Stevens ('Spanners') ex-ULSA now with the Chelsea.  After getting lost numerous times, we reached Gothic Passage and commenced operations while Spanners went off to see what the G.S.S. lads were up to at the other end of the passage.  After 15 minutes we'd opened up a low crawl through roof collapse, and gained 70 feet of crawling to a dip in the roof and more collapse.  One of the G.S.S. came back to see how we were getting on, only to be a bit pissed of at our progress when they had got nowhere in four trips to their dig.

Work continued until 6 pm, removing rocks and building a dry stone wall with the spoil. We were just about to head out to the pub when Spanners returned to inspect the dig.  We decided to wait for him by the climb down to Southern Stream.  When he didn't return we gradually drifted back to find him excavating a tight upwardly sloping sandy crawl at the end of the dig.

'It opens out ahead,' said Spanners, ‘I think that I might be able to turn around.’  One by one, we squirmed up into the passage beyond.  A low, wide sandy passage stretched across the point of entry with a forty foot high aven above us - we ran around in circles jumping for joy!  The eastern end was followed to another aven before becoming blocked with sand (unknown to us, the G.S.S. were beyond exploring 400 ft of virgin passage) the western end led to another large aven and a pile of white calcite surrounded by a mud dam ('The Snow Boat’).

Back at the point of break-through a low, wide crawl was noted heading south.  This was followed for over 800 feet underneath numerous small avens to a major roof collapse.  A rift was seen nearby and investigated until it became too tight ('Absent Friends Rift') and a team photo taken.  Tired and excited, we headed out to celebrate.

17th Jan.  A cast of thousands descended upon Aggy through the snow and on down Southern Stream.  Whilst the others were messing around taping and surveying, Spanners and I sneaked off to the end of 'Resurrection Passage' (as the southerly route had been named) and had a go at the end dig.  Using a crow bar and tape slings we pulled out blocks until we could get through into the continuing low passage.  70ft further on, I was stopped by a loose crawl up over boulders, Spanners took the lead and we had company.

50 ft further on, the passage increased in size and we were left standing in a 'railway tunnel' sized passage with phreatic arches and selenite crystals growing in the rippled mud floor.  Stopping on a sand bank, the rest of the party was summoned while we gazed longingly down the passage to a corner.

Re-united, we set off along a wide ledge beside a trench in the floor.  At the corner, we turned south across a rock bridge into the continuing route, dead straight, as far as the eye could see.  After about 300 ft, a boulder collapse was crawled over.  Just beyond, the roof dropped to nearly meet the floor to form a 'sand-swim' until finally becoming totally blocked.

Digging recommenced - it didn't help not having a pull back rope and the drag tray.  Most of the party drifted away until we were left with Clive Gardener at the front and the others lying in the dig kicking the empty bucket back to him.  Jim Smart and Gonzo saved the day by turning up to help, muttering something about 'Upper Hard Rock', their assistance was greatly appreciated and we dug through to a low crawl to a 'final' aven and more sand fill.

14th Feb.  After pulling out rocks from the side of the east-west passage 'Synchronicity' near the start of Resurrection Passage, Henry Bennett and Spanners re-discovered 'High Traverse Passage'.  First entered in 1962 by climbing up from Lower Main Stream, the letters 'C.S.S.' were still blacked in on the slab at the end which they crawled over.

14th Mar.  By poking about in the dig by the Snow Boat, Rob gained a 'low chamber' with no airspace heading off.  Since this dig was small, muddy and tight, we resolved to abandon it forever.  Instead, we made our way to the end of Resurrection Passage to continue shifting sand from the end.  On the way we managed to loose Jim, who got sealed in an aven by falling rock.  Rob extracted him safely and we learned that there was a bat skeleton at the top of the aven.

Joined by Steve and some ULSA lads completing a ' Grand Circle' via the connection with High Traverse, digging progressed through solid fill until we were able to dig up through boulders into a large echoing aven.  The passage continued beyond 'Reverberation Aven' for a further 100ft before becoming totally filled with sand.

28th Mar.  Ian Rollands climbs the Snow Boat aven and drops down the other side into a further 100 ft of passage.

8th Apr.  Mike Wright, Simon Abbott and I climb up the Snow Boat aven on the ladder left there, remove the ladder and use it to climb down into the continuation.  We are surprised to discover that we can see the end of the low-level dig and soon made a route through.

24,-26 Apr.  Spanners and I bivied at Reverberation for the whole weekend.  Our only find of the whole miserable trip was to enter a 50 ft long, low, wide off of Lower Main Stream.  Since it was then Friday and finding a single set off boot-prints, this was christened' Friday's Passage' .

9th May.  John Hilton, Simon, Spanners and I went down to Friday's Passage via Main Stream, Bisa etc.  The aven above the passage went nowhere, but we extended it by 30 ft heading north.

16th May.  Tony Keefe and I enter via Main Stream to meet up with Spanners at the bottom of Bisa near 5th choke.  An exposed climb up Quarry corner and half an hour's digging sees us into 150 ft of new stuff - 'Quarry Crawl' (walking size actually) - ending close to Friday's Passage.  Tony & I go out with Spanners to complete the Grand Circle.

30th May.  Spanners and I returned to the extension found beyond the Snow Boat.  At the end of the passage, the roof almost met the mud floor, but the way on was still open.  After 8 hours solid digging, the route was enlarged sufficiently to gain a small aven. A hole at the side of this aven was cleared to gain a very large aven-cum-chamber with Chinese writing in calcite on the floor.  After the confines of the previous 200 ft this seemed quite impressive; perhaps as much as 50 ft high, 20 ft wide and 60 it long.

Again, the end was blocked with a low arch filled with mud.  Spanners climbed a up a small aven at the end to enter a tight high-level tube ending at another aven down.  Unfortunately, this was less than 6 inches wide, though stones rattled dawn for about 40 ft into the open passage beyond.  At the time of writing, the low level dig has progressed about 15 ft though almost solid mud and we think that we may nearly be through.  The passage is heading up into the blank space formed by the triangle of Southern. Stream, Main Stream and Main Passage.)

3-5 Jul.  A campsite is established at High Traverse.  On the Saturday, Simon, Spanners and I visit Lost Passage found by the ULSA lads near Bisa Passage.  A hair-raising rope traverse high above Main Stream brings us into 150 it of stooping and thrutching close to 5th choke.  Running water can be heard ahead, and the passage may possibly bypass the choke.

Meanwhile, we have been actively digging at the end of Resurrection Passage.  With over a 100 ft pull back on the drag tray the dig is rapidly becoming too much.  Then, we encounter a boulder choke. This is dug around, into, and finally we chisel our way up through.

30th Dec. The dig finally yields after nine month’s effort.  Mike Green (GSS), Simon and myself removed the last few rocks and we were through into 120ft of spacious passage; there were even a few formations! Hot on our heels were Arthur Millet and Rob bringing the grade 5 survey to the end.  A slope of calcited boulders blocks the way on.

7-10 Jan. 1988 A three day camp for me.  On the 9th, Spanners and I have a go at the offending boulder choke.  By following an undercut in the wall we make good progress until the undercut runs out.  At this point, things become decidedly dangerous; boulders keep dropping out of the roof and threaten to squash us!

At last we got through, emerging at the top of a 20 ft high calcited ramp.  Beyond, the passage turned sharp right, leaving the fault visible in the roof and heading due south.  Turning the corner, we half expected the passage to close up immediately. Instead, we saw one of the most impressive sights in Aggy - a passage 12 it wide, 6 ft high disappearing into the glom, bedecked with calcite formations from roof and floor like the ‘Crown Jewels’ in Daren, only bigger and better.

After 300 ft, the roof dropped straight down into the sand and we went back to camp to sleep before celebrating in the pub on Sunday lunchtime.

15th Jan.  A photographic trip to the end of Resurrection Passage with Geoff Newton and Spanners.  The offending boulder choke is made less unstable and the pretties are recorded on film.  Deciding to make a start on the end dig, we clear a trench down until the roof begins to level off.  A small hole in the side of the passage is taking quite a draught, but impossible to enlarge.  Satisfied with our efforts, we head on out.

At Reverberation Aven, we meet Simon and Rob and I'm persuaded to stay while Spanners and Geoff continue towards the surface.


On returning to the dig face, Simon inserts himself at the sharp end while Rob and I clear spoil. Swinging the mattock to the left, Simon discovers that the roof rises immediately under a flake and soon hits a large airspace.  After knocking down more sand, the way on is quickly enlarged and we are into the continuing passage, the same size as before.  Regrouping the other side of the dig.  I spot footprints in our 'virgin' passage.  Virtually at a sprint, we rush down the passage following the trail, 150 ft from our point of breakthrough the route ends as the passage ends overlooking a large river flawing by from right to left – MAYTIME!

This was totally unexpected; the diver’s survey was at least 1200 ft out.  Leaving Rob and Simon to enlarge the tight dig, I hurried back to Reverberation Aven to collect the camera - nobody would believe us unless we had photo's.  Returning to the river, a 'first wading' shot of Rob in the knee deep streamway was taken before we set off to Sump 4.  Just behind us was Sump 3, ahead the water grew deep in places and we had to traverse on slippery ledges in order to keep dry in our furry suits.  At last, at midnight we reached the line reel at Sump 4 - an unsettling place.

More photo's were taken on the way out.  We stopped to have a drink at the stream inlet in Maytime before struggling back to High Traverse where we opened the bottle of Champagne that had been kept for the occasion. Something hot and filling was cooked, then we made our way out.

At 5 am we reached Whitewalls and wake the house up.  We celebrated all day; the conclusion of a year's digging, the beginning of another ...

Duncan Price

Postscript: The following weekend, Spanners and Geoff had to be rescued from Maytime, near Sump 4 after becoming trapped by flood water for over 30 hours.


Tham Huai Klong Ngu - the Snake River System and Swallow Cave, Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand.

The string of rattling, third class coaches winds across the creaking, decrepit looking, wooden trestle bridge, clinging precariously to the limestone cliff, high above the Mae Nam Khwae Noi.  Below, on a great bend of the river, houseboats of bamboo with palm thatch drift lazily down with the brown current.  Dense tropical rain-forest stretches away to the distant, surrealistic shapes of tall, karst towers.  The rhythmic clatter slows and deepens as the train reaches the other branch of the river the Khwae Yai - and passes at walking pace between the forty year old steel girders of the famous bridge.  We are travelling along the Burma-Siam railway, built by POW's and coolies during the Second World War, and are crossing the Bridge on the River Kwai.

Seventy kilometres to the North West the waters of the eastern branch of the Kwai are held back by the Sri Nakharin Dam, creating a sixty kilometre long artificial lake, hemmed in by jungle clad hills.  Along the western branch much of the old railway line has been torn up, and where the old road to Burma used to cross mosquito infested swamplands, Thai Electricity have erected a second dam, flooding another huge area, including the road and the original town of Sangkhlaburi. A brand new road, a masterpiece of engineering built in spite of torrential monsoon downpours, skirts the lake, twisting and climbing through extraordinarily rugged limestone and lush forest, to reach the border with Karenni and Mhong occupied Burma at Phra Chedi Sam Ong - the Three pagodas Pass, two hundred and forty kilometres from the bridge.

In between the two lakes is a sixty kilometre wide plateau, much of it limestone, lying at a height of around six hundred metres, with several karst towers rising to eight hundred metres and more.  Last year a small French expedition mapped several hundred metres of a huge cave which had previously been explored by Germans working at a nearby lead mine. We knew nothing of the Germans, but we did have a map produced by the French, and a few, flimsy details, including a mention of the mine.  The map was simple - it had a major series of gorges, deep dolines and large towers marked on it (one with a name, albeit incorrect) and it showed water, sinks, resurgences and karst windows (this last is where subterranean water can be seen crossing the base of deep shafts).  The map had no other details - no roads, no contours, not even a location.  John Dunkley, the Aussie caver who instigated our visit to Thailand, had sketched in probable road locations onto an old map of the area but the site of the cave was rather vague.  Perhaps someone at the mine could tell us more.

John, Jane and I met up in Kanchanaburi, the town near the River Khwae Bridge.  The tourist office personnel were helpful: half way up the eastern lake, on the western shore, a little national park has been set up to cater for (rich) visitors to some waterfalls.  A public bus goes as far as the Sri Nakharin Dam, and from there we seemed to have a choice: a fledgling tourist business ran a boat up the lake to a hotel for the night, and then across the lake to the national park, for which we could pay a small fortune; or we could hire a pick-up for around eighteen pounds a day and attempt to reach the park, and thence the mine, via a rough, dirt road to the west following the latter route.  We opted to hitch instead.


Traffic was somewhat thin from the dam to the park.  Only four vehicles used that road all day.  Fortunately we got a lift in each one.  When a two seater Willy's jeep came by, with three people in it and the whole thing overflowing with provisions, gallons of diesel and a tractor tyre, we could not expect any more than a friendly wave, but this was Thailand.  Somehow we got the three of us on too, plus our huge packs.

The road was deeply rutted from recent rains - this was the end of the dry season and parts of it were hair-raisingly steep.  Large areas of previously virgin jungle had been recently burned and cleared, and poor farmers from the arid and infertile north-east had moved in and were making a go at some ephemeral agriculture.  The land lasts for two or three years, during which time the nutrients are used up and the soil eroded. The farmers have to move on and the jungle does not return.  It seemed that this road only existed for the farmers.

The national park ranger took good care of us, letting us sleep in the park headquarters, providing us with an excellent, very cheap meal, and lots of information. Unfortunately he knew of no caves. The park's waterfalls descend steeply as a whole series of dramatic, travertine cascades, and we thought it quite likely that the stream emerged from a cave further up the edge of the plateau. However, after a perfunctory recce we contented ourselves with a wander down the well trodden tourist path, and a swim in the deep, blue plunge-pools under the cool, green canopy of the forest. That night we shared the park H.Q. with a million flying ants, beetles, moths, roaches and mosquitoes, and two exceedingly fat, foot-long geckos who were happy with only the largest and tastiest insects.

In the morning the Ranger drove us a short distance north, and thence down to the lake shore. Between the white, sun-bleached stumps of drowned trees and the weedy, gravel slopes of the shore was moored a large, steel ferry-boat.  So this was the route the lead mine trucks used, and from here up to the mine is a fast well graded dirt road.  After another good meal, courtesy of the ferry captain's family, the first truck of the day was brought over from the distant, eastern shore, and we climbed onto the back.  It was already full with equipment and stores for a second mine, plus a couple of dozen laughing and joking locals.  The truck roared away up the stony, dusty track, with us clinging precariously atop the piles of sacks and girders and boxes of provisions, dodging the overhanging branches that tried to pluck us from our perches.

Forty kilometres on we were dropped off at a junction where the truck continued to Kletee Mine.  Our destination, Song Toh Mine, lay just five kilometres away.  We sheltered from a rain shower and watched the massive, isolated karst towers slowly disappear into the murk, then emerge once more, washed and gleaming in the sun. The bigger towers can be a couple of hundred metres high, and quite long, tending to take the form of humped ridges.  The old geological maps suggest that the towers are of Permian or Triassic limestone, while Ordovician carbonates lie beneath, as a plateau.  Although there is a vast difference in the ages of the two rock types, stratigraphically they are the same, and there is no reasonable explanation why the younger rocks should have been formed into towers.  The walls of many of the towers are steep, even overhanging in places, and generally vegetation free, while the summits are a tangled mass of trees, creepers and roots concealing viciously sharp spikes of stone. A few cave entrances are usually visible part way up the towers, but often the longer caves are at the base of the hills, and are thoroughly hidden by the thick undergrowth.  We observed patches of mist, maybe from hidden holes in the forest, and pondered caverns measureless.

The rain died away and, after a short wander beside the dripping forest and among smaller karst towers, and a lift in a pick up, we reached the mine.  What a contrast: only a few minutes down the track was thick green, barely penetrable jungle and wild, jagged castles of stone; here, in the middle of the wilderness, was a town of three thousand people, complete with street lights and suburban type gardens, shop, hospital, offices, all the buildings and paraphernalia required to run the most modern mine on mainland South East Asia, and it is not even on the map!

The Germans who run the mine immediately made us very welcome.  Dr. Gerdt Pedall, the geologist for the company, was particularly interested. His hobby back home is exploring old mines, but there's rather a dearth of them here so, over a number of years, he has investigated many caves.  Several of these are of archaeological value, being sites of ancient human habitation and containing remains of wooden coffins (or, perhaps, water tanks) and potsherds.  However, his greatest caving achievement must surely be the explorations of the Snake River and its associated caves.

Accommodation was provided for us at the mine and, over a superb German supper and Kloster Bier by the litre, it was arranged that we should visit Swallow Cave the following day.  The evening was rounded off with Mae Khong (Thai whisky).


The headwaters of the Snake River (Huai Khlong Ngu) drain in excess of two hundred square kilometres, and the majority of the waters become a single river deeply incised into the older limestones, flowing roughly southwards. Most of the significant ridges and valleys in this region trend just east of south.  Two dolines to the east may also drain into the Snake River, although the likely confluence is not yet known. The main river runs through a deep gorge, walled in by huge cliffs of towering white stone reaching up to the base of a wide, shallow valley.  After several kilometres the canyon stops abruptly as the waters vanish underground, to reappear briefly two and a half kilometres further south at Swallow Cave.

Gerdt had sorted out a guide for us, laid on a four wheel drive vehicle plus driver, and drawn us a remarkably detailed, accurate plan of the entrance region of Swallow Cave and the other caves down river. Initially we drove back to the Song Toh - Kletee junction (where we had sheltered from the rain) and then headed up the Kletee road, still on a good gravel surface which has to suffer the pounding of way-overloaded ore-trucks, each carrying twenty two tons of washed and ground galena.  A kilometre to the north a track led into the forest, eastwards, on sun-hardened red laterite mud.  This gradually deteriorated until we were dodging trees, and bouncing over steepening ground with lumps of limestone protruding wheel-jarringly out of the laterite, a kilometre further on.  From here we would have to walk.

Great clumps of bamboo, up to twenty five metres high, towered overhead, and huge, multi-rooted trees swept up to support a vast sunshade of dappled green foliage. Strange flutings of birds, seldom seen, echoed through the forest, and a large squirrel raced nimbly away across the topmost branches.  A small, grey viper wriggled hastily out of our path, while a silent moth, the colour of dead bamboo leaves, simply disguised itself as another piece of forest litter.  Occasionally we glimpsed tall, but narrow karst towers through gaps in the greenery, and to either side of us the ground dropped away to tree-filled dolines, each inviting a more thorough investigation.

After little more than half an hour's hot walking the valley of the Snake River appeared ahead and below us.  We could view across miles of tree tops a wide hollow with no sign of the canyon' or river at the bottom.  The descent was steeper than it appeared, starting with a clamber among rocks, and followed by a laterite slope, still slick from yesterday's rain.  Evidently elephants come this way as we found their tracks, even on the steepest slopes.

Suddenly we dropped into a deep amphitheatre, carved from the rock and linking to the gorge.  The pungent odour of guano filled the air, and hundreds of swifts could be seen circling and swooping, far above the canyon walls, which gleamed white in the sunlight.  Passing through a short cave along one wall of the gorge we emerged onto a wide, flat, sandy ledge on the threshold of a vast portal.  The river, knee-deep and twenty metres wide, filled the floor. From the ledges on either side the cave walls rose straight up for sixty to eighty metres to support a level roof bedraggled with massive stalactites. Above this there appeared to be very little solid rock between the cave and the jungle.

A group of Thais were camped at the cave to collect guano by the sackful, and then drag it, laboriously, up the hill to the road head, an hour’s tough walk away.  At the moment they were relaxing, fishing by that age-old method - a net across the river and an ounce or two of bang upstream.  They gazed at us, unspeaking, as we donned our 'caving gear'.  The only equipment that John and the guide had was CEAG acid cells supplied by the mine. Jane and I caved in T-shirts, shorts and lightweight walking boots.  We had helmets, stinkies (carbide gobblers are not for lightweight trips), Petzl zooms and little Tekna-lites.  Additionally I carried a polythene wine bag (empty, sad to say).  Blown up and stuffed up my T-shirt this served as excellent flotation for me, a natural sinker.

Initially we all tried to stay dry.  After all, I was wearing a rucksack containing an expensive camera.  Even wading across the underground rivers in this region is not straightforward: masses of organic debris accumulate on all the rock surfaces, and underwater this becomes jelly-like and incredibly slippery.  After a couple of crossings and a very slimy traverse above deep water, we had reached the end of the twilight zone, about three hundred metres in.  I dumped my sack among some stal and hoped that the Thai guano collectors were either honest or afraid of the dark.  The next section was most easily passed by swimming, crossing to a long bank of stalagmited rock and big gours.  John found an awkward but dry route along the opposite wall and our guide, determined not to get wet above his waist, followed.  The next section was definitely for swimmers only, and Jane checked it out as far as dry land.  John and the guide decided that they had seen enough, so we two continued alone.

The passage remained wide and high, the roof often being beyond the range of our lights.  After frequent immersions the draught began to chill us, and we were glad to find long, gravel banks where we could put on a bit of speed and get warm again.  Sometimes the river ran deep and swift in a confined channel and we had some awkward climbs to negotiate in order to avoid the waters and their dangerous currents. Occasionally it was deep water over the whole width of the passage and we were forced to swim.  In one place the river did its best to sweep me into a sump beneath an enormous fallen boulder because I had been foolish enough to attempt a crossing in the wrong place.  With awe and muttered expletives we noted the flood debris - whole tree trunks and huge branches throughout, jammed into crevices up to ten metres above our heads - and the wet season was just beginning.

The wild life in the cave was particularly abundant.  We were constantly pestered by millions of small, white flies which were attracted to the light of our carbide flames, and died there like a steady waterfall in front of our noses.  So dense were they that it was difficult to see through the cloud, and we would have been better off at times with hand held torches.  The screaming swifts at the entrance were replaced by various species of bats further in.  On the gravel banks we came across wetas, crickets and long, brown millipedes, and among the rocks lurked centipedes and scorpions.  The centipedes were about ten centimetres long, with yellow and brown striped bodies and long, spidery legs. Thankfully they scuttled into hiding as soon as our lights disturbed them.  Not so the scorpions, who sat tight, usually right on a crucial handhold.  Pale white fish swam in the pools and crayfish stalked along the bottom pretending to be stones. It is highly likely that some of these creatures will be new to science - of three fish collected in the north, one was the first found in Thailand, and one was a totally new species.  A biological collection from caves in this area is bound to be worthwhile.


More than a kilometre into the cave two small inlets emerged from loose boulders at floor level by one wall - perhaps these originate in the large dolines to the north-east.  There was no obvious passage here, and indeed we saw no passages leading off the main one anywhere in the cave.  However, our lights were not all that brilliant, so who knows?

There is little stal throughout the cave.  There is the stal bank near the start, already mentioned, and part way in is a wall of deep, cup shaped gours, dry at present but, no doubt, full in the wet season. Fifteen hundred metres in a tall, lonely stalagmite dominates the passage, and beyond this the passage continues, big as before, with pebble banks beside the meandering river, interspersed with sections of more turbulent, deep water.  After two kilometres there is a karst window, a sort of skylight where the cave has been unroofed for a short distance, and thence it is but a few hundred yards to the inflow entrance.

Having made our way back to the resurgence and joined the others we set off down river to see where it sinks once again.  The waters meandered in deep pools or ran in rapids over a coarse sand and gravel floor, with huge cliffs to one side.  We crossed over, balancing precariously on the trunk of a fallen tree, and soon crossed back where there were shallows.  After a couple of hundred metres there were cliffs on both sides, the bedding clearly showing a gentle dip to the south.  Flood waters had scoured out big, elliptical scallops in the rock.  Swallow Cave was only just out of sight behind us in, the trees, as we rounded a bend to see the next cave in the system.  While we slipped and slithered among the big boulders of the entrance rockfall our guide excelled himself, dancing from rock to rock-and over the stream, first in flip-flops and then in bare feet.  The river flowed fast and deep between wide, sloping shelves and in a vadose canyon, so we stayed well above it on the ledges.  As sunlight appeared through a narrow karst window marking the far end of this cave we reached an impressive array of deep, cup shaped gours, more massive and extensive than those in Swallow Cave, like tiers of gigantic swallow’s nests.  One of these made a superb, pulpit-like stance from which to view the next cave entrance.

In the section down-river from Swallow Cave there are three such fragments of cave, interspersed by canyon, or unroofed cave, and then the river flows underground yet again, now for the fifth time.  It drops down a short waterfall and appears to sump immediately.  This has not yet been explored - these highly flood prone tropical systems are safest explored upstream.  Some two kilometres down-valley it resurges again, but the cave is quite different in nature from those up-river.  The roof is wide and low over deep water, and progress is entirely by swimming against the strong current.  Gerdt explored this solo on a previous occasion, reaching his own, psychological barrier after about four hundred metres.  The cave was observed to continue in the same fashion.

The map shows the river continuing southwards for a few more kilometres, still entrenched within a deep valley or canyon, and then turning abruptly to the east.  It seems to go underground for the last time towards the end of its eastward course.  The map indicates at least one and a half kilometres of cave, while the contours suggest that the resurgence would be close to lake level at the head of a long, deep and narrow inlet of the Sri Nakharin Lake.  None of this has been explored, and the best access to any possible cave here is clearly by boat across the lake, and then up the inlet.  Hopefully the cave entrance will be above the water.

There is to be a combined French-Australian expedition to the Snake River later on this year.  Although there seems to be little potential for long cave in the region, there is certainly more passage to be found, and it is quite likely that this will be via resurgences within the Snake River canyon. The French have surveyed part of Swallow Cave - this needs completing and the other caves need mapping.  There is at least a couple of kilometres of cave to be explored down-river.  There are several dozen other sites already known, unrelated to the Snake, but close by, and some of these are of archaeological significance.  Obviously there is much work to be done.

There can be no doubt at all that the area deserves the status of a national park, and presenting a case for this would not be difficult.  However, the Thai vision of such set-ups is that they are primarily to attract visitors, and must be altered and managed to cater for this.  Here is a unique, wild and dramatic, true karst landscape.  We can only hope that the Thai authorities do not realize its tourist potential before they come to understand the true meaning of conservation.

Graham Wilton-Jones 20 / 6 / 1987 Kuwait.


An Imaginary Tale

Author's Note:  Ten years have now gone by since 'Alfie' was dismissed as Editor of the B~B. at the 1977 A.G.M.  Amongst other things, he was accused of making the club a laughing-stock by his choice of silly material for the B.B.  Around Christmas time he often wrote tales of an imaginary B.E.C., peopled by characters such as Pete Pushem, Fred Ferret and others.  This article, written by a suitably anonymous scribe in Alfie's style, will give younger readers some idea of the rubbish that they have been mercifully spared since Alfie last set foot in the Belfry


It is an afternoon in late July on Mendip.  It is, in fact, the day on which summer has decided to fall that year.  The sun is shining from a cloudless sky, and the unaccustomed heat has cracked off a few more wall tiles from the now rapidly disintegrating buildings of the University of Cave Studies at Charterhouse-on-Mendip - to give that dreadful place its full title. We eavesdrop on a conversation between Dave Dimwit and Mike Moron, two undergraduates who have stayed up during the summer vacation in a vain attempt to catch up with their studies.

 “It’s no use", Mike is saying. "I'll never get my degree in spelaeology.  I just can't understand what's going wrong."

“It’s these new rules." replies Dave.  "The Prof. has been made to increase the academic standard, and he's decided that some of us are actually going to be failed.  It's damned unfair.  When I came here, I understood that everybody got a degree."

“I can't understand it either" says Mike with an imbecilic grin. "How can they improve the standard if less of us get our B.Sp?"

“It beats me.  But you said that you had a problem with your work."

"Yes. It's the paper on lesser-known caves.  You know that we have to write up ten of them?  Well, I put in my paper and the Prof. says that eight of them can't be found at all.  What I can't understand is that they're all in the textbooks."

Dave Dimwit scratches his head.  "Why can't they be found?  They've all got entrances, haven't they?"

“I don't know" mutters Mike. "I don't know anything.  All I do know is that I shan't get my degree.  It's a bloody mystery."


In his study at the same university, Professor Peabrain is equally puzzled.  He has been studying the textbooks on Burrington Coombe.  He has counted a total of 14 lost caves, mostly complete with detailed descriptions.  He seems to remember that when he was an undergraduate there was only one.  In desperation he takes his socks off and counts them again on fingers and toes.  There are still 14.  He lets what passes for his mind wander back to the days when he obtained his doctorate in spelaeology by a masterly thesis proving that all caves were located underground.  In those days, he muses, Mendip was not cluttered up with caves that nobody could find any more.  He falls into a gentle doze.


It is now evening. Sitting in the bar of an old Mendip inn, surrounded by invigorating tankards of beer are four young cavers.  Petelet, son of Pete Pushem is talking to Fredlet, Fred Ferret's eldest boy.

 “Did you manage to swap the new volume of Mendip Underground into the library at Charterhouse?"

“No problem. It's got 3 more lost caves of Cheddar, 5 new chambers in Wookey and a huge extension to Alfie's Hole."

“What I don't understand", says Samlet, the son of Sam Strangeways, "Is why you take all this trouble to photostat textbooks and add imaginary caves to them.  What's the point of it all?"

“It all began," says Petelet, "when my old man found that squeezes were getting too tight for him.  It's due to the Devenish Effect."

“What’s that?"

"The Devenish Effect was discovered by a chap called Luke Devenish.  He used to cave with one of the other clubs.  He found that the cross sectional area of cave passages gets smaller as time goes on."

“It’s worse than that" adds Fredlet, “because the volume of the cave stays the same, and so all the passages get longer as time goes on."

“That’s terrible!” says Samlet, taking a refreshing gulp of beer. "What will happen in the end if all this goes on ?"

" Well", replies Petelet, banging his empty pot down in front of Samlet, who takes this delicate hint and goes up to the bar for another round, " If Ronlet hadn't had an inspiration, and found a way to overcome these effects, then all caves would eventually finish up with zero cross section and infinite length."

There is a lull in the conversation, while Samlet digests this mind-boggling prospect.  Before he can ask any more questions, Ronlet add a further factor. "You've forgotten Balch's Law."

 “Ah, yes," says Petelet. “Another chap called Chris Falshaw discovered that the total volume of all Mendip caves is a constant - which he called Balch's Constant - and that this is the sum of the volumes of all the caves known to Balch.  So, every time some new cave is discovered, its volume has to be taken away from Balch's Constant, which has the effect of making all the other caves a bit smaller."

Samlet thinks hard about this new idea.  He does not like it at all.  It seems to him that Balch's Law is a much more serious threat to the future of caving on Mendip than the Devenish Effect.  He says so.

 “Dead right~," says Petelet, "The Devenish Effect is a slow one, but Balch's Law is a right pig."

"Didn't you say," says Samlet, grasping at the only available straw, "that Ronlet had found a way round all these ghastly effects?"

"Yes, I have" says Ronlet. "but my throat's gone all dry."

It seems to Samlet that it ought to be somebody else's round by now.  He says so.  This remark is treated by the others with the contempt that it deserves.  Eventually, Samlet gets the next round in.  He still has a lot to learn - and not only about caves.

 “The solution to the Balch's Law problem is quite simple" says Ronlet, "once you recognise that all caves are complex affairs."

“Some of them are dead complicated?" suggests Samlet.

“No, not complicated. Complex.  Like complex numbers. Caves have a real part and an imaginary part."

“Eh?" says Samlet, nearly spilling his beer.

"Yes," replies Ronlet, taking no notice of this narrowly averted catastrophe.  After all, it is not his beer that was nearly spilled. “You take the average dig for example.  Now, the real part might only be twenty or thirty feet long but in the diggers' imagination the rest of the cave goes right through to Wookey, taking in some vast Master Cave on the way.  It can be shown mathematically that the average radius of the imaginary part of such a cave is an imaginary quantity."

“Well, I suppose it would be." says Samlet.

“Exactly.  Call this average radius ‘ir’ or ‘jr’ if you are an engineer.  So the average cross sectional area is п(ir)2”

"Which is п(r)2" says Petelet, "and the volume is - пr2-1, where '1' is the total length of the imaginary bit."

“So, when you subtract this volume from that of the existing caves to keep Balch's Constant intact" says Fredlet, "you subtract a negative volume."

“Which is," Ronlet triumphantly concludes," the same as adding a positive volume, so the size of all caves goes up a bit."

Samlet feels as if his brain has been put through a mincing machine.  He is so confused that he buys the next round without thinking.

“But why," he eventually says," do you have to do all this business with the textbooks at Charterhouse?"

“Because,” replies. Petelet, "There are rules which govern imaginary caves.  We soon found that it didn't work if we just sat down and imagined them.  Other people have to believe in them, for a start."

“So," adds Ronlet, "we thought of all those idiots at Charterhouse taking their damn silly degrees in spelaeology, and we reckoned that they'd believe anything if they found it in a textbook.".

" It's not only them," adds Fredlet, " Some old caver came in here the other night and kept us amused with tales about how he helped Don Coase to survey some hole that Ronlet had thought up and which has always been entirely imaginary."

" But", says Samlet, putting his finger on what he considers to be the weak spot of the argument, "You still can't beat the Devenish Effect."

“Oh, yes we can! " says Ronlet, I couldn't explain the maths to you, not even if you bought me another pint, because you wouldn't understand it, but there is also a degree of time reversal."

“Eh? Pull the other one - it's got bells on!"

“Put it this way. Normally, you might go to some swallet or other likely spot and start to dig.  Then you might find a cave.  Then you would survey it and write about it.  Now, with the imaginary caves and extensions, you write about them first and then people try to find them.  This time reversal makes the Devenish Effect work backwards, and squeezes start to get bigger again."

Samlet has the last word. "Sounds daft to me!", he says.


It is now late at night. A small party of elderly cavers emerge triumphantly from Cuthbert’s.  Pete Pushem in particular is delighted with the trip.  “Did you see," he asks Fred Ferret, "how quickly I came up the entrance rift!  I could swear the thing is wider than it was last time.  I'll tell that mine that son of mine that his old man can still cave!  These youngsters think they know it all."

Actually, they do - for, unbeknown to these veteran cavers, the young lads of the B.E.C. have everything firmly under control.

Yorkshire Police" /> 

Abandoned coffin baffles Yorkshire Police.

From the Guardian Dec. 7th.

by Martin Wainwright

A new coffin found abandoned on a lonely stretch of moorland in the central Pennines is baffling police and undertakers in North Yorkshire.

One theory is that it is an ingenious, though macabre, piece of potholers' equipment for ferrying excavated earth through narrow tunnels.

The varnished box, lined with pink plush and fitted with six gilt handles was discovered by a farmer checking his sheep on the slopes of the Ingleborough peak.  Inside, Mr David Gardner found an Indian take­away meal, yards of computer tape, and a large number of Co­op stamps.

The coffin had been dumped a third of a mile from the road at Chapel le Dale.

"There wasn't a body or any sign of one and the coffin wasn't from round here," said a police spokesman at Ingleton.  “We checked with our local undertakers, but they do a different style altogether.

Police inquiries have been extended to Co-ops at Blackburn, Burnley, and Bradford.  But the answer may lie closer to Ingleton, according to Mr. Tom Farrer, who runs the Hill Inn at Chapel le dale.

 “We get all sorts going on up here, especially when cavers are around.  Now this coffin were on the path to Great Dowk Cave.  Imagine if you were a caver digging out a new passage, what would you find handy for getting out the rubble?  A coffin can slide along – nicely and it's got six handles.”

No cavers have yet claimed the coffin, which is taking up most of the lost property cupboard at Ingleton police station.  But other happenings in the here, including the discovery down potholes of a litter bin and a model dinosaur used to advertise local show caves, lend weight to Mr Farrer's opinion.