The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Ted Humphreys


This Belfry Bulletin is a month late due to circumstances beyond my control but, strange to relate, for the first time I've got more material to print than can be put into one BB. (The postage per copy goes up if there are more than about 23 pages).

I've got another article from Jim Smart, who is alive and well and still in California, which will be in the next BB.  Aso an article from Jingles about his first (and last?) Daren Cilau trip, one from Trebor about Jamaica and one from Steve about the LADS in Ireland.

Talking about Daren Cilau, I had my first trip there in mid-August, the "Caves of South Wales" guide book describes it as 5+ but this probably means a trip to Spade-Runner. The inside information is that the entrance crawl, though long, is not difficult (just boring) and has only two bits that could be described as squeezes (if you weigh less than 14 stones, you should have no problems!).  We went to see "The White Company" in Apocalypse Way and it took us four hours, two hours in and out of the crawl, one and a half to and from the formation and half an hour getting lost.  The "White Company" you must see, I’ve never seen it's equal.  Anyway, the grading of a tourist trip in Daren is probably not more than VDC, if you've got the stamina.  As far as gear is concerned, wear knee and elbow pads!

Also in the next BB will be an appreciation of Roy Bennett who, as most of you will already know, died after a skiing accident this summer.  Joan asked that any donations members wished to make be made to the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team.  These should be sent to Wig (Townsend Cottage, Priddy) who will forward them. The BEC has donated £25.

Trebor has a new load of Bertie Bat enamel badges at £2 each and J'Rat has some BEC T-shirts, the old design, which are for sale to club members at Bat Products (J'Rat is selling them at no profit so if you're not quick they'll all be gone!)

Alan Thomas has produced another book (he's the editor) called "The Last Adventure". This is a collection of seven articles by cave divers from the '30's onwards and makes fascinating reading. Each one describes the experiences of people who have gone to places where no-one had gone before.  Copies can be obtained from Alan at £10.50 (they're hard cover with colour photographs).


Bits & Pieces

This bit was sent in by Trebor:-

J'Rat has decided to decline continuing with the library due to Rat Product commitments.  Trebor has taken over the job and will soon be attempting to re-classify all we've got, try and retrieve missing books and tidy up the place generally.  Has anyone got any old, interesting photos of the club house, characters, personalities etc. which they don't want?  If so, I'll stick them up on the walls in frames for posterity, or at least put them in the scrapbook.  Members are asked to return all books as soon as possible and book them out every time. We must keep the library intact. If you want a book permanently go and buy one.  Don't pinch ours.  The Club has always prided itself on a good library and we want to keep it that way.


An appeal from Bassett:-

At some time during the last two years I have mislaid three nife cells.  They are in reasonable condition, giving 8-9 hours of light each. They are labelled with my initials on the cell top clamps, Thus: - G W J.  The numbers on the actual cell labels are: - 560, 588 and LANCSFB L6.

I may have left them in someone's car, at someone's house or in the Belfry.  I could have lent them to someone or they could even have been stolen.

If you have acquired a couple of nifes and wonder whose they are, please have a look - they could be mine.

Thanks, Bassett.


New Members

We seem to be doing well for new members this year!  Here are the details of the most recent ones.  Please let me know if I've got anything wrong!

1118     Carol Yvette White, Cheddar, Somerset
1119     Barry Hanks, North Cray, Kent
1120     Alan Goodrich, North Cray, Kent
1121     Nicholas Cornwell Smith, Oldland Common, Bristol
1122     Clive Betts, Clapham, Bedfordshire
1123     Ian Gregory, Clapham, Bedfordshire
1124     Martin Gregory, Clapham, Bedfordshire
1125     Richard Blake, Horsfield, Bristol
1126     Stephen Richard Redwood, Banwell, Nr. Weston-super-Mare
1127     Bruce Jones, Northville, Bristol

1989 A.G.M. & Club Dinner

Another year has passed and the AGM is once again nearly upon us; October 7th. 10.00 am. at the Belfry.

I do not intend to have a barrel at the meeting this year as the meeting invariably generates into a fiasco afterwards.  By starting half an hour earlier we should get done by the time the pubs open - if not, it will perhaps goad us into getting on with some sensible, concise debate which is meaningful, useful and well thought out.  None of this hurling abuse back and forth across the floor, personal slander and general gobbing off.

The Newsletter Editor hopes to get the next BB out for the 7th October to coincide with the AGM & Dinner so Committee Members are asked to prepare their Annual Reports for that issue.

Election forms will arrive with the next BB or hopefully well before the AGM if I can wangle free postage from work.

Committee Members Resigning.

Mike McDonald, Steve Milner
(and maybe, Snablet - Ed.)

The agenda will be on the normal format as in previous years and a sheet will be given out on the day.

Please hand in any resolutions to me at any time or on the day.  No resolutions have been received at the time this BB issue goes to press.

Trebor  (Secretary )

Other items concerning the AGM & Dinner.  (Ed.)

The dinner is again at The Star Hotel in Wells.  There will be a choice of four starters -  Soup, Melon, Egg Mayonnaise or Pate; four main courses - Roast Turkey, Roast Leg of Lamb, Roast Topside of Beef or Chicken Breast (with all the usual trimmings, of course) and a choice of sweets to follow.  The committee decided that the appropriate price per ticket should be £12, in order to recover costs and overheads (we do have them!).  Tickets will be available from Steve from the time this BB comes out.  Please try to buy your tickets in advance otherwise you may not get in!  Ticket sales will be closed after 30th September.

As you see from Trebor's bit (above), it looks as though we're going to be a bit short on the committee. We therefore will need nominations, proposers and seconders at the AGM.  If you think you can be useful - VOLUNTEER!

The club has four trustees at the moment.  These are: Bobby Bagshaw, Les Peters, Alan Thomas and Barry Wilton.

It seems that Bobby and Les may shortly request to resign from their positions.  I'm not exactly sure about the responsibilities of trustees except that they are legally responsible for the club.  I may have got the wrong end of the stick, so to speak, but if the above is true the AGM should consider replacements.


Cave Leaders

Saint Cuthbert’s Leaders Update from Martin Grass

A few months ago the Saint Cuthbert’s lock was changed.   I wrote to all known leaders (the list had been lost) asking them to supply me with an s.a.e. for a new key.  It was decided to do this as it was assumed that those not asking for a new key were no longer interested in being leaders.  The following list therefore should be considered as the current Cuthbert’s leaders as they are the only ones with access to the cave.

Chris Batstone

Andy Cave

Martin Grass

Tim Large

Mike Palmer

Andy Sparrow

Greg Villis

Ian Caldwell

John Dukes

Ted Humphreys

Mike McDonald

Brian Prewer

Nigel Taylor

Graham Wilton-Jones

Chris Castle

Pete Glanville

Kangy King

Stuart McManus

Chris Smart

Dave Turner

Brian Workman

Guest Leaders

John Beecham   M.C.G.

Alan Butcher     S.M.C.C.

Tony Knibbs      M.C.G.

Alison Moody    W.C.C

Tony Boycott     U.B.S.S.

Malcolm Cotter  M.C.G.

Ray Mansfield    U.B.S.S.

Graham Price    Cerberus

The only thing I have to add to this list is, has Wig retired?

The leaders we have for other caves are as follows: -


and Tunnel Cave



Ogof Ffynnon Ddu I





Reservoir Hole



Charterhouse Cave

Martin Grass

Mike McDonald

Graham Wilton-Jones


Martin Grass

Mike Palmer

Richard Stevenson

Graham Wilton-Jones


Martin Grass

Graham Wilton-Jones


Jeremy Henley

Tim Large

Richard Stevenson



Dave Irwin

Brian Prewer

Greg Villis



Dave Irwin



Chris Smart



Trebor received this letter and has sent Joy the membership list.  Presumably the girls she mentions are Brenda Wilton and Joyce Franklin?

Erasmia 0023
South Africa

The Secretary, B.E.C.

Some years ago I used to be a member of the BEC, as well as a regular caver.  However, I moved to South Africa and lost touch with everyone, and although I have made several efforts to get in touch with old caving friends I have not had much luck.

As I will be coming to England again sometime during the next 6-9 months I have decided to try once more to track these friends down as I would really like to meet up again. This being the case, it occurred to me that there is a slight chance of doing this through the BEC - especially if you still produce the magazine "The Belfry", - or any other publication you may now produce.  At the same time I would be very happy if you could forward a copy to me - for old times sake.

I used to cave with Roger Stenner mainly but other names were Gerald Neilson, Paul Morrell and two girls Joyce and Brenda (but I can't recall their surnames).  My name in those days was Joy Steadman (Mem. No.570, Joined 1964 - Ed.).

Apart from making contact with any of them, I am also keen to do some caving - so any help you can give me will be very much appreciated.


Joy Scovell (Mrs)


China, The BEC get Everywhere

by Chris Smart.

As many of you no doubt know by now, last year, two B.E.C. members, Chris Smart and Graham Wilton-Jones, participated in the 1988 British Speleological Expedition to South West Guizhou. ( Guizhou is a province in South West China about 1000 kms NW of Hong Kong).  Hoping to escape the ravages of a British winter and of Butcombe beer Blitz and Bassett joined the highly successful, and at (all?) times, distinctly odd "independent", Bob Lewis expedition to An Lung County.  This is a closed county (i.e. an area generally closed by the Chinese authorities to foreigners) that Bob and three other members of the Severn Valley Caving Club had obtained permission to visit on a reconnaissance a year or so previous to our expedition.

On his return Bob then set about organising a full scale expedition and if the full story of the pre-expedition meetings is ever told then a book will be needed to detail the intrigues, explain the voting procedures and produce a full cast list (or should that be karst list?).  It would make a John Le Carre novel look simple by comparison and suffice it to say that at times it seemed that the list of the sixteen personnel was changing almost daily.

China abounds with an over abundance of limestone and it has been estimated by the people that take delight in such statistics that there is more limestone in China than in the whole of Bowery Corner, Wigmore and Welsh's Green put together - Oops that there is more limestone in China than in the rest of the world put together.  It is a very sobering experience to be travelling, on what constitutes a Chinese express train, through an area of quite spectacular limestone as the sun sets slowly in the west and to then wake up the following morning still looking out at the by now monotonous limestone.  When expedition members are heard to remark "Oh No, not more cone karst" one begins to wonder about ones travelling companions.

The trains were an education into the Chinese way of life.  I would not have thought it possible for a train floor to change from being pristinely clean to being totally lost under an inch thick layer of peanut shells and husks, sugar cane bark, sweet wrappers, old newspapers, polystyrene food containers, discarded chopsticks and spittle within seconds of the Chinese getting on to it.  They seem to be able to have the same effect that a couple of barrels after the Hunters back at the Belfry have, but in an infinitesimal fraction of the time.

Their spitting habit leaves nothing to the imagination and people of a nervous disposition should stop reading at this point.  They will spend 30 or so seconds hawking and clearing their throats before leaning forward, and with a sly grin, let the spittle slowly dribble from the corner of their mouths onto the floor of the railway carriage or bus or pavement etc. I saw one very near miss when two Chinese were both dribbling and staring at us while cycling on a collision course towards each other (unfortunately one of them realised in time). It is a very definite turnoff when ogling a piece of the local crumpet, purely in the interests of science you understand, to see her lean forward and seductively dribble a seemingly never ending stream of spittle onto the ground only inches from your feet.

Transport within China is actually pretty good considering the problems of terrain, third-world technology, and the fact that there are over a billion people who are not going to spend their lives standing still.  I do however subscribe to the belief that it was a trifle unfair that the entire Chinese population should always want to use the same train/bus/ferry/ticket office/toilet etc that I wanted to and always at exactly the same time. It's probably a good idea that I spent as long as I did in training sessions at the bar of the Hunters.

There is a reasonable network of railways, most of the roads are sealed, and the rivers are used by all manner of traffic.  Costings for internal travel are as cheap as to be ridiculous, as is the internal airline. However tickets for this are a little more difficult to obtain.  Few travellers speak well of the airline and we were told the story that when a stewardess was asked why no safety instructions are given she replied "Not necessary, we crash, you die!!!"

I would however warn you that having obtained your ticket then not only will the entire population of China accompany you on your train/bus/ferry boat/aircraft but that they will be carrying all their worldly goods and possessions with them.  I'm told it's somewhat odd to look under the seat of the bus to see what is causing that odd wet sensation on the back of your leg and find a small pig happily ensconced there.  Certainly I can vouch for having travelled on a train in the company of several live chickens, a duck and a little boy whose mother let him happily piss in the aisle next to my rucksac - and I used to wonder why no one used to help me on with my rucksac ... then my best friend told me.

Enough of this local colour, I hear you say.  We’ve been to China town in Soho. We've all seen The Last Emperor on video.  We've all had a Sweet and Sour from the Wells takeaway.  What about the caverns measureless to man?  Well, and this is where the story really starts.

The first wave of our ten intrepid explorers (including Blitz), nine good men and true and Sara (OVCC), a gynaecologist, left Gatwick and flew to Hong Kong, pausing only to take advantage of the free booze (Everything to Excess) provided on the excellent Cathay Pacific flight and for a quick Rabies inoculation at the Bahrain stopover.  People may be interested to know that no body took the slightest interest in Sara giving us the vaccinations on board the plane and that the cabin crew were happy about disposing of the needles and syringes afterwards.  We stocked up on a few items in Hong Kong, attempted to shake off the jet lag and wondered how we could have been so careless as to lose eight hours and set sail up the Pearl River to Guangzhou (or more commonly, Canton) and our entry into the People's Republic of China.

This was easily done and the Passport and Customs officials expressed no surprise at the fact that we were all visiting China as tourists or at the 28 items of tourist luggage, including a kilometre of rope, gas cylinders, SRT bolts, life-jackets, wet suits and goodness knows what besides that we were carrying between the 10 of us. We had arrived and Martin, another member of the Severn Valley Caving Club, expressed our sentiments in a loud voice when he said “We're here to do the Business!!  We are the Business!!

A week later the expedition arrived at Guiyang, a city about the size of Bristol, the capital of Guizhou province and the location of the University that Bob Lewis had established contact with.  It is easy to write now - "A week later the expedition arrived at Guiyang" but that simple phrase glosses over so many hassles.  In that week we had split into two separate groups, travelled by widely different routes and modes of transport, discovered Chinese alcohol, got drunk, regained consciousness, rejoined the human race, discovered Chinese food with such culinary delights on the menu as "A sort of fish", "Goose intestines in a special sauce", and "Web and Wing", discovered one member of the expedition didn't know how to use chopsticks and more alarmingly didn't like Chinese food, discovered Chinese fireworks (nothing pretty just a big bang - now who did I hear that about?) and had nearly been arrested for smuggling!!  Quite a week and the smuggling was a mistake, honest your honour. How were we to know that it was an offence to transport camping gas cylinders by train?

From Guiyang it was just a short 12 hour bus ride to An Lung.  I was the coldest I think I've ever been in that bus with windows that wouldn't shut and with the temperature just above freezing outside.  Sara gave a couple of us a cuddle at one of the roadside stops but Bob told her off - we don't want to upset the natives, do we?  A 2 hour truck ride the next day and we had reached Do Shan, the end of the road, our nearest village and only a two hour walk from our caving area.  The next day we arranged porters at the princely sum of 50 pence a day and the set off into the unknown, our hearts beating proudly in our chests and our bowels well modesty prevents me from telling you about that.

Bassett had similar problems with transportation when he arrived a month later.  He took fifteen days to reach the caving area near Do Shan. Although six of those days were spent waiting in Guiyang for the other members of the second part of the expedition.  As he says ... "On day two I was within five miles of the rest of the expedition, which had already been in the field for a month. Unfortunately that was thirty thousand feet up in a 747, and the next stop was Hong Kong."  Honestly, don't some people moan, just bad planning that's what I'd call it.

When you finally get there, An Lung County is a magnificent area with cone karst and open inviting cave entrances where ever you looked for as far as the eye can see.  The area is very primitive and from what I have read appears to have changed very little in centuries.  At one house built into a cave entrance we were offered bowls of hot water to drink, the owner being to poor to afford tea.

Over the next two months all the usual superlatives, ego it must be the deepest, longest, biggest, widest, highest, tallest etc. were heard to issue forth as the usual countless virgin caves were explored and surveyed.

The major find, Ban Dong, which was connected to another two cave systems Chu Yan Dong and Xi Nu is potentially the longest cave in China, with over 17 km. of passages surveyed so far, many passages looked at but not surveyed, and several going leads.  There are, for example, another two caves both over 5 kms in length just awaiting connection.  Included in the system are a sloping chamber over 300 metres long and more than 200 metres wide which was surveyed at 1.6 km in circumference, a 200 metre pitch, a collapse doline 400 metres across with 270 metre deep, overhanging walls and an entrance passage that contained a bank of clouds from wall to wall that forced us to stoop underneath it in order to see where we were going.  Mike (SVCC) carne in for some gentle leg pulling after an episode where he managed to do a 180 degree turn on his way in through the entrance passage and managed to find himself shamefaced back at the entrance.  Chu Yan Dong (Smoking Hole) gets its name from the fact that a constant cloud issues forth from the entrance shaft, like steam from a kettle, visible over 100 metres away.

The caving itself was remarkably easy and all too often we would discover evidence that we were not the first intrepid explorers that we thought we were.  In the main the caving consisted of walking through enormous passages often floored with a crazy paving of dried mud or covered in a shimmering red flowstone but occasionally with cave pearls up to the size of golf balls. I also remember several very black and very crunchy areas of flowstone that were quite painful to walk on in the condom thin rubber that the Chinese use to manufacture welly boots.  There were a few climbs and some large pitches but the overwhelming memory is one of gigantic passage widths - I'm sure that you really don't want to know about Dau Dong (Big Cave) where we found it easier to survey along the two walls rather than the more conventional approach of a centre line with passage widths - measuring a cross-section gets difficult when passage is 150 metres wide.  Our longest centre line survey leg was 160 metres and to be honest, that could have been longer still.  Oh yes there was one short length of crawling and one squeeze which gave us a    very uncharacteristic survey leg length of one metre.  It is all too easy to become very blasé about the passage dimensions and to make comments such as "That's not worth looking at its far too small to go" - that was a passage that was about 2 metres across but there again there were passages 20 metres across waiting.

However the expedition was an outstanding success, maybe because of, or maybe in spite of minor set-backs, Bob lost his passport and the expedition funds, Blitz lost 10 kg. while on a diet of rubbery rice-strips, dog and rape, (this is the green vegetable and should not be taken to indicate a 10 Kg weight loss due to frenzied sexual activity!!!) and many expedition members lost their dignity on potent rice spirit and beer at 10p a pint.  Indeed on one occasion not only did Sara have to be carried out from the banquet, she had to be carried into it first!  Yet another victim of the white spirit.

Supplies of most things were readily available once we had organised the locals and they had organised us. However the first few days at our base camp, lovingly known as Camp Squalor, pushed our resources to the limits.  (The Government says ... No camping in China, so we bivouacked at the back of a large cave entrance - it just meant we had a permanent daylight squad of up to 70 locals who would stand and stare at the crazy foreigners for hours)

For the first week we could only obtain, or so it seemed at the time, a few onions, some rape and eggs, eggs, and more eggs.  It was, to say the least, a monotonous diet.  Later in the expedition we went into the livestock business and become the proud owners of four chickens all destined for the pot.  Fresh pork was available once every six days at Do Shan market but as this would only keep till the next day it meant a binge followed by a frugal four days.  The porters were excellent and were happy to have their wickerwork back packs loaded to over full with pork, beer, and white spirit etc before being dispatched to one of the three or four outlying camps.

We had a post graduate student from the university attached to us, so for most of the time translation was not a problem.  To write that sounds almost as if we had a Government minder with us, but in the event Tan Ming proved to be a good caver and was quite happy to let us get on with the caving where and whenever.  For example Tim (SVCC) and I lodged with a farmer for a week about 5 miles away from the others while exploring a river sink, Lu Shui Dong, about the size of the River Axe at Wookey.  Indeed I remain very impressed with the almost complete lack of bureaucracy and the fact that we could go where and do what we wanted.

What more can I tell you - I could tell you of buying carbide in lumps the size of a sugar bag and how Blitz dropped one of these in a village water supply tank, of the ever present money changers, I could tell you of our journey home taking in the tourist sites of the Stone Forest, an area of phenomenal pinnacle karst and of our boat ride down the Liang river with its fantastic tower karst near Guilin, I could tell you of a local woman who on hearing our plans remarked of her friends "They will laugh so much that their teeth will drop out", I could tell you of our being arrested for cycling into a closed area (but all the signs were in Chinese), I could tell you of our 24 hour ferry ride (we travelled 5th class in a dormitory of 50 beds) across the South China Sea back to Hong Kong blissfully ignorant of 60 Chinese and Vietnamese warships about to commence battle but what more can I write?  You would never believe me.

Blitz  July 1989


Mrs. P. A. Dors

On July 19th. a large number of members of Caving Clubs from all over the country joined the Dors family and other friends at Priddy Church to attend the funeral of Mrs. "Ben" Dors.

It is sad to think we shall no longer see her sitting at the end of the bar talking cheerfully to old friends and new.

We have to thank her for the kindness and tolerance she has shown to us all during her long life.  We shall remember her with gratitude and affection.

Dan Hasell

1989 New Year Expedition to Bulmer Cavern Mount Owen, New Zealand.

The Air New Zealand ticket and baggage clerk looked at the three rucksacks on the scales, then back at the digital display - an indisputable eighty one and a half kilograms. She studied my ticket carefully once more, and asked;

"It is only the one passenger, sir'?"

"That's correct", I smiled, hopefully.

I was on my way to North-West Nelson to join one of the annual summer expeditions in the marble mountains.

The Area.

Currently this corner of New Zealand's South Island holds three significant areas of marble of interest to the caver;

In the north is Takaka Hill, the most easily accessible since a major road runs right over the top of it.  The limestone is a hard, clean, pale grey, and contains such systems as Greenlink whose furthest reaches still defy determined exploration, and Harwoods Hole, with its 200 metre entrance shaft dropping into a sporting streamway exit. The surface is grassland and patches of regenerating scrub through which project "Henry Moore" shapes of smooth-faced marble.*

South from here is Mount Arthur, whose marble top squats above the bush-line.  The major system here is Nettlebed.  Explored from the bottom, an entrance close to the Pearse resurgence, it now offers an 800 metre plus through trip, after Blizzard Pot was connected in 1987.

From the top of Mount Arthur, on a clear day, there are magnificent views of thousands of kilometres of bush-covered hills and rocky summits.  Southwards, beyond karst basins, marble outcrops and peaks, is Mount Owen, beneath whose southern slopes stretches the recently discovered Bulmer cave system.

Getting there.

The nearest main road to Mount Owen runs from Nelson down to the west coast at Westport, and the one decent ale-house en route happens to be the Owen River Tavern.  From this convenient rendezvous at the confluence of the Buller River and the Owen a gravel road leads northwards through the wide paddocks for several kilometres.

* Matt Tuck (+ Nick Hawkes) spent part of the summer here and could be persuaded to put pen to paper, I suspect.

At the last level paddock, just before to climb amongst cobbly hills of glacial moraine, on an afternoon of sunshine and showers in late December, twenty members of the expedition met up and began to stack the mass of gear into helicopter-lifting sized heaps.  While the helicopter would take up most of the food, general equipment and vertical caving gear, we would walk the track begins up carrying all personal kit.

The tops of the mountain were hidden above low cloud when the helicopter arrived, but the camp-site at Bulmer Lake, just above the bush-line, proved to be just below this layer of summer thunder showers.  Unfortunately Poverty Basin, where we intended to have a secondary expedition base, was mist enshrouded and therefore too risky for air-transport.

While the helicopter took only about ten minutes carrying up each load and then returning, we had an ascending walk of several hours to look forward to.

The logic behind not taking a whirlybird ride was that in the event of bad weather precluding aerial assistance at the end of the expedition, or at any other time, by making our own way up we would all be thoroughly familiar with the route.

As the last load disappeared into the sky we set off up the valley and were soon into the shade of the bush.  The variety of trees is mixed at first, but rapidly the southern beech dominated. Initially the path follows an old logging track, and very gently rises along the true left bank of the river. The path dropped at one point to a slippery little traverse above a deep river-edge pool, quite awkward with a heavy, unbalanced pack, but was otherwise straight-forward until we crossed the Owen and started up Bulmer Creek.  This required numerous crossings and whereas the Owen was floored with coarse gravels and small cobbles, Bulmer Creek was generally steeper, and the waters left a slick, brown slime on the much larger, rounded boulders.  For a time we left the stream altogether, where the stream tumbles through a gorge, and climbed up on the true right to follow an indistinct path in the thick beech forest.  The trees are stunted and gnarled  - most are several centuries old - and their roots, half hidden beneath years of leaves and mould, twist over the forest floor, ready to trip the unwary.

After half an hour among beech trees we emerged onto the level cobble floor of the stream, now waterless after weeks of little rain.  In low water conditions the creek trickles beneath the limestone cobbles to emerge further down-valley.  We made our way across the cobbles and among some enormous blocks, fallen from the cliffs that now enclosed us in a huge amphitheatre, and arrived at the edge of a small pool into which dropped a cascade of clear water.  This water, which resurges from the base of the cliffs only a few hundred metres away, is undoubtedly from Bulmer Cave Bulmer Lake water, marked on the map as the main source of the creek, is actually only a small fraction of this stream.

More of the resurgence later.  We climbed north westwards, through quite dense scrub which cloaked old avalanche debris. The ascent steepened, across an open grassy slope and up a little rivulet in a gully, to reach the foot of the cliffs. A substantial ledge led back east, climbing across the face for some distance until it reached a short vertical section negotiated with the aid of a piece of fencing wire and a long, tape sling. Above this the slope lessened as we followed a shallow valley, with a trickle of a stream, through more beech forest.

After a further half an hour the beech forest cleared as we reached the bush-line.   Ahead lay a long, narrow cirque containing the shallow Bulmer Lake, three quarters encircled by steep marble cliffs and screes lowering to tussocky slopes. Earlier arrivals had already pitched their tents among the trees, but most of the group with whom I walked up opted for the open, grassy flat between the forest and the lake.  We ignored the hoots of derision from those who expected the water level to rise in the next rain storm and wash us away down the hill, though I did perch my Space packer tent on the top of a little hummock.

Our kitchen and eating area was created under the slight overhang of a huge boulder, long ago tumbled from the cliffs far above.  Although this only afforded minimal shelter from the rain and none from the wind the area soon came to be used for all communal functions, survey transcriptions and creations, possum hunting, radio-communications room, etc.

The Cave.

The cave system of Bulmer presently has five known entrances: the first to be found, and the largest, is situated in the centre of the system, and is about twenty minutes walk east of the camp-site.  It is a semicircular roofed entrance dropping down a bouldery scree slope to a thirty metre pitch.  At the base of this is a long, sloping scree-floored cavern.  Up cave from here, to the north, via essentially horizontal fossil passages, leads to the vertical series up to Replica Spectacular and the closely connected Castle Keep, highest entrance to the system.  Down cave, southwards, continuing abandoned passages ultimately emerge as holes high in the cliffs above the resurgence, Eye in the Sky and Panorama Ledge Entrance.

First Trip.

My first trip into Bulmer was via Panorama.  Trevor Worthy (N.Z.), Danielle Gemenis (Aussie), Tom Miller ( U.S.) and I climbed through the bush east of the camp to emerge onto wide, smooth, sloping sheets of lapiaz.

We struck out on a more or less level route across this glacially scoured landscape, skirting between the bush below and lines of bluffs above.  The route had been previously marked with streamers of red plastic tape (a route to the toilet, some 200 metres from the camp site, had been similarly marked, explaining the discovery of an anguished, cross-legged Don Fraser being discovered half way up the hillside, crying, "Where the hell's the bog?").  Having passed below Bulmer entrance we dropped into bush and traversed to a drop to a little ledge - Panorama.  A five metre handline made the descent safer, as there is a substantial drop below. Views out across the valley are excellent, the panorama being 180 degrees from west through south to east, where distant snowy peaks of Nelson Lakes National Park complete the horizon.

Turning our backs on the wide, green landscape we crawled into a small passage in the cliff, against a cold, damp draught that is a feature of the cave system.  The low, narrow passage soon enlarged and dropped into a wide chamber, the floor of which was composed of blockfall.  At the far side the chamber gradually diminished to become discrete passage, still with fallen boulders, and the walls covered in large botryoids (botryoids and rockfall are other features of the cave). Part way along a low bedding arch leads down to the right, dropping ultimately via a complex little route to Eye in the Sky, of which more later.  The Panorama route continues north-westwards, roughly paralleling the bluffs and a major fault, and develops into a high, narrow rift.  Fixed ropes enabled us to negotiate the ups and downs of Eurus Rift, and we climbed out into larger passages that heralded the approach of Bulmer Main Entrance.  However, we spent some time "lost" in this area, searching up several avens and rifts for the route onwards.  Some quite large passage did not seem to be on the survey, and a long piece of tape had to be left behind to cope with the retreat down one climb.  Eventually we opted for a route that continued north-west around an exposed but easy traverse to enter Medusa Passage.  Here the route is smothered with huge clusters of helictites up to one centimetre wide and several tens of centimetres in length. From here we quickly reached vague daylight filtering through to the huge scree slope that is the floor of the large Bulmer Entrance chamber.  The thirty five metre pitch proved an easy, free-hanging ascent to a rock bridge, and a wide rocky ledge led round to the entrance.

The food organisers for our trip had definite vegetarian leanings, and each meal was a variation based on one kind of bean or another.  A couple of sacks of cabbages and a huge box of cucumbers slowly diminished throughout our stay, with coleslaw constantly available.  There was some confusion over the original ordering resulting in the purchase of enough tins of fish for one each every day of the expedition.  The menu was a well organised affair and, in spite of the fact that no-one was detailed for "cook of the day", food was always ready when teams emerged from the cave, often at ridiculous times.

Second Trip.

My second trip was to survey a couple of kilometres of passage found the previous day.  Trevor and I. along with Paul Wopereis and Kieran Mackay (both NZ), entered Panorama and thence dropped down to Eye in the Sky.  Turning away from the exit, which I never did get to see, we reached a wide area of breakdown where the passage floor dropped abruptly into a large shaft, the Lion's Den.  Fifty metres of slopes,       ledges and short drops led to the head of a forty metre shaft.  Kiwis tend to use chocks, pitons and natural belays wherever possible, but bolts were placed here in the absence of anything more suitable. Across the base another forty metre shaft led on down, damp and windy, and with a series of re-directional belays to create the best hang and avoid possible deluges of flood water.  Following a muddy traverse and a fifteen metre pitch we entered a high, narrow streamway that twisted awkwardly, dropping two further short pitches including Roaring Lion, before entering much more spacious older passage.

This area is only a hundred metres above the main stream, but we climbed away from this into a phreatic maze and the Speedway. A strong draught through a low section off to one side indicated the extent and significance of the passages we were to survey.  So many of the passages in Bulmer trend north-west to south-east, and these new ones were no exception.  For most of its length we mapped in a single passage, 88-not-out, with junctions turning out to be the beginnings of oxbows.  Everything about it felt old the breakdown, the abundance and sizeable growth of botryoidal stal, the totally fractured stal sheets over the floor, and the section of passage whose floor was covered in a thick layer of white powder, hydromagnesite.  (Higher levels of the cave have been dated to at least 350,000 years).  Our survey ended at a draughting choke, which could be easily dug.  A quick computation of the survey figures and drawing of the map the following day revealed this choke as being close to the Blowhole, a huge phreatic segment in the bluffs.

We emerged after dark, and took ages searching about the bush and lapiaz for red tape, which does not show up much at night.  Eventually we were guided down to the camp by the noise of the Australian Whistling Frogs, who inhabit the lake and keep unhappy cavers awake all night with their din. Tonight, however, we were to be spared this joy, and reminded instead that we were camped at 1300 metres in latitude 40 south.  The wind rapidly increased and torrents of rain swept over the cliffs and into our cwm. Hoop tents wobbled like demented jellies and Tom's U.S. wonder-dome flattened itself into the grass, while Tom himself shivered the night through in a pool of soggy down.


The cold, damp air, the hard, sharp marble, and frequent changes of carbide which penetrated and infected every little cut, combined to shred the skin off my hands and give me an excuse to go prospecting on the surface.  Bulmer resurgence had been discovered in the 70's, along with the huge phreatic passage of Whalesmouth Cavern, next to Blowhole.  Bulmer Main Entrance was found on the first day of 1985 and. since most subsequent work has been towards extending and surveying this, surface work has been limited and sporadic.  Gormenghast, a shaft system north of Bulmer Main Entrance, may well link onto the system.  North-east of the Bulmer Basin cwm, just at the edge of the bluff, lies the Amphitheatre, a deep cliff-fringed pit 150 metres in diameter, that has to be a collapsed cavern.

Oz Patterson. Greg ...... and I worked over the karst between the camp site and the Blowhole, mostly among the beech, where we found a number of shafts, but these did not extend more than a few tens of metres.  Our main objective was to attempt to find a short route into the 88-not-out area, or into the short section between there and Blowhole.  It cannot be claimed that the karst has been thoroughly prospected - in the forest it is easy to miss even quite large holes, while many of the narrower shafts are covered over at the top with fallen trees, mosses and the prolific growth of this rainforest floor.  Much could lie hidden for decades here.

We came out in the drizzle the next day, joined by Kip, but significant new cave remained elusive. The others went into Blowhole to search in the draughting rockfall and to "take the airs" - a team had simultaneously made their way to the end of 88-not-out and were burning kerosene soaked cloth at the terminal choke.  No fumes were detected and the location of this obvious connection is a mystery.  Meanwhile, returning via a higher route to the camp, I found more deep shafts, but their exploration is yet to come.

One of the significant landmarks of the area is the Bulmer Buttress, which resembles a giant, pale tuatara (a long-lived dragon-like reptile, from the age of dinosaurs). This pale limestone outcrop catches the light rather spectacularly at sunset and dusk, changing from grey, to pink or orange.  At night its dark, huddled shape often acted as a guiding beacon to cavers astray on the bare lapiaz.  Just beyond the Buttress is Gormenghast, which was slowly being pushed deeper in the hopes of creating a link with the Bulmer system.  North from here soon drops into the long closed depression of Castle Basin.  Another route into Castle Basin is from Bulmer Lake cwm, via the Amphitheatre and a nearby col.

We chose one of the really good days to carry equipment up to Poverty Basin, ready for a small camp so that this area could be prospected further. With seven of us, the loads were fairly light and we quickly reached Castle Basin, whose grassy floor was speckled with bright upland flowers of yellow and white.  Climbing the steep headwall of the Basin brought us to a rocky outcrop, containing the phreatic segment of Castle Keep - Replica Spectacular.  We traversed through this short section of cave and dumped our loads at the Replica end.  Ahead, separating us from the contorted strata of Replica Hill, was the broad Poverty Basin, grass floored except for a distinctive orange gash in the glacial debris.

Three of the team set off across the Basin to have a look at an obvious cave high in the south face of Replica Hill, and to search for Owen Ice Cave, one of the few caves in New Zealand with permanent ice formations.  With the other three I headed up eastwards, climbing rapidly to the summit of Mount Owen.  Although a few clouds had crept across the sky, and Mount Arthur, far to the north, was obscured, the three hundred and sixty degree panorama of peaks and bush was spectacular, and the limestone country within it every bit as inspiring as European Alpine karst.  To the south the mountain dropped steeply into a chaos of sharp fluted stone blind valleys, vertical sided ridges and deep, narrow shafts floored with loose rocks. Although we searched into various holes none seemed of any spelaeological significance.

Into Whalesmouth.

Chris Pugsley, Joe Arts, Paul and I headed across to Whalesmouth the next day, and surveyed down to the resurgence entrance.  A chill draught spills out of the huge Whalesmouth entrance and funnels down the scree valley below.  We mapped down this slope, and then into dense bush, where the tangle of plants made surveying well nigh impossible.  To reach the entrance involved a climb up a cliff, with shrubs, mud and loose boulders for holds (a hundred kilo block nearly demolished Chris, and much native bush had to be destroyed in order to recover the compass, dropped from the ledge), and then a slippery, exposed but well protected traverse on a narrow ledge twenty metres above the resurging stream.

The ledge ends at a gnarled tree, and a short climb up between the tree and the rock reaches a more substantial ledge, overhung by a huge flake of rock.  Resembling an enormous up-and-over door, only just open, this overhangs the cave entrance.  A short scramble leads through to another big rift, parallel to the cliff edge, and an easy climb up the inner wall of this arrives at horizontal passage and the sound of rushing water.  After a short distance we were in a chamber, with water from the five metre waterfall at one corner running amongst the cobbles of the floor and disappearing into a narrow slot on its way to the resurgence below.  The lowest section of the fall was easily avoided by crawling up through some tubes in• semi-consolidated pebbly fill, and thence an easy climb through the icy water reached horizontal stream passage.  This eventually breaks into numerous routes of a phreatic nature, and the sumps have yet to be passed.

Up above the resurgence entrance is Snarler, a flood resurgence found at the beginning of the expedition.  The current end to this is a boulder choke, which could well deserve further attention, since it may bypass the resurgence streamway sumps and quickly connect into Tropicana, the very lowest section of streamway in Bulmer itself.  Numerous other holes are visible in the cliffs around the resurgence and, looking way across the valley from here, another large entrance can be seen in a cliff in thick bush.  Some thought this could be a continuation of the Whalesmouth/Blowhole phreatic tube, pre-dating the glacial incision of Bulmer Creek valley, while others were certain it had already been checked out.  One fine day I managed to persuade Danielle to join me and check out these holes, and the following, very wet day Kieran joined us.  Two days of thrashing through bush, hanging from branches and vines, climbing up and down cliffs, streams and boulders, made us very familiar with the area but also proved that all these enticing looking entrances were but rock-shelters.

Back to Bulmer.

In Bulmer extensions were continuing to be made faster than they could be surveyed.  The complex area at the of the Lion's Den was developing into a series of roughly parallel passages beneath and to the west of Panorama/Eye In the Sky.  Although the Labyrinth streamway explorations seemed to have fizzled out somewhere beneath Bulmer Lake, the "Main" Streamway upstream waterfalls were bypassed in a huge old breakdown passage beyond Dead Coral Sea.

Survey figures were being calculated daily, with the map being added to immediately after.  A chart of our progress revealed, one evening, that the length so far surveyed had reached 25 km eclipsing Nettlebed, though this latter can still claim the NZ depth record.  Our daily radio schedule with the pair prospecting out at Poverty Basin must have revealed our excitement throughout the mountain radio band.

Some of the best formations in the cave are nearest to the main entrance, and accessible within half an hour.  A large group of us went into the Road to Nowhere towards the end of the expedition to goggle at, and to photograph, the impressive arrays of helictites and anthodite clusters.  They are confined to one short section of this abandoned stream passage, and are quite difficult to capture of film because of the narrowness of the passage. They are particularly vulnerable and it is fortunate that the passage, true to its name, is a cul-de-sac, although Gormenghast is not so very far from this region and a link is not out of the question.

Last Trip.

My last trip into the system was to survey the upstream, left-hand branch above the waterfalls. The right hand branch had been explored and surveyed to sumps, and no route had been found beyond as yet. Tom, Danielle and I made our way over to Panorama yet again and thence along the now familiar Lion's Den pitches.  Some of the ropes here were beginning to show signs of severe wear, either because of bad rub points or because of rockfall - the top series of little climbs was particularly prone to this latter.  Both the solid rock and the ubiquitous grit are extremely abrasive, and the Lion's Den pitches had seen a disproportionately large number of descents and ascents, since they provide the only access to the Main Stream and all its extensions.  The sheath had worn completely through on one of the forty metre drops, and another sheath severed on the de-rigging party.

Chris Pugsley had found the left hand upstream branch, along with another kilometre of passages, and had carefully marked the route to it with cairns and copious quantities of red tape.  Having followed mainly huge breakdown passage, often walking in the roof on enormous boulders that appeared to be the floor until we came unexpectedly to sheer drops of many metres, we entered a more confined zone of short crawls and climbs in collapse.  As the passage enlarged we were confronted by Chris's bunting and soon found the route to the streamway.  A climb down on and under a loosely consolidated pile of boulders revealed the water rushing along several metres below us, but the final descent did not look very easy.  While Danielle went off exploring a high level route above the right hand stream, Tom disappeared to retrieve a rope from a now bypassed climb.  Re-united we discovered that the descent was, in fact, very straightforward, but then confusion set in.  We were not certain which streamway we had entered, so we explored downstream shortly to a waterfall.  We had been told that both branches dropped down waterfalls and immediately linked.  Further, we understood that it was possible to climb around the head of one waterfall directly to the head of the other.  None of this fitted the facts as we saw them - no second stream or waterfall was visible from here.  Much time was wasted searching for an easy link to the other stream, until we decided to link our survey into Chris's cairns.

Now the hard work began: in many parts of the cave thirty metre leg lengths are easily possible; our average must have been three or four; the passage was narrow, it twisted and turned, the water, bitterly cold, could not always be avoided, and occasionally cascades attacked us from above.  Before long Tom and Danielle were chilled (in my Troll oversuit I was smugly snug) and we stopped surveying at a short cascade, beyond which I explored infuriatingly easy, straight passage, with slowly lowering roof, for a couple of hundred metres.  This soon sumps but there are many high level holes which could afford a bypass (see Post-script).

We had a steady Journey out, and emerged just before dawn after seventeen hours underground.  We dawdled through the bush and across the lapiaz, stopping occasionally to watch the sky lighten and to listen to the morning chorus of bell-birds tuning up, their single fluting notes echoing in the still, clear air.  Bulmer was now surveyed to twenty seven and a half kilometres and still going - probably the longest in Australasia.

Bassett, Auckland, N.Z., March 1989.


This sump, at the end of International Streamway, has been passed via the high level holes, and at least a kilometre of passages have been surveyed beyond.  These include numerous small phreatic tubes and the huge "Awesome Avens", whose floor area is several hundred square metres, and whose height is too great to see or even guess.  Perhaps their tops are accessible through as yet undiscovered entrances in Poverty Basin, beneath which the avens climb.

Bulmer is now surveyed to 150 metres short of 30 kilometres, and should be well in excess of this figure by the time you read this article.


A Summary of fauna found inhabiting the Belfry region of Mendip


This elusive animal may be easily identified by its short cropped hair, facial growth and generously proportioned snout!

Although it periodically migrates to South Wales to indulge in its ritual digging frenzies, it may often be found in the Priddy area working hard to convert "Butcombe" (its staple diet) into more organic compounds. (Quote ... "P*ss, Sh*t and pjh*gm!" .. unquote!).


The SNABLET is a strange little creature.  Slightly built yet possessed of strength far beyond its apparent capabilities with a thirst and capacity for liquid refreshment that can only be described as legendary.  It has been said that it can actually lift a pint glass and drain it without any outside assistance, although personally I find this rather hard to believe.

Although small this animal can make a remarkable amount of noise for its size, characterised by its cries of "AAARRRGGGHHH YOU BAAASTAAARDSS" heard on Saturday nights after closing time.  (Usually because the other critters have decided to tie it up again!)

However its size enables it to "Boldly cave where no man has caved before!"  It gets its Latin name from its ability to vanish into the smallest of spaces underground.  (Many wish it would just plain vanish!!!!!)


Probably one of the more dedicated creatures of the area, the TREBOR spends most of its time underground building dams.  When not involved in this activity it may be found cleaning various bits of limestone with an array of collected implements, or busily foraging for scraps of paper and discarded kit that it then transports to the surface and ejects! When above ground it is constantly painting, brushing and cleaning the immediate vicinity in between helping out other local creatures with a variety of tasks.  It is largely due to this animal that the area is as clean as it is.


Genetically ingrained in the Dani is the urge to build.  Thus it may often be found on Mendip erecting structures for other creatures.

At night however its habits change and it may be found anyone of a number of watering holes.  It is easily identifiable by its characteristic headdress ( a piece of checked cloth) as well as its mating calls .... "eeee-hawwww" and "I F*ckin' spect!"


Contrary to popular opinion this is not a member of the Weasel family (That's just a vicious rumour.) although it may be related to the house marten as it keeps getting bigger ones!

Interestingly, it is accompanied by its mate almost everywhere, except on its underground forays when it is usually accompanied by the pseudo mole the SMART.   The GRASS-MARTEN is a natural administrator and is fond of forming committees and attending meetings which it does with a certain flair when allowed to do so.


Not to be confused with the SMART, the JIM SMART is an entirely different animal.  Instantly identifiable by its crowning ring of red fur and freckled features it also has a distinctive odour not unlike that of burning hemp!!

This is another creature prone to bouts of disappearance and indeed has not been spotted in the area for some time now.


Rumoured to originate from Wales this mammal has been resident in the area for some time now.  It may often be seen travelling at great speed (and in considerable style) around the streets of Wells and the outlying area. Like the TREBOR it spends much of its life underground and indeed has been known to lure other creatures into its favoured sub-terranium  haunts.


Until recently this rodent was only to be found in the area at weekends as the earlier part of its life is spent mapping known routes for no good reason I can see.  However now that it has reached maturity (comparatively anyway) it will reside almost exclusively in the Mendip locale.  It may often be found in the Belfry on Saturday nights and is quite friendly, often trying to communicate with other creatures with its cries of "Mineshapintpleesshhhhhhhh!" and "Who' ad-th'f'ckin'barrell".  It will also "sing" on a good night, before slipping into unconsciousness on the floor.


This is probably the most ferocious and unpredictable of all "Belfryites".  It is recognisable by the mass of wiry hair where its head should be (about eight feet above the ground!)

Due to its extreme size and strength there are not many of the local creatures that will cross this ones path.  Impossible to tame or train the BIFFO is a law unto itself and has a penchant for pyrotechnics on its doorstep regardless of its own safety or popularity.

It does have some interesting habits such as rising at dawn to dance on Glastonbury Tor covered in bells and waving bits of cloth, although no-one is quite sure why it does this.

**N.B.**  It is best observed from a safe distance and left well alone.


A relative newcomer to the area the MONGO is nonetheless an integral part of local ecology.  An extremely fair complexion and almost white fur mean that it stands out quite vividly and is not difficult to spot.  It lives on pretty much anything out of a bottle and is very partial to certain 'Erbs of ethnic origin.  It has an interesting habit of screeching "MELLOOOOOOOOW" whilst mating.


This animal is rarely seen as it is usually stuck underground somewhere.


Marked by a striking red mane, (unusual for a female bird) green rubber feet and a green waxy outer skin the BABZ can often be seen roaring around the area in its mate's Land-Rover.  Until recently it was to be exclusively found at the Belfry but has of late transferred its nest to a grotty little hole the other side of Eastwater Cavern.

Living almost entirely on Cider, Consulate and Beefsteak it is an extremely dangerous bird to get on the wrong side of and, knowing no fear, is one of the few creatures known to have tackled an enraged BIFFO


As mentioned above the SMART spends much of its time with the GRASS-MARTEN.  Indeed they may often be seen together, along with their mates, in the deeper recesses of the Hunters Lodge Inn.

The SMART has an uncanny ability to pass on knowledge to the offspring of other creatures (hence 'academica') and spends much of its time doing this.  Periodically however this animal disappears for long periods, it has been hypothesised that it migrates to China during these times, although this has been the subject of fierce debate.

ROMFORD (PHILISOPHICUS - as in 'Phil is off - icus')

Sadly we are down to our last mating pair of these, and they too will soon disappear as the mid-life urge to migrate to sunnier climes takes a hold.

The male Romford is distinguishable by the luxuriant growth of silver fur, almost hair like in quality, around its face and head as well as its unparalleled talent for business ventures. Indeed they have been known to inhabit the same nesting site for years at a time, usually only vacating it when threatened by rodents such as the J-RAT!!

The female of the species, though not similar in appearance, has the same characteristic air of calm and serenity which is only disturbed by the intake of large amounts of alcohol - a pastime both male and female seem to be fairly adept at!!

In later life the Romford will suddenly decide to up roots and quite literally sail off into the sunset in search of a new life, such as property speculation or even electronics.