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Royston Henry Bennett

Having taken early retirement last year he, with Joan, sold their house in Bristol and moved to Newtonmore, in Strathspey, to be close to the hills and ski resorts they both loved.  Tragedy struck when he met with a skiing accident on 22nd June this year.

Roy had such a rich and varied life that we decided to combine our memories of him.  The result is that this account is in three parts, recollections of early activities, hang gliding and his latest climbing and skiing interests.

Kangy starts

I can't remember when I first met Roy.  I think I knew him at school.  He was a few years ahead of me, one of the big boys at Cotham Grammer School, Bristol Roy was a contemporary of Archie Milton (who was our School Captain), Dave Allen and John Mortimer.  Remarkably all three played cricket for England and even more remarkably Archie Milton got an England cap at Soccer as well.  And I would rate Roy with them.  All were fine sportsmen.

We often climbed and caved together and he consented be godfather to one of my sons.

My first caving trip with Roy was by happy chance.  I was with another party, we intended to do a quick Eastwater, we went to the Hunters and met Roy and Don Coase having a drink and looking for help to put a permanent ladder on Arête pitch in Cuthbert’s.  The result was the epic described at a later date in the BB for August 1967.

Another unforgettable experience shared with Roy was in Eastwater.  We had bottomed Primrose Pot and Mo Marriott was stuck in the steep tight Primrose Path.  Roy's technical abilities were demonstrated. He flashed up and down the constriction as if it wasn't there.  He was calm, he invented, he placed knobbly dogs and foot loops, all the time keeping up a steady sensible stream of encouraging commentary.  (Mo made it in the end by stripping to his skin.)


Roy joined the Club in 1949.  He was not a committee man, nor indeed was he a man who wrote much.  But when he was persuaded to do a job he did it conscientiously.  Within the Club he held the positions of Caving Secretary, Climbing Secretary, was a member of the Ian Dear Memorial Fund Committee and was a Club Trustee.  He was also a MRO Warden for many years.  The only political controversy that he was ever involved with was the expansion of the Cuthbert's Leader system to members of other clubs at a Club AGM in 1967. Despite strong opposition the motion was eventually carried and has remained ever since.  Besides St. Cuthbert's, Roy knew Mendip intimately.  Having been a member of the Club for over 40 years he was one of the few who has remained consistently active during that period of time. He was caving before joining the BEC and I remember he told me that his first cave was Goatchurch, after cycling out from Bristol, and it took him three trips before finding the way to the bottom!


One of Roy's outstanding contributions to an early BEC Dinner was a sketch entitled 'Through the Stalagtite Barrier' - or something; the story varies in detail because those who were there had taken the precaution of topping up at The Hatchet under the impression that there would be no drinking licence whereas in fact there was.  Using his chemical experience (he was an Associate of the Royal Institute of Chemistry) he experimented to find a way of producing a civilised bang. One that could be used in the Whiteladies Restaurant with its Cinema in Bristol.  The intrepid explorers having mimed a tortuous way through a make believe cave reached the make believe stal which barred their path.  The climax of the show arrived as the explosive device was brought up to blast the barrier.  The resulting B-A-N-G was not make believe, dimmed the lights, halted the Dinner and emptied the adjoining Cinema.  "The management were not very keen on having us back!"

His career as a motor cyclist was legendary.  In the late forties he wore a sort of rubberised yellow overall and was known as the Yellow Peril.  Alfie remembers being given a lift back to Bristol by Roy after one weekend on Mendip.  The next Thursday at the Waggon and Horses Alfie was asked how he got on.  “Well” said Alfie, “We carne off twice in Burrington”.  “Ah”, said the inquirer, “That would be at the top two bends, he always comes off there!”  And in the days before the Wells road was tidied up and when the BEC would compete to reduce the Belfry to Bristol time, a notorious curve was known as "Bennett's Bend" because Roy went straight through the Whitchurch sign, taking it with him. He never seemed to hurt himself (He once broke his arm - Joan).


In 1964 a trip into Cuthbert's was arranged to sort out what was known of the Long Chamber area. Quite a lot of work had been carried out already.  Having reached Long Chamber to continue upwards to look at the newly discovered Chandelier Passage the party paused for a few moments.  Someone said "Where are we?"  "Annexe Chamber" said Wig.  "No, it's Long Chamber" said Roy.  Wig retorted, "John Cornwell assures me that this is Annexe Chamber". "Well he's wrong" said Roy, "It's Long Chamber.  I ought to know, I found it!"  Roy was one of the few who knew St. Cuthbert's intimately and was involved in all its important exploration phases since the opening of the cave.  He was the prime mover to restart the digging at the cliff face above the Old Entrance in 1952 and when Coase joined the diggers with his wealth of experience, success was eventually met.  Roy was the first to descend the Entrance Rift in 1953.  In conversation with him later Roy reminisced on the day that the exploration took them up into Boulder Chamber and Railway Tunnel where they first saw The Cascade.  "It was an incredible sight.  Nothing like this had ever been found on Mendip before." He initially opened up Long Chamber area; jointly organised the 1967 Sump I digging weekend; dug regularly at the Dining Room Dig; opened up Mud Ball Dig and discovered the Long Chamber Extension area with John Attwood in 1962.  He stirred up interest to dig Sump I in 1969 when it effectively dried up and was on the party that finally broke through into St. Cuthbert's II.  For many months through 1970 and 1971 he and the Tuesday Night Digging Team looked at every nook and cranny to find a way around Sump II.  No way-on was found and long trips were made attacking Sump II by building a series of dams and using the Bennett bailing device.  Progress was slow and interest eventually waned.


On one occasion, he was showing me the newly entered Cuthbert's Two.  There had been one or two incidents and we were very anxious not to be trapped.  The stream was dammed, we went rapidly through the drying sump and I peered earnestly at sump two and looked about while Roy kept a watch on the 'dry' sump one.  As I arrived back we dived into the narrow crawl. We both heard the rumble of water on the move and went like scalded cats racing up the passage and flinging ourselves over the Gour Passage dam.  Such was the tension that once safe we became hysterical with laughter as we realised that our panic stricken flight was caused by the echoing noise of our bodies scraping over wet gravel.


Digging was one of Roy's pastimes.  It was always taken very seriously.  Areas where few people had looked was always the sites he chose. The Mouton Brook near Chepstow was one particularly interesting series of small cave entrances that were thoroughly investigated and later the resurgence at the foot of Piercefield Cliffs north of Chepstow.  He dug here for several months mainly with Phil Kingston fully convinced of the existence of a tidal cave lying beyond the statagmite choke that he was blasting. Unknown to him the Royal Forest of Dean cavers had also spotted the site and dug in a lower passage and broke into what is now Otter Hole.  Grievances overcome Roy joined the RFD cavers and jointly explored the system with them.

During the mid-1960's and 1970's he caved in the Raucherkarhohle ( Austria) and in Co. Mayo and Co. Clare in the Republic of Ireland.  When visiting Ireland he read Coleman's Caves of Ireland and came to the conclusion that the Aille River sink near Westport. Co. Mayo had to be a good bet to look at. Though unknown to us (Roy, Joan and the writer) the Craven PC had looked at the site earlier that year but were stopped by flooding.  On the occasion of our visit over 2,000 ft. of very enjoyable and very wet passages were explored and surveyed.

The Yorkshire pots always held a great attraction to him and many of the classic trips were done including bottoming the GG main shaft by ladder in 1966.  South Wales too was regularly visited and on a trip from Top Entrance of OFD to OFDIII his sense of humour showed itself.  I was crossing the first section of the Traverses which requires edging oneself along one wall over an 80 ft. drop just before the long straddling rift.  Finger-tip holds were the order of the day.  There was silence as I traversed towards Bucket Tilbury, the first man across, when Roy shouted "Don't bite your fingernails now Wig, you'll fall off!"  After the Traverses, is the only squeeze in this area of the cave, and again his fruity comment was, "In a cave of this size this damn thing ought not to be here!"


The 1970 BEC Balague expedition was to a little caved area of the Ariege in France Roy's report covers the action but misses his determination and drive to do a good job.

The climax of the trip was laddering a 200-odd metre shaft.  French teams had used a powered winch, it was at the end of the ladder era and we did the pitch with only a pulley powered safety rope.  Roy and several others bottomed the shaft by ladder, explored, and later learnt that we had gone further than previous parties.

Roy loved rock climbing and instigated a Thursday evening meet in the Avon Gorge before we went to the Wagon and Horses to shout noisily to the caving crews about the weekend.  We climbed what we could there, went to North Wales as often as we could and went to places like the Dewerstone.  I have a cine film of Roy taken there which shows his rapid but sure technique well.  He would comment endlessly on the task.  It was just Roy thinking aloud and as difficulties increased the more active he got and the faster he chattered.

On one climbing holiday in the Austrian Alps, Roy was equipped with the latest technology, a pair of massively ferocious front pointed crampons.  He fitted them at the start of a coulour and led out and diagonally up.  He failed to find a good stance and so Joan followed him up, still no suitable stance so Ann moved on up after Joan.  I fed out the rope seeing Roy getting higher and almost across the slope and still no stance.  We had to do something.  Everyone got their axes in while I moved out onto the slope to make more rope available. Then I slipped slightly and tugged Ann off.  Ann tugged Joan off and Joan tugged Roy off.  I had enough time to get my axe in and whipped the rope round it as first Roy then Joan then Ann shot past me down the steepening snow.  Mercifully they were stopped.  The only damage was to Roy who gashed his calf with the front point of a crampon. He said nothing.  Later, one winter in Wales I noticed that Roy had sawn off the front points.

Roy did the British mountaineering classics in his own time.  He eventually did the Cuillin Ridge with Alan Bonner and while he rated it highly he reckoned that he had a harder time on the Fourteen Welsh Three Thousands.  Alan said about the traverse that they had attempted it in 1980 from the Slicachan end but had to abandon after Alan found he had left his boots behind!  All went well at Whitsun 1982.  They bivouacked in Coire na Banachdich and Ivy and Joan collected their gear later. At five thirty in the morning they joined a queue at the Tearlach Dubh Gap but enjoyed a "nice sunny day". The ridge is sharp and as they came to a wider flatter bit Alan remembers Roy bursting out with "Bloody Hell! That’s the first time today that I could have strolled along with my hands in my pockets and not fallen three thousand feet if I'd slipped!"

John Hunt gives this account of Roy's Hang Gliding days:-

During the BEC dinner of 1975 at the Blue School, Wells, Roy and myself started to talk to Pete Sutton and Derek Targett.  As my main interest was caving and Pete and Derek were climbers I had not met them before. However they were both now very interested in the very new sport of Hang Gliding.  So it was that on the Sunday, Roy, Joan and myself set off to see this sport in action.  Following a false start, in which we set off for Mere in Somerset instead of Mere, Wiltshire, we eventually arrived.

Pete and Derek were already there with a glider belonging to a syndicate of BEC members.  This machine had been built at the Belfry and in various members’ homes.  Jenny Sandicott and Graham Phippen were also present.  One or two people could actually soar back and forth along the ridge and I believe that there were even a few top landings.  Pete and Derek were not quite up to this standard yet but demonstrated firstly the art of chain smoking, followed by the take-off technique and landing.

Roy was keen to have a go and so an area was chosen for his initiation into the commitment of aviation.  No matter how hard he ran or how much he pushed the result was always a total inability to leave the ground.  After some 3 to 4 attempts, each of which ended in a dive headlong into the ground, Derek decided to try from the same spot.  His success was no greater.  Looking back on that day with hindsight it is obvious that it was a totally unsuitable area, being very shallow in slope and right behind tall trees. Roy and myself started to attend meetings of the Avon Hang Gliding Club and shortly after this Roy bought a 17 ft. Argus Hang Glider.  I remember many Saturdays and Sundays spent helping and teaching Roy to fly at such places as Hinton, Cam Long Down, Dundry and Mere.  I had previously bought into a syndicate of 12 and had semi taught myself to fly.

This would have been early 1976.

Although I don't remember all the dates there many fragmented memories of days spent flying with Roy.

A Friday afternoon on the Garth, near Cardiff, Roy was a little light for the Argus and flew twice as far as everyone else that afternoon.  That meant he had to walk twice as far to get back to the top of the hill.  He also ended up perilously close to a row of high trees on several occasions.  Many hours were spent discussing the weather conditions early on weekend mornings before deciding the best place to go.  There were many long days spent flying the Malverns and trips to Hatterall Hill in the Black Mountains.

Roy later sold the Argus and progressed to a McBroom Lynx.  He then proceeded to sit on top of everyone else at Bossington and North Hill.  On this he taught himself to fly prone and progressed to longer flights and thermal flying.

Roy always wanted to climb bigger hills and fly and enthusiasm this led him to climb Skiddaw.

Joan reckoned that one of the highlights of Roy's hang gliding days was when he launched himself off the top of Skiddaw.  Roy saw the possibilities of hang gliding as a means of extending his mountaineering passion.  He had the idea of carrying his machine to the top of a mountain and proceeding across country in a series of climbs and glides.  No one else was much interested in that much effort but he had the loyal support of his best friend Joan.  They got permissions from the local farmers and motored round the back of Skiddaw on a beautiful clear still day.  Roy carried seventy pounds of hang glider and Joan followed up with the 'bits and pieces'.  It might have been possible to ridge soar but Roy wasn't very experienced at that.  He assembled the machine, chattering more and more rapidly, then gulped, "It's a long way" and at four o'clock launched himself into the unknown.  Amazingly he flew down in about ten minutes and like a true pioneer was instantly surrounded by small boys who seemed to appear from nowhere.

Others were not so keen to join these types of adventures due to the enormous exertion required and I think this probably led to Roy drifting away from the becoming a little disenchanted and drifting away from the sport and back to climbing.

I believe that a second factor was the very nature of hang gliding is such that decisions on the correct site are left until the last minute.  Roy was very methodical and liked to have all details sorted out well in advance in his other interests.  In caving, trips were always planned carefully days before, equipment checked and ready.  Hang gliding also involves many hours of wasted time and this probably was also a deciding factor.

One of the last places that I flew with Roy was from the hill overlooking Shute Shelve.  Roy and myself were both Sites officers for the Avon Hang Gliding Club and as such spent a lot of time looking for new sites.  Roy thought that this would make an excellent new South West site and cleared permission from the landowner at the bottom for a landing field.  So we set out one weekday evening and climbed to the top of the hill along the Public Footpath which led to the take off area. Conditions were not good but we both flew down making several beats of the ridge as we went.

As we derigged we both agreed that the site had some limited potential and were quite pleased.  Then the "commoners chairman" arrived. He taught us language that even Roy hadn't heard before and insisted that we would adversely effect his Riding business.  We never did return there again, mainly because we discovered that this gent had stood trial for attempted manslaughter on a past trespasser.

I do remember well the last time that Roy flew. Strictly speaking it was not hang gliding but Microlight flying.  Roy had long since sold all his equipment and I rang him and asked if he would like to try my Trike.  We went to a small strip near Shepton Mallet and after a few initial problems taxiing the Trike, due to his short legs not reaching the steering properly, he took off.  Roy flew around for some 20 minutes and came in executing a hard landing which damaged one wheel.  I don't suppose he was that impressed because that was his one dalliance with the sport.

I suppose that hang gliding started with long climbs up hills for often short ground skimming flights down.  It was almost as much a sport of walking as flying.  When it lost the walking element something was lost for Roy.  The latest sport of Parapente flying has, for the moment, regained that walking element without the encumbrance of 75 lbs.  I suspect that this would have been another sport that would have appealed to Roy and believe that he even possibly tried it. I shall always remember Roy as a great sport who was always willing to try something new.  (Yes, Roy did a course - Joan).

Paul Newman (Avon M.C.) remembers Roy as one of the great characters of the Avon Mountaineering Club.  He first appeared in the club in September 1982. For several club members, their first memory of the famous van, of Joan, and of the two dogs, comes from Glenbrittle, Isle of Skye, in May 1982.  The van and its occupants clearly made a lasting impression on all concerned.  And it started to appear regularly at club meets, always parked for the night in some favoured spot a little way away, where the dogs could not upset the campsite; but always re-appearing next morning to take a larger-than-life part in the weekend's activities.

Roy was keen.  By the end of a year he had already been on several club trips to Wasdale, Tremadog, Cwm Cowarch, Snowdonia, Cornwall, and other climbing haunts.  One of his most regular climbing partners, Pete Hudd, recalls;

'It would appear that Roy and myself rapidly assumed the reputation of arriving back after dark, sometimes as a result of some minor epic.  One such incident was during the Lake District meet of August 1984, when we only just made it back to the campsite before midnight, after under-estimating the time required to complete a route on Pillar Rock.'

A very famous escapade occurred in the Avon Gorge on a drab autumn evening in October 1986.  Roy and myself had been so-called "pioneering" on the Giant's Cave Buttress area.  It had already got dark (that was not unusual for Roy and myself) and it was one of those cold, damp autumn evenings.  We eventually found ourselves abseiling off from the cave, but as luck would have it the ropes would not pull through.

We decided to drive up to the top of the Gorge and abseil over.  Darkness was well and truly upon us, but as we neared the Observatory lookout a plan evolved.  We would climb up the scaffolding that was temporarily erected around the Observatory, climb down the other side, and enter the tunnel that lead to the cave lookout.  Roy was in his element, groping his way along the dark and meandering passage (we had no torches).  All seemed to go well; the ropes were retrieved, and we made our way back up the tunnel towards the confines of the Observatory.

However, unbeknown to us, we had been spotted climbing over the scaffolding by the tollgate keeper on the bridge.  Fearing the worst, he immediately contacted the police.  Just as we were about to climb back up the scaffolding on the inside, the squad car arrived, his blue flashing light working overtime.  Roy and I crouched low on the scaffolding as they shone their torches all around, the beam just missing us on each occasion.

Not content with this, the two policemen started to make a closer inspection, and it would have been only a matter of time before we were seen.  Fearing this would raise undue suspicion, we gave ourselves up and climbed down the other side.

It would be an understatement to say that the two officers concerned were not amused.  We eventually convinced them of our story (it was too hideous not to be true) but this did not save us from a severe telling-off, of which I think Roy took the brunt, purely from the fact that he was the first to climb down and reach the waiting policemen.  Not too often was Roy lost for words, but on this occasion he reminded me of a naughty schoolboy being told to stand in the corner.  Apart from recording our names and addresses we were free to go.

 Another much-loved side of Roy's character was that he could talk.  But not, it seems, in a way that annoyed people Ross Barber put it like this;

One characteristic of Roy's was that he talked, particularly in the mountains.  I talked too; I've got my ideas and notice things here and there, but as a talker Roy left me way behind.  He talked about everything; the view, the weather, trends in skiing, climbing, politics, and most characteristically about the latest modification he had made to his equipment.  I could hold my own on most of these, but on equipment he was out on his own.  When he got launched into the latest strap adaptation my role was reduced to the occasional grunt of agreement. This often suited me well because I used to wonder where he found all the energy to walk, talk and think about all these things at the same time.  I was generally quite happy to be able to concentrate on keeping up.  I remember one occasion when we were nearly benighted on the top of the Cairngorm plateau at the end of a twelve-hour day and Roy still had the energy to think about the modifications he was going to make to his bindings next time.  I was getting really worried and didn't know if there was going to be a next time for either of us.

The list of places he visited around the British Isles with the club is considerable.  The Lake District and North Wales figure prominently. So do the "local" crags of the Wye valley, and he was frequently to be seen at sea-cliff venues such as Cornwall, Baggy Point, the Gower, and Anglesey.

Another passion of Roy's, equal if not greater than his climbing, was ski mountaineering.  Of course he loved the wilds, and cross-country skiing gave him access to wonderful places in marvellous winter conditions. In common with some of his closest friends he shared a distaste for the noisier elements in mountaineering. Ross said;

Only occasionally would we join the brightly dressed crowds on the chairlift and the piste; we preferred the secluded valleys beyond the (Cairngorm) plateau or above Glen Einich. We would spend hours plodding uphill, chatting away ( Roy particularly) for the possible reward of a short downhill run.  From the outside it is difficult to understand the attractions of these days. For each hour of uphill trudging we probably enjoyed a mere five minutes or so of downhill running, and sometimes in the most dismal conditions.  Yet I never felt discontent at the end of the day.

Snow forecasting was one of Roy's strengths. From an old copy of "Slessor", and from personal examination, he had acquired a very extensive knowledge of which Cairngorm slopes had snow in various weather conditions.  Over time I'd learnt to trust his judgement and we'd often set out across most unpromising acres of heather and bog, carrying skis, to find snow high up more or less where he had said it would be, and more or less in the condition he had anticipated.  I enjoyed many fine slopes on Braeriach, Carn Ban Mor, and Craig Mheagaidh which I would never have found without his knowledge.

Another feature of ski mountaineering with Roy was the dogs.  He was always keen to take one or both of them and, indeed, they are very handsome animals, Norwegian sheepdogs, and look well in the hills.  I wasn't always so keen though; there could be disadvantages. The main drawback was that one or the other of them would almost invariably disappear on the scent of deer, or hares, or practically anything on four legs.  So, in calculating time and distance, you could allow twenty minutes or half an hour's rest while Roy rushed about searching for them.  On occasions I must admit that I was grateful to the dogs for the enforced pause, for Roy, though small, was very energetic, and at the end of a long day I was quite happy to have stored up some remnant of energy to be able to keep up with him.

Finally, in this brief account of some of the characteristics for which Roy was known in the club, there is his interest in things technical.

I suspect that my indifference to the possibilities of the latest gadgetry must have irritated Roy.  To his more active imagination it was a niggling irritant to be using a strap or a binding which could be replaced by a more efficient one.  So, underlying our companionship lay a kind of subdued competition in which my objective was to display the practical usefulness of tried traditional equipment and techniques, in resistance to the pressure applied by Roy upon me to update.

Towards the end of 1988 Roy and Joan moved from Bristol to Newtonmore, among the Scottish Highlands that they both loved so much.  It was by no means the end of their association with the Avon Mountaineering Club. Several people have received a warm welcome at their new house, and in February 1989 a large party stayed close by at Alvie House for a week of walking, climbing and skiing.  By a lucky chance this week produced the first real snow of the winter and everyone had a fine old time.  Roy and Joan joined in the activities with their own inimitable enthusiasm.

Joan wrote;

June 22nd may seem an odd time to be involved in skiing in the Northern Hemisphere.  However, Roy had managed some ski-mountaineering each month since October, and it is a custom for Scottish skiers to try to find some snow to ski on at the solstice.  Although the- winter had not been good for the downhill skiing, it produced some good spring snow for late skiing (spring snow is snow which has melted, and refrozen into a granular construction.)

Roy had done most of his late skiing on wraithes of snow on convex slopes, on fairly narrow, not too steep gullies, like the Red Burn on Ben Nevis.  The snow on Braeriach was in the form of patches high up on the steep Coire slopes.  Roy was skiing down one of these patches, and his tracks showed he had negotiated most of the slope, when he lost control, and was not able to recover before he slid into the rocks at the bottom of the slope.

Roy was a man who knew where the limits were better than most and lived right up to them.  He was a joy to be with.  It was a privilege to have shared life with Roy and he will be greatly missed by many friends.  To Joan we offer our continued friendship and love.


This is a list of items that Roy had printed in the BB or elsewhere for the BEC.

In the BB (sole author)

1962 (Dec)        Weekend in North Wales 16(178)14-16
1963 (Nov)         Climbing 18(189)2-3
1964 (Apr)         Easter in Cornwall 18(194)5-6
1964 (Aug)        Climbing News 18(198)8-9
1965 (Oct)         On crossing the Gour Hall Fault 19(212)11
1966 (Nov)         Four to Gaping Gill 20(225)8-9
1968 (May)        Easter - caving in S. Wales 22(242)64
1968 (Dec)        Synthetic Ropes 22(249)184-187
1969 (Jun)         Cavers Bookshelf [Caves of NW Clare] 25(255)82-83
1969 (Dec)        Ireland 1969 23(261)211-213
1969 (Dec)        The discovery of St. Cuthbert's 2. 23(261)224-227
1970 (Jul)          Swinsto/Kingsdale 24(275)82
1974 (Dec)        Otter Hole - a note 28(326)253-254
1977 (Aug)        Some peaks in the north-west highlands 31(352)70-72
1981 (May)        Static in the Cairngorms 35(397)2

In the BB (joint Author)

1963 (Dec)        & J.A. Eatough. Report on a new discovery in Cuthbert's 16(178)11-13
1965 (Dec)        et al. Skiing on Blackdown 17(190)25-26
1967 (Jul)          & J. Bennett & D.J. Irwin. Austria, 1965 19(214)13-28
1962 (Dec)        & D.J. Irwin. Ireland - June 1967 [ Aille River Cave] 21(232)44-52

BEC Caving Reports

Nos. 2, 7, 13F and 13G et al.  All on St. Cuthbert's Swallet
No. 14 Balague '70