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

1990 - 1991 Committee

Hon. Sec.                Martin Grass
Treasurer                 Chris Smart
Caving Sec.             Jeff Price
Hut Warden             Chris Harvey
Tackle Master          Stuart McManus
B.B. Editor               Ted Humphreys
Hut Engineer            Nigel Taylor
Membership Sec.     John Watson
                               Ian Caldwell 

Editorial

The BB is late, again – a combination of excuses which I won’t bore you with!!  I’m afraid the synopsis of digs which was promised has note yet arrived.  Jake sloped off to Scotland with a large party of BECites – caving they said.  Perhaps an Article?  This is a larger BB than usual for the time of year thanks to the and a bit page American article that I’ve included.  I’m sure you’ll agree that it was worth it.

At this point I must remind you that any opinions expressed in the editorial are those of the editor and in no way should be taken to reflect those of the committee or of the Club.

The fact is that we seem to have a couple of problems which will, no doubt, be discussed at length at the A.G.M.

The first is non-payment of subs.  This year between twenty and thirty people have not paid, costing the Club at least £400. We always expect some to lose interest or to move away, of course, but it seems that some have discovered that they can pay every other year, say, and still have all the benefits of membership with the possible loss of a couple of BB's during the summer  (A great loss? - spare copies are always available in the library!).  I'm not saying it is deliberate but, whatever the reasons; it makes the job of the Club treasurer, and other members of the committee, very much more difficult and is unfair to those members who always pay on time.

Secondly, the problem of vandalism.  If you read the constitution (Item 7c) you will find that the Belfry and its contents (other than the property of individual members) belongs to the Club and is not the shared property of the members.  The Belfry has always been a fairly boisterous place, especially on Saturday nights, (Sofa Rugby etc.) but it should be remembered that replacements of crockery, furniture and such items usually depends on donations of the items to the Club from individual members.

There have been several examples of what I would call unacceptable vandalism of Club property in recent months.  I shall cite three cases: -

1.                    Using coffee mugs as balls for indoor cricket.

2.                    Chopping up furniture for firewood because the individual concerned thought it looked 'tatty'

3.                    Setting off fire extinguishers 'for fun'.

In the first case, the mugs were replaced, but the person who donated them in the first place will think twice before donating any more.  In the second case, I don't know the outcome but we're always short of seating.  I wonder why?  The third case is more serious as injuries could have been caused to other members.  The person concerned did present the treasurer with a blank cheque to repair the damage but what he probably didn't realise is that if a genuine emergency had occurred and it was found that the Club had, at the time, no useable extinguisher then our insurance policy would probably be invalidated.  I wonder if the blank cheque would have covered the cost of a new Belfry?

I seem to have gone on a bit though I still feel that some comment was needed.  If there are any differing views I will gladly put them in the BB.


 

Membership Changes

We welcome three new members, who are ;-

New      Karen Ashman. Bury St. Edmunds
1155     Rachel Gregory. Wells. Somerset
New      Brian Hansford. Weeke. Winchester. Hants

We also welcome two members who have rejoined.  Actually Bill rejoined almost a year ago but I had no address!

727       Bill Cooper. Totterdown. Bristol
691       Dudley Stuart Herbert. Corston. Bath.

The following members were either incorrectly listed or have changed their particulars since Christmas.

1082     Robin Brown. Woolavington. Bridgewater. Somerset
827       Mike Cowlishaw.  Micheldever Station. Winchester. Hants
405L     Frank Darbon. Vernon, British Columbia. Canada
704       Dave Metcalfe, Whitwick, Leics.
921       Pete Rose, Crediton, Devon
1067     Fiona Thompson, Stoke Gifford, Bristol
1154     Karen Turvey, Cullompton, Devon
1096     Brian van Luipen. Littlehampton, West Sussex
1061     Kerry Wiggins, Basingstoke, Hants
1031     Mike Wigglesworth, Oldham, Lancashire
477       Ronald Wyncoll, Hinckley. Leics


 

Simonds Mine. Biddlecomee - a Re-Discovery Feb 1991

Went over to look at a site Graham Johnson had been digging about 10 years ago.  We decided not to continue with this but to excavate a filled shaft in the floor with marks (shot-holes) of the "Old man". Three of us, Graham, Robin Taviner and Vince Simmonds went over on the 12th Feb and cleared about 4ft. of easily removed rocks.  We returned a week later (19.2.91) with a skip and some more muscle power, J'Rat and Rich Blake.  We hadn't been digging long when we made an intriguing discovery, 2 star drills and a slater's hammer with a length of nylon rope and an old, battered biscuit tin. We tried to fit the star drills to some of the shot holes, they didn't fit, and then enlightenment!  Above the pit, barely discernable, was an ancient carbide inscription "BEC DIG" and around a rock "NT 1974". We had found the legendary Nigel Taylor's long lost digging kit.  We had thought of cleaning them up and presenting them to Wells Museum but decided to re-unite them to their owner who was thrilled to see them again which prompted reminiscences of solo digging trips.

The nylon rope came in handy when J'Rat's car (one of Wilfs courtesy numbers) broke down and we had to tow it back to the Hunters, which is happily on the way back to Wilfs garage.

On the 26.2.91 we (Tav. Graham & Vince) reached a solid floor at about 8ft depth and decided that was as far as we could go, so we cleared all our gear out and called it a day.

Meets List

A. Sat May 18th.                       Wookey Hole Evening. 6pm – Belfry.  Leader - Martin Grass.

B. Sat June 15th.                      Penyghent Pot. Yorkshire.  Contact Andy Sparrow.

C. Fri 14th June - Sun 30th June.            France: Pyrenees & Dordogne.  Caving, Walking. Climbing Etc. Contact J.R. Price.

D. P.S.M. July.                         Details from Dany Bradshaw.

E. Sat 17th August.                   Birks Fell Cave.  Yorkshire.

F. Sat 24th. August.                  Otter Hole.  Chepstow.   Names to J.R. Price.

G. 21st September.                   Lost John's.  Yorkshire

H. 16th November.                     Juniper GulfYorkshire

I. 8th December.                       Peak Cavern.  Derbyshire.  Min 15 places - Names to J.R.P rice.

Also Devon weekend July 12th - 14th.  For further details contact Jeff Price.  Tel: 0272 724296

Coming Events

June 1st. Wessex Challenge.  Organised by ACG this year.  The theme is Star Trek and there will be a Starship Race.  The venue is Priddy Village Hall at 7pm.  Price £4 inc. food - tickets from ACG.

30th June - 5th July. N.A.M.H.O. Conference.   Llechwedd Slate Caverns.

13th - 14th July.  British Cave Rescue Conference, Derbyshire.  Contact D Gough, 26 The Lodge, Newthorpe, Notts.

19th 26th August. RESCON  '92.  International Cave Rescue Convention. SWCC Hut, Penwyllt, S. Wales


 

Rocky Acres Cave

While finishing off the exploration of Skullcap Cave at Chudleigh (see DESCENT Christmas 1990) we began to search for pastures new for evening digs in the same general area. One of the most enticing areas is that to the east and north of Kingsteignton.  Here exists a large enough area of limestone to have developed a karst type drainage pattern with significant vertical differences between sinks and the main rising.  However the landscape has been so modified by man that only juvenile swallets are readily identifiable and digs have so far been unsuccessful.  The many years of effort at Lindridge have so far been un-rewarded.  The only major cave system is the 300 metre long Coombesend Cavern which lies, typically for Devon, in a disused quarry now being used as a waste disposal site.

However above the rising at Rydon (to which the Lindridge water drains) is the disused Rydon Quarry which breached a large cave passage over thirty years ago.  The cave was reputed to contain rifts descending to water level but accounts are sketchy and what remains of the cave lies under 40 feet of overburden dumped during the construction of the nearby by-pass.  A number of small cavities above the old quarry were revealed by top soil stripping and blasting for the by-pass and the land owner John Jones who became fascinated by the story of the original cave has spent six years digging in them.

Assisted by members of the PCG and DSS he concentrated mainly on one cave now dubbed Rocky Acres which by the time we first visited the site last summer had reached a depth of 15 metres and a length of 30 metres.  This was achieved by using a compressor powered rock drill and rock splitting wedges to enlarge the narrow phreatic rift.  What has lured diggers is the draught which the cave possesses plus the fact that although narrow it is still going.  On cold frosty mornings steam billows from the entrance.

Our contribution was to entice an assortment of individuals into blasting through a particularly hard band of limestone at the head of a narrow rift.  Prior to our first visit the cave ended in a wriggle into an excavated pot off which led the rift.  It had been originally approached from an alternative direction by Geoff Chudley and Co. but they had backfilled this to get a more direct route to the bottom. The dig had begun to look so daunting that at that point they had gone elsewhere.  Altogether about 15 visits have been made to the site since last June and the cave has been blasted 8 separate times by members of DSS, BEC and WCC. Rock and spoil removal has been mainly by Pete Rose and myself and members of the Rock House team.

Back filling has been accomplished by using stemples, drystone walling and stabilisation with liquid cement.  As we go deeper removal of spoil for a pair of diggers gets more tricky although there is plenty of room to stack boulders.

By the time we had squeezed into the wider part of the rift the floor was covered in a layer of rubble which was added to by successive bangs, slumping in of back filled material and digging in the wrong place by persons unknown!

However as the spoil and fractured rock was removed tantalising holes in the floor began to appear and the slight draught increased.  The floor now consists of soft mud and water worn boulders which can be removed without blasting and the rift bells out to a width of 3 feet at floor level.

Digging conditions are a lot more pleasant than Skullcap and the site is far more promising.  As we go down it seems to me that the entrance passage is feeding into something much larger and partially choked.  This would seem to support the hypothesis that large phreatic passages should exist near resurgence level.  We are an estimated 20 to 30 feet above the rising, at the bottom of the cave, which puts us very near the estimated level of the original Rydon cave - we are also virtually at or below the original quarry floor level. With a depth potential of 85 metres and 2 km. straight line distance to the furthest feeder sink there ought to be a significant cave underneath us!

Diggers are welcome and tools are on site.  However do not be tempted to climb over the gate from the bypass - cars can be driven to the entrance and John Jones is pleased to welcome bona fide cavers.  To find Rocky Acres drive up Rydon Lane past the primary school into the new housing estate but just before the top of the rise turn right through a wooden gate marked Rocky Acres.

Perhaps we'll see you down there sometime.  Pete and I normally go on Wednesdays.

Peter Glanvill February 1991


 

Tales from County Cork

I arrived in Cork in October of last year.  My only other visit to Ireland had been a week caving in Fermanagh with Neil and Paul from the RRCPC.  This time was slightly different from that visit as I expect to be spending the next three years over here.  First things first, get in touch with the local cavers.  The only information I had on caves and cavers in the area was Tony Oldhams' Caves of Co. Cork.  I tried ringing one of the people mentioned in the guide, Cian O'Se, after practising pronouncing his name on various people.  He was very helpful and put me in touch with the active members of the Cork Speleology Group (CSG).

One week later and I had a trip arranged down Pollskeheenarinky.  This cave lies east of Mitchelstown, just within the borders of Co. Tipperary.  The situation of this cave is typical of many caves found in the east Munster area, it is in a ridge which runs along a limestone valley with hills of Old Red Sandstone on either side.  One of the other caves found in this ridge is the Mitchelstown show cave, the wild part of which is supposedly well worth a visit if access can be obtained from the owner (he prefers small groups).  This trip as mentioned was my first outing with members of the CSG, a very elusive lot, who when eventually contacted turned out to be a real friendly bunch.  I had arranged to meet them at 11 pm on the Sunday morning.  Most cavers who have visited Ireland have probably noticed the laid back attitude to time, well in this respect these people are the epitomy of Irishness. They turned up at 12 noon and told me this was early!.  Any rate we set off and after getting lost outside of Mitchelstown eventually ended up asking a local farmer for directions.  The man put us right but also added that he had large depressions on his land and asked us if we would take a look and see if there was any cave potential.  He said if there was he would use his JCB to dig the holes out (IR£ signs and show caves could be seen floating in front of his eyes).

The cave entrance to Pollskeheenarinky turned out to be a real classic.  It consisted of an old Wolsey!!.  To go into the cave you opened the back-door, clambered over the front seat and plopped out of the drivers door.  It was put there to stop cows falling down the entrance pitch.  This cave is a real entertaining trip, it is very similar to Mendip caves as throughout the cave the bedding plane slopes away steeply.  A small pitch, lots of scrambling, bridging, crawling and pretty bits, well worth a visit.

Back at work there were a few people showing interest in going caving so we decided to have a short caving trip locally.  Beaumont quarry cave was ideally situated in that it is within the bounds of Cork city.  The trip turned out to be good fun but realistically the cave is a short, smelly, well trodden hole.  This description contrasts completely with Tony Oldhams description in Caves of Co. Cork as small but interesting.  The only small but interesting bit in my opinion was a small pool at the end of the cave which might have potential.  The length of the cave is 400 feet.  When subsequently chatting to some members of CSG they informed me that this pool was just a mud pit that occasionally fills at times of high rainfall.

My next Co. Cork caving trip was down Carricrump quarry caves, these are near Cloyne, south-east of Cork. These eight caves run parallel with the quarry face and it seems that a lot of the system has been quarried away. Just into the entrance of the most easterly cave is quite a deep lake which I think has been dived by some British CDG members quite recently.  The caves are quite entertaining and much more fun in a wetsuit.  There are a few pretty bits, lots of traversing (if you want to stay dry) and some amusing climbs (most of the caves are water floored). My next jaunt with CSG was to Carrigtwohill Quarry Caves approximately 5 miles east of Cork city.  This is where CSG had their most recent breakthrough (last year).  The new cave Carriagtoughil A Do was found in the adjacent quarry to the old Carrigtwohill cave when some brambles were cleared away.  This clearing up revealed a man size entrance leading to a classic Cork caving trip.  The cave hasn't been fully explored yet!  Lots of crawling, scrambling and mud and quite a few formations to gawp at on the way.  The old Carrigtwohill quarry cave is well worth a visit and has numerous attractive bits. The CSG has a fair number of digs in these quarries and I think with some scouting around there is quite a lot to be found.  Another classic Cork caving trip which I haven't been able to do yet, is Cloyne cave.  This is the longest known cave in Cork and from the old survey (a 1990 survey is in the process of being published) is a maze of passages.  Most of the caves that have been found in Cork seem to be in quarries, there is quite a bit of potential about the place as the density of cavers is fairly thin on the ground (there are about five active CSG members).  A CSG member invited me up to north Co. Cork the other day to look at a potential cave site on a farmers land.  The farmer had told him that there was a stream disappearing into a hole and reappearing two miles away, would he go out and have a look?  We were planning to go up on Sunday but due to a job callout we couldn't go.  Hopefully next weekend.

 

Anyway. if any cavers fancy a look around the area maybe on the way to County Clare or whatever I could provide some information and Cork contacts (not forgetting Irish fiddly music and a good pint of Guinness) and would be interested in any trips planned. I can be contacted at either.

University College Cork, Zoology Dept. Postgraduate laboratory, or by writing

Jane Evans, Cork, EIRE


 

Ex Climbing Secretary Reports

Kangy

Ice climb up Priddy Slitter in mid-February, exit from gully onto snow field and dramatic views across Sunny Somerset Level.

Strung out like washing on a line on Glydr Fawr in blizzard beginning of March.  Escaped to be strung out by last minutes of England/Ireland rugby match on radio.

Classic climb "Wil O' the Wisp.  Craig Cywark, Arran.  Hot spring sun, warm rock, shirts off, balmy breeze.  Exhilaratingly unexpected easy line stepping up through the overhang amongst V.S. mess.  Then pioneering scramble following diagonal line up heathery buttress to ridge to summit. Heaven will be like this!

Nullarbor Expedition

Steve Milner is organising a trip to the 12km+ Old Homestead Cave in the Nullarbor Desert, Australia at the end of September 1991. Anyone interested in going can contact him at: - Eden Hills, Australia

 


 

Mendip Rescue Organisation

Cave Rescues and Incidents for the Year ending 31st December 1990

A year of bric-a-bac with only three actual cave rescues requiring underground parties. The following table lists all sixteen call-outs received through the Police; half being for overdue parties, mostly for good reasons and needing action.

Sat

13th

Jan

Thrupe Lane Swallet

1

Fall, broken leg

(15)

un

4th

Feb

Cheddar Cliffs

2

Fallen cows trapped

( -)

Sun

11th

Mar

Sally Rift, Warleigh Woods

1

Missing body, search

( -)

Sun

1st

Apl

Read's Cavern

2

Lost, trapped, light failure

( 8)

Sat

28th

Apl

Longwood Swallet

?

Overdue party

( -)

Thu

31st

May

Swildon's Hole

?

Overdue party

( -)

Mon

16th

Jul

Eastwater Cavern Entrance

1

Fallen cow trapped

( -)

Mon

23rd

Jul

Shute Shelve Cutting

?

Crashed motorcycle

( -)

Sun

19th

Aug

Swildon's Hole

?

Overdue party

( -)

Fri

31st

Aug

Swildon’s Hole

?

Overdue party

( -)

Sun

2nd

Sep

Alert

1

Hospitalised climber

( -)

Sat

6th

Oct

G.B. Cavern

?

Overdue party

( -)

Sat

6th

Oct

Swildon's Hole

1

Dislocated shoulder

( 7)

Wed

24th

Oct

Swildon's Hole

1

Fall, injured ankle

( -)

Wed

24th

Oct

Spar Pot, East Twin

?

Overdue party

( -)

Wed

31st

Oct

Dallimore's Cave

?

Presumed overdue

( -)

The figures in brackets to the right show the numbers of cavers going underground on the rescue incidents.  This data has been required for insurance purposes in the past.  It is worth noting that insurance cover is not provided for people involved on the surface nor when recovering trapped animals.  The following log of each call-out has been compiled from the notes made by the wardens in control.  Full details are given as MRO believes that it can be misleading to simplify the causes.

Saturday 13th January                            Thrupe Lane Swallet

Martin Scott, aged 28, from Aylesbury descended to the bottom of the cave with a well equipped and experienced party of six from a geophysical research firm in the Swindon area.  He had done the least caving before and it was his first time on long ladder pitches underground.  On ascending Atlas Pot at about 2.30 p.m., he fell about twenty feet onto a fortuitous ledge and broke his leg.  He also damaged a wrist.  The lifeline only slowed his fall because the incorrectly rigged Stitch Plate belay gave way under the strain.

One of the party left the cave to raise the alarm through Mrs Butt.  Yeovil Police alerted Brian Prewer at 3.30 p.m.  Dany Bradshaw and rescuers from both the Belfry and Upper Pitts were called.  All left for the cave with basic equipment.  Richard West was contacted at 3.35 p.m. to take over surface control and organise further rescuers and hauling gear.  Dr Tony Boycott was informed.  Eric Dunford set up communications links between the surface and underground parties with Brian Prewer.

Rescuers entered the cave at 4.15 p.m.  Dany Bradshaw, Nick Williams, Dave Hilder, Pete Evans, Mike Wilson, Jeremy Henly, Richard Blake, Richard Stevens, Chris Harvey, Nick Gymer and Sara McDonald carried in the First Aid and hauling equipment.  Duncan Frew and Pete Hann went down with the Grunterphone.  The patient was reached by about 4.40 p.m. and communication established soon afterwards. Tony Boycott and Rob Harper were accompanied underground by Tony Jarratt at 4.50 p.m.

The patient was found to be in fair condition and able to do a lot to help himself.  However, he was large and so a long haul out was anticipated. A back-up team assembled outside the farm comprising Stewart McManus, Nigel Taylor, Tim Large, Trevor Hughes and Ian Caldwell.  Richard Witcombe and Clive North turned up and opened their diggers' hut as a refuge. Soups were heated at the Belfry by Anne West, Hilary Wilson and Glenys Grass then ferried to the cave by Helen Harper and Joss Large.  Further rescuers stood by at the Belfry and their homes.  The local Police provided flood lights on the road.  Nick Woolf of the Ambulance service attended so that his crews could be radioed when needed rather than waste valuable time hanging around. A freelance reporter turned up and was given the basic facts by Jim Hanwell.

Martin Scott was reported as being at the top of Atlas Pot by 5.55 p.m.  He reached the head of Perseverance Pot at 6.55 p.m. and was out of the cave by 7. 40 p.m.  The ambulance left for the Royal United Hospital, Bath, five minutes later.  Those left to clear up managed to make the Hunters just before closing time!  When a lot of gear is used, it takes a long time to clear up.  Many useful lessons were learnt from this incident and Martin's "thank you" letters soon afterwards were much appreciated.

Sunday 4th February                 Cheddar Cliffs

Two yearling cows belonging to Cheddar farmer Ian Cambridge slipped down the cliffs behind the Wishing Well Tea Rooms at the bottom of the Gorge and became trapped in the 15 ft by 3 ft slot between the buildings and bluff.  Cheddar Fire Brigade were first alerted and suggested calling MRO.  The farmer concerned lets his animals roam, much to the annoyance of some villagers.  Cavers have helped before by recovering his goats off cliffs.

Taunton Police requested assistance from Brian Prewer at 9.30 a.m.  A team comprising Fred Davies, Nigel Taylor, Dany Bradshaw, Chris Harvey, Graham Wilton-Jones, Chris Smart, Martin Grass and Stuart Lain went to the scene with hauling tackle.  By cunning use of bales of straw and ropes, the reluctant yearlings were lifted onto the flat roof, tied to metal farm gates and lowered down a pre-constructed ramp to the open road.  The task was completed by 12.30 p.m., and everyone seemed happy, save for one ungrateful beast who shat upon Nigel for his trouble!  No "thank you" has been forthcoming from the farmer either.

Sunday11th March                                 Sally Rift, Warleigh Woods

The Police at Bath were checking out the possibility that the body of the missing woman, Ruth Stevens, was somewhere in these woods near Bathford.  Old stone mine workings associated with Sally Rift occur in the area and Bob Scamnell volunteered to check the known sites.  He was accompanied by Nick McCamley, Derek Hawkins and John Greenslade.  

A thorough two-hour search of every old shaft and rift was undertaken but nothing untoward found.

Sunday 1st April                                    Read’s Cavern

Eleven members of the Golders Green venture scouts from London descended the cave at about mid-day.  The suitably equipped party was led by Jim Rands and supported by Dave Morrison; both highly experienced members of the Wessex Cave Club. On reaching the Main Chamber, several then decided to return to the surface and were escorted out.  Whilst this was happening, Pete Wilkinson, Julia Waxman and Samira Abbas, aged seventeen, decided to explore Zed Alley without telling anyone.  Wilkinson was unable to follow the two slim girls when they forced several squeezes beyond the boulder ruckle.  He stayed to guide their return to the ruckle, but then left the cave ahead. For some reason, the girls did not follow.  Once out of earshot, they became lost and scared.

The missing pair failed to surface behind Wilkinson and he was unable to describe where he had left them. Jim Rands made a rapid search of the regular routes in vain.  He requested help and Brian Prewer received the call from Yeovil Police at 4.15 p.m. Nigel Taylor was contacted at Langford and reached the cave to establish surface control by 4.45 p.m.  Rescuers from Priddy had to run the gauntlet of heavy holiday traffic in Burrington Combe.

Pete Hann, Ian Marchant, Tony Deacon and Jim Rands went into the cave at 4.48 p.m. to search Zed Alley as now the most likely location for the missing pair given the earlier search by Jim.  Brian Prewer, Andy Sparrow and Martin White arrived shortly afterwards in support and communications were established with the Belfry through Stewart McManus and Chris Harvey should further rescuers and equipment prove necessary.  Andy and Martin went down the cave at 5 p.m. to check out the less likely Browne-Stewart Series.

The missing girls were soon located at the bottom of the boulder ruckle and reported to be well but rather cold and frightened at 5.15 p.m.  They were given food and drinks to boost their morale.  Alison Moody arrived at 5.25 p.m. and stood by.  All were safely out of the cave by 6.12 p.m. Needless to say, those concerned showed their gratitude in many ways, not least back at the Hunters!

Saturday 28th April                                Longwood Swallet

Yeovil Police contacted Fred Davies at 11.22 p.m. to say that a woman from Keynsham had reported an overdue party.  She described the car being used.  Brian Prewer was asked to drive to Longwood to check whether the cavers were still underground.  Other rescuers, including Stewart McManus, were stood by at Priddy.

No car was found at Longwood.  Meanwhile, the informant contacted the Police again at 11.40 p.m. to say that all the party had returned home.  After all, it takes about forty minutes to reach Keynsham from Mendip after closing time!

Thursday 31st May                                Swildon’s Hole

Brian Prewer was contacted by Yeovil Police at 1.45 a.m.  They reported that a party from Beaminster, Dorset, was overdue from a trip to Sump One as they had been expected home at 11.30 p.m. The girlfriend of one of the cavers had raised the alarm from a call box in Dorset but could provide no further information.

Leaving the Police to try and obtain more details about any vehicles used, Brian went to check for any parked on the greens in Priddy.  All likely places were empty.  The Police were told later that the caver concerned had got home at 2.36 a.m.  It takes even longer to reach Beaminster from Mendip after closing tine, of course!

Monday 16th July                                   Eastwater Cavern Entrance

Mrs Dorothy Gibbons rang Brian Prewer for assistance to retrieve a heifer stuck in a narrow gully on the cliffs above the cave entrance.  He requested help from Fred Davies, Andy Sparrow, Pete Moody and a party staying at the Belfry, including Ray Mansfield with a visiting Czechoslovakian couple.  By chance, the husband, Jan Sencer, was a vet!

Mr Gibbons and his family had managed to get a heavy rope around the animal's neck to a JCB on the cliff top.  The heifer did not like this.  Being more familiar with such problems in Czechoslovakia, no doubt, Jan descended the cliff and succeeded in getting a tape halter over the head with help from Fred.  Two more tape slings were passed around the front legs. Jan’s wife acted as interpreter for the hauling instructions, given in Czechoslovakian, for which we do not have much call on Mendip.

The heifer was soon lifted about 10 feet to safety suffering from surprise, a few cuts and bruises, and a lame leg.  But it did not shit on anyone, which is a great compliment to Jan's "bedside" manner and expertise.  Mr and Mrs Gibbons were especially grateful and appreciative.

Monday 23rd July                                   Shute Shelve Cutting

Brian Prewer received a call from Taunton Police at 5 p.m. requesting assistance to investigate a crashed motorcycle.  It had been abandoned in the disused railway cutting on its approach to the old tunnel between Axbridge and Winscombe and was lodged in bushes about 30 feet above a sheer cliff.  There was the possibility that an injured rider was in the vicinity below.

Brian, Nigel Taylor, Rich West and Dany Bradshaw went to the scene with ropes.  Nigel abseiled to the motorcycle and attached a hauling line for it to be pulled up by the others.  No person was found and the incident was over by 7 p.m.

Sunday 19th August                   Swildon’s Hole

Ian Butcher rang Brian Prewer at 1 a.m. to say that a party was overdue by about four hours according to the notice board in the Shepton Mallet Hut.  A group from Guildford had not returned there.  After making enquiries, it was discovered that the party had been based elsewhere on Mendip.  They had only called in at the Shepton Hut on their way to the cave, but left directly for Guildford without cancelling their notice!  The Police were not informed of this incident.

Friday 31st August                                 Swildon’s Hole

Force Control in Bristol alerted Brian Prewer at 5.45 p.m. to an overdue party of Wiltshire Police from Swindon that should have returned there at 4.30 p.m.  He checked out both village greens to see if the reported car being used by the cavers was still there.  It was not. At 6.45 p.m., the Police called again to say that they had got it wrong as the trip was to take place the next day!

Sunday 2nd September              Alert

A caver abseiling at Underwood (or "Split Rock") Quarry near Wookey Hole was concussed and so admitted overnight to Wells and District Hospital.  He was worried that other members of his group staying in the MCG Cottage at Nordrach might callout MRO when he failed to return there.  The Police were informed and they advised Brian Prewer of the situation.  Brian then contacted the cottage to let those concerned know what had happened.

Saturday 6th October                 G.B. Cavern

Yeovil Police contacted Brian Prewer just after midnight to report an overdue party expected out at least two hours earlier.  Shortly afterwards, the informant reported that the four cavers concerned had turned up. They had been delayed on entering the cave and then could not find a telephone box on getting out late.

Saturday 6th October                 Swildon' s Hole

The Police alerted Brian Prewer at 2.50 p.m.  Miss Ceili Williams, aged 24, was caving with an Oxford University Caving Club party and dislocated her shoulder in Barnes’ Loop.  Apparently, this had happened to her before, though not whilst caving.  A strong BEC contingent was called out from their AGM.  Dany Bradshaw, Bob Cork and Stewart McManus organised the underground team, Nigel Taylor stood by at the Belfry and Tim Large took over surface control on Priddy Green.  Dr Tony Boycott was asked to attend.

Pete McNab, Kevin Garner and Nick Gyner formed the advance party with First Aid, comforts, the baby-bouncer, lifeline and ladder.  They entered the cave at 3.10 p.m., only twenty minutes after receiving the callout. Tony Boycott and Graham Naylor closely followed them.  Dany Bradshaw, Bob Cork and Stewart McManus left at 3.32 p.m.  Wessex Cave Club diggers from Cow Hole arrived in support. Entenox was obtained from the Ambulance in attendance and Don Thomson provided a demand valve

At 4.15 p.m. a message was received that Tony Boycott had succeeded in relocating the shoulder and the patient was on the way out, mainly helping herself.  She surfaced at 4.51 p.m. and it was considered that no further treatment to her shoulder was required.

Wednesday 24th October                       Swildon’s Hole

Yeovil Police informed Brian Prewer at 10.25 p.m. that a report of an injured caver had been received. They had no further details of the injuries or of the location in the cave; so, the informant herself was sought out on Priddy Green.  She explained that John Swift from Weston-s­Mare had fallen at the Double Pots and injured his ankle.  There was some concern because the person hurt had a pace-maker.

A rescue party was assembled from the Hunters, including Dr Tony Boycott.  Many stood by.  On arriving at Priddy Green, they were confronted by the patient limping along the road.  A rapid about turn ensued!

Wednesday 24th October                       Spar Pot, East Twin

Brian Prewer was alerted by Yeovil Police at 11.40 p.m. because a party of three from the Swindon area had not returned when expected.  Nigel Taylor was raised to see if any car was still parked at East Twin in Burrington Combe.  None was found in a likely place.  At half-past midnight, the Police rang again to say that the party had returned safely to Wiltshire.  It appears that someone misunderstood the callout procedures.

Wednesday 31st October                       Dallimore’s Cave

The farmer at Ores Close Farm became concerned because a car belonging to cavers he knew, who had gone underground the previous evening at 7 p.m., was still at the farm sixteen hours later.  Yeovil Police informed Brenda Prewer just after 11 a.m. and she advised Brian at work in Wells.  Tony Jarratt was contacted and able to provide a simple explanation, much to everyone's relief.

Oxford University cavers had been surveying the new extensions to the system the previous evening, had come out late then returned very early the following morning to continue the task.  They had understandably not bothered the farmer in the small hours.  No further action was taken.

J. D. Hanwell Honorary Secretary and Treasurer Wookey Hole Wells


 

Under England's Mountains Green

The article that follows was lifted from The Florida Speleologist. Vol. 27, No.3, Fall, 1990

by William Sibley-Dem~ NSS 23516

I didn't think as we stepped on the plane that I would have many opportunities to get underground during my vacation this past August.  My wife Laura and I were married about a year ago, shortly before moving from Pennsylvania to the vast, still only partly explored karst landscape of Central Florida.  Now I was finally going to meet my in-laws, all of whom live in the south of England and none of whom are cavers.  The night I first met Laura, I showed her some of the photos that I helped Ed McCarthy and Carl Samples take in the big caves of West Virginia -- Friars Hole, Organ, Buckeye Creek.  She must have been impressed.  One of our first dates was a trip back to the waterfall in Casparis Cave (Fayette Co., PA).  She was unusually quiet inside.  While walking the mile back to the car, in the rain, she said "I've never felt so grotty in all my life".  She later confessed to being a bit claustrophic.  She married me anyway, and knew she was marrying a Caver.  We were married above ground.

Anyway, Laura hadn't been home to see her family in nine years, so we just figured on spending three weeks establishing (for me) and re-establishing (for her) family ties with no firm itinerary.  I did manage to do a bit of research on the side, though, and packed along a few recent issues of Descent and Caves and Caving.  Thus I was armed with addresses of caving clubs, in case I found myself near any caves with time on my hands.

Naturally, we spent a lot of our time relaxing in domestic surroundings with family and old (new) friends. We stayed with Laura's sister, Ann, who lives in Uckfleld, East Sussex, on the River Uck, which flows through the lovely South Downs into the Ouse (pronounced "ooze"). Here there are few proper caves -- mostly medieval storm drains, disused railway tunnels, mysterious prehistoric chalk mines and "deneholes", hermits' grottos, and the occasional 280 foot deep Roman well.  Many are associated with wonderful old legends (although, some times, it seems that smuggling must have been the primary industry at some point in history). All have been carefully mapped and documented by groups like the Chelsea Speleological Society ... whose defination of "caves" might be "circumscribed, air filled void, explorable (subterranean)" .

Actually there are a few solution caves in the chalk, including Beachy Head Cave with over 1,100 feet of crawlway, but these are rare and invariably small.  Cavers without caves will push anything dark though.  Growing up in Pennsylvania I found culverts under the highways that were pretty long.  We have a different dilemma here in Florida where unchecked sinkholes greatly outnumber cavers and it's hard to get a mapping party together to mop up a few sandy crawls in a known cave because of the lure of finding something like Briar Cave, The Catacombs, or Warren Cave under the next hole down the road.

The natives have been caving in Britain for a long time (King Arthur is rumoured to be waiting to make his reappearance in some hidden chamber and, who knows, Caesar may have toured some show caves after the invasion) and the easy discoveries have already been made.  Florida is new to speleology.  Our cave legends have to do with things like Johnny Weissmuller swimming into Ocala Caverns and coming up at Silver Springs during the filming of "Tarzan and the Lost City".  But to get back to my story.  Between hikes and day trips to sip wine in the shade of centuries-old oaks surrounded by roe deer near stately homes in the countryside, we learned to identify unfamiliar birds, go hedgehog spotting, play cricket, and spin on spinning wheels. Laura's sister Ann spins all of Paul McCartney's wool.  (He keeps sheep you know.)  Linda McCartney phoned one evening while we were there.

I got my first good look at limestone when we drove west to visit Laura's brother, Roy, in the quiet village of Combe Martin on the rugged north coast of Devon.  Here, under prehistoric tumuli-studded foggy moors, we found the remains of the ancient silver mines that some believe were first worked by the Phoenicians.  Be that as it may, we had a smashing time wandering about the coast with it's dramatically tilted Devonian (of course) Limestones and Shales thrusting into the crashing surf, picking up “cuttlebones”, and chatting with seaweed collectors.  There are a number of fine littoral caves in this area, reportedly much used by the old smugglers, but many are accessible only by boat.  There is one small entrance in Lester Point that is easily visible from the pebble beach of Combe Martin Bay.  It is not marked on the "Pathfinder' topographic map, or even listed in Tony Oldham's "The Complete Caves of Devon" (which I acquired for my library).  Roy describes it as a fine place in which to hide and surprise curious beachcombers, but high tide: prevented us exploring it ourselves.

I asked some older locals about a cave shown on the map half-way between the partly thirteenth century church and the old rectory on Clorridge Hill, but they said that the entrance had been covered up by recent construction.  I had no way of knowing at the time that just west of the village on top of Napp's Hill, above Golden Bay, is Napp's Cave -- the longest and most exquisitely decorated cave in the district -- full of unbroken helictites and big clusters of irregular branch-like aragonite crystals locally referred to as "flos-ferre".  Nor did I know that in Buckfastleigh, south-east of Dartmoor, is the William Pengelly Cave Studies Centre, situated on the edge of the greatest concentration of caves in Devon, some of which contain the richest deposits of interglacial mammalian remains yet found in Britain.  Oh well, I'll be better prepared next time.  On the way back to Sussex we drove right around the Mendip Hills that I had read so much about.  I remember pointing out the window and saying, "Somewhere over there is Wookey Hole, and Swildon's, and Eastwater."  No one with me knew what I was talking about.

Two thirds of our stay went by and I still hadn't gotten underground.  I was having trouble concealing the symptoms of "cave withdrawal syndrome" and hadn't even a lump of carbide to sniff.  I cleverly suggested a trip to the town of Wells to see the magical old cathedral and it's wells (springs).  I could at least touch some real cave water.  Also I knew that there was a caving shop nearby to which I could escape and talk cave with someone.  I rang up "Bat Products" as soon as we arrived and went over straight away. Outside was what once must have been a sort of Land Rover, but was now a vehicle shaped collection of cave bumper stickers and decals.  I knew I had found the right place.  Inside was Mr. Tony (J-Rat) Jarratt, Proprietor, Caver, and Model (he appears dynamically posed in exposure suits on many Bat Products adverts).  He looked to me like a dreamy­eyed Mitch Miller after a cold rinse cycle.  Tony was about to close up shop and head into the hills for the afternoon, but we chatted for a while and exchanged Bulletins.  I said I was going to wander around town for a bit with the family and he invited us up to the Hunters' Lodge, "the best pub in the Universe", to meet the rest of his brood -- the Bristol Exploration Club (BEC).

Caving Areas of Great Britain

After seeing the "wells", a resurgence in the garden of the Bishop's Palace in the shade of the great cathedral, we made our way to Cheddar Gorge with its fine limestone cliffs and show caves.  We found it a busy place full of tourist types, but a good opportunity to get our whole party underground.  Gough's Cave is nicely lit, well decorated, and tastefully guided by disembodied voices. Later, we retreated to the top of Cheddar Gorge (a perfectly wizard spot for knadgering about) to picnic and "down a few tubes".

We arrived at the infamous Hunters' Lodge Inn, Priddy, shortly after it opened for the evening. We found it surrounded by all manner of caving vehicles and at the centre of a migration of slightly damp-looking shapes on foot coming over the hilltops from all points.  Inside it was practically standing (crawling or chimneying) room only.  Over the fireplace hung a collection of carbide lamps, above the bar a row of tankards with Bertie the Bat Insignias on their well worn sides.  From one room seemed to radiate the unmistakable sounds of Morris Dancing to fiddle -- but this may have been hallucination or mass hysteria caused by the dense concentration of cavers.  

The first order of business was, of course, to obtain from the barman (also a caver) a pint of the best -- "Butcombe Bitter" -- a spunky, aggressive bit of foam that rewards repeated, if not continual consumption.

We soon found Tony, who took us round to meet the remaining members of the BEC (whose mottos are "Everything to Excess" and "The BEC Get Everywhere") the Wessex Cave Club (who seem to have just come from a tea party), the Shepton Mallet Cave Club, the CSS, MCG, and MNRC, etc.  All flock to the Hunters' when not digging in the dark.  Digging and singing are common amongst cavers on Mendip, digging in shakeholes and crawlways because most caves and nearly all new finds were first entered that way, and singing mostly in the Hunters' Lodge after being revitalized by a healthy dose of Butcombe's.  Sadly, this is slowly declining (the singing not the drinking). Storytelling is alive and well amongst cavers everywhere, and I took my turn telling of adventure under West Virginia and Florida.  At one point someone said, "Have we got a trip for you!", and it was proposed that I accompany the BEC the following morning on a descent of Saint Cuthbert's Swallet to remove the inadequate pump from Sump Two.  It sounded a sporting trip and hardly one to be passed up.  Laura had no reservations about leaving me in such hands and she soon departed for Southampton with friends.  I hadn't planned on an overnight stay and so was without so much as a toothbrush or change of clothes.

After exhausting the Pubs's consumables, we retired to the Belfry, the "hut" that the BEC maintains as their digs.  It is one of six such club headquarters on Mendip that stand ready to accommodate any number of local cavers and visitors.  I rode over with Tony; listening to Vivaldi Concertos under an incredibly stary sky.  The Belfry is easily recognized as the building with the human skeleton mounted as if climbing the flag pole from which hangs a red bat flag, perpetually at half-mast.  Inside were benches and bunks for dozens of troglophiles, an extensive library and communications centre, kitchen; shower, and meeting room with decorated by show caves 'round the world, and many appropriate (if sometimes out of context) signs and warnings like "It is forbidden to climb on these walls", and a caution about explosive bolts on the toilet seat.  One wall sported a partially completed heroic mural depicting intrepid twentieth century explorers in characteristic poses (Butcombes' in hand). Altogether comfortably like a well­equipped West Virginia Fieldhouse.

The Belfry

Tales were told and I learned much about the local style, which occasionally includes the judicious art of passage modification in the interest of science and exploration -- with explosives.  The euphemisms have only begun to be catalogued: Bang, Wonder Hammer, Chemical Encouragement or Persuasion, Boulder Laxative, etc. Some told stories of great doings in the huge, Welsh systems.

Apparently a few industrious individuals have spent up to two months a year underground (in ten day stretches) pushing and digging in caves under Mynydd Llangattwg.  I brought out my best snaps (yes, I am never without my briefcase) and entertained with tales of Florida Safari Style Caving - about being chased by Cape Buffalo into caves only to run into trogloxenic alligators in close quarters.  Eventually, the sound of an empty barrel being thumped signalled the time for a period of unconsciousness before the morning's activities.

The Mendip Hills upon which we slept consist of four great domes that have been eroded to form a gently rolling plateau almost 100 square miles in area and about 800 feet high on average.  A few valleys and gorges (as at Cheddar) are incised into the rim.  Virtually all drainage is subterranean.  In the steeply-dipping limestone, this has produced a profusion of caves typified by precipitous tight rifts, wet pitches, high gradient roaring streamways, and lower down, sumps requiring SCUBA or, in some cases, extraordinary bravado.  The local chemistry provides for a plethora of calcitic - enhancement in many a stal-covered grotto.

 “ England’s Mountains Green" have been a bit brown of late due to two consecutive years of unprecedented drought.  The drought has eased the cavers' labours somewhat, but certainly didn't dry up these caves completely, as I would soon find out.

Everyone was up at a surprisingly decent hour (for cavers) and there commenced a quiet flurry of preparatory activity as trips were registered on the blackboard with their estimated times of emergence.  Tony appeared with a lovely selection of gear to equip me with.  I crawled into my grots and kit, all of which miraculously fit perfectly, and fortunately did not include a weighty pair of "wellies". I had dreaded the prospect of being presented a pair of Wellingtons and having to cave/climb in what I imagined to be something like fireman's boots.  I had somehow managed to never have been caving in a wet suit, and I knew this was the time to try it.  I am thin and used to Florida's temperatures.  Kitted up (and looking fairly butch in black foam) we walked the short distance to the vertical cement pipe that marks the only entrance to Saint Cuthbert's Swallet (dramatic chord here).

Mural in progress  BEC Belfry

St. Cuthbert's is a far too recent discovery for the seventh century monk to have been involved in its penetration.  Actually, apart from my own cleverly forged mock manuscript, there is no evidence that he was a caver at all, although he did excavate a partially underground home for himself on the Isle Faroe during one of his antisocial periods.  The cave is named for the ancient St. Cuthbert's Lead Works which lie above it.  This mine is thousands of years old and may actually have been a significant factor in the Romans' decision to invade Britain.  It probably supplied the lead plumbing, for the famous Roman spa in the nearby town of Bath. Later, in 1927, the sudden disappearance of the sizeable, St. Cuthbert's Pool, and the occurrence of a large collapse ten years later confirmed for modern explorers the suspicion that significant passage lay below.

Digging began in the 1940's and was finally rewarded when the entrance series was breached in 1953 to reveal the most complex cave system on Mendip.  At over 2,200 feet, it is second in length only to Swildon's Hole. Major discoveries came fairly regularly through the '50's and '60's with the once terminal sump, (Sump One), being conquered in 1969.  A map of known passage was published in 1972.  Subsequent work has been on the production of a CRG Grade 6d survey, forming the basis of the soon to be published "Saint Cuthbert's Report", and a determined effort to, pass Sump Two.  This is a major project, involving the construction of a system of dams in the streamways to lower the water in the sump where divers have been digging for ten years in a slurry of mud and water.  Periodically, the pent-up water is released all at once to flush through the sump.  The water that St. Cuthbert's swallows reappears in Wookey Hole, a mile or more to the south.  Our task on August 27, 1990 was to descend and effect a removal of the inadequate and mud choked pump from Sump Two and to and be back to the surface before the pub closed for the afternoon.

Unlike a trip into Swildon's, the going gets easier the deeper you go in the St. Cuthbert's system, but that makes for a good bit of sport at the top.  Waiting your turn to climb down the pipe, you can't help noticing that the exposed limestone outcrop dips at about a 45 degree angle. You can follow that line a long way down in your imagination.  The fifteen foot climb through the pipe is an abrupt transition to the underground environment.  Within moments we were presented with our first (and later our - last) obstacle, the Entrance Rift.  Those ahead of me disappeared into a narrow crack in the bottom of a small chamber and called up when they were though.  A shadowy face told me where the best place to start was.  I climbed down and slipped myself into the 30 foot deep vertical slot.  A cable ladder hung to one side but was of little use, there simply was no room to climb. Sandwiched between well worn walls, the dilemma was not how to go down, but how to go down at some controlled rate. Every conceivable body surface was used in a sort of ropeless body rappel, the most interesting part being the narrow middle section where there was hardly enough room to flex my legs to form a wedge.  This can get a bit dodgy when a lot of water is cascading down the crack.  Everyone wonders on their first trip down how they will fair going against gravity on their way out.  Being in close contact with the walls reminded me how cold, dark, and hard limestone can be, not at all like the porous, white, rock I had gotten used to after caving for a year in Florida.  Clambering rather awkwardly, for the first time in a wet suit, over and through boulder ruckle quickly brought me to a 25 foot drop and the first of four heavy steel ladders that have been put into place with what must have been great effort.

It is not common practice on Mendip to fill wild caves with mechanical contrivances of convenience, nor is St. Cuthbert's being made into a sort of show cave.  The cave is almost unheard of outside Britain and because of its complexity and difficulty is in near pristine condition and not much trafficked.  Access is carefully controlled by the BEC on behalf of the landowners.  Trips are limited to small groups of experienced explorers led by one of about 25 designated leaders.  The construction of semi-permanent ladders on a few of the many pitches near the entrance was deemed acceptable to facilitate the difficult ongoing project of exploration and mapping in this complex system.  I am told I am probably the only person to have made a trip into St. Cuthbert's Swallet as my first trip underground on Mendip.

We decided in the breakdown-littered Arête Chamber to forego the "New Route" with it's impressive but time consuming 60 foot abseil of Pulpit Pitch and took the quicker "Old Route" through an exhilarating (and somewhat disorienting) sequence of climbs and traverses.  I nearly lost my sense of direction -- except for one: we were going downwards, relentlessly and precipitously.  The "Wire Rift" began as a narrow canyon going straight down­dip, and is traversed on steep damp ledges.  "This will be a bit of exercise on the way out", I thought.  Then I was chimneying out over the deep dark space of the Waterfall Pitch and Wet Pitch (where there used to be a steel wire for a handline) and appreciating the occasional word of advice on what not to do from my guides up ahead.  A few horizontal moves and a climbdown brought us to the ladder into Mud Hall, where routes again diverge in many directions.  We elected to climb up into the Pillar Chamber, well hung with stal and featuring a splendid calcite column.  From there an interesting climb-down through a slot took us through some low passage that was soon deepened by a vadose trench.  Where it widened again, we stopped to drink from a cold tin cup that is left under a trickle of fresh falling water.

I paused to look around and realized that we had emerged into a large breakdown room.  This was the top of the Boulder Chamber, one of the largest rooms in the cave, and we were taking a break under Kanchenjunga, a mountain of a block of stone that had come to rest on the floor.  The Belfryites enjoyed pointing out to me the many openings that we had passed that led off to extensive series of passage networks.  The Boulder Chamber is a major central landmark for exploration in all directions.  We had made good time so far, so they decided to show me a few of the nearby sights. On the south side of the room we approached the "Cascade", an immense wall of pure white, convoluted organ-pipe type flowstone about a hundred feet high!  Not far away I climbed up a slope into the bottom of a room whose decorated walls rose high out of sight.  I crouched directly beneath an amazing display of dripstone draperies, 'many at least 20 feet long and possibly the finest collection of calcite curtains in the U.K.  Nowhere did I see even a single formation broken by carelessness or malice.

Exiting the bottom of Boulder Chamber past "Everest", another huge block, brought us finally to the Main Stream. This meanders for a few hundred feet beneath the Rabbit Warren Series to Stalagmite Pitch.  We avoided the 25 foot drop by chimneying down between flowstone walls and crawled into Sewer Passage -- a low gradient muddy section of streamway. Here another stream adds itself to the flow, the passage turns south and becomes a nice rift that is soon nearly blocked by massive flowstone, which we climbed to enter the Beehive Chamber with it's namesake, a 20 foot high stalagmitic mound.  On the far side of the room we climbed a smooth rounded stal slope with the aid of a heavy chain anchored at the top and was rewarded with one of the most dramatic vistas St. Cuthbert's has to offer.  We stood on the brow of the Great Gour of Gour Hall -- a monstrous rimstone dam 20 feet high!  Above rose a high Aven [dome] almost filled with formations.  Below, the awesome cascade of calcite plunged steeply into the Great Gour Rift, a high stream washed canyon stretching straight into the darkness beyond.

Dwarfed by proportion gone mad, we carefully descended the face of the Great Gour and set off, splashing down the echoing canyon.  The cold water deepened as we approached a dam constructed across the stream to increase the airspace through the once impenetrable Sump One.  We left the rapidly diminishing rift and entered a cobbly crawl on hands and knees for the first time in the frigid water.  This became a flat-out crawl through the sump with a comfortable amount of air space.  Far from the warm daylight above we arrived in the impressive High Rift Passage of St. Cuthbert's 2 -- the world beyond the sump.

I was assured as we splashed and occasionally swam through delightful, high, gently sloping clean canyon that so far no one had as yet encountered alligators in the remote wet passages beyond Sump One.  I was much relieved because at this point my hands were really too numb for wrestling with giant reptiles.  Our progress was occasionally slowed by crawls in the streambed under flowstone chokes and: sporting climbs down waterfalls to invigorating plunges into deep pools.  Swimming became the most common means of travel as we approached the Aswan High Dam -- an impressive bit of work and quite a feat of shoestring engineering this far down.  A scramble over the wall of the dam to get out of the chilling water and we reached the now terminal Sump Two, that even today is being silted up by particulate debris washed down from the ancient lead works nearly 500 feet above on the surface.

 

Maps taken from: Mendip Underground: A Caver's Guide, 1977; Mendip Pub., Somerset, England

The relative inactivity while work was completed at the terminal pool was enough to set me to shivering once or twice despite the well-fitted wet suit (and they say the water in Welsh caves is twice as cold!).  This crew would just love skinny dipping in Blue Canyon or Briar Cave, I thought.  It wasn't long before the pump was out and we were retracing our steps, swims, crawls, and climbs, toward the surface so far above. Behind each dam, some poor sod was talked into diving down to pull the plug, to the sound of much cheering and applause just audible above the thunderous din of the escaping water.  Out of the blue (actually black) I heard, "How about a game of catch then?", and we began passing an American football back and forth to liven up the long swims in the downstream end of the cave.  I never did find out where the pigskin appeared from, or whether this was a traditional Mendip pastime or something planned to help me feel at home.

A few of us stayed in the stream passage up past the Boulder Chamber to climb the thinly-bedded walls of the Water Shute toward the Pulpit Pitch on the " New Route".  The drop itself not being rigged, we back-tracked to a climb up into Mud Hall and the beginning of the return thrutch up the steep ledges of the Wire Rift -- the sort of not quite vertical caving, requiring no SRT, that is common on Mendip but rare in my own personal experience.  I was probably mildly hypothermic and less efficient in my climbing than the Bellfryites ahead of me.  I know I was fighting the unfamiliar restrictive wet suit and using my arms too much.  I'm sure that I lagged behind the advancing column at times, but was never without a patient route finder.  The occasional rigid steel ladder provided a welcome means of expeditious vertical progress. From the Arête Chamber, we took a quick break before the final push to day light, and went over to peer down the 60 foot Pulpit Pitch for one last glimpse into the depths.

My friends in the BEC won't forgive me if I don't admit to being suitably knackered as I looked up the long anticipated final effort of the Entrance Rift.  Once in the slot, I managed a sort of halting abrasive wriggle by alternately advancing my knee caps, shoulder blades, and chin against the rock, with periodic gropes for the cable ladder.  Halfway up I heard the sound of approaching water as the flood gates at the entrance were opened to provide a final bit of interest.  A slow blur of cold stone and hot sweat and my small momentum carried me right up the entrance pipe to birdsong and sunlight. It should here be recorded that during this particular trip down St. Cuthbert's, not a single living alligator was spotted by any living member of the team in any passage whatever ... again. [Lest this reference to alligators seem odd to some readers the editor notes that the author has a very disconcerting habit of confronting large vertebrates, both above and belowground.  Anyone who can find an African Cape Buffalo in Levy County, Florida could find alligators in England. Ed.]

Back at the Belfry we untrussed our grots, stowed our kit, and without even towelling off, sped straight to the Hunter's for pints of Butcombe's and plates of Faggot and Peas. That afternoon I spent rooting about amongst the ruins of the old lead works and reading "The Caver's Tale" by Geoffrey Chaucer.  (Sorry. Actually, I found out that Thomas Hardy did write a novel about caving: "Our Exploits at West Poley" -- a children’s book and certainly not one of his best efforts).  We all found ourselves later at the Hunter's (of course) for an evening of balladry and the telling of stories about doing everything to excess - everywhere.  After spending a restful night in my choice of bunks high in the Belfry, I re-entered the one set of clothes I had with me (now a slightly different colour), dropped a handful of pounds in the collection box (the BEC doesn't charge enough for lodgings), and went down to Bat Products for a chat with Tony before leaving to join Laura and her family.

If the boys at the Belfry accept my invitation to cave with the FSS in central Florida, they will almost certainly "Get Everywhere".

The best of luck in their digs, dives, etc. and innumerable thanks to Tony Jarrett and all the members of the Bristol Exploration Club who spared not a jot in showing me the depth of hospitality extended to cavers from around the world in the huts on Mendip. I hereby authorize the Editor of the "Belfry Bulletin" to utilize as he sees fit any or all of this essay and its illustrations if he is in need of filler.  I apologize for the occasional, very American use of the exclamation mark (!) which he may delete with my permission.  I am currently at work composing a symphonic suite entitled "An American on Mendip" with lots of nifty parts for pewter percussion, which I plan to premier at the Hunter's Lodge Inn during my next visit to Mendip. With the help of Saint Cuthbert, it will be soon.