The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: John Williams

Cover: Original Artwork by Robin Gray

 

1994 - 1995 Committee

Hon. Sec.                Nigel Taylor
Treasurer                 Chris Smart
Caving Sec.             Jeff Price
Hut Warden             Angie Cave
Tackle Master          Mike Wilson
Hut Engineer            Andy Cave
Membership Sec.     Richard Stephens
B.B. Editor               John Williams
Floating                   Estelle Sandford


 

Editorial

So here we are then, another club year comes to an end and this is the last B.B. of the present year and possibly my Swan song ... dependant on the outcome of the elections at the A.G.M.

The Sixtieth Jubilee is upon us and I wanted to make this somewhat of a souvenir/celebratory issue, hence as you will have noticed it is considerably larger than usual.  I wish I could always dedicate as much time to the B.B. and turn them out like this all the time but, alas, due to minor details like having to earn a living between issues, this is not always possible.

My thanks go to those of you who have provided articles for this, and other, issues and especially to those members who always manage to write up what they do ... it makes an editors life so much easier.  Robin Gray for the cover artwork.  J-Rat has provided me with some interesting historic stuff as well as self penned articles, Dr Newton is prolific (or is that prophylactic!!?) as ever and Tav let me have a copy of his Scottish article which is of interest due to B.E.C. participation.  Thanks are also due to Nick 'Chain Saw' Williams who managed to stop playing with his power tools long enough to type up Alex Smith's 'Vogi' article for me ... nice one Nick!  The accompanying photograph may give some of you ideas of how to deal with University Freshers caving parties!  (Not that we are cynical!)

Also included are articles from 'Pooh' and John Buxton recalling events from years gone by.

I have, by popular request, included the latest, up to date, membership list for reference purposes .... always handy to have each others phone numbers etc.

The B.E.C. has come a long way in 60 years both in terms of the size of the club and the degree of its members' exploits.  (Not to mention the trashing of the odd Belfry here and there!!)  It has seen the growth and development of serious international caving from Mendip, the birth of the Cave Diving Group (where the BEC is still very well represented), and also many 'characters' over the years, some of whom have passed on to the great pothole in the sky(?) and some of whom are still with us! (In body if not in mind .... but then a degree of insanity seems to have been a prerequisite for membership since the word go!).  The Club has always had a reputation for 'hard' caving (read into this what you will) and for my money is still right up there! There can't be many other organizations where the members go camping five miles underground for two weeks as their summer holidays!!!

There is a wealth of knowledge and experience within the club in just about every area of caving you care to mention, indeed some of our members' reputations precede them even on an international scale.

For my part I am now approaching my tenth year of membership and although in some terms this is a comparatively short period, I have gained much from the club in this time and partly due to this have been proud to serve on the committee, publish this here rag and represent the club at various functions.  (Although the MCG didn't seem to like me trying to set fire to the table at their dinner the other year - it can't have been that bad as they invited myself and Dick-Fred to sing for them this year).

So there we are, I hope that this edition is suitably celebratory, I think it spans the years quite nicely and seems befitting for this time, I only hope you, the membership, enjoy it.

As for me, it remains to be seen whether I shall be Editor again next year, I guess that's up to you ..... !

Thanks again to all those that have supported and helped me.

Good Caving .............. Jingles.


 

From the Belfry Table

The AGM and Sixtieth Jubilee Dinner is closing in on us at a fast rate of knots now, and at the time of writing (12/09/95) it is in fact under four weeks to go, so if you are going to attend as I hope you will, hurry up and submit your dinner requests as soon as possible, do not forget that I have to submit final numbers a week before the dinner this year.  One problem that you will all curse me for, is that the wine was not included as I had requested and thought negotiated, sorry, but that was beyond my control. Still at £16 it still is excellent value!

Well, about 160 of you missed last weekends "Working weekend'.  Where did you get to?  New plastic facia boards and much general work was again undertaken, but oh so few supporters!  Please remember it is your HQ, sorry to preach, but the club needs your effort as well. Never mind, there is always next time.

You will see by now that we are having an election, it is good to see that there are twelve keen candidates, it is perhaps a pity that with so many volunteers that only nine can be voted for, perhaps the fresh blood will get deserved support as well, or the AGM may even consider that if they were keen enough to stand, then the AGM is keen enough that they serve?  I make no apology for such heresy to the purists, but newer members must be supported as it is they who will run the club one day, and it is hard to get support if you are unknown to the club in general.  Remember to return your sealed ballot form with your club membership number on the open side, to me at my home address or bring it to the AGM by 10.30 am Saturday 7th. October 1995.

The B.E.C looks set to win the digging barrel this year, come on you diggers lets find those extra few passages to ensure victory is ours!

Response from the Life Members is coming in thick and fast, with a vast divergence of suggestions, roughly 25% have replied to a personal letter I sent to them.  All of you who have replied will receive a further reply from me in due course, (Election permitting?)  May I thank those whom have shown great kindness in sending donations to the club, and indeed who have bothered to reply so far.  Please remember we do not want you to resign your life membership, this will be honoured whatever the eventual outcome. I have received some very touching letters from far and wide, amongst these of particular note are those from Claire Coase, Peter Bloggs, Ken Dobbs, DaphneTowler, Alfie Collins, Bryan Scott, John & Val Ransom, Dizzie Thompsett-Clark, Stuart Tuttlebury, Kangy King and Tony Setterington.

The general suggestion that seems to be emerging is that the Life members might cease to receive a regular BB, and in its place receive an annual news-sheet or similar, perhaps I suggest, a bumper BB at Christmas time or thereabouts?  I also intend to pressure our insurers upon the ludicrous position of paying full rate per head on forty four not quite so active life members, sorry to any "Life Tigers" amongst you!

I also believe that we must now look at our overheads, and look to making economies where they can be made.  I firmly feel that there is a subscription ceiling that we cannot afford to break through, and at £24 per annum, we must be pretty close to that now!  It may be contentious, but we now regularly exchange "B.B"s with 29 other bodies.  If the "BB" only cost £1 each, which it doesn’t, and that included postage, it follows that it costs in excess of nearly £300 per year on the basis of ten issues.  In fact, the B.B often costs double that figure, so a sum of £500 - 600 is probably closer to the truth, and if you add the cost of the cheapest foreign postage at nearly £1.50 per issue, for the three foreign exchanges (Circa £45 per year postage) together with the cheapest postage rates for the remaining 26 exchanges (Although 50% are probably passed on by hand) you start to wonder if exchanges are really worth while.  My own personal view is that many of the UK club journals could be sourced by those who may want a particular article, having traced it through "CTS- Current titles in Speleology" or similar if required.  Is there really any solid financial point in keeping a full set of Wessex, Shepton, Axbridge, MCG etc journals in the club library when these can be inspected within a few yards or more from the Belfry at Source?  Please do not think that I have a down on the valiant efforts of those who arrange the exchanges, I just feel that the monies saved could be better employed in filling the library with some of the recent released and excellent books, instead of these journals, or saving costs altogether.

Anyway Food for Thought from the Belfry Table?   Very best wishes to you all,

Nigel Taylor, Hon.Sec.


 

The Return of 'Spike'

Hello again, bet you thought you’d heard the last of me eh??  No such luck, just because I decided to disappear for a few issues is no reason to think I was about to stop slinging the mud or stirring the Sh@t...(not that it needs stirring in these here parts!!)

So current affairs ’Chez Bertie’ ........ there was the working weekend recently where I am told a fair bit got done, food was consumed and people got pissed (most out of character I’m sure you'll agree.)  It would appear that this is the last one that will be organized by Andy Cave as he is off to Mexico with his good lady wife (DO WHAT??) and they are presently selling just about everything that they own in order to finance the trip. Somehow Mendip just won't be the same without them or their ‘laid back’ approach to life, the universe and everything.

Apparently there have been a few camps in Daren Cilau involving the aforementioned couple and also Ivan and Becca.  I have heard many tales regarding these latter twosome and I'm not sure what to believe at all, suffice to say I think Ivan now wants to sell a partly used Batman outfit!!  (Try singing the theme tune in his ear and see what happens!!)

I see Emma Porter (sometime scribe for this rag) managed to get a picture of herself in a compromising position at the cavers fair into the 'national’ caving press ...... I’m sure it was SRT - Em, but it looked very 'friendly' to me!!

Mike 'Mousetrap’ Willett has started gardening in Priddy.  Lord help us, not contented with digging in caves it seems he also has to try local gardens ..... no hope for the boy I am afraid.

There have been some interesting drawings appearing on the Belfry blackboard recently, seemingly on a weekly basis.  Far be it from me to name those responsible but I have to award ten out of ten for imagination (and Rhinoceros!)

Martin Grass seems to have bought himself a quarry to live in, arch conservationist that he is, though most people would settle for a house of some sort.  He has recently been seen trying to persuade anyone to partake of his home grown grapes.  (Yes that was GRAPES not Grass!!.. .. Geddit)

On a more serious front, there is soon to be an attempt on Wookey 25 by Mike Barnes, Pete Bolt et al. A team very well represented by BEC members.  A lot of preparation work has been done, including Mike practising emergency surfacing from -65m in Dorothea Quarry .... not really funny actually, but I can’t resist taking the P@ss out of him!!

Actually there’s tons more gossip to be had but I think I’d better leave it there as there are certain parts of my anatomy that I wish to remain connected to and I may be at risk if I continue further.  So I'll see you later .... but remember .... my eyes and ears are everywhere.

Spike


 

Extract From 'The Adventures Of Another Pooh'

By Dave Yeandle.

(coming to a bookshop near you soon.)

It began with a schoolboy trip to Burrington Combe, young lads wanting adventure, two or three of the boys had been caving before.  As i slithered through the muddy tubes of goatchurch and sidcot, i thought maybe i was going to be doing a lot of this caving.  It was as though something beyond my control wanted to draw me inwards away from the mundane world outside, and around the next corner, or through the next squeeze just to see what was there. But another part of me didn't want to do this new and frightening thing, in this strange world of total darkness and horrid mud; and wanted to turn round and hurry back to the warm sunshine. I kept following my friends though and when i was back home in Bristol, i was elated that i had overcome my fear and kept going. I knew that now i had an exciting world to explore.

My friend Russel Mines was a member of the Axbridge Caving Club and i joined too. Soon i was travelling over the Mendips with Stuart (Mac) Mcmanus and Tony Jarratt on motorcycles of dubious legality and mechanical soundness (Mac ran his on paraffin!!). We drank scrumpy and fell over a lot; which i suppose was a silly way to spend my paper round money.

One monday night in the Axbridge hut, Mac and i were without money and we wanted food and cider.  We were the only cavers left over from the weekend and we knew there was money in the little envelopes in the hut fees box.  I can't remember which one of us finally suggested that we borrow some hut fee money, anyway we rigged up a fishing device out of wire and a stick and soon became rich beyond measure!  We did write an iou on a piece of paper and posted it into the box. The club committee were very annoyed with us despite our owning up.

With Russel, Mac, Tony and other Axbridge members i did trips to most of the major Mendip caves. By now caving was the main thing in my life and i was getting ambitious.  I wanted to go to Swildons 12, to the bottom of the Berger and to go caving with my hero Mike Boon.

I heard that the BEC were the local hard men and so decided to join them to further my caving career. I had no idea how i was going to do this, though actually it happened very quickly.  My arrival at the Belfry was not auspicious.  I was dumped at the door, tied up and drunk, late at night by Mac, Tony Jarratt and other Axbridge members.  It seems that they got fed up of me always going on about joining the BEC and agreed that it was indeed a good idea.  Some say that i was tied up in barbed wire and minus my trousers.  I don't remember this myself and anyway Mac and Tony would not have been so mean.  (much!!) Another version of the story is that i was, in fact, tied to the milk churns at the end of the Belfry turnoff, i think this may have been on another occasion though.  I don't think the BEC liked me much at first and some of them wouldn't talk to me.  They let me make them tea in the Belfry and soon kind people like Alan Thomas, Chris (Zot) Harvey Colin Priddle, John Riley, Dave Irwin and Roy Bennett were taking me caving.  I became 'belfry boy'.

'The belfry boy'
Sung to the tune of sweet lorraine.
By pete (snab) mcnab.


Well i'm the belfry boy,
I'm every other bugger's favourite toy,
Oh how it always seems to give them joy,
To put me in bloody pain.

Oh how they treat me hard,
Kick me all around the belfry yard,
Lord, you ought to see how i am scarred,
From when they shoved me up the drain.

And when a member calls,
I dash inside so they can black my balls,
And splatter me around the belfry walls,
Till i've nearly gone insane.

They sit me in a chair,
Rub jam and marmalade in my hair,
I sit and smile as if i couldnt care,
But later hang my head in shame.

And then they all insist,
That i am something called a masochist,
Especially when they all come back pissed,
And want to play their silly games.

But now i sit and wait,
Because i'm glad to know that some day fate,
Will bring along a brand new inmate,
And then i'll kick the belfry boy.

Alan Thomas had been on expeditions to Greece with Jim Eyre, where they had bottomed the abyss of Provetina.  These were days of using ladders for big pitches and Alan ran BEC trips to Yorkshire where the objectives were usually pots with deep entrance pitches.  I was very excited when Alan agreed to take me on one of his northern trips.  I was piled into the back of his car with buster the dog and large tins of spam left over from some expedition.

Camping at Skirwith Farm we did Alum Pot, Marble Steps and Long Kin West.  I was very impressed with this Yorkshire pothollng, but my ladder climbing was abysmal and it took me more than 30 mins to be dragged up the 91m daylight pitch of Long Kin West.  Consequently i was banned from attempting the main shaft of Gaping Gill on ladders, which was the main objective of the visit.  I was very disappointed but managed to get to main chamber via Bar Pot.  I was awe struck by the huge dimensions of the main chamber area.  I decided i wanted to live in Yorkshire and do lots of this kind of caving.

Back on the Mendips in the Hunter's Lodge, i started to hear stories about the incredible revival of exploration in the Dales.  The relatively recent innovation of the wetsuit had enabled northern cavers to push the frontiers forward and Dave and Alan Brook were the most successful of a new generation.   Miles of new cave had been opened up by this legendary pair and members uf the University of Leeds Speleological Society (ULSA).   I had already decided that an academic career would best serve my caving amibitions; once i heard about ULSA my choice of universities was an easy one.

This did mean that i actually had to start to do some school work in order to get good A levels.  Zot had no faith in my plan.  “you are as thick as pig shit, how can you go to university?"  he had a point! I had narrowly avoided being kicked out of the sixth form for exam results worse than 10%.  I did start to work though and even topped caving for a few weeks prior to my a levels. To everybody's surprise and my parents' delight, i got into Leeds on a physics honours course.

Exams over, i settled down to a summer of caving in Austria and the Mendips with my BEC friends.  The Austrian trip was to the Ahnenschacht, lead and organised by Alan Thomas.  We explored several hundred metres of new cave, living mostly on spam and reconstituted mashed spud.  As usual, Alan didn't charge me for my share of the petrol.

I managed to combine moving north with a caving weekend.  There was a BEC trip to Lancaster Hole, so i threw in some extra clothes and one or two text books with my caving gear and got a ride north with Martin Webster. After the trip he dropped me off in Skipton and i travelled to Leeds by bus.  The university had arranged lodgings for me and the landlady was rather shocked at my appearance when i turned up, covered in mud with a dripping wet rucksack, at her red brick terraced house.  She let me in though and made me have a bath before feeding me with yorkshire pudding .

....... To be continued ... ????


 

Glaciation in the High Atlas Mountains.

By Mike Smith.

Glaciation in Africa is a somewhat obscure subject.  It was relatively late in the nineteenth century before the Royal Geographical Society would accept that Alpine Glaciers existed close to the equator on Mount Kenya and mount Kilimanjaro.  Early glaciologists confined their studies to the classic glacial areas of Europe and North America where examples were plentiful, obvious and accessible.  The major mountain masses to the south including the Atlas have remained something of a backwater to this day.

The Atlas Mountains were formed during the late Cretaceous Orogeny 65 million years B.P. (Before Present) since when they have been exposed to the elements.  Careful examination of the landscape indicates that like the better known areas to the north, the High Atlas became at least partially glaciated during the Pleistocene Ice Age 2.5 million to 10,000 years B.P.  This would be consistent with current thinking on the global climate during the Pleistocene.  As average temperatures fell by perhaps 10 - 12 degrees, climatic zones would become compressed around the equator.  High mountain masses such as the Atlas with 4000m peaks would exhibit strong Alpine climatic characteristics and at lower altitudes than is the case at present.

The Atlas are 31 degrees north of the equator.  At this latitude and proximity to the tropics, it is likely that the Atlas glaciers were somewhat short lived compared with those of Europe.  In developing later and decaying earlier there would be less time for glacial features to mature than in northern latitudes.  Examples of Atlas glaciation are therefore on a smaller scale and less obvious than those of, for example, the Alps.

Deposition features present problems when examining glacial features in the Atlas.  Good agricultural land is at a premium and it is not until the higher Alpine pastures are reached at an altitude of approximately 3000m that surface geology is likely to be undisturbed.  Additionally accessible surface deposits of sand and gravel have been exploited by the Berber people for construction.  The climatic regime of cold winters with a heavy snowfall, rapid thaw and Mediterranean summers promotes rapid weathering and dynamic erosion. Much of the surface geological material is of weathered rather than glacial origin and many of the deposits which were of originally glacial have been transfigured by later deposition.

In the Imlil valley above an altitude 2000m there are numerous signs of glaciation.  Here at around (Aremd) is a large terminal moraine up to 80m high and which curves across the valley for over 800m.  These deposits of ice eroded debris are normally found at the leading edge of glaciers and contain stones whose long profile has a common axis longitudinal to the valley.

Typically the long profile of a glaciated valley appears to look like a gigantic staircase of alternate depressions with attendant lakes or marshy ground and steeper rocky sections. During glaciation, ice flows rapidly over the steeper sections often as an ice fall causing little erosion when compared with the major erosion which develops in compression on adjacent level sections.

Above Around, the Imlil valley conforms to these characteristics.  The terminal moraine would have acted like a natural dam, trapping glacial melt water.  Today whilst an eroded channel flows through a gorge, the Plan D'Aremd still contains a seasonal lake filled when the winter snows melt in April and May.  Towering above the Plan D'Aremd lies a long steep curved slope approximately 3km in length and 1000m in height.  During the Pleistocene this would have contained a spectacular icefall below which ice would have carved out the lake on the Plan D'Aremd.

At heights above 3000m, erosional features become clearer.  There are several tributary valleys which show signs of glaciation. All are at an altitude of 3000 - 3500m, about 800 - 1000m in length and with a N.W. to N.N.W. orientation. Imouzzer contains some of these classic glacial features.  It has steep sides, a parabolic valley floor whilst the cirque at the head of the valley has a curved ice carved back wakk some 200m in height.  Irhzer Ikhibi (Soud) and Irhzer Ikhibi (Nord) exhibit similar features.  Irhzer Ikhibi (Nord) also appears to have an extensive medial moraine, indicating that it was one of the last glaciers to experience glaciation.

About 1km below the Neltner refuge the main valley contains good examples of Roches Moutonnes and ice carved cliffs, the height of which would indicate an ice thickness of perhaps 100m.  Although glacial ice with such a thickness is considerably less than the sheet ice over Britain (up to 1000m thick) it is sufficient for ice to assume the plastic flow characteristics which are required for erosion to take place.

Today the Atlas are unglaciated but there are numerous clues of their ice bound past.  Many of the Atlas peaks contain examples of aretes and gendarmes in addition to the cirques and moraines.  Some periglacial processes are still active, for example there are many frost shattered rocks at altitude.  Equally above about 3000m there are many nevee or snow patches which lie throughout the year.  Snow can fall in any month and snowfall is particularly heavy in winter when, at altitude, temperatures remain below zero for several months.  Given their height it would only take a drop in temperature of a few degrees for Atlas glaciation to recommence.

The author teaches geography at Bridgewater High School in Warrington.

 


 

Memories of a Cave Diver.

By John Buxton.

In 1949 I went to Nottingham University to study for a degree in horticulture.  While I was there I joined the Mountaineering Society and soon gravitated, if that is the right word, to the caving section. The leader was Vic Gates, an engineer, who is now retired and lives in Devon.  Amongst other activities was a weeks caving during the summer, on Mendip.  How we came to stay at The Belfry I am not sure. (Paul & Tessa Birt?)

I lived near Ashbourne in Derbyshire and I used to hitch - hike to Bristol and go on by bus to the end of the road (Hillgrove) and then walk.  When I got hooked on caving it seemed a logical move to join the B.E.C. and was allocated No. 201.  Later on I graduated to an auto cycle (98cc) and later still to the ex J. Ifold Royal Enfield 350cc.  (On the strength of the full motor-cycle licence for the auto cycle, Setterington lent us his Dougl to ferry about 6 people to Stoke Lane, an interesting experiment!)

The usual run of caves that were explored were Swildons Hole, Eastwater Cavern, August Hole, G.B. Cave, Lamb Lair Cavern, Stoke Lane Slocker and Goatchurch Cavern. Regular Belfryites I remember were Setterington, The Ifolds, George Lucy, Don Coase, Sybil Bowden Lyle, Paul & Tessa Birt, Alfie Collins and many others that time erases from my memory.  I brought my girlfriend, later my wife, Audrey to The Belfry (she came on a cycle master 28cc at first!).

We have a photo of No 1 and No 2 Belfries with a person holding a "Hanham" sign.  Older members will remember, perhaps nostalgically, the communal feeding systems and the festers that were knocked up in the old Belfry.

There was a very good team spirit in those days and while a caving party was away there seemed always to be a willing non-caving volunteer cook that day.  Tins of beans, soup, spaghetti, stewed steak, corned beef etc. were donated by the would be diners and joined the vegetables and potatoes in a large pot.

One good story about these communal meals concerns a tin of pemmican that one technical climber/survivor brought along and instead of a few spoonfuls the whole tin was added and everyone rolled and sweated with excessive calories in their pits that night.

The lighting in both Belfries was low voltage from batteries charged by a Cooper - Stewart generator. The system was rather temperamental and needed a gentle hand.  It was water cooled and I seem to remember that the hot water coming from the engine was used for washing up.

Activities in the Belfry often went on quite late and as soon as the 'gennie' had run out of fuel the lights soon began to get yellowish.

As many of the caves we visited ended in a pool of water, often with a wire or rope disappearing I began to question what happened beyond, only to be told the divers have been through.  So it was not long before I chased up the local CDG Rep in Sheffield, Jack Thompson and I eventually joined the group and started training.  I was so young that my parents had to sign my Blood Chit I believe it was one of the first times such a thing happened.

As I got more involved with diving, my caving trips got less frequent, but I still got to Mendip.  In 1957 I was asked if I would help in St Cuthbert’s Swallet (comparatively recently discovered) as a person who didn't mind getting wet was needed in getting through the first sump (now a duck.) .... Never volunteer!!!  My job was to kneel or sit in an old gour about 2' deep in water and hold a crowbar on my shoulder while a 15lb sledgehammer belted it at the base of a flowstone curtain that blocked the way on at water level.  The chamber had about 6 damp bodies steaming away in it and the vis became quite bad.  Eventually, inevitably, it happened ... the hammer missed the crowbar and thumped my helmet.  There was a deathly hush and a little voice said "Are you alright John?" and there was a great sigh of relief as I replied  "Yes!"

Eventually there was a body sized hole in the water beneath the curtain and there was a by play with Don Coase to see who was going to go through.  Eventually he was persuaded that he had done more than most and deserved the honour.  I rapidly followed behind him.

I satisfied my dive trainers that I was a suitable candidate for a leading (trainer) diver and Bob Davies checked me out on a dive in Clapham Cave. I had made my first trip in Wookey Hole in early 1953 and was on the photographic trip to the ninth chamber later that year.  After the infamous night of the 13th we began to consider using mixture breathing kits instead of the closed circuit oxygen gear used up until then.  The first successful dive, on mixtures, was in Hurtle Pot on 20th April 1957 with Oliver Wells.

In September 1958 I was in the party that got through to Swildon's 5 and found a way to float through the ducks, because I was the first they were named after me, 'Buxton's Horror'. Len Dawes nearly drowned himself trying to duck out.  After Bob Davies and Oliver Wells had left for America, we (Mike Thompson, Charles George and myself) found the way through the 'Slot' in Wookey 15, 70' deep, which eventually proved to be THE way on.  This was the end of my 'Sharp end' diving and I only did a bit of training after that.

I had an attack of financial cramp and resigned from the CDG.  In most of this account I have used the personal tense but in a lot of my latter diving I was with Oliver Wells and often at number 2.  Later as my financial situation improved I did a fair bit of air diving in open water but eventually retired from that.

While retired from caving and diving we occasionally acted as hosts to Pamela and Oliver Wells on their trips to this country.  Sometimes he had an air dive in Wookey Hole and I even went to carry his gear! Oliver persuaded me to have a go and in 1990 I was back diving in Wookey after a layoff of some 28 years. I was a little hesitant and nervous at first, but with a bit of encouragement I got fully equipped (over equipped, says my Wife).  I began to travel about the country ... Wales and Yorkshire and Derbyshire. My first cave dive was at Keld Head in August 1952 and have had an ongoing dive series here but despite having worked up to dives of 1hr 22mins I have still not managed to get to dead man's handshake.  (A notable constriction).

I went on a recent expedition to the Bahamas Blue Holes organized by Rob Palmer's Blue Holes Foundation.  On this expedition off the Acklins 8500' of guide line was laid in virgin passage mostly in the 25 - 30m depth range.  During this expedition I clocked a seawater cave dive in Dean's Blue Hole of 55.3m = 181' in old money!!  If one can call it such, the highlight of the expedition was being about 300' down a passage in Acklins No 2 about 30m deep in company with Jim King and Rob Palmer when we met 1 or 2 sharks about 5' long and impressively plump.  For some 30 seconds there was a turmoil of bubbles, lights, divers, mud and silt etc. off the walls and roof and the 1/2 sharks ... hence the doubt about the head count.

Over the recent bank holiday I went into Hurtle Pot and did a 34 minute dive doing some upstream and some downstream to a maximum depth of 29.2m.  This was 38 years after our mixture dives mentioned earlier and was witnessed by your B.B. Editor 'Jingles' - (Who would also have dived if he hadn't had to go to work at the Hill Inn!!.. .... ed.) - he seemed to get quite excited about it all and persuaded me to put pen to paper.

John Buxton.
15.9.95

 


 

"Une Petite Promenade Dans Les Hautes Atlas"

Following my previous expeditions to the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco I decided to return to undertake a circular trek through the Toubkal Massif.  Due to time constraints I only had one week available which had to include travelling time from UK.  On the face of it would appear unrealistic to attempt a high altitude trekking expedition in a remote mountain area with only such a short period of time available. Had I not had prior experience of the mountains I do not think I would have even given the project a second thought. However, safe in the knowledge that at the very worst I could rely on spending an enjoyable week with my friends in the village of Imlil, I decided to give it a go.  I hope that this report may serve as an inspiration to others wishing to travel in the direction of Morocco who find themselves constrained by time, funds or both.

Travel Arrangements

I took advantage of the new GB Airways Service which operates between London Heathrow and Morocco during the summer months.  Flights go via Gibraltar and are routed to Marrakech two days per week and to Casablanca three days per week.  This service is considerably cheaper than the alternative direct flight with Royal Air Maroc. GB Airways departures are also significantly more attractive to the traveller heading for the mountains in that they depart from Heathrow early in the morning arriving at Marrakech just after mid-day.

From Marrakech Airport it is possible to take a taxi into the centre of Town for 50 Dirhams (£3.50) where one can easily arrange onward transport to the mountains via bus or grand taxi (a shared taxi-cab in which comfort is sacrificed for economy and speed of transit).  Travel by bus from Marrakech to Asni costs only 80 Dirhams (£5 ) and takes approximately 1.5 hours.  From Asni one has to search out a taxi or a lorry which is travelling up the dirt road to the village of Imlil (this usually costs a further 50 Dirhams). Whichever method of transport is chosen it is entirely possible to arrive in Imlil by late afternoon giving plenty of time for accommodation to be found and trek arrangements to be made.

Accommodation

I used the Gite de Haute Atlas a small family run guest house on the outskirts of the village of Imlil.  The proprietor Jean-Pierre prides himself on the standard of his hospitality and the excellence of his cuisine (a single night stay with full board and lodging costs 150 Dirhams (£11.50).

For those searching cheaper accommodation, Imlil has a range of small guesthouses run by the Berber villagers and also boasts a Club Alpine Francaise hut where accommodation can be found for only 45 Dirhams per night (£3).

Trek Arrangements

Previous trekking experience in Morocco had taught me that a mule is a highly desirable addition to ones trekking group.  Accordingly I made arrangements on my first evening in Imlil (avoiding the use of the hustlers who tout for business in the early mornings and who extract a high negotiation charge for their services in arranging a mule for hire).  After protracted negotiations I obtained the services of Mohammed and his mule for five days for the cost of 300 Dirhams (£25). Mules will carry up to five rucksacks plus the necessary food and water for an expedition.

Description Of The Trek

Day 1. After an early departure from Imlil we ascended the main pathway leading up the Mizane Valley passing through the village of Aroumd to the Holy Shrine of Seti Chamharouch.  After a lunch break during which we managed to catch three respectably sized river trout in the river we continued into the upper Mizane Valley to arrive at the Neltner Refuge at 3,207 metres.  Where we made camp for the night on the grass plateau below the refuge.

Day 2. After a 5 o'clock start we ascended the Ouanoums Col (altitude 3,664 metres) before descending the long and arduous Ifni Valley to arrive at the famous Lac D'ifni.  The lake is famous as the only significant sized body of water anywhere within the High Atlas chain and is visited regularly by trekkers and more intrepid Moroccan holiday makers.  From the lake we descended to the small village of Ait Igrain where we passed the night in one of the local farmhouses (for the modest sum of 50 Dirhams per head which included a large evening meal comprising of Tagine, a local speciality, and fresh fruit).

Day 3. Once again making an early start with the first rays of the sun we descended the jeep track to the small market town of Amsouzart. From here we ascended the Ourai Col (altitude 3,109 metres).  This was an exceedingly long and arduous assent up a dry and rocky slope which being south facing took the full force of the early morning sun and being on the southern slopes of the mountains received the full warming effect of the Harmata wind which blows out of the Sahara Dessert during the summer months.  On the far side of the Col we descended into the Tinzer Valley, a very fertile high altitude valley renowned for the high quality of its grazing pastures.  After an enjoyable afternoon's descent through Alpine type surroundings we made our evening camp at the small summer herding settlement of Azib Likemt. Once again fishing in the local river proved fruitful and yielded up 15 fresh trout with which to supplement our evening meal.

Day 4. From Azib Likemt we climbed over the shoulder of Bou Iguenouane passing via the Likemt Col (altitude 3,540 metres) to arrive at the village Tacheddirt.  Tacheddirt is a characterful little village which is off the regular tourist trail although it does have a Club Alpine Francais refuge within the village.

Day 5. From Tacheddirt we descended back to Imlil using the main track via the Tamatert Col (altitude 2,279 metres).

Catering and Provisions

Throughout the course of the expedition we relied entirely upon local provisions.  The major villages within the Atlas Mountains all have small shops at which it is possible to purchase basic provisions such as cheese, tinned sardines, dried fruit, and tea and coffee.  During the summer months it is nearly always possible to trade tinned food for fresh bread and fresh fruit and eggs from small settlements along the way.  We also supplemented our diet by catching river trout in the mountain streams (a permit is needed for this and should be sought from the Authorities prior to departure).

It is normal practice for a mule driver to share all of his client's food so adequate provisions should be taken (re-payment in the form of regular cups of mint tea is usually forthcoming).

Environmental and Conservation Matters.

The High Atlas Valleys are exceedingly fragile and some areas are rapidly becoming severely damaged by the increased number of trekking parties travelling through them.  This is particularly obvious in the Mizane Valley leading from Imlil to the Neltmer Refuge at the base of Toubkal (the highest mountain in North Africa).  Unfortunately over use of the valley combined with the Berber's lack of consideration for the conservation of their own environment has led to a situation closely resembling that on the Everest base camp trail.  Lessons have been learned and it is encouraging to see steps being taken to remedy the problem, and to prevent similar disasters befalling some of the other Valleys which are only now starting to open up to trekkers.  The Toubkal area has been awarded National Park status and Wardens have been appointed.  However as yet they have little power, no adequate job description and unfortunately little respect from the local people as they are seen as interfering outsiders.

It is imperative that anyone visiting the area for trekking should do their utmost to take every opportunity to educate the local population in conservation matters.

Further Reading

The best available guide to the Atlas Mountains is that edited by Robin Collomb.  Entitled "Atlas Mountains of Morocco" this is both a climbers guide and a trekkers guide to the main areas of the Massif.  Detailed maps are hard to obtain as they are still classified as military secrets, it is however, possible to obtain the four maps covering the Toubkal area (these can be ordered via Stanfords in London or trom the map shop at Upton on Severn).

Andrew Newton FRGS - BEC member,   Habib Fouilloux
July 1995


 

A Chicken's Guide to Cave Diving.
(or 'One Man's Attempts to Drown Himself.)

By Jingles.

One lonely night in 1986 whilst working a nightshift at a computer agency in Russell Square in London, largely due to boredom, I started looking through the lockers for suitable reading material.  I happened across a copy of 'The Darkness Beckons' by Martyn Farr that had been lent to one of the operators by Seb Prince of the Chelsea Speleological Society (of which I later became a member for a short while before getting kicked out.. .. which I still feel is something of a character reference! ).

At first glance I could see that this was of interest to me and started perusing it.  About an hour later I had found out about Balcombe et al and their antics at Wookey hole etc .. and was at the point where I couldn't put it down.  Fortunately I had finished the workload for the night or it would never have got done.

I read most of the book that night.  I think it was the first time in my life that I had come across something that I knew I was going to do. The following weekend I found myself in Crickhowell at the Britannia arms, introducing myself to Arthur Millet and thus Martyn himself with the immortal phrase “I want to be a cave diver!'  God only knows what they must have thought of me ... and I think I'd rather not know.

Having never even been in a cave at this time it was gently recommended that I get some dry caving experience first before considering diving, hence my joining C.S.S.  I remember my first trip being with Duncan Price and Simon Abbot who were digging at the Snowboat in Agen Allwedd at the time. I did a fair bit of caving in the Llangattock area over the next year or so and got to know a few people.  I eventually persuaded my sister Babs that she was going to become a caver, in fact I took her to Bat Products and bought her a wetsuit I was so sure of this, poor girl had no choice in the matter whatsoever.  She also joined C.S.S. And for a while we caved in Wales together.  You'll have to ask Babs for details of how we came to leave that particular club as she tells it far better than I.

Having met Henry Bennett through C.S.S., I was invited to his 21st birthday bash at the Belfry (1987 I think) - it was a fairly standard night a la BEC and I was left with the firm impression that I had come home!   Soon both myself and Babs became BEC members, along with another friend of ours Garry Trainer who has since caught a terminal case of marriage, and enjoyed several years caving with other members who have since become firm friends. (At least they say this to people as long as we keep buying beer for them!)

I never let go of my ambition to become a cave diver but things got put on hold for various reasons for several years.  Last year my good friend 'Trebor' Mcdonald finally initiated me into the singular delights of subterranean aquatic activity in the confines of Swildon's Hole. Along with Dudley Herbert we negotiated our way to this side of sump 6.  I was very glad that Pete Bolt had insisted on me practising in the Minneries beforehand, where I got caught in the weeds and consequently had experience of what is still a bit of a problem for me in diving ... STRESS!  The Swildon's trip was a brilliant experience and although I now realised that there was an awful lot more to it than I had thought I was well and truly bitten by the diving bug.

In June 1994 I was accepted into the Somerset Section of the CDG with Pete Bolt as my proposer and Pete Mulholland as seconder, my grateful thanks go to both of these gentlemen (?). Sessions in Wookey Hole, Hopes Nose sea caves and the Minneries helped me to get to the stage where I actually trusted myself underwater in a cave environment.  (Advice given to me years before by Rob Harper when I sherpa'd on one of his Cheddar pushes but that I was unwilling to listen to at the time.)

A lifetime ambition was realised shortly thereafter when along with Trebor and Wormhole I dived through to Wookey 19.  I had a small epic under the large boulder just before the surface of 19 when I lost a fin, then the vis, became jammed as my ABLJ was over inflated and managed to let go of the line.  I surprised myself by remaining in control and sorting myself out, finding the line again, retrieving the lost fin, adjusting my buoyancy and making the surface. My first words when the gag was out of my mouth were unprintable here but began with 'F' and 'H'!!!  I was not a happy camper when I realised that I also had to dive back!  On this occasion we took the shallow route and although I was very tense Trebor's presence helped greatly and we returned without further incident.  I didn't dive for some three months after this as I had given myself a bit of a scare and realised just how risky Cave Diving can be. For me there is no room for complacency or over confidence in this pursuit.  I realised at this point that my motivation had to be seriously questioned if I were to continue.  Gone were the dreams of 'Having my name in lights' and a slightly more realistic perspective was put on things.

My colleagues at work ask me why I do these things and my reply these days is along the lines of.. ..’The fact that you have asked me that means that I could never really explain it to you' .... and I doubt that I could verbalise my reasons even now .... I just HAVE to do it!

I have been lucky enough to dive with many 'leading' cave divers and am always grateful that they are willing to take me under their (water) wings.

In the past year I have dived in Wookey many times though have not yet been any further than before, I seem to have a bit of a psychological hex on it at present and also firmly have learnt the lesson of when not to dive, something that is for me very important and conducive to my ongoing breathing.

I have spent quite a bit of time in Yorkshire in recent months the highlights of which have been dives in Joint Hole with Steve (from Preston) and Jonathon Simms, we even managed to video ourselves going through the squeeze into Aquaflash.  This squeeze really is just that and is quite a character building experience and I plan to go further in there soon.

Also John Buxton invited me to Keld Head (another personal Everest) and diving alone on three dives I got as far as the 100m air bell.  Keld excelled my expectation, the vis was superb and for me it is truly beautiful passage.  Had I realised that I was halfway round the short loop I would have continued, but there is always a next time.  I missed out on diving Hurtle pot that weekend but this will happen in time.  Also I suppose it would be apt for me to dive in Jingle at some point.

Although I am fully aware that in some terms my diving is limited and there are many capable of far more than I, one thing I have learnt is that there is no shame in accepting my own personal limitations and that I am capable of pushing these and doing more than I would have thought I could.

I have also met some excellent people through the CDG, far too many to mention here, but you know who you are anyway and my thanks go to you all.

There have been times when I have thought that I was not going to make it, like last week in Wookey when my mask flooded and I became tangled in the line whilst negotiating some squeezes in the 9 - 9a extension in bad vis.  It doesn't sound like much when I describe it here but at the time it seemed pretty bloody important I can tell you.  The mental discipline involved in not giving in to my natural instinct to panic and start scratching away at the rock with my fingernails is no small thing for me, and there are times when I seriously ask myself if I should be doing this sort of thing, am I really up to it?  Then again I could never have even contemplated doing it 2 years ago and it seems that good training and lots of practise has had a beneficial effect.

I think that a large part of it for me is actually subconscious and possibly even a part of my psychological makeup whereby I am dealing first hand with areas of myself that I was hitherto unaware; the 'Id' described by Freud as being the primordial drives of the human and being those of survival and procreation, or possibly, dealing with areas of my darker self that Jung would have called 'The Shadow Self'. So thus Cave Diving for me becomes to do with building my strength of character and sense of self esteem by pushing my personal boundaries and confronting my own deepest seated primal fears in order that I may deal with them on a practical level.

(Actually that’s a load of crap ... .ifs just bloody good fun and I love it!)

Jingles. 23.9.95 .


 

The Snake Pit Hole Dig - 1969-1995

Situated at an altitude of 810ft, at ST 5482 5145, just inside the Stock Hill Forest and opposite Wheel Pit, this short cave was dug open by the M.N.R.C. in 1969 and worked sporadically by them until 1972. About 40ft of passage in conglomerate was cleared of mud and rock in the hope of finding the source of a tantalising draught.  The diggers included C. Venus, P. Steward, R. Windsor, J. Letheren (bang man), "Bucket" Tilbury (later BEC), J. Lister, I. Hill, D. Jenkins, P. Walker, M. Kingdom, C. North, R. Wiltshire, R. Tucker and M. Collins.  Realising that the site was a long term project they ran out of enthusiasm and the 15ft deep entrance shaft was filled in. References:- M.N.R.C. newsletters Summer 1969 - Spring 1972.

The BEC interest arose in the spring of 1993 when Vince Simmonds, Rich Blake and Graham Johnson began surreptitiously excavating a blocked rift near the presumed site of the MNRC entrance.  The writer joined them as "bang man" and lots of large rocks were reduced in size in order to haul them up the rift.  A strong outward draught, obvious signs of phreatic development and the presence of small but colourful formations encouraged the diggers despite the awkwardness of excavating the rift.  Ivan Sandford constructed a lockable steel lid for the entrance and hawthorns were planted to assist in camouflaging the site.

On 25/4/93 RB, VS, GJ, AJ and Estelle Sandford broke through into the "MNRC Chamber" at a depth of some 25ft.  It was recognisable by the old buckets and tools lying about - a hammer handle inscribed "MNRC" later being mounted on a plaque and returned to its rightful owners along with a "Bertie" sticker!  A blocked rift in the ceiling was obviously the bottom of their entrance shaft.  Some 40ft or so of muddy but reasonably sized cave was inspected and two possible digs noted. These were temporarily left while we continued digging below the new entrance rift following small airspaces and a good draught.  MNRC had not entered this area.  By 10/5/93 this dig had lost its appeal and we were attacking the inlet passage at the end of the cave - an almost completely mud filled phreatic tube. Well over fifty skip loads of spoil were removed from this tube.  Below a fine sand deposit containing black sediment, Jake was amazed to discover a 21 3/8" long, 1" wide tempered wrought iron "crowbar". This was obviously not an MNRC tool but was assumed to have belonged to a lead miner and bore the engraved initials "W.A."  It was not obvious how it had reached this spot but it may have dropped down a rift from the opencast working on the surface above.  It was cleaned and presented to Wells Museum.  After several more trips this dig was seen to develop into a tiny tube, undoubtedly a surface inlet, and abandoned.  The "downstream" dig then became our main project. Diggers included Pete Hellier, Andy Sanders, Trev Hughes, Tony Boycott, Alex Gee, Martin Grass, Sean Chaffey, Hugh (LUCC), Steve (BUSS), John Ashton (Yorks.), Mike O'Driscoll (GSG), Dan Sullivan, Emma Porter, Nick Hawkes, Davey Lennard, Nick Mitchell, Henry Bennett, Al Bolton (YSS), Stu Sale and Paul Allen.  Several months of hard work, hundreds of bags of mud and a few tons of banged rock later resulted in the total passage length being in the order of 100ft.  The cave seemed to be developed in huge, loose boulders held together by clay and some dodgy moments were had when great lumps of "ceiling" or "wall" silently dropped off - narrowly missing the diggers.  It was not at all a nice place!  At the end a 15ft shaft had been sunk through the mess following a tiny, intermittent stream.  Conveyor belting and a short section of (useless) railway were installed to aid spoil disposal.

On 30/1/95, following heavy rainstorms, Wheel Pit was found to be a 100ft wide lake and Snake Pit Hole was flooded some 30ft below the entrance.  The nearby Five BuddIes Sink was taking a large stream (see separate article) and obviously held much more promise than Snake Pit which has now been temporarily abandoned.  If anyone wishes to continue digging they are most welcome!  At least sixty six trips have been recorded on this project.

Refs: - The Complete Caves of Mendip, Mendip Underground (3rd edition.) and the manuscript logs of A. Jarratt, V. Simmonds and T. Hughes.

Tony Jarratt     7/9/95

REMEMBER.  A.G.M. 10.30AM Saturday 7th October 1995.

60th Jubilee Dinner at 7.30 for 8.00 that evening, book NOW!

Details if required from Hon. Sec, address at front of this B.B.

 

 

 

 


 

Caving with Yogi and Spacemen

by Alex Smith
Bristol Exploration Club
Mendip, UK

On the 12th of December 1994 I entered Lechuguilla Cave, New Mexico, USA for a planned initial duration of five days. My task was as an employee of the cave resource office at Carlsbad Caverns National Park to co-escort with assistant cave resource specialist Jason Richards a scientific research 'group to the western section of the cave.

This group consisted of three scientists from the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), two Lech veteran cavers, a photographer and a journalist doing an article for the Smithsonian Institute's periodical.

The purpose of the trip was to further microbiological sampling and retrieval techniques to be employed on the planned Mars expedition (the crap people come up with to get into Lech!).

The whys and wherefores of my coming to be on this little jaunt are founded in circumstance, chance, luck and being completely pissed of with the onset of a British winter. After losing my job I grabbed my final pay cheque and completely out of the proverbial blue announced to all and sundry I was buggering off to the States, much to the consternation of Struan MacDonald and Nick Williams with whom I was lodging with on an alternating basis at this time pleading poverty and prostitution.  The United States was a country I never got to visit in my seven year sentence in the Royal Navy, hence Carlsbad Caverns, the Guadalupe Mountains and Lechuguilla Cave where just images constructed from articles, personal recollections and photographs from a rather well known Swiss bestseller.

So without further a do I cracked out Nick's Rand MacNally and all back issues of the NSS news he held, then using his office faxed, E-mailed and spoke to the world across the pond, notably without a great deal of success.  Vince Simmonds gave me information that was of the most value essentially who runs the show.  Relations with the park service that had been fostered on the 92 Lake of the White Roses dive in Lechuguilla by various BEC members were to ensure an initial rapport with various local cavers and personnel in officialdom.

After hitching to Liverpool to change my defunct British passport into a Euro techno you can't bend it pink affair and still with memories of the drunken escapade of chasing pissed off boars as big as your house around a shitty field in the fog with Vince and Rich Blake on the night of the Wessex dinner still very vivid, boarded a North Western Airlines DC10 at Gatwick on the morning of the 3rd of November (with a great deal of help from Struan).

Taking great advantage of the copious quantities of free alcohol on offer I arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA in fine fettle, proceeded to the Cheers bar (via immigration interrogation on video) and continued for the six hour wait for the Albuquerque flight.  Verging on coma I made my gate, my flight, my seat and promptly awoke rather the worse for wear with a decidedly dodgy landing in the place that no bastard can spell.

After spending the night in a fellow passenger’s house in Sante Fe I started to hitch the two week camel trek to sunny Carlsbad. Five rides and ten hours later I made it and phoned local grotto members from the ubiquitous Lucy's Mexican "restaurant" bar.

Rob Gillespie a caver presently of no fixed abode collected me and lent me the use of the floor of a house he was presently decorating.  In the morning before Rob ran me up to the park I encountered my first Carlsbad small town attitude in MacDonalds, a local redneck remarked, quote " Hell, you speak priddie good English for a foreigner" unquote.  I resisted the uncontrollable urge to grab him by the ears and throw his face into a rapidly rising right knee.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a good half-hour drive from downtown Carlsbad; situated at the end of Walnut Canyon the first thing to hit you is the aridity and thinness of the air, the altitude is near to that of shacking up on the top of Ben Nevis. There are two stone\timber huts on the side of the canyon controlled by the cave resource office that are intended for the Cave Resource Foundation, Lechuguilla Exploration and Research Network ( LEARN ), and private parties such as NASA caving within the jurisdiction of the park service.  It was here that I had my first stroke of luck, I was introduced to Michael Queen, eminent and nationally respected professor of cave geology also two other northern cavers, Ken Davis and Chuck Porter.  They were about to head for the wild caves of the Lincoln National Forest in the higher Guadalupe mountains some sixty miles away and they invited me along.  What followed was a week courtesy of Ransom Turner, National Forestry Officer guiding us to the wild country caves, issuing the permits and providing ropes. Hell Below, Pink Dragon, Cottonwood and Chimney ( CCNP ) caves ensued and were all bar Chimney twelve hour trips predominantly vertical with pitches averaging around 200 feet.  It was in Chimney cave that I confirmed a Petzl Stop does exactly that and will not move on dirty 11mm PMI rope, the all American favourite (actually 11.1mm) so I had to resort to borrowing a rack.

On returning to the park I was introduced to Dale Pate, Cave Resource Specialist and his assistant Jason Richards also Ranger Lance Mattson, a caver my age from Wyoming who was to be my house mate for the next three months.  Mike Queen recommended me as a volunteer worker for cave resource management to Dale. This proposal was mulled over the weekend by Dale who agreed to employ me commencing that Monday.  After a week on $5 a day working directly for the Park Dale decided to hire me for the duration of my stay in the US using the Student Conservation Assistant scheme to pay my wages, subsistence and contribute to flight expenses!  This essentially rendered me a federal employee for the Park Service.  In the weeks that were to follow I fully integrated with the community that lives on the hill.  There are around 25 rangers who actually live in quarters and probably around another seventy personnel who live in Carlsbad.  They accepted me and made me feel very welcome taking me into their homes, taking me out, inviting me to various functions and stuffing me with turkey on Thanksgiving.

My duties working for Dale and Jason were wide and varied but included surveying in Carlsbad caverns, processing raw Lechuguilla survey and mineral inventory data, coin retrieval from trail pools, rope cutting and labelling, visitor interpretation and demonstrations, tackle store management and caving!

I also accompanied two Texan cavers Jim Werker and Val Hildreth with Dale and Jason on numerous weekends to establish photo monitoring points throughout Carlsbad Cavern; this is a resource management attempt to finally study the rate of impact on specific areas in the cave by guided tours and cavers engaging in survey, re-survey, restoration and inventory.

The most memorable trip in Carlsbad itself must surely be to Chocolate High.  This is the highest point in the cave and next to the Spirit World most strictly guarded.  From the main trail a straight forward journey into the New Mexico room brings you to a corroded flowstone boss formation known as the chocolate drop, above which hangs the first rope to Chocolate High, after nearly 300 feet of sweaty ascent a change of ropes carries you the further 150 feet past the chenile basin to a world of awesome beauty, incredibly convoluted helictites adorn amongst the "chocolate" of corrosion residues.  Jason told me I was one of the very few people to have been there and the first Brit, so delicate is the area.  Speleothem sensory overload as it is known, is a real problem, you have to keep reminding yourself that you are not going to encounter this kind of natural display anywhere else in the world.

Access is usually the first point raised when contemplating a visit to the States caving.  Those caves which fall under the control of the US National Park Service are subject to exceedingly tight resource management guidelines, including the justification of access policies that British cavers are likely to encounter when making initial enquiries.  Basically you need a bona fide reason slanting towards conservation and restoration, or in the case of Lechuguilla, an invitation from LEARN or one of the private expeditions that enter to further the collection of survey data and mineral inventory.  Lechuguilla cave was everything I envisaged except for the physical conditions inside, with humidity in excess of 95% and a constant temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, plus the high altitude (4100 feet) coupled with my rucksack overloaded with supplies for a five day stay and NASA boffins equipment, it took a day for me to acclimatize.  Tortoise on its back impressions were quite prevalent while travelling to the deep seas camp as well.  Due to the make up of our party progress through the cave was very slow and tedious. After the queue to descend Boulder Falls myself and Jason kept catching the group in front resulting in several forced breaks.  9½ hours later we arrived at the campsite and I pitched my bivvy under crusty mammillaries which to the disgust of the NASA boffs I referred to as saggy tits.  I slept like shit in Lechuguilla and resented having to climb into cold wet clothes on awakening, trying to dump in a freezer bag is quite an entertaining pastime, thank God for Imodium as well, I was taking no chances!  The NASA people were not exactly the dome heads you would imagine however I think it's true to say they could indeed tell you the cube root of an orange but unfortunately non-plussed when coming to the actual peeling and eating part.

The next day as the space bods played chemistry with sterile limestone chunks (yes we carried rocks into the cave) we carried on along the trade route to the western borehole past Lake Louise down the Cornflake Climb towards the rope up to the Chandelier Graveyard and The Three Amigos further on.  Emily Davis Mobley infamous for her leg break and consequent epic rescue from Lech three years previous had informed the office on exiting the cave on the LEARN expedition a week beforehand that this rope needed looking at as it didn't seem to be in too fine a shape.  So Jason promptly sent the Brit up there.  Apart from being caked in Gorilla shit, a nice piece of sheath abrasion at a nasty rub point warranted a replacement.  Now at this time Jason’s lighting rig was at such a point of unreliability that one could distinctly hear " fuckin whore " from the top of the pitch.  After failed attempts to repair the dodgy lead in this modified wheatlamp and the rejection of a petzl mega, ("useless pieces of shit") Jason decided we would exit the cave and re-enter the next day.  We "hauled ass" and surfaced in less than 2½ hours later.

Events the following morning did not bode well for a good day either.  Two minutes short of the Lech parking area I asked Jason if he had remembered to bring the replacement rope for the Chandelier Pitch ........... about turn.  Two hours later with said rope now in tow and Jason adamant he had rectified his lamp problem I commenced the descent of the entrance pitch, I had rappelled two feet when I was to hear a by now familiar obscene reference to Jasons lamp, so back to the now very well trodden path back to the Lech parking lot and even more familiar drive back to the office to steal Dale's lamp much to his amusement.  Thus our planned re-entry into the cave at 7am turned into knocking on midday.

We steamed to the camp, ate lunch and then headed out to re-rig.  Having completed this task we backtracked after the obligatory been there photo shoot to retire to bed, I was to escort one of the NASA boffs out of the cave (at 4am!) so he could use the "scope" time he had booked in Albuquerque studying the corrosion residue slides he had sampled that day, they had a stringent incubation period so I finally exited at 2pm the following afternoon.

A curious Lechuguilla experience, after all I had caved the most but seen the least, however I was being employed and was paid EXTRA for suffering the ordeal of having to go to Lechuguilla Cave!

I finally left Carlsbad amid scenes of rowdy partying on the 19th January to head for Minneapolis to catch my flight.  I departed the US on the 1st February again making use of the much free alcohol.  Memorable questions and quotes while working for the US National Park Service:

In the My Way Saloon, Carlsbad at approximately 1am,

Waitress,          "Are you the English Guy?"
            "Yes."
            "Well we don't care what you do, just don't start fighting."

Jason Deckert, graduate son of Park Superintendent Frank Deckert en-route to Chimney Cave,  Jason Deckert,        "So Alex, what's the fundamental difference between the upper and lower entrance to Chimney Cave?"
"One's higher than the other?"

A middle aged American gentleman in the visitor centre,
Hank the Yank, "Say son, can we drive through the cave ?"

A twenty something American "cool dude" from California to Ranger April Weitlauf in the visitor centre by the lifts, April, “Do you wish to descend to the Cave by elevator?"
Dude, “What Cave?"

Many thanks go to Dale Pate a) for hiring me b) letting me go to Lech and c) for having a big enough sense of humour not to deport me after various exploits.

To Jason Richards for the good times and your friendship.

To Mike (Doc Rock) Queen for the introduction to the American caving scene and your recommendations.

To Lance Mattson for tolerating my invasion of his house and life and the use of his banking services.

To Superintendent" Uncle" Frank Deckert and his family for their generous hospitality.

To Tim and Barbara Stubbs and family for Christmas and New Year.

And finally to all the Rangers and Cavern supply staff who have made my stay in the US enjoyable, memorable but all to short, there are too many friends I have made to mention them all individually; however I will return.

In the UK, immense thanks to Nick Williams, Struan MacDonald, Vince Simmonds, Rich Blake, Tony Jarrett and Jingles.  Without your help and support the outcome of this venture may have been completely different.

I hope that all I did and achieved will contribute further to the growing relationship between the Bristol Exploration Club and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

" A pint of Butcombe please Roger. "

 


 

Vale.  Graeme Robinson.

Following many years of ill health, Graeme Robinson passed away at Bodmin hospital on June 30th this year at the age of 69.

After serving in the Middle East during the war, he became a carpenter; worked for a time at Chubb Locks, and for Bristol Aircraft from which he retired when his health began to deteriorate.  He owned a shop for two years before moving to Cornwall to be near his sister.

Graeme joined the B.E.C. in 1961 and remained a member until 1972.  Apart from his interest in the B.E.C., he was an excellent photographer, winning many awards for his work.  As his health became worse he took up model making and again produced some excellent pieces.

His cremation, at Truro on the 5th July, was attended by his sister and family, friends from St. Issey and a number of B.E.C. members.

Arrangements are being made for his ashes to be scattered on Priddy Nine Barrows.

John Ransom.


 

A Son Of Mendip!

I am a son of Mendip
Not born in Somerset,
My accent is of London
But I'll move down there yet.

I am a son of Mendip
'Though I'm not from The Hill,
I live up in 'The Smoke'
But I'll move down I will.

I am a son of Mendip
I ignore the 'No you're nots'
I really am a son of Mendip
'Cos I fell into Double Pots!!

Chas Wethered.


 

A History of the 380 Foot Way and Morton's Pot Digs. Eastwater Cavern from 1903 to date.

" .... an upper way, which terminates abruptly in a choke of stones and gravel, holding up a little water, whilst allowing a considerable quantity to pass.  It is a remarkable fact that in all the labyrinths of galleries which we have explored in the profound depths of this cavern we have not yet alighted upon any portion which gives access to the continuation of this channel.  There, rendered inaccessible by the barrier of debris, is, without a doubt, a cavern as extensive as that which we have proved to exist in the sister watercourse hard by* and these two channels, starting from practically the same point, must diverge widely, and certainly do not unite again before the depth of 500 feet is attained."

E.A.Baker, H.E.Balch
Netherworld of Mendip (1907)
* Boulder Chamber - Hard Rain Aven - 13 Pots route.

EARLY DAYS - THE 380 FOOT WAY DIGS - 1903-1952

Discovered by digging in 1902, Eastwater Cavern has yielded major extensions over the last ninety years, generally in inconspicuous areas of the system.  It is therefore somewhat amazing that the main stream passage of the cave - found on the first trip - has still not broken into the "extensive cavern" prophesised by the early explorers despite continued but spasmodic digging over nine decades.  This system has, in fact, been entered from the bottom of West End Series and is the notorious Lambeth Walk, sumping downstream but ascending steeply upstream for over 250ft to too tight rifts.  It is here that the water from the 380 Foot Way is believed to enter as indicated by bits of wood, poly bag, etc. found in the mud.

The 380 Foot Way was originally named for the distance to it's termination from the entrance of the cave via all the windings of the route through the Boulder Ruckle - the climb down into the Dining Room not then being accessible - and on the discovery trip it took two hours to reach.  Considering the available clothing and lighting at that period, together with the horrific sharpness and instability of the newly entered Ruckle this was no mean feat.

The first diggers were H.E. Balch, E.A. Baker, H.J. Mullet-Merrick, H. Bamforth, H. Willcox, H.Y. Richardson, E.E. Barnes, G. Slater and R. Fairbanks on either the 18th or 19th-20th March 1903 when the gravel blockage at the end of the streamway was cleared - presumably to reach a further blockage some distance beyond. The above team set an early precedent for cosmopolitan digging parties being from Somerset, Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Oxfordshire.  HEB and HW returned on at least two other occasions that year.

Little then seems to have been done, or at least recorded, until 1910 when on 4th June the wet squeeze at the end was dug out between 10am and 9pm by HEB, R. Troup, H.E. Kentish, P. Sinnock and H. Savory (MNRC).  They pushed the passage to a right-angled bend followed by a narrow vertical descent some 15ft deep (later named Morton's Pot) which HEK descended on a rope to find the stream sinking in what appeared to be small, choked channels and as it was thought to be impassable the dig was written off.  The excavated squeeze later silted back up.

No information has been found on work here over the next thirty years but we can be sure that the site was occasionally visited if not dug.

MORTON'S POT AND JEPSON'S DIG - 1952-1980

During 1952 and 1953 D. Warburton, A. Surrall and friends (WCC) surveyed the cave and named the vertical rift Morton's Pot in honour of one of their number - Peter Morton - who once got stuck in it!  The squeeze must have been washed out or re-dug in the meantime.

In 1954 the site inspired AS, O. Wells, J. Hanwell and D.A. Willis (WCC) who installed wooden stemples in the Pot (the last one of which was recently presented to JH by the writer) and attempted to widen the south-facing rift above the Pot (see survey). Much debris was dropped down this open rift and it was abandoned after only two weekends work.  This may have been a source of some of the bits of bang wire etc. later found in Lambeth Walk.

The SMCC took up the challenge on 15th September 1955 when R. Carter, A. Lock, R. Frost and R. Taylor dug at the stream sink located on the left before the crawl leading to the top of the Pot and now known as Jepson's dig.

On 8th March 1959 K. Dawe (SMCC) and P. Davies (WCC) banged a constriction in the Pot.  PD and P.M. Giles banged here again on 24th September 1964 with the results being checked by R. and A. Lawder and PMG on 27th May 1966(!) when this dig was again abandoned.

The Wessex men then turned their attention to Jepson's Dig and on 12th, 13th and 26th November 1966 PD, DW, PMG, D. Drew and I. Jepson banged and dug at this site.  By 19th April 1967 they were losing hope and on 4th May PD, T. Gilbert and D. Alder opened up the bedding plane at the base of the Pot and left it to dig itself by the power of the stream.  Around this time A. Mills (SVCC) and L. Devenish (WCC) blasted the south-facing rift above the Pot.

All work was then curtailed by the entrance collapse of 1967 until an assorted rabble of "post Hunter's lunchtime" diggers from ACG, BEC, SVCC and EGONS re-opened the cave on 12th July 1969 - much to the chagrin and amazement of several local Eastwater "experts".  During the following month the 380 Foot Way was visited by several members of this team, including the writer, and the bedding plane below the Pot was found to be passable for some 20 feet, much of the infill having been washed through as a result of the intervening 1968 Great Flood.

On 7th and 8th February 1970 A. Finch (ACG) and R. Lewis (SVCC) dug in the bedding and built two rubble spoil dams at the end of the 380 Ft Way.  A third dam was built on the 15th by AM, RL and M. Bush (SVCC).  On 20th September 1971 A. Jarratt (then ACG) revisited the site and made plans to install a pulley system for dumping spoil from the bedding plane into the south-facing rift.  In the same year RL, P. Hendy, D. McFarlane, A. Peterson, G. Irving and two other SVCC men dug at the bottom and in Jepson's Dig but gave up due to lack of support despite encouraging draughts both underground and in the pub.

BELOW MORTON'S POT. 1980 - 1989.

The next burst of enthusiasm commenced on 30th December 1980 when AJ (now BEC), M. Duck and M. Bishop removed some 8 foot depth of in-washed spoil from the base of the Pot to re-enter the bedding plane.  During the next two months this dig saw more attention than ever before with at least 16 BEC trips being recorded by the writer and, as it was now a joint project, many WCC visits (sometimes assisted by Northants cavers).  Diggers included M. Grass, S. McManus, R. Cross, T. Hughes, J. Dukes, G. Wilton-Jones, D. Bradshaw, B. Wilton, C. Dooley, J. Clarke, T. Large, C. Batstone, M. Jeanmaire (BEC), G. Bolt, IJ, PH and others (WCC), P. Staal, Edmond, Frans, Josh (Speleo Nederland), C. Chester (Pegasus) T. Mintram (MNRC), D. Vosper, J. Miriam, G. Smith (MCG) and B. Cowie and friends (Orpheus CC).  Vast amounts of spoil were hauled up the Pot and dumped in the south-facing rift until it was almost full.  GB installed two steel dams below the Dining Room and most of the stream was diverted through four 2" pipes into the Upper Traverse making the dig relatively dry. A "staircase" of spoil bags was built up the nearside of the Pot.  The bedding was completely cleared out for some 25-30 ft to where it became too tight to dig.  TL began banging the constriction. A continuation of the south-facing rift, some 25 ft below its top, was noted on the LH side of the bedding plane with a vadose trench entering it but before this alternative site could be properly examined other projects lured the team away from Eastwater.  (See attached sketch survey).

On 26th September 1982 AJ, SM, TL, T. Humphries and I. Caldwell cleared lots of bang debris from the little changed dig and another charge was fired with AJ and TL repeating this on 15th October.  The discovery of West End Series then put paid to this project until 7th April 1986 when AJ and T. Chapman cleared silt from behind the steel dams in preparation for a summer digging project.  This was soon aborted due to the closure of the Priddy caves by the landowners following problems with the Nature Conservancy Council concerning SSIs.

THE CURRENT PHASE. 1989 - DATE.

The commencement of the latest phase of digging can be dated from 12th June 1989 when AJ and J. Stanniland found 10 feet of the bedding plane to be full of flood debris.  The tiny rift to the left was banged and later checked by G. Johnson who reported the results to have been a failure.

On 1st July 1990 AJ and GJ re-checked this rift to discover that the latter had looked in the wrong place and a year old heap of bang debris had to be cleared before using a brand new Bosch drill on its first assignment.  At least eighteen banging trips then took place over the next five months combined with concurrent digs in Boulder Chamber and Hard Rain Aven. GJ, TH, R. Blake and V. Simmonds in particular put in a tremendous amount of work at the site and other new recruits included L. Williams, A. Williams, A. Garwood, J. Evans, P. McNab jnr. (who re-excavated Jepson's Dig to reach an impassable 6" diameter tube), P. Romford, J. Smart, I. Sandford, A. Smith (BEC), A. Boycott, S. Cottle (UBSS), S. Adams (Australia), R. Farmer, S. Taylor, M. Hogg, M. Wright (Orpheus CC), R. Taviner, N. Pollard and N. Williams (WCC).  Good progress was made along and down the rift, which seemed to be open below, and from where GJ could hear the sound of flowing water - presumably coming in from Jepson's Dig.  The broken rock and spoil was dumped in the old bedding plane dig - the bigger lumps later being exhumed for use in cemented walls up the sides of the Pot. This burst of enthusiasm lasted until the end of November 1990 and the discovery of the Wigmore Swallet extensions which ensured that the mainstays of the team were either there or celebrating in the Hunter's!  A visit was made by GJ and AJ on 1st July 1991 when the place was found to be too wet to dig.

July 1993 saw the start of the next onslaught brought on by the bits of digging debris found in Lambeth Walk - possibly over 200ft below and less than 200ft horizontally away. With thoughts of big, open and wet pitches the BEC team dug furiously at the end, bang being unnecessary as the rift had opened up and a vadose trench full of gravel with a bedding plane above was the only obstacle.  At least eight trips were made this month by VS, PMcN, GJ, E. Sandford, GS, AJ, A. Gee, TH and Barbera (S African SA).  Much of the spoil was stacked in the side of Morton's Pot and cemented up.  The old steel dams were once again cleared of silt and the stream piped into the Upper Traverse.

During August and September some thirteen trips resulted in over 210 bags of spoil being dug and dumped in the Upper Traverse.  New devotees included D. Lennard, P. Evans, D. Shipton (Cotham SS later BEC), P. Hellier, R. May, A. Sandford and F. Simpson (GSG).  Visits in October revealed the dig to be sumped with water entering from the LH side - presumably from the diverted stream in the Upper Traverse. Much hard work was put in extending the pipes to Primrose Path and giving Primrose Pot it's first major waterfall in many, many years!  Another 40 or so bags were removed.  Some 55 bags came out during November but the team concentrated mainly on cementing up the sides of Morton's Pot.  Pumping out the flooded dig was attempted several times over the winter and a few tidying up trips took place before the last visit of the season on 16th January 1994 when the pipes were transferred to the 380 Foot Way in order to direct the stream into the dig in the hope that it would flush the place out.  Many of the regulars were sub-contracted by the Hillgrove Team to work on the remarkably similar and equally ancient Hillgrove Swallet dig, these two sites being amongst the longest ongoing cave digs in the world!

The 1994 season commenced in earnest on 11th July following a few preparation trips in the spring. IS constructed a magnificent double aerial cableway (the Seilbahns) to transport full bags from the top of the Pot to the Upper Traverse.  Much work was expended in clearing in-washed winter flood debris including a thumb sized brown and yellow leech and a selection of live woodlice that fell out of TH's helmet when he took it off to scratch his head!  Useful additions to the digging equipment were the modernised "plugs and feathers", used in conjunction with the Bosch drill for splitting rocks.  Useful additions to the digging team were C. Smith, A. Rarity, G. Strellis, A. Livingstone, K. Anderson, C. Duberry, R. Knight, M. Barnes, S. Sale, P. Allen, R. Lavender, T. Kerley (BEC and chums), T. Haynes (MCG), R. Warke, W. Samson and M. Ridgeman (Devon SS).  Between 11th July and 8th September over 300 bags were dug out and tipped either behind the Morton's Pot spoil wall or in the Upper Traverse.  It should be noted that the latter site is an obscure corner and that the dump will be neither unsightly or damaging to the cave after the dig is completed.

The final session of the season took place in October when, over the course of five trips, another 80 bags were removed.  We had now progressed some 30ft along a low and potholed mini-Canyon from the base of the Pot and had met a cross rift where the passage enlarged to some 10ft high. The floor had narrowed down to an impassable rift with a tiny open hole emitting a draught and allowing ponded water to drain away. Ahead the rift also narrowed but an in-filled phreatic tube some 6ft up was now the obvious place to dig.  The winter floods were now once again upon us and the team returned to the Waist of Thyme project in White Pit until the following summer.

In June 1995 Mrs. Gibbons again became plagued by hordes of scruffy sods bearing 50 pence pieces - almost on a daily basis!  The pipes were removed from the cave, the rift above Jepson's Dig widened and the Seilbahn cables tautened.  This year there was no foul mud bank at the end, the finer stuff having been flushed through the tiny hole.  Work commenced on blasting the rift below the phreatic tube to make digging feasible and the rock from this was used to continue with the cemented wall up to the top of the Pot.  Some 150 bags had been dug when Adrian Hole, working at the face, opened up a deep but narrow rift in the floor - obviously the downstream continuation of the tiny hole found last season.  A great burst of activity resulted and some ten trips and one week later this had been transformed into a 10 foot ladder pitch, aptly named by ES "A Drain Hole".  During this week over 300 bags were removed and several large boulders broken up and stashed.  By 13th August a further 80 odd bags had been filled and A Drain Hole deepened to over 12ft with a rabbit hole sized airspace leading on down at a steep angle.  The depth below the bottom of the 20ft deep Morton's Pot was estimated at 40ft to give the dig an altitude of 609ft. The estimated dug length from the Pot to this date was 60ft.  Work continues.

The latest batch of diggers has included J. Sillby, M. Lumley, S. Howe, C. Wethered, R. Gray, M. Torbett, E. Porter, A. Hole, M. Willet, P. Brock, D. Bryant, S. Flinders, K .Friedrich (BEC), G. Dunlop (GSG), H, M and A. Potzsch (Ziloko Gizonak, a Basque caving group), J. Haynes, A. Hamblin and P. Hartley (Burnley CC).  While clearing infill from a rift in the ceiling above A Drain Hole some animal teeth and the rubber base protector from a carbide cap lamp were found indicating flood water flow in, probably tiny, passages above the dig. The presence of a Peregrine Falcon, perched on a fence pole near the cave entrance, should also be recorded for posterity.

Obviously a vast amount of man hours has been spent on this site over the years.  The writer has personally recorded 122 working trips here to date.  It is only in these days of good transport, plenty of leisure time, the equipment available and the large number of willing helpers that a dig of this nature can be pursued.  On one Wednesday night nineteen people turned up, much to the curiosity of passing Wessex diggers!  Acknowledgements to all those involved over the years and to Dot and Ivor Gibbons for allowing us to carry on.

Tony Jarratt
Priddy, 27/8/95

APPENDIX

"But to return to the '380-ft. way, "E" of the section.  We find no difficulty in locating the little chamber "G", which from its convenient position has been so frequently used for meals, that it has attained to the dignity of "the Dining Room."  It is not without an unpleasant drip on occasion. It belongs to some independent inlet in the field above, and not far from the cavern entrance.  Climbing down into the waterway, we follow it quite easily until we reach the old choke at "F", which was the limit of my older section.  Laboriously a party of us dug a way through in 1911, (actually 1910 - AJ) for it was always obvious that such a channel must have a considerable extension.  It was most difficult, from the total absence of dumping ground; but by bridging the channel behind us with the larger stones, we did find room for the excavated material.  Presently squeezing through, we entered the extension of the waterway shown beyond "F" of the section, but were disappointed to find that within, only a hollow in the floor, now disappeared, indicated where the water forced a way through choke material under pressure, and we could not pass. The usual result had followed; the accumulating water, rising high, had attacked a joint, and widened it.  There was a vertical pitch of six feet to reach it (now nearly disappeared through the washing down of our excavated material), which climbed, we entered a passage just the size and shape of a man's body when erect.  Shortly afterwards this terminated in a right-angled bend to the west, with an immediate, narrow, and vertical descent where a man might just pass, to a level fifteen feet below.  Mr. Kentish descended on a rope, and with difficulty found that the waterway broke up into small channels, turning first north, then apparently east, this evidently being the method adopted by the stream to reach the blocked '380-ft. way' lower down.  It is, however impassable.  No other explorer has descended to this low level, as to do so, appears to be useless."

 

H.E.Balch - Wookey Hole, its Caves and Cave Dwellers - 1914.

SELECTED REFERENCES

Baker E.A. & Balch H.E.: The Netherworld of Mendip - 1907 Balch H.E.: Spelunca No.39 Dec. 1904

Baker E.A.: Caving - Episodes of Underground Exploration - 1932

Balch H.E.: The Caves of Mendip - 1926

Balch H.E.: Mendip, its Swallet Caves & Rock Shelters 1937, 1941, 1948

Johnson P.: The History of Mendip Caving - 1967 Stanton W.I.: Pioneer Under the Mendips - 1969

Savory J.(Ed.): A Man Deep in Mendip. The Caving Diaries of Harry Savory 1910-1921 - 1989

Wessex Cave Club journals: 49 (1955), 143 (1972), 145 (1973), 146 (1973), 185 (1981)

Shepton Mallet Caving Club occ. pubs: 4 (1968), 5 (1970) Cotham Caving Group nsltr: vol. 3 no. 5 (1969)

Severn Valley Caving Club nsltr: Aug/Sept 1971

British Caver; vol. 81 (1981)

Jarratt A.R.: mss. log books

The early reports of the Wells Natural History and Archaeological Society and the Mendip Nature Research Committee are mines of information and an excellent bibliography can be "found in ( stanton - 1969).

My thanks to Dave Irwin for proof reading and helpful comments, the old git!

 

 


 

60 years of cave diving at Wookey

To celebrate 60 years of cave diving at Wookey – a selection of 1935 newspaper cuttings.

 

AJ

CAVE BROADCAST.

Mrs. Powell and Mr. Graham Balcombe rehearsing for their broadcast during the exploration of Wookey Hole. Caves, Somerset, which are under water.

_______________________
SECRETS OF
HIDDEN RIVER
_______________________

Woman in Daring Exploit

A young man and woman set out last night to walk along the hidden bed of the underground river Axe in Wookey Hole Caves, Somerset, to discover, it was hoped, a vast series of caverns believed to have been hitherto unseen by any human being.

The explorers were Mr. Graham Balcombe. a post office engineer, who broadcast an  account of his experiences to listeners throughout the country, and Mrs. Powell, a late employee of the Wookey Hole Caves.

Their diving suits were specially constructed and a microphone was fitted inside Mr. Balcombe's helmet.

“Heave Hard on Pump"

They entered the water soon after 10.30. A few minutes later his voice came through:    “I have to go slowly as my ears are paining a little. I must go slowly to acclimatise them to the pressure. Heave hard on the pump.”

A dramatic moment came when Mrs. Powell was found to have developed a leak in her air pipe.  She was instructed to come back a few yards.

At first the officer in charge of the telephones could not get any reply from her, and he called her several times in an anxious voice until at last she replied very faintly. She reported that she was “O.K." and re-traced her steps as directed. The leak in her air-pipe was then rapidly repaired.

Later Mr. Balcombe reported that he had entered the sixth chamber, which he found to be smaller than he expected and with very' little air-space above it.

Seventh Cavern Found

Later Mr. Balcombe reported that he found the sixth chamber to have a large water space.

Shortly before he closed down his broadcast he was able to report that he had entered a seventh chamber. The water in it was clear, and he could see a good way ahead.

When they emerged from the water after about an hour, both Mr. Balcombe and Mrs. Powell were none the worse for their experience. The only thing that troubled them was the chill of the water.  The discovery of, a seventh chamber is a distinct achievement.

*****************************************

DIVER EXPLORES FAMOUS CAVES

STOPPED BY MUD

A man in a divers suit walked 168 feet further along the bed of the subterranean River Axe under the Mendip Hills, Somerset, on Saturday than anyone has ever been before.

He was Mr. Graham Balcombe, a London engineer.  A local woman, Mrs. Powell, went part of the way with him into the famous Wookey Hole caves.

They were attempting to find other great caves, but muddy water prevented Mr. Balcombe going further than the sixth chamber.

The river is 600 feet beneath the hills.

Part of the adventure broadcast.

*****************************************

EXPLORATION OF WOOKEY HOLE

THE BIRTH OF THE EXPEDITION LURE OF THE UNKNOWN

SKILL OF AMATEUR DIVERS ON THE VERGE OF NEW DISCOVERIES

(By the Leader of the Expedition, GRAHAM BALCOMBE.)

The story of the birth of the Wookey Hole 'Exploration Expedition is just another example of how chance can steer our courses for us.  It is, and always has been, the premier ambition of "cavers," or "pot-holers," as our Northern friends have it, to find new caves, or, just as important, to penetrate even further into those already known.

There is no need to try to explain why they will dig for months on end in the filthy red or black slime of the cave areas, nor why they choose to suffer the unpleasantness of such intimate and prolonged contact with the cold and relentless: waters of the nether world, any more than to try to explain why mountaineers and cragsmen are so devoted to the self deprivations of their own more noble ventures. That is far better left to the caving and climbing, literature of the last few decades.

My own attention was attracted to the caves of the Mendip Hills, where the, scientific interests are looked after in  the south by the Wells   Natural  History   and   Archaeological Society, and in the north by the Bristol University Speleological Society, while the Wessex Cave Club looks after the sporting interests of the whole area. They happened to be easiest of approach and interest centred in one particular cave terminating where  the steeply sloping roof and the floor meet in a muddy pool, so far the end to all exploration.

A CHALLENGE.

Here was a challenge, indeed, for, unlike the British cragsman, who must accept his playground as he finds it, and on no account may he cut a step, or drive a piton, or otherwise aid his progress, the caver is not so restricted.  No method of furthering his forward march is barred, unless it involves marring the beauty of the cave.  Ropes, ladders, picks, and crowbars are his legitimate tools.

The challenge was accepted, but so far the attack has been repulsed.  An effort to explore this water trap with homemade apparatus has so far failed.

Rather than proceed with the construction of more elaborate apparatus, the experts in such matter – Messers Siebe, Gorman and Co., Ltd.-were approached, and, through the kindness of Sir Robert Davill, we were offered the loan of the apparatus we needed for the work.

Now to get to the before-mentioned water trap unhindered by impedimenta is itself a severe expedition, and to get heavy tackle down is next to impossible.  Thus it came about that we turned to Wookey Hole Cave to make first use of our golden opportunity.

THE LEGEND.

Wookey's cavern, with its three vast and. beautiful chambers, is known the world over. Mysteriously showing in the great cliff face at the head of the woody, gorge, it has figured in history throughout the centuries; in relatively recent times it was the home of the famous Witch of Wookey, who, so says the legend,  turned  to stone for her sins by the holy Priest of Glastonbury, is still to be seen staring over the green waters of the River Axe in the first chamber of the cave.

Clement of Alexandria wrote of it as far back as the second century A.D., but ages before that it had been the home of the Ancient Briton, whose story, written within and around its portals, has been so excellently reconstructed by that able archaeologist Mr. Balch, president of the Wells Society, with whom we are working on this expedition.

VOLUNTEERS.

If the reader listened to the broadcast last Saturday night (August 17) and re- ported in THE OBSERVER, he will have a fair idea of the conditions of the undertaking; the" gang" to man the pump, to feed out or coil down the divers' pipes, to keep the log, and a host of other duties are stalwart volunteers from all the country round for a hundred miles or more, and six of them are now divers.

We found when we first took to the water that the art of diving is not so easy as we first thought it would be. It is not given to everybody to be a diver. For weeks we practised in a lonely pond on the top of the Mendip plateau, until, thanks to the first-class apparatus and tuition, we first essayed to probe the mysteries of the cave.

For the past six weeks we have been busy there, each week penetrating farther than before,  leaving behind us a rope,  weighted             down at intervals, to guide us on the journey out, for as the diver moves so he sends up a mass of fine sediment billowing like clouds and obliterating everything. He must move quickly to prevent it getting ahead if he is to make any progress.

GHOSTLY ROCKS.

Five seconds delay anywhere, and gone is that green vision dimly reflecting the rays of the torch; the rippling surface, or the ghostly rocks overhead, all swallowed up in the rolling mist. Lights are useless then, and it is usual to switch out the torches and grope one's way back in inky blackness along the guide rope.

So far we have passed the fourth and fifth chambers, which are accessible to a boat under favourable conditions and have entered a long sloping passage with an air surface above, which means the sixth chamber, and, we think, another, which means a seventh chamber.

Some doubt has crept in about the latter; it is possible that, lost in the blanket of mud, the sudden glimpse of rippling surface was in reality the sixth again, but by the time this is in print we hope to have settled that point.

We have penetrated some 180 feet so far, and can go, if fortune favours us, a full 400 feet. What we will find there no lone can tell: there lies the lure of The Unknown.  In a month or so, maybe, we can say; for the moment we let our imagination run riot; it gives incentive to aid us in our difficult task.

*****************************************

CRAWLING under BRITAIN

by TOM STEPHENSON

Last Sunday I spent the day exploring the infernal regions of the Mendips.

In a misguided moment I had accepted an invitation to join a pot-holing expedition. Led by Graham Balcombe, a rabid enthusiast familiar with the ways of darkness in the underground world of Somerset.

 

In the underground world of Somerset.

Eastwater Swallet, near the upland hamlet of Priddy, was the pothole chosen for our initiation and by 10 a.m. on the Sunday we were gathered there ready for the descent.

At the foot of a limestone crag abruptly blocking the valley of a small stream which disappeared in the ground, a small opening covered by an iron grid was indicated as the entrance to the water-worn caverns and channels far below.

That iron grating, which later in the day most of us were to loathe as the very gate of hell, was removed, and one by one we stepped into black mystery.  Groping and stumbling through cracks and crannies, we slowly descended.

At intervals we paused to pass from one to another the various items of equipment. including climbing ropes, rope ladders. bags of candles and food supplies.

Down and down we went into eerie, sable blankness, creeping through low tunnels, edging and scraping through narrow cracks and hurriedly stepping through showers of falling water, and by this time wondering what was coming next ..

One after another, more and more arduous trials were found, until it seemed it was impossible for any greater diabolical discomfort to be devised.

By this time we were well saturated with cold cave water, and were beginning to feel unduly conscious of the prominent parts of our anatomy which discovered every possible projecting piece of rock.

Wriggling and squirming through incredible crannies, lying full length in a pool of water and

trying to negotiate double corners which necessitated all kinds of fantastic contortions, I began to long for the girth and slippery hide of an eel combined with the resilience of a jelly-fish.

After interminable aeons of such progress, of trying to fold myself into the line of an "S"  or a "Z," it was an inconceivable relief to find a brief opportunity to stand upright and thank the stars I have not been condemned to earn my bread as a miner.

Another ordeal was the descent of about 50 feet on a rope ladder which itself seemed alive, twisting and swaying in the blackness of a deep shaft as one hugged it and stepped gingerly downwards towards the distant glow-worm representing the torch of a fellow lunatic.

More contortions and the descent of another ladder brought us to a cavity into which a waterfall crashed and roared.  Lunch was suggested, but unfortunately the food bag had suffered a fall, and the sandwiches had been pulped into an unwholesome mess.

For the final pitch we had to lie on our backs on a steep bank of wet clay and slide, regulating our velocity by pressing the hands against the rock a few inches above our noses.

About 500 feet below the surface, after four hours of cold, dripping darkness, we were faced with the return journey.  To start with, this meant climbing up the course of a waterfall and then repeating in reverse all the twists and turns of the descent.

After some hours of such purposeless misery we were a cold, famished and weary band, bruised and sore and feeling vastly sorry for ourselves when we stepped into the sweet-smelling freedom of the outer world .

There and then I vowed I would never again so much as peep into a pothole.  Next morning I felt as if I had been drawn through a key-hole and then dragged along the full length of the Bath road and run over by every passing car.

But in the party there was one enthusiast who described the grandeur of the Yorkshire Cave, and now I think I would like to descend Gaping Ghyll.  I that immense pot-hole on the slopes of Ingleborough.


 

Just Another Swift Half

by Rob Taviner

'The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction' WILLIAM BLAKE

'Go up, thou bald head'  II KINGS

'There's a problem, you might have to give Scotland a miss'.

Potential sprogging complications threatened to put the knackers on Sutherland '95.

'Of course dear'  I said. 'Not bloody likely'  I thought.

Fortunately the problem of how to get to Sutherland without proving I was a complete bastard were avoided by a last minute all-clear and I was on the phone to Jake.

‘I’ll pick you up at 5.30' he said, 'You won't have to drive at all'.

Sounded good.

'Oh, by the way, are you in the AA.

 Ummm.

Jake shows up at 7.30.

'We'll have a swift half in the Hunters and then hit the road'.

Where have I heard that one before?

'Just another swift half ... '.

I pull out of the Hunters car park at 9.30 placating the remonstrating Jake only with ready access to the on-tap cider. Estelle takes over at Preston and heads north with the Talking Heads at full volume and the cold fan at full blast.  Dawn breaks and Jake surfaces.

'Where are we ?'.

' Glasgow'.

'Terrific, I'll drive'.

Bastard.

We blow away Jakes' strange taste in German stomping brass band music on the swing bridge above the Corrieshalloch Gorge. Jake tests the swing part just as I'm taking a photo - I always wanted a shot of that particular piece of sky. Ullapool follows swiftly, the Canadian flag flying from every trawler.  I try not to look Spanish.  After 650 rain free miles we pull into the Grampian hut at 10.00 a.m. It's a glorious day with deep snow on the peaks.  Perfect.  The hut is full with a motley crew of climbers, cavers and hydrologists (Expert Quote - 'The water goes in at the top and comes out at the bottom).

’A quick breakfast then we'll shift a load of scaffolding up to Damoclean Dig'. OK.

'We'll have a quick one in The Alt before we go'.

Ummm.

The Alt has a new landlord - Eric - he opens all day and serves food.  Four hours and numerous pints later the plan is abandoned.  With just two hours sleep in 48 an early night is called for - oh, with just time for a swift half.

Sunday sees us dumping five scaffold bars into Damoclean, 2.5 knackering miles up the side of Breabag Mountain.  After a quick tea and brevil break we're off up Traligill to try and locate the long lost Blar nan Fiadhag Pot.  This small open pot, discovered in 1970, lies in the middle of a featureless moor and has a potential on-going rift.  Frustratingly it has never been relocated.  We prospect the two distinct grid references quoted for this site but apart from some fine limestone pavement there's no depression and no cave. We poke about in one or two minor sinks before heading back to the hut where the Tonys' Jarratt and Boycott have arrived.  Later that night Mike O'Driscoll invites a couple of Knockans finest back to the hut to sample the scrumpy.

'Looks like piss' Ian ventures disdainfully. 'Tastes like piss' agrees Hughie.

The atmosphere is aggressive.  J-Rat tries his 'hands across the ocean, we're all brothers together' routine. Hughie steadies himself searching for profound words of wisdom.

'Piss off, ye baldy-headed Sasunnaich bashturd'.

Gradually the deadly nectar works its magic.  By the time they crawl from the door at 3.30 a.m. they're convinced it is piss.

Mayday breaks gloriously.  A session in Tree Hole is planned.  Most of our work in Sutherland has been concentrated on linking together the known sections of the underground Traligill.  We had pushed downstream Tree Hole for 70m, practically connecting it to Uamha a' Bhrisdeadh-Duile ( Disappointment Cave) another of our discoveries.  The largest gap however, not much more than 100m on the surface, lay between upstream Tree Hole and Lower Traligill CavelLower Traligill Flood Sink.  In '94 we'd pushed a grim wet and muddy crawl for 15m to a wide flat out section with a howling draught, since pushed by Grampian members Goon, Martin Hayes and Roger Galloway for a further 5m.  We were absolutely certain it would go.

'Let's stop in The Inch for a quick one' says J-Rat.  The Inch also has a new landlord - Derek - he also opens all day and also serves food.

Twenty-four hours later we follow the Two-Tones' into the cave.  They've cleared four skiploads in twenty minutes.  'It's about to go' shouts J-Rat.  With difficulty we manoeuvre a couple of larger boulders away down the crawl. As Tony digs his way through the rest of us follow.  A couple of squeezes under roots and streambed boulders see us sliding down to a small muddy chamber with the roar of water visible but not attainable through an eyehole at the top of a low bedding crawl.  However a squeeze to the left enters a big scalloped bedding, 4m wide and a metre high, which meanders via an entertaining roof-level squeeze to a boulder choke and short section of streamway.  Upstream looks hopeless but downstream can be seen to continue through a low fast-flowing duck for at least 10m.  Nobody fancies it in dry kit.  The 'Swift Half Series' had gained us 60m and closed half the gap to Lower Traligill Cave in one hit.  With time to kill we wander up-valley, first building a dam to divert the surface river into Lower Traligill Cave and open the Flood Sink, before looking at Uamh Cailliche Peireag, an impressive arched sink/flood resurgence and old battleground of J-Rats.  Something very dead and very smelly blocks the main stuff off to the left but a trongly- draughting crawl to the right is noted for later attention. A quick trip down the Waterslide in Cnoc Nan Uamh to check on the state of the divers line and another promising lead bagged and it was off to The Inch for a celebratory impromptu ('be there at 8.30 sharp') Ceilidh.  Celebration proves a fine mix of beer, whisky, bagpipes, drums, crash-barriers, vomit and blood.  Simply magnificent.

Wake up with a mega hangover and a mouth like a vultures crutch.  J-Rat looks like he's had the shit kicked out of him.  Half a bottle of paracetamol later I've got kidney failure but the hangovers fading fast.  We watch the worlds worst sheepdog herd his flock straight down the middle of the road to the consternation of two coach loads of tourists and one despairing owner. Funny, I've never heard those commands on One Man and His Dog.  It's turned really hot, just the sort of a day not to carry 13 scaffold bars up to Damoclean, so we carry 13 scaffold bars up to Damoclean - or rather carry 9 and watch Gadge dehydrate his way up with 4 strapped to a mountain bike. Two hours digging see a further 3ft depth gained in this classic swallet which promises another Claonaite.  For Wednesday night digging we take a look at a flood rising behind Elphin, to verify reports that stones can be heard rattling down 8-10ft.  They can, but fifteen minutes boulder rolling reveal it to be a long-term dig.

Thursday and we're back in Tree Hole, pushing, photographing and surveying.  Little progress is made in the choke at the end of the dry stuff leaving the low streamway which J-Rat pursues tenaciously for 20m past the other end of the impassable eyehole to a sump.  The survey totals 80m from the start point of the '94 dig, taking the length of the cave beyond 200m - the 5th longest in Assynt and in excess of 500m once the sumps downstream separating it from Uamha a' Bhrisdeadh-Duile and Traligill Rising are connected.  The photographic trip is abandoned due to a broken cable.  Afterwards, whilst the Two-Tones begin a much-needed surface survey I take advantage of the dam to dig open the rarely visited Lower Traligill Flood Sink, the next cave upstream and one we'd always been hopeful of extending. A quick trip reveals a fairly uninspiring hole with one possible lead - a boulder preventing access to a small streamway which can be seen to sink in gravel a few feet downstream, but upstream appears to continue - albeit with an apparent potential of only a few feet. Still a lead is a lead so we apply some rock-remover for a follow-up trip the
following day.  Whilst J-Rat and Estelle play in Waterfall Rising, Tony Boycott and I transport some of the digging kit further up the valley, attacking the promising lead in Cnoc Nan Uamh en route.  The Waterslide drops very steeply and dramatically for 75m to a sump, passed the previous year by Tony and Pete Mulholland to 500m of excellent passage. An inlet, so small that none of us had ever noticed it before, debouches directly into the sump pool. Investigation revealed a low pebble-filled crawl leading to a water-filled but on-going and apparently roomy passage.  We felt that by removing the rock-lip at the entrance to the pool we may be able to drop the water level sufficiently to pursue this passage further.  It was just possible that it could provide a sump bypass, or at that depth, at least a decent inlet.  Jake and Gadge spend the day expanding the bedding in Uamh Cailliche Peireag which looks long term but draughts well and is heading straight into the large blank area housing the Upper Basin sinks.  Just for a change we rounded off a productive day in The Inch.  At the bottom of Traligill, a big house which had stood empty for years and had recently been bought by some enterprising lads from Aberdeen for conversion to a Geology lecture centre~ had been the scene of some excitement.  During the course of the day they had uncovered some interesting war relics, including a live hand grenade and concerned at the prospect of nutters roaming the hills laden with explosives, had called the army to dispose of it. Later we're entertained by a group of drunken bikers serenading some lads from Gloucester with Wurzels songs.

'Where are you lot from' they ask.

'Somerset'. Silence.

After a week of fine weather, things finally deteriorate and despite fortification in the Culag Hotel in Lochinver enthusiasm is low for a return to Flood Sink.  Whilst the Tonys' and Simon Brooks complete the surface levelling from Glenbain Cottage, I grovel back in to check that things have rearranged themselves satisfactorily.  They have, but with a gain of all of 2m prospects look between grim and nil. Upstream, the water enters from a very low pebble-filled crawl presumably entering from a sinkpoint only a few feet from the entrance.  Interestingly only some of the water sinks in the bedding to the right, most of the water disappearing through a tiny hole straight ahead.  We now believe that most of the water in upstream Tree Hole derives from the water sinking in Flood Sink, with the main underground Traligill travelling through a flooded loop from Lower Traligill Cave to enter Tree Hole at one or more points downstream, in particular at the old upstream sump and the impressive waterfall discovered in 1991.  To finish we give Simon a guided tour of the Upper Basin, clearing out Uamh Cailliche Peireag en route. The draught has diminished but the low and undulating bedding can be seen to continue behind a big boulder, so we fire and retire.  Jake and Gadge spend the day constructing the scaffold frame in Damoclean to facilitate a push ahead.

By Saturday, an influx of Grampian regulars swells the numbers sufficiently to enable us to concentrate on specific projects. Tony Boycott and Simon plan a lengthy trip beyond the sumps in Cnoc Nan Uamh whilst Jake, Estelle and Gadge headed back up to Damoclean, which is now in full swing.  The rest of us return to Lower Traligill to try and tie up a few loose ends.  Leaving J-Rat to organise his diving kit outside Uamha a' Bhrisdeadh-Duile, I guide Goon & Co through the delights of the various Tree Hole extensions, culminating in a little progress beneath the upstream choke and another failed photo session.  A potential way on is noted and we head out to assist J-Rat into Uamha a' Bhrisdeadh-Duile to investigate both the downstream and upstream sumps for the first time.  Only 15m of approach passage separates the entrance from the downstream sump but it proves to be 15m of extremely tight and muddy thrust plane which takes an interminable time to negotiate and where the limitations of certain items of kit designed for more spacious occupations become only too apparent.  Still it helps to take J - Rats mind off the dive and he pursues a large descending and fast-flowing thrust passage beneath fine roof pendants for 10m until concerns about line belays force a retreat.  The sump continues in fine style, heading straight for Traligill Rising the upstream point of which can only be a few metres away.  We quickly ferry a single kit the 100m up toward the upstream sump where a connection with Tree Hole appears a certainty but disappointingly we're repelled at the Compass Sucker by a mixture of boulder rearrangement and high water conditions.  None too enthusiastic to repeat the bottle carry immediately; we abandon the kit on a ledge and head out for a well-earned bath.  Goon, chuffed at having propelled his 46-Inch chest through the inaptly named 40-Inch squeeze, confesses his delight at a having visited more virgin Sutherland cave in one day than for some time, although with some reservations as to the general dimensions.  Despite fine diving conditions further boulder rearrangement and cut line also defeat Tony and Simon at Cnoc Nan Uamh and they are unable to locate the underwater squeeze into Northern Lights.  Progress at Damoclean Dig has fortunately been more forthcoming and hopes are high that the swallet will soon begin to open up.

For three of us, Sunday is our final day and whilst Gadge goes off to try and remove a large offending and rather public boulder plugging The Elephant Trap and the divers head for Claonaite, most of our party return for an all out session at Damoclean.  It's been a hard weeks digging, drinking, sherparing, drinking, scaffolding and drinking so I decide to take a day off wandering the sizeable and relatively untouched limestone plateau behind Elphin, taking in Cold Water Cave and some interesting localised sinks and risings on the Southern shore of Loch Urigill.  A mellow spot.  Packed and ready to go we wander over to the Allt Nan Uamh to pick up Estelle and J-Rat who have been killing time waiting for the divers listening to Tony Boycotts' car radio.  With perfect timing we materialise as one, only to spend the next twenty minutes bump-starting Tonys' not unexpectedly flat battery.  Safely ensconced in The Inch the divers reveal that they've finally located the contentious main flow in the terminal Sump 6 complex.  Further trips are planned.  A swift half, a quick bite to eat and farewells all round see us on the road before midnight, arriving after an uneventful journey - bar an entertaining police chase and a pathologically high rabbit count - on oh so green Mendip by mid-morning.

The late arrivals stayed on for an extra week to pursue a whole mess of leads.  An attack on the new terminal choke in Tree Hole was begun - to be continued next year - and further attempts were mounted on downstream Uamha a' Bhrisdeadh-Duile. Mike O'Driscoll eventually managed the furthest penetration yet but reported it to be getting too tight, although there was a feeling he may have missed the main way on.  Damoclean developed into a relatively solid rift pursued for 20ft into an area of loose bedding planes.  Only time prevented more substantial progress but at least the game is afoot.  Uamh Cailliche Peireag was pursued but continues to keep a firm lock on its secrets and would appear frustratingly long term.  Bad weather threatened to prevent a return to the Waterslide dig in Cnoc Nan Uamh but relented long enough to reveal a powerful air current above the newly broken sump.  This will prove difficult to pursue but is potentially an exciting site which could go just about anywhere.

A fortnight later an inspired Simon Brooks returned with a second wave of Southern invaders to achieve Sutherlands' discovery of the decade.  Diving with Mike O'Driscoll he continued the passage investigated with Tony Boycott in the Claonaite Sump 6 complex, surfacing to 300m of stream passage and 'The Great Northern Time Machine', a huge chamber.  Follow up trips revealed numerous avens, fossil oxbows and inlets taking the total discovery beyond 800m, restoring Claonaites' recently usurped position at 2.5km as Scotland’s longest cave.  Many leads remain and the big stuff lies tantalisingly close to a number of
known caves.  It is likely that future work will concentrate heavily on the Allt Nan Uamh whos' remote boulder-strewn crags and dark brooding flanks doubtless harbour many a secret yet.

So another successful expedition has flown by and as in previous years the main aim had been achieved only for yet more leads to reveal themselves.  The combination of more and more cavers seeking success north of the border coupled with the discovery of two 'big ones' in consecutive years suggests that it is only a matter of time before Sutherland takes its' rightful and inevitable place amongst our major caving regions. Whether this will be a good thing or not remains to be seen.  The attraction, at least for this over-crowded Sasunnaich lies in its' unspoilt remoteness. For some reason the prospect of hordes of tourist cavers stomping around Sutherlands' wild mountains and glens fills me with trepidation.

Ah well ..... best have another swift half.

REFERENCES

1.                    Blar nam Fiadhag Pot (C Jeffreys) G.S.G Bulletin 1st Series 4(4) p. 11 (1970)

2.                    Some Wanderings - 10 Or More Years Ago (B. Mehew) G.S.G Bulletin 3rd Series 1(4) p.23 (1990)

3.                    Tree Hole (T. Jarratt) Belfry Bulletin 45(3) No.460 p.28 & G.S.G Bulletin 3rd Series 2(1) p.12 (1991)

4.                    The Dig At Uamh Cailliche Peireag (T. Jarratt) G.S.G Bulletin 2nd Series 1(4) p.19 (1976)

5.                    Progress At Uamh Cailliche Peireag (T. Jarratt) G.S. G Bulletin 2nd Series 1(5) pA5 (1977)

6.                    The Lower Traligill Flood Sink (S. Elwell-Sutton) G.S. G Bulletin 1st Series 5(3) p.20 (1973)

7.                    Recent Discoveries At Uamha a' Bhrisdeadh-Duile And Tree Hole (T. Jarratt) G.S.G Bulletin 3rd Series 2(5) p.16 (1993)

8.                    Highland Fling (P. Glanvill) Belfry Bulletin 44(3) No.455 p.4 (1990)

9.                    Assynt Antics (P. Glanvill) Belfry Bulletin 45(3) No.460 p.24 (1991)

10.                 Elphin Epics (P. Glanvill) G.S.G Bulletin 3rd Series 2(5) p.26 (1993)

11.                 Assynt - The Big One (P. Glanvill) G.S.G Bulletin 3rd Series 3(2) p.ll (1994)

12.                 The Slanting Caves (R.M. Taviner) W:C.C Journal Vo1.21 No.230 p.66 (1991)

13.                 Assault On Anus (R.M. Taviner) W:C.C Journal Vo1.22 No.240 p.68 (1994)

14.                 Valley or The Trolls (R.M. Taviner) W:C.C Journal Vo1.22 No.243 p.122 (1994)

15.                 Elvis Found By Alien Divers In Worlds Deepest Chasm - Is That So ? (R.M. Taviner) W:C.C Journal Vo1.23 No.245 p.20 (1995)

16.                 Mega-discoveries in Assynt - Claonaite 7 is here! (I. Young) G.S. G Newsletter No.85 p.1 (1995)


 

In search of Thomas Bushell's Lost Swallow

- a proposed dig at Five Buddles Sink.   Chewton Minery.

On 14/8/95 a meeting was held between representatives of the Somerset Trust, BEC and a group of mine archaeologists from Bristol. Our intention was to gain permission to begin a combined industrial archaeological/cave dig at the above site, situated in a S.S.I.  Following a most informative hour or so at the site it seems likely that, pending acceptance of all the relevant paperwork, permission will be obtained.

Situated at ST 54815138, this site is an intermittent swallet at the east end of a line of four small and one large "buddles"/settling pits some 200ft south of Wheel Pit.  It was dye tested on 7/2/79 by Willy Stanton and supposedly traced to Cheddar Risings after a 55 hour period.  Unfortunately a similar test was in operation at Longwood Swallet at the same time so a measure of doubt must be applied.  The nearby caves of St. Cuthbert's Swallet (tested to Wookey Hole) and Waldegrave Swallet (theoretically to both Wookey and Rodney Stoke) would seem to give the lie to this, as would supposed historical traces from the adjacent Wheel Pit to Rodney Stoke.  Incidentally, Willy, who named Wheel Pit for " Complete Caves of Mendip", is now of the same opinion as the writer in that the name may have originally been applied to Five BuddIes Sink - also named by him.

This inconspicuous grassy hollow, with a lime-mortared stone wall on one side, has attracted only a small amount of attention over the years but suddenly became prominent earlier this year when the writer noted that it took a large stream when the surrounding area was flooded almost to road level (see Snake Pit article).

For many years work has gone on in this area in search of a lost cave explored by lead miners in the pay of Thomas Bushell between 1657 and 1674.  At a depth of some 96ft they commenced driving an adit from this cave up towards the deep and flooded Rowpits lead mines, some 900ft away in what is now Stock Hill

Forest.  This project was eventually abandoned due to industrial strife.  It is possible that Five BuddIes Sink may give access to this cave and if so would be of immense interest to both mine historians and cavers. The surface layout itself and the possibility that the sink was used as a waterwheel pit (similar to that found by Willy at Waterwheel Swallet, Charterhouse) is also fascinating.  Very little industrial archaeology has been attempted in this area so the proposed investigation would be of some importance.

It is proposed that, should permission be granted, a trial surface excavation will be carefully carried out to determine the extent and nature of the mining remains.  John Cornwell's team of enthusiasts are at present working on the site of a local 18th century colliery and are amongst Britain's foremost experts in this field, with over twenty years of experience.

The advice and assistance of Somerset Trust members and officers has also been offered and will be gratefully accepted: the three groups - cavers, mine historians and naturalists - working together and learning valuable techniques and information from each other.

As this is such a sensitive site it is essential that any work is done carefully, discreetly and safely and is also fully documented.  All available information must be logged such as thickness and nature of sediment infill, full measurements of revealed stonework and any artefacts found.  The latter will hopefully be presented to Wells Museum for preservation and display.

Anyone wishing to assist with this project will be welcome.

Specialists will be needed for surveying, photography, fencing the site, engineering the cave dig itself, restoration of remains uncovered and documentary research.

It is unlikely that permission will be granted before the end of the year so next spring may be our starting date. In the meantime, see you down Eastwater!

Tony Jarratt


 

St. Alactite‘s Hall

On the next page there is a rare print from the archives of the Rathaus. Here we see the Blessed St. Alacitite being comforted with strong drink as he prays for a breakthrough in his latest drink.  Note that his assistants (mainly Wessex and MCG) appear not to be taking the matter seriously.  Bertie, the B.E.C. representative (centre) is about to make a contribution).

I was interested to read in BB478, Tony Jarratt and Vince Simmond's article on St. Alactite's Hall - particularly the bit about naming this chamber and the suggestion that I might be able to provide further details of this Patron Saint of cavers.  However, as an ex-editor of the BB, who was thrown out for making the club's journal a laughing-stock, it is with some trepidation that I submit this short treatise in hagiography.

Little (or to be exact, nothing) is known of the early life of the brothers Alactite and Alagmite, whose claim to fame began when they arrived on Mendip at some time during the Dark Ages.   Appalled by the high sickness rate amongst the local cavers due to drinking the native brew made from apples, dead rats, wasps and the like, the brothers resolved to devote their lives to improving the wretched condition of these unfortunate drinkers, most of whom were, of course, cavers.

To this end, they founded a religious order of monks (some of whom were of great renown) dedicated to producing a more wholesome beverage and, after much labour, they invented a drink which they made by fermenting malted barley. They called this new drink Bar (short for Barley) but the locals pronounced it as 'beer'.

Such was the excellence and potency of this new drink, that Alactite could often be seen hanging happily upside-down from a rafter in the roof of their monastery, while Alagmite lay in an untidy heap below him on the floor.  As the reputation of their new drink grew, they came to be jointly thought of as a pillar of the local society.  After their untimely death, by falling into a vat of their brew, the grateful drinkers of Mendip got up a petition and in due course of time, they were canonised and became known as St. Alactite and St. Alagmite, the Patron Saints of cavers.

For some obscure reason, it was St. Alactite who came to be remembered while his brother got forgotten.

This sort of thing often happens (Who can remember Muller, of the Geiger-Muller Counter, for example?). St. Alactite's Day falls on the fifth Tuesday in February - an event which only occurs once in every twenty eight years.  For many centuries, this day was celebrated on Mendip with various forms of, revelry, obscenity and general debauchery, which culminated in the performance of the Mendip De-floral Dance.

 


 

B.E.C. Membership List as at 24/9/95

1212 (P) Julian Aburrow             Southampton, Hampshire.
987 Dave Aubrey                       Salisbury, Wiltshire
20 (L) Bobby Bagshaw               Knowle, Bristol, Avon
1201 (P) Chris Baker                 Lisleard, Cornwall
392 (L) Mike Baker                    Henton, Wells, Somerset
1150 (J) David Ball                     ConeyHurst, Billinhurst, West Sussex.
1220 Mike Barnes                     Butleigh, Somerset
1145 Roz Bateman                    East Harptree, Bristol Avon.
1151 (J) Ruth Baxter                  Coneyhurst, Billingshurst, West Sussex
1079 Henry Bennett                   London
390 (L) Joan Bennett                 Draycott, Somerset
1191 (J)  Lorna Berrie                Clevedon, Avon
1122 Clive Betts                        Clapham, Bedfordshire
731 Bob Bidmead                      East Harptyree, Nr. Bristol, Avon
364 (L) Pete Blogg                    Chaldon, Caterham, Surrey
1114 Pete Bolt                          Cardiff, S. Glamorgan
1205 (P) Nicola Bone                 Illogan, Redruth, Cornwall
145 (L) Sybil Bowden-Lyle          Calne, Wiltshire
1104 Tony Boycott                    Westbury on Trim, Bristol, Avon
1206 (P) Henry Bradley              Illogan, Redruth, Cornwall
868 Dany Bradshaw                  Wells, Somerset
1217 (P) Paul Brock                  Easton, Bristol, Avon
751 (L) T.A. Brookes                 London
1196 Dave Bryant                      Salford, Bristol, Avon
201 John Buxton                       Flitwick, Beds.
956 Ian Caldwell                        Redland, Bristol, Avon
1214 (P) Rebecca Campbell       Frome, Somerset
1014 Chris Castle                      Axbridge, Somerset
1062 (J) Andy Cave                   Priddy, Somerset
1142 (J) Ange Cave                   Priddy, Somerset
1184 (J) Sean Chaffey                Banwell, Avon
1197 John Christie                     Brompton, North Allerton, North Yorks
211 (L) Clare Coase                   Berkeley-Vale, New South Wales, 2259, Australia
89 (L) Alfie Collins                     Litton, Somerset
1204 (P) Julian Collinson            Pemboa, Helston, Cornwall
1175 Ali Cooper                        Brighton, Sussex
727 Bill Cooper                         Totterdown, Bristol, Avon
862 Bob Cork                            Pen Hill, Wells, Somerset
870 Gary Cullen                        Southwater, Nr Horsham, West Sussex.
405 (L) Frank Darbon                 British Columbia, Canada.
423 (L) Len Dawes                    Minster Matlock, Derbyshire
815 Nigel Dibbden                     Holmes Chapel, Cheshire
164 (L) Ken Dobbs                    Beacon Heath, Exeter, Devon
829 (L) Angie Dooley                 Harborne, Birmingham
710 (J) Colin Dooley                  Harborne, Birmingham
1000 (L) Roger Dors                  Priddy, Somerset
1038 Alan Downey                    Luton, Bedfordshire
1207 (P) Chris Dubbery              Street, Somerset
830 John Dukes                        Street, Somerset
996 Terry Earley                        Wylye, Warminster, Wiltshire
322 (L) Bryan Ellis                     Westonzoyland, Bridgwater, Somerset
232 Chris Falshaw                     Crosspool, Sheffield, South Yorks
269 (L) Tom Fletcher                 Bramcote, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire
1218 Stephen Flinders               Burrington, Somerset
404 (L) Albert Francis                Wells, Somerset
569 (J) Joyce Franklin                Staffordshire
469 (J) Peter Franklin                Staffordshire
1159 John Freeman                   Upper Radford, Paulton, Bristol, Avon
835 Len Gee                             St. Edgeley, Stockport,
1098 Brian Gilbert                     Cheshire
1069 (J) Angie Glanvill               Chingford, London
1017 (J) Peter Glanvill                Chard, Somerset
647 Dave Glover                        Chard, Somerset
1006 Edward Gosden                Basingstoke, Hampshire
790 (J) Martin Grass                  Twyford, Winchester, Hampshire
1009 Robin Gray                       Wookey, Somerset
1155 Rachael Gregory               Cheddar, Somerset
1089 Kevin Gurner                     Pentir, Nr., Bangor, Gwynedd
1088 Nick Gymer                      Theydon Bois, Epping, Essex
104 (L) Mervyn Hannam             Theydon Bois, Epping, Essex
1186 (J) Helen Harper                Semington, Trowbrdge, Wiltshire
999 (J) Rob Harper                    Somerset
4 (L) Dan Hassell                      Somerset
1160 Nick Hawkes                    Moorlynch, Bridgwater, Somerset
1078 Mike Hearn                       Westbury-sub-Mendip, Wells, Somerset
1117 Pete Hellier                       Wells, Somerset
974 Jeremy Henley                    Nempnett Thrubwell, Chew Stoke, Bristol, Avon
691 Dudley Herbert                    Shepton Mallet
952 Bob Hill                              c/o The Belfry
1105 Jo Hills                             Port Gentil, Republic de Gabon
905 Paul Hodgson                     Wisborough Green, Billingshurst, West Sussex.
1215 (P) Adrian Hole                 Burcott, Wells, Somerset
1219 (P) Sean Howe                  Stockland, Honiton, Devon
923 Trevor Hughes                     Frampton Cotterell, Bristol, Avon
540 (L) Dave Irwin                      Bleadney, Wells, Somerset
1141 Gary Jago                         Priddy, Somerset
922 Tony Jarratt                        Farrington Gurney, Avon
668 Mike Jeanmaire                  Priddy, Somerset
995 Brian Johnson                     Paek Forest, Buxton, Derbyshire
1111 Graham Johnson               Ottery St. Mary, Devon
560 (L) Frank Jones                   Wells, Somerset
567 (L) Alan Kennett                  Priddy, Somerset
884 John King                           Charlton Musgrove, Wincanton, Somerset
316 (L) Kangy King                    Wisborough Green, Billingshurst, West Sussex.
542 (L) Phil Kingston                 Pucklechurch, Bristol, Aven
413 (L) R. Kitchen                     Brisbane, Queensland, 4122, Australia
1162 Joc Large                         Yelverton, Devon
667 (L) Tim Large                      Brislington, Bristol
1129 Dave Lennard                    Brislington, Bristol
1199 Alex Livingston                  Wells, Somerset
1180 Rich Long                         Clevedon, Avon
1057 Mark Lumley                     Paulton, Bristol, Avon
1071 Mike McDonald                 Stoke St. Michael, Somerset
1195 Struan McDonald              Knowle, Bristol, Avon
550 (L) R A MacGregor              Devizes, Wiltshire.
725 Stuart McManus                 Baughurst, Basingstoke, Hants
558 (L) Tony Meaden                 Priddy, Somerset
1044 Andy Middleton                 Westbury, Bradford Abbas, Sherborne, Dorset
1194 Nick Mitchell                     Hardington-Mandeville, Somerset
1172 (J) Sean Morgan                Ash, Aldershot, Hants
1210 (P) Guy Munnings             Clevedon, Avon
1176 Brian Murliss                    Croydon, Surrey
1183 Andy Newton                    Weston-super-Mare, Avon
936 Dave Nichols                      Weston-super-Mare, Avon.
396 (L) Mike Palmer                  Western Australia.
1045 Rich Payne                       Yarley, Wells, Somerset
1188 (J) Sharon Penny              Orpington, Kent.
1134 Martin Peters                    Banwell, Avon.
499 (L) A. Philpot                      Wells, Somerset.
944 Steve Plumley                    Bishopston, Bristol, Avon
1193 Emma Porter                    Burrington, Bristol, Avon
1209 (P) Martin Postlethwaite     Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
337 Brian Prewer                       London
481 (L) John Ransom                 Priddy, Wells, Somerset
1126 Steve Redwood                 Patchway, Bristol, Avon
986 (J) Lil Romford                    Draycott, Somerset
985 (J) Phil Romford                  Shepton Mallet, Somerset
921 Pete Rose                          Shepton Mallet, Somerset
1208 (P) Stuart Sale                  Crediton, Devon
240 (L) Alan Sandall                  Isleworth, Middlesex
359 (L) Carol Sandall                 Nailsea, Avon
1170 Andy Sanders                   Nailsea, Avon
1173 Estelle Sandford                Peasdown, St. John, Bath, Avon
1178 Ivan Sandford                    Wells,  Somerset
237 (L) Bryan Scott                   Crewkerne, Somerset
78 (L) R Setterington                 Ferrat 06230, Cote D’Azur, France
213 (L) Rod Setterington            Taunton, Somerset
1036 (J) Nicola Slann                 Harpendon, Herts.
915 Chris Smart                        Wookey, Somerset
911 Jim Smart                          Nr. Bradford on Avon, Wilts
1213 (P) Alex Smith                  c/o The Belfry
1203 (P) Bob Smith                   Devizes, Wilts.
1192 Carmen Smith                   Camborne, Cornwall
823 Andy Sparrow                     Milborne Port, Sherborne, Dorset.
1 (L) Harry Stanbury                  Priddy, Somerset
575 (L) Dermot Statham             Bude, Cornwall
365 (L) Roger Stenner                Warkworth, Northumberland
1084 Richard Stephens              Weston super Mare, Avon
1187 Mark Tanner                     Wells, Somerset
583 Derek Targett                      Fishponds, Bristol, Avon
772 Nigel Taylor                        East Horrington, Wells Somerset
284 (L) Alan Thomas                 Langford, Avon
571 (L) N Thomas                      Priddy, Somerset
74 (L) Dizzie Thompsett-Clark    Oulton Broad, Lowestoft, Suffolk
1216 Martin Torbett                   Great Baddow, Chelmsford, Essex
381 (L) Daphne Towler               Cheddar, Somerset
1023 Matt Tuck                         Nyetimber, Bognor Regis, Sussex
382 Steve Tuck                         Yelverton, Devon
1066 (J) Alan Turner                  Yelverton, Devon
678 Dave Turner                        Leigh on Mendip, Bath, Avon
912 John Turner                        Leigh on Mendip, Bath, Avon
1179 (J) Kirsten Turner               Tavistock, Devon
635 (L) S. Tuttlebury                  Bath, Avon
1096 Brian van Luipen                Buck Hors Rd., Farnham, Surrey
887 Greg Villis                          Wick, Littlehampton, West Sussex
175 (L) D. Whaddon                  Weston super Mare, North Somerset
1185 Chas Wethered                 Welling, Kent
1118 Carol White                      Pateley Bridge, North Yorks.
1068 John Whiteley                   Newton Abbot, Devon
1202 (P) Mike Willett                 Brislington, Bristol, Avon
1190 Chris Willey                      Gosport, Hants.
1092 Babs Williams                  Knowle, Bristol, Avon
1087 John Williams                   Weston-super-Mare, Avon, Somerset
1164 (J) Hilary Wilson                Keynsham, Avon
1130 (J) Mike Wilson (snr)         Keynsham, Avon
1153 Mike Wilson (jnr)               Whitchurch, Bristol, Avon
559 (J) Barrie Wilton                  Haydon, Nr. Wells, Somerset
568 (J) Brenda Wilton                Haydon, Nr. Wells, Somerset
721 Graham Wilton-Jones          Watton, Thetford, Norfolk.
1211 (P) Michael Woolnough      Hornchurch, Essex.
877 Steven Woolven                  West Chillington, West Sussex
477 Ronald Wyncoll                  Holycroft, Hinkley, Leics.
683 Dave Yeandle                     Greenbank, Eastville, Bristol, Avon.


 

ISSA

Press Release

International  Society      for Speleological Art

Contact: Robin Gray, Cheddar, Somerset

The International Society for Spelaeological Art Is a group of keen cavers & artists including a number of full time professional artists.

Until recently all worked on their cave subjects in isolation, some with great success, unaware that there might be others with a similar interest.

Contact has recently been made with like minded artists in America, Australia and Europe, some of whom have already become members, making the Society truly international.

A dramatic spectacle

Personal styles differ dramatically, ranging from highly representational and academic works to stylised and the almost totally abstract.  Yet all portray the atmosphere of being there and when exhibited together, the pictures form a cohesive collection harmonised by the subject matter, exuding a compelling enthusiasm and knowledge of what caves and the sport of caving are all about.

Members regularly meet to go drawing and caving together and are active and regular club cavers as well.

Now, working as a group in order to promote their work to a wider public, one can imagine the excitement when artists with similar interests make themselves known.

Great Public Interest

Just one year after the formation of ISSA, interest from the general public and galleries far outstrips the considerable attention and acclaim shown by the 'caving crew', however, it must be said that the caving enthusiasts have welcomed the greater prominence of cave art warmly and a painting comes nearly as high on the list of requirements as a new wetsuit!!

Exhibitions by individual members at the annual conference of the British Cave Research Association have produced a wave of interest and excellent sales as have the two previous group showings, one in Wales and one in Yorkshire (both major caving areas).

ISSA EXHIBITION ~ WORKSHOPS IN CHEDDAR -

October- December 1995

An exhibition of the groups' finest work, together with a series of workshops will take place in the Bar Gallery of the Kings of Wessex Leisure Centre, Cheddar from Saturday 28 October to Friday December I st., from 10am to 9pm daily.

The private viewing will take place on Saturday 28th October 11.30am to 2.30pm.

The exhibition, in the heart of the South of England's finest caving area is bound to generate even more interest. It is anticipated that this interest will extend to the art centres of Bath and Bristol.

Pictures exhibited will include drawings and paintings in a variety of media depicting cavers in caves and potholes in the UK & overseas.

Several very well known names from the art world will be represented as well as a variety of well known and 'colourful' characters from the sport of caving.

Author and caver Alfie Collins will be signing copies of his latest book at 12am.

A weekend to remember.

Running alongside the ISSA event will be an exhibition of cave photography at the Cheddar Library and an exhibition of caving cartoons.

In addition to the three exhibitions ISSA is organising workshops on drawing and painting both above and below ground on the Sunday and anybody is welcome to join in (only cavers on the underground workshop).

The Underground Press!!

If you would like an interview or a demonstration of how we work underground this can be arranged by contacting either: Robin Gray. Cheddar, Somerset. or, in the daytime contact:

Mark Lumley (Gonzo) at the Creative Edge, Bath

For a moment your light is the only light in the World ...

Your light is the World!

Bruce Bedford