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


I have included the reports at the front of the issue so that those of you that can't be bothered with them can skip through to the articles.

Please also note the dinner booking forms at the back.  Please complete these asap and return them if you are coming. I know from my experiences last year that the organisation is a nightmare only made worse by late returns.

Anyway I hope this issue gives you all some suitable early morning, small room reading pleasure.

If not. .. you can always use it to w*** your a-*!!!!


So the last BB of the Club Year, and my last one too!  See my report for further details of this.  Things have been a bit slow at the Belfry of late, the same crowd of regular members has been around but there’s a lot of people that we haven't seen for some time .... what has happened to you all .... you are missed.

I know that Andy and Ange Cave have departed these shores for France on a permanent basis, I don't think for a minute that it's the last we have seen of them though.  I am sure you'll join me in wishing them all the best in their ventures over there.  Various members have their address details should you wish to contact them.

For my sins I will be moving back up to London shortly for Career reasons .. (yes even I have to work from time to time).  This probably means that you will see more of me on Mendip as since I have been living in Gurney Slade my visits to Priddy have become fewer.  Funny old world innit?

I know that our regular diggers have been active recently and that J-Rat continues to unearth artefacts (alien or otherwise) from Five Buddies Sink.

I have also finished my diving project in St Cuthbert’s.  Thank you to those that helped with this .... and to my critics ... I suggest you learn to read because then you would understand why I was doing it!!!

I will write up a full report of my activities for a future BB.

Also in this issue you will find Dinner Booking forms.  Thanks must go to Nigel Taylor for organising this again this year.  I did it last year and it is bloody hard work.  I hope that the attendance is worthy of the effort he has put in.

Lastly I am sorry to see Jeff Price, Mike Wilson and Hilary Wilson standing down from the committee this year.  They have all been keen and valuable members for some time and their efforts have not gone unnoticed.  I am sure the membership would echo my sentiments and thanks to them all.

Anyway that's the lot from me.  Hope to see you all soon.  Regards and Good caving ..... Jingles.


Membership Secretaries Report

I will not be as verbose this year, mainly because I do not have much to report.  The sending out of addressed envelopes to all last years paid up members worked really well, with a plethora of returning to me before the end of the year and then the usual dribble for months after that.  Ah well I suppose nothing is perfect.  I propose doing the same again with the first issue of the as after the AG.M.

Just to remind you all that the cut off date for memberships is the end of December so you will receive no more gratis copies of the as after that, if you have not paid your subs.

On an actual membership front this year has been very disappointing with only a total of five new members joining the club, 3 in January of this year and two at the last committee meeting in September, I would like to formally welcome you all to the club.

I still have not found an effective piece of software to manage the names and addresses yet, even after trying various routes; perhaps someone will finally suggest a package that will do the job.

I am standing again for re-election to the committee and hope to be re-elected to the post of Membership Secretary as I'm fairly sure no one else wants to do it!

See you at the AG.M.

Richard Stephens (Dick-Fred)
Membership Secretary.


From the Belfry Table Number 21

Don't forget, the A.G.M and Annual Dinner, Saturday 4th. October 1997.

The Dinner will be held at Bristol University Veterinary School at Langford House, Langford, Somerset, details appear in this BB with the booking form.  A 53 seater coach will leave the Hunters Lodge at 7.00pm, book with your dinner bookings, but as always, pay on the coach, cost will be £2-50 a head, which after drivers tip deduction will leave a sum towards the Post Dinner barrels at the Belfry!

The Club extends its' deepest sympathy to Carol and the family of Life Member Alan Sandal (240). In keeping with the feelings which prevailed at his funeral on Friday 15th August, I will simply wish his spirit excess wherever it may be.

Alex Gee, Rich Blake and Quackers have just returned from a fortnight in Austria where they holidayed and caved with Mr. & Mrs. Snablet et All!  All very brown, rumours of caverns discovered measureless to man have not yet been heard on the hill, is that why they are so brown?

Talking of Caves, Angie and Andy have bade farewell to the UK and emigrated to a fine caving area of France.  Bob & Maryika Hill and family send greeting from Gabon to all, in a recently received letter.

I have designed new BEC Tee-shirts and car stickers, and in the first instance these are available from Tony Jarrett at Bat Products {Thanks Tony!] or directly from me in case of difficulty, though please remember Postage will be extra!

Tony Boycott tells me that recent CO2 readings were again high in WHITE PIT.  Take extreme care if you visit this cave at present.

A new borehole drilled this week from the base of Westbury Quarry encountered a possible cavity with water at 240 feet, but sadly unless you are an aggregate producer, no indication of other cavities before that depth.  Drilling started at 170.29 m(Above Sea Level) circa 562 feet.  The borehole is for ground water and scientific monitoring so may yield interesting information in the future.

The EXPLOSIVES USER GROUP will run the first officially accredited training weekend on the 24th/25th/26th. October 1997 on Mendip.  Primarily for existing licensed holders across the UK it is intended to expand this training for potential and would-be licence holders at a later date.  The group’s action is intended to forestall future legislation that may well be brought in for mandatory training for all such handlers of explosives.  At present explosives handlers in the quarry industry are the only persons who by law must have detailed training and examinations, however it is known that the Construction Industry is soon to be brought into a similar scheme, so hopefully the Caving world will be ahead of such legislation and have their house in order, enabling exploration with the 'gentle art' to continue for years to come!.

Goodbye from the Table, ... see you at the AGM?

Nigel Taylor, Hon.Sec.
Friday 29th August 1997.


Report of the Hon. Secretary 1996/7

Let there be no pretence, I am very concerned about the state of the Club.  An independent observer might draw the conclusion that apathy rules!  Did anyone read the minutes of last years AGM published in the BB last December, did or indeed does anyone care?

I should love to paint a glowing portrait of the state of the BEC, but this would be false.  Akin to most clubs, general interest from new blood in joining clubs is diminishing.  Whether this is due to lack of interest or finances, or a general fall-off in society in general - in a need to belong to a body or club, - I cannot but surmise.  What I am concerned about is the general interest in the state of the club by existing members.  Are we getting it wrong?  Surely at £24 per year, indeed at £20 if you pay early, it cannot be the costs that are putting members off.  Try organising a function and support is less than worth the effort, with the exception of the Annual Dinner.  Perhaps we are not giving you the member what you need, .... but are you telling us what you want.  It is no good some individuals saying:  "We do all the hard caving for the club, why should we have to do anything else!" What makes a club, 'The Club', is the spirit generated by the varied mixture of persons who make up the membership, the variety of individual characters, skills, sense of humour or lack of such, or whatever.  Surely it was that essence that made you the member join the club in the first place.

Thus, as human beings we have all the frailties and faults of any other human beings, and as club members we differ in our abilities and characters.  So then why, oh why has this last year seen the intense bickering and sometimes vicious back biting that seems at times ready to cause rifts within the club.  It is most sad that this is most evident within the committee.  Work has not been done by some for various reasons, others can be critical of this, but let us keep aggro out of this please.

As Secretary, I feel that my role is often to sit-on-the-fence, not to negate standing up and being counted, but rather to prevent discord in the club.  I try to put my personal views to one side and take the view of what is best for the club.  I certainly 'Ain’t no angel' if you'll excuse the language, but I try, and trying is what being a member, and most especially a committee member is all about.

Attendances at meetings are often arduous, especially after a long weeks work, but they are part of the role.  So is playing your part in being a member of a committee, being prepared to make and agree on decisions and stand by the agreed policies of the Club.

Because of the errors made in our electoral process last year, the AGM brought all candidates onto the committee.  Such an action, gives a committee position with no responsibilities for some. Please do not draw the inference that I am criticising any such individual, but, perhaps future AGM's might consider giving back up roles to the 'floating members' so that certain heavy workload positions are supported by deputies, thus giving such a floating member a role and actual responsibility, which hopefully in turn will give them pride and pleasure in playing a part in the running of their club. In practice I feel that the smaller the committee, the easier it is to obtain constructive agreement on decisions, and to ensure work is effectively tackled.  Set against this is the argument that I have put forward myself in the past, that if someone is keen enough to stand for election then especially if they are younger or new members, then let them stand and be given a chance.

I especially wish to make a point of thanking on both my beha1f, and also that of the club, three people who have decided to step down from the committee this year.  Mike and Hilary Wilson and Jeff Price have served for several years on the committee, always giving much support and time on behalf of the BEC. often with no praise for their unstinting efforts.  They have worked quietly away in the background, and could always be counted upon to 'produce the goods' be it by way of their attendance at meetings, working weekends or as part of the organising team for functions.  To my view they epitomise the spirit of being a club member, and their intended departure is to the detriment of the club.  I hope they may still reconsider and remain as candidates for the committee.

To those members who are saddened by my views, I offer no apology.  I will not gloss over a situation which at present is far from healthy. I have said in several "From the Belfry Table" articles in the BB. it is your club, play a part in it, please!!!  Introduce a new member, help run a stomp or a barbecue, organise an away meet, offer your services, just please .... whether you are an old timer who already 'has done your bit' or a new member don't just sit there, ...... we need you, and hopefully you need the club.  That way we can look forward to an even brighter next sixty plus years, we will keep the name of the BEC in a state to be proud of and an envy of many other clubs. Only together with effort and your support do we go forward.

Nigel Taylor
Member 772.
Hon. Secretary Bristol Exploration Club, 1996/7
28th. August 1997.


Belfry Bulletin Editor's Report.

John Williams.

This has certainly not been the best year I have had as Editor.  I have exceeded the number of issues that I promised to produce at last years AGM but there have been problems with the distribution - for which I will take responsibility ­and I know some of you have felt let down by this. I can only apologise to you - I have done the best I could under extremely difficult circumstances. Thanks must, however, go to J-Rat who has been invaluable in the distribution of the BB.

There has been much local criticism of the BB this year and surprisingly little support from the membership both in terms of articles and help offered but never received.  This has to be the slowest year I have had in terms of articles from the membership.  I thank those of you that have written something, and remind the rest of you that it is very easy to sit in the pub and criticise the BB for being too thin or lacking in interesting articles .... but what have YOU done about it recently??? I know for a fact that there are several members sitting on articles at the moment and would predict that the next editor will receive a sudden rush. Personal??? .. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Alfie told me that editing the BB is a thankless task - I am inclined to agree with him.

I was in two minds about taking the editorship on again this year anyway but was swayed at the AGM, maybe I should have stuck to my feeling, who knows.

I will not stand again as editor this year as my heart is no longer in it and I know that there are others who are keen to have a go.  I will not stand in the way and would wish the next editor every success with a difficult and demanding task.

It seems to me that there has been great division within the committee this year and I would personally question the motivation of some of the members.  I urge the membership to think carefully about voting this AGM as it is my opinion that the club is in grave danger of taking a dive and that very careful action is required on the part of next years committee.  The committee are the representatives of the club and not there as individuals, personalities should be kept out of club business, this has patently not been the case in the past year.

For my part I wish to take a step back from all of this.

Should the club wish me on the committee again this year I am happy to stand but I do not wish to take on a major office ....... perhaps a floating position.

I have put in much over the last four years and have largely enjoyed the responsibility and duty but I feel it is time for a change.



Tacklemaster's report.

Mike Wilson.

Tackle users this will be my last report as Tacklemaster.  I have decided to stand down!!  My hope is that a fresh look at the job will improve the poor ladder and rope state of the store!!

I would like to thank all the club members who have booked tackle out and returned it after use!! To the unknown persons who remove tackle - don't book it out and retain it - I would say that your selfish actions cause a great deal of hassle to other club members. - YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!

This year has been quiet, the store has averaged 2 - 3 ladders in stock plus 4 spreaders and one lifeline - this is a parlous state for stock.

On the plus side - the Cuthbert's ladder has reappeared after a 4 month absence (I found it in the drying room - where it had mysteriously materialised! - ed!!) and we have managed to fabricate a steel ladder for Ogof Draenen.  This has been delivered and left in the cave ready for installation at Balcony Pitch.

The rung stock is down to 6 ladders worth and there is enough wire and crimps ditto.

My thanks to Jeff Price for drilling the Daenen ladder sections.  This was a great help.  Rich Blake has expressed interest in the position of Tacklemaster next year and I feel his pugnacious style would suit the job.

For inventory see below.

Tackle Inventory 1997.

Total previous ladders:                21
Total Scrapped                          4
New Manufactured                     0
Total 1997-09-07                        17

August stock count                    3
Accounted for (digs)                   6
Ladders missing                        8
Spreaders                                 3
Wire belays                               4

Stock lifeline count at August      1 x 75m Dyn

All other ropes have been missing for several months.  This means they were NOT BOOKED OUT!!

Exploration Stock.

Stock ladders                0

(One transferred to St Cuthbert's)

Ropes                1 x 18m Static
                        1 x 20m Static
                        1 x 36m Static
                        1 x 35m Static
                        1 x 33m Static
                        1 x 67m Static
                        1 x 54m Static
                        1 x 40m Static

N.B. To my knowledge all these ropes are over 7 years old and untested!!

I feel the club should invest in some new ropes and ladders!!!!


Caving Secretary's Report.

Jeff Price.

Members have been active abroad in the past year in France, Germany, Austria, India and diving in the Philippines.  (Don't forget to write up articles for the BB please).

The year has also seen a different approach to the meets list.  As requested there was a Mendip Diary, aimed at new and prospective members. Thanks to everybody who showed willing with this.  I also added several Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Wales dates.

Some of the Mendip meets were poorly attended - so maybe next year we should have a rethink!!!

Pen Park Hole is still hugely popular.  If you wish a trip get in touch with either myself or Trebor - it is excellent.

Midweek digging has been, as ever, popular - Barrow Rake, Five Buddies Sink and White Pit yielding more passage.  Several members are digging and resurveying Eastwater Swallet.

St Cuthbert’s trips calmed down during the summer - that is usual.  Winter is on the way so it should get busier from now on.  There is still some cleaning to be done - so if anyone wants a trip I am sure a leader will oblige.  We still have to fix a permanent ladder in the entrance for insurance reasons.

I.D.M.F. Report.


Mike Palmer.


Bobby Bagshaw.

And the current Caving Secretary.

No applications were received ...... See accounts for balance.


1997 Annual Hut Wardens Report

Compiled by Rebecca Campbell

This final report follows the interim report written in March.

The remainder of the year has indicated little upturn in the hut's affairs.  Very few guests have stayed on the Mendips in general and the continued lack of residency by members has only served to exasperate the situation.

The collapse in hut income has not been as recent or sudden as indicated in the figures above.  It was noted by Ivan Sandford in his 1996 Annual Hut Wardens report that residency was dropping off alarmingly.  This trend has continued and the hut remains relatively unused at weekends for overnight usage.  I would be grateful if more people paid day fees for general use of the hut, such as day time visitations or post-public house gatherings.

As mentioned in my interim report I do have a strategy for increasing hut usage by visiting groups. I have obtained a list of university addresses to whom I intend to send information on Mendip opportunities and the Belfry.  My main concern at this time is that there has been a considerable time lapse since many university caving clubs visited the Mendips.  As a result it may be assumed that any students who came with those previous parties have now left to follow their careers. This will mean that some clubs may have grown ignorant to the absolute splendidness of our pleasant climate and awesome speleological challenges.

In terms of general day to day maintenance the hut continues to be supported by a diligent minority. Thanks go to the guardian angel of the oil tank, the Friday afternoon gardener and every caver who takes the time to swab the decks of the changing room after a caving trip.


Hut Usage


% of HuUTotallncome

% (Decrease)lIncrease
























33.11 %






















 Day Fees









 Hut Totals









 Hut fees as % of total income









 Other Income









 Cuthbert’s Fees









 CCC Permits









 Cuthbert’s Reports



























 T-shirts & Stickers


















Total income









The projects mentioned within the interim report have not been put into action as yet.  This is primarily because every member of the core team worked so hard in the first few months of the year, that I haven't had the heart to ask people to give up their summer to continue the Belfry refurbishment. Besides which, both myself and the hut engineer have been noticeable by my absence this summer due to business and social commitments.

In the circumstances we remain in need of the following:

Kitchen work surfaces for completion of the kitchen cupboards - wall mounted Microwave

Shelving wood for constructing a large rucksack/kit storage unit in the bunkroom

Dry stone walling stone

Large wall mounted water heater

Please contact Glenview if you have any of the above and we can arrange collection, if necessary. Suggestions by all members for improvements to the hut are more than welcome. (Tel: 01749 xxxxxxx - answer machine).

As many of the local members are aware, I have left Glenview and now reside in Wells.  I have maintained regular contact with the cottage and recommend that it continues to be used as the hut booking line, with the blessing of its current residents, Ivan Sandford and Nick Mitchell.  This continuity will reduce any communication problems as Glenview has remained the abode of the Hut Warden for several years.


Club Rescue Team Leader.

Things have been very quiet rescue wise (hooray).  I have been bullying people to attend the MRO lectures organised by Dany and these are due to start again shortly.

I am in the process of compiling a rescue list of personnel to hand to Brian Prewer, if you wish to be included on this please contact me on 0976 925 307.  Since becoming team leader in March I have not had time to organise a rescue practice because of business commitments but I am organising one for October as I now have more time.

I wish to continue in this post if the membership re-elect.    Cheers Alex.


The End of an Era?

John Buxton.

Editor's Note:

Although not a BEC member Rob Palmer was known to many of us and had been involved in projects with various Club members over the years.  Not least his involvement with the Cheddar Pushes as well as the Andros project.  It seems appropriate to include this article by John Buxton - still an active member of the BEC as well as the COG.

When I came back to active diving and read the literature 'The darkness beckons' etc. I started to daydream as I read about the Blue Holes of the Bahamas.  Later we inherited some money and diving holidays became a possibility.

I saw an advert from an address in Somerset about a blue holes foundation organised by the same Rob palmer I had read about. With some nervousness I rang the telephone number and an American lady answered.  (Stephie Schwabe ... Rob's wife).

I explained my geriatric age and was told no problem, the magical ‘DQ' apparently worked.

Eventually I arrived at Nassau airport 4.8.95 and after collecting my luggage a very fit looking man I immediately recognised as Rob collected me and carted me off in a huge taxi. We travelled around the town and more diving gear was collected en route.

The next morning the boat 'Ocean Explorer' was full of gear and bodies and we set off South.  As we went about the unpacking of gear, Rob came round and without too much emphasis explained I didn't really want to use an ABLJ ... 'Try out these "Wings"'.  These were carefully assembled and explained to me and indeed they did work well.

This year was my third expedition and again the magic was working well.  Rob, besides being an extraordinarily capable diver was also a very good judge of other divers' capabilities.

I now had my own wings ... suitably modified to accept side mounted cylinders.  Rob suggested dives I could do with other people or even by myself. I was doubtful about some of them but he was right.  I did do most of them.  The one I turned down I later regretted as I did a more difficult one subsequently. When I hoisted myself aboard the RIB for a deep dive with three large cylinders round me, Rob was quite happy when I told him I had indeed practised swimming with such a load, but he did meet me at -60m on the way back just to make sure.

On his third trip due to the cancellation of my second week on the boat, Rob invited me to accompany him to Grand Bahama.  He organised digs and we dived each day in the Owl Hole - Mermaid Hole complex. This is a marvellous system of decorated chambers and passages. During this period we developed a rapport and discussed each dive before and after, and talked frankly of shortcomings ... mine of course!!

We did a longer dive with a stage bottle on the last day.

Rob left on Thursday 24th for the Red Sea.  He was to be away from home for five weeks and was not really looking forward to it as he had so much BHF work to do at home.

When I heard the news of his death I had a great feeling of sadness for Stephie, followed by a hollow feeling that summers will not be the same any more.

JSB 22.5.97.

Editorial Comment - Rob Parker.

The sad news of the death of Rob Parker reached us a short while ago.  Like Rob Palmer he was not a BEC member but was known well to many of us and his involvement on projects on Mendip is legend.  Anyone who has seen the 'Nosey Parker' video will attest to this.

Many of us also used his climbing facilities in Bristol .. a warm welcome was always there for fellow cavers and divers.

Like Palmer, Rob parker was at the cutting edge of cave diving and had been for many years.  He was involved in international projects such as the Blue Holes and the Wakulla Springs project.

To me he was something of an inspiration ... indeed like John Buxton it was in reading of the exploits of people like this that I became interested in caving and cave diving in the first place.  I was lucky enough to meet and spend time with some of my 'heroes in print' and Rob was one of them.

I am sure the club will join me in passing on condolences to his family.

The Cave Diving fraternity has suffered a doubly tragic loss .... two of the foremost divers have passed on.

May they be remembered fondly ..... their exploits certainly pass now into the realm of caving legend.



Librarians Report

This is my first year as librarian and I wish to continue in this post, if I am re-elected.

I have examined the library contents and have identified the following problems that I have started to tackle.

Lack of cupboard space:- The cupboards are now full and there is no more room for the storage of new acquisitions.  I have been trying to source some free or cheap upright drawing chests for the storage of surveys, as this would free up floor space for the installation of some more cupboards.  So if any you work in drawing offices etc and can help to obtain some please do so.

Deterioration of the old Logs and Journals:- I was dismayed to find that a lot of the old logs had started to rot because of the damp conditions, so I have started to leave the heater on in the winter and this seems to have dried them out, I have also found the log for 1947-50 in a right shit state, and it is currently being rebound and photocopies made.  This is being carried out by Jeff Price who has kindly arranged to have it done for nought, thanks Jeff.

In addition there have been several acquisitions for the Library this year.  Two books that have been purchased :- Sheck Exleys "Caverns Measureless to Man" and Dave Irwin’s et al "The Mendip Cave Registry".  We have also received several book donations from Jim Smart, Jeff Price, Jingles and Dave Turner.

We have also been given a Computer by Henry Bennett and this has been upgraded by Estelle.  Thanks Again.

That's all Folks.

Cheers Alex.


Supping Tup's Arse in Dentdale!

The weather the week before Whitsun was terrible, more like April showers than May Sunshine.

In spite of the poor omens Hilary, Babs, Jeff, Rob and myself decided to carry on with the now semi permanent 'old codgers' charabanc trip to Dent in Yorkshire.  Estelle arrived early on Friday and met up with John Christie and BOB the belfry boy on Saturday. They all managed to slip a trip into Red Moss cave.

The B team did a circular walk up Funters Gill around to Nun House arriving back in Dent in bright sunshine.

Sunday we all teamed up with 'Dobber John' Christie and the Craven group.  Birks Fell was the objective and after a lengthy walk from the busy car park, we managed to go as far as cascade pitch.  I managed to get jammed in a tight slot just before cascade.

We exited and walked down to Buckden Zoo car park complete with 1000 grockles.

Drove off to the George and Dragon in Dent for beer and food and a boasting session.

We all checked Clive's wrists for handcuff marks then IDNA tested the digs on his back to Estelle’s nails!!!

Tuesday ... good weather ... walked from Horton to Ling Gill and High Birkwith Farm circular route - 11 miles!  Plenty of wildlife including the Lesser Spotted Purple Headed Red Peeker (?) Usually found behind a wall!

Again returning on bloody stumps for beers and brags at the Sportsman's.

We also decided that Grolsh lager stubbies should have a new logo .... "Take my top off and give somebody one!!"

Weds ... Jeff and Babs with Hilary and Mike 'portering' pottered up to the GG Bradford meet in glorious sunshine - I was relegated to carrying a rucksack with food and beer. Said hello to Whitemeg who was suffering from an acute case of knackered tentitis.

Back at Dent - alone at last - we kept falling over Willet and his Wifelets.  This huge rooster with several hens put Mike Willet to shame.

Finally the grouse moors walk to Coverdale was the height of the week's walking.  An excellent bird watching walk of 11 miles or so over two moors and taking in the Coverdale valley.  The weather was hot and sunny ... if anything .. too hot!!

Hilary caught the sun and was dubbed 'Rudolf the red necked rambler!' 

AHH well back to the Sun Inn for B&B (Beer and Bullshitting)

Friday .. pottered around then trundled back down the motorway in an empty charabanc to Keynsham.

P.S. Tup's Arse is the local brew ... Ram's Bottom!!!

Mike Wilson.


A Fortean experience in Assynt

As we rolled up the drive to Taig na Faimh there seemed to be an ominous number of cars already present. Yes, you've guessed it, the hut was double booked again with every inch of bunk and floor space taken up by climbers cavers and walkers.  After a meal at the Alt at which Eric was presented with a photographic record of his Waterslide trip last year (as well as one of a zonked-looking J-Rat wielding a Bosch drill at the sump) we decamped to the old hut for a tolerable night's snooze with the mouse turds.  Sunday dawned sunny and the BEC/GSG contingent consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Snablet, Graham Bromley, Tavand J-Rat headed for East Block in Claonite while Julian Steve Cuddihy and I after a call to Jim Crooks took the Lochinver run.  Pete Rose Trevor Knief and Andy Tyler did what everybody else wasn't!

At Lochinver we did a passable Steptoe imitation along the harbour front pitching timber into Pete's trailer - sufficient for the entire week.  Jim, looking not a day older, had re-stocked his shed with more junk than last year and after brushing out several gallons from the floor inside grumbled about the state of the roof as did I after emptying a gallon of water over myself from the fireman's helmet which had lain just under the leak. After a verbal trot through the immune system as derived from a recent Horizon programme he'd seen he told us the tale of the dead colonel, the moose's head and the 'Del-boy' diver. Apply here for further details as well as the one about the yuppie rat catcher.  All slightly Fortean.

The pie shop has increased its range of pies but the proprietor didn't know whether to look disgusted or pleased with a recommendation from Michael Winner who had passed through last year.  He was feeling sulky that Winner could conclude he ran a chippy from looking at the bistro's exterior.  I also discovered he (the proprietor not Michael Winner) used to go caving on Mendips. For all I know he might be a BEC member ­perhaps he could be persuaded to join the GSG and we'd get a pie discount. One can dream!

After this it was time for caving and Steve's introduction to Claonite and bottle carries. This was probably a bad idea as regards persuading Steve he could manage sump 3 and beyond.  I was so un-together I nearly managed to free dive sump one instead of doing the by-pass. After dumping the bottles (which we never used and I only got back from Simon two months later) we crawled into East Block for photography. On the way I realised why I hadn't been there for 7 years and that the French caving term 'penible' sums it all up very nicely. Bumped into J-Rat's team exiting the other way muttering about fumes.  Inside East Block Julian failed to find the start of Infinite Improbability while I started the photography.  Three failed slave flashes later I was far from gruntled but eventually I got it mostly together and retreated with some reasonable shots of East Block and the passage leading to it.  We even managed some photos on the exit to add to the collection.

Down at the Inch J-Rat was busy in conversation with a fat American (if that isn't stating the obvious I don't know what is), a man from the Outer Hebrides and others.  He was the only one who seemed to know the words to the songs!  Before we became totally incapable we returned to the hut and a soya spag bog.

The next day the diggers i.e. Julian, J-Rat and co headed for Damoclean while Pete persuaded Steve to sherpa for him in the Waterslide on the promise of a sea dive later.  The carry up the hill and down to the sump went like clockwork.  Pete was full of confidence armed with Pete Mulholland's lucky line reel and a 50 watt mega light. ‘45mins maximum' he said before submerging leaving Steve with a loaned nicad and Steve's spare.  Steve after a few minutes of listening to the roaring stream and watching the line twitch started playing with his spare light - which failed to work.  A few minutes later the light Pete gave him started to go dim ......

Meanwhile Pete was forging his way into the sump confident that his sherpa retention system would work.

At the constriction a bit of thrashing soon got him through and rather than fiddle with the belaying in the poor vis (his megalight failed when it saw the constriction) he stomped (no fins this year) up the large ongoing passage beyond the narrows to quickly surface in ongoing dryish thrust plane - Straight Flush - which clearly acts a flood overflow.  A quick belay of the line was performed and he was back into the sump finding the constriction as usual to be a doddle on the exit although the line was a bit tight at this point.

He emerged to greet a relieved Steve who groped his way out behind him to the welcoming sight of day. A kit sort out at the hut saw our heroes reassembling at the Kylesku ferry slip for Pete's first sea dive of the season.  Needless to say there were lots of kit cock-ups with feed hoses not fitting etc. and Pete was not a happy man when he found his flash gun lead was in Somerset - so no underwater snaps.  We dived at slack water and after passing some surprisingly recent car wrecks steamed over to the wall and along for a couple of hundred metres or more.  A good fun dive.

After a phone call from the bar of the Kylesku Hotel in order to get my daughter to post my flash gun lead we had the usual dive debrief to the customers in the bar with an update from the bar staff on what vehicles had currently been dumped. Apply here for the Fortean tale of the car unintentionally push started into Loch Glencoul by a passing Dutch tourist. I then returned a pint mug to the bar found 'en dive' and now home to some wee encrusting beasties.  We settled down to an excellent meal of moules for me while Steve continued his assay of Scottish curry making skills.

The diggers had plodded on at Rana Mole Hole and Damoclean.  Poor Tav and Graham struggled to the end of Infinite Improbability only to find a miserable 10 feet of passage beyond the banged boulder whereupon it closed down irrevocably.

The next day dawned damp again.  The Damoclean diggers dug Damoclean while Pete Rose, Tav and Trevor headed north to the Allt a something Gaelic area to look at something Tav thought might be something diggable.  Steve and Pete decided to go diving again, this time at Achmelvich on Malcolm Stewart's commendation.  If the sea temperature had been 10 degrees higher it would have been like the Caribbean but it wasn't and it wasn't.  A surprisingly short and painless swim on the left of the bay to the far side of the inlet which is crossed by a wire led to the start of the dive.  Following the kelp festooned wall and swimming over pure white sand we slowly gained depth and at 9 metres Steve spotted a lovely red and orange lump sucker guarding its nest.  Their other name is 'sea hen' and certainly with its reluctance to move an inch from its nest it lived up to its name.  Slightly deeper we found a young angler fish before leaving the weed zone and swimming over boulders before turning back at 21 metres.

The next day Steve Pete Trevor and others went to Sandwood Bay while feeling guilty that I had not done any digging I decided to join Julian and Tav up at Damoclean.  The proceedings began with a lamp pox farce which ended in me having to go back to the hut from the trout farm to get a battery which was charged then finding the cable burned through when I got back. Eventually I cobbled together a working light and met them at the dig.  After 5 minutes of sack hauling I crawled into the dig whereupon all present announced the end was undiggable and that was it for the day.

Still I got some nice record shots of Tav the dig and the usual apple cake shot.  On the way down we did our bit for the Millenium dig on the rising.  I am sure if a team tried for a day you could get somewhere here provided Scottish Heritage did not mind!

Peter Rose and co saw mysterious and Fortean lights in the sky on their return from the north.  We also heard about the cow which sank the trawler.  And so ended another day.

High water levels thwarted attempts on the Traligilliink up so instead the digging team continued work on a piece of the jigsaw known as Birthday Hole which lies upstream of Tree Hole on the way to Flood sink.  Steve and Pete took advantage of a weather window to walk up Quinag while Trevor Knief tried Ben More Assynt.  The Quinag pair were rapidly overtaken by two older walkers wearing running gear but plodded on in dignified fashion to enjoy the view.  The sun was out but as we reached the first summit the wind speed seemed to have risen.  We started cautiously along the ridge and descending into the next col the wind roar had reached the intensity of a large waterfall.  Pete snapped a ptarmigan pair huddled to the ground and very unkeen to take flight however closely we approached.

I had never walked in such a high wind and on the next section of ridge found it a frightening experience.  Meanwhile on Ben More Trevor had turned back from the summit repelled purely by the violence of the wind.  We drank our coffee and watched the walkers we had seen earlier bounding across the northern arm of Quinag propelled by the wind.  When we came to do the same section we found, with the wind behind us, we had to lean backwards to make stable progress!  A couple we met on the summit were decidedly anxious.  She was small and seriously concerned about being blown off.  The views onto Kylesku and to the north were superb and the sun still shining but ominous cloud was building in the south and west and we were glad to descend to the small lochan which nestles beneath the northern crags where downdrafts created spectacular short lived water spouts.  We walked back to the car periodically violently buffeted by the wind and headed for Kylesku and a relaxing (?) dive to round the day off.  That's what I like about the area; long days in which you can do lots of different things fairly easily.

Entering the water we found a fair outward current was running so descended cautiously to the car wreck zone.  This time I had my camera so an assortment of shots of Steve with car interiors and exteriors was rounded off with a visit to the near end of the wall now that the current had switched off.  A recently dumped blue Montego currently rests on the bottom parallel to the end of slip looking for all the world as if it had been driven there and parked - very Fortean.  Look for the article on the site in a forthcoming edition of SportDiver.

In the bar we met the couple we'd encountered on the ridge.  They turned out to be divers - from Plymouth!  They were on their way to Scapa Flow and reluctantly turned down our invitation to dive with us in the Summer Isles - something I had promised Steve to lure him up north.  We had another excellent meal (Steve had the balti and I the langoustines) while having an interesting chat to the pilot and navigator of the helicopter parked by the bar.

Simon Brooks arrived in the early hours raising hopes of a visit to Northern Lights but meanwhile Steve and I were planning to do a boat dive from Achiltbuie.  We rendezvoused with Andy Hobrow of Atlantic Diving Services on Badentart Pier and had a pleasant trip to the site of the Fairweather with just Andy and his dog for company.  Andy had a fund of diving yams to keep us amused and if you get the chance to go out on his boat I can recommend it (see article in Scubaworld magazine July this year - Summer in Scotland).  The Fairweather is a trawer which sank in 30 metres after being holed on rocks.  It settled flat on the bottom and none of its gear was salvaged.  Now covered in a cloud of plumose anemones it provides opportunities for cave divers to do some wreck penetration including the wheel house and cabins.  If I do it again I will take side mounts but no way was I swimming about in there with a back pack even if the open water lads think nothing of it!

After a pie cash and petrol stop in Lochinver Steve and I then went looking for Uamh an Tartair behind the hut.  After a spell thinking it had upped and gone on vacation I found it where it always had been.  I told Steve it would be a dry trip because there was a sump by-pass.

Fortunately for him the canny blighter had been on enough trips with me to wear his wet suit.  The 'dry by pass' was a body soaking crawl in the stream.  The base of the dry shaft is spectacular and it's a shame the cave finishes so rapidly in the rift beyond.  More slides have been added to my Scottish cave collection. Meanwhile most of the rest of the team including Trevor 'the brewer's friend' Knief and Pete 'twittery old git' Rose were going great guns at Birthday Hole.  A breakthrough was made into some stream cave through a grovel dubbed 'a Wok on the Wild Side' after the unorthodox digging implement used. Pete Mulholland watch out.

Simon was persuaded that evening that we ought to attempt a trip into Northern Lights the next day. Fraser Simpson made up the team and we managed to self sherpa down the sump.  We were determinedly armed to the teeth with megalights and cameras. Nothing was going to stop us this time! As it happened I decided to let Simon and Fraser through first and had an embarrassingly endless 3 minutes trying to get through the constriction with an irritatingly over buoyant kit bag. The others waited patiently as I humped my way down Straight Flush in arthritic seal mode.  Although the line was out in the next very spacious and straightforward sump (voice link through it) the one beyond still had its line in place suggesting that in high water turbulence is moderated in the Straight Flush area.

Once out of the water we de-kitted although as you can see from the slides Simon in commando mode kept his weights on so it wouldn't be too easy.  We soon left the stream running in the lower part of the thrust plane and followed an elliptical switch back tunnel which eventually ascended to pop through the floor of a much older passage which clearly flooded only very rarely - Northern Lights.  The stalactite formations here are incredible and would stand out anywhere in Britain. Mostly pure white calcite they consisted of small forests of straw pillars and zones of stal bosses with in places helictites and superb curtains.  Progress can only be made haltingly with instruction from those before and behind.  One noteworthy feature of the tunnel is the number of broken and re-cemented stalactites including a bizarre formation I called the Skean Dhu (spelling I suspect is suspect).  We sent Fraser down one side passage Pete and Tony had avoided for fear of damage using the Golden Shot technique ('left a bit down DOWN! that's better now forward WHOA! etc etc) but it turned out to be an oxbow.

A low roar ahead suggested we were re-approaching the stream and after passing some false floor we arrived at the top of Royal Flush, a descending potholed thrust plane down which the stream thundered excitingly exiting through a small watery and decidedly uninviting hole.  We crossed the plane for the time being to a small hole at the top which seemed to close down.  However peering through a gap at the top of the plane I could see a well decorated chamber. Fraser looked skinnier than me so I sent him through first before following leaving Simon who modestly didn't want to strip.  The chamber we entered (Pillars of the Establishment - an ironic reference to the recent General Election result) contained a number of massive stal columns and at the top a grotto off which a stal encrusted crawl could be seen leading. This is probably the last chance of a dry link to Lower Traligill and I think it will be worth sacrificing some straws to push it.

On the way out we took the time to photograph as many features as we could.  Some of them you may have seen and hopefully further visits will add to the collection.  Future visitors will have to be careful and it is not a place for large parties. Some tape judiciously placed must also be taken.

Getting out was uneventful and sealed the end to one my red letter days of Scottish caving.  Fraser, for somebody relatively new to cave diving, had no problems at all and did really well.  The GSG cave diving team is expanding fast!

Sadly the last day had arrived.  It was foul and plans by Pete Dowswell and co. to visit Claonite 7 were soon aborted in favour of more hut maintenance/construction. Steve and I decided to go diving at Achmelvich.  I wanted to photograph the lump sucker having marked its position in the sand under Steve's sceptical eye.  Entering the toilet at Achmelvich in perve mode (2 men, rubber suits and KY jelly) we emerged cocooned in our dry suits and made for the sea.  The lump sucker was there as I had expected and after several snaps and a poke around we returned to the surface.  It was chucking it down so keeping our dry suits on we drove to Kylesku where we had heard you could get scallops if you knew where to look. Andy was right - there were scallops galore and after getting 3 or 4 dozen we surfaced to sort them out and chuck back the little ones for another day.  We watched them hurtle over the head of yet another diver staggering ashore with a full bag so how long the 'secret site' will yield them in these numbers is debatable!  The weather had really gone down the tube by this time so it was back in the car with the suits on and off to the Inch.

The petrol attendant at the Inch accused us of cruelty as she filled the tank!  We decided to push the 'where can you wear a dry suit' lark further by entering the bar where we were served without question.  The trouble is after the second pint the lack of what is known as a courtesy zip on my suit helped me discover whether Steve was a true friend (my suit zips at the back).

Back at the hut a long session of scallop gutting ended in a truly fitting climax to the trip with a mega scallop meal.

Who's for the next trip? Next year weather permitting, an attempt will be made to dive the links in the Lower Traligill Traverse and revisit Northern Lights to push downstream.

Peter Glanvill August 1997