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Collecting: Caves or A Crap in Little Tripnell

(as Spooner might have said)

By Peter Glanvill, Jan. 98

The spate of Hymac initiated digs in the last few years seems to have resulted in more digging than caving.  In other words the caves get found, are explored and then quietly forgotten (especially if they aren't listed in a guide for years). While this is great for conservation it does pose difficulties for those who want to know the cave's characteristics before entering it.  I've concluded that any advice from J-rat on a cave's dimensions carries the assumption that I carry cakes and bottles marked 'eat me' or 'drink me' for dimensional alteration during the trip.

Sally in the entrance series in Little Crapnell 

I approached Little Crapnell armed only with information gleaned from one Descent article and some brief chats with one or two visitors to the cave none of whom gave very precise advice. However I decided if somebody could contemplate diving the sump at the end and do the trip out breathing from their bottles due to high C02 levels then it couldn't be too awful.

So, one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago Sally, my daughter, and I arrived at Dave Speed's farm and met the man himself.  The visitors' log only extends to half a page or so, so clearly the cave's fame had not spread far and wide.  There then followed one of those ‘I had a little trouble' conversations with Dave guaranteed to make one think twice about doing the trip at all.  However a recce. trip with Ken Passant a week or two earlier as far as the duck beyond Great Expectations suggested it couldn't be too bad so off we set.

 

'No worries about carbon dioxide anyway with the recent damp weather', I thought, 'and the streamway will be pleasantly active'.  We dived down the cemented boulders into solid cave.  A coffin lid like slab was the way on with a slither and bump into a crawl past an incongruous galvanised dustbin lid (to protect the drip formations (?)).  The stream is met here and the crawl ends in a climb down through boulders to enter a wide descending tunnel - Great Expectations.  It all looks promising but unfortunately GE seems to be just a washed out shale band.  Beyond is a low gravelly twisting descending streamway which led to the first real obstacle - a low elliptical wallow in the stream a bit like Sump One in Cuthbert’s but narrower.  'Cell off and drag the ammo box' I decided after jamming my head between floor and ceiling.  Once through the first bit it was very straightforward although some minor contortions were required to drop into the rift just beyond into which the water cascades. Sally with her Kate Moss configuration didn't notice it was a constriction; nauseating!


A shuffle sideways reaches a point where the upper part of the passage can be seen to be much wider and formations appear at The Old Curiosity Shop.  The rifty nature of the passage reminded me a little of caves in County Clare although not nicely scalloped.  Another cascade followed ('This is nice' I thought) at which point I was abruptly confronted by a narrow rift passable only at stream level.  A test thrutch with the battery on encouraged me to take helmet and cell off before a snagging wallowing sideways thrash in the water got me through.  My elation didn't last long.  I was lying the wrong way round in a pool facing down a ramp with another squeeze/contortion to tackle.  A few pathetic wriggles later I noticed the stream had gone quiet.  I did a press up - a loud roar from the backed up stream was followed by the realisation that there were two of us, I was leading, and I was the wrong side of an awkward squeeze.  I wimped out and after an interesting reverse thratch (thrash and thrutch) I rejoined Sally.

 

We had stopped just short of a feature called Ebenezer's Escalator which apparently is 'roomy' and well decorated.  Beyond it the cave sounds like purgatory and according to Estelle probably is although she cannot remember much apart from the pain. (this cave is not a good hangover trip - Ed!!)  On the way out I photographed the very nice chamber above the streamway although this time the damp had got into all the electronics.  Passing the first constriction going out was a doddle, and I certainly would go back again although wearing a wet suit for ease of movement in the constrictions.

Back at the farm we had one of those 'How far did you get?' conversations with Dave Speed when I discovered the blighter hadn't even got as far as I had!  He also told me he is trying to increase the Little Crapnell cave quota to 3 this year when one of the other depressions on his land gets Hymaced. What's the record for number of caves on your land (excluding Lord Bath)?


The previous week Ken Passant and I had visited Honeymead Hole which lies only a hundred metres from Little Crapnell.  There is no detailed description yet available of Honeymead although its total passage length is now a respectable 356 metres with 52 metres depth.  This account is derived from the experiences on our trip and information from a variety of Descent articles.  Honymead Hole is interesting in that the entrance was only located after 30 feet of topsoil had been removed by the standard digging technique. It is unlikely this cave would ever have been found by more conventional means which makes one wonder what else remains buried beneath Mendip.

 

The concrete entrance shaft drops through boulders to reach a roomy chamber - Slab House with a few stal formations dotted about it.  A hole in the floor was rigged with a ladder which seemed OTT when we descended what was basically a short and easy free climb.  I am told the ladder was to prevent too much pressure on hanging death boulders.  At the bottom a short low section opened into a walking sized rift and within a few metres to another laddered pitch (we begun to wonder if we needed the ladder we had brought).  This again seemed eminently free climbable (especially as the ladder didn't look too hot - more of this later) and at the bottom a narrow rift led into the darkness.

I had a little trouble here and found it easier to do head first as there is an awkward boulder to get over at the far end if you do it feet first (as I did).  At the end a cross rift was entered.  A short but tricky looking drop on the right was ignored in favour of a rift chamber on the left off which led another rather narrow looking rift.  We aborted a climb into the roof when all the foot holds seemed to turn to clag the higher one got and decided to do what turned out be the easy drop back on the right.

Although there is very little water in the cave, at this point we did seem to enter a rather immature twisting streamway which ended abruptly at a pitch partly covered by a false floor with a nice little grotto above.  Yet another ladder hung down the pitch which looked deeper than the rest - and the ladder didn't look quite so superfluous.

A muddy grovel past the pitch opened into a really decent looking rift with some nice stal on the far side (Balcony Pot) and an obvious way on in the floor.  A duck under an arch to the right at the bottom let to an interesting zone of hanging death where the boulders are dry and red (Neptunian dyke (a term which has nothing to do with butch lesbian mermaids)).  Ken and I wormed our way down into the floor following a bang wire and found the cave to end in a too tight rift.  A climb up through the hanging death enters quite a decent sized chamber - Neptune's Hall but the bar placed to prevent one touching the boulders didn't inspired confidence so we made our excuses and left.

Several abortive and one successful flash shots of Balcony Pitch later saw us ready to shove Ken down Keen's Pitch.  This is a nice pitch by anyone's standards and it is disappointing to report that after some nice formations at the bottom the tiny streamway starts to take on Easy Street type dimensions so more excuses and a departure.

On the way out I decided the second ladder pitch would look photogenic.  Several shots later the slave worked and Ken who had been clambering up and down to fiddle with the flash gun after each failed effort started up the ladder for the last time.  2 metres up the ladder broke dropping a surprised Ken back at the bottom yet again.  After this little fiasco we made an uneventful exit muttering about dodgy fixed aids!

Honeymead has numerous interesting side passages and could keep diggers busy for ages particularly as there is no obvious terminal point to dig.  It will be interesting to see if the meadow yields another cave.