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Observation on the Growth of Flowstone in Fairy caves

By Brian Prewer

In the mid 1980s the caves in Fairy Cave Quarry were closed by the owners, Hobbs Quarries.  Prior to that led parties had been able to enter Shatter, Withyhill and W/L.  These three caves represented probably some of the finest stalactite caves in Britain. Each of these caves contained a profusion of stalactites, stalagmites and most other forms of flowstone, in fact in some chambers bare limestone was hard to find.

During the time when the caves were open, taping of vulnerable formations was done by the Cerberus S.S.  The tape used was thin coloured nylon tape.  In places this tape was wound around stal bosses or strung between stal and boulders.  During the years the caves were originally open inevitably, due to the profusion of flowstone, footprints were left in mud and in a few places on stal floors. These areas were part of the route followed through the cave.

Today, nearly two decades later, stal has started to re-grow, in particular, on nylon tape around stal bosses and over muddied flowstone.  In places some tapes have been completely sealed over while in others small stal curtains hang off horizontally strung tapes.  New crystal growth can now be seen in footprints on the floor and fresh mini gour pools cover some of the older darker flowstone.

It is clear that in Shatter Cave stal growth is very rapid - a couple of centimetres in a decade!  Of course this is exceptional but one has to wonder if the Show Cave guide is right to tell the public that stalactites grow at the rate of one centimetre in 10,000 years.