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The Priddy Connection - Part 2

- The final phase of digging in Priddy Green Sink and the breakthrough to Swildon's Hole, 1995-1996

By Adrian Hole and Tony Jarratt

"Through this a cave was dug with vast e pence;  The work it seemed of some suspicious prince." Dryden

Following the re-opening of Priddy Green Sink in December 1993 a brief flurry of digging trips to the extremely unpleasant end of Fault Plane Passage took place.  Those involved were B.E.C. members Adrian Hole and Ivan Sandford with Mike "Quackers" Duck and John Attwood. After several digging and blasting trips in the worm-strewn "cowsh" sump the enthusiasm for this site deteriorated and other options were looked at including the upper level R.A.F. Aven - abandoned by the S.M.C.C. team on 20th October 1964 and Shit Sump in Cowsh Aven Series.  It was considered by the previous diggers that the boulder choked crawl leading off R.A.F. Aven would connect with Anniversary Aven above the foul "cowsh sump".

Cowsh Avens

The summer of 1995 saw Ivan, Adrian, Alex Gee, Becca Campbell, Mike Willett and Guy Munnings, with members of the London Guildhall club and others, re-climbing the Bladder Pot route of Cowsh Avens and leaving fixed ropes in place which were later to prove of great benefit.  Top Avens were radio-located by Brian Prewer and found to be, as expected, just beyond the barn at Manor Farm.  Several potential dig sites were investigated here but enthusiasm for this remote site soon waned.

Return to Pretty Grim Stink

In Priddy Green Sink, Adrian, Ivan and Mike spent some time during August digging a small hole on the RH side of Fault Plane Passage, only to enter a body-sized chamber.  This site was abandoned and they moved upstream.

They were not convinced by the R.A.F. Aven theory and lured on by a strong draught in a 2" high, descending and decorated bedding plane, together with the relatively pleasant nature of the site, they put in a lot of work with plugs and feathers splitting rocks and clearing the crawl until stopped by a large boulder.  An attempt at moving this was made using the "Mike fetch!" method - usually highly effective - but in this case even The Willett couldn't move it.  Tony Jarratt was invited along on 26th November 1995 to pulverise this obstacle, little realising that this was to be the start of six months of body-wrecking misery - albeit with a happy ending!  Another bang the next day solved the problem and on 28th they pushed through the crawl to enter a 12ft square breakdown chamber with an aven, possible but loose dig in the floor and ongoing choked crawl.  The length of the extension was some 60ft.

Pottering with purpose

The next eight trips were all clearing and banging missions - once three times in one day! Light relief was provided by John A electrocuting himself. On 12th December the impassable rift at the end of the crawl was enlarged enough for Tony to squeeze down into a sloping passage ending at an undescended rift pitch. This area was called Hanwell's Hall in honour of Jim Hanwell (W.C.C.) pioneer Priddy Green Sink digger and 60 years old this week. That night the pitch was free climbed for c.20ft by Ivan and Adrian to reach a tiny phreatic tube heading down dip. The former almost broke a rib getting up the banged rift so both this and the tube were destined for enlargement.

 

Photo: Looking down the 20ft rift below Hanwell's Hall by Martin Torbett - 13th December 1995

Serious pottering

Unfortunately forty-six trips (!) were necessary, thirty-six of which were drilling and banging epics before the next breakthrough was made.  "This dig is getting monotonous ... "  The 30ft of tight, descending tube (with the Siren's lure of an intermittent stream in the distance) became affectionately known as the Blasted Bastard as drilling had to be done head downwards in severely constricted conditions and clearing was a nightmare.  As this took place during all of January and early February it should have been warmer underground than on the surface but the increasing draught made conditions decidedly chilly and bang fumes began to chase the diggers from the cave.  The cold did not affect the smell of the cave though and occasionally snuff was taken at the entrance to ward off the stench.  As the diggers approached an open cross passage - "A couple more bangs should do it" - Adrian sarcastically remarked that he expected to find "Four naked virgins and a barrel of beer" around the comer.

From Bastard to Virgins

On 8th February 1996 Rich Blake dug through into some 25ft of small passage going off to the left (The Virgins) and straight ahead (Barrel Passage).  Both of these ways on surprisingly needed banging and many sessions were done on them until on 17th February Rich passed a tight horizontal squeeze in the Virgins to reach the head of a pot with the Priddy Green stream pouring down another pot below.  As this was a solo trip he had difficulty in making his colleagues believe him!  These became known as Virgin One and Virgin Two, "The connection is now a real possibility".

The following day a strong team descended these 30 ft of climbs to reach a blocked crawl which was excavated and led to Virgin Three, a 15ft climb followed by another crawl and the final Virgin Four, a 10ft climb.  A low and squalid streamway led on and this was named Bar Code Crawl following the discovery of a laminated paper "bar code" bearing the legend "MAIN R J + PR/K".  A length of 120ft and depth of 70ft had been added to the cave and the diggers celebrated with fags and champagne in the worm-infested surroundings of Virgin Two. Everyone was delighted, " ... a bloody good reward for the time, money and effort involved by the B.E.C. team, built upon the several years of hard work put in by the combined club diggers of the early sixties".  A dangerously loose boulder series above the Virgins was later pushed up towards the floor dig in the breakthrough chamber below R.A.F. Aven.  The stream entering in this area comes via an aven from the "cowsh sump" at the end of the old cave.  It is another worm-infested, unpleasant place.

From Virgins to Clitoris

Banging then commenced in earnest in Barrel Passage until, on 13th March Rich was able to pass a committing squeeze (Clitoris Crawl - "'cos its a bit of a .... '') to reach a T-junction with standing sized passage and another 180ft gained. "We must be bloody close to Top Avens at this point".  To the left was a 50ft long aven series and "downstream", around a corner with small cave pearls and an aven was yet another choked crawl.  This was banged in conjunction with Bar Code Crawl over the next couple of weeks to reach an attractive, 60ft high aven named Stoned Bat after a "Bertie" shaped lump of limestone and the substances necessary to imagine it as such!  It bore a remarkable similarity to the upper Cowsh Avens.  A silted crawl below it was dug and blasted for a time but later abandoned when Mike found a better prospect at a slightly higher level.

Meanwhile in the foul and flood-prone Bar Code Crawl work was progressing with difficulty.  Both Carl Jones (S.W.A.G.) and Tim Francis (M.C.G.) had managed to thrutch a fair distance along the crawl but enlargement was needed to make digging feasible.  Its marked resemblance to Shit Sump in Cowsh Aven Series was a strong clue as to its destination and on 11th March 1996 Adrian emptied a small amount of flourescein into the foetid stream - to be seen 15 minutes later emerging from Shit Sump by Tony and Rich.  On 1st April the "cowsh" filled end of Bar Code Craw I was reached and pronounced just too grim to dig.

From Clitoris to euphoria

All work then concentrated on Mike's dig near Stoned Bat Aven - later to be called Tin Can Alley. Mike himself was temporarily absent from the dig as he was attempting to pass off sclerosis of the liver as Weil's Disease!

Throughout April and May the struggle continued (some seventeen trips) until, on 3rd June 1996 Tony once more returned to Cowsh Aven Series, this time accompanied by Alex. At Top Avens they could distinctly hear Mike shouting in Tin Can Alley - at a higher level and seemingly about twenty feet away.  "We were then the first people to hold a conversation between Swildon's and Priddy Green Sink .... a tremendous achievement after some 37 years of intermittent digging in the Sink and 38 years of sporadic climbing and blasting in Cowsh Aven Series".  That day the end of Tin Can Alley was banged three times!

The following day another bang sent debris crashing onto an empty Coca Cola tin and "Bertie" sticker left purposely in Top Avens and Rich's dangling legs were soon the first bit of human (?) anatomy to enter Swildon's from a second entrance.  The Big Trip was planned for the next day.


Photo of the connection and first exchange trip team by Paul Stillman (M.N.R.C.) - 5th June 1966

 

On having climbed the "Twenty" an uneven number of times*

*With apologies to Mike Wooding (1965)

At 6.35 p.m. Ivan and Tony entered Swildon's.  Soon after Rich, Mike, Adrian (S.M.C.C. and specially invited to represent the Cowsh Aven team of 'descended Priddy Green Sink.  Ivan continued via Blue Pencil to meet Tony in Four after the latter had been forced to frantically free-dive down the streamway due to faulty diving gear. Five minutes later the others abseiled out of the roof and much handshaking and imbibing of Amarretto (the nearest thing to liquid gelignite if only in smell alone!) was indulged in. Brian then free-dived out while Mike, Adrian and Rich went "overland" and the others began the long slog - almost 500 feet vertically - up Cowsh Avens to emerge on the Green after a surprisingly short (2¾ hours) trip.  Apart from the fresh air they were also extremely pleased to find the bottle of champagne hanging on the entrance ladder!  Both teams were met with camera and booze-wielding reception parties and the night was suitably finished off in the Hunter's in company with Jim Hanwell, Fred Davies, Dave Turner and other previous diggers - without whom the connection would never have happened.  Someone pointed out that we had increased the depth of the Swildons system by one foot so we were forced to celebrate even more!  We estimate that this phase of the connection cost about £400 in explosives alone and that over the last 38 years the total cost in bang would be about £1,000 at today's prices - about £1.00 per foot!!  There were over 115 digging trips in six months and 100 separate charges fired.  Was it worth it?  Yes! As Oliver Wells stated in 1960 " .. it will be a great day when a connection can be made."  It was!

Other trips involved surveying (still not completed!) and tidying up.

The Diggs. Photographers, Surveyors and Bolting Team etc.

Adrian Hole, Mike Willet, Mike "Quackers" Duck, Ivan Sandford, Jo ?, Guy Munnings, Jon Attwood, Tony Jarratt, Pete Hellier, Nick Mitchell, Martin Torbett, Estelle Sandford, Ken Dawes (S.M.C.C.) Becca Campbell, Graham "Jake" Johnson, Pete Glanvill, Brian Prewer, Nigel Taylor, Jeff Price, Dave Ball, Alec Smith, Stuart Sale, Tim and John Haynes, Helmut, Michelle and Anette Potzsch (Ziloko Gizonak), Andy Thomas, Nick Gymer, Rob Harper, Dave ?, Mike Wilson, Rich Blake, Sean Chaffey, Paul Brock, Vince Simmonds, Sean Howe, Andy Sparrow, Dominic Sealy (W.C.C.), Pete Bolt, Henry Bennett, Roz Bateman, Dave Shipton, Dave Bryant, NickBurcham, Paul Stillman (M.N.R.C.), Carl Jones (S.W.A.G.), Tim Francis (M.C.G.), Anthony Butcher (S.M.C.C.), Chas Wethered, Trevor Hughes, Ben Ogboume, Jeremy Dixon-Wright, Anette Becher and Pete "Snablet" McNab.

References

Irwin D. The Priddy Connection, Belfry Bulletin, 502,Vol. 50, No.9, May 1999

Jarratt T. Caves be where you make 'em Descent, 131, August/September 1996

Jarratt T. mss Logs, Vols. VI (1994-1996), VII (1996-1998) (Quotes in italics above are from this source).

Assorted snippets in Descent, BBs and various diggers' logs.

The Priddy Green Song (P13 BB 499) and A Winter's Tale (see below)

Acknowledgements

Robin Main, Priddy Parish Council, Alan Butcher (S.M.C.C.).